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Arizona Judge Makes Ruling On Kari Lake Reviewing 2022 Ballot Envelope Signatures

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.


A state judge in Arizona has ruled on a request by 2022 GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake to personally review ballot envelope signatures following her loss to Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs.

In September, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John Hannah presided over a short two-day trial to determine whether Lake’s legal team should be granted access to the ballots in order to determine if they were valid. But on Thursday, Hannah turned down the request, concluding it “would have a corrosive effect on public confidence in the electoral process.”

Hobbs defeated Lake by less than 1 percent.

Lake went to court after Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer denied her request to inspect the ballot signatures in April. In September, Richer took to the X platform to claim he was defending voter privacy and election security by denying Lake’s request.

“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, according to The Western Journal.

That led Lake to respond: “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.”

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The outlet added:

However, Hannah sided with Richer, noting a court ruling in May concluded no convincing evidence had been presented at trial that Maricopa County did not follow the signature verification process required by law.

In his Wednesday ruling, the judge conceded that the ballot envelopes are public records but said 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.

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“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,” Hannah added, agreeing with Richer that disclosing the information could lead to “voter harassment.”

To justify that, the judge cited testimony about canvassers going to voters’ homes to confirm who lived at the address and whether they had voted, agreeing with Richer’s claim that revealing the signatures would have a “chilling effect” on mail-in ballot participation.

He then 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.”

He added: “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’s request came after a state court found in September that Maricopa County officials failed to follow the law regarding the ballot signature process.

Yavapai County Superior Court Judge John Napper found that the “statute is clear and unambiguous,” requiring “the recorder to review the voter’s registration card” and not other documents containing the voter’s signature.

According to the statute, election officials “shall compare the signatures thereon with the signature of the elector on the elector’s registration record.” If they don’t appear to match, then election officials are required by law to reach out to the voter in an attempt to confirm identity.

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