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.
— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) February 11, 2017
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?”
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.