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In August 2020, Guillermina Fuentes was trying to get out the vote in her small Arizona community. Outside a polling place, she handed a few absentee ballots to another volunteer to drop off. A conservative activist secretly filmed her and reported her to local authorities. In the eyes of the law, she’d just committed a felony. 

Dropping off someone else’s mail-in ballot, known as ballot collecting, became a crime in Arizona in 2016, and Fuentes would become the first person prosecuted for it. Reveal reporter Ese Olumhense travels to San Luis to report on Fuentes’ case and finds she has gone from being a well-known local politician in her community to the face of right-wing campaigns against voter fraud. 

Fuentes’ arrest and prosecution show the beginnings of an alarming trend shaping the future of how elections are surveilled and policed. Olumhense and Reveal’s Melissa Lewis built a database to track all election-crimes-related bills introduced in the country since the 2020 election. They found a national push to punish what is considered in many states to be typical voting practices. Fueled in part by politicians who falsely claim voter fraud stole the 2020 election from Donald Trump, bills are being introduced that create new election crime investigation agencies, establish criminal penalties for election offenses or empower law enforcement officials to investigate such crimes. 

While there was no proof of anything resembling widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election, there is one way in which elections are shaped: gerrymandering. Mother Jones senior reporter Ari Berman delves into how Republicans redrew voting maps in Wisconsin, helping them cement control of the state Legislature. Republicans’ strong hold on power has allowed them to keep in place deeply unpopular laws like an abortion ban that dates back to 1849. But this isn’t about just state politics: It’s also about the next election for president in 2024.

Dig Deeper

Read: State Legislatures Are Dramatically Increasing Law Enforcement Involvement in Elections (Reveal)

Explore: Search for the Crime Bills that Target Voting and Elections in Your State (Reveal)

Explore: Ballot Collection Rules Have Changed in Many Places. Here’s How to Make Sure Your Vote Counts. (Reveal)

Share: How Are Voter Suppression Tactics Affecting You and Your Community? (Reveal)

Read: How Wisconsin Became the GOP’s Laboratory for Dismantling Democracy (Mother Jones)

Credits

Reporters: Ese Olumhense, Ari Berman and Melissa Lewis | Lead producer: Nadia Hamdan | Producer: Michael Montgomery | Editors: Jenny Casas, Brett Myers and Maryam Saleh | Data editor: Soo Oh | Data support: Roy W. Howard investigative reporting fellow Farah Eltohamy | Fact checker: Nikki Frick | Production manager: Amy Mostafa | Digital producer: Sarah Mirk | Episode art: Sébastian Thibault | Original score and sound design: Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda, with help from Kathryn Styer Martínez and Claire Mullen | Interim executive producers: Taki Telonidis and Brett Myers | Host: Al Letson

Special thanks to Cassandra Jaramillo and Jessica Pishko for reporting help and Mother Jones editors Dan Schulman,  Clara Jeffrey and James West.

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Hellman Foundation, Democracy Fund, and the Inasmuch Foundation.

Transcript

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal’s radio stories is the audio.

