The Michigan county refused to certify the vote, raising fears of a growing election threat this fall

When a board of canvassers in tiny Delta County, Michigan, refused to release local election results for a county commission race last week, the defiant decision raised concerns among election experts and officials about where the 2024 campaign might land in November.

“Anyone who sees this latest incident in Delta County should be incredibly alarmed,” said Marc Elias, a Democratic attorney who has led legal efforts against election conspiracy activists across the country. “We should all take these types of incidents seriously and see it as a wake-up call for what we will almost certainly see this fall.”

The local vote, which was ultimately approved under pressure from government officials, attracted little outside attention. But some election experts believe there will be efforts to copy Delta County's refusal to certify.

“All of these tactics are designed to cripple election administration systems across the country in an effort to force them to fail and undermine voters' confidence in the process,” said Kim Rogers, executive director of the State and Local Election Alliance. “These anti-democratic groups are taking these steps because they want to discredit the elections if they lose.”

Doubts about fraud or deception in the US elections emerged during the 2020 campaign and have continued to grow despite the absence of any evidence to support them. a CBS News poll of Arizona voters released Monday found that about half of former President Donald Trump's current voters now say they would like to challenge the results if he loses.

Together with these doubts, the chance of disputes has increased.

Delta County is a conservative, rural part of Michigan's Upper Peninsula that has consistently voted for Trump. The decision to suspend a local election certification last week was fueled by outside groups of election conspiracy activists, local officials told CBS News. Since February 2023, a group called Citizens for Electoral Justice has been in discussions with Republican officials in Delta County, including the canvasser who declined to verify. Members of the organization raised concerns about the accuracy of votes counted by local election machines.

In a photo released on a community Facebook page, a group called the Delta County Citizens said it was working closely with two organizations that raised concerns about “suspicious voting ratios” that “warrant further investigation,” including Election Integrity Force and Citizens for Electoral Justice. The groups called for “a manual recount and forensic audit of the results,” the complaint shows.

Nancy Przewrocki, the county clerk in Delta who administered the election, told CBS News that there were no voting irregularities in this low-turnout local recall election, with only 4,550 votes.

“We matched the number of voters to the number of ballots, to the number of ballots counted by the tabulations – all the numbers match 100%,” she said.

Przewrocki, a Republican, has been organizing elections for more than 23 years and said she was concerned about the precedent this refusal to certify could set.

“This is definitely about November, preparing for what could happen then,” she said. “If the vote doesn't go their way, it's not going to be a good situation. They're going to have the same problems certifying the November election as they do now.”

Przewrocki said she first realized there was a problem when she heard about the local council of canvassers, which is made up of two Republicans and two Democrats.

Last Tuesday, the four investigators gathered at the courthouse in Escanaba to certify the results. Republican canvasser Bonnie Hakkola announced to the group that she would not certify, based on her concerns about the way the election was conducted. She and the other Republican candidate, an alternate candidate who filled in that day, blocked a certification of election for the first time in the county's history.

John Myers, one of the Democratic campaigners, said he was surprised.

“Our job is to see if the poll workers have signed and if the stamps are accurately recorded,” he said. “We match the total number of voters with the number of ballots going through the machine.”

Myers, who has been running for office for more than 14 years, said the certification would depend on whether the total number of votes cast equals the total number of voters — which he said happened in this election. He said he thought the whole process would take ten minutes.

Video of the session is not available because the acquisition sessions were not recorded. But Hakkola, the vice chairman of the First District Republican Party, has made several conspiracy-laden public statements expressing concerns about the reliability of voting machines.

“I say fraud is inherent in the election, it's in the machinery,” Hakkola said at a County Commission meeting earlier this year. “A lot of our agencies are being infiltrated every day, so there's a lot of fraud … in Michigan and Wisconsin.”

Hakkola could not be reached for comment.

Scott Aughney, of the Citizens for Electoral Justice, told CBS News that he had been in contact with officials in Delta County for more than a year. He says Delta County officials contacted his organization prior to the certification.

Aughney and his group have met with local Republican Party members, law enforcement officials and election administrators in Michigan counties.

“It's not even about Donald Trump anymore,” said Aughney, who lives in Jackson County, 400 miles from Delta, and is currently running for sheriff.

Pressuring local officials to sow doubt about the voting process is part of a national strategy, said Rogers, a democracy strategist and election advocate. “These groups are trying to undermine public confidence in our elections,” Rogers said. “And ultimately, our ability to respond to that threat will change the direction of this country.”

Those organizing the elections are still under increasing pressure from outside groups and some citizens.

County Clerk Przewrocki says the groups are pressuring her to release voter roll data that contains protected personal information, which the state says is illegal to distribute publicly.

“The county clerks are caught between that group and the secretary of state's office,” she said. “It's a difficult situation to be in.”

Two days after poll workers refused to certify the local vote, the secretary of state sent the Delta County clerk's office a letter informing it of the consequences if the vote was not certified.

“The Michigan Constitution and election law do not give boards of directors of county candidates the right to refuse to certify election results based on third-party claims of alleged election irregularities, or a general desire to conduct election investigations,” the statement said. the letter. Failure to certify would mean the clerk would have to personally hand over all documents, including ballots and voting machines, to Michigan state investigators — all at the county's own expense. The price tag, the letter pointedly adds, will be “expansive.”

The letter was signed by Jonathan Brater, elections director and secretary of the Board of State Canvassers.

In a quickly rearranged follow-up vote on Friday evening, the candidates voted to certify the vote, with three votes in favor and Hakkola abstaining.

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