The Arizona Democratic Party is going to court to halt — or at least delay — the audit of Maricopa County presidential election results. Legal papers filed on April 29, note that the Senate, which demanded possession of the 2.1 million ballots and counting equipment, has now had all that turned over directly to outsiders hired by the legislature. They began conducting the review on April 30 at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
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 questions whether Senate President Karen Fann can delegate “audit-related” activities that must be conducted by government officials to the third-party “auditors” she hired. 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.
At the helm of the case is Indian American attorney Roopali Desai, who is representing the plaintiffs. She says the problem is that there is no evidence that the private firms hired by the Senate and the people they are retaining have been properly trained, not just in things like signature verification, but also in protecting the security and privacy of the records. So, she wants Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Christopher Coury to declare the audit is unlawful and violates both state law and the state’s Election Procedures Manual.
“There are only one set of rules that discuss the safeguarding of the ballots, the tabulation equipment, the integrity of the election,” Desai told the Arizona Mirror. “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.” More immediately she wants Coury to issue an immediate restraining order blocking further action until there is more information. A hearing is currently set for May 14 morning, but could be further delayed.
The litigation is the latest wrinkle in efforts dating back to December by some senators to get a closer look at the election results in the state’s largest county where Joe Biden outpolled Donald Trump by 45,109. That was more than enough to offset votes for Trump elsewhere, giving the Democrats a 10,457 vote edge statewide and Arizona’s 11 electoral votes. That led to various charges of fraud and demands to review the results. There even was an ill-fated effort by some Republican lawmakers to void the returns and require the state’s electoral votes go to Trump.
Maricopa County supervisors defended the final numbers, pointing out they had conducted required accuracy checks on machines both before and after the vote. There also was a legally mandated hand count of a random sample of ballots that county officials said matched the machine results 100 percent.
And when that wasn’t enough, they hired outside firms to conduct two audits of the equipment, both of which they said verified the results. The audit is being conducted on behalf of Republicans who control the state Senate, who have hired Cyber Ninjas, a cybersecurity firm with no election experience owned by a man who shared unfounded allegations of election fraud on his since-deleted Twitter account. Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said she agreed to issue a subpoena for the ballots and the machinery because there are still people unconvinced the results were accurate.
That was fed by conspiracy theories peddled by not just some state lawmakers but Rudy Giuliani, an attorney for Trump, who came to Phoenix to tell lawmakers he had evidence of fraud. Fann said the audit should get to the bottom of all this. But the decision has been marred not just by the refusal of the county to allow the audit in their offices. That has forced the Senate to rent space in the Coliseum. The Senate chose the firm Cyber Ninjas, with no history of conducting audits, to lead the audit team. And Doug Logan, the company’s founder and chief executive has previously made public statements that he believes the 2020 General Election was rigged.
What makes all that legally problematic, Desai told Coury, is that neither the Senate nor Cyber Ninjas appear to have policies and procedures in place to perform their tasks or for preserving the integrity of the process. For example, she said, there is nothing to ensure that markings on ballots are not altered or added to during the audit. And there is nothing to ensure a quota secure and documented chain of custody for the ballots and election equipment.” Desai also said there is reason to believe that the inspections may not be performed by bipartisan teams including at least two members of different political parties. She said former Secretary of State Ken Bennett, who the Senate hired to be the liaison with the auditors, has said that about 70 percent of those who have applied to be observers are Republicans, with the balance split among Libertarians, Democrats or independents.
Who is Roopali Desai
Desai, the leading election lawyer in Arizona is a partner with Coppersmith and Brockelman, heads the firm’s Election and Political Law group. Her political law practice involves advising clients on all aspects of election law including campaign finance compliance, disclosure and reporting requirements, and bringing and defending election challenges.
She is especially known for her experience representing initiative and referendum campaigns, and has led numerous measures to victory including Smart and Safe Arizona (Prop. 207), Invest in Education (Prop. 208), Save Our Schools (Prop. 305), AZ Education Finance Amendment (Prop. 123), and Reid Park Zoo Animal Quality of Life Acts (Props. 202 and 203). She is experienced in drafting ballot language and preparing initiative and referendum petitions, and has a winning track record in defending and bringing various types of pre- and post-election lawsuits, including seeking injunctive relief.
Desai’s political law clients include federal, state, and local candidates and elected officials; political parties; independent expenditure committees; ballot measure sponsors, supporters, and opponents; corporate, union, and trade association PACs; nonprofit organizations; and governmental entities at the state, county, municipal, and special taxing district levels.
Desai, a busy mother of three, was recently nominated as Valle del Sol’s ‘2021 Mom of the Year.’ Coming from a family of immigrants and a strong lineage of women, Desai told ABC15 that she was motivated to become the mother and leader she is today because of her family. “From a young age I felt comfortable going after things I wanted, having support from my family.” Drawn to advocacy from a young age, she told ABC 15 that “I really wanted to be a voice for those communities that didn’t have one.”
When not enjoying spending time with her three daughters outdoors, Desai, who worked for years as a public health advocate prior to becoming a lawyer, is dedicated to serving her community by being on the boards of several high-profile nonprofit organizations, including the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest and Save Our Schools Arizona and is a former board member of New Pathways for Youth, ACLU of Arizona, and Arizona Family Health Partnership.
She has also served on Secretary of State Katie Hobbs’ transition team and was appointed by former Chief Justice Scott Bales of the Arizona Supreme Court to serve on the Committee for Civil Justice Reform. This busy mom and lawyer also commits a significant amount of time to pro-bono legal work relating to children in Arizona’s foster system, issues of voting rights, and fairness and equality in public education. She also actively mentors ASU and UArizona law students, younger attorneys and peers.
For fun, she loves to hike, enjoy nature and visit the various farmers markets in Arizona and cook some of her childhood dishes that remind her of her cultural roots.