Rosa Maria Ortega was sentenced to eight years in prison Thursday after being convicted Thursday of two counts of illegal voting. Ortega, 37, will also pay a $5,000 fine for casting ballots illegally during the 2012 general election and 2014 GOP primary runoff in Dallas County.
Ortega, according to prosecutors, successfully voted five times in elections between 2004 and 2014, despite only being an authorized resident of the United States, rather than a citizen.
Her trouble started after Ortega moved to the Tarrant County portion of Grand Prairie and attempted to change her voter registration. She sent in her voter registration, ticking the box that she was not a U.S. citizen, and received a reply from the county registrar that she could not be registered. Five months later, she sent in another application, this time claiming that she was a citizen.
Ortega claimed that she'd always believed she was a citizen. "My mom just used us to get stamps. She never gave us love or guidance. She got deported," she testified, according to KDFW. "All my life since I worked, I always on my knowledge thought I was a U.S. citizen because I never knew the difference of U.S. citizen and U.S. resident. And the point is if I knew, everything would've been the correct way."
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The conviction could not have come at a worse time for Ortega, who faced punishment between probation and a 20-year sentence for casting her ill-fated ballots.
She was arrested in 2015, just as the state of Texas was winding up to fight for its voter identification law in the federal courts, before going on trial just weeks after President Donald Trump claimed that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 general election, potentially handing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton.
Ken Paxton's Texas Attorney General's office, still fighting for the voter ID law in federal court, helped Tarrant County prosecute Ortega.
“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 Thursday morning. “Safeguarding the integrity of our elections is essential to preserving our democracy.”