For several years, a group of people in San Luis in Yuma County would make the rounds to collect ballots from local voters. Some also reportedly arranged to pay cash for uncompleted ballots.
The activity continued even after Arizona passed a law in 2016 making it a felony to turn in someone else’s ballot unless the voter was a family member, household member, or caregiver of the person turning in the ballot.
As a result, two San Luis women were indicted and have pleaded guilty to one count each of Ballot Abuse for engaging in ballot harvesting activities in the 2020 Primary Election. Both will be sentenced later this month – Alma Ysidra Juarez to probation and Guillermina Fuentes is probation eligible, according to court records.
But dozens of documents recently obtained by Arizona Daily Independent show it appears Yuma County election officials suspected election fraud was occurring, but did not have the evidence to prove it, despite at least one prior FBI investigation, according to Yuma County Recorder Robyn Stallworth Pouquette.
Among the documents released by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office (AGO) are statements from San Luis voters who admitted engaging in election fraud, in 2020 and prior years. Many likely did not understand they were breaking a law by giving their unvoted early ballots to someone else or allowing someone like Fuentes to deliver their ballot to the county.
Which begs the question – are future prosecutions expected in the nearly two-year investigation, or is the net result simply one misdemeanor conviction and one lowest level felony conviction?
The election fraud engaged in by people in San Luis over the years did not make headlines until two local men, David Lara and Gary Snyder, decided it was time to expose the corruption. To that end, Snyder set up hidden video cameras in a vehicle outside the two polling stations in San Luis on Aug. 4, 2020, primary election day.
He and Lara immediately gave the videos to Yuma County Sheriff Leon Wilmot, who contacted the AGO about the evidence of ballot harvesting activities right outside a polling station at the Cesar Chavez Cultural Center. The AGO led the ballot harvesting investigation with assistance throughout from YCSO Sgt. Jason Hamstreet and other detectives.
One of the video clips appears to show Fuentes completing at least one ballot before she gives several ballot envelopes to Juarez, who then walks over and drops them in a Yuma County ballot box at the polling station.
When confronted with the video, Fuentes claimed during a Dec. 4, 2020 interview that one of the envelopes she gave Juarez belonged to Fuentes’ husband. However, the county recorder provided investigators with documentation that the husband’s early ballot was returned and accepted the week prior.
Pouquette also provided information showing Fuentes went into the polling station the morning of primary election day to vote in-person rather than submit the early ballot she previously requested.
Fuentes’ activities inside the polling station in San Luis also garnered investigators’ attention after they learned Fuente signed in as a voting “assistant” for four local voters. This allowed her to assist the in-person voters in completing their ballots.
The AGO reports also show the efforts YSCO and election officials undertook on election day to segregate the suspicious voter affidavit envelopes and ballots.
Among those interviewed by investigators was Paul Melcher, who in August 2020 worked as Yuma County’s Director of Economic Security. Melcher used his county-issued cellphone to record the handling of the ballots after the sheriff’s office reviewed Snyder’s videos and initiated a criminal investigation.
“Paul stated the ballots were going to be obtained by the police,” AGO Special Agent Roger Geisler wrote after a May 5, 2021 interview. “Paul stated the video taken was to document the ballot process and ensure the integrity of the count. Paul said this was in case questions arose at a later time. Paul stated they wanted to be transparent as possible.”
The video recording was made, Pouquette told Geisler, to ensure the integrity of the count and to have an audit of the ballots before they left the polling station. Unfortunately, Melcher was not investigated until nine months after the August 2020 primary election.
By then, he had changed employment and turned in his county cellphone. It was subsequently reset and all photographs and videos were cleared out.
Another question yet unanswered by the AGO’s reports is whether any criminal activity occurred in connection with an event sponsored by the Yuma County Democratic Party prior to the 2020 General Election.
The Oct. 17, 2020 event, promoted as an early ballot “Drop Off Car Pool,” resulted in reports to YCSO that “multiple” ballots were seen in at least one person’s vehicle during the event. That person -who was not Fuentes or Juarez- works for a Yuma County-based nonprofit which has been the source of scrutiny for its election activities.
Residents of San Luis have expressed concern that more was not done prior to the 2020 election cycle to address ballot harvesting activities in the community. They are also upset with state lawmakers who have been advocating for better election integrity but have not introduced legislation to make it easier to fight community level election fraud.
They point to the fact Yuma County rejected 160 early ballots and 23 provisional ballots were rejected during the 2020 Primary Election out of about 25,900 ballots cast. The county’s official canvass does not breakdown rejection data by polling station, so it is unclear whether county officials missed an opportunity to identify unusual ballot activity in San Luis.
READ MORE ABOUT THE SAN LUIS ELECTION FRAUD: