Following continued and escalating attacks on election certification processes, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, Common Cause Georgia and Public Rights Project are urging the Georgia State Election Board to reject a proposed amendment that seeks to define “election certification” in a manner that is contrary to settled Georgia law and would increase the risk of certification abuse and electoral chaos in Georgia.

Since the 2020 election, there has been a wave of attempts to undermine the election certification process across the country.  In recent years in Georgia, several county officials have voted against certifying election results. This proposed amendment to Georgia State Election Board rules has the potential to further enable these county-level election subversion efforts. 

The proposal would amend State Election Board rules and give county officials the discretionary power to conduct a “reasonable inquiry” of election results prior to certification. 

Georgia law makes clear that election certification is a ministerial and non-discretionary function. Certification is not an opportunity for county officials to engage in political grandstanding, make protest votes against election practices they dislike, or conduct free-roaming inquiries into the election results. Georgia law provides other avenues outside of the certification process to resolve allegations of error or fraud in election returns, including through the courts. If the Board were to approve this amendment, it would extend county officials’ powers far beyond what the legislature has specified.

Additionally, if adopted, the amendment’s imprecise language could serve as a pretext for rogue county officials to unfairly delay certification. One of the former board members raised these concerns surrounding the vague language used within the proposed amendment. Such actions could have a cascading effect that causes Georgia to miss state and federal election certification deadlines. This could lead to electoral chaos and mass disenfranchisement of voters.

“The vast majority of election officials are committed public servants dedicated to protecting the right to vote. But since the 2020 election, a growing number of rogue county officials have sought to weaponize the certification process. The proposed amendment before the Georgia State Election Board would only make it easier for these subversive actors to threaten the foundations of our elections infrastructure,” said Deputy Chief Counsel Nikhel Sus. “We cannot ignore the real threat that election disinformation and denialism continue to pose to our democracy. The Georgia State Election Board should reject this proposed amendment and other dangerous efforts to mischaracterize the certification process as ‘discretionary.’”

“Hard-working election officials rely on clear guidance from the state for administering elections. Pressuring them to make a standardless judgment call on whether to certify election results is harmful to democracy. It opens the process to abuse by rogue actors,” said Sophie House, Election Protection Hub staff attorney at Public Rights Project. “We are happy to join our fellow pro-voting groups – CREW, ACLU Georgia and Common Cause Georgia – to ask the State Election Board not to adopt the proposed amendment.”

The ACLU of Georgia is concerned with any attempt to delay the certification process or cause confusion to voters about the election process in their county. The proposed amendment allows for county boards of election to dismiss the will of the voters through election subversion at the county level and should be rejected,” said Rachel Lastinger, Voter Access Project Associate Director, ACLU of Georgia.

“Clarity on these certification guidelines has been non-existent. Obtaining this guidance is crucial for voters ahead of the election,” said Aunna Dennis, executive director of Common Cause Georgia. “There are still discrepancies in the certification process, we need more clarity to move forward so the public can continue to have trust in our elections.” 

To assist election officials in doing their jobs within statutory confines and to avoid inviting certification abuse, the Board should instead consider adopting reasonably detailed canvassing procedures. Adopting procedures such as checklists of discrete requirements, which the Board has the explicit authority to do, is a sensible reform that will create fewer opportunities for abuse than the proposed amendment.

Photo by Wally Gobetz under a Creative Commons license.

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