The closing arguments from lawyers on opposing sides of Republican Kari Lake's election challenge delved into the details of data and signature comparison procedures, but also something bigger: trust in elections, and who was chipping away at that trust.
The 80-minute arguments on Friday saw lawyers exchanging barbs, with Lake's team alleging Maricopa County's failures led to "fraud" and distrust, while the opposing side faulted misinformation and Lake's refusal to concede her race.
“Kari Lake lost this election, and she's clearly unhappy about it," said Elena Rodriguez Armenta, a lawyer at Elias Law Group, who is representing Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs in the case.
“Every second that this contest continues without any actual evidence is an attack on election integrity, on democracy and on Arizona’s strong public policy favoring the stability and finality of election results.”
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Peter Thompson began weighing the evidence in Lake's request to set aside her loss to Hobbs following the arguments that capped a three-day trial.
Thompson did not rule immediately and is likely to issue a written ruling in the coming days.
How the judge will decide the case
The key issue for the court to determine is whether Maricopa County followed state law in how it verified that voters' signatures on ballot affidavit envelopes were consistent with the signature in their voter records.
The relevant state law says county recorders "shall compare the signatures thereon with the signature of the elector on the elector's registration record." If signatures are "inconsistent," the law directs counties to contact voters to try and correct the signature, a process known as "curing."
Lake, the Republican nominee for governor and a former television news anchor, argued the county didn't follow the law. She attended part of the third day of trial on Friday, declining to comment as she left the Mesa justice center.
Her case, as presented by lawyers Kurt Olsen and Bryan Blehm, largely rested on testimony and data analysis — disputed by the county — that some signatures were compared in just 2 or 3 seconds and that the rapid review didn’t meet the standard in the law for comparison.
Olsen told the judge that whether he considered the 70,000 signatures compared in 2 seconds or less, or the 274,000 signatures compared in 3 seconds or less, either would have changed the outcome of the election and it should be set aside.
"There are simply too many early ballots that must be verified in too limited a period of time, thus leaving the system vulnerable to error, fraud and oversight," Olsen said.
Those numbers are based on an analysis by a hired signature verification examiner, Erich Speckin, who used keystroke data provided by the county in response to a public records request to the We The People AZ Alliance, a political action committee, to calculate how long it took workers to verify signatures.
The county urged the judge not to trust Speckin’s math on those numbers, which Tom Liddy, the civil division chief for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, said were irrelevant.
The judge needs only to find that verification took place, Liddy said, arguing that Lake’s own witnesses made the county’s case.
Two of those witnesses, Jacqueline Onigkeit and Andrew Myers, both testified they worked to verify signatures as part of the 2022 general election. So did Maricopa County Elections Director Rey Valenzuela, the county's chief witness, who said he personally reviewed 1,600 ballot envelopes last year.
Liddy also took exception to something Olsen repeated at least three times in his argument: that Maricopa County did not dispute Speckin’s testimony or data analysis by calling an expert witness of their own. The county had objected to the inclusion of Speckin’s work and Liddy said the court ruled Speckin’s analysis could not be considered evidence in the case.
Asked following the trial if he was laying the legal groundwork to seek sanctions for Olsen’s statements, Liddy declined to comment.
Olsen and Blehm already were fined by the Arizona Supreme Court for similar prior statements in the Lake case. The court imposed a $2,000 penalty after they repeatedly claimed it was an “undisputed fact” that 35,000 ballots were added to the November tally. Those claims were repeated even after the state’s top court found no truth to them.
Closing arguments go beyond the courtroom
Lake in December filed her lawsuit challenging her loss to Hobbs by about 17,000 votes. Her team presented evidence during a two-day trial in December, and Thompson found no grounds to declare Lake the winner.
The state Court of Appeals affirmed his decision, and the Arizona Supreme Court largely did as well, though it sent the single signature verification issue back to Thompson for reconsideration, saying he used the wrong legal reasoning to dismiss the count. That is what led to the trial that began Wednesday and concluded Friday.
After three days of at times heated exchanges and a flood of legal objections, the lawyers for Lake, Hobbs, Maricopa County and the Arizona secretary of state took turns delivering closing arguments. Those were not devoid of tension, especially over the issue of casting doubt upon elections.
“Election officials wield enormous power,” Olsen said. “With that power comes responsibility, a responsibility to follow the law. Because if those laws are not followed, the people lose trust. It's well known that a majority of the people today do not trust our elections. That's in large part due to election officials not following the law.”
But Liddy rebutted that claim, saying Maricopa County verified signatures — and did it correctly.
“Reasonable people can differ, unreasonable people can differ and spew garbage on the internet,” Liddy said, adding that "misinformation, lies and filth being broadcast all over the internet, 24 hours a day, seven days a week" are what is rupturing trust in elections.
“The fact that some people in Arizona, and some people in America, don't have confidence in our elections is not evidence as suggested by Ms. Lake's team that the many counties across this fruited plain are not doing their job," Liddy said, "but it may just be that people are reading the stuff that they write.”
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Kari Lake election challenge in Arizona governor race in judge's hands