The first of two days of oral arguments from Arizona’s Republican gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake’s challenge of the 2022 general election outcome began Wednesday morning, overseen by Judge Peter Thompson in the Maricopa County Superior Court. Testimonies were heard from several officials and experts.
Lake’s lawsuit, filed December 9 against Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors originally contained ten specific complaints. After a preliminary hearing, Judge Thompson dismissed eight of Lake’s allegations. The remaining two complaints relate to (1) illegal tabulator configurations and (2) lack of chain of custody documents for vote by mail ballots on Election Day.
Lake is requesting the Court to either declare her the winner of the gubernatorial election that saw Democrat nominee and Secretary of State Katie Hobbs certified as the winner by the narrow margin of 17,000 votes, or require Maricopa County to hold a new election on the gubernatorial contest. However, to secure that remedy, Lake’s legal team will have to clear the high burden of demonstrating that any wrongdoing it proves altered the outcome of the election.
Lake’s team called six witnesses, two employed by Maricopa County and four independent election experts.
First to take the stand was Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, who was not physically in court, but testified remotely from his vacation in Panama City, Florida. Richer appeared over a video screen wearing a t-shirt, and not a suit and tie. Several observers watching the live proceedings commented on social media that Richer’s attire indicated a disrespect for the Court and the proceedings, but Judge Thompson did not offer a comment to that effect. One of Lake’s attorneys, Bryan Blehm, asked Richer extensive questions about the chain of custody (COC) required for early ballots.
Lake’s team alleged in its complaint that no COC documentation exists for 298,000 Election Day vote-by-mail ballots, which is a violation of statute sufficient to alter the outcome of the election. Maricopa County countered in its response that such documentation does exist, but has not, to date, produced that documentation.
One of the issues brought up in Lake’s challenge was a lack of COC forms with Election Day ballots delivered to a third-party company called Runbeck, which Maricopa County worked with to authenticate ballots. In court, Richer stated that the ballots were never outside the COC when moving between drop boxes to the Maricopa County Tabulation and Elections Center (MCTEC) and Runbeck.
In his final question to Richer, Lake’s attorney Blehm confronted him about a conflict of interest in this election.
“Isn’t it true that you ran a political action committee [PAC] that was opposed [to] and spent money opposing my client [Lake],” asked Blehm.
“That is 100 percent false,” said Richer.
“100 percent false,” said Blehm.
“Correct,” Richer responded.
Blehm did not follow up with Richer on that question, though a number of unkowns about the expenditures of that PAC remain unanswered. As reported by The Arizona Sun Times, Richer formed the Pro-Democracy Republicans PAC to support Republican candidates who did not spread views that the 2020 presidential election was stolen in Arizona. Richer’s Pro-Democracy Republicans PAC obtained donations from Democrats who also contributed to Kari Lake’s opponent, Katie Hobbs. While its financial reports indicate it did not directly spend money on any candidate, it was the primary funder of Defending Arizona Values PAC, which spent money in support of several local candidates, including a successful candidate for Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. Inconsistencies exist in the financial reporting of the Pro-Democracy Republican PAC and the Defending Arizona Values PAC.
The last financial report from Richer’s Pro-Democracy Republicans PAC was filed on October 22, leaving it unclear what expenditures that PAC made in the weeks leading up to the election, and what candidates it may have supported, either directly or indirectly, during that period.
Richer was also cross-examined by Joe Larue with Maricopa County and testified that he had nothing to do with any printer errors on election day.
Next to the stand was Scott Jarrett, co-Elections Director for the county, in charge of in-person voting and tabulation. Lake’s other attorney, Kurt Olsen, took over the questioning, asking about voter disruption.
“Would you agree with me that there was a disruption on November 8th, 2022, in the election,” Olsen said.
“Voters had legal and valid options to still be able to participate within our voting locations,” Jarrett said.
He asserted that printer issues on election day or long lines would not constitute disrupting voters because there was another option, such as door 3.
Continuing with printer issues, Olsen asked about ballots the potential of 19-inch ballots being printed on 20-inch paper, but Jarrett said that could not happen.
One of Lake’s expert witnesses, Clay Parikh, was next. Parikh, an information security officer, said he performed a ballot inspection Tuesday of 113 ballots. Of those, 48 were 19-inch images, and he also claimed to see evidence of this in pictures of ballots he saw before he examined any. Nineteen-inch ballots would not be tabulated by either the on-site tabulators or the ones in MCTEC. He also said that this could not be done by accident.
Tom Liddy, an attorney with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office and son of Watergate figure G. Gordon Liddy, then rose to cross-examine Parikh. Parikh had spoken on duplicated ballots, created when a ballot cannot be tabulated by the machine so the vote can still be counted. Liddy attempted to get Parikh to admit that, whether made through accident or intent, 19-inch ballots would be duplicated and ultimately counted, but Parikh did not answer the question.
After a lunch break, Heather Honey, an election integrity investigator, was called to the stand by plaintiffs. Honey explained in detail the COC form system in Maricopa County. When bipartisan ballot couriers pick up ballots for transportation to MCTEC, the COC form accompanying the container of ballots only has their names, the location of the box, and the time of the pick-up, among other details; it does not include the number of ballots being delivered. That is decided when the container is delivered to MCTEC, where the recorder or an appointee unseals the box and counts the votes inside. An additional slip, called a delivery receipt, with that number is created and goes with the container to Runbeck.
