|July 11, 2004 — WASHINGTON (Reuters)– A senior House Democratic lawmaker was skeptical on Sunday of a Bush administration idea to obtain the authority to delay the November presidential election in case of an attack by al Qaeda, U.S. counterterrorism officials are looking at an emergency proposal on the legal steps needed to postpone the presidential election in case of such an attack, Newsweek reported on Sunday.”I think it’s excessive based on what we know,” said Rep. Jane Harman of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, in a interview on CNN’s “Late Edition.”
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge warned last week that Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network want to attack within the United States to try to disrupt the election.
Harman said Ridge’s threat warning “was a bust” because it was based on old information.
Newsweek cited unnamed sources who told it that the Department of Homeland Security asked the Justice Department last week to review what legal steps would be needed to delay the vote if an attack occurred on the day before or on election day.
The department was asked to review a letter from DeForest Soaries, chairman of the new U.S. Election Assistance Commission, in which he asked Ridge to ask Congress for the power to put off the election in the event of an attack, Newsweek reported in its issue out on Monday.
The commission was created in 2002 to provide funds to states to replace punch card voting systems and provide other assistance in conducting federal elections.
In his letter, Soaries wrote that while New York’s Board of Elections suspended primary elections in New York on the day of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, “the federal government has no agency that has the statutory authority to cancel and reschedule a federal election.”
Homeland Security Department spokesman Brian Rochrkasse told the magazine the agency is reviewing the matter “to determine what steps need to be taken to secure the election.”
Republican Rep. Christopher Cox of California, who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, told CNN that the idea of legislation allowing the election to be postponed was similar to what had already been looked at in terms of how to respond to an attack on Congress.
“These are doomsday scenarios. Nobody expects that they’re going to happen,” he said. “But we’re preparing for all these contingencies now.”