Lake election trial ends, judge to decide if she met burden of proof
Kari Lake says that Maricopa County didn’t perform signature verification on more than 344,000 early ballots in the 2022 general election. Maricopa County says it did.
After the conclusion of a three-day trial, it’s now up to Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Peter Thompson to decide if Lake and her lawyers have proven their case in their second election challenge trial in Thompson’s courtroom.
After both sides made their closing statements Friday afternoon, Thompson did not indicate when he expected to rule on the case.
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Lake, a Republican and 2020 election denier, lost the governor’s race more than six months ago to Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs. But she has continued to claim the title of true governor, saying that the election was rigged, and has challenged her 17,000-vote loss, all the way up to the Arizona Supreme Court.
Lake had to overcome the hurdle of convincing the judge that no signature verification took place, and that the lack of verification led to enough illegal ballots being accepted to overturn the election.
“Maricopa puts on a facade of taking sig verification seriously,” Lake attorney Kurt Olsen said during his closing statement Friday afternoon.
Olsen called signature verification the “gatekeeper defense to voter fraud” and reminded the court that it is required by state law to compare voter signatures on early ballot envelopes with signatures on file for that voter before tabulating the ballot.
“It does not say that they’ll glance at the signatures,” Olsen said, adding that comparing signatures takes a certain amount of time, but did not specify what that amount of time should be.
He accused those working as signature verifiers for the county of “speed demoning” through the signatures without really comparing them.
“We’re not arguing that signature verifiers are doing a poor job,” Olsen said. “We’re saying no signature verification was going on at all.”
Both sides quibbled over the number of ballots that were actually reviewed in three seconds or fewer, with Lake’s lawyers saying that according to their expert witness Erich Speckin and his analysis of data provided by Maricopa County through a public records request, 274,000 ballots were verified in three seconds or fewer and 70,000 were verified in 2 seconds or fewer.
Speckin, an expert in handwriting analysis, said it was impossible to analyze signatures that quickly, while Maricopa County’s Co-Election Director Rey Valenzuela pointed out that signature review involves looking for consistency, not necessarily exact matches.
Tom Liddy, attorney for Maricopa County, pointed out that Speckin’s chart containing those numbers was never admitted into evidence.
“Respectfully, this court should not consider those numbers when determining if Lake and team had met her burden of proof,” Liddy said. “Not a single witness came before you and said that a single ballot pack was not reviewed for signature verification. Speckin never said 274,000 ballot packets were not reviewed.”
Olsen countered that Speckin’s numbers provided “clear and convincing evidence that Maricopa County is not conducting signature verification in accordance with the law.”
He argued that Speckin’s numbers were enough to go on to set aside the election and asked Thompson to do so.
“This election was unlawful,” Olsen said.
Liddy went on to say that Lake’s own witnesses, Jacqueline Onigkeit and Andrew Myers, both worked to verify signatures themselves, with Onigkeit testifying that she was thoroughly trained and was told to take care when deciding to approve a signature or send it to a more experienced worker for review.
“That’s pretty good evidence that Maricopa County did signature verification in accordance with (the law),” Liddy said.
Olsen also called out the county for atheir lack of transparency after two of Lake’s witnesses testified that there were just only 24 temporary level one signature reviewers working the 2022 general election and only three level two reviewers, only to find out later from Valenzuela that there were a total of 153 people reviewing signatures.
The additional signature reviewers that the Lake witnesses didn’t know about were all county employees who were working from other offices instead of alongside the 24 temp workers who were being watched by livestream and in-person election observers.
“Why was this all done behind closed doors?” Olsen asked about the additional signature verification workers. “That is the secret army that Maricopa County employed.”
Elena Rodriguez, attorney for Hobbs, said during closing arguments that it seems Lake would not believe signature verification happened unless she or her followers watched it happen personally.
“At the end of the day, all Lake has ever claimed is because she lost the election, something must be amiss,” Rodriguez said, adding that the simplest explanation isn’t that the county failed to do signature verification or that it has a uniquely large number of voters trying to cast ballots illegally but that Lake lost the election.
“She’s clearly unhappy about it but that is not a problem for this court or any court to try to solve,” Rodriguez said.
The defense asked the judge to deny Lake’s claim and put an end to the election contest.
Lake lost her first trial in Thompson’s courtroom in December, and appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court, which sent one of her 10 initial claims back to Thompson for further examination while upholding the dismissal of the other nine.