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Trump-supporting Arizona election denier appears to be voting illegally

Republican hopeful Neil DeSanti is mounting his fourth campaign for elected office since 2020, hoping to secure a seat in the Arizona House of Representatives for his north Phoenix legislative district. He’s voted in 16 state and local elections since registering to vote in 2012.

There’s just one problem: He appears to be ineligible to vote under state law, which raises serious questions about the many ballots he has cast and his candidacy.

Under Arizona law, DeSanti lost his right to vote in 2010, when he
pleaded guilty to felony endangerment related to a 2004 drunk driving arrest. Less than three months later, DeSanti pleaded guilty to felony possession of burglary tools after he and his cousin were caught stealing a metal ramp from a commercial yard near downtown Phoenix.

While people with only one felony will automatically have their rights restored once their sentence is completed and any required restitution is paid, people like DeSanti who have two or more felonies must petition the court to get their rights restored.

There is
no record DeSanti ever asked a judge to do that.

He did return to Maricopa County Superior Court court to successfully seek an early end to his probation — he was sentenced to three years probation in December 2010 but the court
granted him early release in December 2012 — but there is no indication he ever sought to restore his rights.

“It does not appear that Mr. DeSanti submitted an Application for Restoration of Rights (Civil and/or Firearm) in either case,” Jessica Fotinos, the general counsel for the Clerk of the Maricopa County Superior Court, told the Arizona Mirror.

‘I must have them restored’

In a March 27 interview, DeSanti said he had not applied to have a judge restore his rights. He initially said he thought that process happened automatically seven years after his conviction, then said he was “under the impression” that his plea agreements said his rights would be restored once he completed his sentence.

There is no language in either plea agreement indicating that.

DeSanti insisted that his rights must be restored because he has been registered to vote for years and has cast ballots in many elections.

“I must have them restored, because I can vote and possess a firearm,” he told the Mirror. “I’ve voted numerous times.”

About five weeks before the court approved ending his probation, DeSanti
registered to vote in Maricopa County. In doing so, he declared that he is “NOT a convicted FELON or my civil rights are restored.” He repeatedly made that attestation when he updated his voter registration four times after initially registering in November 2012, the latest in October 2021.

Neither of those are true for DeSanti, meaning he can’t run for elected office in Arizona. State law requires candidates for the legislature be “
qualified electors,” which includes being registered to vote.

While Maricopa County elections officials routinely check existing voters against lists of newly convicted felons and remove them from the rolls, they do not compare new registrants against previous lists of convicted felons. Nor do they have any way to check and see which registrants have had their rights restored.

Instead, they rely on the state law requiring people who register to vote to provide accurate information, including about their felony history and any rights restoration. Voters to fail to do so can face a class 6 felony charge for
false voter registration.

DeSanti could be exposed to that crime, and he could be charged with
a class 5 felony for each of the 16 elections he’s voted in, despite not being entitled to. The standard prison sentence for a class 6 felony is one year, and one-and-a-half years for a class 5 felony.

Even though he says he believes he was allowed to vote, DeSanti could still be guilty of illegally voting if his rights were never restored. Earlier this month, the Arizona Court of Appeals
upheld the conviction of Kyle Anthony Clark, who was indicted for false registration and illegal voting in 2021, and concluded that prosecutors do not need to prove that a person knew they were voting illegally, just that they were ineligible to vote and did so anyway.

Since 2021, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office has prosecuted at least six people with prior felony convictions for registering to vote and casting ballots without first having their rights restored.

For instance, Kenneth Russell Nelson registered to vote in 2018 and cast ballots in the 2018 primary and general elections, then again in the 2020 general election. But he had never had his rights restored following a 2007 drunk driving felony.
Nelson was indicted for four felonies: one count of false registration and three counts of illegal voting. He pleaded guilty to attempted illegal voting.

Likewise, a San Tan Valley man named Roberto Garcia
pleaded guilty to illegally voting in 2020 because he registered to vote and cast a ballot without having his rights restored.

DeSanti told the Mirror he wasn’t too worried about the legality of his voter registration or the elections he’s voted in, and said he figured someone would have brought it up in 2022, when his candidacy was successfully challenged in court by an opponent.

Who is Neil DeSanti?

Public records on
DeSanti’s voter history show he voted in the primary and general elections in 2014, 2016, 2018, 2020 and 2022. He also cast ballots in Phoenix and Scottsdale municipal elections in 2013, 2015, 2016 2017, 2019 and 2023.

He was
appointed to be a precinct committeeman in 2023.

In 2020, he
mounted a campaign for the Corporation Commission, but failed to qualify for the ballot, so he shifted his sights to Phoenix mayor, though he never submitted signatures to appear on the ballot.

In 2022, DeSanti hoped to be elected to the Arizona House of Representatives in District 2, which includes large portions of north Phoenix. He turned in nominating petitions, but
was removed from the ballot after their validity was challenged in court and he fell short of the required number of valid petition signatures.

This year, DeSanti is again running for the House in District 2.

DeSanti, a loyal Donald Trump supporter, has been active on social media decrying the “election fraud” that he says led to Trump’s 2020 defeat by Joe Biden.

“We the people, stormed the Arizona State Capital to show the evidence collected from The Voter registration list and elsewhere that dead People, nonresidential votes and illegal immigrants Votes where (sic) counted and shouldn’t! #ArizonaFirst #AuditTheVote #desantiforaz,” he
wrote on Twitter on Dec. 31, 2020.

He praised the work of
We the People AZ Alliance, an election denial group at the center of many of the election fraud conspiracy theories in Arizona. In the spring and summer of 2021, as the Arizona Senate was conducting a partisan “audit” of the 2020 election in Maricopa County — an effort that was spurred on by Trump’s campaign in its quixotic pursuit of evidence of election fraud — DeSanti regularly took to social media to tout the latest news.

He frequently posted videos from right-wing conspiracy theorists, including Liz Harris, who would go on to be elected to the Arizona Legislature in 2022 — and then expelled in 2023 after she lied to ethics investigators about the role she played in encouraging testimony baselessly accusing state officials and her fellow lawmakers of crimes.

After the 2022 election, DeSanti
wrote on Facebook that Election Day problems with ballot printers and tabulators at voting centers in Maricopa County were “undeniable evidence that tampering accrued (sic) with this election by the McCain & Democrat collaborators.”

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

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