A month after a Democratic Party attorney-operative painted Yuma County ballot harvesters as community heroes who are needed to help ignorant voters, another San Luis woman has been sentenced for her role in the illegal activity.
Nadia Guadalupe Lizarraga-Mayorquin must serve two years of supervised probation and pay a $2,500 fine after pleading guilty to unlawfully collecting seven ballots during the 2020 Primary Election. Her co-defendant, City Councilwoman Gloria Lopez Torres, is scheduled for a pretrial conference on April 21.
Torres and Lizarraga-Mayorquin were indicted last October on two Class 6 felonies of conspiracy and ballot abuse stemming from a two-year long investigation by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office with assistance by the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office.
The ballot harvesting activities were exposed by two Yuma County men, David Lara and Gary Garcia, through hidden video surveillance outside a San Luis polling station in July 2020. Former San Luis mayor Guillermina Fuentes and local resident Alma Yadira Juarez were convicted last year in part based on the video evidence.
Yet according to attorney Marc Elias, a 2016 anti-ballot harvesting law enacted by the Arizona Legislature has made a criminal out of people like Fuentes, who Elias described as “a community leader.”
Elias is a well-known Democratic operative who served as general counsel for John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign and the Hillary Clinton 2016 presidential campaign. His law firm has been involved in several election-related litigations across the country, including Arizona.
In a Feb. 14 article for Democracy Docket, Elias wrote that Arizona’s law banning ballot collection except when the collector is a family member, person living in the same household, or caregiver of the voter was “aimed at decreasing electoral participation by minorities, especially among the state’s large Latino community.”
His article focused on Fuentes, who like Lizarraga-Mayorquin received a two-year probation sentence but was also required to serve 30 days in the county jail.
Fuentes’ conviction also forced her to resign from the board of the Gadsden Elementary School District.
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According to Elias, it is Fuentes and Latinos –not the integrity of elections– that are victimized by prosecutions under the ballot harvesting statute.
“Her crime was helping four eligible voters return their lawfully cast ballots to election officials to be counted,” Elias wrote, suggesting the citizens of San Luis “have good reason to be scared and good reason to believe that this was the purpose all along: to keep them from voting.”
Elias, who decried the fact Fuentes cannot vote while on probation, used the article to call on every state to make ballot collection legal.
But Lara points out the video Garcia recorded in 2020 outside a San Luis polling station shows Fuentes writing something on one of the ballots or the ballot affidavit envelope before it is placed in a ballot box.
He also notes that in one of Fuentes’ recorded interviews with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office she lied to investigators about who the ballots belonged to.
Lara, a local businessman, calls it “insulting and disrespectful” that outsiders like Elias assume San Luis voters cannot figure out how to fill out and deliver their ballots. Or that they “need help” deciding who to vote for, as Fuentes suggested to investigators.
“These so-called community leaders that Mr. Elias refers to simply perpetuated the message that we Latinos are stupid and ignorant,” Lara told Arizona Daily Independent. “If they truly cared about our community they would not have taken the power away from voters to keep it for themselves.”
Lara is equally outraged that Fuentes deflected from the fact she knowingly violated state law by blaming her prosecution on the fact she is Hispanic. He welcomes the continued prosecution of those who undermined San Luis’s elections for so long, Lara says.
Lizarraga-Mayorquin, who is also known as Nadia Buchanan, was prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Todd Lawson, the same prosecutor who secured the convictions of Fuentes and Juarez.
Zalmon Sapod, the defense attorney for Lizarraga-Mayorquin, was able to negotiate a plea deal for his client of just one Class 1 misdemeanor by arguing she was not aware that collecting the ballots from voters and giving them to Torres was a crime.
“She was influenced by an influential community leader, who she thought she was helping,” Sapod told Judge Claudia Gonzalez.
Lawson is also prosecuting Torres, who was elected to the city council in the same 2020 election cycle during which she is accused of harvesting ballots. Torres, who continues to serve on the city council, has been offered a plea deal that will remain on the table until at least her next court date, according to court records.
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