US to Delay Presidential Election in Case of Terrorist Attack? No legal Foundations Scholars Say
If the United States were hit by a major terrorist attack before the presidential election this year, the US government would be perplexed by a lack of legal foundations, should it want to postpone the election.
The reason is that US presidential elections are fixed at a specific date by law and no clear mechanism can be found for a postponement of the election.
Soaries, new chairman of the US Election Assistance Commission, recently wrote to Homeland Security Secretary Ridge, asking what the procedures would be if the election were to be postponed.
Homeland Security Department spokesman Roehrkasse said, "We forwarded the letter to the Department of Justice because the legal issue is more appropriately addressed by them." He also added, "Nothing has been decided."
Ridge warned on the 9th that al-Qaeda, the mastermind behind the September 11 attacks in the United States, was planning "a large-scale attack in the United States in an effort to disrupt our democratic process."
However, he admitted that US intelligence agencies had no information about any specific plot.
Since 1845, US law has set the presidential election day, once every four years, for the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, which this year falls on November 2.
"The federal government has no agency that has the statutory authority to cancel and reschedule a federal election," Soaries said in his letter, according to a Newsweek magazine report.
Three years ago on September 11, the New York City Council election originally slated for that day, was cancelled due to the attacks on the World Trade Center.
Siegel, a law professor at George Washington University, said, "As far I can tell, current law would not permit the election to be postponed.
To do that, you have to formulate a new law."
Congress would have to pass a law before the presidential election to provide legal basis in unusual situations, he said.
The United States has never postponed a presidential election in its history, and even during the Civil War years of 1861-65, voting went on as usual.