In an arrangement with state prosecutors, an Arizona woman accused of unlawfully collecting early ballots in the 2020 primary election pleaded guilty Thursday, dismissing the more severe forgery and conspiracy counts and limiting the possibility of a significant prison term.
Guillermina Fuentes, 66, could face probation for running 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, according to Arizona attorney general’s office investigators.
Prosecutors were unable to establish the most serious accusations, and three felony counts alleging that Fuentes falsified signatures on part of the four ballots she improperly returned for persons who were not family members were dismissed.
Republicans have referred to the allegations against Fuentes as part of a larger pattern in battleground areas where former President Donald Trump was defeated in the 2020 election. But there’s little evidence that her unlawful ballot gathering extended beyond Fuentes’ small-town politics.
In December 2020, Fuentes and a second lady were charged with one count of vote misuse, often known as “ballot harvesting,” which was made illegal by a 2016 state statute. Last October, Fuentes was charged with conspiracy, forgery, and an extra count of ballot misuse.
Fuentes said almost nothing at a change of plea hearing in Yuma County, Arizona, on Thursday, other than nodding yes when the judge asked if she had read and understood the plea deal.
Fuentes, a former San Luis mayor who now serves on the Gadsden Elementary School District’s board of directors, may face a term of up to two years in jail if a judge finds aggravating circumstances. For her admitting to illegally collecting and returning four votes, the plea deal leaves the exact penalty up to a judge, who might give her probation, home detention, and a heavy fine.
The court date has been scheduled on June 30. She will lose her ability to vote and will be forced to resign from her elected position.
Before Arizona enacted the 2016 legislation, collecting votes in this manner was a standard get-out-the-vote strategy utilized by both political parties. It has never been legal to pay for ballots.
There’s no evidence she or anybody else in Yuma County collected votes in the general election, but the attorney general’s office detectives are still on the ground.