Republican candidate for governor Kari Lake plans to sue Arizona’s largest county next week to overturn her election loss, sources familiar with the matter tell TIME, as the state’s election system is beset by turmoil more than three weeks after Election Day.
Lake, who lost by less than one percentage point to Democrat Katie Hobbs and has refused to concede, cannot file her lawsuit under Arizona law until state officials certify the election results. That process will take place on Dec. 5, when Arizona’s governor, secretary of state, attorney general, and chief justice will validate the election outcome based on official results submitted by the state’s 15 counties.
In the meantime, Lake’s legal team has been collecting affidavits from voters who claim they were unable to vote on Election Day because of problems with tabulator machines in roughly 30% of Maricopa County’s vote centers, according to Lake campaign insiders.
The equipment problems led to long lines and voter confusion at those polling places. Maricopa County officials have stressed that no voters were denied the right to vote. Anyone who experienced issues with the machines, they said, was able to deposit their ballot in a secure box to be tabulated later. “People were still able to vote,” said Bill Gates, the chairman of the county’s board of supervisors. “It was just a matter of maybe not voting in the way they wanted to.”
Lake trails Hobbs by a little more than 17,000 votes. Lake’s lawsuit, sources say, is likely to claim that more than that many voters were disenfranchised by Maricopa’s tabulator snafus, which they argue had a disparate impact on Republicans, who were more likely to vote in person on Election Day, compared to Democrats, who in recent years have tended to vote early or by mail. It’s a trend that is due in large part to former President Donald Trump having falsely demonized mail voting as rife with fraud.
Lake, the former news anchor turned politician, intends to ask the Maricopa County Superior Court to nullify its election and hold it over again. Such a decision would be unprecedented in modern American elections. Some of Lake’s top advisers recognize that the chances of a judge ruling in their favor are slim. “Courts require proof,” a Lake insider tells TIME. “And it’s going to be hard to prove. You don’t know how many people actually drove to a polling location, looked at the long line, and left. You’ll never know who decided not to pull in. And that’s unfortunate for Kari. We can just argue common sense. But that’s not evidence in court. It’s going to be tough.”
On social media, Lake has said her lawsuit will include “at least one smoking gun” based on whistleblowers who have contacted her campaign. “I’m working with a team of patriotic, talented lawyers on a legal case to challenge the botched elections,” she said in one video. “We will file this case in accordance with Arizona state law, and you’ll want to stay tuned for this one. Trust me.”
Lake is being represented by the Phoenix-based conservative lawyer Tim La Sota, and sources say there are conversations ongoing with the Republican National Committee to potentially join in the lawsuit. Lake’s campaign had hired Harmeet Dhillon, an RNC committeewoman who helped with Trump’s efforts to contest the 2020 election, to run its election week operations.
Republican candidates who have said without evidence that Trump won in 2020 ran across the country in this year’s midterms. Nearly all who have lost have conceded, making Lake the most high-profile holdout.
Local officials in all of Arizona counties convened on Monday to approve their respective election results, but those typically mundane proceedings were far more dramatic than usual in some counties. The Republican-controlled Cochise County governing board voted two-to-one to delay a vote on certifying their results until Friday, a move that risks delaying the statewide certification and that quickly drew lawsuits from outside groups and Hobbs in her role as secretary of state. In Mohave County, the Republican chairman of the Board of Supervisors, Ron Gould, reluctantly certified the election results but only “under duress,” he said, proclaiming from the dais: “I have no choice but to vote ‘Aye’ or I will be arrested and charged with a felony.”
And in Maricopa County, which comprises more than 60% of the state’s voters, hundreds protested the Board of Supervisors’ certification meeting, with many testifying about their grievances over Election Day issues with technical glitches and long lines. The board eventually voted unanimously to certify the election results.
Problems with the machine tabulators emerged early in the morning on Election Day at 70 of Maricopa’s 223 vote centers; by midday, county officials said they had diagnosed and remedied the problem.
One longtime Arizona politico acknowledged that the problems were disruptive, but insisted that they did not ultimately disenfranchise any Arizona voters. “Were there some inconveniences? Yeah, absolutely,” Barrett Marson, a veteran Arizona Republican operative, tells TIME. “Did Maricopa County make a mistake? Absolutely. But did they rectify it as soon as possible? Absolutely. Did people have to wait in long lines to vote? Yes, but they voted. That’s Kari Lake’s problem. People were still allowed to vote.”
During the public comment period on Monday at the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors meeting, Lake supporters one by one excoriated the county, in some cases citing unsubstantiated claims that the technological hiccups were part of an intentional plot to steal the election. “This is a war between good and evil,” one man told the board, “and you all represent evil.”
Over and over again, those who spoke expressed that they had little faith that the election was fair. One of the speakers, who works for a right-wing media outlet, suggested that Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a Republican, was compromised in his role because he founded a political action committee last year called Pro-Democracy Republicans of Arizona to combat GOP candidates who say the last presidential election was stolen, despite multiple investigations finding no evidence of substantial fraud. Lake has often said that Joe Biden is an “illegitimate” president who did not really beat Trump in 2020. Richer did not respond to a request for comment.
One woman who served as a poll observer testified that they weren’t trained to check out voters who had already checked in at a polling place. That became an issue for some voters who had tabulator machines reject their ballots and who wanted to go to another location to vote. Another said she heard from a fellow poll worker that one of the tabulators at her polling place wasn’t working the night before the election.
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s office cited the tabulator malfunctions and check-out issues prominently in a Nov. 19 letter to Maricopa County demanding answers on the Election Day mishaps. “These complaints go beyond pure speculation, but include first-hand witness accounts that raise concerns regarding Maricopa’s lawful compliance with Arizona election law,” the attorney general’s office wrote.
Maricopa County officials responded on Nov. 27, saying the county complied with federal and state election law, and that voters who went to a second polling place on Election Day without checking out of the previous polling place were able to cast a provisional ballot. Elections officials would then research to make sure that the voter did not vote twice before counting that ballot. The letter did not address the training of poll workers for check-out procedures.
Brnovich’s shadow looms large in the ongoing controversy over the 2022 Arizona election, as he is one of the state officials tasked with certifying the election next week. While the Republican attorney general certified and defended the integrity of the last Arizona election two years ago, he later cast doubt on its legitimacy when he ran for U.S. Senate this year. Brnovich has not made any public declaration on whether he will certify this election. His office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Meanwhile, Hobbs, as secretary of state, has engaged in a legal battle to compel Cochise County to certify its election results as mandated by state law, after its Board of Supervisors refused to do so, citing concerns with voting machines, even though voters did not experience issues in that jurisdiction. “The Secretary of State’s Office provided supporting documentation that confirmed Cochise County’s election equipment was properly certified,” a spokesperson for Hobbs tells TIME. “The Board of Supervisors had all of the information they needed to certify this election and failed to uphold their responsibility for Cochise voters.”
Since the Associated Press called the election for Hobbs on Nov. 14, Lake has vowed to fight the results of what she has called a “shoddy election” and has emphasized to her supporters that she will challenge the outcome.
“This whole system is a joke,” she told a conservative podcast host on Tuesday. “Either our courts help us out right now, or I feel we lose this country.”