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