Kari Lake’s Governor Election Contest Completes First Day of Trial

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Wednesday, Dec. 21, an Arizona judge oversaw the first day of trial in the election contest filed by Kari Lake, the failed Republican candidate for Arizona governor and a known election denier. The contest was brought against current Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D) in both her current official capacity and as the newly elected governor and Maricopa County election officials and board of supervisors. 

On Monday, Dec. 19, Judge Peter Thompson dismissed eight out of the 10 claims Lake originally made in her lawsuit. Two much narrower claims were argued before the judge on Wednesday. The first claim considers ballot-on-demand (BOD) printer malfunctions that occurred in Maricopa County, home to Phoenix, on Election Day. In order to succeed, Lake “must show at trial that the BOD printer malfunctions were intentional, and directed to affect the results of the election, and that such actions did actually affect the outcome.” The second claim Lake has to prove at trial is that Maricopa County mishandled ballots during canvassing in a way that affected the canvass.

Lake’s attorney called six witnesses to try to prove that intentional wrongdoing would make up the over 17,000 vote difference currently between Lake and Hobbs. The defendants’ attorneys (hereafter referred to as Gov.-elect Hobbs’ attorney, Secretary Hobbs’ attorney and Maricopa County’s attorney) worked to disprove Lake’s allegations.

The first witness called was Stephen Richer (R), the Maricopa County recorder; Richer is an elected official who takes a large role in managing elections, specifically early voting, though he clarified that he is “not responsible for Election Day operations…or ballot tabulation.” Lake’s attorney then zoned in on the chain of custody forms, which Richer revamped earlier this year. In explaining those changes, Richer explained that his office altered the forms “for the same reason that we revisited all of our processes…” and added: “Because I’m in this office to try and move it forward. I hope to leave it better than I inherited.” Lake’s attorney appeared discontent with the fact that chain of custody documents do not indicate how many ballots are within a given bin. Richer pushed back and explained that ballots are not counted at individual vote centers but at separate locations later on, hence why information would not be on the form. Lake’s attorney also asked Richer about his statement that there were 275,000 early ballots received via drop boxes on Election Day in Maricopa County. Richer explains that this was an estimate, and that he said “275,000 plus.” The total number ended up around 292,000. Maricopa County’s attorney began a cross examination, asking questions that allowed Richer to better explain the county’s procedures. The county’s lawyer ended his questioning with “a very direct question: Did you personally do anything to sabotage the 2022 election, including some type of activity performed on the printers to make the printers not print correctly?” Richer responded, “Absolutely not.” Lake’s attorney’s short re-direct tried — and failed — to paint Richer as an anti-Lake partisan.

Next up on the witness stand was Scott Jarrett, the co-elections director for Maricopa County who oversees in-person voting and ballot tabulation. In a back and forth over the BOD printer malfunctions on Election Day in Maricopa County, Jarrett disagreed with Lake’s attorney’s characterization of the issues as a “disruption.” Jarrett described what happened: “We had some printers not printing some tiny marks on our ballots dark enough to be read in by the tabulation equipment. Voters had legal and valid options to still be able to participate within our elections.” In between questioning about the different ways the election department plans for Election Day — including turnout forecasting and calculating vote center wait times — Lake’s attorney repeatedly brought up a hypothetical situation where a 19-inch ballot image was printed on a 20-inch ballot. Despite Jarrett noting that he had not heard of that type of issue occurring, Lake’s attorney pressed whether it could have been a deliberate act. Jarrett concludes: “Again, you’re asking me to speculate about things that I have no knowledge of occurr[ing]. So I don’t know if it could have been a deliberate act or not. I don’t believe that that occurred.”

