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Election on trial: Kari Lake says she should be Arizona’s 24th governor

Lake’s attorneys say whistleblowers’ testimonies prove that mail-in ballot signature verification wasn’t conducted during the 2022 General Election. But the defendants say those testimonies show the opposite.

MESA, Ariz. (CN) — Kari Lake began a last-ditch effort in Maricopa County Superior Court Wednesday to prove that the 2022 Arizona gubernatorial election was stolen.

Lake claims that mail-in ballot signature verifiers “systematically failed to comply with the law," and didn’t conduct signature verification, resulting in the wrong person — Katie Hobbs — winning a seat in the Arizona Governor’s office. She has three days in court to prove that.

The Arizona Supreme Court rejected all but one claim in a lawsuit Lake filed in December against Governor Hobbs, the Arizona Secretary of State’s office and Maricopa County. But it sent the signature verification claim back to the trial court, arguing that Maricopa County Judge Peter Thompson used the wrong legal standard to dismiss it.

Thompson said Lake should have filed the election procedure lawsuit before the election concluded, but the Supreme Court disagreed. Because the challenge targets the application of the policies, rather than the policies themselves, the higher court said Lake couldn’t have filed the lawsuit until the election concluded. 

Monday evening, Thompson denied a renewed motion to dismiss the failed gubernatorial candidate’s final claim, sending the case back to a bench trial

Lake’s attorney Kurt Olsen opened with video footage from the 2022 General Election signature verification process. Election workers sitting at computers compared signatures on ballot affidavits to previous signatures in the voters’ files. The video showed an election worker on the left of the screen clicking through images of ballot affidavits every few seconds, or “as fast as they could tap the keyboard,” as Olsen put it, rather than taking time to scroll through documents and compare. The worker to the right was slowly scrolling up and down on the screen, apparently doing verification correctly.

Olsen called the video evidence of election workers “simply not doing signature verification,” despite one of the two workers shown clearly doing just that. And Maricopa elections director Ray Valenzuela testified later in the day that the video was taken out of context.

After carefully checking that each signature matched a previous signature on the voters’ records, verifiers were asked to quickly click through each ballot affidavit in a batch of 250 before sending the whole batch to level two and three verifiers. Valenzuela said the worker could have been doing a routine check after completing a batch, as he was instructed to do by the county.

In his opening, Olsen previewed testimony of two “whistleblowers” who worked as verifiers, saying those testimonies show signature verification wasn’t conducted.

Hobbs’ attorney Thomas Liddy called those whistleblowers “a marching band for Maricopa County,” arguing their testimonies prove the opposite.

The first whistleblower to testify, a signature verifier named Jacqueline Onigkeit, said she worked in the first of three levels of verification. When she rejected signatures, those ballot affidavits were sent to level two verifiers — full-time county employees with access to a longer history of past voter records. 

Onigkeit testified she and other workers received six days of training on multiple aspects of checking signatures. She said she took her time to carefully verify each signature.

She told the court that during the General Election, level two verifiers were so frustrated with the “overload” of rejected signatures sent to them that they sent some signatures back to level one, asking workers to reevaluate them.

Lake’s attorneys say signatures being sent back to level one proves that level two verification never occurred, but Onigkeit acknowledged that full-time employees told her and others to re-reject signatures if they were still unverifiable, sending them up to level two again. She said she took her time and re-rejected “most” of the ballots sent back to her.

Another witness, a level one signature verifier named Andrew Meyers, testified that given the number of mail-in ballots received, it should have been impossible for workers to get through them as quickly as they did.

“It didn’t make sense,” he said. “I just don’t know how they did it.”

Jack O’Connor, attorney for Maricopa County, clarified that Meyers’ testimony was based only on estimations, and that he didn’t really know how quickly other reviewers moved through ballots. 

Meyers testified that he “did a good job” verifying the signatures presented to him, which O’Connor took as another chance to emphasize that verification took place by admission of the defense’s own witnesses. 

Thompson adjourned for the day as Lake’s team was questioning its second to last witness. Trial will continue at 9 a.m. Thursday. Olsen said he expects the trial to wrap up Thursday afternoon and Thompson to issue a ruling shortly after. 

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Categories / Courts, Politics, Regional

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