By Jack Phillips
A three-day trial is scheduled to start Wednesday for Republican candidate Kari Lake to prove that Maricopa County did not properly verify voter signatures on ballot envelopes during the 2022 midterm elections and that those problems changed the outcome of the race.
Lake first challenged the election in December. So far, two Arizona courts have rejected her arguments that there were enough problems on Election Day that cost her the election, but Arizona’s Supreme Court earlier this week allowed a three-day trial to proceed on her claims centered around alleged signature-verification issues in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix. The trial will start Wednesday.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Peter Thompson on Monday confirmed in a ruling that the trial would take place and stated the issue for consideration. Lake’s team must prove her allegations with “clear and convincing evidence,” while adding that she hasn’t presented what he described as compelling evidence so far. He also wrote that her lawsuit “falls far below what is needed to establish a basis for fraud.”
“While the difference between a tabulator-based claim and a printer-based claim may seem like a subtle distinction, it is not,” Thompson also wrote. “Count II was fully litigated at trial and this court’s disposition was affirmed by both the Court of Appeals and Arizona Supreme Court. This is not newly discovered evidence that goes to the claim as presented to the court in December and reviewed on appeal. It is a wholly new claim, and therefore Count II remains unrevived.”
But Lake, on Twitter, announced: “HUGE: Following Supreme Court Ruling, Maricopa County Judge grants @KariLake the opportunity to EXPOSE Election Fraud IN COURT!” In a subsequent post, she wrote, “We’re going to Court. Get ready!”
Several workers on lower-level signature verification who filed declarations in court on Lake’s behalf have said they experienced rejection rates due to mismatched signatures on 15 percent to 40 percent of the ballots they encountered. Attorneys for Arizona election officials said the workers’ speculation on signature verification efforts does not amount to a violation of the law or misconduct by election workers.
Lake’s lawyers say there was a flood of mail-in ballots in Maricopa County at a time when there were too few workers to verify ballot signatures. Her attorneys say the county ultimately accepted thousands of ballots that had been rejected earlier by workers for having mismatched signatures.
Earlier in her lawsuit, Lake had focused on problems with ballot printers at some polling places in Maricopa County. The defective printers produced ballots that were too light to be read by the on-site tabulators at polling places.
Lines were backed up in some areas amid the confusion. Lake further alleged ballot printer problems were the result of intentional misconduct.
Officials in Maricopa County on Election Day confirmed the ballot printing issues, but they later claimed that the printer problem did not substantially impact voting across the county. However, Lake posted numerous videos to social media of voters who said that during the election, they had significant trouble in trying to cast their ballots.
A lawyer for Gov. Katie Hobbs, who was previously the state’s secretary of state, said that Lake’s suit should be dismissed. “There’s no allegation that the county failed to comply with signature verification rules,” Khanna said. “All they allege is that nothing prevented election workers from misconduct.”
However, Thompson disagreed with Khanna’s assertion, adding that Lake’s argument alleging signature verification issues was sufficient enough to proceed to a trial.
“While the wording of Count III does not state this allegation clearly, it can be read broadly enough that Lake’s argument fits under notice pleading requirements,” he wrote.
In mid-February, the Arizona Court of Appeals rejected Lake’s arguments, concluding she presented no evidence that voters whose ballots were unreadable by tabulators at polling places were not able to vote. The state Supreme Court declined on March 22 to hear some of Lake’s appeal but allowed the signature-verification claim to go ahead.
Earlier this week, Lake told Steve Bannon’s podcast that Maricopa County officials allegedly injected “hundreds of thousands of bad ballots into the system” during the midterms, adding: “We’re confident that the number of fraudulent ballots exceeds the 17,000 margin separating myself & @katiehobbs in their count.”
Earlier this month, the court sanctioned Lake’s lawyers $2,000 for making unfounded statements when asserting that more than 35,000 ballots had been improperly added to the total count.
Lake’s signature verification arguments will be heard in court Wednesday starting at 9 a.m. local time. The trial is slated to last for three days, according to Thompson’s order.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.