Pro­tect­ing the right to vote

Il­le­gal vot­ing un­der­mines rep­re­sen­ta­tive gov­ern­ment

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - By Ken Pax­ton IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY GREG GROESCH Ken Pax­ton is the at­tor­ney gen­eral of Texas.

Ajury of 10 women and two men in Tar­rant County, Texas, found Rosa Ortega guilty of vot­ing il­le­gally and sen­tenced her to eight years in jail. That sim­ple truth — that or­di­nary women and men sen­tenced Ortega — is too of­ten omit­ted in false nar­ra­tives that min­i­mize the im­por­tance of elec­tion in­tegrity, like The Washington Post’s re­cent mis­lead­ing ed­i­to­rial on this case. Of course, that pub­li­ca­tion passed on this piece which fac­tu­ally cor­rects its own.

The ju­rors who de­cided Ortega’s fate based their de­ci­sion on the facts. The pros­e­cu­tors proved that at the same time that Ortega falsely claimed to be a cit­i­zen for the pur­poses of vot­ing, she cor­rectly in­formed the au­thor­i­ties that she was a res­i­dent alien in or­der to ob­tain a driv­ers’ li­cense. This dev­as­tat­ing piece of ev­i­dence, which pros­e­cu­tors in­tro­duced at trial, laid waste to the claim that Ortega made an in­no­cent mis­take.

The pros­e­cu­tors also proved that Ortega il­le­gally reg­is­tered to vote in 2002, and voted il­le­gally in 2004, 2005, and 2010. And they es­tab­lished that when Ortega moved 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, in­sist­ing this time that she was, in fact, a U.S. Cit­i­zen.

De­spite the ev­i­dence that Ortega had been vot­ing il­le­gally for more than 10 years, the State of Texas of­fered her the min­i­mum pun­ish­ment avail­able for the of­fense, two years com­mu­nity su­per­vi­sion — no prison, no jail, no spe­cial con­di­tions. In­stead, Ortega vol­un­tar­ily chose to gam­ble on a jury trial.

Work­ing to­gether, pros­e­cu­tors from the Texas At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s Of­fice and the Tar­rant County Dis­trict At­tor­ney’s Of­fice showed at trial that Ortega know­ingly made false state­ments about her cit­i­zen­ship in or­der to vote il­le­gally five times be­tween 2004 and 2014. Af­ter prov­ing their case, the pros­e­cu­tors did not rec­om­mend a spe­cific term of prison time. In­stead they left Ortega’s sen­tence in the hands of the ju­rors — the same 10 women and two men who weighed the ev­i­dence pre­sented dur­ing the four-day trial.

The judge in­structed the ju­rors that the of­fense range for the type of of­fense Ortega com­mit­ted — a sec­ond-de­gree felony — spanned from 2 to 20 years of jail time, or up to 10 years of pro­ba­tion. The court also read the stan­dard jury in­struc­tion ad­vis­ing that early re­lease through pa­role was avail­able, though the ju­rors could not spec­u­late or de­lib­er­ate on what the ac­tual time served would be.

The ju­rors re­turned a sen­tence that is in line with the pun­ish­ments for other sec­ond-de­gree of­fenses, a cat­e­gory that in­cludes vi­o­lent of­fenses such as man­slaugh­ter, ag­gra­vated as­sault, and sex­ual as­sault. But well-es­tab­lished guide­lines in Texas al­low for early re­lease of non-vi­o­lent of­fend­ers like Ortega — an­other fact that has been left out of many news ac­counts. Ortega will be el­i­gi­ble for pa­role af­ter serv­ing around 11 months of her sen­tence.

Nev­er­the­less, the 8-year sen­tence sends a pow­er­ful mes­sage that or­di­nary cit­i­zens, like the 10 women and two men who found Ortega guilty, hold vot­ing rights dear. The out­come demon­strates that in­di­vid­u­als who vi­o­late elec­tion laws in Texas will be held ac­count­able for the in­jury that they in­flict on all vot­ers by di­lut­ing the le­git­i­mate power of law­fully-cast bal­lots. In a ma­jor­ity-rule democ­racy like ours, pro­tect­ing the elec­torate en­sures po­lit­i­cal le­git­i­macy. As Pres­i­dent Jimmy Carter and Sec­re­tary of State James Baker said in the 2005 bi­par­ti­san com­mis­sion re­port on fed­eral elec­tion re­form: “The elec­toral sys­tem can­not in­spire pub­lic con­fi­dence if no safe­guards ex­ist to de­ter or de­tect fraud or to con­firm the iden­tity of vot­ers.”

The Texas At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s Of­fice is com­mit­ted to serv­ing law-abid­ing cit­i­zens who un­der­stand that se­cur­ing the in­tegrity of our elec­tions is es­sen­tial to pre­serv­ing our democ­racy. Our of­fice is cur­rently in­ves­ti­gat­ing more 50 cases of al­leged vot­ing mis­con­duct. Six of those in­ves­ti­ga­tions stem from the most re­cent fed­eral elec­tion. In­deed, in re­cent months, our of­fice has re­ceived a record num­ber of re­fer­rals from lo­cal pros­e­cu­tors of al­leged vot­ing mis­con­duct. The trend sug­gests a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in voter fraud.

The main­stream media is too of­ten out of touch with the ev­ery­day is­sues that con­cern or­di­nary peo­ple: from en­sur­ing there are enough good jobs to pro­tect­ing our streets and schools. The con­tempt for those who want to safe­guard a le­gal vot­ing sys­tem is just an­other ex­am­ple of the re­fusal of our elites to con­front ba­sic re­al­i­ties that com­mu­ni­ties across Texas and else­where widely ac­cept. Re­gard­less of the ex­act num­ber of vot­ing mis­con­duct cases, pa­tri­otic cit­i­zens such as the ju­rors in the Ortega case should not be ridiculed for pro­tect­ing the very fab­ric of rep­re­sen­ta­tive gov­ern­ment — the right to vote.

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