- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 24, 2009

Legislation to avoid absentee-ballot disputes such as the one that marred last year’s election in Virginia sailed through a House committee Friday and is receiving bipartisan support in the General Assembly.

“It’ll be very easy passage,” said Delegate William R. Janis, Glen Allen Republican and chief sponsor of a bill to simplify the submission process for federal write-in absentee ballots.

Mr. Janis’ measure would rid state law of the requirement that overseas and military voters submitting federal write-in absentee ballots that also serve as ballot applications include the printed name and address of a witness.

The issue was highlighted during last year’s elections when Fairfax County General Registrar Rokey W. Suleman II initially disallowed some absentee ballots because they did not meet the requirement.

The move drew criticism from Virginia Republicans, who said Mr. Suleman was taking away the right to vote from military members. The registrar insisted he was simply following the letter of the law.

Attorney General Bob McDonnell, a Republican running for governor, issued an advisory opinion to the state Board of Elections saying federal law pre-empted the state provision and that state registrars must count the ballots that did not have the information.

The board said denying the ballots was proper under state law, but agreed with the attorney general’s opinion and unanimously voted to count the ballots.

Mr. Janis said his bill, which also is sponsored by Delegate Kenneth C. Alexander, Norfolk Democrat, is intended to avoid a repeat of the controversy. The House Privileges and Elections Committee moved the bill forward with a 21-0 vote Friday morning.

Mr. Alexander said the measure was suggested by the state elections board and will bring uniformity to federal law and Virginia law.

“This isn’t a Republican thing, this isn’t a Democratic thing,” Mr. Janis said. “This is about the wholesale disenfranchisement of overseas military members keeping us safe.”

Similar legislation, chiefly sponsored by Sen. John C. Miller, Newport News Democrat, already has reached the floor of that chamber.

Election officials pushed successfully to amend the measure in order to make Election Day the deadline for receiving the dual-purpose ballots. State law mandates that the ballots be received no less than five days before the election.

“This just streamlines it for our military,” said Rosanna Bencoach, a policy analyst for the board. “This takes some of the bureaucracy out.”

The streamlining process was welcome news to Mr. Suleman, the Fairfax registrar.

“It’s a welcome addition,” Mr. Suleman said. “It’s what I’ve asked for the entire time.”

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