Do you remember the case of Rosa Ortega which we discussed back in February? She was the green card holder in Texas who was found to have voted in multiple elections and was eventually sentenced to eight years in prison for her crimes. For some reason or another, the editorial board at the Washington Post has seen fit to take up her cause in an argument this week claiming that she was made out to be a “scapegoat” for partisan Republican purposes. The arguments they offer, however, are weak tea at best.
DESPITE COCKAMAMIE conservative conspiracy theories, actual cases of intentional or even possibly intentional voting fraud are so rare in the United States that when one does crop up, Republicans get themselves in a lather. That explains the ugly tone of self-righteousness and retribution attending the scapegoating of Rosa Ortega, whose sentence of eight years in prison for voting illegally in Texas is a travesty of justice.
Eight years, really? That falls in the midrange of sentences for second-degree felonies in Texas, which include manslaughter, aggravated assault, sexual assault, possession of up to 2,000 pounds of marijuana and human trafficking. It’s a draconian and absurdly severe punishment for Ms. Ortega, who has a sixth-grade education and guilelessly exposed her intention to cast an illegal vote to elections officials.
Ms. Ortega, 37, has lived most of her life in Texas. As a legal permanent resident of the United States, she is eligible to work, serve in the military, pay taxes and receive most public benefits. But her green card does not entitle her to vote; therefore she committed a crime by having done so while living in Dallas County in 2012 and 2014.
The outrage being expressed here is no doubt sincere, but also misguided and driven by partisan, liberal dogma. The complaints being put forth by the editors can be broken down into a few separate categories, each of which is problematic.
First of all, the “travesty of justice” they describe is rooted in the fact that Ortega’s sentence was “too heavy.” Eight years is apparently an unduly harsh punishment for corrupting our democratic electoral system in the eyes of the Post. One aspect of this argument does have some merit, however. The editors cite the fact that other instances of voter fraud (which we are routinely told never happens) have resulted in sentences of a few months or even probation. Yes.. that’s a problem. There should be nobody found guilty of this crime who is let off with such a light sentence so some of the judges in Texas need to review their sentencing standards and guidelines.
A second point the Post seeks to make is the unprovable claim that voter fraud, including ballots cast by ineligible immigrants, is such a rarity that we shouldn’t be punishing anyone this severely. What does that even mean? If someone is murdered in a small town with little history of violence I wouldn’t expect you to ask for them to be let off on probation because “almost nobody ever gets murdered around here.” And yet again, I would remind the Post’s editors of something which has had me beating my head against a wall for more than the last half decade. You have no idea how much voter fraud is going on, nor do you have any idea how many resident aliens or illegal immigrants vote. You can’t know because nobody is looking very carefully to find out.
The last point the Post attempts to make is that Ortega was “guileless” and just made some sort of mistake. When the Washington Post first covered this story I took issue with that description. Here’s what I said at the time, and no new revelations have come to light which might change my mind.
After having voted illegally in 2012 and 2014, Ms. Ortega registered to vote in a different county and checked the box on the form indicating that she was not a citizen. Her application was denied and she then subsequently submitted a new application stating that she was a citizen. I don’t think we really need to call in Perry Mason on this one. That indicates a clear awareness of what went wrong in her first attempt and a deliberate action to correct the error and falsely claim voter status on the second.
All of this adds up to a rather dubious picture if you’re trying to claim that Ms. Ortega is some sort of “scapegoat.” But even if she is, we probably need a considerably larger herd of such goats. As long as we have major news outlets advocating for weeks long sentences or probation in cases of voter fraud, none of the people perpetrating this crime are going to take it seriously. And indeed, the Post has once again shown that they don’t feel it’s a very serious crime either.