The third witness called by the plaintiffs was Clay Parikh, an information security officer who has worked for defense contractors and a “certified ethical hacker.” He also has degrees in cybersecurity. After Lake’s attorney asked to submit Parikh as an expert witness, the judge responded that “Arizona doesn’t do that.” Lake’s attorney was able to ask Parikh any question, which could be objected to by the defense. Parikh inspected ballots from six Maricopa County vote centers, including original ballots that were duplicated. Ballots are duplicated when they can’t be read by the tabulator machine. Parikh took issue with the fact that he only inspected original ballots, noting that Maricopa County did not provide the duplicates (later on in cross examination, he would admit that he never asked to see the duplicates). According to Parikh, some of the ballots had to be duplicated because they had 19-inch ballot images printed on 20-inch paper, a fact Parikh determined by taking a ruler and measuring them himself. Parikh then explained that he believed there are only two possible reasons why a ballot could be misprinted in such a way, neither of which he believes could happen by accident. This line of questioning by Lake’s attorney aimed to show that ballots were intentionally misprinted, a high bar the plaintiffs must reach to prove their first claim of wrongdoing. To counter this point, Maricopa County’s attorney confirmed that Parikh understood that a ballot that could not be tabulated would be duplicated and then re-run and counted. The attorney and Parikh then had a back and forth because Parikh tried to avoid acknowledging that an incorrectly printed 19-inch ballot would ultimately be tabulated. Parikh continued to avoid the question and discussed the two possible — and intentional — ways that the 19-inch ballot misprint could occur. He ends his testimony with: “I am unable to answer your question.”

After shuffling through their witness list, Lake’s attorneys called Heather Honey as their next witness, who testified about an alleged voicemail from a Maricopa County election worker named Betty. The defendants’ attorneys objected, saying that Honey’s testimony would be hearsay and that “Betty” is an unknown person who isn’t a party to this lawsuit. Honey took the stand nonetheless and identified herself as an investigator, auditor and supply chain consultant. Honey said she got into “election integrity work” about two and a half years ago and has done work in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona and Georgia. Honey’s investigative firm, based in Pennsylvania, was involved in the Arizona state Senate’s “audit” of the 2020 election. The judge ultimately permitted the voicemail from “Betty” to be played before the court; the protracted disagreement in court was over a benign voicemail message that said that Maricopa County is still waiting on records from Honey’s information request. Honey testified that she filed a public records request for chain of custody documents and that the county provided everything requested except for the Maricopa County Delivery Receipt Form. Honey alleged that Runbeck, a third-party company that works with Maricopa County, says no such forms were created. Honey’s testimony also relied on comments from two more individuals; she described a conversation with Leslie, an employee at Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center (MCTEC), who said that seals were removed from ballot transport containers and ballots were not counted before going to Runbeck. Richer testified earlier that ballots aren’t counted at MCTEC; they’re counted at Runbeck. Honey also noted a conversation with Denise, a Runbeck employee who described a process where “Runbeck employees were permitted — almost like it was a perk of employment — to bring their ballots from homes, so their family members’ ballots…and add them to the inbound scans.” Lake’s team needs to prove that a specific number of ballots were affected.

The final two witnesses of the day spent little time on the stand. First up was Bradley Bentencourt, a temporary worker hired by Maricopa County as a technician during the 2022 elections. He set up poll sites beforehand and watched sites on voting days, characterizing the day as “chaotic.” Bentencourt testified to the issues he saw on Election Day but could not attest to any personal knowledge about intentional misconduct or the scope of the issues. Lastly, plaintiffs called up Mark Sonnenklar, an attorney who served as “a roving attorney in the Republican National Committee’s election integrity program.” Sonnenklar took it upon himself to create a report based on what he witnessed on Election Day. He described long lines at vote centers. He says because of tabulator issues, there were “angry and frustrated voters who did not want to put their ballots in box three,” referencing the fail safe option for voters when precinct-level tabulators failed to properly scan ballots. Sonnenklar concluded his testimony with his belief that “common sense tells me that there was a cover up here.”

The trial resumed on Thursday, Dec. 22. The plaintiffs have indicated they have one more witness to call; the defendants will then call four witnesses and both sides will likely give concluding statements.