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Second case of voter fraud found in El Paso County

September 12, 2017 Updated: September 12, 2017 at 10:33 pm
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A stack of ballots wait to be processed for next Tuesday's election at the El Paso County Citizens Service Center El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's Office at the El Paso County Citizens Service Center on Wednesday, November 2, 2016. photo by Jerilee Bennett,The Gazette

A woman caught voting in her late mother's name is the second person this year to admit to casting a phony ballot in El Paso County by forging the signature of a dead relative.

Sarilu Sosa-Sanchez, 59, pleaded guilty Sept. 5 to one count each of voting twice, a misdemeanor, and forgery of a government-issued document, a felony, court records show. The charges stem from a 2013 election, says a news release from the county.

In 2016 and 2017, prosecutors in Colorado pursued eight cases involving allegations of voting twice, records show. Defendants in six of those cases, including Sosa-Sanchez, pleaded guilty. Five cases were filed in Larimer County, two in El Paso County and one in Elbert County.

A Golden woman admitted in February to fraudulently voting by signing the name of her dead father, who lived in El Paso County, on ballots for two elections, according to court records and media reports. Toni Lee Newbill was fined $500 and sentenced to 18 months of unsupervised probation and 30 hours of community service.

The issue of voter fraud rose to the forefront of the national political landscape after President Donald Trump claimed, without proof, that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election. He has since created the controversial Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity to investigate lapses in elections systems that might allow fraudulent ballots to slip through the cracks.

But critics say voter fraud is rare.

"When it does happen, it happens one vote at a time, and it does not affect the outcomes of elections," said Nathan Woodliff-Stanley, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado. "There are consequences and protections against it already, as these cases show."

Sosa-Sanchez's delinquent ballot was one of more than 150,000 cast by county voters in the 2013 election, records show.

After the 2016 election, the Clerk and Recorder's Office referred 2,031 instances of possible voter fraud to the 4th Judicial District Attorney's Office for further investigation. It's unclear if any resulted in prosecution. Spokeswomen for the Clerk and Recorder and District Attorney's Office said they could not provide updates Tuesday.

Because most voter fraud cases are prosecuted under forgery laws, the exact number of instances can be hard to pinpoint, said Clerk and Recorder Chuck Broerman.

"But as this case proves, when it does occur, we do investigate and prosecute it," Broerman said in a statement Tuesday.

Sosa-Sanchez received a deferred sentence, requiring 60 hours of community service and 18 months of unsupervised probation. If she abides by those terms and doesn't get into trouble, the felony will be wiped from her record at the end of that period, records show. Her attorney did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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