by Natalia Mittelstadt
As Republican Kari Lake appeals a legal defeat in her lawsuit challenging certification of her narrow loss in Arizona’s Nov. 8 gubernatorial election, she is alleging that ballot chain-of-custody issues occurred at Runbeck Election Services, a company that municipalities across the country use for outsourcing election operations.
Lake is appealing a ruling against her last month in her suit against former Secretary of State and current Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs and Maricopa County election officials demanding the election result be set aside due to alleged failures and misconduct by the county. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Peter Thompson found that Lake failed to meet a legal standard of clear and convincing evidence that intentional misconduct changed the outcome of the election.
In her appeal, which challenges the legal standard applied by the trial court, Lake alleges that Maricopa County’s “massive violations of law and maladministration” included violating Arizona law’s chain-of-custody requirements by not having Election Day dropbox ballots counted at Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center (MCTEC) before going to Runbeck.
Lake’s appeal cites testimony from Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer in last month’s civil trial that Election Day dropbox ballots are not counted at MCTEC, but are instead “counted by our people at Runbeck because they have a high-speed counter because that’s the only day in which approximately 300,000 early ballots come in on one day.”
Lake also cites a Runbeck whistleblower report of “an increase of nearly 25,000 [Election Day dropbox] ballots that Maricopa cannot account for.”
The appeal additionally claims that county “officials did not count [Election Day dropbox] ballots and did not create any documents to record the number of ballots transferred to Runbeck” and that “Runbeck allowed employees to insert ballots into the system.”
Runbeck was founded in 1972 and originally assisted with local counties’ elections, according to the company’s website. Runbeck boasts of “reaching more than 70 million voters” with its services.
Runbeck’s services include: election printing and mailing for mail-in ballots; ballot printing on-demand; ballot sorting; ballot software, such as ballot duplication and signature verification; petition management; election services; and vote center equipment.
When asked about its contract with Maricopa County, Runbeck told Just the News the company “does not comment on the specific nature of its contracts with its customers” and suggested sending questions about the contract to the county.
Maricopa County explained its contract with Runbeck in a statement to Just the News.
“Under Maricopa County’s direction, Runbeck Election Services prints ballots, mails early ballots, and images early ballot envelopes,” a spokesperson for the Maricopa County Elections Department said. “We also contract with Runbeck to use its ballot-on-demand printer technology and some additional election software. While Runbeck provides a full accounting of the number of ballots we contract with them to print and mail, they do not tabulate ballots. All ballots are tabulated at the Maricopa County Elections Department using federally and state certified tabulation equipment.”
Runbeck “has been working with Maricopa County for about two decades,” according to a statement to Just the News from Runbeck’s public relations firm. “RES [works] with dozens of counties across the country, currently in 23 states and DC. This includes all of their service lines.”
The Runbeck website’s “Claims vs. Facts” page explains that the company “does not tabulate or adjudicate ballots. Runbeck is not affiliated with any tabulation vendor.”
The early ballot envelope images that Runbeck sends electronically to MCTEC are used for signature verification. The signatures on the affidavit envelopes are compared to the voter’s registration record to see if they match.
Then-Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Wright sent a letter to Maricopa County in May 2022 regarding the county’s signature verification process, expressing concern that county staff only had seconds to review signatures, which doesn’t afford much time to ensure that “only lawful ballots are counted.”
Maricopa is not the only county contracting with Runbeck that has faced a litany of allegations of alleged election mischief and maladministration. For example, Harris County, Texas, used Runbeck for both the county’s 2020 and 2022 elections.
The most populous county in Texas was warned ahead of its midterm elections last year by the secretary of state that there were significant issues to be addressed from the 2020 elections.
The secretary of state’s office conducted an audit of the 2020 election in Texas, which culminated in a 359-page report released last month that found that Harris County had “very serious issues in the handling of electronic media.” Those issues included at least 14 mobile ballot boxes that did not have proper chain of custody records for 184,999 ballots and no documentation for the creation of 17 mobile ballot boxes connected to 124,630 cast vote records.
Last year, Runbeck subcontracted another vendor, K&H, “to prepare and mail the ballots” since “Runbeck determined that it could not process the ballot insertion for the 4-page 11×17 ballot,” according to the Harris County election administration’s 2022 elections assessment. The 2022 elections assessment was expedited by Harris County because there were many reported issues Election Day regarding paper ballots and delayed opening of vote centers.
During the 2020 election, Runbeck and Dominion Voting Systems worked with Georgia state election officials to send out more than one million absentee ballots for the June primary, according to a statement posted on the Runbeck website.
The chairman of the board of Runbeck Election Services is Kevin Runbeck. Based on Runbeck’s focus on elections, the chairman of the board “made a personal decision and has not made campaign, PAC, or other political contributions,” according to the company’s website, “other than one donation to support the Arizona candidate for President in 2008 and a couple of donations to a print industry PAC to support postal reform issues in 2019. Kevin no longer makes any political donations.”
Kevin Runbeck’s brother Brian is a Client Services Manager at Runbeck, according to his LinkedIn bio. Brian “donated $1,050 to specific campaigns through Act Blue” in 2020, according to Runbeck’s website, but he “has no ownership stake in Runbeck Election Services nor any ownership of any Runbeck products.” The explanation includes a link to Brian Runbeck’s contribution history on the Federal Election Commission’s website.
ActBlue is a tech nonprofit that provides online fundraising software to Democratic campaigns and progressive groups.
Some of Brian’s donations in 2020 went to the Biden for President campaign committee. He also donated to the Obama for America campaign committee in 2012.
Phill Kline, Director of the Amistad Project, told Just the News on Tuesday that there are “three key principles to make sure elections are fair and reflect the will of the people: transparency, accountability, and inclusiveness.”
Investigations into the 2020 and 2022 elections have shown that “outsourcing” election operations “eliminates all three,” Kline said. He noted that political parties can’t observe the outsourced operations by third-party vendors, and the vendors aren’t subject to open records requests or accountable to voters.
Runbeck’s PR firm declined on the company’s behalf to comment on Lake’s legal complaint, adding that they “defer to Maricopa County and the judge’s decision.”
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Natalia Mittelstadt is a reporter at Just the News. Mittelstadt graduated from Regent University with Bachelor of Arts degrees in Communication Studies and Government.
Photo “Kari Lake” by Gage Skidmore. CC BY-SA 2.0. Background Photo “Election Day 2020” by Phil Roeder. CC BY 2.0.