By Tom Ozimek
The Arizona Supreme Court has sent a key part of Kari Lake’s election lawsuit back to trial court for review, breathing new life into the former gubernatorial candidate’s legal challenge to the outcome that she says was unfair.
In an order issued on March 22 (pdf), the Arizona Supreme Court directed the trial court to review a key claim related to signature verification procedures on early ballots in Maricopa County, reviving Lake’s hopes in her election challenge.
“The signature verification process in Maricopa County is a house of cards. Thanks to this ruling, my team will get the chance to topple it,” Lake said in a statement expressing satisfaction with the ruling.
Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer told The Epoch Times in an emailed statement that elections officials respect the Supreme Court’s decision and that they expect to win when the case is retried in a lower court.
“Since the 2020 general election, Maricopa County has won over 20 lawsuits challenging the fairness, accuracy, legality, and impartiality of its election administration,” Richer said.
“This case will be no different, and will simply add another mark to Lake’s impressively long losing streak.”
Seven Legal Issues
Lake has focused her legal challenge on the claim that Maricopa County election officials intentionally caused problems with ballot printers at some polling places on Election Day, which fell on Nov. 8, 2022. Their alleged intentional misconduct produced ballots that were too light to be read by on-site tabulators, leading to delays and long lines at dozens of polling places in what Lake said was a bid to quash Republican voters.
Maricopa County officials have disputed this in the past, arguing that everyone had a chance to vote and all ballots were counted because the ones that were affected by the printers were taken to more sophisticated counters at election headquarters.
In her complaint to the Arizona Supreme Court (pdf), Lake raised seven legal issues with the request for review, including the allegation that 35,563 “unaccounted for ballots” were intermingled with other ballots at a processing facility and that procedures on testing tabulating machines weren’t followed, and so the results of the election were at the very least “uncertain.”
Election data shows that Lake lost to Hobbs, a Democrat, by about 17,000 votes during the midterms.
In its Wednesday order, the Supreme Court rejected Lake’s claim of intermingled ballots, saying that “the record does not reflect that 35,563 unaccounted ballots were added to the total count.”
Lake Appeals to Supreme Court
After two lower state courts rejected Lake’s election lawsuit, she filed an appeal with the Arizona Supreme Court and the high court agreed in a March 3 order (pdf) to grant a motion for expedited consideration.
The high court indicated it would deliberate on March 21 and decide whether to accept review and, in its March 22 order, it denied review of six out of seven points included in Lake’s appeal.
“It is ordered denying review of issues one through five and seven,” reads the opinion written by Chief Justice Robert Brutinel. “The Court of Appeals aptly resolved these issues, most of which were the subject of evidentiary proceedings in the trial court” and that Lake’s challenges are “insufficient.”
However, the high court granted review of issue number six pertaining to the Maricopa County Recorder’s application of signature-verification policies during the election.
“It is further ordered granting review of issue number six to the extent count three of the complaint challenges the Maricopa County Recorder’s application of signature-verification policies during the election,” the opinion reads.
Issue number six asks whether the lower court was mistaken “in dismissing the signature-verification claim on laches[,] mischaracterizing Lake’s claim as a challenge to existing signature verification policies, when Lake in fact alleged that Maricopa failed to follow these policies during the 2022 general election.”
Dismissing a claim based on laches is the idea that a plaintiff has unreasonably delayed in asserting their legal claim or right, causing harm or prejudice to the defendant.
The Arizona Supreme Court concluded that the lower court indeed made an error as “Lake could not have brought this challenge before the election.”
The court did not evaluate Lake’s signature claim on its merit, however, ruling only that the lower court was mistaken in its justification for rejecting it. With its decision, the Supreme Court sent that claim back to the trial court for consideration.
Lake’s campaign team called signature verification a “third rail” for Maricopa County over the past several years and suggested that her election fight remains in play.
“They have thrown every obstacle at Arizona election integrity activists to prevent them from reaching it. Unfortunately for them, they messed with the wrong woman,” the Kari Lake War Room account said in a post on Twitter.
Richer told The Epoch Times that if Lake’s case proceeds to a factual analysis in trial court, he’s confident Maricopa County officials will be able to show that their election review process is “more robust than ever” as over 150 bipartisan workers spent thousands of hours reviewing approximately 1.5 million signatures from the Nov. 8 election.
“After this two-tiered review, Maricopa County found 18,510 signatures to be non-matching. Of those, we were able to ‘cure’ 15,411 by calling, mailing, texting, and emailing the voters. Those thousands of people can attest to the checks of our process, as can the over 150 bipartisan workers who reviewed signatures,” he said.
Earlier, lawyers for Maricopa County categorically rejected Lake’s latest petition for review.
“Because all of the arguments raised in the petition for review were already thoroughly refuted in both the trial court and court of appeals, this Court should deny the petition,” they wrote in a March 13 response to Lake’s appeal (pdf).
“Lake’s Petition utterly fails at fulfilling its limited task,” Maricopa’s lawyers stated. “It does not present any argument illustrating a need for this Court to review the court of appeals’ opinion. It does not identify a single novel legal issue that this Court needs to clarify. And it does not identify any legal precedent that should be overturned or abrogated.”
“Instead, the Petition is almost entirely a regurgitation of petitioner Kari Lake’s failed arguments before the trial court and the court of appeals,” they added.
Abha Khanna, an attorney representing Hobbs, has said that Lake and her lawyers have been pushing “false claims of election fraud.”
Hobbs took office on Jan. 2 as the 24th governor of Arizona.
Jack Phillips contributed to this report, which has been updated to include comments received from Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer.