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

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

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

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.