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Arizona Supreme Court allows Lake to explore signature verification on 2022 early ballots

As many as 130,000 ballots with mismatched signatures were counted in the 2022 gubernatorial race, far above the 17,000-vote gap between GOP nominee Kari Lake and Gov. Katie Hobbs, claims Lake.

Published: March 24, 2023 12:02am

Updated: March 24, 2023 12:47pm

Former GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake's election lawsuit is heading back to trial court over Maricopa County's signature verification practices after the Arizona Supreme Court's ruling on Wednesday, which also dismissed the other six counts in the suit and allowed sanctions against Lake to be considered.

Since falling about 17,000 votes short in the 2022 Arizona gubernatorial election to current Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs, Lake has continued to contest the election results in court, arguing that there were ballot chain of custody and signature verification issues in addition to thousands of Republican voters being disproportionately disenfranchised on Election Day, when voting machine errors occurred in nearly 60% of the voting centers in Maricopa County.

Lake is suing Hobbs, Secretary of State Adrian Fontes, and Maricopa County election officials, and is requesting that the election results be invalidated or that she be declared the winner.

The Arizona Supreme Court on Wednesday remanded to trial court Lake's claim that Maricopa County violated its signature verification policies.

The trial court and Arizona Court of Appeals dismissed Lake's claim of signature verification issues on the basis of laches, meaning that Lake brought the lawsuit too late. The lower courts ruled that Lake should have challenged Maricopa County's signature verification policies before the election. Lake's appeal clarified that she wasn't challenging the policies themselves, but, rather, how Maricopa County allegedly violated them, an argument with which the Arizona Supreme Court agreed.

"Contrary to the ruling of the trial court and the Court of Appeals Opinion, this signature verification challenge is to the application of the policies, not to the policies themselves," the state's highest court found. "Therefore, it was erroneous to dismiss this claim under the doctrine of laches because Lake could not have brought this challenge before the election."

The high court ruled that the trial court must determine whether Lake's claim should be dismissed outside the laches basis and that the former candidate must "establish that 'votes [were] affected "in sufficient numbers to alter the outcome of the election"' based on a 'competent mathematical basis to conclude that the outcome would plausibly have been different, not simply an untethered assertion of uncertainty.'"

Hobbs had requested that Lake cover her attorney's fees, while Fontes also requested sanctions.

The requested sanctions against Lake, the court ruled, can only be pursued on the basis of her "factual claims ... (i.e., that the Court of Appeals should have considered 'the undisputed fact that 35,563 unaccounted for ballots were added to the total of ballots at a third party processing facility'), and not legal arguments (i.e., pertaining to the burden of proof or purported conflict in the lower courts)."

The court added: "The record does not reflect that 35,563 unaccounted ballots were added to the total count."

Lake released a statement following the ruling. "I am thrilled that the Supreme Court has agreed to give our signature verification evidence the appropriate forum for the evaluation it deserves," she said.

"For years signatures have been a third rail for Maricopa County," she continued. "The process of verifying these signatures is the only security measure on mail-in ballots. The amount of time allotted to check these signatures was only 8 seconds, which is not humanly possible. The system is completely broken. That's why they are absolutely terrified of letting anyone take a look at their signatures. The signature verification process in Maricopa County is a house of cards. Thanks to this ruling my team will get the chance to topple it

"Immediately following the election, multiple Maricopa County Elections Department officials — individuals who were involved in the signature verification process — reached out to me and urged my team to review the signatures. Now, thanks to this Supreme Court ruling, my team will be able to give the signatures the scrutiny they deserve.

" ... These whistleblowers were intimately involved in the process and they allege that Maricopa County WILLFULLY ignored law and procedure.

"This violation of procedure allowed for tens of thousands of illegal ballots to be approved and counted. Aside from all other issues, including nearly 60% of polling locations being inoperable on Election Day, this issue alone casts the veracity of Katie Hobb's victory in serious doubt. 

"When we verify these allegations, there will be no doubt that this election was compromised and that its results fail to meet the standard of certainty as outlined in Arizona law."

Signature verification is for early ballots, where voters' signatures on the ballot envelopes are checked with signatures on voters' files to ensure they match.

In January, Lake said, "We have three whistleblowers in the signature verification department in Maricopa County who said they were rejecting tens of thousands of signatures — to the tune of up to 130,000 ballots that were being rejected for bad signatures — and somebody above them was sending them on through to be counted, anyway."

Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer gave a statement to Just the News on Thursday. "We of course respect the Court's determination that one (out of many) of Lake's allegations should not have been dismissed according to one legal theory," wrote Richer. "We know, however, that if this allegation proceeds to a factual analysis, Maricopa County will be able to demonstrate that over 150 people spent a total of thousands of hours to review approximately 1.5 million signatures from the November 2022 election.

"Maricopa County’s process is more robust than ever: workers received enhanced training; we have access to all signatures in the voter's file; and all initial determinations are sent to an audit queue. After this two-tiered review, Maricopa County found 18,510 signatures to be non-matching. Of those, we were able to 'cure' 15,411 by calling, mailing, texting, and emailing the voters.

"Those thousands of people can attest to the checks of our process, as can the over 150 bipartisan workers who reviewed signatures. Workers are always told that accuracy is the only important factor. Workers are not given a quota of how many signatures to complete in an hour. Workers are not paid according to the number of signatures they review. And at no point were workers told to 'hurry up.'

"Since the 2020 general election, Maricopa County has won over 20 lawsuits challenging the fairness, accuracy, legality, and impartiality of its election administration.

"This case will be no different, and will simply add another mark to Lake's impressively long losing streak.”

Fontes' office told Just the News on Friday in response to a request for comment, "The secretary of state's office generally does not comment on pending litigation."

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors and Hobbs didn't immediately provide comment on Thursday.

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