[Marxism] 8 year prison term for voting with residency rather than citizenship status

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Feb 11 07:01:09 MST 2017


Illegal Voting Gets Texas Woman 8 Years in Prison, and Certain Deportation
By MICHAEL WINESFEB. 10, 2017
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Photo

A photograph of Rosa Maria Ortega with her family. She said in court 
that she had not known she was ineligible to vote and was confused by 
registration forms and explanations by election officials. Credit Dylan 
Hollingsworth for The New York Times
Despite repeated statements by Republican political leaders that 
American elections are rife with illegal voting, credible reports of 
fraud have been hard to find and convictions rarer still.

That may help explain the unusually heavy penalty imposed on Rosa Maria 
Ortega, 37, a permanent resident and a mother of four who lives outside 
Dallas. On Thursday, a Fort Worth judge sentenced her to eight years in 
prison — and almost certainly deportation later — after she voted 
illegally in elections in 2012 and 2014.

The sentence for Ms. Ortega, who was brought to this country by her 
mother as an infant, “shows how serious Texas is about keeping its 
elections secure,” Ken Paxton, the Texas attorney general, said in a 
statement. Her lawyer called it an egregious overreaction, made to score 
political points, against someone who wrongly believed she was eligible 
to vote.

“She has a sixth-grade education. She didn’t know she wasn’t legal,” 
said Ms. Ortega’s lawyer, Clark Birdsall, who once oversaw voter fraud 
prosecutions in neighboring Dallas County. “She can own property; she 
can serve in the military; she can get a job; she can pay taxes. But she 
can’t vote, and she didn’t know that.”

The punishment was strikingly harsh for an offense that usually merits 
far less jail time, if any. A second fraudulent ballot case in 
metropolitan Fort Worth ended in 2015 with probation.

Ms. Ortega insisted in court that she had been unaware that she was 
ineligible to vote and was confused by registration forms and 
explanations by election officials.

Prosecutors for Mr. Paxton and Tarrant County said that she had lied and 
that the same forms and conversations proved it. A jury convicted her 
Wednesday of two felony charges.

Mr. Birdsall said Mr. Paxton’s office had been prepared to dismiss all 
charges against Ms. Ortega if she agreed to testify on voting procedures 
before the Texas Legislature. But the Tarrant County criminal district 
attorney, Sharen Wilson, vetoed that deal, he said, insisting on a trial 
that would showcase her office’s efforts to crack down on election fraud.

Both the attorney general’s office and the county prosecutor declined to 
comment on the specifics of Mr. Birdsall’s statement, citing privacy 
rules for plea-bargain negotiations. A spokeswoman for Ms. Wilson, Sam 
Jordan, said any negotiations were only “discussions,” a description Mr. 
Birdsall disputed.

Ms. Ortega’s conviction looks to be an early volley in a reinvigorated 
partisan war over voting rights — a war led in Texas by Mr. Paxton, who 
has crusaded against voter fraud. (Coincidentally, he faces legal issues 
of his own: state securities fraud charges and a federal lawsuit 
stemming from efforts to recruit investors for a technology company; he 
has denied wrongdoing.)

Last year, federal courts curbed or nullified Republican-backed laws 
making it harder to vote, saying they reduced turnout by 
Democratic-leaning minorities, deliberately or otherwise.

Texas’s strict voter-ID law was among them. A federal appeals court 
ruled last year that the law hurt Latinos and African-Americans, who 
were less likely to have the IDs. It later ordered state officials to 
change their public education campaign on new ID rules.

With President Trump’s election, a new Justice Department and a new 
conservative nominee to the Supreme Court, Republicans have renewed 
their push for strict voting requirements in the name of combating 
fraud. Experts widely dismiss the fraud claims as unfounded. In 
unguarded moments, a number of Republican politicians have acknowledged 
as much.

Photo

Rosa Maria Ortega’s lawyer, Clark Birdsall, said her sentence was an 
overreaction made to score political points against someone who wrongly 
believed she was eligible to vote. Credit Dylan Hollingsworth for The 
New York Times
Ms. Ortega’s case is unusual not just for its harshness but for its 
circumstances. Many fraud convictions that draw prison sentences — and 
some that do not — involve clear efforts to influence election results. 
Texas prosecutors won prison sentences for four men who moved into a 
hotel in 2010 to claim residency so they could sway a local election. A 
woman in Brownsville, Tex., was placed on five years’ probation for 
casting five absentee ballots under different names in elections in 2012.

Lawyers offered no clear motive for Ms. Ortega’s decision to cast 
ballots beyond her desire to participate in elections.

Ms. Ortega, a native of Monterrey, Mexico, came to Texas with her mother 
when she was an infant. More than a decade later, the family was 
scattered after the mother was arrested and deported. Two brothers born 
in Dallas automatically gained citizenship; Ms. Ortega became a 
permanent resident and gained a green card, her brother Tony Ortega, 35, 
said in an interview.

As a Dallas County resident, she registered to vote and later cast 
ballots in elections in 2012 and 2014, her lawyer, Mr. Birdsall, said. 
While that was illegal, there was no attempt to break the law, he 
maintained: Some government forms allow applicants to declare that they 
are permanent residents, but the voting registration form asks only 
whether an applicant is a citizen.

Lacking the permanent resident option, he said, she ticked the “citizen” 
box. When the county later mailed her a registration card, he said, she 
believed she “was good to go.”

Ms. Ortega moved to neighboring Tarrant County and again registered, but 
this time checked a box affirming that she was not a citizen. When her 
application was rejected in March 2015, the trial showed, she called 
election officials and told them that she had previously voted in Dallas 
County without difficulty.

Told that she could not vote unless she was a citizen, she asked for 
another application, and returned it with a check in the box affirming 
citizenship. That raised questions, and law enforcement officials 
arrested her on fraud charges.

Jonathan White, an assistant attorney general who helped prosecute the 
Ortega case with Tarrant County officials, said the evidence of fraud 
was unambiguous. “She told the elections office she was a citizen,” he 
said. “She told everyone else she wasn’t,” including a recorded 
statement to prosecutors in which she said she was a citizen of Mexico.

Mr. Birdsall said the arrest and prosecution are punishing a woman for 
her own confusion over whether residency and citizenship confer the same 
rights.

“She wasn’t trying to topple the country,” he said. “She was trying to 
make more serious decisions about our country than the 50 percent of the 
people who didn’t bother to vote in the last election.”

“This country is so inflamed by this Donald Trump nonsense that they’ve 
turned her into a whipping boy,” he said.

Ms. Ortega is now in a Fort Worth jail awaiting transfer to a state 
prison. Her four children, ages 13 to 16, are being cared for by 
siblings and her fiancé, Oscar Sherman, 27, a trucker who said her 
arrest had scotched their plans to marry. The children’s fate is 
unclear. Mr. Sherman lacks legal custody; her siblings are still 
debating their options.

Ms. Ortega’s future is bleak. The federal government frowns on giving 
green cards to felons. “She’ll do eight years in a Texas prison,” Mr. 
Birdsall said. “And then she’ll be deported, and wake up blinking and 
scratching in a country she doesn’t know.”

Far-right websites have seized on Ms. Ortega’s conviction as proof that 
Mr. Trump is right about rampant fraud and efforts by Democrats to steal 
the November election.

There is, however, at least one flaw in that story: Ms. Ortega was a 
registered Republican.

“She voted for Mitt Romney over Barack Obama in the 2012 election. In 
2014 she voted for our current attorney general, Ken Paxton,” Mr. 
Birdsall said. “And guess what? He’s the one responsible for prosecuting 
her.”




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