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OPINION: Defy the violence, go vote

November 1, 2018 By Jerry H. Goldfeder For Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Photo courtesy of Cagle Cartoons
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The pipe bombs aimed at prominent Democrats right before a critical midterm election must not intimidate anyone from voting.  This latest act of violence on American democracy — and make no mistake, that is what this is — may have been intended to stifle turnout, but we cannot allow that to happen.  We have had highly contentious elections since the beginning of the republic, but it has been a long time since Americans have been physically prevented from voting or even killed for doing so.  Current political vitriol is bad enough. Political terror, obviously, is wholly unacceptable.

On the heels of the pipe bombs, the assassination of eleven Shabbos worshippers must be seen in this context of political terror. To be sure, murderous attacks against the Jewish people have been waged for literally thousands of years. But in contemporary America, where hate against political opponents is routinely spewed by candidates and government officials, the Pittsburgh shootings a week before our national elections are a direct attack on our freedoms.   

In 2004, the House of Representatives, by a vote of 419-2, passed a resolution announcing to the world that a presidential election will never be postponed in the event of a terrorist attack. Doing so “would demonstrate weakness … and would be interpreted as a victory for the terrorists.” Indeed, no presidential election has ever been skipped, even during war or economic depression. 

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Yet, despite a general sense that terrorism should not interfere with elections, almost twenty years after 9/11 there are no contingency plans for actual or attempted disruption of elections. Except for generalized statutes, neither the U.S. Congress, nor the various states have enacted specific guidelines as to how to proceed in the face of such exigencies. Optimism is understandable, but not when it results in ostrich-like inaction.   

So, in a nightmare scenario, if there are additional pipe bombs or targeted shootings on or immediately before next week’s elections, I certainly hope that governors and attorneys general in all fifty states have contingency plans in place to ensure a safe voting process.  

Election authorities cannot afford to simply hope for an uneventful day.  Early voting in 37 states has already begun, attracting very long lines in hotly contested races. Rigorous protocols should, therefore, be initiated immediately. Of course, whatever precautions are contemplated should not exacerbate our already obstacle-laden voting procedures. 

Equally important is the determination of the voters. It is no secret that many are notoriously apathetic in “off year” elections, even when the stakes are high. These pipe bombs and shootings, however, are a stark reminder of the fragility of our constitutional democracy. Such threats should not deter voters. On the contrary, voters — in huge numbers — should defiantly march to the polls to cast ballots.   After all, voting is the most powerful weapon Americans have.


— Jerry H. Goldfeder is an election lawyer and teaches at Fordham Law School and the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He has written numerous articles on the effect of terrorism and elections.


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