Al Letson:From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. We’re in San Luis, Arizona, a small city along the Mexico border. It’s another hot September day when a woman named Guillermina Fuentes gets a knock on the door.
Sergeant Hemstr…:Hello Ms. Fuentes.
Guillermina Fue…:Hi.
Sergeant Hemstr…:Sergeant Hemstreet with the Sheriff’s Office. I spoke to you on the phone earlier a few weeks ago.
Al Letson:It’s about a month after the 2020 primary elections.
Sergeant Hemstr…:I’m still working on my investigation with the Attorney General’s Office.
Al Letson:He’s here to get Guillermina’s fingerprints.
Sergeant Hemstr…:I need some exclusionary prints from you, okay? Fingerprints.
Al Letson:The request surprises her.
Guillermina Fue…:You need my fingerprints for what?
Sergeant Hemstr…:To exclude them from ones that I found on ballots.
Al Letson:It turns out investigators have fingerprinted all the ballots in one entire drop box and they want to compare them to Guillermina’s.
Guillermina Fue…:Okay. What is it that I’m being accused of?
Sergeant Hemstr…:You’re just one person in a long list of people that I’m currently investigating.
Al Letson:Guillermina is being investigated for illegal ballot collecting.
Sergeant Hemstr…:It’s a search warrant. So, we can either do it here, or I have to take you to the jail to get them.
Guillermina Fue…:Oh my god.
Al Letson:Ballot collecting became a crime in Arizona in 2016. It means handling or dropping off an absentee ballot that isn’t yours. Now, there are some exceptions for family, housemates, and caregivers. But say you were heading to a polling place and your neighbor asked you to drop off their ballot. If you did it in Arizona, you could face a felony charge. Guillermina would become the first person prosecuted under this 2016 law for handling four ballots that were not hers. Arizona is on the leading edge of a wave of laws criminalizing what in many places is typical voter behavior. What’s considered illegal ballot collecting there is legal in most states.
Kari Lake:This judge is about to sentence Guillermina, and I frankly don’t want to see her get a slap on the wrist.
Al Letson:The steel politicians and political hopefuls, like Arizona governor candidate Kari Lake, have made an example of Guillermina’s case.
Kari Lake:I think minimum, she should be locked up until after this election. We don’t want more cheating.
Al Letson:The State has asked the judge to sentence Guillermina Fuentes to a year in prison for handling those four ballots. Reveal’s Ese Olumhense wanted to learn more about the case, so she headed to San Luis.
Ese Olumhense:I’m standing outside a Baptist church on the west side of San Luis.
Pastor Manuel C…:[foreign language]. Here’s one.
Ese Olumhense:Pastor Manuel Castro is trying to find us some chairs. I’m here to talk with him about Guillermina.
Pastor Manuel C…:[foreign language].
Ese Olumhense:“The most popular things in San Luis, Arizona, are beans and Guillermina,” he says. “Everyone knows Guillermina.”
Pastor Manuel C…:[foreign language].
Ese Olumhense:Pastor Manuel has known her for most of the 33 years he’s been in San Luis. He says Guillermina has a positive reputation as a very active woman who helps a lot of people.
Pastor Manuel C…:[foreign language].
Ese Olumhense:Guillermina’s lawyers wouldn’t let me interview her because the case was ongoing when I got to San Luis. But I spoke to a lot of people who know her well. The 66 year old has lived here almost her entire life. She emigrated to San Luis from Mexico when she was a kid. Guillermina worked in the fields as a teenager and went on to become a paralegal, helping other farm workers through a local legal aid group. That will kickstart her decades long career in politics. She’s been San Luis’s mayor, a member of its city council, and most recently she was on the local school board. That is, until last summer.
Speaker 7:The Gadsden Elementary School District is now looking for a new board member since former San Luis mayor, Guillermina Fuentes had to give up her seat after pleading guilty to ballot harvesting.
Ese Olumhense:In the ballot abuse case against Guillermina, state prosecutors were not only asking that Guillermina face up to a year in prison, but …
Speaker 7:Under the plea agreement, Fuentes agrees to lose her voting rights and not hold an elected office.
Pastor Manuel C…:[foreign language].
Ese Olumhense:Pastor Manuel says, “When someone does good things …”
Pastor Manuel C…:[foreign language].
Ese Olumhense:“When they make a lot of noise with those good deeds …”
Pastor Manuel C…:[foreign language].
Ese Olumhense:“It can make other people’s ears hurt.”
Pastor Manuel C…:[foreign language].
Ese Olumhense:“It can create enemies and envy.” The investigation into Guillermina all started with a cellphone video. It was secretly recorded of her on primary election day, August fourth, 2020. The video is being recorded from inside a car. It shows Guillermina and a couple of other volunteers standing around a campaign table right outside a designated polling place in San Luis. A woman named Alma Juarez, who is also by the campaign table, appears to hand a ballot to Guillermina. It’s hard to tell because what’s happening is in front of Guillermina and the camera is filming from behind her. Guillermina appears to look over the ballot, and seems to write something on it before sealing it. She then reaches into a folder to her right and pulls out what looks like a few more ballots. She stacks them and hands them to Alma, who walks off screen toward the ballot box. Guillermina is ultimately charged with handling four ballots, and that small stack of ballots would become the center of a sprawling investigation by the state’s Republican Attorney General, who was being pressured by others in his party to crack down on perceived election crimes.
Ese Olumhense:Investigators interviewed Guillermina multiple times before she was charged. Those conversations were recorded on body cameras worn by sheriff’s deputies. In those videos, Guillermina says San Luis has historically low voter turnout, and all she was trying to do was help people cast their ballots.
Guillermina Fue…:They never, never, ever vote. And I said, “You have to vote. You have to vote.” “We don’t even know who to vote for.” And I said, “You have to be informed. You have to know. You have to listen.” So, I educate them.
Speaker 8:I’ve been listening a little bit, and it sounds like you’re very involved in the community.
Guillermina Fue…:Very involved.
Speaker 8:And you help people. It sounds like you’re informing them and helping them with things.
Guillermina Fue…:And I have done my job because this time was the first time on a presidential election that the people of San Luis, we have like, wow, 6,000 people voting.
Speaker 8:Right, right.
Guillermina Fue…:We are a community of over 30, but this time was 6,000.
Speaker 8:So, that’s good?
Guillermina Fue…:That’s very good. And they vote themselves.
Ese Olumhense:They vote themselves. San Luis does not have home delivery mail service. To send or receive mail, the more than 30,000 residents of the city have to either go to the post office or have someone else do that for them. Guillermina’s legal team has argued that helping friends and neighbors by delivering their absentee ballots to drop boxes and polling places is a longstanding tradition. But Arizona Attorney General, Mark Brnovich, doesn’t see it that way. His office declined to answer questions on the case or comment on this story. But in court documents, prosecutors have said that they’re trying to send a, “Strong message with Guillermina’s case,” because they believe she abused her position in the community.
Ese Olumhense:State investigators compared Guillermina’s fingerprints to every ballot in the drop box. They even sent her prints to the FBI to be analyzed at its Quantico headquarters. Now, investigators never found a match, but they still had the video, so they could charge Guillermina and her co-defendant, Alma, with ballot abuse. The two women didn’t do anything fraudulent. The ballots they handled were legal votes and they counted in the 2020 primary election. But it was Arizona’s 2016 law that made it illegal for them to even handle those ballots. Both women pleaded guilty. Alma took a deal that reduced her charge to a misdemeanor. Guillermina’s charge stayed a felony.
Luis Marques:You brought the whole crew, huh?
Speaker 10:We have a big crew. This is Ese.
Luis Marques:I am Luis, Luis Marques. Nice to meet you.
Ese Olumhense:I met Luis Marques at the polling place where that video of Guillermina was taken.
Luis Marques:Right about where the orange bench is, about in there that’s where she was. I guess somebody put a hidden camera right across from there. They had a hidden camera.
Ese Olumhense:Luis met Guillermina when they were kids working in the fields. He was 13 and she was 16. She’s one of Luis’s oldest friends, so he really wanted to talk about her case.
Luis Marques:My wife said, “Don’t you talk more than what you have to.” I said, “Well, you know, I can’t promise you anything because I’m a talker.”
Ese Olumhense:Luis is a retired San Luis police officer and also served on the local elementary school board with Guillermina. When he first heard on the news what she was being charged with, he thought …
Luis Marques:It’s a joke. It’s a joke. It’s a joke.
Ese Olumhense:It was easy to believe that someone had made a mistake, until Luis heard that sheriff’s deputies and investigators with the AG’s office were knocking on doors interviewing dozens of San Luis residents.
Speaker 8:Hello, Sheriff’s Office. Morning.
Speaker 11:Hola.
Sergeant Emstat…:Hello. Sergeant Emstate with the Sheriff’s Office.
Speaker 8:Did you vote in the August primary election? So, you voted in the primary election that happened in August?
Speaker 13:Yeah.
Speaker 8:Okay. And how did you vote? Did somebody come get it from you? Or did you-
Speaker 13:Yeah.
Speaker 8:They did?
Speaker 13:Yeah.
Speaker 8:Okay.
Sergeant Emstat…:I understand you did fill out an early ballot on August fourth?
Speaker 13:I did.
Sergeant Emstat…:And did you drop that ballot off or mail it in?
Speaker 13:I did it in person.
Sergeant Emstat…:Thank you very much, I appreciate it.
Speaker 13:Are we in trouble for something?
Sergeant Emstat…:Not at all. Not at all.
Speaker 13:Okay.
Sergeant Emstat…:I’m just making sure everybody’s vote actually gets counted. That’s all I have. You have any questions for me?
Speaker 13:No. No. We’re good, just a little scared.
Sergeant Emstat…:Understood. Understood.
Luis Marques:People kind of were a little scared there. I mean, they kind of felt intimidated, they kind of felt harassed.
Ese Olumhense:Luis says for years election time in San Luis was like a big party. There would be people playing music, Carne Asada, it was a whole thing. Now he says it feels like a ghost town.
Luis Marques:You know, every time you talk about a ballot, people are like, “Oh, oh.” They get nervous about it because, it’s funny, someone will make fun, like say, “Better watch out, there’s a camera there. Watch out, there’s another camera there. Don’t say this, don’t say that.” You know? It’s sad.
Ese Olumhense:Luis worries that fewer people will come out to vote because they’re afraid someone’s watching them and could catch them making a mistake, people like David Lara.
David Lara:Elections decide everything. Elections decide if you go to war, elections decide social security, taxes, abortion, Supreme Court justices. Elections decide everything for us and should not be tinkered with, manipulated, coerced in any way either or.
Ese Olumhense:David is the reason that secretly recorded video of Guillermina exists in the first place. David has known Guillermina for a long time, and from my first phone call with him, it was clear he’s not a fan.