When making a public records request to Maricopa County, Honey said she did not receive these delivery receipts from the county, which allegedly said it misplaced them. According to word she received from a Runbeck employee, those slips did not exist. Honey said none of the election day drop-off ballots had proper COC, which amount to over 290,000.
A whistleblower from Runbeck, Denise Marie, who Honey said she spoke with, shared that those working at Runbeck could bring their and family ballots from home to add to the total, like a perk. Marie said she saw others doing this with at least 50 ballots and thought the practice was “questionable.”
“I think that the failure to have chain of custody makes it impossible to know how many ballots were or were not transferred,” Honey said. “I think that there’s just no way to know the answer, and that’s the problem.”
In his cross-examination of Honey, Maricopa County Attorney Tom Liddy stumbled badly, as social media commentator Viva Frei and attorney Robert Barnes noted in this tweet:
It’s not possible you watched today’s hearing and actually thought it went well for @katiehobbs. It was an abject disaster, @marceelias. And just in case you missed this highlight… https://t.co/hxmSxMxzrn pic.twitter.com/WMGJiYP1Yh
— Viva Frei (@thevivafrei) December 22, 2022
“Are you aware that under Arizona Law a ballot is not actually unlawful, if it is, the term that is used sometimes is harvested or ballot collection, but if somebody who’s not authorized to handle it deposits it, or, like what happened in Runbeck, if somebody brings it and inserts it into the stream, but not into a designated, authorized drop box, are you aware that under Arizona law that is not actually an unlawful ballot?,” Liddy asked.
“The term in the law is an invalid ballot,” Honey responded.
Up next came Brad Betancourt, hired to work as a T-tech about a month before the election, according to his testimony. T-techs were responsible for setting up voting locations with equipment like the printers and then overseeing the locations in groups of 15 on election day. He said that tabulators at his place did experience issues, with one woman’s vote going through but the machine not giving the green check to indicate it had been counted. He said he believes the equipment issues made lines at voting centers worse, although he could not personally say if people decided not to vote because of long lines.
On cross-examination, Betancourt further explained that while tabulators could have rejected some ballots because of improper markings made by voters, he said that was not the whole problem as some that “looked very good” still got denied.
The final witness for the day was lawyer Mark Sonnenklar who worked as a roving attorney in the Republican National Committee’s Elections Integrity program for both the primary and general elections. As a roving attorney, he visited voting centers to ensure things ran well. He said he created a report of his experiences and those of ten other roving attorneys also involved in preparation for litigation. He said the other attorneys all had at least a similar experience to him.
“Well, it was really pandemonium out there, everywhere,” Sonnenklar said about the ten voting centers he visited. He called the 2022 election in Arizona a “completely different animal” compared to other elections that he oversaw.
“Everyone was just freaked out,” he said about the poll workers trying to devise a solution to the problems.
Additionally, Sonnenklar said Maricopa County Board of Supervisors report to the Attorney General’s Office on line wait times may not have accurately presented those times. He later stated he believes this was done to deceive and minimize the problems on election day.
When cross-examinations began, Sonnenklar could not personally say he witnessed people leave a center without voting, but insisted declarations point to that happening.
The court began to wrap once Sonnenklar left the stand. In this trial, both sides had five-and-a-half hours to argue. On Day one, the plaintiffs used 4:32, and the defendants used 1:27. The plaintiffs say they have one more witness for Thursday, while the defendants have four. Thompson said he wants both party’s to prepare closing arguments.
Day one of the trial finished after nearly eight hours, and the day was not without issues for Lake’s legal team as there was significant back and forth over what evidence had been disclosed and which witness had been approved.
Analysts who viewed the day’s proceedings were mixed in their assessment of how well Lake’s team did in providing the evidence necessary to convince Judge Thompson that printer malfunctions and chain of custody failures were sufficient to alter the outcome of the election.
As reported by Newsweek, Naema Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor, said that Lake will need more of a bite to flip results. Lake needs conclusive evidence that “intentional wrongdoing” altered the election, and Rahmani said Lake would need more than her team has presented so far to do that.
Dr. Andrew Jackson panned the performance of one of Lake’s attorney’s Bryan Blehm:
A KEY FACT TODAY.
Lake's lawyer Blehm used up too much time in his prancing around, added comments, and ongoing debates with the judge and defense lawyers. He showboated way to much in this restricted two day trial.
Lake's team would easily have had 45 minutes more tomorrow.
— Dr. Andrew Jackson (@DrAndrewJackson) December 22, 2022
Attorney Robert Barnes tweeted late Wednesday that Lake’s legal team proved their case.
— Robert Barnes (@barnes_law) December 22, 2022
The trial will resume Thursday at 8:30 am.
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Neil Jones is a reporter for The Arizona Sun Times and The Star News Network. Follow Neil on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Kari Lake” by Kari Lake and “Court Hearing” by Phoenix Fox10.