A noncitizen who illegally voted five times in Texas is headed for deportation.

Mexican national Rosa Maria Ortega was convicted of felony voter fraud in 2017 after falsely claiming to be a U.S. citizen on a voter registration application and voting in Dallas County multiple times between 2004 and 2014.

Ortega, a legal permanent resident, wasn’t caught until she moved to Tarrant County in 2014 and tried to register to vote there.

Her first application was rejected because she correctly checked the “No” box next to “Are you a United States citizen?” She told the Tarrant elections office she’d voted in Dallas before, then submitted a new application marked “Yes” next to the U.S. citizenship question.

Prosecutors showed when Ortega applied for a Texas driver’s license, she correctly identified herself as a resident alien and not a U.S. citizen.

A Tarrant County jury found Ortega guilty of two counts of illegal voting, a second-degree felony, and sentenced her to eight years in prison. She remained free on bail while appealing the verdict, but the courts upheld her voter fraud conviction.

After serving nine months in prison, Ortega was paroled in December, then taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She is now free on bond and awaits deportation back to Mexico.

It’s a violation of both federal and state law for noncitizens to vote or register to vote. Federal immigration law makes illegal voting by an alien a deportable offense.

Noncitizens can easily register and vote in Texas elections without being detected because registering to vote is an honor system. No one verifies citizenship prior to registration—applicants like Ortega merely check a box affirming they are U.S. citizens.

But Texas is working on ways to verify voters’ citizenship on the back end.

Last year, the Texas Secretary of State’s office implemented a process to identify and remove non-U.S. citizens already registered to vote by comparing voter rolls to citizenship data collected by the Texas Department of Public Safety. Leftist groups sued to stop the verifications after the state mistakenly included about 25,000 naturalized citizens among the initial 95,000 voters flagged as noncitizens.

The state is now using a modified list maintenance process to match registered voters with new DPS citizenship data. But the Secretary of State has no authority to compel county voter registrars to use the data to maintain accurate voter rolls.

County registrars are also supposed to verify the citizenship of voters on their rolls who claim an exemption to jury duty because they are not citizens, or else cancel their registration. But the Texas Attorney General’s office reported in 2018 “the process for removing ineligible voters who self-report as non-citizens at jury duty is not being followed correctly, or even at all, in various counties.”

State lawmakers failed last session to pass legislation holding local elections officials accountable for completing required voter list maintenance. It’s likely to be a key issue again next session for election integrity advocates.

Citizens already have a right under the National Voter Registration Act, also known as Motor Voter, to hold voter registration officials accountable in federal court for maintaining clean voter rolls.

Texans who want to stop voter fraud need action and accountability to prevent more noncitizens like Rosa Ortega from getting, and staying, on Texas voter rolls and casting illegal votes.

Erin Anderson

Erin Anderson is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard, reporting on state and local issues, events, and government actions that impact people in communities throughout Texas and the DFW Metroplex. A native Texan, Erin grew up in the Houston area and now lives in Collin County.