Kari Lake, the Republican candidate for gubernatorial office in 2022, was denied her request to examine signatures on ballot envelopes by an Arizona magistrate on Wednesday. The judge ruled that the request “would have a corrosive effect on public confidence in the electoral process.”
Judge John Hannah of the Maricopa County Superior Court presided over a two-day inquiry in September to determine whether Lake’s legal team was permitted to examine the signatures on ballot envelopes for the county’s 2022 general election.
Lake was defeated by Democratic Governor Katie Hobbs with an electoral margin of less than 1 percent.
In April, Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer denied the Republican candidate’s motion, which in turn incited her to appear in court.
Richer stated on the social media platform X in September that by withholding the ballot envelopes for Lake to examine, he was protecting election security and voter privacy.
“I believe these envelopes are not public record according to state statute. And I believe that making them public would have a chilling effect on voting, would weaken the security controls on early voting, and would open the door to voter harassment,” he wrote.
Lake responded at the time, “Professional Victim @stephen_richer is lying again. We’re not asking these signatures to be made public. We are asking to review them to assess whether they are legitimate or not. We have a STRONG reason to believe they’re not. Clearly, so does Stephen.”
Professional Victim @stephen_richer is lying again.
We're not asking these signatures to be made public.
We are asking to review them to assess whether they are legitimate or not.
We have a STRONG reason to believe they're not.
Clearly, so does Stephen. pic.twitter.com/0KxW1a1TkR
— Kari Lake (@KariLake) September 20, 2023
Hannah, on the other hand, concurred with Richer, noting that a court ruling in May determined Maricopa County failed to adhere to the legally mandated signature verification procedure due to the absence of convincing evidence presented at trial.
The judge acknowledged that the ballot envelopes are public documents in his ruling on Wednesday, but stated that the “best interest of the state” exception applies.
“The Recorder uses the private identifying information in his possession, including voter signatures, for the purpose of verifying early ballots,” Hannah wrote. “As a matter of election administration, the public release of that private information, including voter signatures, undermines the verification process.
“Unauthorized people could use the information to impersonate real voters. ‘Voter impersonation’ fraud is exceedingly rare at present, in part because it is difficult to scale up that kind of activity enough to make a difference in an election.
“A key barrier is that potential bad actors have no large-scale source of sample voter signatures from which to create fraudulent ballots that might survive the signature verification process and get counted.”
He concurred with Richer that the disclosure of the information might result in “voter harassment.” He referenced testimony in which canvassers visited the residences of electors in order to verify the voters’ identities and voting records.
Hannah placed her faith in Richer’s assertion that this behavior might induce a “chilling effect” among mail-in voters.
The judge concluded that “the broad right of electoral participation outweighs the narrow interests of those who would continue to pick at the machinery of democracy.”
“The public release of 1.3 million ballot affidavit envelopes signed by Maricopa County voters would undermine the process of verifying those voters’ ballots in future elections,” he wrote. “It would create a significant risk of widespread voter fraud where none now exists.”
Further, Hannah said, “It would expose voters to harassment and potentially force them to defend the integrity of their own votes. Some number of voters would stop participating entirely, out of fear of identity theft or concern about privacy.”
Lake initiated legal proceedings subsequent to a September judgment in a state court which determined that county officials failed to adhere to the Arizona law-mandated signature verification process.
Judge John Napper of the Yavapai County Superior Court determined that the “statute is unambiguous and clear,” mandating that “the recorder review the voter registration card” and not other signature-containing documents.
The statute provides that election officials “shall compare the signatures thereon with the signature of the elector on the elector’s registration record.” If the ballot envelope signature and the signature on file do not match, the county is to reach out to the voter and seek to confirm the person’s identity.
Lake said in a statement regarding the Napper’s ruling, “Maricopa County’s complete abandonment of signature verification standards has allowed for the integrity of our elections to be washed away.”
“Election laws aren’t suggestions or guidelines, they’re the law. I am thankful the court has reminded Secretary of State [Adrian] Fontes and Recorder Richer of that fact,” she said.
Lake, who declared her candidacy for the Arizona U.S. Senate seat currently held by Kyrsten Sinema in October, is contesting Hobbs’ victory in a case before the Arizona Court of Appeals.