This week, a Texas judge declined a black woman’s request for a retrial after she was sentenced to five years in prison for voter fraud.
Crystal Mason, 43, has maintained that she did not know she was barred from voting because of her felony and probation status, and made an honest mistake.
The backstory: Mason served a 60-month sentence for tax fraud, and was released in early 2016. She attempted to cast her ballot in the 2016 presidential election at her local church, but was told that her name had been purged from the voter rolls when she went to prison, so she filed a provisional ballot. Neither her probation officer nor the election worker at her polling place informed Mason that her status barred her from voting.
Despite the fact that her provisional ballot was never counted, Mason was indicted last year for voter fraud. The charge is a second-degree felony, and is punishable by up to to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Mason waived her right to a jury trial, assuming the judge would dismiss her case as a common misunderstanding.
But in March, State District Judge Ruben Gonzalez found Mason guilty of illegal voting in Tarrant County, and sentenced her to five years in prison. Mason asked for a new trial, and was rejected on Monday. She plans to appeal the decision to a higher court.
Mason has maintained that she did not know she was barred her from voting in the presidential election. Under Texas law, former felons have the right to vote, so long as they are not incarcerated and are not under probation or parole. Mason was on probation following her release at the time she attempted to vote.
From the New York Times (emphasis mine):
Two months ago, a petition was started online to have all charges against Ms. Mason, who is black, thrown out. In the petition her photo is placed next to a photo of Terri Lynn Rote, a white woman who was convicted of voter fraud in Iowa for trying to vote for President Trump twice. Ms. Rote was sentenced to two years’ probation and a $750 fine. The petition has over 38,000 signatures.As she prepared to appeal the rejection of her motion for a new trial, Ms. Mason said she had high hopes.“I showed my kids that no matter what you can get out and get your life in order,” said Ms. Mason. “But sometimes, regardless of whatever your past is, you are still going to be beat up for it.”
The U.S. is a patchwork of voting laws for people with criminal records, so it makes sense that Mason could be confused about her own right to vote. In Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee, people convicted of murder or rape lose the right to vote for the rest of their lives.
In other states, felons must apply to have their voting rights reinstated after serving their full sentences. Just two states, Maine and Vermont, extend the right to vote to all citizens, regardless of voters’ incarceration or criminal record. (The ACLU has a handy map of felony disenfranchisement laws by state.)
We live in a country where a virulently racist conspiracy theorist who laundered $20,000 in campaign contributions through “straw donors” can get his record wiped clean by the president of the United States, while a black woman can get sentenced to five years in prison for what seems like an honest mistake.
“You think I would jeopardize my freedom?” Mason said at the time of her indictment. “You honestly think I would ever want to leave my babies again? That was the hardest thing in my life to deal with. Who would—as a mother, as a provider—leave their kids over voting?”