Updated: Nov. 28, 9:31 p.m.
Two counties in a couple of swing states turned what is usually an uneventful step in the election process into a political flashpoint on Monday.
Officials in rural, Republican-controlled Cochise County of southeastern Arizona, near Tucson, voted to delay certifying the results of this year's midterm elections and to miss the state's legal deadline of Monday, despite finding no legitimate problems with the local counts.
"There is no reason for us to delay," said the Democratic chair of the county's board of supervisors, Ann English, whose vote was outnumbered by the county's two Republican supervisors, Tom Crosby and Peggy Judd.
The move risks the exclusion of more than 47,000 Arizonans' votes from the state's final, official tally, and it has set off court action. The nonprofit Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans and a Cochise County voter, represented in part by the Elias Law Group, are suing the county supervisors to try to force them to certify by Thursday.
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Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who was elected this month to be Arizona's next governor, filed court papers also asking a state court to order the county's supervisors to certify by Thursday so that Hobbs can complete the statewide certification by Dec. 8, the last possible day allowed after the Dec. 5 deadline under state law.
"Absent this Court's intervention, the Secretary will have no choice but to complete the statewide canvass by December 8 without Cochise County's votes included," Hobbs' attorneys wrote in a court filing. "Thus, the Board's inaction not only violates the plain language of the statute, but also undermines a basic tenet of free and fair elections in this state: ensuring that every Arizonan's voice is heard."
And in northeastern Pennsylvania's Luzerne County, some 117,000 votes may end up left out of official results after the local board of elections deadlocked along party lines when its fifth member, a Democrat, abstained from voting on whether to certify. Monday is the state's certification deadline for counties that have not received legally valid recount petitions.
Pennsylvania's Department of State has contacted the county's officials "to inquire about the board's decision and their intended next steps," spokesperson Ellen Lyon said in an email. The Democratic board member who abstained from voting told The Associated Press after the hearing that he planned to vote in favor of certifying at another meeting, set for Wednesday.
Election certifications have gone relatively smoothly despite these delays
For the most part, however, the local certification of midterm election results has proceeded without much controversy — in Pennsylvania, Arizona and across the country.
In the corner of Arizona opposite of Cochise County, another Republican-controlled community — Mohave County — signaled it would potentially not certify the election results. Last week, GOP officials there said they wanted to hold off on making a decision until Monday's deadline in order to make a political statement. And after recessing their meeting Monday, Mohave's board of supervisors ultimately voted to certify.
Still, many election watchers had been raising concerns that Republican officials may disrupt the process for making the election results official after GOP leaders in Cochise County voted on Nov. 18 to wait to decide whether to certify the results until the legal deadline on Monday.
"We also knew coming into this election after the last cycle and what we saw in Otero County [in New Mexico's primary this year]," explained Tammy Patrick, a former Arizona election official who's now a member of the National Task Force on Election Crises, during a briefing with reporters last week, "that certification would be another mundane, banal administrative procedure that was going to be leveraged and used for partisan potential gain or partisan rhetoric, at least. And that's what we're seeing here."
Republican supervisors in Cochise County cited claims about the certification of election equipment, which Kori Lorick, Arizona's state election director, confirmed had been tested and properly certified. Still, Crosby and Judd have called for a meeting on Friday to discuss the claims.
Before Monday's vote, Lorick said in a statement that Arizona's secretary of state "will use all available legal remedies to compel compliance with Arizona law and protect Cochise County voters' right to have their votes counted" if the board failed to complete its "non-discretionary duty."
There's been a lot of Republican scrutiny over results in Arizona's Maricopa County
The controversy over local vote certifications comes as Republicans continue to criticize the election administration in Arizona's Maricopa County, the state's largest county and home to Phoenix.
Maricopa's GOP leadership has defended its handling of the election and said no voters were disenfranchised as a result of technical issues that cropped up on Election Day. Still, Republican candidates for governor and state attorney general, among others, have questioned the results and sought more information after electronic vote-counting tabulators malfunctioned early on Nov. 8 in some of the county's voting locations.
And Abraham Hamadeh, the GOP attorney general candidate, has taken steps that could turn Arizona's state-level certification into another flashpoint.
Last week, Hamadeh and the Republican National Committee filed a lawsuit asking an Arizona state court to issue an order that would stop Hobbs, Arizona's secretary of state, from issuing a certificate of election to the race's apparent winner, Democrat Kris Mayes. The razor-thin margin between Hamadeh and Mayes means the race is poised for an automatic recount, which cannot begin until the statewide certification is finished.
In court papers filed on Monday, Hobbs' attorneys signaled another potential controversy that could emerge if there is any delay past the Dec. 5 deadline for statewide certification, which state law requires to be done in the presence of the governor, attorney general and chief justice of the Arizona Supreme Court.
"While all three are available on December 5," the court filing says, "they have not confirmed whether they will be able to attend a later date."
Ben Giles, a reporter with NPR member station KJZZ in Phoenix, contributed to this report.
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