Bagging a unicorn: Texas mom gets 8 years for illegally voting for Ken Paxton

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Good Monday Austin:

That is Rosa Maria Ortega in the photo above, with her brother and her four children (I assume the fifth child in the photo is her brother’s). Last Wednesday, Ortega, a legal permanent of resident of the United States who had lived in Texas since she was an infant, but was not a citizen, was sentenced to eight years in prison for illegally voting in Dallas County.

There was no assertion that Ortega was part of any scheme to swing the election, or any organized effort at all. Her illegal votes were for Mitt Romney for president and Ken Paxton in his primary runoff for attorney general against Dan Branch. Her illegal voting appeared to be the consequence of genuine confusion about whether she could vote, and, what in retrospect, seems a pathetic sense of civic duty.

From  Mitch Mitchell at the Fort Worth Star Telegram

In a case that state Attorney General Ken Paxton said “shows how serious Texas is about keeping its elections secure,” a Grand Prairie woman who isn’t a U.S. citizen was sentenced to eight years in prison Thursday for voting illegally.

A Tarrant County jury handed down the sentence after finding Rosa Maria Ortega, 37, guilty Wednesday of voting in Dallas County in the 2012 general election and the 2014 Republican primary runoff. Ortega has a green card.

“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 an emailed statement. “Safeguarding the integrity of our elections is essential to preserving our democracy.”

Ortega, a mother of four children ages 12 to 16, was sentenced to eight years in prison and fined $5,000 on each of two counts of illegal voting. The sentences will be served concurrently.

Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson said voting is a fundamental right for U.S. citizens that must be fought for and protected.

“At a minimum, statements made in applications to vote should be verified before handing out voter registration cards,” Wilson said. “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 will be eligible for parole after she serves two years in prison, her attorney, Clark Birdsall, said, but she will be immediately deported after she finishes her sentence.

From Breitbart, Nov. 9, 2015, when the case was brought:

‘Protecting the integrity of elections is essential to our democracy and a top priority of my administration,” said Attorney General Ken Paxton in a statement obtained by Breitbart Texas from the Texas Office of the Attorney General (OAG). “As long as there are criminals seeking to exploit our system of elections, we stand ready to investigate, prosecute and restore confidence that the will of the people of Texas is heard.”

From Michael Wines  last week in the New York Times.

Ms. Ortega is now in a Fort Worth jail awaiting transfer to a state prison. Her four children, ages 13 to 16, are being cared for by siblings and her fiancé, Oscar Sherman, 27, a trucker who said her arrest had scotched their plans to marry. The children’s fate is unclear. Mr. Sherman lacks legal custody; her siblings are still debating their options.

Ms. Ortega’s future is bleak. The federal government frowns on giving green cards to felons. “She’ll do eight years in a Texas prison,” Mr. Birdsall said. “And then she’ll be deported, and wake up blinking and scratching in a country she doesn’t know.”

Her life is ruined.

Birdsall said her four children are now with their birth father, who, he said, has not been part of their lives for a long time.

But, a message has been sent.

Yes, and in Singapore, if you are visiting foreigner who overstays your visa by more than 90 days  you will pay a price (caning), “a measure designed to deter illegal immigrant workers.” And in Saudi Arabia, you may pay a price (death by stoning) for adultery, if you are the woman in the affair (for the man, 100 lashes), though two years ago, after an international outcry, the softies in Saudi Arabia “reduced a Sri Lankan woman’s sentence for adultery from death by stoning to a three-year jail term after an appeal.”

I talked yesterday with Clark Birdsall, Ortega’s attorney:

Let me put it in perspective for you. The real evil, if there is any, in election fraud, occurs in the process known as ballot harvesting. It’s something where people assist elderly and handicapped people to apply for ballots. Maybe they’ll go into old folks homes. Where I’ve seen it is old folks home primarily, people not very able-bodied. They’ll assist in filing out their ballot applications and when the ballot gets sent to them through the mail, they’ll be waiting at the mailbox. If it’s a multiple dwelling unit, they can take 50, 100, and they can take them out and vote them the way they want … That’s called ballot harvesting and that’s the place where the efforts need to be focused.

What my women did was in no way related to any sort of organized harvesting. She was just some simple lady, who thought it was her duty to vote, and it was wrong, but instead of the government just acknowledging, `OK, you were wrong, you’re simple, don’t do it again,’ they chose to make an example out of her, to show everybody how hard they are trying to get ahold of this. Instead of getting at the real evil if there is such, they just picked the low-hanging fruit and broke her sword in the public square and tarred and feathered her and carried her around for the public to see and it infuriates me.

