A Grand Prairie woman who was sentenced Thursday to eight years in prison for voting illegally voted for the man responsible for prosecuting her.  A Tarrant County jury found Rosa Maria Ortega, 37, guilty Wednesday on two counts of illegal voting.

Photograph of Maria Rosa Ortega with her family.

Rosa Maria Ortega Indictment by Syndicated News SNN.BZ on Scribd

Ortega voted in the November 2012 election and May 2014 GOP primary runoff in Dallas County knowing she wasn’t a U.S. citizen, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported. Her lawyer, Clark Birdsall, told The New York Times that she voted for Attorney General Ken Paxton in 2014, as well as Mitt Romney over Barack Obama in 2012.

Ortega was sentenced Thursday to eight years and a $5,000 fine on each count. The sentences will run concurrently,  said Samantha Jordan, spokeswoman with the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office.

Ortega testified that she did not understand the differences between the rights granted to citizens and the rights granted to legal residents.

She said she believed she did have the right to vote, though she received a letter in October 2013 from the Tarrant County elections office. According to Birdsall, she was brought to the U.S. as a baby and has just a sixth-grade education.

Ortega was indicted in November 2015.

 

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“If I knew, everything would have been done the correct way,” Ortega testified. “All my life I was taught I was a U.S. citizen.”

Attorneys for the state showed the jury that she checked a box on her driver’s license form indicating she was not a citizen.

She told investigators that she did try to become a citizen, though the assistant attorney general said she never pursued the citizenship process.

Toni Pippins-Poole, the Dallas County election administrator, said in 2015 that Ortega had filled out a voter application and checked that she was a citizen.

Ortega’s voter registration in Dallas County was canceled in April 2015 when elections officials learned she had registered to vote in Tarrant County. She had voted in five elections in Dallas before her registration was canceled.

Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney Sharen Wilson’s office said Ortega had tried to register there twice, but her application was rejected by the elections office.

“At a minimum, statements made in applications to vote should be verified before handing out voter registration cards,” Wilson said in a prepared statement. “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 faced up to 20 years in prison on each count.

Paxton said in a statement that the case “shows how serious Texas is about keeping its elections secure.”

Voter fraud has been in the headlines both in Texas and nationally. Weeks after winning the election, President Donald Trump claimed that he would have won the popular vote too if millions of votes hadn’t been cast illegally.

Trump called for a “major investigation” into the matter despite a lack of any evidence to support the claim. State election officials across the country have rejected the possibility that 3 million to 5 million ballots were cast illegally in the last election.

As for Ortega, she’ll eventually be deported.

“She’ll do eight years in a Texas prison,” Birdsall, her lawyer, said. “And then she’ll be deported, and wake up blinking and scratching in a country she doesn’t know.”

Ortega is not a U.S. citizen and is therefore not eligible to vote in Texas elections.

Texas Election Code section 64.012 provides that:

(a) A person commits an offense if the person:

(1) votes or attempts to vote in an election in which the person knows the person is not eligible to vote;

(2) knowingly votes or attempts to vote more than once in an election;

(3) knowingly impersonates another person and votes or attempts to vote as the impersonated person; or

(4) knowingly marks or attempts to mark another person’s ballot without the consent of that person.

(b) An offense under this section is a felony of the second degree unless the person is convicted of an attempt. In that case, the offense is a state jail felony.

The case was presented to the Tarrant County Grand Jury by Assistant District Attorney Harry White, chief of the white collar and public integrity unit of the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office.

Ortega was arrested on Friday, November 6th, and is currently being held in the Tarrant County jail on a $10,000 bond.