Two Years Too Late: Trying To Decertify the 2020 Election

The time machine from Back to the Future with the driver holding a Stop the Steal sign and the licesnse plates of Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Kansas on the front spelling out 2020 Here We Come.

The 2020 presidential election was over two years ago, but that hasn’t stopped conspiracy theorists and election deniers in several states from trying to decertify its results. While in some states these efforts have taken the form of lobbying state legislatures to rescind Electoral College votes, in other states they’ve come in the form of lawsuits. In 2022, Democracy Docket tracked four decertification lawsuits — two closed lawsuits in Arizona and Kansas and two active lawsuits in Michigan and Pennsylvania. Echoing unfounded claims and baseless conspiracy theories, each lawsuit is seeking or sought to void the results of the 2020 election. In Arizona, Kansas and Michigan, they even asked a court to order the election to be run again.

We cannot emphasize this enough: Decertifying an election is not something that can happen. The time for raising issues with an election is before certification, and states have legal procedures to contest election results prior to certification. In November and December 2020 in Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania, there were large numbers of lawsuits challenging the results of the 2020 election that failed to show any fraud or irregularities that could have changed the outcome. The election was therefore properly certified in accordance with law. Yet that hasn’t stopped lawsuits like these, which demonstrate how rooted election conspiracy theories have become among segments of the GOP.

In three states, it all comes down to claims about voting machines.

The crux of the lawsuits in Arizona, Kansas and Michigan surround voting machines. Voting machines have become a major target of election conspiracy theorists since 2020 in a variety of ways. Distrust of voting machines fueled a push to hand count election ballots in several jurisdictions last year, while legislators in some states have introduced bills restricting the use of voting machines. In these lawsuits, the plaintiffs generally claimed that voting machines used during the 2020 election weren’t properly approved by an accredited laboratory and therefore the results can’t be trusted and should be voided.

The Arizona lawsuit, for example, argued that the election machines used in Maricopa County in 2020 weren’t properly certified, so “it was unlawful and illegal for the Defendants to certify the 2020 presidential election.” In Kansas, the plaintiffs contended that the “majority of the electronic voting machines that were used in the 2020 presidential election were not certified by an accredited Voting System Test Laboratory.” The ongoing Michigan lawsuit makes similar claims. All three assert or asserted that because voting machines weren’t approved by an accredited lab, the election was invalid.

It should come as no surprise that these claims are unfounded. They seem to be based on the fact that the accreditation certificate for one of the labs that approved voting machines used in these three states expired in 2017. However, this was due to administrative reasons: The U.S. Election Assistance Commission, which accredits labs, lacked a quorum between 2017 and 2019 and couldn’t issue a new certificate. This doesn’t mean the lab lost accreditation; in fact, the lab was still audited and “remained in good standing…and retained…accreditation.” It just didn’t have a certificate. But of course, the lack of truth hasn’t stopped this conspiracy theory from spreading, and now this argument has appeared in lawsuits.

These decertification lawsuits aren’t only fueled by conspiracies around voting machines.

The Kansas and Pennsylvania lawsuits raise a myriad of other baseless allegations. The entire lawsuit in Pennsylvania, which centers around voting in rural, Republican Lycoming County, is based on alleged “fraud, numerous irregularities, and violations of the Election Code.” Throughout the complaint, the plaintiffs decry county officials’ lack of interest in investigating the plaintiffs’ evidence and claim they “have no other adequate and appropriate remedy” other than bringing this lawsuit. They also claimed the existence of fraudulent ballots would mean that “we no longer live in a representative republic and the dream that was America is dead.”

The Kansas lawsuit, while largely focused on voting machines, echoed numerous other conspiratorial talking points common among Republicans these days. The complaint challenged the use of drop boxes and claimed that not only were the 2020 elections invalid, but the 2022 primary elections in Kansas were as well. The plaintiffs claimed that they suffered irreparable harm and “live under a government that no longer represents them and deprives them of a republic form of government that the State of Kansas and United States Constitution provides as protection from a tyrannical government.”

Traces of other false narratives can be found in the plaintiffs’ requested relief in these cases. Although the Arizona lawsuit focused on voting machines, the plaintiffs asked the court to rerun the 2020 election “with paper ballots only, on a single election day, omitting Zuckerboxes and ‘no excuse’ absentee mail-in ballots.” The requested relief goes beyond simply banning voting machines and instead targets early voting and drop boxes, both frequent targets of election deniers. Similarly, the Kansas and Michigan lawsuits ask or asked for the 2020 election to be rerun on a single election day.

The “Big Lie” is metastasizing.

Given the lunacy of these lawsuits’ claims, it shouldn’t be surprising that they haven’t gone anywhere. The Arizona Supreme Court dismissed the Arizona case, finding that the complaint was untimely and the plaintiffs couldn’t point to any authority that would allow them to overturn election results and ignore Arizona law. The Kansas case was dismissed in November 2022 after the defendants asked for dismissal and the plaintiffs agreed. The Michigan and Pennsylvania cases are ongoing, although the Michigan plaintiffs’ request for an injunction and a temporary restraining order were both rejected and the Pennsylvania lawsuit, filed in December 2022, is still in its early stages.

While it’s easy to lambast the claims of these decertification lawsuits, they reveal how strong of a grip election lies have on the Republican Party — strong enough to fuel lawsuits two years later. The lawsuit in Michigan was even brought by an official Republican organization, the Macomb County Republican Party. 

The lies have even spread beyond their original targets. Kansas was not subject to any litigation in 2020 — its elections were run by a Republican and the state even joined Texas’ hail mary attempt at the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out Pennsylvania’s electoral votes. Yet even Kansas’ elections aren’t immune to conspiracy theorists casting doubt on their validity. The election lies popularized by former President Donald Trump are like a cancer on our body politic, and there’s no telling what damage they might do if they’re allowed to spread.