PHOENIX (CN) — After a two-day bench trial wrapped up Monday, it's up to a federal judge to decide whether Kari Lake will have access to more than a million voter signatures under Arizona Public Record Law.
Lake, a former TV news anchor who lost Arizona’s 2022 gubernatorial election to Katie Hobbs by more than 17,000 votes, has become a figurehead in a so far unsuccessful movement to prove mass voter fraud tainted the results of the last two general elections.
In her fourth lawsuit pushing stolen election claims, the Donald Trump-endorsed politician is asking for access to 1.3 million early voter ballot affidavit envelopes containing voter signatures, hoping to prove that Maricopa County’s failure to properly verify signatures led to the wrong candidate — not Lake, that is — winning a seat in Arizona's executive tower. She sued Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer in April after his office rejected her public records request for the signatures the month before.
Richer’s attorneys say voter signatures are part of a person's voter registration record and are therefore not subject to public records requests. Making signatures public would violate voter privacy and could be used to aid in voter fraud — an argument the legal team supported with multiple witnesses across the two-day trial, who said they’d have privacy concerns if their voter signatures were made public.
Lake’s attorney Bryan Blehm argued on the first day of trial last Thursday that signatures are already public fixtures in society and shouldn’t be treated as confidential. He asked witnesses for the county whether they knew that their signature on property deeds is public; some said they didn’t.
But Maricopa County Judge John Hannah said Monday that “the availability of signatures elsewhere is absolutely not relevant.”
He cited a 1997 case that found teachers’ birthdates weren’t subject to disclosure to a newspaper because the teachers had provided them with the expectation of privacy, even though birthdates can be obtained through other means.
Blehm countered that signatures aren’t governed by the same logic because there’s no expectation of privacy surrounding them.
“Signatures are everywhere,” he said, finding an example in checks signed at restaurants. “We give them to strangers all the time.”
Joseph LaRue, Richer's attorney, said the signature on a ballot envelope is likely more recent than one appearing on a property deed, making it more sensitive.
County attorneys established Monday that releasing a voter’s signature would mean the release of a full ballot envelope image, which would also contain the voter’s address and phone number, if they chose to provide it. Blehm said that doesn’t matter since all the same information, minus the signature, can be found in public county records anyone can request.
LaRue argued that early ballot envelopes and the signatures on them are still part of a voter’s registration record and therefore private. If they weren’t part of the record, LaRue said, then the county couldn’t use them to verify signatures — the very practice Lake’s public records request stems from.
Blehm said because no statute directly states that, the only thing that can be considered a voter registration record is a voter registration form itself.
LaRue added in his closing argument that publicizing signatures could prevent people from signing their envelopes or providing their phone number, which would make curing incomplete ballots impossible. Two witnesses, including Richer, testified to election-related threats they believe would only get worse if people had easier access to voters’ personal information.
“All Maricopa County has brought to this court are passions,” Blehm said. “But they haven’t brought an explanation. I can get more data through other means, absent the signature, than what’s on the early ballot affidavit envelope.”
Blehm asked Kristi Passarelli, former assistant director of the county’s election services, about footage of on election day that We the People AZ Alliance used while attempting to show the county rigged the election. He began by asking Passarelli if the video depicts her allowing people into the county’s server rooms without proper clearance before Judge Hannah cut him off.
“Now we’re catapulting into falsehoods,” Hannah said, referring to unfounded claims that the county deleted files that would have shown fraud.
“Stop it,” he scolded. “Stop it.”
Lake, who wasn't present at the second day of trial and was 20 minutes late to the first day, didn't call any witnesses.
Hannah again declined to hear testimony from Shelby Bush, the founder of We The People AZ Alliance, the group behind a now-debunked audit of the 2022 General Election. He said her testimony, which would have addressed signature verification and auditing, would be irrelevant to a public records case.
The judge also declined testimony from Anthony Kern, a Republican state senator. Lake planned for Kern to refute claims made in Thursday’s testimony about threats of violence at the Arizona Legislature. Hannah said he respected Kern’s time and desire to set the record straight, but didn’t see how his testimony would be relevant to whether voter signatures are public record.
“This judge needs to be put in jail,” one woman whispered in court, as Hannah ruled against letting Kern testify.
As for the case outcome, Hannah said he’ll rule “as quickly as possible.”Follow @JournalistJoeAZ
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