Judge dismisses Kari Lake’s election lawsuit

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An Arizona judge on Saturday ruled against Kari Lake in her challenge of Gov.-elect Katie Hobbs’s (D) victory, dismissing the highest-profile case challenging the midterm election results.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Peter Thompson following a two-day trial found that Lake had not proven that election officials committed intentional misconduct sufficient to change the race’s outcome.

Lake, who lost to Hobbs by about 17,000 votes, had alleged election officials in Maricopa County intentionally sabotaged her victory by causing Election Day printer malfunctions and violating chain of custody procedures.

Lake asked the judge to declare her the rightful winner or order a new election in Maricopa County. Hobbs will be inaugurated on Jan. 2.

Thompson previously dismissed eight other counts alleged in Lake’s lawsuit prior to trial, ruling that they did not constitute proper grounds for an election contest under Arizona law, even if true, but the judge permitted Lake an attempt to prove the two remaining counts in trial.

The ruling marks a major defeat for Lake, a vocal supporter of former President Trump’s unfounded 2020 election claims who has railed against the conduct of last month’s midterm elections, calling it “botched” and a “sham.” Lake sat in the courtroom during the trial but did not testify.

Her allegations largely focused on Maricopa County, which spans the Phoenix area and about 60 percent of Arizona’s population, the epicenter of voter disenfranchisement allegations in the midterms.

Election officials acknowledged that some of the county’s Election Day vote centers experienced printer malfunctions that prevented tabulators from reading ballots, but they insisted voters could utilize backup options to ultimately have their ballot counted.

Lake’s campaign noted that Election Day voters tend to support Republicans, leveraging witness testimony and affidavits to argue the issues were intentionally aimed at making Hobbs the winner and disenfranchised enough Lake supporters to cause the Republican’s defeat.

When asked during the trial if he intentionally sabotaged the printers or was aware of anyone who did, Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer (R) responded, “absolutely not.”

Lake then called a witness, Clay Parikh, who examined ballots on behalf of her campaign and said he inspected 14 ballots that printed a 19-inch image on 20-inch paper. Parikh suggested the discrepancy would cause the tabulation issues and required intentional printer setting changes.

Maricopa County Co-Elections Director Scott Jarrett testified that the county’s root cause analysis remains ongoing, but officials identified that printer heat settings contributed to the problem.

Jarrett said temporary technicians attempting to fix the malfunctions activated a shrink-to-fit print setting at a three vote centers, creating just under 1,300 ballots with the smaller image, but Jarrett insisted those ballots were ultimately tabulated.

Lake’s campaign also called Richard Baris, who managed exit polling in Arizona for conservative firm Big Data Poll and argued the Election Day issues were enough to change the outcome. He said his firm made the conclusion in part based on historical data and an exit poll question asking voters if they experienced issues while voting.

Baris during cross-examination acknowledged that the poll could not say whether the issues were related to the printer malfunctions or if they caused them to not vote.

One of Hobbs’s attorneys also noted that Baris’s firm is one of 10 groups banned by prominent pollster aggregator FiveThirtyEight out of nearly 500 pollsters it assesses. Baris contended that FiveThirtyEight was not “an authority” on pollsters.

Lake’s campaign also argued that Maricopa County violated chain of custody procedures for early ballots when they were transferred to Runbeck Election Services, a third-party that scanned images of ballot signatures so the county could verify them.

Heather Honey, who testified on behalf of Lake’s campaign, said Maricopa County’s response to her public records request for chain of custody paperwork did not include documents for early ballots dropped off on Election Day.

Joe Larue, an attorney for Maricopa County, said Honey misunderstood the different types of chain of custody documents and argued they did in fact exist.

Honey also testified that a Runbeck employee told her that employees could bring their families’ ballots directly to the facility to be counted, and the employee saw about 50 ballots brought in that way.

When pressed by Hobbs attorney Andy Gaona if Honey had any further evidence of other ballots being injected into the system, she said it wasn’t an “answerable question.”

Rey Valenzuela, co-elections director for Maricopa County, testified he wasn’t aware of Runbeck allowing its employees to inject ballots.

The judge’s decision marks the fourth dismissal of a GOP challenge to Arizona’s election results.

One other case challenging Hobbs’s victory and another that contested Arizona Secretary of State-elect Adrian Fontes’s (D) win were also dismissed, although Fontes’s Republican opponent has appealed that ruling.

A judge on Friday dismissed a separate election challenge filed by Arizona Republican attorney general candidate Abe Hamadeh, who trails his opponent by just 511 votes out of 2.5 million ballots ahead of an automatic recount.

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