Kari Lake taunts Maricopa County election officials after stoking fears on mail-in ballots

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Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake stoked fears of mail-in ballots. Now she's taunting officials for not counting them fast enough after a record number of people held onto their mail-in ballots until Election Day.

Lake accused election workers of deliberately slowing counts and holding back results, commenting in social media posts and in interviews on conservative news sites.

Her campaign, Kari Lake War Room, said in a tweet Friday that the Maricopa County Elections Department was creating a host of new election deniers, leaning into her refusal to accept the results of the 2020 presidential election.

"This process is an untransparent joke," the campaign said. "Our elections shouldn't be like this. When @KariLake is Governor, they won't be."

Lake took it further, describing the counting process in interviews as "embarrassing" and compared the handling of ballots in the county to a banana republic.

Election coverage: Live voting updates | Arizona election results

"It’s simple. Stop dragging your feet & get Election Day ballot numbers out," she tweeted Thursday.

About 290,000 mail-in ballots were dropped off at county vote centers on Election Day, surpassing the record for drop-off ballots by 70% percent.

Bill Gates, the Board of Supervisors chair, pushed back at Lake's claims on Friday, saying staffers are putting in 18-hour days and are counting as many as 80,000 ballots per day.

Arizona midterms: Why is Kari Lake doing better than GOP ally Blake Masters?

"I am going to stand up for my state. We’re doing things the right way," Gates said. "We’re not doing anything wrong at all."

Lake's rhetoric was amplified by other hard-line Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, who took shots at election officials' changing timeline for completing the ballot count.

"Arizona even said 'by the end of the week.' — they want more time to cheat," Trump said in a social media post Friday. "Kari Lake MUST win!"

Officials in Arizona's most populated county initially estimated they would complete the vote tally by Friday. But they announced Thursday the counts would continue on Veterans Day and through the weekend as they grappled with the massive number of ballots dropped off by voters on Election Day.

Charlie Kirk, the founder of Turning Point USA, a conservative Christian organization aimed at recruiting young Republican voters, also raised concerns about the count.

"Prolonged election counts like this create suspicion and distrust and are unacceptable," he said in a tweet Friday. "The appearance of impropriety can be just as damaging as actual impropriety. Every state needs to adopt a system that allows for all votes to be counted on election night. Period."

County officials have long said voters should not expect results on election night, and a final tally will take time. Signatures on each drop-off ballot must be verified before being scanned and then counted by tabulating machines.

State law gives them until Nov. 28 to finish the count.

At the same time Lake was criticizing the slow count, she was trumpeting her election victory. She said the dropoff ballots would propel her into the governor's seat because they were Republican ballots.

Shortly after county officials announced Friday that 350,000 ballots remained to be counted, Lake suggested she was prepared to make a legal challenge if the votes didn't go her way.

Election coverage: Voting updates | Arizona election results

"Arizona & America: Rest assured that I have the brightest & best attorneys in the Nation, right here on the ground in Arizona," she said in a tweet Friday. "Every ballot has eyes on it. GOP Ballots (Election Day) ballots start dropping tonight. Keep your Champagne cold, our votes are about to start."

Lake and other Republicans for months urged voters not to trust not trust their ballots to the mail or to drop boxes and to take them personally to the polls on Election Day.

Lake and secretary of state candidate Mark Finchem made election fraud conspiracies a cornerstone of their campaigns, discouraging mail-in voting and urging supporters to vote in person.

They filed a joint lawsuit to bar the use of tabulation machines in the 2022 election and have proposed adopting a hand count of ballots. The lawsuit failed, and they filed a notice of appeal.

Finchem said Friday the count wasn't going fast enough.

"Polls closed days ago and the incompetence of Maricopa County is holding the nation hostage for multiple close races," Finchem said in a tweet.

Lake on Friday told Fox News personality Tucker Carlson that she understands why voters distrust Arizona elections.

"We have had such terrible elections. They are run poorly. They are ripe with fraud," she said.

Lake previously took aim at problems with voting machines on Election Day to suggest there was a conspiracy against Republican voters, a claim her own lawyer debunked.

She said in an interview with Carlson Thursday that countywide problems with voting machines Tuesday occurred "primarily in Republican areas of town." Lake offered no evidence to support her claim.

Voting tabulators at 30% of polling stations on Tuesday were unable to read formatting markers on ballots. The printed markers were not dark enough for the machines to register correctly.

Republican National Committee lawyer Kory Langhofer said Tuesday issues plaguing vote centers were not targeted at Republican districts or voters.

Abe Hamadeh, Republican candidate for attorney general, lambasted the county on social media Friday over the failure of voting machines.

"30% of the tabulation machines FAILING on Election Day is unacceptable," he said in a tweet. "Incompetent elections sow the seeds of doubt and are a threat to democracy."

Hamadeh claimed premature victory Wednesday after a vote drop gave him a tiny lead over his Democratic opponent Kris Mayes. Additional results reported hours later put Mayes ahead.

Mayes maintained her lead through Friday afternoon.

Election guide: November 2022

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Gates said “it’s offensive” for Lake and others to charge that Maricopa County officials were engaged in unethical behavior.

He also chastised national media networks for "not being truthful" about why the count wasn't going faster.

Maricopa County is following the election process established by the state Legislature, he said.

He noted that election monitors from both parties were observing the counting process and said nothing out of the ordinary had occurred.

Robert Anglen is an investigative reporter for The Republic. Reach him at robert.anglen@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-8694. Follow him on Twitter @robertanglen

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Kari Lake continues to taunt Maricopa County election officials