(Recasts with details from Monday's meetings)
By Ned Parker and Linda So
Nov 28 - Republican officials who have embraced voter fraud theories resisted certifying the midterm election results in one Arizona county on Monday, defying a state deadline and setting the stage for a legal battle.
In Cochise County, a conservative stronghold in southeastern Arizona, the two Republican members of the three-person board of supervisors voted to postpone certifying the county's election results. They said they wanted to hear more evidence from those who have argued, without evidence, that the county’s voting machines were not properly certified.
Democrat Ann English, who objected to the delay, told Reuters the decision was irresponsible and that the board had been pressured by election deniers not to approve the results.
A spokesperson for Arizona's secretary of state said the office would file a lawsuit on Monday against Cochise County requesting an order to force the board to certify the results as required by state law. The office sent a letter to the board last week that included documentation of the voting machines' licenses.
"Facts are not debatable, and we are not going to participate in baseless attacks to Arizona’s democracy," said the spokesperson, Sophia Solis.
Arizona has been at the center of battles over election fraud allegations since former President Donald Trump falsely claimed the 2020 election was stolen from him. Several recounts of the 2020 votes in Arizona and elsewhere confirmed Joe Biden's victory.
The state's Republican candidate for governor this year, Kari Lake, embraced Trump’s stolen election claims and has refused to concede after losing to her opponent, current Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, by just over 17,000 votes in the Nov. 8 election.
The defeat of Lake and other election deniers was seen as a powerful rebuke of candidates who echoed Trump’s myths of a stolen election. But some activists who promote false theories of voter fraud are refusing to back down.
In Maricopa County, Arizona’s largest region, residents verbally attacked the board of supervisors during a public meeting on Monday that concluded with the board approving the county's election results.
County officials released a report on Sunday explaining the dysfunction that occurred on Election Day, when 71 out of the county’s 223 polling centers had problems with printer ink that was too light for scanning ballots.
Maricopa officials have said that an estimated 17,000 voters were affected by the problem but that it was quickly addressed.
At Monday's meeting, one woman called the county supervisors "traitors."
She told board chairman Bill Gates that interfering in an election was “considered treason, punishable by the death penalty" and said those who stole the election “make violent revolution necessary.”
In Mohave County, another conservative area in Arizona, the local government had delayed certifying results last week because the board was waiting for Maricopa’s explanations of what happened to the ballots of its affected voters.
On Monday, the Mohave board ultimately certified its election results but also criticized Maricopa's performance.
"Arizona - and that is Maricopa County - is the laughing stock of the country and world and they don't even seem to care," supervisor Hildy Angius said.
Arizona law requires counties to certify election results by Nov. 28, ahead of the state's certification on Dec. 5.
David Becker, executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation and Research, said the officials delaying certification were breeding an illegitimate distrust in elections and disenfranchising voters.
“In the last year, it’s become an unprecedented dereliction of duty for county officials to violate their oaths of office and refuse to certify election results, citing ‘gut feelings’ or alleged problems in jurisdictions other than their own,” Becker said. (Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Jason Szep and Bill Berkrot)