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Voting is over and most of the winners have been declared.
But even after all states have finished counting and reviewing votes, the 2022 midterm general election is not officially over until the results are certified.
This largely ceremonial step in the electoral process that turns unofficial results into official results had generally not attracted much attention until the 2020 election.
Amid then-President Donald Trump and his supporters’ failed attempt to undo current President Biden’s victory two years ago, the two Republican members of Michigan’s Wayne County Board of Solicitors initially voted against certifying the results from the state’s largest county, which is home to Democratic stronghold Detroit. After public pressure, GOP members finally agreed to certify, breaking the tie from the council’s first vote.
And this year, New Mexico’s Republican-run Otero County Commission made national headlines after voting in June not to certify its primary election results despite not found no gaps in the counts. Ultimately, the New Mexico Supreme Court ordered the commissioners to comply with state law and certify the county’s results.
These incidents have raised concerns that other officials are freezing elections by refusing to certify results without legitimate concerns, including Holocaust deniers who may try to slow or stop the process because they don’t like who won a race.
Here’s what you need to know about the election results certification process:
Why is it important to certify election results?
State laws require that results be certified as part of the election process.
“You can’t get the end result if you don’t have that certification. So it’s built in and it’s kind of a double check,” says Wendy Underhill, director of elections and redistricting at the National Conference of State. Legislatures. “There’s a thing called election time. You can’t wait forever for things to happen. You have to figure out who your new elected officials are going to be.”
How are election results certified?
The process varies by state and elected office.
But typically, for this year’s midterm elections, it involves a review of results at the local and state levels.
“It’s kind of a bureaucratic function and not that exciting. There’s not a lot of action to see. It’s a group of people sitting around a table looking at the documents presented to them” , Underhill said, adding that people involved in certification check to see if election officials have “crossed their Ts and dotted their Is and can show that their election was conducted according to state law.”
Local deadlines for certifying results can range from one week after Election Day to 30 days after the last Election Day, and the timing may change in the event of a recount.
What happens if an official refuses to certify the results when he has found no legitimate problem with the count?
In states where laws specify timelines for certification of results, courts could step in to force officials to declare the results official, as the New Mexico Supreme Court did for the main Otero County results.
Still, Underhill says incidents like what happened in Otero County are “so rare” that if other officials refuse to certify the results, the election could be in largely uncharted territory.
Some election officials try to avoid any potential misinformation that could result from any illegitimate refusal to certify election results.
The Michigan Department of State released a video explaining that county councils of state canvassers are required by law to review and certify vote totals and that any attempt not to do so for partisan reasons could give rise to “false and misleading allegations”.
“They are designed to mislead voters into doubting the outcome of a legitimate election,” the video reads. “The thing to remember is that these are distractions.”
NPR researchers Nicolette Khan, Sarah Knight and Ayda Pourasad contributed to this report.