Maricopa County elections officials push back on Lake’s fraud claims as trial ends

Maricopa County elections officials pushed back on Republican Kari Lake’s claim of fraud in Arizona’s gubernatorial race in court Thursday, offering new details about printing problems that delayed the counting of some votes.

Lake, who lost to Democrat Katie Hobbs by about 17,000 votes in November, sued in an effort to overturn the election. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Peter Thompson allowed a two-day trial, which concluded late Thursday afternoon, on two of the 10 claims she made in her initial complaint. Thompson did not say when he would issue a ruling.

Lake built her candidacy on her support for former President Donald Trump’s lies about widespread election fraud in the 2020 presidential election. She has since falsely claimed to have won last month’s election despite Hobbs’ victory.

In Lake’s trial, though, her legal team did not offer evidence of intentional misconduct or of votes being improperly counted or rejected. Instead, Lake’s team broadly criticized Maricopa County’s management of the election and claimed that long lines led Republican would-be voters to turn away on Election Day.

Tom Liddy, a lawyer for Maricopa County, faulted Lake’s campaign and the Arizona Republican Party for casting doubt on the validity of early and mail-in votes, which left GOP voters bearing the brunt of minor issues on Election Day.

“That’s political malpractice,” said Liddy, a Republican. “You reap what you sow.”

Maricopa County elections co-director Scott Jarrett detailed the causes of printing problems in some polling places on Election Day that resulted in on-site ballot tabulators being unable to read some ballots.

Jarrett said in some printers, toner wasn’t dark enough – a problem that resulted in voters whose ballots couldn’t be read having to place their ballots in “door 3,” a secure box used for ballots that would need to be counted later at a central location. Jarrett said about 17,000 ballots ended up in “door 3” boxes across the county.

He also said that at three of the county’s 223 sites, “shrink to fit” settings were improperly selected on ballot printers by technicians who were attempting to solve those toner problems. That resulted in about 1,300 ballots being printed slightly too small for on-site tabulators to process.

Those ballots were later duplicated by hand and then counted, he said.

Jarrett said similar “shrink to fit,” or “fit to print,” issues had occurred at some sites in previous primary and general elections. He described it as human error resulting from attempts to solve printer troubles.

He said he has “no reason to believe” any of the problems were the result of intentional misconduct.

All of those votes, he said, were ultimately counted after they were transferred to a bipartisan duplication board.

“All the votes get transferred to the duplicated ballot that gets duplicated and tabulated,” Jarrett said.

Jarrett’s comments rebutted an argument Lake’s legal team had made a linchpin of its case on Wednesday, in the first day of the two-day trial.

Lake lawyer Kurt Olsen, in his closing argument, said Jarrett’s explanation of the “shrink to fit” printer problems “doesn’t fit. It doesn’t make sense.”

“This is about trust, your honor. It’s about restoring people’s trust,” Olsen said.

The Lake team’s cyber-security expert, Clay Parikh, said he inspected 15 duplicated ballots Tuesday after the court green-lit the inspection, and found that 14 of them showed 19-inch ballot images printed on 20-inch paper, rather than the correct 20-inch ballot images.

Parikh conceded those votes ultimately would have been counted.

“If they’re duplicated correctly … yes, they should be,” Parikh said.

Jarrett on Thursday said the smaller-looking ballots that could not be tabulated on site were slightly shrunken versions of the exact same ballots given to nearly all voters.

Lake’s team had also claimed Wednesday that employees at Runbeck, a Maricopa County ballot processing contractor, had improperly inserted their own ballots and those of family members into batches to be counted on site, rather than returning those ballots through proper channels.

Heather Honey, a Pennsylvania resident who was a manager in the Cyber Ninjas’ controversial review of the 2020 election in Maricopa County and testified on Lake’s team’s behalf, said she had spoken to an employee at Runbeck who said employees were allowed to bring their own families’ ballots directly there to be counted.

Honey said the employee relayed to her seeing at least 50 ballots added to Maricopa County’s count that way. She said she did not have direct knowledge of any more ballots improperly added.

“You can’t tell how many potentially were added or how many were removed, even,” Honey said.

In response, Rey Valenzuela, the Maricopa County co-director of elections in charge of early voting, said Thursday that the county had never authorized Runbeck employees to deliver ballots directly to the Runbeck site, and is not aware of the contractor’s employees ever having done so.

“This was their big moment to show their hand,” Hobbs’ lawyer, Abha Khanna, said of Lake’s claims of voter fraud in her closing argument. “But the only thing that has come to light over the last day and a half – everyone waiting with bated breath to see the big reveal behind these claims – is that they never had the evidence to back them up.”

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