In an arrangement with state attorneys, an Arizona woman accused of illegally collecting primary ballots in the 2020 primary election was convicted Thursday, dismissing more serious fraud and conspiracy counts and limiting the possibility of a significant jail term.
Guillermina Fuentes, 66, could face a test for conducting a sophisticated operation that would use her status as a well-known democratic operative in the border town of San Luis to persuade voters to rally around her and in some cases fill out their ballots. To the Arizona Attorney General’s Office investigators.
Prosecutors dropped three criminal charges, alleging that Fuentes mistakenly filled a voter’s ballot and forged signatures on some of the four ballots he returned to people who were not family members illegally, indicating that they were unable to prove the most serious allegations.
Republicans who have rallied around the possibility of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election, where former President Donald Trump is expected to lose, have pointed to allegations against Fuentes as part of a larger trend in war-torn states.
According to the Associated Press, there was little evidence that his illegal ballot gathering had spread beyond the small-town politics of Fuentes.
In December 2020, Fuentes and a second woman were charged with abuse of a ballot, often referred to as “ballot harvesting,” which was outlawed by state law in 2016. Last October, Fuentes was charged with conspiracy, fraud and excessive counting of ballots.
During a hearing in Yuma County, Arizona, on Thursday, Fuentes said nothing, only nodded at the judge’s question when asked if he had read and understood the bargain.
Fuentes, a former San Luis mayor who now serves on the elected board of the Gadsden Elementary School District, could face up to two years in prison if the court finds the situation worse. For his confession to illegally collecting and returning four voted ballots, the application agreement leaves the appropriate punishment to a judge who can grant him probation, house arrest and a hefty fine.
The sentencing date is set for June 30. He will lose his right to vote and will be forced to resign from his post.
In an email sent Thursday, attorney Ann Chapman said she had no comment on the allegations against her client. On the other hand, he attacked Arizona’s ballot collection law, claiming that it barred minority voters who traditionally relied on others to help them vote. “This prosecution shows that the law is an anti-democratic, statewide, and part of the national voter suppression effort,” he said.
According to the Attorney General’s Office’s investigative record, less than a dozen ballots may be tied to Fuentes by request of public records, which is not enough to distinguish between all except the tighter municipal race.
The information for his party’s Senate nominee has been released after a 15-month wait in the office of Republican Attorney General Mark Brunovich.
This is the attorney general’s first lawsuit under the 2016 “Ballot Harvesting” Act, which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court last year.
According to investigators, Fuentes appears to have used his position as an influential figure in the Mexican-American neighborhood primarily to get voters or others to return to the polls with their ballots. According to the report, Fuentes and his co-defendants were photographed with multiple mail-in envelopes outside a cultural facility in San Luis on the day of the 2020 primary election. Inside, the ballots were placed in a ballot box.
A written candidate for the Yuma County Sheriff videotaped him. The video shows him identified on at least one ballot, according to reports, but that allegation has been dismissed.
That day, an investigation was launched, and approximately 50 votes were tested for fingerprints, but the results were inconclusive. Within days, the attorney general’s office took over the investigation, and investigators worked with the sheriff’s deputies to interview voters, Fuentes, and others.
Despite allegations that Fuentes only acted on videotape and involved a small number of ballots, investigators suspect the operation went much further.
According to an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office, there was evidence that Fuentes promoted the San Luis community and collected ballots, in some cases paying for them. Prior to the passage of the Arizona 2016 Act, collecting ballots in this manner was a standard get-out-of-the-vote strategy used by both parties. Payment for the ballot was not allowed.
Although there is no evidence that he or anyone else in Yuma County collected ballots in the general election, detectives from the attorney general’s office are still in the area.
Last month, a nonprofit in San Luis was granted a search warrant, according to the Arizona Republic. According to the group’s executive director, who also chairs the Yuma County Board of Supervisors, the order seeks the cell phone of a San Luis councilor woman who may have been involved in illegal ballot collection.
The Yuma primary election case was again a spotlight at a legislative hearing on Tuesday, citing electoral conspiracy theories.
“It’s all about San Luis corruption and fraud in the city council elections,” said Tim Dunn, a U.S. Republican. “It’s been going on for decades in South County. You can’t make free and fair elections.” And it’s making its way across the country. “
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