- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Virginia’s gubernatorial candidates have been actively courting absentee voters — a crucial bloc that represented more than half the margin of victory when Republican Robert F. McDonnell defeated Democrat R. Creigh Deeds in the 2005 attorney general’s race.

As of Oct. 9, 46,246 people had voted early or requested absentee ballots — a figure elections officials say is roughly comparable to figures from the last gubernatorial election in 2005.

In their last matchup, Mr. McDonnell won the absentee vote by 180 out of 75,982 absentee ballots cast. Mr. McDonnell defeated Mr. Deeds by 323 votes out of 2 million cast statewide.

Identifying absentee voters has come a long way since then.

In the wake of the largest turnout in state election history for last year’s presidential elections, both parties are using comprehensive databases created by the national parties to identify people likely to vote for their candidate.

The Democrats have worked to identify and contact absentee voters who are Democrats and Democratic voters who are eligible to vote absentee but might not have voted in the past, Deeds spokesman Mike Gehrke said.

“Organizing absentee voters has come a long way from 2005,” Mr. Gehrke said. “We’ve adopted a lot of the Obama campaign and Virginia Democratic Party methods. … We expect to fare better than we did in 2005 with absentee voters.”

The Republican campaign has sent a letter from Mr. McDonnell and an absentee-voting request form to every Virginian known to have voted absentee in last year’s election, with a focus on military, Republican and independent voters.

“We know that Bob’s positive message of new jobs and more opportunities is the one Virginians are rallying behind. And we want to ensure that every Virginian has the opportunity to vote for this positive vision at the ballot box, no matter their schedule or commitments,” said McDonnell campaign spokeswoman Stacey Johnson. “Both Bob and his daughter, Jeanine, have served in the military, so they understand the importance for those serving our country overseas to have the opportunity to vote.”

Last week, a federal court ruled that the state violated the voting rights of military and overseas voters in last year’s presidential election by sending ballots without sufficient time for them to be returned on Election Day.

The state board is meeting Wednesday to determine how to implement the ruling, while at the same time adhering to state law that mandated ballots be received by 7 p.m. on Nov. 3.

“We are in unchartered waters when it comes to Virginia law, so we have to be mindful of what the court has ordered, but try to do it within the framework of Virginia code,” said Nancy Rodrigues, secretary of the Virginia State Board of Elections.

Ms. Rodrigues said the state was prepared for the ruling, which was the second ruling pertaining to a lawsuit filed last year by the campaign of Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain and later taken over by the Department of Justice when a judge ruled the McCain campaign did not have standing to file the suit.

Gov. Tim Kaine earlier this year signed into law three bills aimed at ensuring that ballots make it into the hands of Americans overseas or military members stationed outside of Virginia.

The new laws contained the provision requiring ballots and in-person voting to be made available at least 45 days before the election for those who will not be able to come to the polls.

The new laws also mandate that ballots can be e-mailed to military members stationed outside the state instead of just for military members overseas.

Additionally, all absentee-ballot requests must be processed by localities within three days of receipt.



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