The US presidential election could be delayed if terrorists strike the US according to reports by Newsweek magazine.
Counter-terrorism officials are examining what legal action would need to be taken to allow them to postpone the November 2 elections in the event of an attack.
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge warned that al-Qaeda was planning a large scale attack in the run up to the elections. But he admitted there was no detailed intelligence.
Senior Democrats have said any postponement would be "excessive" and that the warning from the Bush administration was based on old information.
No US presidential election has ever been postponed.
Abraham Lincoln once responded to calls to delay the 1864 election in the face of Civil War, by saying that if he did the rebellion "might fairly claim to have already conquered us".
Should the US elections be postponed in the event of a terrorist attack? Is it prudent to develop contingency plans? Should elections ever be postponed?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:
I wonder how many more warnings of impending attacks with no explanation of how they might be carried out or where the info came from will be given before the election. A scared voting base is good for Bush in this election and I have a feeling he will use all avenues under his power to make sure we are as scared as possible.
Myles, San Francisco, USA
Michael Moore has everyone thinking that any rumour is beyond question, the absolute truth. Grow up people and face the real fact: if there is a terrorist attack on election day and Mr. Bush wins the election, all you paranoid conspiracy cases will be saying the election should have been postponed? That is the truth. But, it's academic anyway because the election will go as planned. The Administration must look at all worst case scenarios: it's part of their job! Even if Democrats are in the White House.
Michael Chittum, San Francisco, USA
Even the repeat of 9/11 should not stop the national election for the rest of the nation because the election in any one area can be delayed for that city or state with plenty of time to get it counted before the electors need to vote. All this talk about delaying the whole election is just the Bush administration propaganda.
Gregory Wonderwheel, Santa Rosa, California USA
The elections should not be delayed for any reason at any time. The USA does not give into Terrorists like countries.
Dwayne Chastain, West Jefferson, Ohio
It is inconsequential! He may as well have said 'folks, let's not even bother with an election this time, as you know I am going to put all of my money and business links into winning this election, whoever you vote for, so save yourselves the trouble'. It's just going to be another fix.
Those who gave their all in countless wars for our nation will role over in the grave if this is allowed. This president is going to cling to power no matter what, our nation has never faced a greater threat to its survival than Cheney, Bush and Rumsfeld et al. Think America think, what are we doing? We are losing our way of government and it is rich middle aged white men doing it not teenage Arabs or any other group.
Hadyn Lassiter, Phoenix, USA
Maybe Mr Bush is taking too many leaves out of Mr Churchill's book. No elections were held in the UK during WW2 but that didn't prevent Mr Churchill from losing badly when they inevitably did come.
Hans, Waiheke Island, New Zealand
There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a plan in place to delay the election in the event of national emergency, with one important caveat: The plan should clearly specify that Mr. Bush's presidency shall end at the expiration of his 4-year term anyway, and the Senate Minority Leader shall act as president until election is resumed.
The voting booth is as close as many people get to standing in harm's way. This country was born of troubled times to the betterment of the entire world. Are we now saying it is no longer worth some risk to ensure democracy for ourselves and our children? Pray no such craven dolt taints us with their presence!
Borg, Jacksonville, FL, US
Considering how divisive American politics has become lately, it's good to see so many standing up together for the vote to go ahead.
J Toth, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada
Elections should not be delayed since such a move is also another way of giving into terrorists. The issue is not only that of protecting life but also that of not handing over control to terrorists in regards to a nation's activities.
Laurence Spiteri, Rome, Italy
No way. It is an admission of failure.
Joan Call, Cortland, NY, USA
I am willing to risk terrorist threat, even death, to vote. Just as others do all around the world. George Jr's administration contradicts itself by even suggesting that the vote be delayed. They say we should stand firm, not let the terrorists hold sway over us, continue with our lives. Except when it comes to a vote that threatens George's presidency. It's an interesting exercise in national defence, but to think seriously about it is not only hypocrisy, but it is also letting the terrorists win (a phrase we have heard so often from the pro-war side of the house).
