Buster's plan a bust? To some, yes

Published July 12, 2004 8:55PM (EDT)

We have received several letters about the Newsweek exclusive on Tom Ridge asking the Justice Department to identify how the federal government could postpone the Nov. 2 vote in the event of a terrorist attack. It's clear that at least some War Room readers suspect that George W. Bush and his Republican colleagues are up to no good in seeking the option of rescheduling the election. That same theory is out there on the Internet and in at least one of the world's newspapers. The folks over at Buzzflash headlined their analysis: Bush Cartel Talks of Steps to Potentially Cancel ("Postpone") the Presidential Election: This is For Real Folks! And the Sydney Morning Herald interpreted the proposal this way: "Bush men seek way to delay election."

Here is what Newsweek is actually reporting: "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 proposed that Ridge seek emergency legislation from Congress empowering him to reschedule the election.

Is it suspect for the commission to express concern about the security of the election and take steps to assure it? Not on its face, but unfortunately, the administration's credibility at this point on the issues of terror threats and fair elections is worn thin in some quarters. Some suspicion on the postponement proposal stems, it appears, from Soaries' GOP credentials -- Newsweek describes him as "a Bush appointee who two years ago was an unsuccessful GOP candidate for Congress." The Center for American Progress pointed out that President Bush has called Buster Soaries his "friend" and compared him to the Florida bureaucrat Democrats blame for manipulating the 2000 election on George W. Bush's behalf. "Meet Buster Soaries -- The next Katharine Harris?" the Progress Report said today.

For their part, several congressional Democrats were also dubious about the Soaries proposal. Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) said, "I think it's excessive based on what we know." What we know, of course, is that the basis for the administration's warnings about the potential al-Qaida threat to the election has been, in Harman's words, "a bust." Skepticism toward the postponement plans mirrors similar eye-rolling that accompanies general terror threat warnings these days. Even the mainstream media now openly question their veracity. When Ridge spoke last week of the potential al-Qaida threat to the electoral process, right after John Kerry's V.P. announcement, outlets like the N.Y. Daily News and the Daily Show pointed out that not only did Ridge announce no new information on a specific plot, the threat did not even merit a rise in the terror alert. This was essentially the same reaction to John Ashcroft's press conference in May when he was criticized for "alerting" America to the existence of at-large suspects who had been on the Most Wanted list for months, even years.

Last week, Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) openly accused the administration of trying to deflect attention from Kerry and Edwards. "I am deeply concerned that the Bush administration is copying and pasting old terror alerts that were later found to be fabricated. This administration has a long track record of using deceptive tactics for political gain," said Wexler. Add to this mix problems with Florida felon rolls, electronic voting procedures in Florida and elsewhere and reports on Diebold's CEO blatantly discussing "helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president," and you see where paranoia about 2004 being another 2000 -- and then some -- finds fertile ground to flourish.

On the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog, Kevin Drum suggested that instead of launching "conspiracy theories," the postponement proposal should prompt an honest and meaningful debate about its merits. He has his doubts. "I suppose it's always a good idea to be prepared, but we didn't feel like we needed the power to reschedule elections in 1864 and we didn't feel like we needed it in the 1950s when we were worried about nuclear holocaust. Why do we need it now?"

We don't, says Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California: "I don't think there's an argument that can be made, for the first time in our history, to delay an election. We hold elections in the middle of war, in the middle of earthquakes, in the middle of whatever it takes. The election is a statutory election. It should go ahead, on schedule, and we should not change it."

By Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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