David Lara:She’s not a nice person. She’s pretty vulgar and crude in her mannerisms. She can be very disrespectful. And she’s basically a bully and intimidates people.
Ese Olumhense:It’s not just that he doesn’t like Guillermina. He thinks she’s an operator in what he calls a ballot trafficking cartel.
David Lara:El Chapo Guzman, he was never caught with any drugs, okay? But he was the kingpin. He was the big mover and shaker. This is the same thing. It’s like nickel and dimeing ballots that at the end is part of the ant trail to the big load.
Ese Olumhense:David says the four ballots that led to Guillermina’s conviction were a drop in the bucket, just one of the many arms of the massive voter fraud conspiracy he believes took place in San Luis during the 2020 election. When I was in San Luis, I met David at a mostly empty Mexican restaurant near his office. He runs a water and ice supply business. David is 57 years old with a salt and pepper goatee. He’s a Republican and serves on the board of the Yuma Union High School District. And he says for the last 22 years he’s made it his mission to try to expose voter fraud.
David Lara:On election day, that’s where the fraud is, for many years, wide open. I mean, you could see ballot handling trafficking, exchanging, manipulation, trading all day. And I filed many complaints every election for many years. And I could just not … I mean, they would slip through my fingers.
Ese Olumhense:But after more than two decades, the 2020 election was the first time David’s complaints led to criminal charges. On that day, he told his friend and city council candidate, Gary Snyder, another Republican, to document what he saw outside the polling place where Guillermina was.
David Lara:So, I told Gary, “You are going to win this fraud like you’ve never believed before. But I’m going to disappear. I’m going to pull away because these people know me well. And if I’m around, they’re careful. You’re the newbie, so they’re going to drop their guard. And just take as many pictures and videos as you can.”
Ese Olumhense:Gary didn’t agree to be interviewed, but David says Gary sent him a bunch of videos, which he quickly shared with the local election official who then sent them to Sheriff Leon Wilmot’s office. And almost immediately, Arizona’s Attorney General’s office picked up the investigation. A few months later after the door knocking, the interviews, and the fingerprinting, state prosecutors charged Guillermina with ballot abuse for turning in ballots that didn’t belong to her.
David Lara:I mean, if it was up to me, voter fraud should be the death penalty because people should not mess when they vote. That is sacred to me.
Ese Olumhense:So, you think that those who commit voter fraud should get the death penalty?
David Lara:Yeah, and it is a stretch because I’m trying to make a point that it’s that serious.
Ese Olumhense:In the case that we’re describing, the Fuentes case, do you think that would be inappropriate?
David Lara:No. No. No.
Ese Olumhense:Like, what to you would be justice?
David Lara:I’m not saying to send her to the chair, you know? I exaggerated that point just to make that point, that it is very, very to me sacred. What do I think she should get? Yeah, one year.
Ese Olumhense:Guillermina’s case has thrust both David and Gary into right wing stardom. Gary, for recording Guillermina and David for turning her in. Gary is currently running for state senate, campaigning on claims that he’s exposed a ring of ballot harvesters. And earlier this year, he reportedly ran for the school board seat that Guillermina had to give up after she pleaded guilty. And for David’s part, he’s had his own political aspirations, even before Guillermina was charged.
David Lara:I ran for city council numerous times, I ran for mayor numerous times. I ran for supervisor numerous times. And I ran for constable once, okay? Every two years, I was losing election. Now, I was interested, but I knew I was not going to win.
Ese Olumhense:And you claim you knew you didn’t win because of voter fraud?
David Lara:100%. 100%.
Ese Olumhense:When my producer, Nadia Hamdan, asked for proof, he couldn’t produce any. David has pledged to keep surveilling polling places. Both he and Gary have promised these charges won’t stop with Guillermina.
Todd Lawson:This hasn’t been charged before.
Ese Olumhense:This is Assistant Attorney General of Arizona, Todd Lawson, at a hearing in October. It was the last chance for both sides to make their case before sentencing. The courtroom is packed with Guillermina’s supporters, including Luis, who testified on her behalf. David and Gary are also there. The hearing lasts over two hours and winds down with closing arguments. Here’s Todd Lawson again.
Todd Lawson:This is a public integrity issue that is broader than this courtroom, in fact it goes to the trust of the ballot boxes, and that the voters of the city of San Luis deserve the opportunity to vote without being pressured by a candidate that they must give their ballot to them. That’s what the law was designed to protect.
Ese Olumhense:Defense attorney Anne Chapman uses her time to make one final plea to the judge, Guillermina should only get probation.
Speaker 16:This implication that Ms. Fuentes pressured someone in this case to give her their ballot is false. Ms. Fuentes has a role in her community of helping others. And when people ask her for help, including looking at their ballot, that’s what she does. There is no purpose or reason to sentence Ms. Fuentes to jail or to prison as requested by the Attorney General’s Office. The question is, what is the harm? And what’s the appropriate punishment?
Al Letson:The answer to how Guillermina’s case shapes out and what it tells us about the national election crimes movement.
Speaker 17:So, unfortunately, right now we’re going to have to take you to jail.
Speaker 18:We didn’t do nothing to nobody. Voter fraud, what is voter fraud?
Al Letson:That’s next on Reveal. From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson.
Judge Roger Nel…:Please state your full name for the court.
Guillermina Fue…:Guillermina Fuentes, [inaudible].
Al Letson:It’s Thursday, October 13th at the County Courthouse in Yuma, Arizona. Today, Guillermina Fuentes is being sentenced for ballot abuse during the 2020 primary election. Prosecutors have asked she serve a year in prison. The defense has asked for probation.
Judge Roger Nel…:The question is whether there should be jail time.
Al Letson:Judge Roger Nelson tells the court he’s always had jail time in mind for this case. He says Guillermina doesn’t seem remorseful enough and calls back to a time when she told investigators that she’s not a criminal.
Judge Roger Nel…:Well, you are a criminal. You committed a criminal offense. I don’t think you recognize that, that’s the problem that I have. And for that reason, I will impose a jail term for three to 30 days.
Al Letson:30 days in jail and 24 months of supervised probation for handling four legal ballots that were not hers. Guillermina is one of the first people to serve jail time for an election related crime in Arizona. Since Arizona criminalized ballot collecting in 2016, other states have followed suit. Reveal’s Ese Olumhense has looked at all 50 states to analyze election related bills filed since the 2020 presidential election, and she found states are putting more money, people, and resources into solving a problem that doesn’t exist. So, Ese, 30 days in jail for handling four ballots. Is that typical for how election crimes have been handled in the state?
Ese Olumhense:No, Al. This case is actually not typical at all. Election crimes like ballot collecting and even more serious things like illegal or fraudulent voting have historically been punished with probation in Arizona. So, Guillermina actually having to serve jail time at all really, really stands out.
Al Letson:How common are these kind of offenses?
Ese Olumhense:They’re not common at all. For example, in Arizona, state investigators looked at complaints of election crime from the last three years. There were thousands of tips, and of those, they only prosecuted 20 cases. Al, I think about election crimes like I think about the Boogie Man, there’s just no proof that the Boogie Man exists, right? So, it wouldn’t make sense to pass a bunch of legislation or invest public resources in an office of Boogie Man crimes.
Al Letson:These days it wouldn’t shock me.
Ese Olumhense:But really, you’d laugh, right? My colleague, Cassandra Hadamio kind of posed this idea to David Lara when we were in San Luis. Remember, he’s the guy who turned in Guillermina. Now, Cass doesn’t say the Boogie Man, she uses a different name.
Cassandra Hadam…:Are you familiar with the story of EL Cucuy?
David Lara:EL Cucuy.
Cassandra Hadam…:Yeah.
David Lara:Okay.
Cassandra Hadam…:You know, that he’s going to come and get you and all that stuff? So much of what election fraud in this country, it kind of is starting to feel like some sort of-
David Lara:EL Cucuy?
Cassandra Hadam…:Yeah, and you know, we’re reporters and we’re trying to … We have to rely on facts and documentation. And just [foreign language]. And I haven’t seen anything so far that indicates that our elections are being undermined on a national … And I mean, I think a lot of people are of this mindset of like-
David Lara:I understand 100%. You sit on that side, and I understand 100%. That’s what has made it so difficult 22 years to prove that any fraud occurs. And one of the examples that I’ve made is it’s like I’ve been saying, “Hey, Bigfoot exists.” But, “Okay, show me the proof.”
Ese Olumhense:And we still haven’t seen that proof. But that hasn’t stopped election deniers and stopped the steel politicians from calling for a crackdown on voter fraud.
Wendy Rogers:I want to see arrests. I want to see perp walks. And I resent having my vote stolen.
Ese Olumhense:So, that’s State Senator Wendy Rogers. She, and other lawmakers like her, say the election was stolen. And they’re putting pressure on their state legislatures to stop and prevent widespread voter fraud. You know and I know though, countless lawsuits and task forces and audits have found the stolen election claims to be totally baseless. But we’re still seeing election crime bills popping up across the country. And I was keeping track of all of them, every single election related bill filed since the 2020 general election.
Al Letson:That’s a ton of bills. How did you know what to look for?
Ese Olumhense:So, I was first keeping track by hand. But it was a lot for one person to handle. So, I teamed up with Reveal data reporter, Melissa Lewis, and we made a database. We used keywords. First we filtered for bills with terms like ‘election voting ballot’. And then we filtered even further using words like crime, felony, fraud. And we saw how many of these bills came up in each state.
Al Letson:Okay. So, what did you find?
Ese Olumhense:As I said, it was a lot, but I can summarize it all into three buckets. The first bucket is bills that create new election crimes that didn’t exist before. The second is bills that add harsher punishments for election crimes that are already on the books. And the third, the last one is bills that give law enforcement more resources to hunt for election crimes, whether that’s more money or more time or new offices.
Ese Olumhense:All together, we found 130 bills across 42 states, and a little more than 20% of those bills made it into law. Because I had been focusing on Guillermina’s case, I was also paying special attention to bills about ballot collection to see if other states were also trying to make it a crime or add harsher penalties. Turns out 19 states introduced bills like this after the 2020 election. Some of them proposed that ballot collection should be a felony, just like in Arizona. And that could mean jail time or losing your right to vote, all for delivering someone else’s legal mail-in ballot.
