In a case that state Attorney General Ken Paxton said “shows how serious Texas is about keeping its elections secure,” a Grand Prairie woman who isn’t a U.S. citizen was sentenced to eight years in prison Thursday for voting illegally.
A Tarrant County jury handed down the sentence after finding Rosa Maria Ortega, 37, guilty Wednesday of voting in Dallas County in the 2012 general election and the 2014 Republican primary runoff. Ortega has a green card.
“This case shows how serious Texas is about keeping its elections secure, and the outcome sends a message that violators of the state’s election law will be prosecuted to the fullest,” Paxton said in an emailed statement. “Safeguarding the integrity of our elections is essential to preserving our democracy.”
Ortega, a mother of four children ages 12 to 16, was sentenced to eight years in prison and fined $5,000 on each of two counts of illegal voting. The sentences will be served concurrently.
Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson said voting is a fundamental right for U.S. citizens that must be fought for and protected.
“At a minimum, statements made in applications to vote should be verified before handing out voter registration cards,” Wilson said. “In all aspects of society, people verify their identity. Why not for voting? This case shows a clear need to enforce the laws we already have.”
Ortega will be eligible for parole after she serves two years in prison, her attorney, Clark Birdsall, said, but she will be immediately deported after she finishes her sentence.
Birdsall said he blamed Ortega’s sentence on President Donald Trump’s insistence that illegal voting by illegal immigrants cost him the popular vote.
“Donald Trump has this country at war with one another over this illegal immigration situation,” Birdsall said. “What should have been reduced to a misdemeanor or pled out has resulted in an eight-year sentence. And the ironic thing is she voted Republican.”
Prosecutors presented evidence during Ortega’s trial this week that she had voted in five Dallas County elections since 2004 before she moved to the Tarrant County portion of Grand Prairie and submitted a voter registration application for her new address.
Ortega testified on Wednesday that until — and even after — she got a letter in October 2013 from the Tarrant County elections office rejecting her application, she believed she had the right to vote.
“I was shocked,” Ortega testified about being turned down.
Prosecutors said that Ortega, after being rejected, requested another voter registration application by phone, completed it and returned it to Tarrant County, checking the box that indicated that she was a U.S. citizen.
Ortega told the jury she believed that state officials would make a determination about her eligibility and inform her of their decision.
“She put herself here,” Jonathan White, assistant attorney general, said during his closing arguments Wednesday. “We would not be here today had she not picked up the phone and called [Tarrant County elections clerk] Delores Stevens. If she had taken no for an answer, all of this would have been swept away.”