Laura Janeth Garza, 38, was indicted last week in Harris County, Texas, on two counts of illegal voting. Attorney General Ken Paxton announced on Monday that his office will prosecute Garza, who is a Mexican national. Houston is located in Harris County.
The Texas attorney general’s office alleges that Garza (a.k.a. Angie Yadira Zamora) illegally registered to vote in Harris County after stealing the identity of a U.S. citizen. Garza was found out by authorities when the victim of the identity theft applied for a U.S. passport and discovered that one had been issued in her name to another person.
According to Paxton’s office, Garza voted in 2004, 2012 and 2016. Garza stands charged with ineligible voting and voter impersonation in the November 2016 election. Under federal law, she could be deported for either charge. On Monday, Garza was being held at the Montgomery County jail with bail set at $150,000. Garza could get 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine if convicted.
"This case demonstrates my office's commitment to protecting the integrity of elections," Paxton said in a written statement. "We will continue to do everything in our power to safeguard the electoral process in Texas."
Among other persons who have been convicted of illegal voting in recent years in north Texas was a Tarrant County woman. Crystal Mason, 43, is an African-American woman who was on supervised release after a tax-fraud conviction, making her ineligible to cast a ballot. She voted anyway in the 2016 election. She claimed later that she was unaware of her ineligibility. Mason has been sentenced to five years in prison. A Grand Prairie woman was sentenced in 2017 to eight years in prison for voting. Mexican citizen Rosa Maria Ortega, according to her attorney, voted for Paxton in one election. In Tarrant County, Justice of the Peace Russ Casey resigned in March of this year. He pleaded guilty to forging signatures on a petition to secure his place on a primary election ballot. Casey was sentenced to five years' probation.
Several advocacy groups are contesting the sentence that Crystal Mason received for illegally voting. In April, Dominique Alexander of the Next Generation Action Network contested Tarrant County Judge Ruben Gonzalez decision to sentence Mason to five years in prison. Alexander said, “The Next Generation Action Network along with a lot of community organizations as well as churches [like] Friendship West, the African-American Pastors Coalition of North Texas feel this is outrageous and we’re going to stand up.”
Tarrant County prosecutor Matt Smid released a statement, saying, “There was testimony from an election judge, a 25-plus year Navy veteran that he went over the provision ballot with Mason, including the portion to the ineligibility to vote and the penalty for doing so and she was affirmed to having read it.”
The Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office offered Mason a plea deal with no jail time, which she declined because of its potential impact on her probation in her tax case.
Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.