Heeding warnings that terrorists could try to disrupt the fall elections, state and local election officials are aiming to coordinate communications and decision-making with governors and security officials so voting goes as smoothly as possible.
Top election officials made public on Monday recommendations sent to state and local officials, encouraging several steps, including identifying key decision-makers, which decisions to weigh in the event of increased threat warnings or actual attacks, and the best ways to communicate with the public.
"This election cannot be postponed," said New Mexico Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron (search). "If something should happen in New York City, the elections in New Mexico will continue, as is the case in California and Utah, and so on. Elections would not stop."
Federal officials repeated last week their concerns that terrorists could be aiming to mount an attack before the Nov. 2 general election, but said they have no new information indicating a time, place or method of attack.
Vigil-Giron said planners need to make sure that elections continue securely, but also without scaring voters — for instance, by stationing heavily armed guards at the polls.
"The last thing we want to see happening is a National Guardsman standing there with a rifle, keeping watch," she said.
On Monday, senior counterterrorism officials in Washington said Al Qaeda's threat to attack the United States before the Nov. 2 election is geared less toward affecting the outcome of the presidential race than toward making a violent statement to Islamic extremists worldwide.
Four senior administration officials, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, said the network's aim in the United States, and in other countries as well, is mainly to disrupt the democratic process in a more general sense.
Terrorism analysts and government officials have said, however, that al-Qaida was emboldened by the March commuter train bombings in Madrid, which was a factor in the ouster of Spain's former ruling party.
The election recommendations made public Monday followed more than a month of discussions among officials at the National Governors Association (search), the National Association of Secretaries of State, the National Association of State Election Directors and others.
The recommendations seek to ensure that communications and responses are thought through now, so there are no last-minute conflicts or glitches that undermine the election.
"You need to sit down and work through these decisions beforehand," said George Foresman, homeland security adviser to Virginia Gov. Mark Warner. "Election Day, or three days before the election, is not the time to have the discussion."
Governors or federal officials would make security decisions, Vigil-Giron said, but possible problems with voting should be considered by those responsible for elections, usually the secretary of state.