MESA, Ariz. (CN) - Katie Hobbs is rightfully Arizona's 24th governor, a state judge ruled for the second time Monday.
Following three days of trial asking whether the 2022 Arizona gubernatorial election was stolen from former television news anchor Kari Lake based on her claim that mail-in ballot signature verification wasn't conducted, Maricopa County Judge Peter Thompson has ruled that it was not.
Lake, who claimed the election was stolen before the results were even counted, sued Hobbs, the Arizona Secretary of State and Maricopa County on seven claims of mass voter fraud soon after losing to Hobbs by roughly 17,000 votes. The case made its way to the Arizona Supreme Court before being sent back to trial court on one remaining claim dealing with mail-in ballot signatures.
"The court's ruling only confirms what we have known all along," Secretary of State's attorney Craig Morgan said in an email. "Arizona's elections are safe, secure, and reliable, and those who help facilitate Arizona's elections are honest, have the highest integrity, and are committed to the preservation of our democracy.
To win, Lake needed to prove "by a competent mathematical basis" that signature verification wasn't conducted and the lack of verification affected the outcome of the election. This was a concession from her original intent to call into question a specific number of ballots that were fraudulently counted, which Thompson said would have been "a herculean evidentiary endeavor."
Lake's legal team relied on testimony of two whistleblowers who worked in the first of a three-level signature verification process for Maricopa County. While the former election workers expressed concerns over whether the process was being done correctly, both testified to doing their jobs diligently, throwing a blanket over Lake's claim that the process didn't exist.
"Ms. [Jacqueline] Onigkeit's testimony makes abundantly clear that level one and level two signature review did take place in some fashion," Thompson wrote in his ruling. "She expressed her concern that this review was done hastily and possibly not as thoroughly as she would have liked - but it was done."
Lake's attorneys zeroed in on the number 70,000, which they say represents the number of ballots on which signatures were verified in less than two seconds. That should be impossible, they claim. But testimony from Ray Valenzuela, Maricopa County's elections director, poked holes in their mathematical assertions. And even if the number were accurate, Thompson said it still wouldn't sufficient to support the assertion that no verification was done.
"Accepting that argument would require the Court to rewrite not only the [election procedures manual] but Arizona law to insert a minimum time for signature verification and specify the variables to be considered in the process," Thompson wrote.
The numbers Lake's case hinged on were compiled by expert witness Erich Speckin, a self-purported forensic document analyst and handwriting expert. He agreed that signature verification couldn't have been conducted in such a short time, describing his method of comparing signatures when looking for matches.
"His analysis and preferred methodology is not law, and a violation of law is what the plaintiff was required to demonstrate," Thompson wrote.
Even still, Thompson disagreed that signature verification must be a lengthy process. Valenzuela testified that level one signature reviewers didn't even need to scroll on their computers to compare signatures to older signatures on the voters' records.
"The Court finds that looking at signatures that, by and large, have consistent characteristics will require only a cursory examination and thus take very little time," Thompson wrote.
Ultimately, Thompson found no "clear and convincing evidence" of any misconduct - or lack of conduct - that altered the outcome of the 2022 election.
Lake, who campaigned largely on unfounded claims of widespread election fraud and conspiracy theories, said after the trial, "There's a reason we're the laughing stock of elections. There's a reason we don't trust our electoral system here."
Lake's reason is that Arizona's elections are rigged, but Thomas Liddy, attorney on behalf of the county, offered a different explanation.
"There is misinformation, lies and fifth being broadcast all over the internet 24 hours a day, seven days a week," he said in his closing statement Friday. "The fact that some people in Arizona don't have confidence in our elections is not evidence as suggested by Ms. Lake's team that the many counties across this fruited plain are not doing their job.
"But it may just be that people are reading the stuff that they write."
Attorneys for either side haven't responded to a request for comment. It's unclear at this time if Lake will appeal the decision.
Source: Courthouse News Service