3rd Pima County resident faces illegal voting charges

Voting ballot

The Arizona attorney general on Oct. 25 announced the indictment of a Pima County man who is accused of voting in the 2020 election despite being a convicted felon who had not had his voting rights restored.

The case is the third filed by the attorney general’s office involving a felon who was able to cast a ballot in Pima County last year. Two of the men were registered as Democrats and one as a Republican.

The secretary of state’s office and county recorders receive notices when someone is convicted of a felony and loses their voting rights. The state oversees the statewide voter database and checks new or updated registrations against the ineligible list. That process results in the automatic cancellation of a voter registration if a "hard match" of a felony conviction is found.

It’s not clear how the three men now charged with illegal voting managed to slip through that system. It’s possible the records were never sent to the secretary of state, or that the database somehow missed the new registrations, said Pamela Franklin, the deputy Pima County recorder.

"If we have the information, it should show up," Franklin said, saying that she was concerned that the convictions were not caught.

"Every new registration we put in gets run against not only the felony database but it gets run again to check for duplicate match, somebody who might be registered in another county," she said. "It also runs the check through MVD to see if their driver’s license is for foreign nationals."

If that information is not in the state database, they have to rely on the voter’s affidavit that they sign attesting that they are eligible to vote.

A spokeswoman for the secretary of state’s office, Sophia Solis, noted that there is no nationwide database of felony records but the state gets regular county and federal conviction reports. She said there may be a time lag for those reports, and that even if a registration is canceled that person could potentially register later.

"The burden is on the registrant to affirm that they are eligible to register to vote," she wrote in an email.

The indictment announced Monday involves a Sahuarita man who registered to vote and cast his ballot while an inmate at the Pima County jail. The other two cases involve similar circumstances — inmates awaiting trial in the county jail who cast ballots from jail. In one case, the person registered in 2018 and voted in that year’s election and in the 2020 elections.

A spokesman for Attorney General Mark Brnovich, Ryan Anderson, said he could not comment on how the three cases came to the attention of the AG’s Election Integrity Unit. The unit was created in 2019 to ferret out cases of election fraud or illegal voting.

Inmates held at county jails are given access to voter registration forms. They are also allowed to vote from jail. But if they have previous felony convictions or are later convicted of a felony, they lose their voting rights unless they are restored.

In Pima County, Franklin said that recorder's office staff go to the jail to deliver ballots and collect them. Because mail is screened by jail staff, an inmate voter would lose their right to a secret ballot if they mailed ballots back to election officials.

Franklin said in July that the attorney general’s office asked about six potential cases of felons voting, although three of those people did not vote in the 2020 election. All six have had their registrations canceled. The Associated Press has asked officials in several other counties if the attorney general had asked them about felons voting, and none had been contacted.

The indictment announced on Monday against Victor Manuel Aguirre, 46, of Sahuarita, was actually handed up on Aug. 2. Aguirre has been convicted of felony charges in Maricopa County four times between 2007 and 2013 and one felony in 2018 in Pima County.

A call seeking comment from Aquirre’s defense attorney on Monday was not immediately returned.

The Election Integrity Unit has also brought charges this year against a Scottsdale woman who allegedly voted her dead mother’s early ballot in the November 2020 general election.

The unit receives a little more than $500,000 a year in dedicated state funding.

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