Election Director Accidentally Drops 2020 Bombshell During Kari Lake Trial

OPINION:  This article contains commentary which may reflect the author’s opinion

During Republican Kari Lake’s election challenge trial on Wednesday, Maricopa County Elections Director Reynaldo Valenzuela testified that mail-in ballot checks were done at the residences of election officials in 2020 without any observers present. Valenzuela stated that this occurred without any oversight from the public.

Valenzuela also verified that officials still possess the capability to do so at this time.

Lake is challenging the victory of Democratic candidate for governor Katie Hobbs, who won the election in November by a margin of around 17,000 votes, or 0.7% of the more than 2.5 million ballots cast across the state.

The issue of whether the legally mandated signature verification process for mail-in ballots was followed in Maricopa County during the election was remanded back to the trial court in March by the Arizona Supreme Court. The issue at hand was whether or not the protocol was followed.

Valenzuela was questioned by the attorney for Lake, Byran Blehm, on the locations where the verification of mail-in ballots took place in November and whether or not independent observers were present.

According to Valenzuela, the verification of mail-in ballots took place at three different locations: the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center, better known as MCTEC, which is located in downtown Phoenix; the Maricopa County Recorder’s office, which is also located in Phoenix; and the Maricopa County Southeast Regional Center, which is located in Mesa.

Whistleblower Jacqueline Onigkeit, who worked as a ballot reviewer at MCTEC in November, had testified before Valenzuela that she thought it was “odd” when she and her colleagues reviewers were sent home at 7 p.m. as counting continued of mail-in votes. Onigkeit had been working at MCTEC for the month of November.

“Why did you think it was odd?” Lake attorney Kurt Olsen asked.

“Well, because we had observers that were constantly watching what we were doing [at the designated vote-counting area]. But there was, I’m assuming, no observers there [at the recorder’s office] who was watching what they were doing,” she replied.

In light of the previous evidence, Blehm posed a question to Valenzuela about whether or not observers are permitted inside the office of the county recorder or at the Mesa location.

In response, Valenzuela stated that observers are permitted in “any general area,” but doing so is not an obligation under the law.

He went on to explain that as a “certified election officer,” he and others like him are able to perform signature verification in their offices even when there are no observers present.

In a subsequent question, Blehm inquired, “Can signature verification be done at a Maricopa County employee’s home?”

In response, Valenzuela stated, “We don’t have that currently in place,” but during the year 2020, while the pandemic was still active, the county let reviewers to work from home.

On Thursday, Blehm resumed this line of inquiry by asking Valenzuela, “Is it physically possible [now] for Maricopa County employees to log in and conduct signature verification from home?”

The director of elections provided a response, which stated, “An employee can log in and access their PC as if they were sitting in front of that PC remote, that are assigned those work stations,” despite the fact that the elections director indicated that this was not standard procedure.

According to the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, almost 80 percent of Arizona voters cast their ballots through the use of mail-in ballots.

Kurt Olsen, the attorney for Lake, has stated that his client believes the procedure used in Maricopa County for authenticating voters is fundamentally faulty.

On Wednesday, he testified before the court that a check of data from the county showed that at least 334,000 mail-in ballots were in fact not verified. This figure is significantly more than the margin of victory that Hobbs achieved with 17,000 votes.


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