Election Day Worries
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Exclusive: Election Day Worries
By Michael Isikoff
July 19, 2004 - American counterterrorism officials, citing what they
call "alarming" intelligence about a possible Qaeda strike inside the
United States this fall, are reviewing a proposal that could allow
for the postponement of the November presidential election in the
event of such an attack, NEWSWEEK has learned.
The prospect that Al Qaeda might seek to disrupt the U.S. election
was a major factor behind last week's terror warning by Homeland
Security Secretary Tom Ridge. Ridge and other counterterrorism
officials concede they have no intel about any specific plots. But
the success of March's Madrid railway bombings in influencing the
Spanish elections - as well as intercepted "chatter" among Qaeda
operatives - has led analysts to conclude "they want to interfere
with the elections," says one official.
As a result, sources tell NEWSWEEK, Ridge's department last week
asked the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel to analyze
what legal steps would be needed to permit the postponement of the
election were an attack to take place. Justice was specifically asked
to review a recent letter to Ridge from DeForest B. Soaries Jr.,
chairman of the newly created U.S. Election Assistance Commission.
Soaries noted that, while a primary election in New York on September
11, 2001, was quickly suspended by that state's Board of Elections
after the attacks that morning, "the federal government has no agency
that has the statutory authority to cancel and reschedule a federal
election." Soaries, a Bush appointee who two years ago was an
unsuccessful GOP candidate for Congress, wants Ridge to seek
emergency legislation from Congress empowering his agency to make
such a call. Homeland officials say that as drastic as such proposals
sound, they are taking them seriously - along with other possible
contingency plans in the event of an election-eve or Election Day
attack. "We are reviewing the issue to determine what steps need to
be taken to secure the election," says Brian Roehrkasse, a Homeland
Terrorism and the Election: Trial Balloons and Spin
By Norman Solomon, AlterNet
July 16, 2004
Tom Ridge, the federal official in charge of defending the United
States against terrorism, was on message when he told a July 14 news
conference: "We don't do politics at Homeland Security." Such high-
level claims of patriotic purity have been routine since 9/11. But in
this election year, they're more ludicrous than ever.
Days earlier, alongside a photo of Ridge, a headline on USA Today's
front page had declared: "Election Terror Threat Intensifies." There
was unintended irony in the headline.
While a real threat of terrorism exists in the United States, we
should also acknowledge that an intensifying "election terror threat"
is coming from the Bush administration. With scarcely 100 days to go
until Election Day, the White House is desperate to wring every ounce
of advantage from the American Flag, patriotism, apple pie - and the
subject of "terrorism."
Newsweek reported a week after July Fourth that Ridge's agency "asked
the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel to analyze what
legal steps would be needed to permit the postponement of the
election were an attack to take place." The media response was mostly
negative, and the Bush administration proceeded with its intended
dual message of portraying a postponement as far-fetched - yet not
Even while the bulk of commentators panned the postponement scenario,
the Bush political team had succeeded in getting it on the media
table without causing a massive sustained uproar. That's dangerous.
The leading White House strategist, Karl Rove, has a record of
shoving the envelope in order to win. Forget ethics or honesty. Some
of the documentation about Rove is downright chilling in the
book "Bush's Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential,"
co-authored by TV news correspondent James Moore and Dallas Morning
News reporter Wayne Slater.
If a terrorist attack occurs between now and Nov. 2, the
administration would be much more likely to postpone the election if
the Republican ticket is behind in the polls. That kind of
unprecedented manipulation of the U.S. presidential election system
should be strictly off-limits.
Several days after Newsweek broke the story, a Washington Post
editorial - ostensibly shooting at the trial balloon - commented
that "powerful emotional and even political arguments exist for
holding a presidential election on the day it was meant to be held,
regardless of what happens and who is unable to vote, just as it was
held during the Civil War and just as it would be held in case of a
hurricane, flood, fire or other natural catastrophe."
Yet the Post editorial's conclusion portrayed the postponement
scenario in somewhat less than unequivocal terms: "Congress should
think through the consequences of a disrupted election, but it should
remain extremely wary of any scheme to hold a presidential election
at any time other than the first Tuesday of November." That kind of
language falls short of a clarion call to block Machiavellian
postponement of the national Election Day.
Meanwhile, rhetorical manipulations about terrorism and the election
are already upon us. Pro-Bush spinners have put out the fatuous idea
that a pre-election terrorist attack on the USA would amount to an
effort to oust the incumbent from the White House. Yet President
Bush's approval ratings skyrocketed across the country immediately
after Sept. 11, 2001.
If anyone stands to gain politically from a terrorist attack in the
United States before Election Day, in my opinion, it's George W.
Bush. But many journalists have bought into the opposite line, which
sets the stage for Republicans to claim that a Bush-Cheney victory is
necessary to show terrorists that America refuses to be intimidated.
The GOP's Sen. Richard Shelby said as much on MSNBC's prime-
time "Hardball" show July 8: "It won't work in America. I'll tell
you, I believe if they try that in America and think it's going to
influence the election, it will do the opposite. The American people
traditionally have rallied behind the government, the flag, and we
would do it in this case. We're not going to let outsiders,
terrorists or other foreign powers, influence our elections, tell us
what to do."
While questioning Democratic Sen. John Breaux, the "Hardball" host
Chris Matthews energetically blew smoke: "What happens, Sen. Breaux,
if it looks like that al-Qaeda is playing cards here, playing a game
of trying to get people to vote Democrat for president, to basically
make their case worldwide? Doesn't it put your party in a terrible
position of having al-Qaeda rooting for you?"
The question, based on a faulty premise, pretended to know something
that isn't known. Given that the 9/11 terrorist attacks became an
overnight political boon for President Bush, it would be more
rational to ask how much the Bush-Cheney ticket is likely to gain
from a terrorist attack on U.S. soil before voters pass judgment on