Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge on Friday said: "Al-Qaida is moving forward with its plans to carry out a large-scale attack in the United States in an effort to disrupt our democratic process." However, he admitted US intelligence had no information about any specific plot.

But unnamed counterterrorism officials told Newsweek on Sunday they were considering a proposal to delay balloting in the event of an attack.

The head of the new US Election Assistance Commission, De Forest Soaries Junior, wrote to Ridge urging him to ask Congress for emergency legislation that would allow his agency to reschedule the election if terrorists were to strike.

"The federal government has no agency that has the statutory authority to cancel and reschedule a federal election," Soaries wrote, according to the US weekly publication.

Soaries, a Republican and former Secretary of State of New Jersey, said that all the possibilities should be looked at.

Review

He said he was hopeful that some proposals were being floated.

"If there are not, we will probably try to put one on the table," he said. 

"The federal government has no agency that has the statutory authority to cancel and reschedule a federal election"

De Forest Soaries Junior,
US Election Assistance Commission

He also alluded to the problems surrounding such a situation; whether the federal government postpones the elections or not, it would have tremendous political ramifications.

"Who makes the call, under what circumstances is the call made, what are the constitutional implications?" he asked.

"I think we have to err on the side of transparency to protect the voting rights of the country."

Ridge's office has asked the Justice Department to review the letter and other proposals to determine how the election could legally be postponed, the magazine said.

The US constitution sets election day for the first Tuesday of November.

"We are reviewing the issue to determine what steps need to be taken to secure the election," department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse told the magazine.

Website theorists

Web log forums and discussion boards reveal that many alternative websites have been discussing for some time the prospect that the Bush administration may postpone elections in the event of a security breach.

With Kerry-Edwards leading polls,
the Bush campaign is on alert

Some websites refer to what has become known as the "October surprise", an event where either a terrorist attack hits the American mainland, or, as some politicians, including former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, have speculated, a captured Usama bin Ladin is paraded on television.

In either case, talk of consideration being given to the possibility of postponing the elections is likely to fuel conspiracy theories.