Judge tosses Kari Lake's election-challenge in Arizona governor's race

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A judge on Saturday dismissed Republican Kari Lake’s election challenge and affirmed Democrat Katie Hobbs’ election as governor two days after a trial in which he said Lake failed to prove her case.

Maricopa County Judge Peter Thompson, who oversaw the two-day trial, ruled that Lake’s legal team never offered clear and convincing evidence showing the election was rigged against her.

Lake can appeal the case before Hobbs is expected to be sworn into office Jan. 2. Because of the tight timetable, the case may move swiftly to the Arizona Supreme Court.

Thompson noted that real problems did affect the election, but election workers tried their best and performed their role "with integrity."

"Not perfectly,” Thompson continued, "as no system on this earth is perfect, but more than sufficient to comply with the law and conduct a valid election."

Election law and case histories have set a high bar for election challenges like Lake’s. Courts must presume election results are valid barring strong evidence to the contrary.

Following attorneys’ oral arguments on Dec. 19, Thompson ordered the two-day evidence trial to give Lake a chance to prove two of her claims: that a county employee interfered illegally with the printers in a way that caused her to lose votes, and/or that ballots were added to the county’s total unlawfully.

Kari Lake, Republican candidate for governor of Arizona holds a press conference at her campaign headquarters.
Kari Lake, Republican candidate for governor of Arizona holds a press conference at her campaign headquarters.

His 10-page ruling dismantles Lake’s witnesses and their arguments, denying in each case they presented compelling evidence. Any request for sanctions in the case need to be made by Dec. 26 at a.m., the ruling states.

Lake’s campaign was steeped in Trump’s world of election conspiracy theories and false claims. She urged voters to avoid using the mail or election drop boxes, casting unwarranted suspicion on such methods as Trump and his followers have since 2020.

On Election Day, Nov. 8, the county gave her the fodder needed for renewed claims of election fraud. Ballot-on-demand printers at about a third of 223 total voting sites had some kind of malfunction, causing vote-counting machines to fail to read thousands of printed ballots. The problems created frustration and long lines of up to two hours at some polling sites.

Background: Fact check: Gov-elect Katie Hobbs lawfully certified her win over Kari Lake in Arizona

Election 2020: Georgia special grand jury wraps up probe of Trump, allies

Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chair Bill Gates admitted the problems caused “chaos,” but officials insist that no voter was actually disenfranchised. Anyone experiencing problems could have voted in a different polling site, many of which had short lines, and voters could choose to leave their ballots in a secure container called “door three,” which would be taken to the county’s election center and counted.

After election results showed she lost to Hobbs by over 17,000 votes, Lake filed a 70-page complaint alleging that the problems “could not have occurred without intentional misconduct” by county officials and Hobbs, and that they cost her a critical number of votes. The suit outlines a second alleged conspiracy theory that “hundreds of thousands of illegal ballots infected the election in Maricopa County.“

She demanded either a new election or to be declared the winner of the governor’s race.

Nothing in the lawsuit’s text or thousands of pages of exhibits contained realistic evidence of a conspiracy by Hobbs or county officials, instead relying mostly on witness affidavits.

The trial stood out by the shallowness of the evidence Lake’s side put on.

Lake and her husband, video expert Jeff Halperin, attended both days of the trial with a small entourage of supporters. She criticized The Arizona Republic but refused to answer questions inside or outside of the courtroom. She was trailed by far-right media figures including local Gateway Pundit reporter Jordan Conradson who sat in the courtroom benches on Mike Lindell pillows.

Lake's attorneys for the suit include Bryan Blehm, who was a lawyer for Cyber Ninjas, the contractor hired by the state Senate for its review of the 2020 election, and Kurt Olsen, a Washington, D.C., lawyer who recently was ordered to pay sanctions in a federal suit against voting machines brought by Lake and Finchem.

On the first day, IT professional Clay Parikh of Alabama – who also testified in the aforementioned federal suit – told the court that bad printer settings caused problems in ballots from six voting sites he inspected, and in that he was certain this had been intentionally done. He could not prove a malicious act.

But his theory had a fatal flaw: He acknowledged that any ballot that could not be read by a machine would be duplicated by hand and, as long as that was done correctly, counted by the county. He had no evidence to show the ballots weren’t ultimately counted.

“This, at a minimum, means that the actual impact element of (Lake’s allegation) could not be proven,” Judge Thompson ruled.

Parikh was paid $250 an hour to testify as well as travel expenses, he acknowledged to defense lawyers. They noted that he had previously been paid to speak in August at a conference put on by Mike Lindell, the Trump-supporting MyPillow owner. (A video of the event reviewed by The Republic shows that Parikh told participants at the event that electronic voting machines should never be used.)

