Voting official seeks process for canceling Election Day over terrorism
Friday, June 25, 2004
BY ERICA WERNER
WASHINGTON - The government needs to establish guidelines for canceling or rescheduling elections if terrorists strike the United States again, says the chairman of a new federal voting commission.
Such guidelines do not currently exist, said DeForest B. Soaries, head of the voting panel.
Soaries was appointed to the federal Election Assistance Commission last year by President Bush. Soaries said he wrote to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge in April to raise the concerns.
``I am still awaiting their response,'' he said. ``Thus far we have not begun any meaningful discussion.'' Spokesmen for Rice and Ridge did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Soaries noted that Sept. 11, 2001, fell on Election Day in New York City - and he said officials there had no rules to follow in making the decision to cancel the election and hold it later.
Events in Spain, where a terrorist attack shortly before the March election possibly influenced its outcome, show the need for a process to deal with terrorists threatening or interrupting the Nov. 2 presidential election in America, he said.
``Look at the possibilities. If the federal government were to cancel an election or suspend an election, it has tremendous political implications. If the federal government chose not to suspend an election it has political implications,'' said Soaries, a Republican and former secretary of state of New Jersey.
``Who makes the call, under what circumstances is the call made, what are the constitutional implications?'' he said. ``I think we have to err on the side of transparency to protect the voting rights of the country.''
Soaries said his bipartisan, four-member commission might make a recommendation to Congress about setting up guidelies.
``I'm hopeful that there are some proposals already being floated. If there are, we're not aware of them. If there are not, we will probably try to put one on the table,'' he said.
Soaries also said he's met with a former New York state elections director to discuss how officials there handled the Sept. 11 attacks from the perspective of election administration. He said the commission is getting information from New York documenting the process used there.
``The states control elections, but on the national scale where every state has its own election laws and its own election chief, who's in charge?'' he said.
Soaries also said he wants to know what federal officials are doing to increase security on Election Day. He said security officials must take care not to allow heightened security measures to intimidate minority voters, but that local and state election officials he's talked to have not been told what measures to expect.
``There's got to be communication,'' he said, ``between law enforcement and election officials in preparation for November.''