Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John Hannah recently ruled on a request by 2022 GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake to personally review ballot envelope signatures following her loss to Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs.
After a two-day trial to determine whether Lake’s legal team should be granted access to the ballots, Judge Hannah ultimately concluded that such action “would have a corrosive effect on public confidence in the electoral process.”
Although Hobbs defeated Lake by less than 1 percent, Lake had requested access to the ballot signatures in April and was denied by Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer.
Richer argued that he defended voter privacy and election security by denying Lake’s request.
“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, according to The Western Journal.
That led Lake to respond: “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
The outlet added:
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,” Hannah added, agreeing with Richer that disclosing the information could lead to “voter harassment.”
The judge cited testimony to support Richer’s assertion that the disclosure of signatures would have a “chilling effect” on mail-in ballot participation, which included evidence of canvassers visiting voters’ residences in order to verify who inhabited the address and whether they had voted. Consequently, he determined that “the wide right of electoral engagement is more significant than the limited interests of those who would persist in inspecting 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.”
He added: “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.”
After a ruling from the Yavapai County Superior Court in September, which found that Maricopa County had not followed the law regarding ballot signature processes, Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs requested action to ensure compliance with the statute.
Judge John Napper asserted that the regulation was “clear and unambiguous,” requiring election officials to compare voter signatures on registration cards rather than other documents.
The law further stipulates that if discrepancies are identified, election officials must make attempts to confirm identity.