Kari Lake loses trial in bid to overturn Arizona election
Defeated Republican candidate fails to convince judge with 'speculation or conjecture' in push to have herself declared governor
Kari Lake, the losing Republican candidate for Arizona governor, has lost in a courtroom after failing to convince a judge that intentional misconduct was behind her defeat at the polls. "The court cannot accept speculation or conjecture in place of clear and convincing evidence," the judge said.
Lake — an acolyte of former President Donald Trump — had challenged the outcome of the November election, which saw Democratic candidate Katie Hobbs prevail by more than 17,000 votes. Lake echoed Trumpist claims of a "stolen election" and brought a lawsuit seeking to have herself declared the winner of the governor's seat.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Peter Thompson rejected her challenge after a two-day trial in which the court repeatedly allowed hearsay to be brought up by Lake's witnesses. Despite the leeway afforded to them, Lake's attorneys did not provide "clear and convincing evidence" of their claims, the judge ruled.
The judge confirmed the election of Hobbs as the governor-elect of Arizona. She's set to take office on Jan. 2.
In an early Christmas present to Maricopa County officials and Hobbs, who was a defendant in her role as the sitting secretary of state, Thompson released his decision Saturday, two days after the trial concluded. Lake quickly vowed to appeal.
"My Election Case provided the world with evidence that proves our elections are run outside of the law. This Judge did not rule in our favor. However, for the sake of restoring faith and honesty in our elections, I will appeal his ruling," said Lake on Twitter.
In addition to rejecting Lake's claims, Thompson ordered the defendants to file a motion for sanctions and payment of the costs of a review of the ballots by Monday morning. The defendants told the court that Lake's lawyers should be sanctioned for filing a suit without any evidence to back it up.
The decision finds Lake with her fellow failed GOP candidates Abe Hamadeh and Mark Finchem in having their claims of election wrongdoing rejected by Arizona courts. Another lawsuit that sought to overturn the election for governor, attempted by state Sen. Sonny Borrelli, was tossed out of court.
Lake 'failed to provide enough evidence'
Lake's suit was "the continuation of a made-for-TV tirade from a candidate who cannot or will not accept the fact that she lost," said Bill Gates, the Republican who chairs the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. The county was one of the defendants in Lake's lawsuit.
Lake "asked the court to discard the valid votes of hundreds of thousands of Arizona voters and then order votes that were never cast to be counted, presumably for her," said Gates on Saturday after the judge's decision.
Lake's attorney's attempted to convince the judge that a Maricopa County employee had intentionally tampered with Election Day ballot printers in an effort to disenfranchise Republican voters and that the county's failure to adhere to chain-of custody rules for early ballots dropped off on Election Day led to thousands of illegal ballots being injected into the system.
The judge found that Lake failed to establish proof for any of the four elements required to sustain her challenge to the election based on claims of intentional misconduct.
"Every one of plaintiff's witnesses – and for that matter, defendants' witnesses as well – was asked about any personal knowledge of both intentional misconduct and intentional misconduct directed to impact the 2022 general election. Every single witness before the court disclaimed any personal knowledge of such misconduct. The court cannot accept speculation or conjecture in place of clear and convincing evidence," Thompson wrote. "Plaintiff failed to provide enough evidence with which this court could find for her on either count by clear and convincing evidence."
In court, Kurt Olsen, one of the lawyers for Lake, said in closing that "we have put forth solid evidence that the outcome of this election is uncertain."
Thompson pointed out that in an election contest, the burden of proof is on the challenger, Lake, and that proof must be of the "most clear and conclusive character."
More than 200 people submitted statements to the court attesting to their frustrating experiences trying to vote on Election Day in Maricopa County because of ballot printing issues that caused tabulator problems.
But nearly every one of those voters ended up casting their ballots, and unhappiness with Election Day errors didn't constitute grounds for overturning the election results, Thompson concluded.
The judge wrote that he "acknowledges the anger and frustration of voters" who were inconvenienced by problems at Maricopa County voting sites on Election Day. "But this court's duty is not solely to incline an ear to public outcry," he wrote. "It is to subject plaintiff's claims and defendants' actions to the light of the courtroom and scrutiny of the law."
