PHOENIX — Kari Lake said Tuesday she will appeal Monday’s ruling confirming the election of Katie Hobbs as governor, brushing aside the fact the judge said her key evidence in seeking to overturn the election result was legally irrelevant.
Rulings from Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Peter Thompson up through the Arizona Supreme Court all went against Republican Lake since her 17,117-vote loss to Democrat Hobbs in November.
“The judges have basically said anything goes, it doesn’t matter,’’ Lake said at a news conference Tuesday. “Election laws are just suggestions. So, if anything goes, anything goes.”
Despite that, Lake said it was not her plan to violate election laws going forward, as she might make a 2024 bid for office.
Late Monday, Thompson tossed Lake’s last remaining claim. The judge said Lake failed to prove Maricopa County did not review the signatures on early ballot envelopes as required by law. In fact, he said, two of her own witnesses testified they personally did such checks.
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The judge acknowledged those two witnesses thought the process had been rushed and that there was no way for others — themselves not included — to have adequately compared the signatures on the envelopes with others on file with county election offices.
But Thompson said that falls far short of what Lake needed to prove the county ignored the statutory requirement that signatures be compared.
Nor was the judge impressed by the testimony of Erich Speckin, billed by Lake’s attorneys as an expert in signature analysis. Speckin said about 274,000 signatures were compared in less than three seconds, including about 70,000 compared in two seconds or less.
Thompson said that argument was an attempt by Lake to convince him that “this is so deficient for signature comparison that it amounts to no process at all.’’
But he called Speckin’s numbers legally irrelevant.
“There is no statutory or regulatory requirement that a specific amount of time be applied to review any given signature at any level of review,’’ Thompson said.
“Not one second, not three seconds and not six seconds: no standard appears in the plain text of the statute,’’ the judge said. “No reviewer is required by statute or the Elections Procedures Manual to spend any specific length of time on any particular signature.’’
Lake on Tuesday said the judge got it wrong. “I’m not prepared right now to tell you what our path is because we are looking at several paths,’’ she said.
As for a 2024 campaign, “I haven’t made up my mind on that,’’ Lake said, even as she insisted she won the gubernatorial race “and we won in massive numbers.’’
One possibility includes a bid for Senate, a race that has drawn some interest after incumbent Kyrsten Sinema left the Democratic Party and would have to seek another six-year term as an independent. But that would put Lake in a GOP primary against Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb, with whom she shares many positions.
More immediately, Lake said she wants to do grassroots organizing to help her and other candidates who share her positions, a process she called “chasing ballots.’’
That includes registering voters and tracking what happens with early ballots.
‘Require only a cursory examination’
In his latest ruling, Thompson also rejected a parallel argument that the reviews didn’t meet the legal requirement to “compare’’ signatures.
He said the statutes simply require those doing verification to “make some determination as to whether the signature is consistent or inconsistent with the voter’s record.’’
“The court finds that looking at signatures that, by and large, have consistent characteristics will require only a cursory examination and thus take very little time,’’ the judge said.
He cited the testimony of Rey Valenzuela, Maricopa County’s elections director, who said a Level 1 signature reviewer — performing the first-line review — can see just by the pictures that pop up on the screen of the ballot signature and the most recent signature on record if they are “consistent’’ in broad strokes.
Thompson also pointed out that Arizona law requires only that the signatures be consistent to the satisfaction of the county recorder or other designee.
“This, not the satisfaction of the court, the satisfaction of a challenger, or the satisfaction of any other reviewing authority is the determinative quality for whether signature verification occurred,’’ the judge wrote. “It would be a violation of the constitutional separation of powers for this court, after the recorder has made a comparison to insert itself into the process and reweigh whether a signature is consistent or inconsistent.’’
Other safeguards in system
Thompson separately rejected arguments by Lake’s attorneys that signature verification was the only safeguard against fraudulent ballots being counted.
He cited Valenzuela’s testimony about other security measures built into the system, including having to show identification to register to vote, requiring someone to request an early ballot, requiring the post office to notify his office if the person to whom the ballot was sent no longer lives there, and the fact that each envelope returned is encoded with not just the name of the voter but a unique bar code.
There was no immediate response from Lake. But Monday’s ruling is unlikely to be the last word, as she has taken previous rulings against her up to the Arizona Supreme Court.
Lake’s allies already argued Thompson was off base in saying she had to prove that no signature verification had been done.
In his ruling, however, the judge noted that was a hurdle Lake created for herself.
Thompson said she had the option of trying to cast doubt on a specific number of ballots, which he acknowledged would have been “a Herculean evidentiary endeavor in these circumstances.’’
Instead, he said, Lake made a “purposeful concession’’ to instead try to show that the entire signature review process for Maricopa County was not conducted according to the law.
Still wouldn’t win
If Lake had made her case, Thompson said one option would have been to overturn the election results outright. But the other, he said, would have been to proportionately reduce each candidate’s tally of early ballots. That would have cut more into Hobbs’ total, as she outpolled Lake among those early ballots.
But, Thompson said, even if he applied a proportionate reduction of 70,000 early ballots — the number Speckin said were reviewed in less than two seconds — that still would have left Lake short of a winning margin.
Clint Hickman, Republican chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, cheered the ruling.
“For the past six months, Ms. Lake has uttered false claims, disparaging county staff and elected officials in her attempt to get a judge to discard the valid votes of hundreds of thousands of Arizona voters,’’ Thompson said in a written statement.
He cited Thompson’s conclusion the county’s signature review process complied with state law.
“All voters were provided the opportunity to vote, and all legal votes were counted,’’ Hickman said.
Thompson ruled in December against other claims brought by Lake.
Howard Fischer is a veteran journalist who has been reporting since 1970 and covering state politics and the Legislature since 1982. Follow him on Twitter at @azcapmedia or email email@example.com.