A Texas woman who was convicted of voting illegally was sentenced on Feb. 9 to eight years behind bars and a $5,000 fine. She claimed she didn't know she wasn't allowed to vote.
Rosa Maria Ortega, of Grand Prairie, Texas, is a legal U.S. resident who has lived in the country since she was a small child, said her defense attorney, Clark Birdsall, although she is not a citizen and is therefore not eligible to cast a ballot, reports KXAS.
"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," Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement, according to KXAS. "Safeguarding the integrity of our elections is essential to preserving our democracy."
According to prosecutors, Ortega applied to vote in Tarrant County twice. The first time, she marked that she was not a citizen, and her application was rejected. Five months later, she indicated on her second application that was a citizen, and her registration went through.
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"At a minimum, statements made in applications to vote should be verified before handing out voter registration cards," Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney Sharen Wilson said in a prepared statement, according to Dallas News. "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 never cast a ballot in Tarrant County but did so twice in nearby Dallas County, once in the November 2012 general election and another time in the May 2014 Republican primary, notes the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. She was arrested in 2015.
Her attorney argued that she did not know the difference between the terms "resident" and "citizen" as listed on the voting application.
"If I knew, everything would have been done the correct way," Ortega testified, reports Dallas News. "All my life I was taught I was a U.S. citizen."
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Jurors deliberated for two hours following the Feb. 8 trial before issuing the guilty verdict.