What with all the controversy that arose after one of President Bush's appointees to the federal Election Assistance Commission sought to establish guidelines for suspending the November presidential election in case of a terrorist incident, citizens can be excused for presuming that this is a radical new notion. But it's not.
Borrowing several pages from the Joe Stalin Manual of Electoral Etiquette, the president's Republican allies canceled party primary elections in states across the country during the current election season -- often claiming that voting was pointless because President Bush was going to win anyway.
Last year, Republican-controlled legislatures in Kansas, Colorado and Utah canceled their state-run 2004 presidential primaries. The pattern continued even after the presidential campaign got going, with the suspension this year of presidential primaries in Florida, New York, Connecticut, Mississippi, South Carolina, South Dakota and Puerto Rico.
So it was that, while Democratic voters went to the polls to express their presidential preferences and select delegates to their party convention, the Republican process in many of the same states was effectively shut down. Instead of selecting delegates in primaries that attract significant numbers of voters, some of whom might dissent from party orthodoxy, Republicans in key states chose to play things out behind closed doors -- in caucuses or other "official" settings.
Why were so many Republican primaries canceled? Officially, the line was that Republican legislators and party leaders wanted to save the money it would cost to hold the primaries that President Bush would surely win.
Aside from the fact that canceling elections because someone is expected to win creates a democratic Catch-22, the cost-cutting talk is as bogus as the claim that a clear Bush victory could be divined from all those uncounted ballots from Florida's contested 2000 voting. The savings that can be achieved by canceling an election are small, while the cost to democracy is large. Indeed, when legislators voted to cancel the party primaries in Arizona, Governor Janet Napolitano vetoed the measure and declared, "Arizona can well afford the price of democracy."
That is true of every state. So why did the cancellations really occur?
Because Republican party bosses did not want President Bush to be embarrassed by evidence of Republican opposition.
As it turns out, the concern was well founded. In several states that held Republican primaries this year, significant numbers of GOP voters rejected Bush.
In New Hampshire, for instance, 22 percent of citizens who selected Republican presidential primary ballots voted for someone other than Bush. (More than 3,000 New Hampshire Republican primary voters wrote in the name of Democrat John Kerry.) In Rhode Island, more than 15 percent of Republican primary voters rejected Bush. In Idaho and Oklahoma, more than 10 percent of Republicans cast Anyone-But-Bush votes, while almost 10 percent did so in Massachusetts. Even in the president's home state of Texas, more than 50,000 Republican primary voters refused to back Bush.
Despite the convention show that Republican leaders will put on in New York next month, Bush has inspired a good deal of grumbling among the faithful. The results from a number of the states that actually held Republican primaries reflect that embarrassing fact. There are no embarrassing results from states that canceled Republican primaries -- which, of course, was the point of the cancellations.
No wonder so many Americans got scared when Bush appointees started talking about plans to cancel the November elections. Perhaps they have come to the conclusion, based on all those canceled primaries, that this administration and its minions believe democracy is a tidier enterprise when the voters are excluded.