Caitlin Sievers, Arizona Mirror
Democrat Katie Hobbs is still Arizona’s governor, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Peter Thompson ordered Monday evening in a ruling that dismissed Kari Lake’s claim that the 2022 general election was stolen from her through the county’s failure to verify voter signatures.
Thompson’s ruling came after a three-day trial last week during which Lake’s lawyers attempted to prove that Maricopa County conducted no ballot signature verification efforts for early ballots, resulting in enough illegal ballots being counted to change the outcome of the election.
Lake, a Trump endorsed Republican and 2020 election denier, lost to Hobbs by more than 17,000 votes.
“Objectively speaking — a comparison between voter records and signatures was conducted in every instance (Lake) asked the Court to evaluate,” Thompson wrote.
While some Lake supporters believe the judge set too high of a bar for Lake’s lawyers to overcome in proving their case, Lake’s lawyers did that themselves by bringing a claim under Reyes v. Cuming, requiring them to “prove that the signature review process for Maricopa County was not conducted” at all instead of contesting signatures on individual ballot envelopes.
The judge wrote in his order Monday that the testimony of Lake witness Jacquelyn Onigkeit made it “abundantly clear that level one and level two signature review did take place in some fashion,” because Onigkeit herself took part in level one review.
“She expressed her concern that this review was done hastily and possibly not as thoroughly as she would have liked — but it was done,” Thompson wrote.
The judge found that, according to testimony from Co-Maricopa County Elections Director Rey Valenzuela, who said there were 153 level one signature reviewers and 43 level two signature reviewers, “there is clear and convincing evidence that the elections process for November 8, 2022, General Election did comply” with the law and “that there was no misconduct in the process” to support Lake’s claim.
“Plaintiff’s evidence and arguments do not clear the bar,” Thompson wrote.
Thompson acknowledged in his ruling that Lake’s legal strategy and arguments continued to change throughout the proceedings. While she initially told the court that no signature review took place, her lawyers later argued that the verification happened, but wasn’t thorough enough and was done too quickly.
Lake’s expert witness testified, based on data from the county, that workers verified 274,000 ballots in three seconds or fewer and 70,000 in two seconds or fewer. The witness said that it was impossible to perform a signature review in such a short amount of time.
“Plaintiff argues that this is so deficient for signature comparison that it amounts to no process at all,” Thompson wrote. “Accepting that argument would require the Court to re-write not only the EPM (Elections Procedures Manual) but Arizona law to insert a minimum time for signature verification and specify the variables bo be considered in the process.”
There is no baseline time written into Arizona election law that specifies how long an election worker should take to compare an envelope signature and a signature on file for a voter to determine if the two are consistent.
“No reviewer is required by statute or the EPM to spend any specific length of time on any particular signature,” Thompson wrote.
He agreed with Valenzuela that determining the consistency of some signatures could happen quickly
“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,” Thompson wrote.
The judge went on to say that he disagreed with the argument from Lake’s attorneys that “signature verification was the only safeguard against fraudulent ballots being counted.”
He wrote that Maricopa County also undertook efforts to clean up early voting lists, verify voter addresses and that it uses a unique barcode for each ballot envelope that correlates to a registered voter.
“The court does not find either clear and convincing evidence or a preponderance of evidence of misconduct in violation of the law,” Thompson wrote.
This is Lake’s second trial in Thompson’s courtroom. Lake lost the first trial in December and appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court, which sent one of her 10 initial claims back to Thompson for further examination and upheld the dismissal of the other nine.
“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,” Chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Clint Hickman wrote in a statement following Thompson’s ruling. “More than 1.56 million Maricopa County voters cast a ballot in the November midterm, surpassing statewide turnout and nearly every midterm turnout for the last 50 years. All voters were provided the opportunity to vote, and all legal votes were counted.”
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