EXPLAINER: Trying to get politics out of voter certification | WGN Radio 720


ATLANTA (AP) — Prior to the 2020 presidential election, certifying election results in states was routine and drew little public attention. That has changed.

Attempts to delay presidential certification in Michigan in 2020 and on local votes in New Mexico earlier this year have drawn new scrutiny: After the attack on Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021, it shone a bright light on certification to Nacional level.

Certification board members have made unsubstantiated claims of fraud or other wrongdoing, drawing attention to a process that could be rigged if one side doesn’t like the election result.

Whether partisan actors might try to block or delay certification at the local or state level is a growing concern among election officials, both for the upcoming November midterm vote and the 2024 presidential election. Here’s how election officials prepare for certification, who is involved, and what could happen if a county refuses to certify their results.


Voting ends when the polls close on Election Day, but the work of counting and verifying the results is just beginning. Through the counting and certification process, local election officials verify that all votes have been cast and counted correctly before the results are official.

Counting includes checking the voter lists in the poll books with the number of votes cast and investigating any discrepancies. Those are often due to clerical errors or errors, such as someone not signing the poll book.

“There are all these little human errors that can happen that could lead to discrepancies or accounting discrepancies,” said Jennifer Morrell, a former local election official who now advises election offices. “The best practice is to show them and do everything possible to take them into account and explain them.”

It is this reconciliation that election officials also use to detect potential election fraud, flagging to authorities any problems, such as a voter attempting to cast more than one ballot. During this time, many election offices also test equipment and audit results to make sure votes were counted correctly. Others might take those steps after certification.

Most states have deadlines to complete the canvass and certification.


Partisan officials are involved in certifying the election, something that worries experts after nearly two years of conspiracy theories falsely claiming the 2020 presidential election was stolen from former Republican President Donald Trump. There is no evidence of widespread fraud or rigged voting machines, and reviews in key states confirmed Democrat Joe Biden’s victory.

In 45 states, the local boards that handle voter certification are controlled by parties or are commissions where members are elected on a partisan basis, according to research by the advocacy group Election Reformers Network.

Once certified locally, the results are sent to the state for further certification. In virtually every state, officials with ties to political parties play some role, according to the group. This usually involves a board made up of officials from across the state, such as the secretary of state and the governor, although in some states it is the secretary of state who has the sole authority to certify an election. Hawaii is the only state where certification is overseen by a nonpartisan chief election official appointed by a bipartisan commission.


Certification involves a public meeting during which election officials report to the local board charged with certifying the results. Those reports detail the number of voters who cast their vote, how many votes were cast and counted, and any discrepancies that arose during the count.

It is a ministerial task, which means that those who handle the certification have no authority to investigate allegations of fraud or other irregularities. That depends on the prosecutors and the courts, which handle challenges brought by candidates or parties. Judges can delay or stop certification if there are questions surrounding an election.

That did not happen in 2020, as numerous judges, including some Trump appointees, dismissed his claims.


Local certification is usually done by a county commission or board of elections. In some places, a separate board of elections is formed to handle certification. In Michigan, the county canvassing board is made up of two Republicans and two Democrats. In Wayne County, which includes Detroit, Republican board members initially voted against certifying the 2020 election but later changed course.

Republican members then sought to rescind their vote to certify after receiving calls from Trump. State officials said there was no way to do it, and ultimately the election was certified at the state level.

“The law is very clear that the board must certify,” said Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. “It does not say that they can or can consider, they must do it. So we have the law on our side.”

If such a dispute arises again, the State Board of Elections has the authority to review and certify a county’s election, Benson said. If the state board, which is also made up of two Republicans and two Democrats, reaches a similar impasse, Benson said he would seek an injunction to force certification.

That happened recently when the state board reached an impasse along party lines over whether an abortion measure should appear on the November ballot, and the state supreme court later allowed it.


Commissioners in a rural New Mexico county initially refused to certify the results of the June primary. They cited mistrust in the voting systems used to count votes despite the county elections official saying there were no problems.

A small county in Nevada did not certify its primary results until it completed a manual count of all ballots.

In the New Mexico case, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver petitioned the state Supreme Court, which issued an order directing local commissioners in Otero County to certify. They ultimately did so in a 2-1 vote. The dissenting vote was from Commissioner Couy Griffin, who had called the meeting from Washington, DC. Hours earlier he had been sentenced for entering restricted land during the attack on the Capitol, where Congress was meeting to certify Biden’s victory.

During the meeting, Griffin acknowledged that he had no evidence to support his vote against certification, saying, “It’s just based on my gut and my own intuition.” He has since been removed from his post.

Had the commission refused to comply with the court order, the state was prepared to seek another order to allow the state board to certify the county’s results, said Alex Curtas of the secretary of state’s office.

“We were not going to allow some 8,000 people who had voted in Otero County to be disenfranchised because their county commission refused to certify their votes,” Curtas said.


Elections officials in several states say they are prepared to intervene and have the legal means to require certification if necessary.

“No county official can just say they feel or believe or have a feeling or a hunch that something went wrong and can feel free to just not certify an election,” said Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon.

In Colorado, a new law requires the secretary of state to review any results not certified by a local board by the deadline and to certify them if there is no reason not to. But most states have to rely on the courts.

Sylvia Albert, director of voting and elections at Common Cause, said voter advocacy groups are prepared to intervene if partisan actors interfere with certification without justification or if a secretary of state refuses to seek a court order compelling to a local board to act.

“That’s why we’re here, and there will be plenty of advocates and attorneys willing and able to step in and come forward if the clerk is not interested in using his authority or position to ensure his constituents’ votes are counted.” Albert said.


Follow the AP for full midterm election coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections and on Twitter, https://twitter.com/ap_politics


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