FORT WORTH (CN) – A Mexican citizen confused by the difference between being a legal resident and a citizen was sentenced to eight years in prison after being convicted Wednesday of voting illegally in Texas.
Rosa Maria Ortega, 37, of Grand Prairie, was convicted of two counts of felony illegal voting by a Tarrant County jury. A jury deliberated two hours before sentencing her.
Her attorney, Clark Birdsall in Dallas, told jurors Ortega mistakenly thought she was stating “resident” when she answered she was a citizen on voter registration forms. Ortega is legally in the country as a resident, but is not a citizen.
Birdsall said she was abandoned by her mother after being brought to the United States as a child and did not known how to categorize her citizenship status.
Tarrant County Elections Clerk Delores Stephens testified that Ortega called her in March 2015 about being rejected after checking a box that she was not a citizen. Stephens testified that Ortega sent in another application with the box unchecked and that the office was unsure what to do.
Dallas County Elections Administrator Toni Pippins-Poole said Ortega voted at least five times, most recently in the 2014 Republican primary runoff in Dallas County.
Prosecutors said she also voted in the 2012 general election. They brought the case in neighboring Tarrant County because that is where the voter registration application was rejected.
Boone Caldwell, an investigator with the Texas Attorney General’s office, testified that Ortega lied about her citizenship status. An audio recording was played in court in which Ortega answered “yes” to the question whether she is a citizen, then said “Mexican” when asked if she is a U.S. citizen.
On cross-examination, Caldwell told Birdsall that he did not tell Ortega the conversation was being recorded.
President Donald Trump has claimed 3 million people voted illegally in the general election, costing him the popular vote. He has called for an investigation of voter fraud that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, balked at paying for Monday.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said safeguarding the integrity of elections is “essential to preserving our democracy.” His office prosecuted the case alongside Tarrant County prosecutors.
“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,” Paxton said in a statement Thursday.
Attorney Paul Saputo, of Dallas, said Thursday the case was “an enormous waste” of court resources.
“In a felony court that more frequently handles murders and violent crimes, this case should have come to some kind of negotiated resolution,” he said.