In a significant development for election integrity, a judge has ruled that Arizona’s process for matching signatures on mail-in ballots is unlawful. This decision has been hailed as a “massive win” by the plaintiffs of the lawsuit.
The ruling was issued by Yavapai County Superior Court Judge John Napper in response to a lawsuit against Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes. The public interest group Restoring Integrity and Trust in Elections (RITE) initiated the lawsuit, alleging that Fontes violated the law concerning mail-in ballot signature verification procedures.
The crux of the dispute revolved around Fontes’s interpretation of the term “registration record” in the Secretary of State’s Elections Procedures Manual. RITE contended that Fontes’s interpretation was overly broad, which expanded the pool of signatures that could be compared with an early ballot affidavit signature. This, they argued, heightened the risk of false positives.
RITE’s statement on the court ruling, dated September 5, emphasized that while state law mandates county recorders to match mail-in ballot signatures with those in the voter’s ‘registration record,’ the Secretary had instructed them to use a broader and potentially less reliable set of comparison signatures. This meant that ballots could be counted even if the signature did not match any in the voter’s registration record, a clear violation of state law.
Former gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, who had previously sued Fontes and Maricopa County officials over the signature verification process used in the prior year’s election, highlighted the court’s decision on social media platform X (previously known as Twitter). Her post read, “A court just found that Arizona’s signature matching process is UNLAWFUL. This is what happens when you don’t back down from a fight.”
In court documents, Fontes’s defense was that the term “registration record” was ambiguous, and thus, he was entitled to provide guidance on its interpretation. However, Judge Napper countered this argument, stating that the Arizona statute was clear and unambiguous. The statute requires the recorder to review the voter’s registration card and not other documents with the voter’s signature. Napper further pointed out that Fontes’s signature-matching process contradicted Arizona’s election laws by allowing signature matching with unrelated documents.
Derek Lyons, CEO of RITE, celebrated the decision, emphasizing its significance in ensuring trustworthy elections in Arizona. He stated, “RITE will build on this victory to continue to fight in court for elections that are administered according to democratically enacted laws, not illegal partisan commands.”
The ruling implies that Fontes must amend his signature verification procedures before the upcoming election to safeguard the integrity of Arizona’s mail-in balloting process. Failure to do so could result in further legal repercussions.
The implications of this ruling on Kari Lake’s lawsuit against Fontes and Maricopa County officials remain uncertain. Lake’s lawsuit, dismissed in May, is currently under appeal. Lake had alleged a surge of mail-in ballots in Maricopa County, with insufficient staff to verify signatures. Lake may be allowed to amend her pleadings in the appeal to add the court ruling, giving her argument more weight. She did claim that many mismatched signatures were overlooked and accepted.
Despite her claims, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Peter A. Thompson ruled against Lake, stating that her team failed to provide adequate evidence to support their allegations.