Responding to a lawsuit filed yesterday by the McCain campaign complaining that local election officials in Virginia failed to send absentee ballots to overseas military personnel soon enough for them to vote on time, a federal judge has ordered that the ballots be preserved pending a ruling. The suit asks the state to count those ballots postmarked by Nov. 4 and received by Nov. 14.

"The McCain-Palin campaign strongly believes that no military ballot should be discarded as a result of a failure on the part of several counties and independent cities to mail ballots to service members in a timely manner," said McCain-Palin spokesperson Gail Gitcho. "We believe without exception that the servicemen and women on the front lines protecting our freedoms deserve every opportunity to make sure their vote counts."

In one case cited in the suit, a young Marine serving in Iraq applied for a ballot from Arlington County in August. However, the county didn't send it until Sept. 29, and the Marine didn't receive it until last week. Because it typically takes 12 to 18 days for a ballot to be returned from Iraq, most state and federal agencies recommend they be mailed at least 45 days before the election. But some local governments in Virginia mailed them only 35 days in advance.

Named in the suit are the counties of Arlington, Chesterfield, Fauquier and Loudoun, and the cities of Chesapeake, Richmond, Suffolk and Virginia Beach. U.S. District Judge Richard Williams will hear the lawsuit on Nov. 10.