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 • 07.18.2004
Leave Election Day alone, and Americans will defy terrorism

Bush administration officials have asked the Justice Department to determine whether Homeland Security has the power to "postpone" November's presidential election under certain national security circumstances, Newsweek and CNN have reported. The study was reportedly prompted by a letter from DeForest Soaries Jr., chairman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Christopher Cox, a Republican of California and chairman of the Homeland Security Committee in the House, has publicly said such a study process is under way in the Bush administration.

Initial reports are unclear whether such suspension is contemplated in response to a terrorist attack or in anticipation of one. Although Homeland Security at first confirmed that such study is under way, the department later backtracked. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said no such idea was contemplated and that President Bush opposed the nonexistent idea.

In contrast, Rep. John Linder, a Georgia Republican, treated the proposal as real, though he questioned the wisdom of publicizing it. Georgia Republican Saxby Chambliss, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, declared, "It's probably a smart idea in the event something should happen."

Judging from other Congressional comments, that view is a minority one.

Let there be no doubt that such a proposal lacks justification in historical experience.

In the 1860s two opposing armies were fighting within the "homeland" of the United States, destroying towns and killing people. Outside major combat areas, guerrilla bands were taking hostages and murdering them. Despite ongoing attacks killing hundreds of thousands of persons on U.S. territory, the Lincoln administration didn't seek to postpone the Congressional election of 1862, nor the presidential one of 1864.

Biological attack? The influenza epidemic of 1918 struck more than one-fourth of America's population. People could die within hours of becoming infected. The biological agent killed an estimated 675,000 Americans. The October 1918 death toll by itself was nearly 200,000. Worst hit were victims 20 to 40 years old. Yet President Woodrow Wilson's administration didn't seek to postpone the Congressional election of 1918, even though his opponents thereby gained a majority in Congress.

More limited attack designed to cause panic? How about the Kansas City municipal election of March 27, 1934? Armed Pendergast machine terrorists cruised streets in autos lacking license plates. Terrorists fired into a car containing a Kansas City Star reporter, halted it and beat him up. Others handled the vehicle of Star editor H.J. Haskell in a similar way. More terrorists shot to death a precinct captain who tried to protect an election judge, and still more killed a sheriff's deputy and a bystander at a polling place.

Frantic calls asked the governor to send state militia (which he refused to do), but no one then or later suggested that the election should be called off and held another time. To do so would have been to surrender to terrorism.

According to Newsweek and CNN, some Bush officials and "analysts" argue that terrorists succeeded in disrupting Spain's national election last March by bombing a train in one city a few days before balloting. The election wasn't disrupted at all. Voters turned out, perhaps in more plentiful numbers than ever in defiance of the attack. Election mechanics operated smoothly, and voters threw out of office the conservative government. That outcome displeased the Bush regime, but the electoral process worked fine.

In an emergency, state election officials can suspend balloting and reschedule voting. Such was done in New York on Sept. 11, 2001, which happened to be an Election Day.

The current controversy relates to whether the Bush administration should have power to postpone the presidential election in any state regardless of whether state election officials want to proceed. If a horrendous event occurs in an East Coast city, some Bush officials apparently want the prerogative to forbid voting in California and everywhere else.

Rather than allow voters to defy potential or actual terrorism, some Bush administration officials evidently want to consider the "option" of delaying the presidential balloting to "secure the election" (in the phrase of Homeland Security spokesman Brian Roehrkasse). When police secure a building no one can use it; is this the Bush regime's attitude toward the November election?

Such officials have cast their "no confidence" vote against the American people, saying we lack courage to defend our country by voting in defiance of terrorism. The Spanish electorate rose in defiance of terrorism last March. Would Americans do less?

Richard Lawrence Miller is author of "Truman: The Rise to Power" and "Nazi Justiz: Law of the Holocaust."

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