Gregory Clapp, Seattle, USA
As a poll worker who had to help shut down the polls here on 9/11, I'd be happy to have at least some semblance of a plan in place. To simply carry on with a national election will mean that, since Democratic cities are the main target (NYC, LA, Chicago, etc) the Dems will be fleeing while the Red States vote away happily. I'm mystified so many correspondents here want Bush to win by default, because, folks, that's what would happen.
Carolyn, New York City, USA
This is a brilliant plan. If terrorists know that an attack will postpone the elections and thereby certainly keep Bush in office for an undetermined time they will not attack. Everyone knows terrorists want Kerry to win.
Jason, Detroit, USA
The vote should go on, no matter what!
Sandra Nothegger, Chicago, USA
If the election is postponed, isn't the re-scheduled election just as vulnerable to attack? Contingency plans are fine, but I want to see details about exactly what kind of threat could be cited as grave enough to postpone our election. The depth of cynicism this plan has generated around the world should be a wake-up call to all Americans.
Charlie, Ann Arbor, MI, USA
If Bush wants to mess with democracy the people will go to the streets. Never in America's history has such a thing happened, and judging from Bush's seedy past it is a ploy to remain in power. Shame on you George Bush for seeking to destroy democracy!
Daniel, Hinckley, Minnesota, USA
I only hope that the American media - now that they've somewhat woken up from their reportorial stupor and are calling the administration out on its rationale - pick this story up and run with it. The American public needs to be aware of this latest abuse of the Constitution.
Jen, Boston, USA
Only if the Bush administration and the Republican Party want to destroy themselves and possibly have an armed revolt. There is no historical or constitutional basis for delaying an election - even should God himself arrive on election day. Should it be tried it will be seen as a grab for power by an administration determined to have us live in fear for its own ends, and the American people will not tolerate it. On the other hand, maybe I should wish for it, so the American people can see what this administration is really made of.
Shawn Hampton, Eugene, OR - USA
I was shocked to find out that there is no system to delay an election in case of national emergency. Canada just went through a national election and its all written down, the people in charge of the election have the authority if necessary to delay, or to hold re-elections in particular areas. Though I think now is not the time, since Bush will use it as a threat, clearly the US has to update their system.
Mark Crowley, Toronto, Canada
No way, this is more of Bush's political mumbo-jumbo and his time is up. Every time Bush has problems or there is a holiday or a big event, they push out the terror warnings. Enough is enough!
Faith, Indianapolis, IN USA
Delaying the election would be somewhat of a double edged sword. On the one hand America must realize that today's world calls for bold action, and rethinking of day to day mannerism. However I am worried that the delay may be used as a poll tipping tactic in the favour of our current president.
Jay Guzman, Plainview NY
I think that it disrupts our democratic process to delay the election. In my honest opinion, it's a delay tactic to let the republicans try and sway more voters by convincing the people that an invisible army of boogie men are waiting to strike at a widespread event that could never possibly be attacked at every spot in the country. they want to delay it because they know they'll lose the presidency and they won't be able to rig the election like they did back in 2000.
Karl Hopkins-Lutz, Cleveland, USA
One can only hope that terrorist tragedy will not strike. If it does, a brief and reasonable delay will ensure that phlegmatic pragmatists do not hand the U.S. government over to the forces of appeasement and liberal fascism.
Mark Kellner, Maryland, United States
I think the American people should be planning ways to hold the election in spite of any terror attack. Planning a way to postpone the election seems like a way for George Bush to stay in the office of President.
Thomas Noonan, Grand Rapids, MI USA
As a Democrat, I'd be upset if they DIDN'T have plans for this. If we lose a major city or have one shut down and carry on as if nothing happened, Florida will look like a minor blip. Dems, don't be crazy, this is only for use in a major attack.
Why? Because Bush is behind Kerry on the pools? Bush's popularity is going down and election is around. the corner. Let the Americans raise their voices!
Ítalo Cavalcanti, Fortaleza, Brazil
Why not delay the Nov 2004 elections? In fact delay them till Nov. 2008 maybe. That way a man who was NOT elected can stay in power as President of the World's Greatest Democracy for 8 years. Cool!
Sandy, Hillsborough, USA
Bush want more time to stabilise Iraq before the election day. This regime does everything that is never done in America for the interest of myth, power and business. I am afraid America will soon have a president like Saddam. Just crazy to hold on to power.
