Last month, Rosa Maria Ortega lost her appeal and will soon begin serving an eight-year sentence in Texas for illegally voting. According to her lawyer, the 39-year-old mother of four who was brought into the US as a baby “has a sixth-grade education. She didn’t know she wasn’t legal. 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.” Registering in 2002 as a Republican, Ortega voted in several elections, fulfilling what she considered her civic duty and, ironically, casting a vote for the attorney general who prosecuted her.
This week’s revelations regarding voter fraud in Bladen and Robeson counties have implicated McCrae Dowless, a Republican political operative with a checkered past, hired by a consultant working on behalf of Congressman-elect Mark Harris. Dowless is accused of tampering and discarding absentee ballots to tip the primary and general elections to his client. As the evidence of fraud against Dowless mounts and as the investigation inevitably expands to include those complicit, what will their punishment be?
If Rosa Maria Ortega’s eight-year sentence fits her crime, then certainly those found guilty of tampering and destroying hundreds, perhaps even thousands of ballots deserve no less than life in prison. Fairness demands it. Our democracy depends on it.