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A noncitizen who illegally voted five times in Texas is still headed to jail after losing her appeal.

Texas’ 2nd Court of Appeals upheld the voter fraud conviction of Mexican national Rosa Maria Ortega. A Tarrant County jury found Ortega guilty in 2017 of two counts of illegal voting, a second-degree felony, and sentenced her to eight years in prison.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a press statement Tuesday Ortega was offered a plea deal, but she chose a jury trial:

At the trial, prosecutors proved that at the same time Ortega falsely claimed to be a U.S. citizen for the purposes of voting, she correctly informed the authorities that she was a resident alien in order to obtain a driver’s license. That evidence negated Ortega’s claim that she made an innocent mistake.

 

Prosecutors showed the jury proof that Ortega illegally registered to vote in 2002 and voted in four elections in Dallas County. The prosecutors established that when Ortega moved from Dallas County to Tarrant County in 2014, and correctly indicated she was not a U.S. citizen on her voting registration form, the county informed her in writing that she was ineligible to vote. Nevertheless, Ortega applied to vote again, this time falsely insisting she was a U.S. citizen. She illegally voted five times between 2004 and 2014.

Ortega could be eligible for parole in less than 12 months and is likely to be deported once her sentence is served.

“This case underscores the importance that Texans place on the institution of voting, and the hallowed principle that every citizen’s vote must count,” Paxton said. “We will hold those accountable who falsely claim eligibility and purposely subvert the election process in Texas.”

It’s a violation of both federal and state law for noncitizens to vote or register to vote.

Under the state’s current system, noncitizens can easily register and vote in Texas elections without being detected. Registering to vote is an honor system. No one verifies citizenship — applicants like Ortega merely check a box affirming they are U.S. citizens.

Because no one checks, no one knows how many noncitizens are on Texas voter rolls, but watchdog group Direct Action Texas recently revealed 280,000 people identified as noncitizens in the Texas Department of Public Safety database are registered to vote.

State law does require county voter registration officials to remove from their voter lists noncitizens who self-identify on jury recusal forms. But a recent survey by the AG’s office found “the process for removing ineligible voters who self-report as noncitizens at jury duty is not being followed correctly, or even at all, in various counties.”

Harris County, the state’s largest county with over 2 million registered voters, is the target of a federal lawsuit for refusing to disclose public records of noncitizens found on the county’s voter rolls. Earlier this year, a Mexican national was prosecuted and convicted for illegally registering and voting in multiple elections in Harris County.

A bill requiring election officials to proactively verify the citizenship of prospective voters has already been filed for the upcoming legislative session. Texans who want only eligible citizens participating in Texas elections must ensure state lawmakers act on it.

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