Despite a round of criticism from lawmakers in both parties, Election Assistance Commission Chairman DeForest Soaries is holding firm in his desire to discuss emergency protocols in the event of a terrorist attack or other catastrophic event on or near Election Day.
Soaries told reporters Tuesday that he and fellow EAC officials will meet with Homeland Security Department officials next week. But he flatly rejected the idea that his call for procedural planning in the event of a terrorist attack on Election Day was in any way a push to postpone or cancel the November elections.
Soaries argued that his motives had been misinterpreted.
“There is no circumstance that could justify the postponement or cancellation of a presidential election in the United States,” he said. He added, however, that the country must be prepared for the “unthinkable, but the very possible.”
Soaries accused some outspoken lawmakers of misinterpreting his June 25 letter to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, which he described as simply reflecting the concern that a contingency plan should be in place if terrorists strike.
In that letter, Soaries asked Ridge if a mechanism existed for handling an election in the event of a major attack, and he offered the EAC’s assistance in drafting such a plan — an idea he still supports.
In the aftermath of Ridge’s recent terror warning about a potential attack coinciding with the elections, Soaries request raised the hackles of some in Congress. And the critics continued to voice their concerns Tuesday.
“Any action taken by the Department of Homeland Security to postpone a federal election, including requesting even an informal review by the Justice Department, would present the greatest threat to date to our democratic process — and would invite terrorists to disrupt the selection of our highest leader,” Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) stated in a draft letter to Ridge she was circulating among Members Tuesday. “Wars, droughts, floods, and hurricanes haven’t stopped elections, and the possibility of a terrorist attack must not stop one either.”
Woolsey’s letter went on to say that “such a proposal suggests that state officials responsible for elections in their region are incapable of deciding for themselves what steps to take in the event of a catastrophe. The legislative branch of the government has always held the authority to regulate elections. Now is not the time to transfer this authority to the executive branch. In the event of a terrorist attack, we trust that the respective legislatures across the nation will make the right decisions to ensure that our democratic process remains intact.”
Soaries, however, said he believes the EAC — which was established in 2002 to “serve as a national clearinghouse and resource for the comparison of information on various matters involving the administration of federal elections” — could play a role in executing a national plan by coordinating with state election officials.
“I’m not going to back down. I think that’s a reasonable, responsible role to play,” Soaries said.