Al Letson:I’ve definitely done a version of this. I’ve taken my kid’s ballot to a drop box. I mean, this just sounds intense.
Ese Olumhense:Yeah, it does. You have to understand that ballot collecting has become really, really central to conspiracy theories about how elections get stolen. The assumption is that the ballot would be unsafe once it’s out of the voter’s hands. Critics of these bills say that criminalizing ballot collection is a voter suppression tactic, and others don’t think laws like this should exist in the first place.
Ilana Rubel:I don’t think we should be making crimes out of things that aren’t bad.
Ese Olumhense:That’s Idaho Democratic State Rep Ilana Rubel. She was speaking back in February at this house floor debate over a bill that would criminalize ballot collecting.
Ilana Rubel:The fact that it could be misused, that’s not how we operate. We don’t ban all driving because it’s possible that somebody could drive drunk. We ban drunk driving. We ban the bad behavior. We don’t ban good behavior simply because it’s conceivable that somebody somewhere could do it badly.
Al Letson:So, what other kind of bills did you see?
Ese Olumhense:So, in 14 states, we found bills that would give law enforcement more money and freedom to investigate these types of crimes. For example, lawmakers in Tennessee filed a bill that would require 20% of the state’s criminal investigators to focus on election related issues. And some of the other, more extreme bills we saw would spend millions of taxpayer dollars creating brand new offices to police election crimes.
Al Letson:Wait, don’t we already have the police, attorney generals, local prosecutors, people who already handle this kind of stuff?
Ese Olumhense:Yeah, we do. But these would be specially designated offices, and the people working there would be focused on one thing, election crime.
Governor Ron De…:You know, some of these counties, some of them will do the cases, but that’s not their expertise. They’ve got all these other crimes that they have to deal with, so by the time it happens, the election’s already over, and some just don’t want to deal with it at all.
Al Letson:I am very familiar with that voice. That’s Governor Ron DeSantis of my home state, Florida.
Ese Olumhense:And lawmakers in your state passed a bill that was one of the more extreme examples we saw. They allocated nearly six million dollars, six million to create an Office of Election Crimes and Security. And yes, that office is entirely dedicated to investigating alleged voter fraud.
Governor Ron De…:We’ll have sworn law enforcement officers as part of this, we’ll have investigators. And so, what’ll happen is, if someone’s ballot harvesting, you report it to these people and this is their sole job.
Ese Olumhense:We’re already starting to see this new office go after people.
Speaker 24:Apparently, I guess you have a warrant?
Speaker 25:For what?
Speaker 24:I’m not sure.
Speaker 26:It’s for voter stuff, man.
Speaker 24:For voter stuff.
Ese Olumhense:The governor has bragged that officials arrested 20 Floridians who voted in the 2020 election illegally because they had previous felony convictions.
Speaker 27:It’s two felony charges for voter fraud, but they’ve reduced it to $500 bonds. So, it’s $1,000 total.
Speaker 28:Oh my god, man. What the?
Speaker 27:Yes sir. So, unfortunately, right now we’re going to have to take you to jail.
Speaker 28:Man. Why you keep doing this to me? I didn’t do nothing to nobody, man. Voter fraud. What is voter fraud?
Ese Olumhense:Turns out many of those arrested had received a voter registration card from their local elections office.
Al Letson:Okay, so there are people out there who will listen to this and say, “This just sounds like states are trying to make absolutely sure that our elections are secure, and that’s a good thing.” I mean, how do you respond to those people?
Ese Olumhense:Yeah, they’re asking a great question and an important question, AL. I spent a lot of time talking to different election experts and voting rights groups about this, and I heard over and over again that all these extra penalties and these new ‘election police’ will intimidate voters. Here’s Hamida Labi, the policy counsel with the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Education Fund. She’s speaking at a hearing about one of these new election crime laws in Georgia.
Hamida Labi:Georgia’s elections have been put under a microscope and the myth of significant election crimes or voter fraud has been shattered. We know that excessive law enforcement presence at the polls or involvement in elections generally can be intimidating to voters. And this is especially true in Black communities, they have felt the brunt of well-documented abuse.
Ese Olumhense:And of course, you don’t have to look super far back in American history to find examples of the intimidation and abuse that she’s referring to.
Al Letson:Right. I mean, this is the blueprint we’ve seen since Jim Crow, literacy tests, poll taxes. Then in recent years, it’s been a little more subtle, voter ID laws, closing polling places in communities of color, all kinds of bureaucratic things to make it harder to vote. But now it seems like we’re heading into not being so subtle anymore.
Ese Olumhense:Absolutely. The voting rights groups I spoke to said these ideas are not really original, lawmakers are just using 21st century tools. But people in the voter fraud movement don’t see voter intimidation as a problem. Many of them want to see more prosecutions.
Al Letson:I mean, I know from our previous reporting at Reveal that using the narrative that the 2020 election was stolen is a campaign strategy that works.
Ese Olumhense:Yeah. I mean, let’s just look at Arizona again. Almost every candidate running for statewide office who won the Republican primaries ran on election integrity.
Mark Finchem:Ladies and gentlemen, we know it and they know it. Donald Trump won.
Ese Olumhense:That was Mark Finchem who’s running for Secretary of State.
Kari Lake:We’re going to drag the 2020 election out and we’re going to find each and every loophole that was used to cheat and steal our vote and we’re going to fix it.
Ese Olumhense:Kari Lake, who’s running for Governor.
Abe Hamadeh:For them to constantly and consistently gaslight us and tell us that the 2020 election was the most safe and secure election in history, it’s a lie.
Ese Olumhense:And Abe Hamadeh, he’s running for Attorney General. They’re all Arizona Republicans locked in close races for this midterm election. And politicians who are already in office have used some of the bills that we’ve been talking about to prove they’re serious about voter fraud. Wendy Rogers, the Arizona senator I mentioned earlier, she introduced a bill that would create a five million dollar law enforcement agency dedicated to, you guessed it, election crimes that was an almost identical bill to the one that passed in Florida. Now, keep in mind, Arizona already has an elections integrity unit in the Attorney General’s office. The bill that Senator Rogers introduced didn’t pass this time around. But she’s up for reelection in November, and she’s broken state fundraising records, she’s just shattered them. So, I don’t think we’ve seen the end of that bill.
Al Letson:And it sounds like we haven’t seen the end of a lot of these bills.
Ese Olumhense:Right. This is much bigger than Arizona. And with the November election around the corner, there’s no doubt that we’re going to see many of these new laws tested.
Al Letson:Ese, thanks so much for coming on.
Ese Olumhense:Yeah, thank you for having me. It’s been really nice to share the reporting.
Al Letson:That was Reveal’s Ese Olumhense. Nadia Hamdan produced the story with additional reporting from Cassandra Hadamio and Jessica Pishco. You can read Ese’s full story and see our database of election crimes legislation at revealnews.org. Free and fair elections are supposed to be about the voters choosing their politicians. But what happens when politicians get to pick their voters?
Speaker 32:It was now possible to thwart an election completely by rigging the maps.
Al Letson:That’s next on Reveal. From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. Bogus claims about rigged elections have become a rallying cry among many Republicans this election cycle. And while there’s no proof of so-called ballot harvesters or anything resembling widespread fraud, there is one way in which elections are being rigged, and it’s totally legal, it’s been happening for decades. In some places, it benefits Democrats, in others, Republicans, and it’s a danger to democracy. We want to close out today’s show by looking at gerrymandering and how it’s playing out in Wisconsin, a state that’s known for razor thin presidential elections. But that’s not what it’s like in the state’s legislature. Ari Berman, a senior reporter at Mother Jones, has been looking into how one party has locked in control over this purple state, pushing through some deeply unpopular laws.
Ari Berman:In June, as the US Supreme Court was on the brink of striking down Roe V. Wade, Wisconsin Governor, Tony Evers held a press conference at the state Capitol.
Governor Tony E…:Today I’m calling for a special session of the legislature on Wednesday, June 22nd at noon to take up legislation to repeal Wisconsin’s 1849 abortion ban.
Ari Berman:If the High Court overturned Roe, an old law in Wisconsin, a really old one, banning abortion in the state would immediately go into effect. So, Evers directed state legislatures to come together and debate repealing the law. And two weeks later, lawmakers gathered with protesters clad in pink packing the Capitol rotunda. Evers is a Democrat. By law, the Republican controlled legislature was required to come into session, but that’s about all they did.
Speaker 35:Chamber Republican Senate President, Chris Kapenga, gaveled in Governor Tony Evers’ special session to address Wisconsin’s ban on abortions, and 15 seconds later gaveled out.
Ari Berman:Two days after the Republicans gaveled in and gaveled out the session without any debate, the Supreme Court overturned Roe, and that 1849 law went into effect. Wisconsin’s abortion ban was passed more than 70 years before women got the right to vote. It imposes a six year prison sentence for doctors who perform an abortion, and makes no exceptions for rape or incest, and voters here don’t like it. One poll estimates that more than 80% of Wisconsinites oppose at least some aspects of the law.
Speaker 36:We know this 1849 law is not what the people want.
Ari Berman:Governor Evers is in a tight race for reelection, so I spoke to him at his campaign office in Milwaukee. It’s just down the hall from a dentist, nothing flashy, which is on brand for a governor whose passions include vanilla ice cream, egg McMuffins and the card game Euchre. I asked Evers about the abortion ban and what he hoped to achieve by calling on Republican leaders to hold that special session.
Governor Tony E…:It is something that is barbaric in my opinion. So, we thought at least we’d get some discussion on the table. Will they agree with us to get rid of it? Probably not. But at least the people of Wisconsin have an opportunity to hear what our legislature has to say about it. Didn’t happen.
Ari Berman:There was no discussion of the abortion law because Wisconsin Republicans had the power of the gavel, and it wasn’t the first time. They’ve gaveled in and gaveled out of five other special sessions on everything from expanding Medicaid, to increasing eduction funding, to requiring background checks for gun sales. Evers says the Republicans’ tactics are an attack on democracy itself.
