THE END OF ELECTIONS?….People have been emailing me for ? How long? At least a year, anyway ? to suggest that George Bush would try to cancel elections this year and install himself as dictator for life. And for the last year, I’ve been filing these emails exactly where they belong.

Today, though, my paranoid friends are having the last laugh based on a story in Newsweek saying that the Department of Justice is reviewing proposals to reschedule elections in case of a terrorist attack:

Justice was specifically asked to review a recent letter to Ridge from DeForest B. Soaries Jr., chairman of the newly created U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Soaries noted that, while a primary election in New York on September 11, 2001, was quickly suspended by that state’s Board of Elections after the attacks that morning, “the federal government has no agency that has the statutory authority to cancel and reschedule a federal election.”

Soaries, a Bush appointee who two years ago was an unsuccessful GOP candidate for Congress, wants Ridge to seek emergency legislation from Congress empowering his agency to make such a call. Homeland officials say that as drastic as such proposals sound, they are taking them seriously?along with other possible contingency plans in the event of an election-eve or Election Day attack. “We are reviewing the issue to determine what steps need to be taken to secure the election,” says Brian Roehrkasse, a Homeland spokesman.

I still don’t think this is part of any nefarious plot to turn America into Amerika, but there’s not really much point in arguing about it. If you believe this, nothing I say is going to change your mind.

What’s intriguing, though, is that the paranoia is so thick that no one is bothering to talk about whether this is a good idea on a substantive level. Should a nationwide election be cancelled in the event of a major terrorist attack? And if so, should a federal commission be allowed to make the call?

My initial noodling is equivocal: I suppose it’s always a good idea to be prepared, but we didn’t feel like we needed the power to reschedule elections in 1864 and we didn’t feel like we needed it in the 1950s when we were worried about nuclear holocaust. Why do we need it now?

And even if we do need it, should it be in the hands of a commission? There’s not really any other choice, since Congress isn’t in session during elections, but if we do create such a commission I’d want it to be nice and big and incredibly multi-partisan. And I’d want any decision to reschedule an election to be unanimous.

Or, I suppose the president could just declare martial law and be done with it. Isn’t that better suited for conspiracy theories anyway?