No smoking gun in first day of Lake election trial

Kari Lake’s legal team failed to provide a smoking gun on the first day of trial in her election suit to in an effort to prove her claims that a Maricopa County employee tampered with ballot printers or intentionally failed to follow chain-of-custody rules. 

Lake, a Trump-endorsed Republican who lost the Arizona governor’s race to Democrat Katie Hobbs by around 17,000 votes, initially filed 10 counts in her suit challenging the results of the midterm election, but Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Peter Thompson only allowed two of those counts to move to trial, after significantly narrowing the scope of one of the counts. 

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In the trial, Lake’s attorneys are attempting to prove that a Maricopa County employee intentionally tampered with Election Day ballot-on-demand printers at voting centers, causing frustration and delays for voters and poll workers when tabulators couldn’t read the ballots. Lake’s team is also working to convince Thompson that Maricopa County failed to follow chain-of-custody rules for early ballots dropped off on Election Day, leading to an untold number of ballots being illegally and intentionally added to the count. Defendants in the suit include Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors and other county election officials. 

Lawyers for Lake, Scottsdale divorce attorney Bryan Blehm and D.C. lawyer Kurt Olsen, had a messy presence in court, starting the day with chastening from Thompson for providing exhibits that were not properly numbered, making a lot of work for Thompson’s clerk the night before the trial. 

Blehm also attempted to call a witness who was not on the witness list and said that he had provided evidence to the defense when they claimed he had not. 

Lake’s star witness, cybersecurity expert Clay Parikh, testified that issues with ballot-on-demand printers on Election Day were caused by what was designed to be a 20-inch ballot being projected as a 19-inch image onto 20-inch paper. 

Parikh acknowledged during his testimony that he spoke in August at the “Moment of Truth Summit,” hosted by MyPillow CEO and Donald Trump supporter Mike Lindell. The summit focused on 2020 election conspiracy theories.

Parikh said 14 out of 15 Election Day ballots rejected by tabulators at voting centers that he was allowed to examine ahead of the trial had a 19-inch image projected onto 20-inch paper, which caused tabulators to be unable to read the ballots. He said he knew this by measuring the image on the ballot, and that the only way that could happen, in his opinion, is if it was done intentionally. 

He added that he believes this would mean those misprinted ballots would not be able to be read by the more sensitive tabulators at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center. But elections officials previously said the tabulators at MCTEC could read the ballots that were rejected by vote center tabulators. Those whose ballots couldn’t be read on Election Day were told to put their ballots in “door 3” to be counted later at MCTEC. Door 3 is a secure box kept under the tabulators where voters whose ballots can’t be read can place those ballots to be tabulated later. 

The county has not explained the root cause of the printing issue that led to tabulation problems, but said the tabulators couldn’t read the ballots because the timing marks on them weren’t printed darkly enough. 

Parikh at one point was admonished by the judge, after he tried to explain something to the court instead of answering a question from Tom Liddy, lawyer with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office. Parikh said that the way Liddy had phrased the question was incorrect, but the judge told Parikh he could either answer the question or not. In court proceedings, witnesses are typically confined to answering questions from the plaintiffs or defense and are not allowed to share thoughts outside of that. 

Lawyers for the defense objected to testimony from multiple Lake witnesses because it included hearsay, or what the witnesses had been told by other people. Thompson allowed it because of the time constraints of the trial. Court proceedings for election contests in Arizona are expedited in an attempt to complete them before new elected officials take office. 

Another witness for Lake, Heather Honey, testified that she had used public records requests to investigate how well Maricopa County complied with chain-of-custody laws for early voting ballots. 

Honey worked in the partisan “audit” of the results of the 2020 election in Maricopa County that was ordered by the state Senate.

Honey said she got access to chain-of-custody forms for ballots dropped off in drop boxes before Election Day, but never received the documents for the around 292,000 early ballots dropped off on Election Day. Liddy asked her if she might not have seen the documents in the large number delivered to her and she said no.

She also testified that an employee of Runbeck, a business that the county contracts with for various election services, told her Runbeck employees were allowed to add their own ballots to ballots delivered to their facility, instead of dropping them at the proper location, like a voting center or ballot box. The employee said she knew of at least 50 ballots added to the count that way. Honey testified that if the county had properly counted the ballots it had and documented that through correct chain-of-custody procedures, it would know if 50 or more ballots were improperly added to its count. 

When asked yes or no questions about whether she knew if anyone with the county intentionally decided not to follow chain-of-custody rules, or if additional ballots were added to the count nefariously, Honey refused to answer. 

“The failure to have proper chain of custody makes it impossible to know,” she said. 

“Anything I ask you about ballots would be pure speculation, isn’t that right?” Blehm asked Honey.

She affirmed that was and added that this was the case because of the lack of chain-of-custody documentation from the county. 

Also testifying for Lake on Wednesday was Republican National Committee lawyer Mark Sonnenklar,who said the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors mischaracterized how badly things went on Election Day in the county in their statements to the public and to Attorney General Mark Brnovich. 

Sonnenklar observed the election in the county as part of the RNC’s election integrity program. 

“It was really pandemonium out there everywhere,” he said. 

Sonnenklar alleged that lines and wait times at voting centers were longer than the board members claimed and that more voting centers had printer issues than they admitted to, saying he had documented issues at 132 out of 227 voting centers compared to the 70 that the supervisors said experienced problems. 

He said that the supervisors’ letter to Brnovich about issues with the election contained “many, many mischaracterizations and flatout falsehoods.” 

While Sonnenklar said he couldn’t provide any direct knowledge or evidence that the county was trying to cover up what happened on Election Day “common sense tells me that there was a cover up here,” he said. 

The trial is set to resume at 8:30 a.m. Thursday. Lake’s lawyers told the judge they have one more witness to call and the defense planned to call four witnesses on Thursday as well. 

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