Kari Lake's lawsuit: Election denialism and GOP strategy collide

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Kari Lake’s lawsuit is a collision between election denialism and GOP strategies on early voting, election security

Kari Lake, despite losing her bid for Arizona governor with 49 percent of the vote, refuses to concede. She also has not stopped questioning the legitimacy of President Joe Biden’s win in 2020.

Lake filed a lawsuit in Maricopa County Superior Court on Dec. 9 asking for the state to overturn the results and declare her the winner, saying the voting process was marred by broken machines and long lines.

“If the process was illegitimate then so are the results, stay tuned folks,” Lake tweeted before filing a lawsuit. Maricopa County officials said they would review the case, but experts widely expect her to lose this legal appeal.

Lake’s lawsuit reveals the deep collision between election denialism and long-running Republican strategies that oppose early voting and election security measures. Trump’s election denialism sprung up after the 2020 election, but for Lake, it was baked in from the start. Experts say that may have ultimately hurt her at the ballot box.

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Experts say some of Lake’s accusations of voting issues were self-inflicted

The Trump-endorsed candidate, who lost Maricopa County to current Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs by around 17,000 votes, cites a number of Election Day problems that affected her vote total without evidence.

Most prominently, she talks about issues with ballot printers and voting tabulators and signature verification mismatches, among other baseless allegations, some of which were repeated false voter fraud rumors from the 2020 election.

Lake is correct that on Election Day there were issues with some of the Maricopa County printers — impacting 60 of the 233 locations in the county, reported the Dispatch. Election officials explained that “some of the printers were not producing dark enough timing marks on ballots.” Timing marks are the small lines/boxes that run along the side of the ballot to help the scanner coordinate voting marks with the candidate.

In response, election officials told voters that they would still be able to vote and were instructed to place their ballots into a secure election box, and they would be transported under bipartisan observation to be counted after the polls close.

According to Lake, there was a “depressed voter turnout.” Voters, primarily Republicans, frustrated by the long lines, Lake claims, simply did not vote.

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“It cannot be disputed that the Tabulator breakdowns on election day impacted Republicans voters more than Democrat voters,” the lawsuit states.

David Becker, the executive director and founder of the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation and Research, said there were issues, but the “chaos,” to the degree that it existed, in Maricopa County due to the printer glitch was entirely fictional.

There was a backup process, Becker said, that should not have caused additional lines.

Lake’s voters likely had a bigger problem with “self-disenfranchisement,” as the campaign has not documented evidence of voters turned away at the polls.

Lake and her campaign did two things to perpetuate this issue of long lines, Becker said. She encouraged voting late in the day and discouraged early voting, which causes lines, “even in the best circumstances.” And instead of encouraging voters to accept instructions from election officials and place ballots in secure ballot boxes, Lake’s supporters, like Arizona Republican Party Chairwoman Kelli Ward and Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), encouraged voters to ignore instructions from election officials.

Becker described Lake’s lawsuit as “the same fever dream of conspiracy theories” seen in other cases and on social media.

It’s also worth mentioning that Lake’s complaint relies heavily on biased declaration of witnesses.

“You have to understand that all these witnesses are coming from a biased perspective,” said Benny White, a Republican elections expert and data analyst in Tucson. “They were witnesses in the first place because they were looking for errors.”

“Early voting issues” has long been a claim by election deniers

Lake is not unique in discouraging early voting, a choice that ultimately hurt her own race, or in promoting baseless election fraud claims. Arizona, as previously reported for the Dispatch, is ground zero for election misinformation.

There has been an effort to villainize early ballot voting among some Arizona Republicans who claim without evidence that early voting is susceptible to fraud. The New York Times reported that, contrary to Republican claims, there is no evidence to support the claim that mail-in voting favors Democrats. Republicans pushed the vote-by-mail system in Arizona.


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In 1991, Arizona enacted a law that allowed voters to vote by mail with no excuses, per reporting from Democracy Docket. The law was passed with bipartisan support and was ultimately signed into law by then-Gov. Fife Symington, a Republican.

“The Republican Party strongly endorsed voting by mail and took advantage of the public records involved to Get Out the Vote for many years,” White explained. “It wasn’t until Steve Bannon and Donald Trump convinced their worshippers that voting by mail was bad that it became an issue.”

Although Lake is challenging a fair and legitimate election, she still came within 17,000 votes of winning, which, as the Washington Post reported, is less than a percentage point. This was a close race.

Becker thinks that there are some voters who are likely “true believers” siloed in their media environments who truly believed that the election was illegitimate. But there are also voters, Becker said, who slightly preferred Lake to Hobbs, who “think this [lawsuit] is ridiculous.”

Garrett Archer, data analyst at ABC15 in Phoenix and former senior elections analyst at the Arizona secretary of state, estimates (based on polling) that around 33 percent of the Republican electorate stand behind Lake and would be considered “true believers.” Most of the Republican electorate, Archer said, is just typically supporting Republicans but do not necessarily think the election was compromised.

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Arizona is no stranger to election deniers

Lake is just one of many election deniers in Arizona, which has become a hotbed for election misinformation since the 2020 election. To name just a few, there is State Senate President Karen Fann, who spearheaded a partisan, error-ridden election review of the 2020 election, as well as Ron Watkins, who ran for Congress in Arizona and is suspected to be a QAnon supporter. Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich and Arizona State Sen. Wendy Rogers have also been outspoken “stop the steal” supporters.

Abraham Hamadeh, defeated Republican candidate for Arizona attorney general, and Mark Finchem, defeated Republican candidate for Arizona secretary of state, have also filed lawsuits challenging the results of their own contests. Like Lake, Hamadeh and Finchem are both known election deniers and have included baseless claims of “systematic” election errors in Hamadeh’s case, as well as false claims that the election was stolen in Finchem’s complaint.

Lake, who raised $10,236,617 in donations this past election cycle according to Transparency USA, has support from other known election deniers and Trump allies. People like Trump’s chief spokeswoman Liz Harrington, Rogers, Trump attorney Christina Bobb, Ward and Finchem have all publicly expressed support for Lake’s lawsuit on Twitter.

Looking ahead to 2024, Becker said his primary concern is not that election deniers will seize power when they have lost because, as he noted, the courts have done “a remarkably good job” at preventing this from happening. Instead, Becker is concerned that election deniers, like Lake, have the power to “marshal a lot of anger and violence.”

Thanks to Lillian Barkley for copy editing this article.


  • Khaya Himmelman
    Khaya Himmelman

    Reporter

    Khaya Himmelman is a reporter at Grid. A former misinformation reporter for the Dispatch, she is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School and Barnard College. Khaya has appeared on CNN to discuss misinformation in the media.