Judge finds against Kari Lake, reaffirms Hobbs was elected Arizona governor
Thompson rules 'no competent mathematical basis' to find any claimed misconduct affected 2022 election
A judge rejected on Monday claims by failed GOP candidate Kari Lake of misconduct in the 2022 election, again affirming that Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs was elected Arizona governor last November.
Hobbs won the election by 17,117 votes — a margin of less than one percent — over Lake, a Trump-endorsed Republican and 2020 election denier.
Judge Peter Thompson issued his ruling Monday evening, following a three-day trial last week in which Lake was afforded yet another opportunity to provide evidence that issues with the election meant the results should be tossed out.
Lake's lawyers attempted to prove that Maricopa County conducted no ballot signature verification efforts for early ballots, resulting in enough illegal votes being counted to change the outcome of the election.
Instead, Thompson — hearing the case after Lake pressed an appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court to hold a trial on her claims — again found against the GOP candidate.
Clint Hickman, chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, said that "wild claims of rigged elections may generate media attention and fundraising pleas, but they do not win court cases."
"When 'bombshells' and 'smoking guns' are not backed up by facts, they fail in court. This is justice, and this is what happened today in Kari Lake's election contest," said Hickman, a Republican.
Supervisor Thomas Galvin tweeted that the Maricopa was "undefeated against bogus, baseless election lawsuits."
Lake didn't have any immediate public reaction to the substance of the ruling, but tweeted just "Big announcement tomorrow!" and then an animated GIF that read "Fix this broken system."
Lake's attorneys had claimed that Maricopa County had not verified voters' signatures in the processing of early ballots. Thompson determined, after three days of testimony and argument in his courtroom, that Lake's last allegation in her election lawsuit was not supported. He had earlier dismissed her other nine claims.
Lake's 'evidence & arguments do not clear the bar'
"The evidence the court received does not support plaintiff's remaining claim," the judge wrote.
Maricopa County "provided ample evidence that – objectively speaking — a comparison between voter records and signatures was conducted in every instance (Lake) asked the court to evaluate," wrote Thompson, who was initially appointed to the bench in 2010 by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer.
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 witnesses put on the stand by Lake's attorneys often undermined the GOP candidate's case, detailing how signatures on ballot envelopes were reviewed. Thompson had ruled before the trial that Lake must prove that no signature verification took place at all.
Even so, Lake's lawyers attempted to argue that some signatures were examined too quickly for them to be accurately found to be legitimate. Thompson disagreed.
"Accepting that argument would require the court to re-write not only the (Election Procedures Manual) but Arizona law to insert a minimum time for signature verification and specify the variables to be considered in the process," the Maricopa County Superior Court judge wrote.
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 noted 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.
The judge noted that even if he had a basis to disqualify the 70,000 ballots that Lake focused on the most with her claims of insufficient review, the "proportional reduction method" required by case law would still result in her losing the election.
The judge's "findings of fact and conclusions of law" were:
a. The Court DOES NOT find either clear and convincing evidence or a preponderance of evidence of misconduct in violation of A.R.S. § 16-672(A)(1).
b. The Court DOES NOT find either clear and convincing evidence or a preponderance of evidence that such misconduct was committed by "an officer making or participating in a canvass" under A.R.S. § 16-672(A)(1).
c. The Court DOES NOT find either clear and convincing evidence or a preponderance of evidence that such misconduct did in fact affect the result of the 2022 General Election by a competent mathematical basis.
IT IS ORDERED: confirming the election of Katie Hobbs as Arizona Governor pursuant to A.R.S. § 16-676(B).
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 to be considered in the process."
There is no baseline period in 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," wrote Hickman 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."
Arizona Mirror reporter Caitlin Sievers contributed to this report.