By TERRY TANG and JACQUES BILLEAUD Associated Press
PHOENIX (AP) — Attorneys for Kari Lake entered a second day Thursday of trying to build a case for the only remaining legal claim in her challenge to the Arizona governor’s race.
A judge in suburban Phoenix is allowing Lake a three-day trial to prove county election officials failed to perform higher level signature verifications on mail-in ballots that had been flagged.
Maricopa County has a failed process for verifying thousands of ballot signatures that even some of its own workers question, her attorneys argued in court Wednesday.
Lake’s lawyers spent most of the trial’s first day showing video and taking testimony from two previous signature screeners who alleged election workers were overwhelmed.
Only one of her claims has yet to be dismissed in her case challenging her loss six months ago to Democrat Katie Hobbs.
“There’s simply no way to review signatures with respect to procedures,” said Kurt Olsen, one of Lake’s attorneys.
The former TV anchor was among the most vocal of last year’s Republican candidates promoting former President Donald Trump’s election lies, which she made the centerpiece of her campaign.
Lake listened to the proceedings from a seat in the back of the courtroom but did not speak. She left two hours into the hearing.
While most other election deniers around the country conceded after losing their races in November, Lake did not. She lost to Hobbs by more than 17,000 votes.
Courts have dismissed most of her lawsuit, but the Arizona Supreme Court revived one claim that challenges the implementation of signature verification procedures on early ballots in Maricopa County, home to more than 60% of the state’s voters.
Superior Court Judge Peter A. Thompson said in a ruling Monday that Lake alleges Maricopa County officials failed to perform higher level signature verifications on mail-in ballots that had been flagged by lower level screeners for any inconsistencies.
In a subsequent decision, Thompson said Lake also is challenging signature verification by lower level screeners, too.
The video footage shown by Lake’s legal team came from a Maricopa County camera feed that purportedly shows a signature verified incorrectly and hastily by a worker.
Reynaldo “Rey” Valenzuela, Maricopa County director of elections, testified that the temporary worker simply didn’t grasp the technological skills needed for the job and he was re-assigned elsewhere. Signature verifiers are also randomly audited.
“We review them for consistency,” Valenzuela said. “Was there some sort of inconsistency where someone did all good (signatures) or all bad?”
A lower-level worker also testified that higher-level signature reviewers were overwhelmed and kicked back ballot affidavit envelopes that seemed questionable.
Three workers on lower-level signature verification who filed declarations in court on Lake’s behalf have said they experienced rejection rates due to mismatched signatures on 15% to 40% of the ballots they encountered.
Attorneys for Arizona election officials said the workers’ speculation on signature verification efforts does not amount to a violation of the law or misconduct by election workers — and raised questions about whether the three workers could know the outcome of the specific ballots they had flagged.
Lake isn’t contesting whether voters’ signatures on ballot envelopes matched those in their voting records.
In a ruling Monday night, Thompson refused to throw out Lake’s claim.
Lake faces a high bar in proving not only her allegation over signature verification efforts but also that it affected the outcome of her race.
County officials say they have nothing to hide and are confident that they will prevail in court.
Lake’s lawyers say there was a flood of mail-in ballots in Maricopa County at a time when there were too few workers to verify ballot signatures. Her attorneys say the county ultimately accepted thousands of ballots that had been rejected earlier by workers for having mismatched signatures.
By reviving the claim, the Arizona Supreme Court reversed a lower court decision that found Lake waited too long to raise it.
Earlier in her lawsuit, Lake had focused on problems with ballot printers at some polling places in Maricopa County. The defective printers produced ballots that were too light to be read by the on-site tabulators at polling places. Lines were backed up in some areas amid the confusion. Lake alleged ballot printer problems were the result of intentional misconduct.
County officials say everyone had a chance to vote and all ballots were counted because those affected by the printers were taken to more sophisticated counters at election headquarters.
In mid-February, the Arizona Court of Appeals rejected Lake’s assertions, concluding she presented no evidence that voters whose ballots were unreadable by tabulators at polling places were unable to vote.
The following month, the state Supreme Court declined to hear nearly all of Lake’s appeal, saying there was no evidence to support her claim that more than 35,000 ballots were added to vote totals.
Earlier this month, the court sanctioned Lake’s lawyers $2,000 for making false statements when saying that more than 35,000 ballots had been improperly added to the total count.
The trial is the second conducted in Lake’s election challenge.