(Photo: Dylan Hollingsworth/The New York Times)

(Photo: Dylan Hollingsworth/The New York Times)

On the reaction from Republican politicians, Birdsall said:

These people are beating their chests and wrapping themselves up in the flag and trying to impress our current occupier of the White House, and they’re like a big-game hunter, one foot on the carcass, with their gun in their hand and with a big smile on their face.

This is such a miscarriage.

And the taxpayers are going to pay a minimum of $300,000 or $400,000 to house this woman, just so a local politicians can curry favor with Trump, or with Abbott, who is just as out of control.

From the Times story:

Mr. Birdsall said Mr. Paxton’s office had been prepared to dismiss all charges against Ms. Ortega if she agreed to testify on voting procedures before the Texas Legislature. But the Tarrant County criminal district attorney, Sharen Wilson, vetoed that deal, he said, insisting on a trial that would showcase her office’s efforts to crack down on election fraud.

Both the attorney general’s office and the county prosecutor declined to comment on the specifics of Mr. Birdsall’s statement, citing privacy rules for plea-bargain negotiations. A spokeswoman for Ms. Wilson, Sam Jordan, said any negotiations were only “discussions,” a description Mr. Birdsall disputed.

From my conversation with Birdsall:

The local politician wanted to avoid any appearance of being weak on crime or weak on election fraud and instead wanted to impress the world with how tough she can be and so she said no. That’s all there is to it. That’s it.

Of the deal that fell through:

This was my idea.

I got brought in (to represent Ortega) by some Latino leaders because this is an area that I have a background in. I only got brought in about a month beforehand and from the start, this was my idea to the attorney general, let her run press conferences do whatever, and the guy in the trenches, the one that actually prosecuted the case (Assistant Attorney General Jonathan White) ran it up his chain of command and it took two or three weeks and they said fine.

So that really should have been good enough, but because this case was being prosecuted in the Tarrant County courthouse, they felt like they needed the blessing, if not the acquiescence, of the elected district attorney of Tarrant County, and, as of the day before we started jury selection, that’s when the attorney general’s representative and the assistant district attorney went to the district attorney’s office to bounce this idea off of her and I was there Friday until 3:30 and I get a call at 4 o’clock that the deal is off, she wont’ go for it. And that’s all I know. I’m not in that meeting, but I‘ve been around long enough to know what it is.

I know in my heart of hearts she just wanted to appear tough and that’s why we had to go to trial. So there it is.

The DA’s office first got this brought to their attention because she had voted for ten years in Dallas. When she moved to Tarrant County she had to re-register with the Tarrant County Election Department. She sent in an application. She checked the box saying `I’m not a U.S. citizen,’ so of course they reject it and tell her you cant’ be a voter when you check that box saying you’re not a citizen.

My client, knowing she had been voting for years in Dallas County believing she was eligible, she sent another one in saying she was a citizen. Well, that immediately gets those guys all roiled, they tap the DA on the shoulder, the DA gets involved, they develop evidence that she had actually voted, not just applied to vote, but actually voted in Dallas,because this woman is saying, `Dallas said I’m OK to vote, what’s wrong?’

So she basically tells them I’ve been voting in Dallas, so they go, pull the records, and yup, she’s been voting in Dallas. Well Tarrant county doesn’t have jurisdiction to prosecute her voting in Dallas, so the only way Tarrant County can hang onto that case is by bringing in the attorney general. If the attorney general is involved, the law is written so that they can prosecute not just in the county where the irregularity occurred but in any adjoining county.

Boom. That gives Tarrant County jurisdiction for the misdemeanor, where she applied to vote, and now they have jurisdiction for the actual voting in Dallas County. That is what we went to trial on.. That’s a secondary felony.

One of the problems with this whole thing and it should have been, in my opinion – and I’ll yell it to the skies – should have been prosecuted in Dallas County. Why? It’s a much higher percentage of Latinos They send her out to Tarrant County where there’s a much lower percentage of Latinos, you can look at the U.S. Census figures to see that. I entered those into evidence when I tried to argue that this prosecution should be stopped.

And, on top of that, she got sent into Indian Country because that was a heavily Trump-controlled county and we all know Trump is very publicly claiming the reason he lost he popular vote by 3 million is because of illegal voters. So she got sent into the lion’s den holding meat in both hands. She was mauled.

