PHOENIX (CN) — Kari Lake appeared in Maricopa County Court today to prove she deserves access to the 1.3 million signatures signed onto early ballots cast in the county’s 2022 General Election.
Lake, a former TV news anchor that unsuccessfully ran for Arizona governor in 2022, requested the signatures through a public records request in March as part of a larger effort to overturn the election and thrust herself into office. Lake launched multiple lawsuits challenging the results of the election, claiming everything from improper signature verification to faulty, hackable voting machines to prove the election was rigged.
She first sued Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer in April after his office denied her records request.
Lake's attorney Bryan Blehm — who was fined $2,000 by the Arizona Supreme Court for bringing “unequivocally false” claims before the high court — told Maricopa County Judge John Hannah Thursday morning that the signatures on ballot envelopes should be subject to Arizona Public Record Law because other identifying information about voters is already made public through what’s called a VM34 file, maintained by the county.
Lake’s attorneys have faced sanctions for bringing false claims into court on more than one occasion.
“The only difference you’re talking about is a signature,” Blehm said. “It’s all public information anyway.”
The county’s VM34 file indeed contains a voter’s name, voter identification number, address and party affiliation, but it doesn’t include a voter’s signature or phone number like the ballot envelope does.
Richer testified on his own behalf that making voter signatures public could create a chilling effect on voter behavior. Because the recorder’s office saves full images of ballot envelopes to add to a voter’s registration record, publicizing a signature would require also publicizing that voter’s phone number, making it easier to harass or threaten them.
Richer discussed harassment and death threats he’s faced since the 2020 election, reasoning that making more voter information public will only increase animosity and threats of violence.
Blehm countered that his clients haven’t directly threatened Richer, so accessing the voter signatures wouldn’t change anything. But if Lake and her team have access to the info, Richer replied, then so does every other person who wants it, including those looking to threaten and harass.
Making voter signatures public record would also threaten election integrity, he said, as it would be easier to cast a fraudulent ballot in another person’s name if the fraudster had easy access to that person’s signature.
“It would be a concern because it would reduce the cost of casting a fraudulent early ballot,” Richer testified.
Blehm argued that signatures fall into the realm of public record regardless of what they’re used for.
Once a signature is put into the "public sphere," he said, it becomes public information. He mentioned signing checks and property deeds as examples.
But Richer cited state law that he said supersedes public record law pertaining to voter registration databases. That law prohibits the county from releasing identifying information in a person’s voter registration record, which includes contact information, the voter’s social security number and the voter’s signature. Richer said his office has always denied requests for voter signatures, abiding by state law.
“It’s not my policy,” he said. “We apply it evenly to whoever asks.”
Blehm reasoned with Hannah that it would be in the state’s best interest to disclose the signatures so Arizona citizens “know what is going on in their elections.” He said access to the signatures would help Lake prove that the election was rigged against her, planning on calling three expert witnesses to testify to that claim.
But Hannah reminded Blehm that the issue at hand is whether the county is required to disclose voter signatures subject to public record law, not whether the requester has a good reason to obtain them.
“It’s not a matter of ‘do you need the records more?’” Hannah said.
Hannah repeatedly admonished Blehm for bringing up arguments as to why the records are important to Lake, rather than whether they’re public record. He also denied all three of Blehm’s expert witnesses, who planned on discussing the 2022 election process, for lack of relevance to the case.
One of those witnesses is Shelby Bush, founder of We The People AZ Alliance, the organization that conducted a false audit of the 2020 elections that’s already been debunked by the county.
“She’s a medical office manager. She’s so obviously unqualified,” Hannah said of Bush, who sat in the gallery. “She’s not even in the ballpark.”
Lake declined to comment for this story. She’ll be back in court Monday for the conclusion of the trial.Follow @JournalistJoeAZ
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