Rice: No Vote Delay Plan Eyed

Voters make their way in and out of voting booths at Kennebunk Town Hall, in Kennebunk, Maine.
AP
The head of a new federal voting commission has suggested that there should be a process for canceling or rescheduling an election interrupted by terrorism, but national security adviser Condoleezza Rice says no such plan is being considered by the administration.

Federal officials warned last week that intelligence indicates al Qaeda wants to attack the United States to disrupt the elections.

"There does not appear to be a clear process in place to suspend or reschedule voting during an election if there is a major terrorist attack," DeForest B. Soaries, chairman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, wrote in a letter to Republican and Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives and Senate. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the one-page letter.

Rice said the Bush administration, while concerned about the impact of terrorism, is not thinking of postponing the elections, which are scheduled for early November.

"We've had elections in this country when we were at war, even when we were in civil war. And we should have the elections on time. That's the view of the president, that's the view of the administration," Rice told CNN on Monday.

Soaries also sent lawmakers copies of an earlier letter he wrote to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. In that letter, dated June 25, Soaries noted that Sept. 11, 2001, fell on election day in New York and state officials delayed voting until later that month. He wrote that no federal agency has the statutory authority to cancel or reschedule a federal election.

Soaries also expressed concern in the earlier letter that increased election day security could intimidate some voters, highlighting the need for communication between security officials and election administrators. He raised that issue again in his letter to lawmakers.

Despite the reported threats, the country remains on "yellow," the midlevel stage of the five-step terror alert program administered by Ridge's department, set up after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington.

While officials remain worried, the amount of terrorist "chatter" has not increased in recent weeks. There is no hard evidence that terrorists are plotting against the conventions and no specific credible information detailing any possible U.S. attack.

Soaries said Monday he was scheduled to meet early next week with Homeland Security officials to discuss the issues.

Soaries says he has pestered the White House and Homeland Security with scary "what-if" scenarios for Election Day, but gets the impression they're more focused on protecting the pre-election conventions and guarding against a large-scale Madrid-style attack days or weeks before the election, reports CBS News Correspondent Jim Stewart.

In a press conference last week, Ridge said he "read the letter" from a member of the Election Assistance Commission.

"I don't exactly agree with its conclusion," Ridge said. "But there are constitutional and security questions that are certainly involved and we're working on them, and certainly he will be involved, that individual and that group will be involved in the process."

A Homeland Security official tells CBS News the department passed on Soaries' request to the Justice Department to explore what legal steps might be required to postpone the national elections. The official stressed that Homeland Security was not making the inquiry itself, but merely passing on Soaries' concerns.

There is no constitutional requirement to hold the presidential election on a particular date. But current federal law does require that the vote be held "on the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November, in every fourth year succeeding every election of a President and Vice President."

Soaries believes it would take an act of Congress to set up the machinery allowing the postponement or rescheduling of a presidential election – and this close to the election that may be impossible to achieve.

Another problem is that while Congress sets the date for national elections but states run the elections their own way.