Judge denies Kari Lake's request to inspect Maricopa County ballot envelopes

Published: Thursday, November 30, 2023 - 3:12pm
Updated: Thursday, November 30, 2023 - 6:55pm

A Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake can’t inspect approximately 1.3 million ballot envelopes from the 2022 general election she lost to Gov. Katie Hobbs.

Lake’s ongoing election challenges rely on several allegations, including that Maricopa County election workers didn’t properly verify signatures on mail-in ballots. In an attempt to prove that, she filed a public records request to inspect signed ballot envelopes.

Maricopa County denied the request, and Lake filed a second lawsuit seeking the envelopes under Arizona’s Public Records Law. 

At trial in September, Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer told the court he believes the law exempts ballot signatures from disclosure and that making the ballot signatures public would actually make it easier for bad actors to impersonate legitimate voters.

He also said he believed it would have a “chilling effect” because some people may choose not to vote if they thought their signatures would become available via a public records request. 

Judge John Hannah largely agreed with the county’s position, finding state law only allows disclosure of ballot signatures under specific circumstances and that Lake’s request did not meet those parameters. 

Hannah also found that the privacy interests of voters outweighed the benefit of allowing the public to view those signatures.

The judge disagreed with the argument made by Lake’s attorneys that the ballot envelopes could provide key evidence in her ongoing lawsuit challenging the results of the 2022 election.

Hannah noted that a trial court judge already ruled against Lake in that case and that it is now before the Arizona Court of Appeals, where new evidence is not typically considered.

“Moreover, it appears that Ms. Lake did not even argue to the trial court, in the election contest, that the recorder had erroneously verified any individual ballot through a faulty signature match … Instead, she argued that the Recorder in effect did not perform a ‘signature review’ at all,” Hannah wrote. “That argument failed. She does not get to start over with a different argument now.” 

He also rejected the argument that the review is necessary to provide transparency in the county’s administration of elections. 

“Ms. Lake regards the electoral process much like the villagers in the famous fable regarded the goose that laid the golden egg, except that her goose failed to lay the egg she expected…If only she could cut open the electoral process and examine each of its 1.3 million pieces, she says, she would be able to figure out what happened and show that the prize has been there waiting for her all along,” he wrote. 

A spokesperson for Lake did not respond to a request for comment on the decision and whether Lake will appeal the ruling.

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