“Some Election Officials Refused to Certify Results. Few Were Held Accountable.”

Doug Bock Clark for ProPublica:

Before 2020, local election officials seldom voted against certifying results. But in 2022, conservative officials in North Carolina, Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania and New Mexico refused to do so. Some admitted to refusing to certify for political reasons. In all the 2022 cases, the election results eventually were certified, sometimes under a court order.

Election law experts say that these disruptions reveal a weakness in the American electoral system, which relies on thousands of local officials to certify the totals in their counties and municipalities before their results can be aggregated and tallied for state and federal elections.

Local elections officials “could create chaos” all the way up the chain by refusing to certify, said Alice Clapman, a senior counsel in election law at the Brennan Center for Justice. “And in that chaos you have more room for political interference.” Five legal experts described to ProPublica scenarios in which legislatures, courts, secretaries of state or governors could use a failure to certify at the local level to exert partisan influence.

Clapman said that even if refusals to certify don’t affect election outcomes, they can violate state laws and can amplify and validate harmful misinformation that feeds election denialism because of the imprimatur of the officials’ offices.

A ProPublica review of 10 instances of local officials refusing to certify 2022 results in four states found that, for the majority of them, the state election authority did not ultimately pursue official consequences. Two of them have been referred for criminal prosecution, but the attorney general in that state would not comment on whether there is an open investigation. And two — the ones in Surry County — are facing potential removal from their posts by the State Board of Elections.

“There needs to be some sanction when there is lawlessness,” said Richard L. Hasen, an election law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and director of the Safeguarding Democracy Project. “If you allow these things to take place without any sanction, then you invite more serious rule-breaking in the future.”

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