(Trump won 52 percent of the vote in Tarrant County, and 35 percent in Dallas County.)

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Here was Trump senior adviser Stephen Miller, who made the rounds of the Sunday shows on behalf of the administration yesterday, on ABC’s This Week:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS:  President Trump again this week suggested in a meeting with senators that thousands of illegal voters were bused from Massachusetts to New Hampshire and that’s what caused his defeat in the state of New Hampshire, also the defeat of Senator Kelly Ayotte.

That has provoked a response from a member of the Federal Election Commission, Ellen Weintraub, who says, “I call upon the president to immediately share New Hampshire voter fraud evidence so that his allegations may be investigated promptly.”

Do have that evidence?

STEPHEN MILLER: I have actually haven’t worked before on a campaign in New Hampshire. I can tell you that this issue of busing voters into New Hampshire is widely known by anyone who’s worked in New Hampshire politics. It’s very real. It’s very serious. This morning, on this show, is not the venue for me to lay out all the evidence.

But I can tell you this, voter fraud is a serious problem in this country. You have millions of people who are registered in two states or who are dead who are registered to vote. And you have 14 percent of non-citizens, according to academic research, at a minimum, are registered to vote, which is an astonishing statistic.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You can’t make a — hold on a second. You just claimed again that there was illegal voting in New Hampshire, people bused in from the state of Massachusetts.

Do you have any evidence to back that up?

(CROSSTALK)

MILLER: I’m saying anybody — George, go to New Hampshire. Talk to anybody who has worked in politics there for a long time. Everybody is aware of the problem in New Hampshire with respect to —

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: I’m asking you as the White House senior — hold on a second. I’m asking use as the White House senior policy adviser. The president made a statement, saying he was the victim of voter fraud, people are being bused from —

(CROSSTALK)

MILLER: And the president — the president — the president was.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you have any evidence?

MILLER: — issue — if this is an issue that interests you, then we can talk about it more in the future. And we now have our government is beginning to get stood up. But we have a Department of Justice and we have more officials.

An issue of voter fraud is something we’re going to be looking at very seriously and very hard.

But the reality is, is that we know for a fact, you have massive numbers of non-citizens registered to vote in this country. Nobody disputes that. And many, many highly qualified people, like Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, have looked deeply into this issue and have confirmed it to be true and have put together evidence.

And I suggest you invite Kris Kobach onto your show and he can walk you through some of the evidence of voter fraud —

STEPHANOPOULOS: You have — you have —

MILLER: — in greater detail.

STEPHANOPOULOS: — just for the record, you have provided absolutely no evidence. The president’s made a statement.

MILLER: The White House has provided enormous evidence with respect to voter fraud, with respect to people being registered in more than one state, dead people voting, non-citizens being registered to vote. George, it is a fact and you will not deny it, that there are massive numbers of non-citizens in this country, who are registered to vote. That is a scandal.

We should stop the presses. And as a country, we should be aghast about the fact that you have people who have no right to vote in this country, registered to vote, canceling out the franchise of lawful citizens of this country.

That’s the story we should be talking about. And I’m prepared to go on any show, anywhere, anytime, and repeat it and say the President of the United States is correct 100 percent.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, you just repeated, though, you just made those declarations. But, for the record, you have provided zero evidence that the president was the victim of massive voter fraud in New Hampshire. You provided zero evidence —

MILLER: Anyone who’s worked —

STEPHANOPOULOS: — hold on.

MILLER: — politics is familiar —

STEPHANOPOULOS: You have provided zero evidence that the president’s claim that he would have won the general — the popular vote if 3 million to 5 million illegal immigrants hadn’t voted, zero evidence for either one of those claims.

MILLER: Well, it’s —

STEPHANOPOULOS: Thanks a lot for joining us this morning.

Clark Birdsall, (Dylan Hollingsworth/The New York Times)

Clark Birdsall, (Dylan Hollingsworth/The New York Times)

In the current political climate, I asked Birdsall about the reason why, in this case, the jury and not the judge passed sentence.

In Texas anybody accused of a crime has a choice between a judge and a jury to set sentencing. That decision has to be made before the start of trial. I figured the judge (Robb Catalano) would line up with the local politicians and want to curry favor, and I was right, he was making all sorts of speeches throughout the trail and it was really upsetting.

But, obviously, the jury – which could have imposed a sentence anywhere from probation to 20 years – was no better for Ortega.

