With the 2016 election on the horizon all across the United States, Arizona legislators heard compelling testimony from community leaders last week as to why the state should is looking to join the majority of states and end the practice of ballot harvesting. At a hearing of the Arizona House Elections Committee on HB2023 lawmakers heard firsthand accounts of the oppressive practices of political machines that prey primarily on lower income neighborhoods through ballot harvesting.
HB2023 will finally put an end to ballot harvesting by making it a class six felony.
Sergio Arellano, a southern Arizona native and community leader, stunned lawmakers last week when he spoke truth to power about the abuses of mostly minority voters by political operatives. During questioning of Arellano by a white democrat lawmaker, who claimed ballot harvesting was important for his constituents, Arellano responded, “First of all Representative Larkin, with all due respect I am a first-generation American, and I know the struggle in the Hispanic community. My mom works three jobs – no father – absent father – I’ve lived in poverty – cockroaches – I mean you name it – I was there growing up.” The wounded warrior, who now serves as the Arizona State Director of the Republican National Committee continued, “I still continue to live and die in fight for these people every single day because they’re being oppressed and lied to by people from the Democratic Party; unfortunately because those are the operatives out picking up ballots.”
Arellano pleaded on behalf of the people of his eight poorest metropolitan area in the country before the visibly shaken Larkin. He advised the Education Committee members that he was sharing his neighbors’ stories of fraud because they could not. “’Mijito,’” said Arellano repeating the story one elderly woman told him, “’I don’t know who I voted for. Some guy came up, picked up my ballot and said I’ll take it for you.’” Arellano asked the woman if she had voted the ballot, and she replied in the negative. She told him, “’He just came over and he said I’m with the elections office and you have to turn in your ballot now. Is this your information?’ and he holds up an iPad with her with her name.”
Arellano was interrupted momentarily by the befuddled Larkin, but was asked to continue by Chairperson Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita. “When she doesn’t know who she voted for because some guy said this is my iPad. ‘Is this you, Miss Nincha,’ and pulls up the iPad and it has her name, her address, her age, her sex, and everything else, she says ‘Yes, oh my gosh this is me. Well we’re here to pick up your ballot.’ She hands it over – guess what? Who does she vote for? I don’t know and she doesn’t know,” concluded Arellano.
Larkin, who grew up in the mostly white community of Mesa, Arizona and is now a “union pharmacy technician for Fry’s Food Store,” according to his legislative biography, was clearly disturbed by the testimony. He attempted to recover some legitimacy when he claimed that he was down with the struggle. Although he acknowledged that the Hispanic vote is being repressed, he rejected the protections provided by the bill.
Arellano later appeared a popular radio show hosted by American of African descent James T. Harris to discuss what many Hispanics believed to be the “disrespectful responses” by Larkin and others. Arellano told Harris he was taken aback by Larkin’s claim to be down with the struggle and understand the plight of poor minorities, “because his constituents are 50% (Hispanic). Brother, we grew up down here. This is us. This is the streets. We come from and we know what it is like being Hispanic in this area with someone like a Grijalva knight, threatening you for speaking out,” referring to Rep. Raul Grijalva’s notorious army of operatives. “You’ll get squashed on here. And he’s gonna know the struggle because his constituents [Hispanics] are half the district?”
Arellano also discussed the fact that it appeared the democrat lawmakers on the panel were being fed information, questions, and answers from outside the hearing room. The testimony was broadcast live, and according to capitol sources, democrat operatives were on their phones rummaging through was he assumed were press releases and other potential media outlets to try and find information on him so they could try and discredit him. It didn’t work, when he was followed by another Republican Party leader, Shuron Harvey, an American of African descent, who grew up on Tucson’s south side and shares Arellano’s experience with the Grijalva machine.
Harris and Arellano discussed the video that went viral last year, when the former Maricopa County Republican Chairman A.J. LaFaro witness a ballot harvester delivering hundreds of ballots from processing. “This is about trying to hold people accountable. Right now there are no checks and balances in the communities. I can walk to your house and your neighborhood and see on my voter list the propensity of the voters and the tendency of the vote and if my list said that last year you voted for X, Y and Z then I’m just not going to turn in your ballot and toss it to the side or do what I have to do just so that your vote doesn’t count.”