Did a Yuma County, Arizona, woman plead guilty to a role in a sophisticated ballot trafficking ring that supposedly stole the 2020 presidential election from Donald Trump? No, that's not true: Guillermina Fuentes did plead guilty on June 2, 2022, to "one count of Ballot Abuse, a Class 6 Felony, for her role in an August 2020 Primary Election 'ballot harvesting' scheme where early ballots from other voters were collected and deposited into a ballot box on primary Election Day," the Arizona Attorney General's Office said. But there's no evidence Fuentes committed a crime involving the November 2020 general election or was involved in a larger "ballot trafficking ring." A second person, Alma Juarez, also pleaded guilty to one count of ballot abuse.
The claim appeared in an article published (archived here) by The Gateway Pundit on June 2, 2022, titled "Yuma County Woman Guillermina Fuentes Finally Pleads Guilty In Ballot Trafficking Case." It opened:
Gadsden Elementary School Board Member and former Mayor of San Luis Guillermina Fuentes has pleaded guilty to her role in a sophisticated ballot trafficking ring that stole the 2020 Presidential election from President Trump in Arizona.
This is what the post looked like on The Gateway Pundit website at the time of writing:
(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Fri Jun 3 18:19:57 2022 UTC)
Claims of a stolen election have been Republican talking points since the 2020 vote, with particular focus on the hotly contested states of Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Biden defeated incumbent Donald Trump by more than 7 million in the popular vote and won the Electoral College 306 to 232.
While The Gateway Pundit story casts Fuentes as a player in a national "sophisticated ballot trafficking ring that stole the 2020 Presidential election from Donald Trump," there's little to suggest that's true. On June 2, 2022, the Albuquerque Journal reported:
Republicans who have rallied around the possibility of widespread voting fraud in the 2020 election where former President Donald Trump was defeated have pointed to the charges against Fuentes as part of a broader pattern in battleground states. But there's no sign her illegal ballot collection went beyond the small-town politics Fuentes was involved in.
Fuentes is a Gadsden Elementary School Board member and a former mayor of San Luis, a town of about 25,000 in southwest Arizona.
Her abuse plea involved the 2020 primary election in Arizona, not the hotly contested November 2020 presidential election that has also been the focus of the "2000 Mules" movie. The film champions the theory that 2,000 people in five key swing states collected and delivered hundreds of thousands of absentee ballots on behalf of a "cartel" to throw the 2020 presidential election in favor of Joe Biden. The alleged scheme involves nonprofit groups. Lead Stories previously debunked the film's claims here.
But, if Fuentes was involved in a "ballot trafficking scheme that stole" the election from the former president as The Gateway Pundit claims, her part of it wasn't very successful. Trump's margin of victory in Yuma County in 2020 was significantly larger than in 2016. The Arizona Republic reported:
Trump beat Biden by nearly 4,324 votes in the county, nearly eight times more than four years prior, when Trump beat Hillary Clinton by just 560 votes.
Yuma County authorities have been looking into allegations of voter fraud for more than a year, Yuma County Sheriff's Office Public Information Officer Tania Pavlak told Lead Stories in a May 25, 2022, phone interview. A May 11, 2022, news release from the sheriff's office said:
The Yuma County Sheriff's Office (YCSO) and the Yuma County Recorder's Office (YCRO) are working together to actively examine cases of voting fraud from the 2020 General Election and now a recent pattern of fraudulent voter registration forms leading up to the 2022 Primary Election.
As of March 2022, YCSO has 16 voting/registration open cases. All relevant evidence is being formally documented by the Yuma County Recorder's Office and further investigated by the Yuma County Sheriff's Office.
Some examples of voter fraud Yuma County is currently seeing are the following:
- Impersonation fraud: Voting in the name of other legitimate voters and voters who have died or moved away.
- False registrations: Falsifying voter registrations by either using a real or fake name, birth date, or address. This is being done by outreach groups who are paid for each registration form they submit, therefore, are out soliciting voters into unnecessarily re-registering or falsifying forms with Yuma County resident's identities.
- Duplicate voting: Submitting multiple votes or registering in multiple locations and voting in the same election in more than one jurisdiction or state.
- Fraudulent use of absentee ballots: Requesting absentee ballots and voting without the knowledge of the actual voter; or obtaining the absentee ballot from a voter and either filling it in directly and forging the voter's signature or illegally telling the voter who to vote for.
If you suspect or witness individuals committing any of the mentioned voting frauds, share their name or any other identifying information to law enforcement immediately.
The majority of voter fraud cases in Yuma County are related to duplicate voting (typically charged as illegal voting and false voter registration). Under Arizona law, illegal voting is a class 5 or class 6 felony. A person found guilty faces up to 2 or 2.5 years in prison, fines, restitution, loss of voting rights, and/or probation.