Birdsall:

It’s a disproportionate sentence. They’re putting her head on a pole. `Here’s our three million voters that cost Donald trump the popular vote.’  But that’s  wrong. She is not part of any organized thing. She’s not one of those ballot harvesters, if here are such.

When I was head of the Public Integrity Unit for the Dallas County DA’s Office, we’d always hear that and people would bring us in a lot of evidence and we would never find anything conclusive. We know the AG’s office is getting those same kind of rumors and trying to check it out. If they found enough evidence to charge anyone I don’t know, but here’s this one little lady, the mother of four, one voter, she’s not in alliance with any nefarious bad guys.

Even if she voted when she was not supposed to vote, she’s voting for Mitt Romney, she’s voting for Ken Paxton. Give me a break.

Ortega is being held in the Tarrant County jail.

Birdsall has filed a notice of appeal. But Ortega still faces the misdemeanor charge of giving a false statement on a voter application in Tarrant County, and even conviction on just that charge, Birdsall said, would lead to her deportation under federal immigration law, even though she was a legal permanent resident.

‘If we plead that, she’ll still be deported and the family will still be ruined,” he said.

Birdsall said Ortega has been in Texas, “since she was in diapers.” Her mother was able to get her daughter a green card when she was a child.

“She was eight-years-old when her mom got her a green card and then shortly after that her mom got in trouble and was deported,” Birdsall said. “Nobody ever explained to her what this card is. She just grew up with this card in her pocket that said that she was a resident, which meant she was allowed to be in this country, but nobody ever explained to her that you can’t vote from this.”

Birdsall said Ortega’s mother was sent to prison and deported for selling drugs.

Now, in a very odd echo, her daughter is being sent to prison and will be deported for illegally voting for some Republican candidates.

Birdsall said Ortega is not in touch with her mother. He doesn’t know if she is living her dead. There is no father in the picture. Her four children – aged 13,14,15 and 16 – have been placed in the custody of their biological father, who he said has not been in the picture for a long time.

And what’s Ortega’s frame of mind?

Birdsall:

Well, I can tell you what it was like after she sentenced, and at that point she was very stoic and calm and ready to just get this behind her even though it meant prison and deportation. I’m told by the family that she’s in a high state of anxiety now that she knows the bio father has taken the kids.

 

(Courtesy Tarrant County via AP)

(Courtesy Tarrant County via AP)

Ortega’s conviction and sentencing was heralded by, among others, J. Christian Adams, an election lawyer who served in the Voting Rights Section at the U.S. Department of Justice in President George W. Bush’s administration writing at PJ Media: Illegal Alien Voter Convicted in Texas is Tip of the Iceberg

You won’t hear much about Rosa Maria Ortega after this week.  Ortega is the Mexican  alien who was caught illegally voting five times in American elections.  Ortega is Bigfoot for those in the media, professors, and Democrats who tell us that “voter fraud is as rare as Bigfoot.”

The caustic radical Andrew Cohen is one of the purveyors of that lie (@JustADCohen).

Unfortunately, when it comes to voter fraud, when you catch one crook, it usually means there are hundreds more hiding in the darkness.  When it comes to aliens voting, it’s more like thousands and thousands.  And yes, there is evidence of large numbers of aliens getting on American voter rolls for anyone who cares to look, as we shall see.

“Voter fraud is a myth” is the favorite lazy narrative at places like the New York Times, the DNC, CNN and the Brennan Center for Justice (apologies, I repeat myself again). That’s why Ortega is about to disappear down the memory hole.

In August of 2015 – just three months before Ortega was charged with voter fraud, PolitiFact checked this claim by U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., made on ABC’s This Week:

Take Texas for example, where Lyndon Johnson’s obviously from, they passed these voter ID laws. In the decade before it, 10 years, they only prosecute two people for in-person voter ID, only two people. You’re more likely to get struck by lightning in Texas than to find any kind of voter fraud.

From PolitiFact:

Our ruling

Booker said, “You’re more likely to get struck by lightning in Texas” than to find in-person voter fraud.

Since 2002, there have been a total of 85 election fraud prosecutions, not all of which have resulted in conviction. Only a small number of those cases — four or possibly fewer — included allegations of in-person voter fraud, also called voter impersonation. Those are the kinds of cases the voter ID law in Texas is aimed at preventing, and Booker is right that they have been less frequent than lightning strikes. Overall, we rate his statement True.

Subsequently, PolitiFact Texas checked out Gov. Abbott’s March 2016 statesman: “The fact is voter fraud is rampant–and in Texas, unlike some other states and unlike some other leaders, we are committed to cracking down on voter fraud.”

