The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Kari Lake wants to upend how Arizonans vote, how their votes are counted

Republican candidate for governor Kari Lake waves to the crowd at a rally with former president Donald Trump on July 22 in Prescott Valley, Ariz. Arizona's primary election will take place Aug. 2. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
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PHOENIX — Republican gubernatorial hopeful Kari Lake is already telling her supporters not to trust the results of Tuesday’s primary contests in Arizona. Unless, of course, she wins.

“We will not stand for another stolen election,” she said to a cheering crowd at a recent campaign event in north Phoenix without providing credible evidence of wrongdoing. “We’re already detecting some fraud. I know none of you are shocked … We’re already detecting fraud and believe me, we’ve got cyber folks working with us, we’ve got lots of attorneys. And I’m hoping that we have the sheriffs that will do something about it. We’ll keep you posted.”

Her latest statements have resonated with supporters of former president Donald Trump and audiences primed to meet disappointing election results with skepticism, the culmination of years of erosion of trust in government institutions.

If Lake wins on Tuesday and goes on to take the governorship in this purple state, she has pledged to try to enact election-related policies that could fundamentally upend the way people vote and how their votes are counted. Her stances and comments alarm many current and former election officials and other, more conventional Republicans.

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Lake, a former longtime local TV anchor, has repeatedly said she does not recognize Joe Biden as the nation’s legitimate president. Had she been governor in 2020, Lake has said she would not have fulfilled her legal duty to certify Arizona’s election results, a maneuver that could have disenfranchised the votes of hundreds of thousands of Arizonans who cast their ballots for Biden and plunged the state deeper into the realm of election denialism.

Lake’s most dramatic election-related proposals would eliminate machines that tabulate votes, like electronic equipment from Dominion Voting Systems used by Maricopa County, where more than half of Arizona residents live, and replace them with people to hand count millions of ballots.

In a state that pioneered early voting, she would also try to terminate voting by mail, a popular method used by most voters who opt for convenience over standing in Election Day lines. Instead, she is calling for “one day voting,” where all voters must cast their ballots in their individual precincts.

Lake also wants to require voter identification on all ballots, presumably both mail-ballots and in-person ballots. Republicans broadly support the idea of strengthening voter ID laws for early voters. State law already requires voters to show identification when voting in person.

She also supports the auditing of election results, which is already required by law.

Aside from the political and legal challenges her proposals would likely face, experts say they would be difficult to implement without making voting more difficult.

Maricopa County Election Director Scott Jarrett testified in federal court recently it would be impossible to count all of the county’s ballots in 2022 and meet statutory deadlines without vote counting machines. He estimated the county would need to hire 25,000 temporary staff and find 2 million square feet of space to perform a hand count, a near impossibility.

His testimony arose out of a legal battle against state and county officials brought in part by Lake and financed largely by Mike Lindell, the founder of a pillow company who has promoted several baseless theories about voter fraud.

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Lisa Marra, the president of Election Officials of Arizona, which represents election directors across the state, said getting rid of tabulation equipment would be “nonsensical.”

From a staffing standpoint, “if we went back to precinct-based voting, even trying to find qualified poll workers is a problem, and locations, and equipment, we’d just be moving backwards,” said Marra, a lifelong Republican. Helen Purcell, the former Maricopa County recorder who oversaw elections for 28 years and built the early voting system, said Lake’s proposals would limit the ability to vote.

“You’ll have people that don’t get to show everybody what they feel about their government,” Purcell, a Republican, said. “If not everybody is able to vote, how does that government represent you? Isn’t that what our whole system is built on, is representation?”

Lake’s hypothetical statements about refusing to certify the election results in 2020 might help her with some voters, but in the end, the state’s results would have been made official by a court and would not have affected the state’s outcome, said Paul Bender, professor of law and dean emeritus for the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.

“If she refused to do that, there would be a lawsuit against her requiring her to do it, she has absolutely no discretion — it’s the duty of the executive,” Bender said.

“If she refused to do it, they’d just go to a federal district judge in Arizona and the judge would issue an injunction against her. … The judge would find some way of sending it himself, courts can do that sort of thing.”

Gov. Doug Ducey (R) has endorsed Lake’s primary rival, Karrin Taylor Robson. Ducey certified the 2020 election results, an act that roiled Trump and his Arizona base. Ducey has long defended Arizona’s vote-by-mail system as “secure,” most notably on Aug. 5, 2020, while sitting next to Trump in the Oval Office before the 2020 election.

Ducey, who chairs the Republican Governors Association and is term-limited, has privately expressed concerns about the potential consequences of Lake’s attacks on the way elections are conducted, an aide confirmed to The Washington Post.

He said during a recent appearance on CNN she was “misleading voters with no evidence” by describing the 2020 election as stolen.

The candidate he’s backing, real estate developer Taylor Robson, would not say during a June debate if she would have certified the 2020 election results. She said it was unfair but would not say it was fraudulent.

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She faulted changes to voting procedures amid the deadly pandemic that aimed to make voting accessible, and social media platforms and news outlets that she said suppressed information that could have helped Republicans.

In a written statement to The Post, Taylor Robson said Arizona leaders should always look for ways to “make our elections easier to vote and harder to cheat, but what Kari Lake has proposed would set back election procedures in our state by decades.”

She characterized Lake’s proposals as “reckless” and said the elimination of machines in the counting process would introduce human error and delay results.

“Kari Lake’s irresponsible rhetoric and election reforms are part and parcel of the same effort: to reduce access to the ballot and undermine faith in our elections,” Taylor Robson said. “Without evidence, she now hurls vague allegations that the 2022 primary itself is the subject of fraud. This is not the commentary of a confident campaign, and it should be disqualifying in anyone who seeks to lead the state.”

Two other candidates, Republicans Scott Neely and Paola Tulliani Zen, are also vying for their party’s nomination but are not considered front-runners. Both agreed with Lake that the election was fraudulent.

Taylor Robson has said she will accept the results of the election.

Lake has not, setting the stage for a protracted publicity fight — or a legal one.

At a campaign event earlier this month, she appeared alongside state Rep. Mark Finchem (R), another election denier who is running for secretary of state. He vowed to demand a “100 percent hand count if there is the slightest hint” of improprieties. “I will urge the next governor to do the same,” he said.

“Absolutely,” Lake said. “You know, President Trump hasn’t put a concession speech out. … He did not concede, and I think it was really smart.”

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