Last Updated on October 16, 2022
A former Arizona mayor has been sentenced to 30 days in jail and two years of probation after being convicted of collecting four early voting ballots in the 2020 primary election. The “ballot harvesting” violation in Arizona is the only incident that has been brought to trial stemming from the 2020 election in the state.
Guillermina Fuentes, a 66-year-old school board member and former Democrat mayor of the small border city of San Luis, pleaded guilty to ballot harvesting charges earlier this year.
Fuentes gathered the four ballots then handed them off to a woman named Alma Juarez, who pleaded guilty in March. Juarez later deposited the ballots at a local polling place.
According to prosecutors, Fuentes used her status as a powerful local Democrat operative to run a ballot harvesting scheme that collected ballots from Arizona voters in the August 2020 primary election, Breitbart News reported.
Prosecutors from the state attorney general’s office were seeking a prison sentence of one year in prison for violating a 2016 Arizona “ballot harvesting” law. The law makes it illegal to possess another person’s mail-in ballot unless they are a family member, housemate or caregiver to the voter.
Fuentes collected four completed mail-in ballots and gave them to Juarez, while working a table outside a polling place where she was urging people to vote for a slate of city council candidates. Juarez carried them inside and put them in a ballot drop-off bin, Breitbart News reported.
Election officials in Yuma County confirmed that the ballots were signed and verified, so they were counted.
At her sentencing, numerous character witnesses testified on Fuentes’ behalf and urged the judge to consider probation only, but Yuma County Superior Court Judge Roger Nelson told Fuentes that she had not accepted responsibility for the crime.
“‘The defendant acknowledged responsibility for carrying ballots for someone else, however, she stated, ‘I’m not a criminal,’” Nelson read.
“Well, you are a criminal,” the judge said. “You committed a criminal offense. I don’t think you recognize that as a criminal offense. That’s the problem that I have.”
The former mayor’s attorneys had urged Nelson to spare her from jail time, arguing that she had previously demonstrated good character and had become a leader in the city of San Luis. Nelson heaped praise upon her for that, but added that it factored into his decision to send her to jail.
“Many of the things that were put forward as mitigating factors, I think they’re also aggravating factors,” he said. “You have been a leader in the San Luis community for a long time. People look up to you, people respect you, and they look to what you do.”
The Arizona Voter Empowerment Task Force, a group of attorneys and advocates for people facing legal issues over voting or helping others cast ballots, slammed the sentence as a miscarriage of justice.
“The Court’s sentence today is an unjust result in a political prosecution where the only alleged harm was the delivery of four lawfully voted ballots,” said Fuentes’ attorney, Anne Chapman, in a statement provided by the group.
More serious charges of conspiracy and forgery against Fuentes were dropped by prosecutors. Her co-defendant, Alma Juarez, avoided jail time and was sentenced to probation.