N.C. Election Officials Taking Security Seriously

Planning for Nov. 2 election begins early, draws upon memory of bombing in Spain


North Carolina state election officials say they're concerned about terrorists trying to disrupt the presidential election, but they also don't want to scare people away from polling places.

So police, state troopers and the National Guard will be ready to respond to problems, if necessary, and poll workers are receiving extra training. But officials don't want to post armed guards at polling places.

North Carolina election officials will tour the state's emergency operations center this week and have a plan to use satellite phones to keep in touch if regular phone lines go down.

``Spain is certainly at the forefront of our minds,'' said Gary Bartlett, executive director of the State Board of Elections. ``An attack anywhere in the country could have a chilling effect on voting.''

Bartlett referred to deadly March train bombings in Spain, which came three days before a national election.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has warned that terrorists may be planning an attack timed to disrupt the presidential election, although no specific threats have been reported.

Bartlett sent an Oct. 6 memo asking county officials to practice their security plan with poll workers.

``If you have to think instead of act, it could affect someone's health and safety,'' he said.

He plans to send follow-up instructions this week, asking each county to pick a backup polling site and urging officials to do more reviews. He is concerned that because of the crush of early voting and everything else officials have to do before Election Day, security plans may not be emphasized.

``Everybody in the Board of Elections office is so busy now that it may be hard to take the time to do what needs to be done,'' Bartlett said.

Much of the preparation so far has been at the state level. Bartlett has met with North Carolina homeland security officials, the FBI and the National Guard to develop contingency plans for security.

The terrorism worries are very different from the usual concern of elections officials _ the weather. Polling places have been evacuated for flooding and tornadoes and even chemical spills in the part, Bartlett said.

He hopes those emergencies provide good experience and that nothing worse happens.

``Every election we have at least one bomb threat,'' he said. ``We've been lucky enough that no bomb has ever been found.''