Governor Tony E…:Outside of my office there’s this wonderful saying on the roof that says, “The will of the people is the law of the land.” We have to come to the conclusion that the will of the people is not the law of the land, it’s the law of the Republicans.
Ari Berman:Throughout the country, a backlash over abortion bans is expected to drive voters to the polls and hurt Republicans. So, you’d think Republicans in Wisconsin would be especially vulnerable in the upcoming elections. But their control of the state legislature is all but guaranteed, a big reason is how they’ve redrawn the voting maps. It all started a decade ago.
Speaker 37:This is what democracy looks like.
Ari Berman:In 2011, protests erupted in Madison over Republican Governor Scott Walker’s efforts to cut education funding and take on public sector unions by teachers. The protests lasted for weeks and became a huge national story.
Speaker 38:Madison police now estimate that between 85,000 and 100,000 people were here as we look at the-
Ari Berman:But across the street from the Capitol, there was something else going on that captured much less attention, something that would shape and destroy the political process to this day. At a private law firm, teams of lawyers, consultants, and Republican lawmakers were meeting to redraw the state’s voting maps. It’s something that happens after very census. And in Wisconsin, it’s the job of the legislature. But the Republicans were putting together these maps in secret without any input from the Democrats. At the time, Dale Schultz was a prominent Republican lawmaker.
Dale Schultz:I was aware of what redistricting was. I knew that we could gain an advantage. I’d known how it had been used in the past in various states. What I didn’t know was just how refined the process had become.
Ari Berman:Dale says this moment in 2011 was when his own party crossed the threshold from redistricting to partisan gerrymandering. The effects became clear a year later.
Speaker 40:Breaking news at the moment, President Obama, we project will carry the state of Wisconsin.
Ari Berman:In 2012, President Obama won Wisconsin by almost seven points, and Democrats captured a majority of the total votes for the legislature.
Dale Schultz:I was stunned, like a lot of people, that the Democrats had done that well. The overall trend in the state was huge.
Ari Berman:The Democratic surge didn’t even graze Republicans in the legislature, the voting maps provided their armor. That night, the GOP was able to hold onto more than 60% of the seats.
Dale Schultz:I said, “Wait a minute, that’s not possible.” It was like an epiphany. All of a sudden, I realized it was now possible to thwart an election completely by rigging the maps.
Ari Berman:Dale was already at odds with the Republican leadership on a host of issues. When he retired in 2015, he joined with a Democrat to try to take politics out of the way the state draws the voting maps. The plan was modeled on Iowa’s nonpartisan approach. It won support from more than three quarters of counties, but it needed approval in the legislature. The Republicans wouldn’t budge.
Dale Schultz:And what’s sad about that is when a majority of the people in the state are clearly speaking about the change they want, and politicians have managed to give themselves a 10 or 12 point margin in election, it’s virtually impossible to change the legislature.
Ari Berman:The gerrymandered maps continued giving Wisconsin Republicans a big edge. Here’s a perfect example, in 2018, Democrats won 53% of the popular vote, but they only got 36% of seats in the state assembly. We wanted to ask Republican party leaders about all this. We reached out to State Party Chair Paul Ferro, GOP candidate for Governor Tim Michels, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. None of them would agree to an interview. But the GOP has regularly defended the voting maps. Republican leaders point out the map survived major legal challenges, including one that went all the way to the Supreme Court. This is Robin Vos speaking to television station WISN in Milwaukee.
Robin Vos:They’re fair, they’re constitutional, they are legally following state and federal law.
Ari Berman:In recent years, some of the most closely watched districts have been in the leafy suburbs west of Milwaukee. So, we’re heading down what street? Center Street?
Robyn Vining:Center Street. And I’m going to turn left on Wauwatosa Avenue, which will take us to the village.
Ari Berman:A few weeks ago, I toured the area with Robyn Vining. She’s a photographer and Democratic legislator. She lives with her family in Wauwatosa, a small city 10 minutes from downtown Milwaukee. We pass by tidy craftsmen bungalows set on streets lined with tall crab apple trees.
Robyn Vining:We all walk our kids to school, everybody walks everywhere. It’s lots of dog walkers, lots of kids, and people really love living here.
Ari Berman:But there’s another side to Wauwatosa, a deeply racist past. Up until the 1950s, signs of the city limits boasted of restrictive zoning, a reference to covenants that were used to keep people of color from buying homes.
Robyn Vining:Wauwatosa was a redline city. It was-
Ari Berman:But Robyn says the suburbs are changing, becoming younger and more diverse. For decades, Wauwatosa was a Republican stronghold, but that’s changing too. In 2018, Robyn pulled off a major upset, becoming the first Democrat to flip a seat in the legislature under the Republicans maps. She won again in 2020, this time by eight points. That year, there was also a new census, giving Republicans the opportunity to redraw voting maps once again. They sliced and diced Robyn’s district. Okay, so we’re going to keep walking down through the village, right?
Robyn Vining:Yes.
Ari Berman:And this is like the heart of Wauwatosa, correct? Where we are now, the village of Wauwatosa.
Robyn Vining:Mm-hmm.
Ari Berman:Okay. So, the coffee shop, the chocolate place, and the brewery are in one district. And then, the Catholic church across the street’s in another district.
Robyn Vining:Yeah.
Ari Berman:But it’s all the same neighborhood.
Robyn Vining:It’s literally called the Wauwatosa Village.
Ari Berman:Republican mapmakers carved up Wauwatosa Village. Democrats say it’s classic gerrymandering. The new maps packed more registered Democrats into Robyn’s district, essentially guaranteeing her victory. Those democrats were moved out of neighboring districts, making them more reliably Republican. These changes might seem small, but they could earn the Republicans an extra seat in the legislature, and this would put them within reach of a super majority, giving the GOP the power to override a Governor’s Vito. Robyn says this is how Republicans have rigged elections.
Robyn Vining:So, they were gerrymandering our area blue, so that they could gerrymander other areas red. And it made me really sad, sick, and angry.
Ari Berman:Shouldn’t you be happy? You have a safe district now.
Robyn Vining:Shouldn’t I care more about our democracy and our people than whether or not I have a job?
Ari Berman:Outside of Madison and Milwaukee, there are some blue patches. There are also large areas of red that have been that way for decades, like Dale Schultz’s former district. It sits in the rolling hills of south west Wisconsin. This is where he owns a 210 acre farm that’s been in his family for generations.
Dale Schultz:You see this luxurious green and then these plots of warm season grasses.
Ari Berman:Dale steers his utility vehicle along a trail that cuts through waist high grasses and 300 year old oak trees.
Dale Schultz:So, needless to say we see an abundance of turkeys and pheasants and black bears and … Come on, come here. Let’s go. Come on, come.
Ari Berman:Back at his farmhouse with his dog Odie, Dale talks about his nearly 25 years in the legislature. He says he doesn’t miss driving back to the farm after late night sessions in Madison. He does miss the way democracy played out before everything got gerrymandered.
Dale Schultz:I took my share of barbs over the years. I took them from the right, I took them from the left. But out here, that made me popular. I think people respected that. People were independent. But there’s been a steady assault on that kind of thinking, and a steady diet of fear and grievance that has been pushed to people. And I’m afraid it’s having an impact.
Ari Berman:Dale says he still considers himself a pro-life Republican, but he’s disturbed by what the party has become, and that elected officials, even his own friends, are not willing to debate important issues like abortion.
Dale Schultz:What that says to me is that democracy is dying, it’s why I’m concerned about democracy. When we become so afraid of ideas that we want to hide from them, I think that says something profound about us.
Ari Berman:Today Wisconsin is defined by partisan gridlock. Over his last four years in office, Governor Evers has vied up more than 120 Republican bills. Republicans say Evers is failing to deal with the state’s biggest problems. The Governor says he’s defending democracy. This year’s election isn’t just about Wisconsin politics, it’s also about the next election for president in 2024, and whether Wisconsin will certify the results. I ask Governor Evers whether this is something he’s worried about. If you lose or if Republicans gain a super majority in the legislature, how concerned are you that Republicans won’t certify the 2024 election if a Democrat wins?
Governor Tony E…:That will give them such a carte blanche to lock up an election, for example a presidential election.
Ari Berman:So, there’s a real possibility that the legislature or the governor might not honor the result of a free and fair election?
Governor Tony E…:That’s right, absolutely. Anything’s possible in this day and age, anything’s possible.
Ari Berman:Wisconsin isn’t the only place where state races could cast a shadow over the 2024 presidential election. In two other swing states, Arizona and Nevada, Republican election deniers are running strong in the polls. Like Wisconsin, these states played a key role in deciding the 2020 election. So, what happens here could have a huge impact on the future of fair elections for years to come.
Al Letson:That story was from Ari Berman, senior reporter at Mother Jones. Ari has written a terrific deep dive on gerrymandering. We’ve got a link at our website, revealnews.org. Ari’s story was produced by Reveal’s Michael Montgomery. Our lead producer for this week’s show is Nadia Hamdan. Jenny Casas, Brett Myers, and Maryam Saleh. edited the show. Melissa Lewis built our database of election crimes legislation. Soo Oh is our data editor. Additional data support came from Reveal’s Roy W. Howard investigative reporting fellow, Farah Eltohamy. Special thanks to Cassandra Hadamio and Jessica Pishco for their reporting help, and to Mother Jones editors Dan Schulman and Clara Jeffery. Nikki Frick is our fact checker. Victoria Baranetsky is our general counsel. Our production manager is Amy The Great Mostafa. Original score and sound design by the dynamic duo Jay Breezy, Mr. Jim Briggs and Fernando my man Arruda. Our post production team is The Justice League, and this week it includes Kathryn Styer Martinez. Our digital producer is Sarah Mirk. Our COO is Maria Feldman. Our CEO is Robert Rosenthal. Our interim executive producers are Taki Telonidis and Brett Myers.
Al Letson:Our theme music is Camerado-Lightning. Support for Reveal is provided by The Reva and David Logan Foundation, The John D. and Catherine MacArthur Foundation, The Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, The Forward Foundation, The Heising-Simons Foundation, The Hellman Foundation, The Democracy Fund, and The In As Much Foundation. Reveal is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. I’m Al Letson, and remember there is always more to the story.

