In a significant ruling, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John Hannah denied Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake’s request to access about 1.3 million early voter ballot envelopes from last year’s elections.
This decision was a setback to Ms. Lake, who had sought these documents in connection to the 2022 midterms.
Judge’s Concerns Over Election Integrity
In his ruling on Nov. 30, Judge Hannah asserted that granting such access would compromise the integrity of future elections in Arizona.
He emphasized that the public’s broad right to electoral participation supersedes the narrower interests of individuals questioning the election’s machinery.
He expressed concerns that releasing these envelopes would risk voter fraud and potentially expose voters to harassment, potentially deterring some from participating in future elections due to privacy and identity theft concerns.
“The broad right of electoral participation outweighs the narrow interests of those who would continue to pick at the machinery of democracy,” Judge Hannah wrote.
He further noted the potential harm to democratic self-government caused by disillusionment among both election losers and those doubting the electoral process’s integrity.
Lack of Response from Lake and Her Attorney
Bryan Blehm, Lake’s attorney, has not publicly commented on the ruling. Ms. Lake has not addressed the verdict directly on her social media, though she has been sharing supportive comments on X, previously known as Twitter.
Campaign’s Criticism of the Decision
The Kari Lake War Room, her campaign account on X, criticized the ruling, asserting that their public records request was valid.
They argued that the verdict went against transparent elections and claimed that the envelopes’ content was no different from other general government documents, like property deeds.
Key Testimonies in Court
The bench trial, lasting two days, primarily focused on testimony from Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a defendant in the suit.
Mr. Richer stated that state law requires the confidentiality of ballot envelope signatures, leading to the denial of Ms. Lake’s request. “We can’t release this, which is why we’ve also said no to this plaintiff and others.”
“It’s not discriminatory,” he explained during the trial.
However, Mr. Blehm countered that other publicly available documents contain signatures, suggesting that the signatures on ballot envelopes should be treated equally.
Lake’s Ongoing Legal Battles and Political Ambitions
This lawsuit, differing from previous cases, did not directly challenge Ms. Lake’s gubernatorial defeat but sought to review all early ballot envelopes in Maricopa County.
Ms. Lake, a former TV anchor now running for Arizona’s Senate seat in 2024, has faced two legal defeats.
Earlier, a judge dismissed her misconduct claim about ballot signature verification in Maricopa County, and a federal court rejected her case against electronic voting machines.
Ms. Lake, an ally of former President Donald Trump, recently announced her candidacy for Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s (I-Ariz.) seat in the 2024 election.
She has been outspoken on various issues, including immigration, echoing President Trump’s views.
Despite Democrat Katie Hobbs assuming the governor’s office in January, Ms. Lake has not conceded the gubernatorial election, reflecting ongoing tensions and disputes in Arizona’s political landscape.