Dr Wodi Samuel, Germany
The Patriot Act, the 2000 Election, and now this. President Bush has been more successful at undermining Democracy than al-Qaeda.
Kris W, NC, USA
If Lincoln held elections during the Civil War, we can hold elections in the United States in 2004. Polling takes place at schools, libraries, and other public facilities throughout the country; it is a de-centralized activity that, unlike the World Series or the Super Bowl, is not easy to stop or even handicap with a terrorist attack. Has the Bush administration proposed postponing these sporting events? No. It's an election that they want to stop, because it's an election that they fear.
Sam, Boston, United States
This is just another use of FEAR by the Bush Administrations. Factual polls show he is losing in popularity to Kerry/Edwards. This new stunt will scare people into not going to the polls. (un)president Bush and his team have used fear for the last 4 years to manipulate the people.
Knox Banfield, West Palm Beach Florida, USA
Using terrorism as an excuse to delay the elections would be way too tempting for a politician to use as a means to avoid being voted out of office. It's too easy to use the siege mentality to justify special powers and circumstances. Guantanamo Bay is bad enough and this should not even be considered. This country is so huge that no terrorist attack could logistically or statistically disrupt national elections in a significant way. If anything it would cause more people to go out and vote.
Jeremy, Atlanta, USA
Absolutely not. This country has gone through a Civil War, two World Wars, many other wars, natural disasters, and a whole host of events, but none has delayed the November election. As long as the polling stations can be opened, even if the polling station has to be moved to an alternative location, this November election should be carried out. Also, let's not forget that the timing of the election is constitutionally mandate; therefore it is the responsibility of every officer of the United State government to do what ever is needed to fulfil this obligation.
Planning should be conducted on how to carry out the election should there be a terrorist attack, not planning on delaying the election. After September 11, 2001, everyone was telling the American people to carry on with their lives otherwise the terrorists would have won; wouldn't delaying a national election be more of a triumph of terrorism than not going shopping?
Shaun Carr, New York, USA
Before everyone seizes on this, please understand that thousands of such contingency plans sit on shelves for these kinds of event. Of course I'm disturbed by the prospect of delaying elections and I'll be monitoring this story very closely. But I'm even more concerned that people will use this report to perpetuate baseless criticisms about a militant and undemocratic America. Furthermore, the circumstances required to justify such drastic action to the Congress and American public would have to be truly catastrophic.
The US elections must go forward on schedule. Should they be delayed, we will have lost the War on Terrorism.
Bob, Taos, USA
Bush has earned the cynicism and mistrust of the people. Even if there were legitimate reasons to postpone the election, at least half of Americans would believe it's a conspiracy for a struggling President to hold onto power. I'm not sure they'd be wrong. Nothing this administration does should ever be trusted again.
Shawn, Washington DC, USA
Delay democracy? That's telling the terrorists... that they've won!
Yes, considering the threat of al-Qaeda on the one hand and the poll prospect and popularity of president Bush nose-diving on the other hand.
Ganesan Kannuchamy, London, UK
I cannot even believe that this is being considered by Homeland Security. America cannot set yet another negative precedent of going against our Constitution. I do not see as how a terrorist attack should stop the American people from voting. I am strongly opposed to this idea, as I feel that we are leaning more towards some kind of Totalitarianism State rather than a Democracy. I am in no way a conspiracy theorist, but this current thought process portrayed from the top is making me extremely nervous.
Jenna, Texas, USA
Nope, we cannot let terrorists control the way democratic societies are run.
Peter K Laustsen, Aarhus, Denmark
Elections should only be prevented if really there is a certain threat of terrorist attacks. Let's hope that it will not be like the story of WMD alleged to be possessed by Iraq. Nevertheless, is the Bush administration's best option to deal with imminent terror attack postponing elections? Finally by postponing general elections due to so called terrorist threat could be interpreted as a victory to terrorists.
Christian Garuka, Kigali, Rwanda
Postponing the election will be very suspect since it appears Bush may lose. And what about, "if you change this or that, then the terrorists have won"? That's what they told us after 9/11 when they wanted us to keep shopping and getting on planes. Same thing applies here. These guys will try anything to win!
Becky, Dayton, OH