Ese Olumhense (she/her) is a reporter for Reveal, covering democracy and gender rights. She joins Reveal from City Limits, a nonprofit investigative organization that covers New York City, where she was a senior editor/reporter for politics and investigations. Olumhense previously worked for Spotlight PA and THE CITY, two other nonprofit journalism outlets, and the Chicago Tribune. As part of a team at THE CITY, Olumhense won the Online News Association’s 2021 Knight Award for Public Service for Missing Them, a collaborative project to remember every New Yorker killed by COVID-19. For the project, she investigated the potential link between the poor air quality in neighborhoods near freeways and COVID-19 death tolls. Olumhense is also an adjunct faculty member at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, working with investigative reporting fellows there.

Melissa Lewis is a data reporter for Reveal. Prior to joining Reveal, she was a data editor at The Oregonian, a data engineer at Simple and a data analyst at Periscopic. She is an organizer for the Portland chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association. Lewis is based in Oregon.

Nadia Hamdan (she/her) is a producer for Reveal. Previously, she was a public radio reporter with NPR station KUT 90.5 in Austin, Texas. Hamdan's reporting has been heard on NPR's “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered,” WBUR’s “Here & Now” and the BBC’s “World Service,” among other programs. She's won numerous awards for her reporting, including a national Public Media Journalists Association Award, two regional Edward R. Murrow Awards and multiple Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Awards. Hamdan was awarded a Texas Gavel Award from the State Bar of Texas for a podcast on why sexual assaults are so hard to prosecute in Austin. She once conducted an entire interview while riding a mule through downtown Austin, where she is based.