While noting the charges brought against Ortega, here was PolitiFact’s conclusion:

Our ruling

Abbott, defending the Texas mandate to present a photo ID at the polls, said: “Voter fraud is rampant.”

If Abbott has the goods on this, he’s keeping secrets. Best we can tell, in-person voter fraud–the kind targeted by the ID law–remains extremely rare, which makes this claim incorrect and ridiculous.

Pants on Fire!

Putting aside the crucial question of frequency and scale,  I have thought from the start of this controversy that Trump critics were foolish to be so absolute in their protestations that voter fraud simply does not exist. I mean this is real life and this is politics and there is nothing that does not exist. By being so absolute in  mocking Trump and Republican claims, they set the stage for the Ortega show trial in Fort Worth.

From Dan Barry in the New York Times, on January 25.

Amid the verbal deluge, President Trump this week repeated an assertion he made shortly after his election: that millions of ballots cast illegally by undocumented immigrants cost him the popular vote. If true, this would suggest the wholesale corruption of American democracy.

Not to worry: As far as anyone knows, the president’s assertion is akin to saying that millions of unicorns also voted illegally.

Well, with Ortega, Republicans bagged a unicorn, and while it’s just one, it’s nonetheless proof  that unicorns exist.

Birdsall said that Ortega voted in Dallas County, and insisted – with fateful consequences – that she ought to be able to vote in Tarrant County, because Dallas Count let her vote. They never checked her citizenship or demanded that she prove it.

Birdsall said that for most Americans – evidently including those on Ortega’s jury – it may be impossible to believe that she didn’t understand the difference between being a permanent legal resident and being a citizen when it comes to voting. But, he said, in the milieu in which Ortega existed, it’s perfectly possible.

I also have no trouble believing that there are those who are OK with that ambiguity, who are not particularly bothered if some folks, like Ortega, longtime legal residents without citizenship, vote – though, in the case of the folks I’m thinking about, they would be mightily disappointed if they knew they were voting Republican.

But, if this is a problem, it requires systemic change, and, indeed, the attorney general and the Tarrant County DA could have used Ortega as a the Poster Woman for the need for that kind of change without putting her in jail. They could have offered Ortega as proof that unicorns exist, without having to destroy a woman – who somehow felt obliged to choose Mitt Romney over Barack Obama and Ken Paxton over Dan Branch – and her family.

Meanwhile, Abbott, Paxton and other Texas Republicans are wiling to err on the side of disenfranchising many thousand of eligible voters.

From Asher Price and Sean Collins Walsh in the Statesman.

At least 16,400 Texans who voted in the November election wouldn’t have been able to cast ballots if the state’s voter identification law had been in full effect, state voting records show.

Adopted in 2011 by a Republican-dominated Legislature, the law requiring voters to show one of seven forms of photo identification has been mired in a years-long legal battle, with opponents arguing that it disenfranchises groups that are less likely to carry identification, such as young people, elderly people and racial minorities. Proponents of the law have argued that the measure is necessary to protect the integrity of the vote.

In July, a federal appeals court ruled that the law was discriminatory, and a month later U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos ordered the state to soften the ID requirements for the Nov. 8 election, greatly expanding the types of documentation voters could show to prove their identity. Voters using one of the newly approved documents had to sign statements explaining why they couldn’t obtain one of the seven types of ID originally required by the law.

It is difficult to measure the impact of voting laws for a variety of reasons, but the last-minute compromise provides a case study for how many people would have been affected by the voter ID law.

Through a public records request to the Texas secretary of state’s office, the American-Statesman obtained copies of the more than 16,400 Reasonable Impediment Declarations signed by Texans in the November election. More than 2,300 of the forms, legal affidavits punishable with a perjury charge if found to be false, were signed by Travis County voters.

The voters who signed the affidavits were concentrated in urban areas, with six counties alone — Harris, Travis, Dallas, Collin, Tarrant and Hidalgo — accounting for more than half of them.

To sign the forms, all of those voters would’ve had to have been registered to vote and to produce documentation proving who they were.

Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said the volume of the declarations validates the concerns that the law’s opponents raised.

“The voter ID law was going to take away the legal right to vote of 2,300 people” in the county, she said. The voters who signed those declarations, she said, “tended to be poor, tend to be elderly — maybe they weren’t born in a hospital or had other extenuating circumstances.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, whose office has defended the law, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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