An Arizona judge on Wednesday denied 2022 Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake’s request to review ballot envelope signatures, concluding it “would have a corrosive effect on public confidence in the electoral process.”
In September, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John Hannah presided over a two-day trial to decide whether Lake’s legal team could have access to review the ballot envelope signatures for the 2022 general election in the county.
Lake lost the race to Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs by less than 1 percent of the vote.
Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer denied the GOP candidate’s request in April, prompting her to go to court.
In a post on the X social media platform in September, Richer said he was defending voter privacy and election security by not releasing the ballot envelopes for Lake to review.
“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
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.
“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.”
Further, he agreed with Richer that releasing the information could lead to “voter harassment.” He cited testimony about canvassers going to voters’ homes to confirm who lived at the address and whether they had voted.
Hannah relied on Richer’s testimony that this conduct could have a “chilling effect” on voters participating in mail-in voting.
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’s legal action followed a ruling in state court in September that county officials did not follow the signature verification process required by Arizona law.
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.
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.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.