Concerned Citizens Provided FBI With Videos Of Ballot Abuse, Harvesting In Yuma County

Concerned Citizens Provided FBI With Videos Of Ballot Abuse, Harvesting In Yuma County

By Terri Jo Neff |

Although two Yuma County women charged by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office with ballot fraud are scheduled to be back in court next month, two local election integrity watchdogs say the problem in their county runs much deeper, and it has garnered the attention of the FBI.

Last week Gary Garcia Snyder and David Lara revealed in a radio interview with Sergio Arellano that they utilized hidden cameras to record ballot harvesting incidents at two San Luis polling stations on Aug. 4, 2020, which was primary election day. The city of 33,000 is in the far southwest corner of Arizona on the Mexico border.

Among those seen on the video dropping off more than their one personal ballot were Guillermina Fuentes, a member of the Gadsden Elementary School District board in San Luis, and Alma Yadira Juarez. Both women have been indicted on a Class 6 felony of ballot abuse for allegedly collecting four ballots which were later processed and counted by the Yuma County Recorder.

Snyder and Lara, who are local businessmen, discussed the problem of fraudulent ballot harvesting with Arellano, who has testified at the Arizona State Senate about ballot harvesting in Southern Arizona and how voters can be taken advantage of, particularly in majority-minority areas.

Lara first wanted to clarify that the type of illegal ballot harvesting taking place in San Luis does not involve simply helping someone get their ballot to a polling station. Instead, it is much more insidious, he says.

What most people commonly think of as ballot harvesting involves a closed envelope with a ballot that had been voted by the voter. But the men say what is happening in some communities, particularly Latino and low-income neighborhoods, is the taking of someone’s blank ballot and signed early ballot affidavit envelope.

The ballot is then filled out and dropped off (aka harvested) without the voter’s input. Because the real voter signed the early ballot affidavit, there is no way for election officials to know someone other than the voter filled out the ballot.

“It’s done in such a manner that it’s so subtle and gradual that the community believes it’s the norm,” Lara explained. “They think that it’s acceptable and they think this is the way it’s done; this is the way you do things.”

Snyder said that among the videos he turned over to the FBI is one purportedly showing Juarez, 41, bringing multiple early ballots to a local San Luis polling station. The footage, he says, shows the early ballot affidavits were signed but the envelopes were not sealed. Fuentes, 65, is reportedly at the same table when the ballots are dropped off.

The women have been ordered to appear in Yuma County Superior Court for a July 1 case management conference. If they do not enter into a plea deal by that date then Judge Roger Nelson will set their cases for trial later this year.

According to Snyder, others in the San Luis area -including elected officials- have been fingerprinted as part of the attorney general’s investigation. He believes it is being done to compare fingerprint evidence obtained from ballots.

“Yeah, of course we’re a smaller demographic, less votes, less ballots but one ballots very important. It’s the integrity of our voting system,” Snyder told Arellano.

Ballot abuse can be done by local officials but also various staff members of non-profits which come into contact with residents, Lara explained.

“So what happens is this: you go to a non-profit, you know as a member of the community, and you ask for help,” he told Arellano. “It could be housing, it could be health, it could be whatever, filling out documents, you name it. When you walk in they will ask you, oh, by the way, are you registered to vote? Oh, well, no, I’m not. Is your family registered? No. Well, we can help you.”

After building trust with that staff member or the organization in general, the new voter is likely to seek help understanding the ballot. And that, says Lara, is when a new voter is told ‘well, don’t worry about it, just sign it and I’ll take care of it for you’ or they are instructed who to vote for.

“They’ve actually tricked the community in believing they’re doing the right thing, they’re voting, they’re participating, yet they’re not really informing the community that they’re being lied to, used, and manipulated,” Lara added. “San Luis is ground zero as far as voter fraud. That’s where it started in 1997. It has spread through the state and it was perfected in San Luis.”

Lara also noted how significant it can be for those living in smaller communities to preserve the status quo by what he called “the tricks of the trade.”

“Being a board member and especially if you have majority, if your party or your group have majority on the school board then you control each year the hires, new hires, rehires, contracts, fires,” he explained. “So what happens is if somebody wants a job — bring me your ballots, your neighbors’ ballots, your family’s. It becomes a web.”

He added that the same incentive presents itself for various city employees and those who control non-profits serving the area.

That prompted Lara and Snyder set out early on Primary Election Day 2020 to see what they could discover. They were ready shortly before 7 a.m. with Snyder hunkered into his vehicle with his camera at one of the polling stations. Lara left to keep an eye on the other polling station.

