Ballot security

War on Terror | Election returns from Afghanistan to Australia suggest a terror-free Nov. 2 is still possible

Issue: "2004 Election: Countdown," Oct. 23, 2004

U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton (D-Minn.) is so worried about a possible pre-Election Day terror attack that he announced on Oct. 12 that he was closing his Capitol Hill office until after Nov. 2. Mr. Dayton said he made the decision after digesting a classified memo available to all senators, yet other lawmakers weren't following his lead.

If threats of election attacks and disruptions are real, they have not manifested themselves in other terror-prone polling venues. Voters cast ballots this month in Afghanistan, the home of al-Qaeda, and in Australia, the second-largest U.S. coalition member in Iraq after Great Britain, all without major incident. Those polls opened in a week one Arab journalist, Arabiya television director Abd al-Rahman al-Rashed, dubbed the "week the world map was drenched in blood" after bombers struck in two sites in Pakistan, the Indonesian embassy in Paris, downtown Algiers, and at a resort on Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

But the threat of violence didn't deter the first-ever nationwide election in Afghanistan. Voters by the thousands lined up outside polls on Oct. 10 to cast ballots for Hamid Karzai, the current president, or one of 15 challengers. Women turned out in beads and bridal gowns, a sign of evident celebration after over a decade when they could not lawfully leave their homes. Ballot boxes were trucked or flown to Kabul, where they will be hand-counted, perhaps by the end of the month.

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A successful aftermath is the true test of the Afghans' fundamental step toward democracy. Challengers to Mr. Karzai initially threatened to boycott the elections but backed off after local councils and the Afghan press said they would undermine the process. The rivals complained that indelible ink meant to mark the forefinger of voters could be rubbed off, leading to double-dipping.

But one by one the challengers announced they would not boycott the results while supporting a UN investigation into potential irregularities. "This turning point spells the end of more than two decades of the rule of the gun in this nation and confirms the bright hope of all the Afghan people in a democratic future centered on the rule of law," said U.S. Lt. Gen. David Barno.

What also began half a world away as an uphill battle, in the end looked easy for Australia's John Howard. The prime minister seemed headed for a tight election on Oct. 9 because of opposition to the Iraq War. Instead, Mr. Howard won a historic fourth term, even increasing his right-of-center Liberal Party's seats in Parliament. Once maligned for joining the Bush war coalition, by year's end Mr. Howard will be Australia's second-longest-serving prime minister.

Leading into the election, the Spanish syndrome was a risk for Mr. Howard, a staunch ally in President Bush's war on terror. A car bombing on Sept. 9 outside the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, looked likely to prompt an electoral revolt against the incumbent, just as Madrid train bombings last March did in Spain's ruling party.

The Labor Party opponent, brash 43-year-old Mark Latham, ran on a promise to bring troops home by December. But domestic issues eventually eclipsed terrorism and Australia's 900-troop presence in Iraq, and in that Mr. Howard held the advantage. He has presided over economic growth every year since he came to power in 1996.

Australians are also not as opposed to the Iraq War as other U.S. allies, says Dana Dillon, a Heritage Foundation senior policy analyst: "Unlike many other countries, Australians feel more attacked because of the Bali bombing." That 2002 strike by an al-Qaeda-linked group on an Indonesian nightclub killed 202, including 88 Australians. Seven of the victims were teammates in a much-loved Perth soccer club. Some two weeks before the election, Mr. Howard repeated his willingness to launch a preemptive strike against terrorists. Acting tough on terrorism, especially in Southeast Asia, appeals to many Australians.

Three weeks before the U.S. election, Mr. Howard's victory came as a rebuke to John Kerry's assertion that Mr. Bush is losing his coalition allies, says Mr. Dillon. Victory for the head of state Mr. Bush once described as a "man of steel" reinforces a picture of resoluteness rewarded in the fight against terror.


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