A Texas jury convicted a Mexican national for the crime of “illegal voting” on Wednesday and was sentenced to eight years in prison. At trial, she claimed she did not know the difference between being a resident and a citizen.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Tarrant County officials put Rosa Maria Ortega to trial for voting in two Texas elections.
Texas legislators enacted the law in 2011 and it became effective on January 1, 2012.
Breitbart Texas reported that Ortega would face trial on Monday. The 37-year-old woman was indicted in November 2015.
The Tarrant County indictment stated that she voted in the November 2012 General Election and the May 2014 Primary Run-off, knowing she was not eligible to vote because she is not a U.S. citizen. Ortega had previously applied to vote, but Tarrant County officials rejected her application because she admitted on the form to non-citizen status when asked. She filled out an application five months later and alleged she was a citizen.
A release distributed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Thursday noted that Ortega “cast ballots five times between 2004 and 2014.” The bulk of these instances occurred before Texas began enforcement of its photo voter identification law.
Ortega did not vote in the 2016 General Election.
During the trial, Sergeant Joseph Cadwell with the attorney general’s public integrity unit, testified that Ortega confirmed she was not a citizen but said she would be “marrying her husband” (a U.S. citizen) in the near future.
Sgt. Cadwell, who interviewed Ortega at her home in October 2015 along with Sgt. Wayne Rubio, showed Ortega seven Dallas County forms she had signed. In all, there were five voter registration applications. Two of them had the citizenship box checked “YES”, the others were blank, but all were signed with the affirmation about U.S. citizenship. Ortega also confirmed that she sent a registration application to Tarrant County in October 2014 with the “NO” box checked and received a rejection letter because she said she was not a citizen. She also told the sergeant she had registered for food stamps.
Ortega’s main defense witness at trial was herself. She said she had not pursued being a citizen because she lacked the necessary funds.
The jury took a few hours to find her guilty on both counts.
General Paxton lauded the case’s conclusion Thursday, saying, “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.”
The Ortega case has been prosecuted amid legislative activity in states like Texas and Virginia, which are actively pursuing legal reforms that would require individuals seeking to become registered voters to prove U.S. citizenship as a prerequisite. In Austin, House Bill 1079, authored by Rep. Mike Schofield (R-Houston), and SB 136, submitted by Sen. Van Taylor (R-Plano), would require election clerks to verify citizenship with documents such as passports, birth certificates, and naturalization forms. The Public Interest Legal Foundation recently released a report documenting more than 1,000 cases of voters being removed from Virginia’s rolls for reasons related to citizen eligibility. Similar legislation is under consideration in that state as well. Only one state, Kansas, currently requires prospective voters to prove citizenship.
The offense of “Illegal Voting” in Texas is a felony of the second degree.
This article has been updated to reflect additional information.