Michael Montgomery

Michael Montgomery is a senior reporter and producer for Reveal. He has led collaborations with the Associated Press, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, Frontline, KQED and others.

Previously, Montgomery was a senior reporter at American Public Media, a special correspondent for the BBC and an associate producer with CBS News. He began his career in eastern Europe, covering the fall of communism and wars in former Yugoslavia for the Daily Telegraph and Los Angeles Times. His investigations into human rights abuses in the Balkans led to the arrest and conviction of Serbian and Albanian paramilitaries and creation of a new war crimes court based in The Hague. Montgomery’s honors include Murrow, Peabody, IRE, duPont, Third Coast and Overseas Press Club awards. He is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Jenny Casas is a radio editor for Reveal. She was previously a narrative audio producer at The New York Times developing shows for the Opinion Department. She was in the inaugural cohort of AIR's Edit Mode: Story Editor Training. She has reported on the ways that cities systematically fail their people for WNYC, USA Today, City Bureau and St. Louis Public Radio. Casas is from California and is based in Chicago.

Brett Myers is an interim executive producer for Reveal. His work has received more than 20 national honors, including a George Foster Peabody Award, four nationalEdward R. Murrow Awards and multipleThird Coast/Richard H. Driehaus Competition awards. Before joining Reveal, he was a senior producer at Youth Radio, where he collaborated with teenage reporters to file stories for "Morning Edition," "All Things Considered" and "Marketplace." 

Prior to becoming an audio producer, Myers trained as a documentary photographer and was named one of the 25 best American photographers under the age of 25. He loves bikes, California and his family. Before that, he was an independent radio producer and worked with StoryCorps, Sound Portraits and The Kitchen Sisters. Myers is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Maryam Saleh is an investigative editor for Reveal. Previously, she worked at The Intercept, where she most recently edited stories about immigration, criminal justice and international human rights. She also worked as a reporter at The Intercept and was part of an award-winning team, with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, that exposed the misuse of solitary confinement at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities. Saleh attended law school and has a graduate degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. She is based in Washington, D.C.

