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Arizona County’s Refusal to Certify Vote Shows Why Election Denial Is Still a Threat

Vigilance is required to protect our democratic system.

December 2, 2022

Midterm voters rejected election deniers running in key statewide elections — but that doesn’t mean the threat is over. In fact, even in this election cycle, some election deniers have been abusing their local administrative roles to obstruct the certification of certain counties’ election results. While these efforts appear unlikely to succeed this time, they show the need for vigilance going forward. 

Certification of local results is a crucial part of accurately collecting, counting, and recording the results of state and federal races. Until recent years, local certification was universally treated as an automatic step once the votes had been tallied, but since 2020, election deniers have seized on certification as a pressure point for disrupting the democratic process.

While midterm certification issues have arisen in New Mexico and Pennsylvania, Cochise County in Arizona was ground zero for this problem. After unsuccessfully trying to force a hand-count of ballots in addition to the machine count, the board of supervisors voted 2–1 against certifying their county’s results by the November 28 statutory deadline. 

The two members who voted against certification claimed to be acting on concerns about the security and reliability of the county’s voting machines — based on claims that have been thoroughly debunked — but one of them later admitted that this justification was just an excuse. Before the 2–1 vote, the county’s attorney warned the board that it would be illegal not to certify, but the members ignored him. Their willfully illegal action threatened to disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters and, had it been allowed to stand, would have set a terrible precedent in advance of the 2024 election. 

Fortunately, on Thursday, the Cochise County Superior Court ordered the board to certify the results immediately, which the board did that same day. The judge rightly denied a motion to continue the case and held that the board had a legal duty to act. It’s perhaps not surprising as the board couldn’t even find an attorney willing to defend its lawless actions.

While we’re relieved the court stepped in to protect the democratic process and the rule of law, it shouldn’t have gotten to this point. Courts are already overwhelmed by election-related litigation, and it shouldn’t take a court order just to get local officials to report election results. Certification is a ministerial, nondiscretionary act, and it is never appropriate for officials to withhold that act as a form of protest. It’s also troubling that although one of the supervisors complied with the court’s order by changing her vote to certify, another simply refused to attend the certification hearing.

Going forward, we need to continue holding officials to account when they abuse their ministerial roles to disrupt the election process. We must also keep up the fight against the rampant disinformation that fuels election denialism. We need to support and protect officials who are responsibly carrying out their duties — often under intense opposition — so that they can continue in their jobs. Finally, Congress and state legislatures should enact more explicit prohibitions against gamesmanship in the certification process and other sabotage tactics.