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Republican bill would ban those convicted of collecting ballots from elected office

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Republican bill would ban those convicted of collecting ballots from elected office

Apr 04, 2024 | 4:47 pm ET
By Caitlin Sievers
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Republican bill would ban those convicted of collecting ballots from elected office
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A voter places a ballot in a drop box outside of the Maricopa County Elections Department on Aug. 2, 2022, in Phoenix. Photo by Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

A city councilwoman in a small southwestern Arizona city was convicted of a misdemeanor for illegally collecting and depositing seven early ballots in the 2020 primary election. Republicans want to ensure anyone else who does so won’t ever be able to hold elected office.

GOP state lawmakers have crafted and passed a bill that would bar anyone who is convicted of ballot abuse from holding elected office and would force them to resign if convicted while holding public office. 

Rep. Tim Dunn, R-Yuma, who sponsored House Bill 2612, made it clear that the bill was a reaction to illegal ballot collections by longtime San Luis City Councilwoman Gloria Lopez-Torres in 2020, even though the bill would not retroactively impact her. 

Lopez-Torres was convicted last year of misdemeanor ballot abuse and, as a special requirement of her sentence, she won’t be permitted to run for or be appointed to public office again, although she is being allowed to serve out the rest of her term, which ends in December. Three other Democrat women, one of them the former mayor of San Luis, were also convicted of ballot abuse in the same election.

Lopez-Torres did not respond to requests for comment on the bill.  

Several Democratic critics of the bill, like Sen. Priya Sundareshan, D-Tucson, pointed out that there are numerous other election crimes that seem objectively worse than collecting other people’s ballots that Dunn didn’t opt to include in the bill. Those include things like tampering with elections software, changing a person’s vote and forging election returns, just to name a few. 

Collecting the marked, early ballots of people who are not family members or housemates was legal in Arizona until 2016, when Republicans in the legislature voted to make it illegal. The practice is pejoratively referred to as “ballot harvesting” by critics.

The former mayor of San Luis, Guillermina Fuentes, and Alma Juarez, her neighbor, were the first people to be prosecuted or convicted of ballot collection in 2022. 

Allies of former President Donald Trump say their convictions are indicative of the type of voter fraud that cost him the 2020 election. But democracy advocates say prosecuting these cases suppresses the right to vote.  

Lopez-Torres’ appointment as vice-mayor of the San Luis City Council, in January, resulted in a flurry of articles on right-wing media platforms with headlines like “Convicted Democrat election fraudster is appointed Vice MAYOR of Arizona city.” 

“It is illegal to harvest ballots,” Dunn said during a March 18 Senate Elections Committee meeting. “When you plead guilty, you should have consequences.”

He argued that someone convicted of ballot collection should not have any oversight power when it comes to elections, even the limited power a city council has in city elections. 

Rep. Cesar Aguilar, D-Phoenix, told his colleagues on Feb. 29, when the House of Representatives debated the bill, that ballot collection shouldn’t be a crime. 

“One person has one vote, and giving someone you trust the ability to drop off your ballot should be legal,” he said. 

Rep. Teresa Martinez, R-Casa Grande, clapped back that it should “absolutely be against the law.” 

“Our ballot is a very sacred thing, and handing it off to a perfect stranger who is collecting 90 of them is insane,” she said. 

Lopez-Torres and the other three women who were convicted of ballot abuse in the 2020 primary election were convicted for gathering and submitting a total of 12 early ballots. 

Rep. Mariana Sandoval, D-Goodyear, responded that the intent of making ballot collection illegal was to go after people collecting large quantities of ballots, not a person’s neighbors who offer to turn in your ballot with their own. 

Sandoval reminded the other lawmakers that there is no mail delivery in San Luis. 

“They have to drive to the post office and pick up their mail,” Sandoval said. “If they don’t have a vehicle, if they get home from work late, if they don’t have the ability to get to the post office, they lose the ability to be able to vote. Doing a favor for your neighbor should not be a crime.”

During a Feb. 15 House Government Committee meeting, Rep. Lydia Hernandez, D-Phoenix pointed out that not everyone knows that asking someone outside your household to turn in your early ballot is illegal, saying she has a neighbor who has asked her to do so. 

Hernandez was the only Democrat who voted alongside Republicans when the House first voted on the bill in February. However, after the Senate approved the bill earlier this week and sent it back to the House for a final vote on a minor amendment added in the Senate, she voted against the proposal. 

The bill is now ready for consideration by Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs.