clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Kari Lake’s long-shot lawsuit challenging her midterms loss, explained

The Republican candidate for Arizona governor has suffered another defeat — this time in court.

Kari Lake speaks at the Arizona Republican Party Election Night rally on November 8.
Jon Cherry/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Nicole Narea covers politics and society for Vox. She first joined Vox in 2019, and her work has also appeared in Politico, Washington Monthly, and the New Republic.

More than a month after the Associated Press called the results, Republican Kari Lake is still trying to challenge her loss to Democrat Katie Hobbs in the 2022 Arizona governor’s race.

Though she ultimately lost by more than 17,000 votes, Lake has refused to concede, accused Arizona election officials of misconduct, and sought a court declaration that she won the governor’s race or an entire do-over of the election.

On Saturday, a state court dismissed Lake’s lawsuit after a two-day trial in which she sought to prove that there was a deliberate scheme to sabotage her. She said she plans to appeal the ruling and continues to contend that “our elections are run outside of the law.” But even if her appeal fails, Lake has still gotten a chance to air her grievances yet again in a way that could help advance her once-ascendant career in GOP politics.

Lake has contended in legal filings that she only lost because “hundreds of thousands of illegal ballots infected the election in Maricopa County” and that there were “widespread tabulator or printer failures” that stemmed from election officials’ misconduct.

“This case is about restoring trust in the election process — a trust that Maricopa County election officials and Hobbs have shattered,” Lake wrote in her December 9 complaint before the Arizona Superior Court.

But as Judge Peter Thompson wrote in his decision Saturday, there isn’t currently any evidence to support Lake’s claims. “This Court acknowledges the anger and frustration of voters who were subjected to inconvenience and confusion at voter centers as technical problems arose during the 2022 General Election,” the decision says. “But this Court’s duty is not solely to incline an ear to public outcry.”

There were widespread printer malfunctions in Maricopa County on Election Day: At about a third of the county’s polling places, ballots were printed with ink that was too faint to be processed by vote-counting machines that then rejected them. It’s not clear how many ballots were affected.

But county officials have said that the problems did not prevent anyone from voting, and a Washington Post analysis found that Republican ballots weren’t any more likely to be affected by those problems. And the county ballot contractor has said it complied with applicable law and its own policies.

Maricopa County and Hobbs, in her capacity as governor-elect and as the current secretary of state, had asked the court to dismiss Lake’s complaint. They argued that it was full of “unwarranted speculation,” failing to “show even a single illegal vote, any erroneous count of votes, or that the [election officials] engaged in any misconduct in the administration of the election.”

Thompson had allowed Lake to proceed to trial on two counts. For one, she had the opportunity to prove that election officials intentionally tampered with ballot-on-demand printers, which print out dedicated ballots when each voter checks in, with the aim of swaying the election and ultimately did change the outcome. Lake also had the chance to prove that Maricopa County’s ballot contractor intentionally and improperly added votes from their family members to the total and that it materially impacted the result.

For Lake, the opportunity to go to trial was what she called a “massive Legal WIN!”

“Christmas came early yesterday,” she told the crowd at an event hosted by the right-wing activist organization Turning Point USA earlier this month. “We have a chance to show the world that our elections are truly corrupt and we won’t take it anymore.”

Now she’s facing the prospect of monetary sanctions for making frivolous claims. But even though she has’t succeeded in her legal fight so far, she has been able to use it to maintain her national profile. Though election deniers lost up and down the ballot in 2022, their movement is still very much alive, and Lake is at its helm.

Lake’s legal fight could be strategic

She ran an unconventional campaign, eschewing traditional ad buys for viral campaign videos full of controversial statements that grabbed national headlines, including comments that appeared to make light of the violent attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband. All of that won her Trump’s admiration (and endorsement) and praise from other prominent Republicans, though she still proved a divisive figure within the party and might be even more so now that she’s lost what seemed to be a winnable race.

Kenneth L. Khachigian, Ronald Reagan’s former chief speechwriter, waxed poetic in the Wall Street Journal ahead of the election: “What makes Ms. Lake’s message different is its simplicity and fearlessness. It’s unapologetic and sincere, not clothed in code words.” Trump reportedly sees something of himself in Lake, and they are now alike in the way they handled their electoral losses.

All the adulation from Republicans — and speculation that Lake might be a potential running mate for Trump, even though she didn’t win the governorship — suggests a future in the GOP. By keeping her supporters, and Trump’s, engaged, she puts herself in a strong position to help Trump mount a tough challenge to Biden come 2024, and to attempt to fulfill any other political aspirations, whatever they may be.

Update, December 27, 11 am ET: This story was originally published on December 20 and has been updated to reflect the Arizona Superior Court’s ruling dismissing Lake’s lawsuit.

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.