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Only Cowards Cancel Elections
by William Rivers Pitt
July 14, 2004
First Published in Truthout

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A number of trial balloons have been floated in recent days, from Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge specifically, about canceling or postponing the national election because of a terrorist attack. DeForest B. Soaries Jr., the Bush-appointed chairman of the newly minted U.S. Election Assistance Commission, apparently got the ball rolling with Ridge by writing a letter to him. In it, he bade Ridge ask Congress for the power to put off the November election in the event of an attack.

There are wild cards shuffled all through this deck. The simple fact, however, is that no national election has ever been cancelled in all of American history. This is not a streak to be broken under any circumstances. In the darkest hours of the Civil War, when the continued existence of the nation was gravely in doubt, Abraham Lincoln wrote, "We can not have free government without elections; and if the rebellion could force us to forego, or postpone a national election it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us."

Whatever happens, come hell or high water, let us resolve to have an election in November. Voting is the seedcorn act of democracy. Allowing anyone, under any circumstances, to deflect or disrupt the basic, sacred process of this republic would be an admission of absolute, final defeat.

The law here is complicated. Title 3 of the U.S. Code addresses the election of a President. Chapter one, section one requires that electors be appointed, "on the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November." Section two states that, should the electors not be designated on the required day, "the electors may be appointed on a subsequent day in such a manner as the legislature of such State may direct." In other words, if a national election does not take place on the required day, 50 legislatures will be responsible individually to get the election rolling again in their respective states.

The issue becomes murkier when factoring in the reality that the order to cancel a national election would come from the federal government. Only a state of emergency declaration could put off a national election, and only the President can declare a national state of emergency. In the case of this current debate, said cancellation would supposedly come on the heels of a catastrophic attack. In such an event, it is entirely possible that the Federal Emergency Management Agency would be calling the play.

FEMA was created by Executive Order during the Nixon administration, and became unbelievably powerful during the Reagan years. Ostensibly, FEMA was created to ensure the continuation of government after a nuclear strike. Subsequent Executive Orders over the last thirty years give FEMA, with a Presidential declaration of a national state of emergency, absolute power over all modes of transportation including personal cars, trucks or vehicles of any kind, total control of highways, seaports, airports, aircraft, the national media, all electrical power, gas, petroleum, fuels and minerals, along with all food resources and farms.

In a time of crisis, FEMA would also have absolute power over all health, education and welfare functions, and can develop plans to establish control over the mechanisms of production and distribution, wages, salaries, credit and the flow of money in U.S. financial institution in any undefined national emergency.

Executive Order 11051 gives FEMA the authority to execute all Executive Orders granting the above-described powers in the event of a crisis. Executive Order 11310 requires the Justice Department to enforce any and all powers granted to FEMA in a crisis. Executive Order 11921 declares that when a state of emergency is declared by the President, Congress cannot review the action for six months.

There are some fifteen Executive Orders which outline the powers of FEMA, should the President set them in motion after a disaster or an attack. Several of them are nebulous enough to encompass the decision to cancel a national election. Whether the legislatures, per Title 3 of the U.S. Code, are allowed to participate in any subsequent election preparations will certainly depend on whether the federal government wants to cut them in on the action.

Enacting any or all of these Executive Orders would essentially remove the Constitution and the Bill of Rights from the table.

There are a thousand other questions in the mix. What constitutes a state of emergency? What kind of attack would precipitate such a decision? If it is a truck bombing against a building, does that rise to the threshold? Why would an attack in Boston require the balloting in West Virginia or Idaho to be ceased? Is the threat of an attack enough to precipitate a cancellation?

This last question elevates a whole new field of disturbing issues to the fore. The Bush administration has politicized September 11 and the issue of terrorism to an astounding degree. Time and again, political developments discomforting to the administration have been deflected by opaque and apparently baseless warnings of impending doom put forth by the likes of Ridge, Ashcroft and Bush himself. A war is currently being fought because of the politicization of 9/11, and a lot of people are dead from it. The war, and the aforementioned transformation of 9/11 into a political weapon, were the two issues Bush's people instructed the GOP to run on in the 2002 midterms.

This is the ultimate wedge issue the administration can use against its political foes. Bush and his people can play on the fears of the populace, tweaking this issue to suppress voter turnout. If the Democrats go along with it to appear responsible in the face of a perceived threat, they will be perpetuating the scenario that would deliver their defeat. If they denounce these warnings as political ploys, and an attack of any size does indeed happen, they will be finished for all time in American politics.

This, in and of itself, is reason enough for the administration to play this card to the hilt, no matter what actually happens. Ruthless is as ruthless does.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, in his run for the White House this year, often quoted the national anthem in his speeches. He would call attention to the line singing of "the land of the free and the home of the brave." Kucinich reminded us that the words were not mere affects of poetry, but that freedom and bravery march hand in hand. One cannot have freedom without bravery, one cannot have liberty without courage.

We are Americans. That means two things. It means we are required to endure the blowback from all that has been done in our name, including all the actions in the Middle East and elsewhere that helped to birth organized international terrorism in the first place. We citizens did not create this situation, though collectively as members of this republic, we are ultimately responsible for the election of the 'leaders' who got this ball rolling. That's a bitter pill, the curse of this generation, but it must be swallowed.

It also means that no matter how beaten, abused, disgraced, smeared, manipulated and distorted these terms may have become - thanks to some of the aforementioned 'leaders' - the words "Freedom," "Liberty" and "Courage" still have currency in the soul of this nation. Dennis Kucinich got it right. Freedom and bravery are not separable.. One cannot exist without the other, and the words are still worth living for.

Refuse to be jerked around by an administration that deliberately uses fear to control the populace and win elections. Refuse also to be afraid of terrorism itself. Refuse to allow behavior and belief to be manipulated by people who use murder to affect policy. Once a knee is bent to that fear, victory is given over to murder. Refuse to be afraid. Be an American, embrace you freedom and your courage, for they are the midwives of greatness.

No states of emergency. No FEMA. No constitutional chaos. Let us stick to Title 3 of the U.S. Code and vote on that Tuesday in November.

Let us do it because George W. Bush said to.

It is the rare person who praises Mr. Bush for his ability to craft the spoken word with eloquence. On November 8, 2001, however, less than two short months after the attacks of September 11, Bush spoke before the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta. On that day, he said, "In the face of this great tragedy, Americans are refusing to give terrorists the power. Our people have responded with courage and compassion, calm and reason, resolve and fierce determination. We have refused to live in a state of panic or a state of denial. There is a difference between being alert and being intimidated, and this great nation will never be intimidated."

These were good words. Let us obey them. Let us refuse to give terrorists, or anyone else for that matter, the power to make us so afraid that our country falls to ashes. Let us face our future with courage, compassion, calm, reason, resolve and fierce determination, as Mr. Bush said. Let us never be intimidated by anyone, ever.

Let us vote.

William Rivers Pitt is the Managing Editor of, where this article first appeared (  He is a New York Times and international best-selling author of three books: War On Iraq, available from Context Books, The Greatest Sedition is Silence, available from Pluto Press, and Our Flag, Too: The Paradox of Patriotism, available from Context Books. Email:

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