For the first time in U.S. history, Election Day could be postponed.
Given recent reports of threats of a terrorist attack allegedly scheduled to take place on or around Election Day (November 2), U.S. officials are discussing delaying the election, according to CNN.
On Thursday, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge again warned that al Qaeda terrorists were planning a major attack on the U.S. He asserted that bin Laden and his top lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri, were overseeing attack plans from hideouts along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in "an effort to disrupt the democratic process." Despite these concerns, the threat level, Ridge said, will remain at yellow (elevated).
According to CNN, Ridge sent a letter to chairman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (set up after the debate surrounding the 2000 presidential vote to help states deal with election problems), DeForest B. Soaries Jr., asking him if it was possible to postpone the election.
Soaries reportedly replied with concern that no federal agency could postpone an election, and asked Ridge to approach Congress to give his commission the power to delay Election Day. Ridge's department recently asked the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel about the necessary legal steps to allow the postponement of the election in the event of an attack.
In its July 19 issue, Newsweek reported that the most recent terror warning by Ridge was based on "the prospect that al Qaeda might seek to disrupt the U.S. election," but that Ridge and other counterterrorism officials "concede they have no intel about any specific plots."
Several government figures involved in this matter have expressed some doubt about the need for a drastic measure such as postponing the election. Representative Jane Harman (D-California), a ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, said on CNN's "Late Edition" that plans to postpone the election are "excessive, based on what we know," and that they were based on "more chatter about old threats, which were the subject of a press conference by Attorney General [John] Ashcroft and [FBI] Director [Robert] Mueller six weeks ago.
"[Ridge] sounded more like an interior decorator talking about what more we can do under the shade of yellow," Harman said.
Other senators have reportedly questioned whether the timing of a private briefing given to Senators by CIA and FBI officials on Thursday was politically motivated, given that it took place two days after John Kerry announced his running mate. Ridge denied the allegation, calling it the "wrong interpretation."
Representative Christopher Cox (R-California), the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee remarked that New York election officials postponed their September 11, 2001 primary election after the terrorist attacks on the same day, but added that "there isn't any body that has the authority to do that for federal elections."
Security concerns may stem from a March attack in Madrid, Spain, in which train bombings killed almost 200 people just days before Spain's elections. The elections resulted in the expulsion of a conservative government that had joined the U.S. in its 2003 invasion of Iraq; the opposing (and victorious) Socialist Party, meanwhile, had campaigned to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq. There is no evidence, however, that the bombings had an influence on the vote.
There is no word yet on when the decision will be made to postpone Election Day or keep it on November 2 as scheduled. Homeland Security Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse told Newsweek, "We are reviewing the issue to determine what steps need to be taken to secure the election."