"It bears mentioning that election workers themselves were attested to by both plaintiff's witnesses and the defendants' witnesses as being dedicated to performing their role with integrity," the judge wrote. "Not perfectly, as no system on this earth is perfect, but more than sufficient to comply with the law and conduct a valid election."
'Lake lost the election because she received fewer votes'
"Arizona courts have made it clear that frivolous political theater meant to undermine elections will not be tolerated," said Maricopa County's Gates. "All voters were provided the opportunity to vote, and all legal votes were counted."
One of Hobbs' attorneys told the judge that the challenge by Lake is a sign of what is "rotten in Arizona."
"For the past several years, our democracy and its basic guiding principles have been under sustained assault from candidates who just cannot or will not accept the fact that they lost," said attorney Abha Khanna during closing arguments. "The judiciary has served as a bulwark against these efforts to undo our democratic system from within, and we ask this court to assume that role once again."
"Kari Lake lost this election and must lose this election contest," she told the judge "The reason she lost is not because of a printer error, not because of missing paperwork, not because the election was rigged against her, and certainly not for a lack of a full opportunity to prove her claims in a court of law."
"Kari Lake lost the election because, at the end of the day, she received fewer votes than Katie Hobbs," Khanna summarized.
No evidence voters were turned away
During the trial, Lake relied on witnesses like cybersecurity expert Clay Parikh, who testified that issues with ballot-on-demand printers on Election Day were caused by a 19-inch ballot image being printed onto 20-inch paper. He opined that it was done intentionally and could not have happened by accident.
Maricopa County Co-Elections Director Scott Jarrett later explained that the smaller printing size happened after other printer problems had already cropped up on Election Day, when techs changed the settings to "fit to print" while they were troubleshooting. Jarrett said it only happened at three voting centers and impacted 1,300 ballots, though Parikh claimed that he found the mis-sized ballots in batches he inspected from six voting centers.
Lake's campaign accused Jarrett of committing perjury for not mentioning the "fit to print" problem during his first day of testimony, and saving it for the second day when he was testifying for the defense.
Thompson did not buy into Parikh's theory about the ballots.
"If the ballot definitions (sizes) were changed, it stands to reason that every ballot for that particular definition printed on every machine so affected would be printed incorrectly," Thompson wrote. "As plaintiff's next witness indicates, that was not the case on Election Day. In either event, Mr. Parikh acknowledged that he had no personal knowledge of any intent behind what he believes to be the error."
Another expert for the Lake team, pollster Richard Baris, whose polling site Big Data Poll has been banned by FiveThirtyEight for failing to adhere to basic standards, testified that his exit polling found tens of thousands of Republican voters were unable to vote on Election Day because of long lines caused by tabulator issues.
Kenneth Mayer, an expert witness for the defense who teaches political science at the University of Wisconsin, said that Baris' theory was purely based on speculation. The judge seemed to agree.
Lake's team provided no evidence that voters were turned away or refused ballots on Election Day, Thompson wrote.
"No election in Arizona has ever been set aside, no result modified, because of a statistical estimate," Thompson wrote, regarding Baris' testimony. "Election contests are decided by votes, not by polling responses, and the court has found no authority suggesting that exit polling ought to be used in this manner."
Lake witness Heather Honey testified that she never received paperwork as part of a public records request, documenting the chain-of-custody for around 290,000 early ballots that were dropped off on Election Day. She also said that an employee of the county's election contractor Runbeck told her that around 50 Runbeck employees illegally added ballots to the batches at the Runbeck facility.
Saying that Honey's "testimony is of limited use," Thompson wrote that if Runbeck did allow this, county election officials testified that they didn't sanction the practice or know about it. He also said that the county's failure to respond to a public records request did not show proof of violation of chain-of-custody rules.
County election officials said that missing paperwork would not invalidate hundreds of thousands of votes from legal voters and that all early ballots have unique barcodes that identify them as coming from registered voters and they are not counted until their signatures on them are verified.
"Plaintiff has no free-standing right to challenge election results based upon what plaintiff believes – rightly or wrongly – went awry on Election Day," Thompson wrote. "She must, as a matter of law, prove a ground that the Legislature has provided as a basis for challenging an election."
Portions of this report were first published by the Arizona Mirror.