Soo Oh is the enterprise editor for data at Reveal. She has previously reported data stories, coded interactive visuals and built internal tools at the Wall Street Journal, Vox.com, the Los Angeles Times and The Chronicle of Higher Education. In 2018, she was a John S. Knight Fellow at Stanford University, where she researched how to better manage and support journalists with technical skills. Oh is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Farah Eltohamy is the 2022-23 Roy W. Howard Fellow for Reveal. She received both her master's and bachelor's degrees at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. While at ASU, Eltohamy interned for The Texas Tribune, NPR and The Arizona Republic and served as diversity officer for ASU's student newspaper, The State Press. Her reporting has also appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and National Geographic. In 2020, she won a National Association of Black Journalists Salute to Excellence Award for her reporting on the lack of a census category for people from the Middle East and North Africa. Outside of news, Eltohamy can be found painting, thrifting and spending time with her grumpy old cat, Tito.

Nikki Frick is the associate editor for research and copy for Reveal. She previously worked as a copy editor at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and held internships at The Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times and Washingtonpost.com. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was an American Copy Editors Society Aubespin scholar. Frick is based in Milwaukee.

Amy Mostafa (she/they) is the production manager for Reveal. She is a UC Berkeley School of Journalism alum, where she focused on audio and data journalism as a Dean's Merit Fellow and an ISF Scholar. She has reported on science, health and the environment in Anchorage for Alaska Public Media and on city government in Berkeley and San Francisco for KQED. Her work also has appeared on NPR, KALW and KALX. Mostafa holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and public policy. She has most recently reported on housing and aging in the Bay Area. She is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Sarah Mirk (she/her) is a digital engagement producer for Reveal. Since 2017, she has worked as an editor at The Nib, an online daily comics publication focused on political cartoons, graphic journalism, essays and memoirs about current affairs. She works with artists to create nonfiction comics on a variety of complex topics, from personal narratives about queer identities to examinations of overlooked history. Before that, Mirk was the online editor of national feminist media outlet Bitch, a podcast host and a local news reporter. She is also the author of several books, including “Year of Zines,” a collection of 100 handmade zines, and “Guantanamo Voices,” a collection of illustrated oral histories of the world’s most infamous prison. Mirk is based in Portland, Oregon.

Jim Briggs III is the senior sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. He supervises post-production and composes original music for the public radio show and podcast. He also leads Reveal's efforts in composition for data sonification and live performances.

Prior to joining Reveal in 2014, Briggs mixed and recorded for clients such as WNYC Studios, NPR, the CBC and American Public Media. Credits include “Marketplace,” “Selected Shorts,” “Death, Sex & Money,” “The Longest Shortest Time,” NPR’s “Ask Me Another,” “Radiolab,” “Freakonomics Radio” and “Soundcheck.” He also was the sound re-recording mixer and sound editor for several PBS television documentaries, including “American Experience: Walt Whitman,” the 2012 Tea Party documentary "Town Hall" and “The Supreme Court” miniseries. His music credits include albums by R.E.M., Paul Simon and Kelly Clarkson.

Briggs' work with Reveal has been recognized with an Emmy Award (2016) and two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards (2018, 2019). Previously, he was part of the team that won the Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma for its work on WNYC’s hourlong documentary special “Living 9/11.” He has taught sound, radio and music production at The New School and Eugene Lang College and has a master's degree in media studies from The New School. Briggs is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Fernando Arruda

Fernando Arruda is a sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. As a multi-instrumentalist, he contributes to the original music, editing and mixing of the weekly public radio show and podcast. He has held four O-1 visas for individuals with extraordinary abilities. His work has been recognized with Peabody, duPont-Columbia, Edward R. Murrow, Gerald Loeb, Third Coast and Association of Music Producers awards, as well as Emmy and Pulitzer nominations. Prior to joining Reveal, Arruda toured as an international DJ and taught music technology at Dubspot and ESRA International Film School. He worked at Antfood, a creative audio studio for media and TV ads, and co-founded a film-scoring boutique called the Manhattan Composers Collective. He worked with clients such as Marvel, MasterClass and Samsung and ad agencies such as Framestore, Trollbäck+Company, BUCK and Vice. Arruda releases experimental music under the alias FJAZZ and has performed with many jazz, classical and pop ensembles, such as SFJAZZ Monday Night Band, Art&Sax quartet, Krychek, Dark Inc. and the New York Arabic Orchestra. His credits in the podcast and radio world include NPR’s “51 Percent,” WNYC’s “Bad Feminist Happy Hour” and its live broadcast of Orson Welles’ “The Hitchhiker,” Wondery’s “Detective Trapp,” MSNBC’s “Why Is This Happening?” and NBC’s “Born to Rule,” to name a few. Arruda also has a wide catalog of composed music for theatrical, orchestral and chamber music formats, some of which has premiered worldwide. He holds a master’s degree in film scoring and composition from NYU Steinhardt. The original music he makes with Jim Briggs for Reveal can be found on Bandcamp.

Kathryn Styer Martínez

Kathryn Styer Martínez (she/ella) is a production assistant for Reveal. She studies audio and photojournalism at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She is also a Greater Good Science Center reporting fellow, focusing on Latino well-being.

Martínez was the 2020-21 Toni Randolph reporting fellow at Minnesota Public Radio, the 2019-20 New Economy Reporting Project fellow and the former director of KGPC-LP FM, Peralta Community Radio. Her work has appeared in El Tecolote, The Oaklandside, MPR News, National Public Radio, Outside Online, Talk Poverty, New Life Quarterly and Making Contact.

She earned bachelor’s degrees in Raza studies and political science from San Francisco State University.

Claire Mullen worked at The Center for Investigative Reporting until September 2017. is an associate sound designer and audio engineer for Reveal. Before joining Reveal, she was an assistant producer at Radio Ambulante and worked with KALW, KQED, the Association of Independents in Radio and the San Francisco Bay Guardian. She studied humanities and media studies at Scripps College.

Taki Telonidis is an interim executive producer for Reveal. Previously, he was the media producer for the Western Folklife Center, where he created more than 100 radio features for NPR’s "All Things Considered," "Weekend Edition" and other news magazines. He has produced and directed three public television specials, including "Healing the Warrior’s Heart," a one-hour documentary that explores how the ancient spiritual traditions of our nation’s first warriors, Native Americans, are helping today’s veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Telonidis also was senior content editor for NPR’s "State of the Re:Union." Before moving to the West, he worked for NPR in Washington, where he was senior producer of "Weekend All Things Considered" between 1994 and 1998. His television and radio work has garnered a George Foster Peabody Award, three Rocky Mountain Emmy Awards and the Overseas Press Club Award for breaking news. Telonidis is based in Salt Lake City.

Al Letson is a playwright, performer, screenwriter, journalist, and the host of Reveal. Soul-stirring, interdisciplinary work has garnered Letson national recognition and devoted fans.