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Are ballot images — and signatures — public record? Maricopa County Recorder Richer tells court no in Kari Lake trial

stephen richer

Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer is asking a judge to block defeated Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake from getting signatures on early ballot envelopes.

On Thursday, Richer told the judge during a hearing that state law exempts those envelopes from public records laws.

He also said that even if it weren't the law, releasing ballots would allow people to steal people's early ballots from their mailboxes or homes and then return the ones they saw, potentially introducing fraud into the system. He also said it could be much easier to inject. Must be a valid signature.

“An average person making this request would be able to list all the 1.3 million Arizonans who returned their early voting affidavit envelopes in the 2022 election, and they would have their names and addresses. You'll also get the most information 'recent signatures are there,''' Richer said.

The judge dismissed Lake's three witnesses, saying they lacked relevant arguments. The trial is scheduled to resume on Monday.

Access could have a 'chilling effect' on voting

Richer told the judge that any decision to declare signatures on ballots public could affect the entire voting process.

For example, some people may choose not to sign the envelope before returning it if they don't want others to know their signature, he said. Election officials would then have to contact every voter whose name is printed on the envelope to verify that they are indeed the ones who filled out and mailed their ballots. they are back.

“If that happens, with our current staffing, we won't be able to get all 160,000 of those people to vote well,” he said, adding that he doesn't know how many of the 1.6 million votes cast in the county in 2022. I guessed that it would be voted on. And if they aren't verified through that “remediation” process, they don't count.

“And I think some of those people will be disenfranchised,” Richer said.

We have others, too. Richer said some people who are used to voting by mail, faced with the possibility of their signatures being made public around the world through a public records request, simply choose not to vote, creating a “chilling effect.” He said that it may be producing.

All this, he said, further supports his decision to refuse to hand over the envelope. He said that even if state law did not specifically exempt public records laws (which Lake disputes), “public records may be kept confidential if it is in the state's best interest.” There is also a comprehensive provision that states that it can be kept as is. ”

The outcome of the legal battle unfolding in Maricopa County Judge John Hanna's courtroom has implications far beyond Maricopa County. Richer said officials in 14 other counties in the state also hide these signatures from public view.

Part of efforts to reverse election defeat

Lake Kali

Kari Lake speaks with attendees at the 2023 Young Women's Leadership Summit hosted by Turning Point USA in June 2023 in Grapevine, Texas.

Mr. Lake's attorney, Brian Brehm, said Mr. Lake was able to examine the ballot envelope and the name of the voter to whom the ballot was mailed to determine whether it matched the voter's original signature on file. He insisted that he needed a signature to prove it. It can be legally accessed for specific political purposes.

That's the case with her continued efforts to overturn her 17,117-vote loss to Gov. Katie Hobbs based on various claims that fraudulent early votes were counted, but so far all have failed. doing. Brehm then disputed Richer's claim, saying it served a public purpose in and of itself.

“It's in the best interest of our country and our people to be able to understand what's going on in our elections,” Brehm said. “We want our people to know what we think these documents show. Do I have a right?”

Brehm tried to show Hanna images from two ballot envelopes (his attorney did not identify the source) alongside images from his voter registration records.

“This also ties into why we want access to records,” Brehm said.

Hannah shot down the request.

The judge said the only thing that was relevant was the presumption that the records were presumed to be public. The question here is whether these envelopes are legally exempt.

“It doesn't matter why the person says they need the records,” Hanna said, adding that the decision will be based on an interpretation of the law. “What this information will be used for will be determined at this hearing. “It's not a problem at all at the meeting,” he said.

Is the ballot image a public record?

Mr. Brehm sought to call witnesses who he said would testify about irregularities in the signature verification process. The judge said all of this is also legally irrelevant to the only question: Are ballot images public records?

As a result, Lake's lawyers had no witnesses to call.

Much of Mr. Brehm's argument boils down to his assertion that, generally speaking, signatures are not considered private.

He pointed out that people sign their names on everything, including credit card receipts and checks, and hand them over to strangers with no expectation of privacy. And some people sign the outside of the ballot envelope and put it in the mailbox, he said.

“The individuals who signed these ballot affidavit envelopes, your honor, waived their right to confidentiality by publishing these signatures,” he told the judge.

The county is not entirely dependent on the legal question of whether the envelope is a public document. It also presented several witnesses, including a lobbyist for Creosote Partners, which represents the Arizona Coalition to End Domestic Violence, and said clients were concerned that their identities would become public if their ballot envelopes were released. He said that

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