Republican officials in one Arizona county are trying to defy state law by refusing to certify the results of last month's election.
More than 2,500 miles away, Congress should take notice.
What's happening right now in Cochise County, a deep red corner of Arizona, is highly unlikely to affect the outcome of any races in last month's midterms—but it ought to serve as a warning in advance of the 2024 presidential election, when the stakes could be higher. The two Republican members of the three-person county board charged with certifying election results have voted not to do so until an investigation into voting machines used in the county can be completed. But the Arizona Department of State has already provided documentation showing that the machines were legitimate, according to Reuters.
Under Arizona law, counties had until November 28 to certify election results. The state will certify those results on December 5. Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat who is also the state's governor-elect, has filed a lawsuit seeking an order to force the county to certify its vote totals.
The fact that Donald Trump wasn't on the ballot in Arizona—or anywhere else this year—suggests that while he may have mainstreamed election denialism, it has now metastasized into a broader part of the conservative movement. Defeated Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake has stoked flames—in a video posted online this week, she decried the "most dishonest elections in the history of Arizona" and encouraged Republican officials not to certify results—and some national conservative media personalities including Charlie Kirk have joined the chorus.
Indeed, a recent Morning Consult poll found that just 52 percent of Republicans believed the midterm elections were "definitely" or "probably" free and fair—and that's the highest percentage the group has found in recent surveys about registered Republicans' opinions of elections. Election denialism may not be a dominant position within the GOP, but it is clearly a sizable faction—and a large enough one to cause chaos in 2024 or beyond.
Accordingly, federal lawmakers ought not to assume that this fever will break merely because Trump is defeated or if his political stardom fades.
That's all the more reason for Congress to move swiftly to pass the Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act of 2022, which is easily the most important and straightforward way to prevent these localized Republican shenanigans from affecting the 2024 presidential election. The bill, which has bipartisan support, would address the procedural mechanisms that Trump and his allies sought to exploit to overturn the 2020 election and would head off future attempts by state lawmakers and governors to refuse to certify the results of a presidential election. The bill would set a hard deadline (six days before the Electoral College meets) for states to certify their results. If state or local officials try to do what Cochise County Republicans are currently doing, the bill would allow for the creation of an expedited review process to be conducted by a panel of three federal judges, who would then certify results to the Electoral College and Congress. And Congress would be obligated to accept those results.
In short, the bill clarifies several grey areas that exist in the current vote-counting process and would provide judges a clearer path for adjudicating the sort of disputes that might arise in the wake of a closely contested election. No one wants to see judges deciding the outcome of a presidential race, so the Electoral Count Reform Act not only limits what state and local officials can do but also provides less wiggle room for federal judges to interpret election law after the fact.
Additionally, it would clarify that the vice president does not have the power to unilaterally reject the Electoral College results—an important clarification, since Trump pressured then-Vice President Mike Pence to do exactly that in January 2021.
The bill is "the first bipartisan acknowledgment that election subversion is a real threat," writes Michael Waldman, president and CEO of the Brennan Center, a pro-democracy think tank based at New York University. "Let's heed what Ronald Reagan told us in 1981 about the peaceful transfer of power: 'Freedom is a fragile thing, and it's never more than one generation away from extinction.'"
This is the ultimate low-hanging fruit for lawmakers concerned about securing the future of American democracy. But Congress has been slow to act. With Republicans set to take over the majority in the House of Representatives in January, the post-midterm lame-duck session might be the best chance for the bill to pass before 2024.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D–W.Va.), a key swing vote in the Senate and supporter of the Electoral Count Reform Act, said this week that the bill was "ready" to go. "We all know it needs to be done now while we have the votes and support to do it," he said, according to Roll Call.
Sen. Susan Collins (R–Maine) echoed that sentiment, telling Roll Call that it was "imperative" that Congress pass the reforms "before we get into the next presidential election cycle."
This is not just the usual congressional bluster that accompanies the attempted passage of every bill. What's happening in Arizona right now should be viewed as a trial balloon for how Republican officials might try to screw with vote counting in the next election.
There's no law that will prevent that sort of thing from happening—democracy depends, ultimately, on people in positions of power being willing to do the right thing even when it might not benefit their "team"—but to miss a chance to safeguard the presidential election from such obvious subterfuge would be an inexcusable mistake.
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