Election officials and law enforcement agencies in the Washington, D.C., area are putting in place contingency plans to deal with any sudden spike in terror warnings over the next three weeks or the possibility of attacks at polling places on Election Day, the Washington Post reports. In a memo yesterday to each local registrar, Virginia’s top election official urged a “delicate balance” between enhancing security to prevent terrorism and the need to avoid intimidating voters with an unnecessary show of force at the polls. Some registrars will put uniformed police at polling places. Others are playing down the threat for fear of scaring voters and poll workers. Civil liberties advocates warn that too heavy a police presence might violate federal law.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials have warned of a vague election threat. Last month, the National Governors Association, in consultation with Homeland Security, sent states guidelines for coordinating police, tips for ballot-counting security, and legal advice about ordering emergency election changes. For the most part, they left it up to each municipality and county to decide how to act. In 2000, black voters in Florida complained that police checkpoints scared some from casting ballots in the close election. The charges reminded some of the days when government power was used throughout the South to turn away black voters.