Thursday, October 9, 2008

Fairfax Democrats- No Criminal Left Behind Scandal

By William C. Flook
Examiner Staff Writer 10/8/08

Inmates at the Fairfax County jail were encouraged to register and vote last week by elections officials making what the county’s sheriff called the first visit of its kind in his 30 years with the county.

That voter turnout effort is now being defended by county officials, but blasted by Republicans who called it an attempt to influence what could be a close presidential election in the commonwealth.

Both Fairfax County General Registrar Rokey Suleman and Sheriff Stan Barry deny any wrongdoing in the decision that granted Office of Elections on-site access to the Adult Detention Center in downtown Fairfax. Barry did, however, say it was unprecedented in his 30-year career with the county.

“We’d never run into it before, honestly,” Barry said. “They contacted us last week and we were not willing to take any role in it, but basically they were just asking for access to the prisoners who were eligible to vote, and we gave them that.”

The visit came as presidential campaigns were making feverish attempts to sign up voters ahead of the Oct. 6 deadline. The state is considered critical to the White House aspirations of Barack Obama and John McCain.

Felons are not eligible to vote in Virginia without having their rights restored by the governor. Suleman said his office, at the request of criminal defense attorneys who approached his staff, delivered registration forms and absentee ballots to inmates with misdemeanor convictions and those awaiting felony trials.

Suleman, who is listed as a founder of the Trumbull County (Ohio) Young Democrats, ran for office in the Buckeye State as a Democrat earlier this year. He said the office he holds in Virginia is nonpartisan.

Barry, an elected Democrat, said an initial visit took place Wednesday, and again on Friday to pick up completed forms.

Republicans likened the visit to Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine’s drive to restore voting rights to non-violent felons, who are believed to vote disproportionately Democratic.

“I’m stunned and outraged,” said Fairfax County Republican Committee Chairman Jim Hyland. “To me it’s unbelievable that the Democrats are stooping to this, that they want to count on lawbreakers to try and switch this state from red to blue.”

He said the committee is “going to look at all of our legal options, whether this was in the bounds of the law.”

Said Fairfax County Supervisor Michael Frey, a Republican: “Given the budget, and how tight staff is, it does sort of smell that the place they’re going for on-site visits in the Fairfax County jail.”

Suleman said his office will help register voters anywhere an on-site visit is requested. He said his staff picked up about 20 registration forms on Friday, and that he didn’t know the names of the lawyers who contacted his staff.

“As soon as I got wind of it I said ‘OK, let’s make sure we get these guys registered to avoid any other legal headaches [of] being carted in to court to register people,’” Suleman said.


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