A Democratic Party operative in Arizona has pleaded guilty to illegal ballot-harvesting of mail-in votes in the state’s August 2020 primary election — but her lawyer is calling the law she admitted to violating part part of a campaign of “state-wide and national voter suppression efforts.”
Guillermina Fuentes, 66, entered into a plea agreement with state prosecutors on Thursday which would spare her a trial on more serious charges of forgery and conspiracy.
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Now, according to The Associated Press, Fuentes “could get probation for running what Arizona attorney general’s office investigators said was a sophisticated operation using her status as a well-known Democratic operative in the border city of San Luis to persuade voters to let her gather and in some cases fill out their ballots.”
Fuentes and another woman faced a 2020 indictment for ballot abuse after harvesting ballots in Yuma County for the 2020 election. Under Arizona law, only a household member, family member or caregiver is allowed to collect a voter’s ballot.
UPDATE from the AP about a San Luis woman arrested in 2020 for ballot harvesting during the primaries. “The alleged illegal ballot collection… happened in plain sight outside a cultural center… on the day of the primary election.”https://t.co/dkAeOC9o58
— JOE DANA (@JoeDanaReports) June 2, 2022
Prosecutors said Fuentes used her position in the community to solicit ballots from others and drop them off. A write-in candidate took video of her and her co-defendant outside a cultural center in San Luis on the day of the primary with several mail-in envelopes, which were subsequently taken into the polling place and dropped in a ballot box.
The video was given to the Yuma County sheriff. While reports said she was shown marking a ballot before dropping it in, charges for that were among those dropped in the plea agreement.
Instead, she pleaded guilty to illegal collection and return of four ballots. That could theoretically lead to two years in jail, although a judge would need to find aggravating circumstances in the crime.
She’s more likely to face probation, home confinement and a hefty fine when she’s sentenced on June 30. In addition, she’ll lose her voting rights and be required to give up elected office.
Fuentes was definitively linked to harvesting roughly a dozen ballots — a number that wouldn’t have necessarily swung anything aside from tight local races. But officials believe her involvement went deeper than that.
“Although Fuentes was charged only with actions that appear on the videotape and involve just a handful of ballots, investigators believe the effort went much farther,” the AP reported.
“Attorney general’s office investigator William Kluth wrote in one report that there was some evidence suggesting Fuentes actively canvassed San Luis neighborhoods and collected ballots, in some cases paying for them.”
The AP reported that the case drew some attention at a legislative hearing on Tuesday “where election conspiracy theorists testified.”
“It’s all about corruption in San Luis and skewing a city council election,” said Republican Arizona state Rep. Tim Dunn, who represents Yuma County.
“This has been going on for a long time, that you can’t have free and fair elections in south county, for decades. And it’s spreading across the country.”
However, Fuentes’ attorney decried the fact there was any kind of ballot-harvesting legislation in Arizona at all, saying that the legislation was aimed at minority voters who, as the AP put it, “have historically relied on others to help them vote.”
“[T]his prosecution shows that the law is part of ongoing anti-democratic, state-wide, and national voter suppression efforts,” said Anne Chapman, Fuentes’ attorney. She didn’t comment on her client’s plea, however.
Regardless of the scale, the Fuentes case proves the need for ballot-harvesting legislation. To the extent that politicians allow or encourage mail-in voting, there need to be assurances the process is safe and secure.
Targeted collecting of ballots and suspicious patterns, where many collections are targeted — like 100 percent voting rates at Wisconsin nursing homes vetted by election fraud investigators — will dog Americans’ faith in the system unless there are robust legal backstops that address potential abuses.
Arizona’s legislation does this without targeting racial or ethnic minorities, whose members are every bit as able to submit their ballot legally as their white counterparts are. The fact Fuentes’ attorney even considers this an acceptable response proves she’s relying more on the gullibility of liberals than any actual mitigating factors at play.
Elections have consequences, as a prominent Democrat once said. So does breaking election law. That’s what Guillermina Fuentes admitted to doing in court on Thursday. That’s not “part of ongoing anti-democratic, state-wide, and national voter suppression efforts.” It’s criminality — and should be punished as such.
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