Governor Abbott’s Cruelty Will Be His Undoing

Authoritarian regimes succeed only when there are enough lackeys willing to brutalize their fellow citizens on behalf of the autocracy. These lackeys do it without being told, and they do it with zeal.

One such lackey is Gov. Greg Abbott, whose fealty to Trump is painfully evident in the case of a Tarrant County, Texas, woman named Maria Ortega, who was sentenced to eight years in prison for voter fraud.

Ortega, a mother of four who has lived in Texas since infancy, is a U.S permanent resident. In other words, she is here legally, with a Green Card. Although Green Card-holders are prohibited from voting, Ortega voted (for Mitt Romney) in the 2012 election, and has said that she misunderstood the rules for voter registration and voting as a legal permanent resident. When the Tarrant County election office discovered she was not a citizen, and that she had voted in previous elections, they filed charges.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, for whom Ortega also voted, offered to dismiss the charges. In normal times, the charges would have been dismissed, or at worst Ortega would have been sentenced to probation.

But these are not normal times.

Tarrant County Attorney General Sharen Wilson disregarded Paxton’s offer and took the case to trial. A jury convicted Ortega of felony voter fraud and sentenced her to eight years. (It’s confusing, but in this case the jury, not the judge, determined the sentence. See first paragraph about lackeys.)

This injustice would have gone largely unnoticed had Trump not brought voter fraud into the national spotlight, and had Gov. Abbott not amplified it.

Our governor is gloating about separating a mother from her children for eight years. She will be in prison and then deported. There is no planet on which this punishment fits the crime, and our governor seems delighted about it.

Side note: The voting rights of Green Card-holders are not exactly clear. In fact, these are Google’s “instant results” for “Can you vote with a green card?”

This is clear as mud. Ortega voted in a state election, which this definition from Legal Zoom makes seem legal. But it’s not!

Whether or not Ortega knew she was repeatedly breaking the law by voting, eight years is an insane prison sentence.

So what can we do?

For Ortega: Probably not much, although watch this space for any updates.

But we are Indivisible and you know what that means…

If you live in Tarrant County

Call Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson at (817) 884-1400 and ask why she decided to move this case to trial when Ken Paxton offered to dismiss charges. Ask if eight years seems like a fair sentence. Also: The DA in Tarrant County is an elected office and in 2015 Wilson ran unopposed in the general election. (Please do not call if you are not a Tarrant County resident.)

If you live in Texas

Call Gov. Greg Abbott and ask him whether eight years in prison is a reasonable term for a mother of four who simply…voted when she wasn’t supposed to. Ask him if he’s ever made a mistake, and how he’d feel to have his family torn asunder over something so minor. Rapists and murderers do less than eight years. And when it comes time to for you to vote, remember Maria Ortega’s name.

If you live outside of Texas

Consider donating to the Women’s Storybook Project of Texas, which connects incarcerated mothers to their children through literature.

Voting Rights: Dispelling the Myths

Boy, is there a lot of misinformation on voting out there! I probably won’t be able to hit them all, but let me try to clear up a few of the pervasive myths that surround voting in the United States. Please keep in mind that my “expertise” is Texas specific, and that each state runs their own elections systems. However, those are largely differences in degree, not differences in kind.

The Myth: “I don’t want to register to vote because I don’t want to end up on the jury duty rolls!”

The Reality: If you have a State-issued drivers’ license or ID card, guess what? You are already on the jury duty rolls. Sorry folks. But like death and taxes (with apologies to my libertarian friends), getting on the jury duty rolls is inevitable. As the Travis County Registrar of Voters office told me, certainly, the State “can” pull your name from the voter registration rolls. The State can pull your name from any government listing that you are on. Fear of jury duty should NEVER stop you from exercising your right to vote.

The Myth: “I have a green card, so it’s my right to vote, but only in local or state elections, not Presidential.”

The Reality: Simply put, voting in US Elections is a right and privilege of US citizens ONLY. Qualifications to vote in the US are as follows:

  • You must be a US Citizen.
  • You must meet your state’s residency requirements. (However, if you are a homeless US Citizen, you are STILL eligible to vote!)
  • You must be at least 18 years of age on Election Day. Registration requirements vary by states. For example, in Texas, you may register to vote when you reach age 17 years and 10 months, but you can only vote when you turn 18.
  • You must register to vote by your State’s voter registration deadline. For example, in Texas, you must be a registered voter 30 days prior to the next Election Day.

The Myth: “I can’t vote because I have a felony conviction on my record.”

The Reality: Although each state sets their own rules, which you can find here, in the majority of states, you can absolutely vote if you are off paper! That is, once you have served your time and finished parole, you are eligible to vote. So get registered!

If you still have questions about voting or getting registered, check out the Texas Secretary of State’s Elections Division, Travis County Elections, or for other states, start here. The most important thing is that you get registered and vote. Every election. Every time!