Lake witnesses seem to shoot her own election case in the foot
Kari Lake called multiple witnesses in her second election challenge trial on Wednesday whose testimony seemed to directly undermine her claim that Maricopa County did not perform signature verification for early ballots in the November 2022 election.
“The evidence here today will show a failed process and that no actual signature verification is being performed,” Kurt Olsen, one of Lake’s attorneys, told the court on Wednesday, the first day of the trial.
Lake, a Trump-endorsed Republican, lost the governor’s race to Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs by more than 17,000 votes but has insisted during the six months since then that the election was rigged and that she is the true governor.
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This is the second trial in the courtroom of Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Peter Thompson in Lake’s lawsuit that aims to overturn the results of the governor’s race. Lake lost the first trial in December. After appeals, the Arizona Supreme Court sent the signature verification claim back to the trial court for further examination. Lake included 10 claims in her original filing.
Before the trial that began Wednesday, Thompson put Lake on notice that, to win her case, she would have to prove that Maricopa County conducted no signature verification efforts. Signature verifiers compare the signatures on ballot envelopes to those on file for that voter. If a signature is rejected by initial reviewers, it is sent to more experienced workers for a deeper examination.
Two of Lake’s witnesses on the first day of the trial worked as those initial reviewers — known as level one reviewers — during the November 2022 election.
Deputy Maricopa County Attorney Jack O’Connor made a point of thanking both of them for their work, driving home the point that they did, in fact, perform signature verification.
“I was very focused on verifying signatures and ensuring they matched,” Jacqueline Onigkeit told O’Connor.
Onigkeit told Olsen that, during the signature review process, she became concerned that the more experienced level two reviewers were overloaded and that some of the signatures she’d already rejected were sent back to her and the rest of the workers for further review, adding that many of the signatures were bad.
She also testified that those in charge urged them to be cautious and to be sure they were confident in their decisions to verify or reject signatures.
“We were advised several times that we were being monitored and they were doing audits on all of us,” Onigkeit said.
The other reviewer, Andrew Myers, repeatedly told the court that, in his perspective “the math just didn’t add up,” when it took the team only 36 hours to verify signatures for 298,000 early ballots that came in on Election Day. But Myers didn’t seem aware that there were many more people working on signature verification than those he was working with directly.
Both Onigkeit and Myers testified that there were between 24-40 level one signature reviewers and only three level two reviewers working to verify signatures directly following the 2022 general election.
But Maricopa County Co-Elections Director Rey Valenzuela later testified that the numbers supplied by those witnesses were way off. Valenzuela said that, in total, there were 155 people working on signature verification during that time, including the 24 temporary workers — like Onigkeit and Myers — along with full-time county employees.
But they were not all working at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center where the temporary workers interacted with them. Some worked at the county recorder’s offices in downtown Phoenix and Tempe.
Lake’s team showed a video to the court taken from a livestream of signature reviewers in November 2022 that showed one man rapidly clicking through screens without scrolling down to look at signatures for comparison, saying that he was approving every signature without checking it against the voter’s signatures on file.
“You’ve taken it out of context,” Valenzuela said of the video.
He explained that each signature reviewer works in batches of 250 signatures and once they get to the end of that batch, they’re required to go back through and check their work. Valenzuela said that could be what the man in the video was doing.
The trial recessed for the day at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday and was set to pick back up at 9 a.m. Thursday, with Lake’s expert signature verification witness Erich Speckin set to testify.