PHOENIX – An Arizona woman indicted in 2020 on allegations of illegally collecting ballots appears to have conducted a sophisticated operation, using her status as a well-known Democratic activist in the border city of San Luis to convince voters to collect her and in some cases to fill out their ballots, according to records from The Associated Press.
Guillermina Fuentes, 66, and a second woman were charged in December 2020 with voter abuse, a practice commonly known as “ballot-picking” that was ruled illegal under a 2016 state law. Additional charges of conspiracy, forgery and an additional charge of electoral abuse were added last October.
Fuentes, a former San Luis mayor who serves as the elected board member for the Gadsden Elementary School District in San Luis, has a court date Thursday to change her not-guilty plea. Your co-defendant is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to a reduced charge several months ago.
Fuentes is accused of collecting ballots during the 2020 primary, in violation of the law that allows only a carer or family member to return someone else’s early ballot and, in some cases, fill it in.
Her attorney, Ann Chapman, has not responded to repeated requests, including on Wednesday.
Republicans have rallied around the possibility of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election, which defeated former President Donald Trump. They have pointed to the charges against Fuentes as part of a broader pattern in battleground states.
However, there is no evidence of this in the investigation documents. They were obtained through a public records request from the Arizona Attorney’s Office that was first filed in February 2021 but was denied. The AP sent a new request last October after more charges were leveled against Fuentes. The Attorney General finally made available more than 20 documents outlining the investigation late last week.
Records show fewer than a dozen ballots could be linked to Fuentes, not enough to make a difference in all but the closest local races. It is the only case ever brought by the attorney general under the 2016 law upheld by the US Supreme Court last year.
Investigators said it appears she used her position as a powerful figure in the heavily Mexican-American community to get people to give her or others their ballots to get back in the elections.
The alleged illegal ballot collection by Fuentes and her co-defendants took place outside a cultural center in San Luis on the day of the primary, the reports show. Fuentes was at a card table set up by supporters of a list of city council candidates and was seen with several postal ballot envelopes, pulling out ballots and in some cases marking them.
The ballot papers were then recorded at the cultural center and deposited in a ballot box.
It was videotaped by a candidate who called the Yuma County Sheriff. An investigation was launched that day, and about 50 ballots were checked for fingerprints that were inconclusive. The investigation was taken over by the attorney general’s office within days, with investigators working with sheriff’s deputies to question voters and others, including Fuentes.
Although Fuentes is only charged with acts that appear on videotape and involve just a handful of ballots, investigators believe the effort went much further.
Attorney General’s Office investigator William Kluth wrote in a report that there was some evidence that Fuentes actively campaigned in San Luis neighborhoods and collected, and in some cases paid for, ballots.
Collecting ballots in this way was a common tactic used by both political parties to get the votes before Arizona passed the 2016 law. Paying for ballots has never been legal.
There is no evidence that she or anyone else in Yuma County collected ballots in the general election, but investigators from the Attorney General’s Office are still active in Yuma County.
The Arizona Republic reported Tuesday that search warrants were served on a nonprofit in San Luis last month. The group’s executive director, who is chairman of Yuma County’s board of directors, said the warrant sought the cell phone of a San Luis councilwoman who may have been involved in the illegal ballot collection.
And at a legislative hearing on Tuesday, where election conspiracy theorists testified, the fall of the Yuma primary was another highlight.
“It’s all about corruption in San Luis and the rigging of a city council election,” Republican Representative Tim Dunn of Yuma said. “It’s been this way for a long time that you can’t have a free and fair election in South County for decades. And it’s spreading across the country.”
Election abuse is a crime punishable by a possible prison sentence of up to two years and a $150,000 fine.
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https://www.local10.com/news/politics/2022/06/02/records-show-coordinated-arizona-ballot-collection-scheme/ Records show coordinated Arizona ballot collection scheme