A woman from Arizona pleads guilty to a ballot collection operation

A woman from Arizona was accused of illegally collecting early votes in the 2020 primary election.

A woman from Arizona pleads guilty to a ballot collection operation

A woman from Arizona was accused of illegally collecting early votes in the 2020 primary election. She pleaded guilty to the charges and agreed to a plea agreement with the state prosecutors. This allowed for the dismissal of more serious conspiracy and forgery charges and a shorter prison sentence.

Guillermina Fuentes (66) could be put on probation for operating what Arizona attorney general's offices investigators say was a sophisticated operation that used her status as a well known Democratic operative in San Luis to convince voters to allow her to gather and, in some cases, fill out their ballots.

The most serious charges were dropped by the prosecution, which dropped three counts alleging Fuentes forged signatures on four ballots she illegally returned to relatives.

Republicans who have rallied behind the possibility that widespread voter fraud occurred in the 2020 election in which former President Trump was defeated, have pointed out the charges against Fuentes in connection with a wider pattern in battleground state. There is no evidence that her illegal ballot collection extended beyond the small-town politics Fuentes was a part of.

Fuentes was indicted along with a second woman in December 2020 for one count of ballot abuse. This practice, commonly called "ballot harvesting", was made illegal by a 2016 state law. Fuentes was also charged with conspiracy, forgery, and another count of ballot abuse.

Fuentes was quiet during Thursday's change of plea hearing in Yuma County, Arizona. She only acknowledged the judge's questions by saying "yes" when he asked if she had read and understood her plea agreement.

Fuentes is a former mayor of San Luis who currently serves as an elected member of the Gadsden elementary school district in San Luis. However, this sentence would need to be adjusted by a judge to account for aggravating circumstances. A judge will decide the sentence. She could sentence Fuentes to probation, home confinement, and a heavy fine for illegally collecting and returning four ballots.

Sentencencing was scheduled for June 30. She will lose her voting rights, and she must abdicate elected office.

Anne Chapman, Attorney Anne, stated in an email Thursday that there was no comment from her on the charges against her client.

She criticized Arizona's ballot collection laws, saying that it hinders minority voters who historically depended on others to help their vote. She stated that "this prosecution shows the law is part in ongoing anti-democratic state-wide and national voter suppression efforts."

The Associated Press obtained the investigation records of the Attorney General's Office through a public records request. They show that only a few ballots could have been linked to Fuentes. This is not enough to make a significant difference in any local races.

After delays of over 15 months, the records were finally provided by Mark Brnovich's office, Attorney General of Republican Party.

This is the first case brought by an attorney general under the 2016 "ballot-harvesting" law. It was also the only one that was upheld last year by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Investigators found that Fuentes was using her position as a strong figure in the predominantly Mexican-American community to encourage people to vote for her and others. According to reports, Fuentes and her fellow defendant were seen holding several envelopes filled with mail outside San Luis' cultural center on the day before the 2020 primary election. The ballots were brought inside and dropped into a box.

A write-in candidate called Yuma County sheriff and videotaped her. According to reports, she was seen marking at least one vote in the video. However, that charge was dropped.

The day after the election, about 50 ballots were checked for fingerprints. However, there was no conclusive evidence. Within days, the attorney general's office took control of the investigation. Investigators collaborated with sheriff's deputy to interview voters, Fuentes, and other participants.

Investigators believe that Fuentes was not charged with any actions other than those on the videotape.

William Kluth, an investigator for the Attorney General's Office, wrote in one report that there was evidence suggesting Fuentes actively canvassed San Luis neighborhoods to collect ballots. In some cases, Fuentes paid for these ballots.

Before Arizona's 2016 law, both parties used this method to collect ballots. It has never been legal to pay for ballots.

Although there is no evidence that she or anyone else in Yuma County has collected ballots for the general election, investigators from the Attorney General's Office are still active in the area.

According to The Arizona Republic, search warrants were issued last month against a San Luis nonprofit. The Yuma County board chair is the executive director of the group. According to the Arizona Republic, the warrant sought the phone number of a San Luis councilwoman suspected of being involved in illegal ballot collection.

The Yuma primary election case was a mainstay at Tuesday's legislative hearing, where conspiracy theorists gave evidence.

Yuma Republican Rep. Tim Dunn stated that it was all about corruption in San Luis, and skewing an election for the city council. This has been going on for years, and you cannot have fair and free elections in the south county for decades. It's spreading all over the country.

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