Arizona's top court has declined to hear Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake's challenge to her election loss, but kept the case alive by sending one of Lake's claims back to a county judge to review.
Lake asked the Arizona Supreme Court to consider her case after a Maricopa County judge and state appeals court rejected her claims that she was the rightful governor, or that a new election should take place.
The former television news anchor made seven legal claims in her case, six of which the state's top court said were properly dismissed by lower courts, according to an opinion released Wednesday written by Chief Justice Robert Brutinel.
Those included claims that tens of thousands of ballots were "injected" into the election, which Lake called an "undisputed fact" in her lawsuit, as well as alleging that problems with tabulation machines disenfranchised "thousands" of voters.
The opinion said Lake's challenges were "insufficient to warrant the requested relief under Arizona or federal law."
But the sixth legal claim, which has to do with Lake's allegation that Maricopa County did not follow signature verification procedures, must receive a second look by a county judge, the court ordered. The county and appeals courts interpreted Lake’s signature-related challenge as applying to the policies themselves, not how the policies were applied in 2022, and dismissed her claim based on grounds that she filed her legal challenge too late.
But that was an error, the Supreme Court said, noting, "Lake could not have brought this challenge before the election."
Lake's claim invokes a section of Arizona law that requires signatures on early ballot envelopes be checked against the signature already in a voter's file, and sets the process and timeline for verifying, or "curing," a ballot if the signature doesn't appear to match. She claimed Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer's office accepted "a material number" of ballots with unmatched signatures last year.
The Supreme Court did not evaluate Lake's signature claim on its merit, only on the legal justifications offered by prior courts. The court's order requires Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Peter Thompson to evaluate that single element of Lake's case again to determine if the claim was properly dismissed previously, or if Lake can prove “votes (were) affected ‘in sufficient numbers to alter the outcome of the election.’”
The Supreme Court quoted the appeals court ruling, saying that to prove her claim, Lake must provide a “competent mathematical basis to conclude that the outcome would plausibly have been different, not simply an untethered assertion of uncertainty.”
In response to the ruling, Richer, who also is a Republican, said, “I of course have the utmost respect for both the people sitting on the court and the court as an institution, and we’ll now proceed and win, again, for about the 30th time."
His office, as well as the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, have defended their work in numerous lawsuits stemming from the November election, and became targets for attack among losing Republican candidates and their allies.
Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs, a defendant in the lawsuit, did not comment Wednesday evening on the court's ruling.
Alex Nicoll, a spokesperson for Lake, declined comment, noting Lake’s longstanding refusal to speak to The Arizona Republic. In a separate statement sent to The Republic and other media outlets, Lake made various claims that cannot be verified and overstated the court’s ruling. She said she was "thrilled" by the court's decision and that the signature issue “alone casts the veracity of Katie Hobb’s victory in serious doubt.”
In addition to further review of the signature verification piece, there is another unresolved issue in the case: whether Lake should face sanctions for filing what Hobbs’ attorneys have dubbed a frivolous and bad-faith lawsuit. Lawyers for Hobbs asked the court to order Lake to cover their costs and attorneys' fees, and Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes’ lawyers sought unspecified sanctions as well.
The Supreme Court said Lake, Hobbs and Fontes could file court arguments on the issue, but restricted those arguments only to Lake’s factual claims, such as that over 35,000 ballots were “added” to affect the outcome of the election.
Brutinel succinctly shot down that claim.
“The record does not reflect that 35,563 unaccounted ballots were added to the total count,” he wrote in the court’s opinion. “The motions for sanctions will be considered in due course.”
So Lake may have a legal claim to a small part of her case, which isn't actually something that would have affected the outcome of the election at all. Meanwhile, legal sanctions against her for wasting the state's time are being considered.
The bigger picture here is that Lake's claims that the election was stolen from her were laughed out of court completely. It's ball game, and the only questions left are how badly Lake is going to be made to pay for her farce.