- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 30, 2009

A Fairfax County registrar criticized for actions during last year’s election season will be joining the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics — an announcement that comes as the board prepares to consider the controversial issue of same-sex marriage.

Rokey W. Suleman II will be the board’s new executive director and responsible for its administrative operations, which include duties related to accounting, budget submission and personnel. He also will work to maintain voter records and make the necessary preparations for elections.

“The board meets once a month to establish policy, but it’s the executive director who runs the day-to-day operations,” said Kenneth J. McGhie, the board’s general counsel.

Mr. Suleman previously served as deputy director of the Trumbull County Board of Elections in Warren, Ohio, and more recently as the general registrar for the Fairfax County Office of Elections.

While in Fairfax during last year’s elections, Mr. Suleman drew the ire of Republicans by initially disallowing some federal write-in absentee ballots because they did not meet a state provision requiring the inclusion of a signature, printed name and address of a witness.

Republicans said Mr. Suleman was taking away the right to vote from military members, but the registrar insisted he was simply following the letter of the law.

Bob McDonnell, a Republican gubernatorial candidate in Virginia who then was serving as attorney general, issued an advisory opinion to the state Board of Elections saying federal law pre-empted the state provision and registrars could not reject such ballots in most cases.

The board then said denying the ballots was proper under state law, but agreed with the attorney general’s opinion and opted to count the ballots. State lawmakers later approved legislation relaxing ballot requirements.

The Fairfax elections office also drew criticism during Mr. Suleman’s tenure for attempting to register inmates in Fairfax County to vote before the November elections.

Felons in Virginia cannot vote unless their rights are restored by the governor, and Mr. Suleman reportedly said his office approached eligible inmates who had committed misdemeanors or were awaiting trial at the request of criminal defense attorneys who came to his staff.

The announcement of Mr. Suleman’s hiring comes as the D.C. board confronts the sensitive topic of gay marriage. A bill passed earlier this month by the D.C. Council recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions as legally valid, but opponents are seeking to bring the issue to a voter referendum.

The board has scheduled a June 10 meeting to determine whether the subject is fit for a referendum. If same-sex marriage opponents are successful, they are expected to have only until early July to gather thousands of signatures needed to bring their cause before voters.

The bill has been sent to Congress for review, and would not be subject to a referendum after the review period expires and it becomes law.

Mr. Suleman will start his new position July 6 and replaces former executive director Alice Miller and acting executive director Sylvia Goldsberry-Adams. The new hire said Friday he could not speak to the possible referendum “until there’s a decision from the board.”

He said he sought the position once he saw it was available, and he loves “everything about Washington, D.C.”

“I’m looking forward to serving the citizens of the District and making the office a model for the country,” he said.

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