Arizona Supreme Court rejects most of Kari Lake's election challenge
Arizona's top court has declined to hear Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake's challenge to her election loss, but kept the case alive by sending one of Lake's claims back to a county judge to review.
Lake asked the Arizona Supreme Court to consider her case after a Maricopa County judge and state appeals court rejected her claims that she was the rightful governor, or that a new election should take place.
The former television news anchor made seven legal claims in her case, six of which the state's top court said were properly dismissed by lower courts, according to an opinion released Wednesday written by Chief Justice Robert Brutinel.
Those included claims that tens of thousands of ballots were "injected" into the election, which Lake called an "undisputed fact" in her lawsuit, as well as alleging that problems with tabulation machines disenfranchised "thousands" of voters.
The opinion said Lake's challenges were "insufficient to warrant the requested relief under Arizona or federal law."
But the sixth legal claim, which has to do with Lake's allegation that Maricopa County did not follow signature verification procedures, must receive a second look by a county judge, the court ordered. The county and appeals courts interpreted Lake’s signature-related challenge as applying to the policies themselves, not how the policies were applied in 2022, and dismissed her claim based on grounds that she filed her legal challenge too late.
But that was an error, the Supreme Court said, noting, "Lake could not have brought this challenge before the election."
Read the opinion: Arizona Supreme Court's ruling on Kari Lake's election challenge
Lake's claim invokes a section of Arizona law that requires signatures on early ballot envelopes be checked against the signature already in a voter's file, and sets the process and timeline for verifying, or "curing," a ballot if the signature doesn't appear to match. She claimed Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer's office accepted "a material number" of ballots with unmatched signatures last year.
The Supreme Court did not evaluate Lake's signature claim on its merit, only on the legal justifications offered by prior courts. The court's order requires Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Peter Thompson to evaluate that single element of Lake's case again to determine if the claim was properly dismissed previously, or if Lake can prove “votes (were) affected ‘in sufficient numbers to alter the outcome of the election.’”
The Supreme Court quoted the appeals court ruling, saying that to prove her claim, Lake must provide a “competent mathematical basis to conclude that the outcome would plausibly have been different, not simply an untethered assertion of uncertainty.”
In response to the ruling, Richer, who also is a Republican, said, “I of course have the utmost respect for both the people sitting on the court and the court as an institution, and we’ll now proceed and win, again, for about the 30th time."
His office, as well as the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, have defended their work in numerous lawsuits stemming from the November election, and became targets for attack among losing Republican candidates and their allies.
Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs, a defendant in the lawsuit, did not comment Wednesday evening on the court's ruling.
Alex Nicoll, a spokesperson for Lake, declined comment, noting Lake’s longstanding refusal to speak to The Arizona Republic. In a separate statement sent to The Republic and other media outlets, Lake made various claims that cannot be verified and overstated the court’s ruling. She said she was "thrilled" by the court's decision and that the signature issue “alone casts the veracity of Katie Hobb’s victory in serious doubt.”
In addition to further review of the signature verification piece, there is another unresolved issue in the case: whether Lake should face sanctions for filing what Hobbs’ attorneys have dubbed a frivolous and bad-faith lawsuit. Lawyers for Hobbs asked the court to order Lake to cover their costs and attorneys' fees, and Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes’ lawyers sought unspecified sanctions as well.
The Supreme Court said Lake, Hobbs and Fontes could file court arguments on the issue, but restricted those arguments only to Lake’s factual claims, such as that over 35,000 ballots were “added” to affect the outcome of the election.
Brutinel succinctly shot down that claim.
“The record does not reflect that 35,563 unaccounted ballots were added to the total count,” he wrote in the court’s opinion. “The motions for sanctions will be considered in due course.”
For subscribers:Kari Lake insults Democrats, holds to election denialism at CPAC
What Lake had argued in her case
The Arizona Court of Appeals previously ruled that Lake’s court arguments and evidence revealed Election Day “difficulties,” but that Thompson was right to conclude “that voters were able to cast their ballots, that votes were counted correctly, and that no other basis justifies setting aside the election results.” Thompson heard two days of testimony in December before ruling he could not “accept speculation or conjecture in place of clear and convincing evidence.”
Lake had tried to use problems with ballot tabulators in Maricopa County and lines on Election Day as fuel for her bid to unseat Hobbs, who won with an about 17,000 vote advantage. Hobbs and the county countered that Lake relied on discredited polling, speculation and hadn't provided evidence of Arizonans unable to vote because of those issues.
The rising star of Donald Trump’s brand of Republican politics also argued that she needs to show only a preponderance of evidence to support her claims, but courts have said that evidence must be clear and convincing. The Supreme Court rejected review of this claim, affirming the prior court rulings were correct.
What's next for Lake?
Lake’s political future is an open question since her November loss, and she’s said she wants to first finish her court appeals before announcing what's next.
But she’s stoked speculation around a potential U.S. Senate run in 2024, with a keynote speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference earlier this month and again this week in attacking Democratic hopeful for Senate, Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., over a report in The Arizona Republic. The Republic reported on Gallego’s past involvement in a troubled business venture to offer loans to Latino communities, potentially for his own profit.
Lake dubbed Gallego “just another corrupt politician looking to line his own pockets,” and ended her statement: “I believe Arizonans are ready for a new generation of citizen leaders who are ready to work for the people.”
Reach reporter Stacey Barchenger at email@example.com or 480-416-5669. Follow her on Twitter @sbarchenger.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Kari Lake election challenge mostly rejected by Arizona Supreme Court