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2 women charged with collecting 4 ballots under Arizona 'ballot harvesting' law

For the first time, the Arizona Attorney General's Office is prosecuting someone under a 2016 law banning third-party collection of early ballots, a practice dubbed "ballot harvesting" by opponents.

Attorney General Mark Brnovich announced Wednesday that a grand jury had indicted two people, Guillermina Fuentes and Alma Yadira Juarez, both of San Luiz, for collecting four ballots from other people and depositing them in a ballot box in Yuma County on the day of the Aug. 4 primary election. State law prohibits anyone except relatives, household members or caregivers from collecting and delivering another person's voted ballot.

Ballot abuse is a class six felony, punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine of up to $150,000. Fuentes and Juarez were indicted on one count apiece. They could not be reached for comment and it was unclear whether they had attorneys.

Ryan Anderson, a spokesman for Brnovich, said this is the first time the Attorney General's Office has prosecuted someone under the ballot collection law. And he believes it to be the first time anyone has been charged under the four-year-old law.

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, who sponsored the 2016 law, said she's also unaware of any county prosecutors charging anyone with third-party ballot collection.

Ugenti-Rita said she's not surprised there haven't been any prior cases under the ballot collection law. She said some election officials have long expressed reluctance to enforce it. It can also be difficult to prove.

"It's unfortunate to hear that potentially people were participating in ballot harvesting, but I'm glad the law's there," Ugenti-Rita said.

The indictments come as Brnovich prepares to defend the ballot harvesting law in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

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A federal judge upheld the law after the Democratic National Committee and others sued to overturn it. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in January that it was unconstitutional and violated the Voting Rights Act by suppressing minority voters, but allowed the law to stay in effect through the 2020 election pending appeal. The Supreme Court agreed in October to hear the case.

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.

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