A poll worker who testified about printer malfunctions contradicted Parikh by saying he believed shaking a toner cartridge helped ballots print.

Thompson noted the contradiction and that the poll worker testified to how other technicians worked to fix the printer problems.

“The T-Techs he worked with diligently and expeditiously trouble-shot each problem as they arose, and they did so in a frenetic Election Day environment,” Thompson wrote.

Heather Honey, who owns a Pennsylvania company that worked on the state senate’s partisan election audit last year, testified about her failure to obtain public records and introduced hearsay evidence from affidavits. She cited information from a Republican election observer who claimed to see sloppy chain of custody procedures, and an election contract worker who claimed to have knowledge of 50 ballots being introduced into the voting system illegally. Neither of the two witnesses from the affidavits testified themselves.

Thompson said in his ruling that Honey’s records request didn’t pertain to the counts that Lake had to prove, and that he had to weigh the hearsay evidence from the affidavits against testimony from county officials. He declined to give weight to either affidavit. Though he found the claim of 50 ballots being introduced “more credible” than other claims, there was no evidence that anyone had given permission to process those ballots, if it happened, he wrote.

Half of the second day was taken up by testimony from conservative pollster Rich Baris. His evidence was his deduction that Lake was robbed of her rightful victory, a conclusion he based on a poll of voters and assumptions about why an unusual number of people didn’t complete his election follow-up survey.

Baris’ reputation has also been called into question: As defense lawyers noted, poll aggregator Nate Silver of Fivethirtyeight.com, which aggregates the polls of more than 400 polling companies and rates their output, has banned Baris’ Big Data Poll and given it an “F” grade.

Maricopa County “takes responsibility for errors that occur in every election,” deputy county attorney Tom Liddy told the court in his closing statements. But he accused Kari Lake’s campaign of causing the real harm to Republican voters, saying that advising voters not to put their ballots in Door Three after being advised to do so by election officials was “not on Maricopa County.”

He warned that after the ruling, the county would be back in court seeking sanctions for presenting nothing but “conspiracy theories” and “sour grapes” in the trial.

“When people come into court without evidence, there should be a day of reckoning,” Liddy said.County officials appeared to be defensive at times during the trial, buoying hopes of MAGA-supporters that Lake’s case had merit. But while Olsen and Blehm raised questions about the integrity of chain-of-custody procedures and the county’s honesty, no evidence proving election officials conspired to throw the election in Hobbs’ favor emerged.

Hobbs had been slated to testify at the trial, but Lake’s team drew its subpoena to compel her to appear after the defense argued that no evidence had been presented to show she had anything to do with the remaining counts under question.

County Recorder Richer called in from Panama City and was forced to turn on his video camera by the judge. He apologized for wearing a T-shirt and said it was his first vacation in four years. As Blehm tried to show that Richer didn’t really have control over the chain of custody, Richer sometimes answered with a bitter tone at the questions.

“When you first came to office, were there concerns about drop-box chain of custody?” Blehm asked.

“Yes,” he replied, “I’m certainly aware of many things that have been alleged.” He referred to the debunked documentary “2000 Mules,” which alleged a multi-state ballot-harvesting conspiracy against Trump.

Contradicting the affidavit that Honey brought up, Richer insisted that chain-of-custody procedures were not violated. Lake’s team presented nothing else that could contradict him, other than raise questions about whether the county had been forthcoming in releasing all of the documents requested by Honey and Lake’s team.

Olsen and Blehm were allowed to play a voicemail in court that a county worker left for Honey indicating the county was moving slowly on records requests. Liddy questioned that the woman who left the voicemail, first introduced only as “Betty,” worked for the county, but it was later shown that she did. That and moments like the unexplained reluctance by co-Election Director Scott Jarrett to mention that “shrink-to-fit” problems could have been responsible for some of the printer issues added some drama to the trial.

Yet as officials explained, and never effectively refuted by Lake’s side, the county uses an extensive system of security checks in elections that’s overseen by bipartisan teams of county employees observers.

The process was explained in detail on the witness stand by Rey Valenzuela, co-director of the county’s Election Department.

The county contracts with a Phoenix company, Runbeck Election Services, a Phoenix-based company that prints voting materials for counties in 23 states, for a host of services from printing ballot packets to helping retrieve ballots from post offices and drop boxes. Yet it does none of these things without oversight by county employees, according to Valenzuela.

“We proved without a shadow of a doubt that there was malicious intent that caused disruption so great it changed the results of the election,” Lake said after the trial’s conclusion on Dec. 22.

She did not take questions.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Judge rules against Kari Lake's election challenge in Arizona race