A mother of four who came to the U.S. from Mexico as an infant has become the new face of Republican attempts to legitimize baseless claims by President Donald Trump of massive voter fraud in the 2016 election.
On Thursday, a judge in Fort Worth, TX sentenced 37-year-old Rosa María Ortega, a permanent resident, to eight years in a Texas prison on fraud charges for illegally voting in 2012 and 2014, The New York Times reported. When Ortega is released, she’ll likely be deported.
In justifying the extreme punishment for what is a rare and nonviolent offense, Tarrant County criminal district attorney Sharen Wilson said it “would showcase her office’s efforts to crack down on election fraud.”
The conviction also helps Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton promote his misguided crusade against the nonexistent scourge of voter fraud, which opponents say is part of an effort to disenfranchise Latinx and African American voters.
According to The New York Times:
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.)
But attorney Clark Birdsall said Ortega, who has a sixth-grade education, mistakenly thought that as a permanent resident, she was entitled to vote. (Only residents with full citizenship can legally vote.) And it was Ortega who tipped off authorities after she called elections officials wondering why her voter registration application was rejected in 2015.
“She wasn’t trying to topple the country,” Birdsall told The New York Times. “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.”
He added, “This country is so inflamed by this Donald Trump nonsense that they’ve turned her into a whipping boy.”
Last month, Trump falsely claimed that millions of illegal votes were cast against him in 2016. Several Republicans have repeated that lie. Following Trump’s statement, elections supervisors across the country searched for credible reports that massive fraud had occurred, but according to The New York Times, they found next to none:
In an election in which more than 137.7 million Americans cast ballots, election and law enforcement officials in 26 states and the District of Columbia — Democratic-leaning, Republican-leaning and in-between — said that so far they knew of no credible allegations of fraudulent voting. Officials in another eight states said they knew of only one allegation.
There was another fraudulent ballot case in Fort Worth in 2015, but that ended with probation for the offender.
Meanwhile, while Ortega, who registered as a Republican, awaits transfer to a state prison, her relatives and fiancé are caring for the four children, aged 13-16, according to The New York Times report.