False: Arizona secretary of state candidate says ballot harvesting altered election result

False: Arizona secretary of state candidate says ballot harvesting altered election result


  • Republican secretary of state candidate Mark Finchem pointed to an election violation in Yuma Country, Arizona, saying it changed the outcome.
  • The violation, which led to a guilty plea of ballot harvesting, involved a handful of votes.
  • The winning margin in the race was 392, too wide for four or five votes to change the results.

See the sources for this fact check

Among those who focus on the flimsiest of flaws in the 2020 election, Arizona Republican Mark Finchem has emerged as a leader. Finchem is running to be Arizona’s secretary of state, and in a Sept. 22 debate, he said a case from Arizona’s August 2020 primary illustrated his point.

In Yuma County, Finchem said, there were many illegal votes through ballot harvesting.

Ballot harvesting isn’t an official legal term, but it generally refers to someone collecting absentee ballots on behalf of others and then submitting them.

“We have people who were indicted for the very thing we are talking about right now, who pled guilty and frankly, those votes altered the outcome of Yuma County,” Finchem said in a debate broadcast on Arizona PBS. “How do the people who were disenfranchised through nullification, how do we help them?”

Two women did plead guilty in Yuma County, but their violation does little to support Finchem’s assertion that “those votes altered the outcome of Yuma County.”

Their crime involved as many as five ballots in a city council race, far too few to have any impact on the results.

Breaking down election law in Yuma

On Aug. 4, 2020, in the city of San Luis in Yuma County, Guillermina Fuentes was videotaped as she worked at a campaign table outside a community center. She was recorded handling an absentee ballot and ultimately bringing about four additional ballots — inside their required envelopes — into the center where there was an early voting drop box.

Fuentes is active in the Democratic Party and is a former San Luis mayor. The campaign table was there to support three candidates for city council.

Another city council candidate was in his car across the street. He videotaped the activity and alerted election officials. When the drop box was brought to the Yuma County Recorder’s Office, officials treated it as potential evidence of a crime. The 38 valid ballots it contained were counted and preserved for fingerprint analysis.

Under a 2016 Arizona law, it is illegal for anyone other than a direct relative or caregiver to deliver someone else’s early ballot. Fuentes was charged with dropping off four early ballots in violation of that law.

She pleaded guilty to the felony charge of ballot abuse. A friend who was with her that day pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.

State prosecutors had also charged Fuentes with filling out someone else’s ballot and signing the outside envelope. They considered far more serious charges than wrongly delivering the ballots but decided not to pursue them.

There had been allegations that voters were paid to turn over their ballots, or traded in political favors with candidates in exchange for their ballots. In a court filing, prosecutors said, “the state’s investigation has been unable to find any evidentiary support for these additional allegations.”

These votes made no difference in San Luis

In the city council race, seats went to the top three vote winners. The three candidates backed by Fuentes won their races. Their margins of victory dwarfed the handful of ballots in question.

By the county’s official final tally, the three winners had 1,186 votes, 1,163 votes, and 1,076 votes. The gap between the lowest vote-getter and the fourth-place candidate was 392. The votes Fuentes dropped off had no impact on the result.

When pressed during the debate to say how those ballots changed the outcome, Finchem said he was talking about another issue — what redress voters have if an election is mismanaged.

We reached out to Finchem and did not hear back.

Our ruling

Finchem said that ballot harvesting in Yuma County “altered the outcome” in the August 2020 primary.

According to court filings, the number of ballots in question was no more than five. The smallest winning margin was 392. Those ballots could not have had any impact on the outcome.

We rate this claim False.