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Democrats file last-minute lawsuit to block Senate election audit

By: - April 22, 2021 6:03 pm

Image by Nick Youngson | Alpha Stock Images/CC BY-SA 3.0

The Arizona Democratic Party and the lone Democrat on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors brought a last-minute lawsuit attempting to halt the state Senate’s election audit, which is scheduled to begin Friday.

The lawsuit argues that the Senate is violating a host of state laws and election regulations regarding the confidentiality and handling of election materials, and questioned whether Senate President Karen Fann can delegate audit-related activities that must be conducted by government officials to the third-party auditors she hired.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Christopher Coury will hear arguments at 11 a.m. on Friday. The Democrats are asking Coury to issue an injunction that would bar the audit from moving forward.

The question at the heart of the case is whether the Senate and the private companies it hired to conduct the audit must abide by the same laws and guidelines as election officials.

For example, the lawsuit notes that state law restricts access to private information in voter registration records to authorized government officials, which the private companies conducting the audit aren’t. And the state’s election procedures manual, which has the force of law, requires people involved in the official processing and counting of ballots to take oaths administered by the county board of supervisors, and requires counties to ensure that staff who verify signatures on early ballot envelopes receive proper training.

Attorney Roopali Desai, who is representing the plaintiffs, said those rules should apply to the auditors as well, and disputed the notion that they’re intended to apply only to people engaging in official election activities.

“There are only one set of rules that discuss the safeguarding of the ballots, the tabulation equipment, the integrity of the election. And just because they have sort of ventured into this area that has never been ventured into does not mean that it comes with free range to do whatever you want,” Desai told the Arizona Mirror.

In one respect, the lawsuit makes a claim that a judge has already rejected. The lawsuit argues that a 2016 law prohibiting most third parties from collecting other people’s voted ballots applies to the auditors because aside from the voters themselves, only election officials, postal workers and some family members can possess those ballots.

Maricopa County Judge Timothy Thomason addressed that statute when he ruled in the Senate’s favor, rejecting the county’s lawsuit to block Fann’s subpoenas for ballots, tabulation machines and other election materials. Thomason wrote in his ruling that the prohibition on ballot harvesting, as critics call the practice, “was not intended to prevent the legislature or other governmental bodies and officials from examining ballots and related materials.” 

Desai said there’s some nuance in that ruling, noting that the auditors and the senators are not the same people.

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Jeremy Duda
Jeremy Duda

Associate Editor Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”

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