It was not long before Snyder had evidence of alleged criminal conduct.

“I pop in my iPad and put Netflix on so that [poll observers] think I’m just watching Netflix, but during that whole time I was recording any movement, any voters that would walk up to their booths,” Snyder recounted to Arellano. “And, yep, within 5 to 10 minutes after David left, the first crime was committed.”

Snyder later went to the other polling station.

“I found another criminal act,” he says, describing one incident in which an elected officials appeared to be “blocking” so another elected official could receive an unsealed ballot envelope. 

Throughout the day Lara passed along Snyder’s videos to Yuma County Recorder Robyn Pouquette, who notified local Sheriff Leon Wilmot. It was not long until the FBI got involved, and then the attorney general’s election integrity unit.

Both men are hopeful many other people seen in the videos will be indicted. Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s office did not respond to a request from AZ Free News for comment on the status of the investigation.

In the meantime, a recall is underway in the San Luis community to remove two city council members and all three Gadsden school board members. Fuentes is one of the officials under recall; if she is convicted of a felony -either via a plea deal or found guilty at trial- she will be disqualified from holding public office.

The experience has not soured Snyder on Yuma County politics. The Republican has announced he is running in 2022 for State Senate against Lisa Otondo, a Democrat who has been in the legislature since 2013.

Ignore Media Hype And Partisan Attacks, The AZ Audit Is Worth Pursuing

Ignore Media Hype And Partisan Attacks, The AZ Audit Is Worth Pursuing

By Sergio Arellano |

Virtually since it was first announced, the effort by the Arizona State Senate to audit the results of the November general election in Arizona’s largest County has been mocked or vilified by members of the media and assorted partisan figures.  There is little doubt that their initial attacks were designed to thwart an audit, and there is little doubt that most of the effort since then has been to discredit the process and its participants to the maximum degree possible. When I talk to political people, there is a consensus that this has been a deliberate sabotage in an effort to discredit any potential findings before they are disclosed.  “Convince the voters in advance that the whole thing is a joke, and they won’t believe it if something real is turned up by the audit.” said one to me recently.

The entire state would be well served if everyone would take a deep breath, refrain from turning the effort into a partisan circus, and waited for any findings and supporting evidence.

In the meantime, let’s give credit where credit is due, to Senate President Karen Fann and State Senator Warren Petersen, both of whom continue to make themselves available to a media that is looking to undercut them, while providing reasoned answers in measured tones.

As someone who has dealt with a hostile media, I know how difficult it is to not get sucked into the insults and childish behavior.  But that is often a tactic used by reporters who know that their own behavior will not be a part of the story, only the responses to their behavior.  So they goad and wait, and too many elected officials fall for it.  As a result we have the public spectacle of Republicans firing away at other Republicans in an increasingly personal way, just like the media wants.

Fann and Petersen know when to respond and how, and the points they make are generally fair and on target.  The Senate has a responsibility and is acting on that responsibility.  Opposition is largely partisan in origin and passionate objections to legitimate concerns come mostly from those who spent years insisting that Congress spends tens of millions of dollars investigating a Russia hoax that they got daily updates on from their MSNBC shows.  Fann and Petersen recognize this hypocrisy and have kept focused on the audit itself, the need to do it right, and the importance of getting as many facts gathered as possible before conclusions are reached.

The audit will show that everything was largely done right, or it will show meaningful problems or weaknesses in systems that need to be corrected.  Both outcomes are victories for Arizona voters, even though some will claim victory and insist it is a defeat for others.  If all was well then that’s obviously good news.  If corrections need to be made, then the fact that they were identified and can be fixed for future elections is also good news.  We all benefit from a system that strives for perfection and is checked for improvements.

If you want Election Integrity, accurate and legitimate elections, and a process that every voter can largely trust, then you’re on the side of an accurate and professionally done audit that produces verifiable results.  I for one, am more than willing to patiently wait for the process to work, and I’d encourage every Arizonan to do the same.

Sergio Arellano was born and raised in Tucson, AZ. He joined the Army at the age of 17 and served his country honorably as an Infantryman and Human Resources Specialist for a total of 10 and a half years before retiring from the military due to combat sustained injuries. 

Sergio is a founding member of the Arizona International Consortium, the Santa Cruz County Elections Integrity Committee, and the first ever AZGOP Latino Coalition. Sergio is also credited with establishing Arizona’s first ever cultural exchange agreements between the Arizona Republican Party and some of Mexico’s prominent political parties.