President Trump, who refuses to believe he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton last November by 3 million votes, must be overjoyed at an outrageous sentence imposed on a Texas woman, Rosa Maria Ortega, 37, for voter fraud. Ortega, a mother of four brought to the United States as an infant, was sentenced to eight years in prison and fined $5,000 for voting illegally in elections in 2012 and 2014. She’ll also likely be deported.
Ortega, who has a sixth-grade education, insisted through her attorney that she didn’t know it was illegal for her to vote. The lawyer noted, “She can own property; she can serve in the military; she can get a job; she can pay taxes. But she can’t vote, and she didn’t know that.”
Texas officials were blunt about making an example of Ortega. No less that the state attorney general said the sentence “shows how serious Texas is about keeping its elections secure.” In other words, it was Ortega’s misfortune to be used as an example — an example that doesn’t come up very often because there is very little voter fraud in the United States. But Republican legislatures around the country — including in North Carolina — have used the fraud excuse for laws making it more difficult for the elderly, the young and minorities to vote They have reduced early voting days and eliminated polling sites popular with students while pressing for strict Voter ID laws.
In North Carolina, a Haywood County jury convicted a man of voting twice in the March primary. But he received a suspended sentence and a nominal fine.
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The Texas sentence can in part be laid at Trump’s feet, because he’s promised an investigation of fraud involving “millions of votes” in the presidential contest, something which has no basis in fact.
The danger in North Carolina is that the president’s ego-driven crusade will inspire Republican leaders in the legislature to ramp up more voter suppression laws based on claims of voter fraud, even though little fraud has ever been found. That’s not going to matter to GOP leaders, who have drawn outrageous district lines for Congress and the General Assembly to ensure they maintain their power, and who’d love to do more to hold down the vote of those who might vote against them.
It’s horribly irresponsible of the president to give aid and comfort to such efforts and to imply the American election system is somehow rigged. Trump even began hedging at the end of a presidential debate when asked if he would support the outcome of the election.
But for now, a Texas mother of four is headed to prison for voting, and not with a vote that changed an election or was part of some larger conspiracy. No, she should not have voted. But eight years in prison? The penalty is more about fear mongering than it is protecting the integrity of elections.