Crystal Mason, a 43-year old former tax preparer, served nearly three years in prison for tax fraud. She was on supervised release in 2016 when she cast a ballot in the presidential election at the urging of her mother. Because of that, a judge sentenced her to five years in prison on Wednesday.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that Mason told the court she simply didn’t know that she couldn’t vote while on supervised release, because no one told her:
[District Judge Ruben] Gonzalez, who questioned Mason during her testimony, asked why she did not thoroughly read the documents she was given at the time.
The form you are required to sign to get the provisional ballot is called an affidavit, Gonzales told Mason. “There’s a legal connotation to that, right?” Gonzales asked.
Mason responded that she was never told by the federal court, her supervision officer, the election workers or U.S. District Judge John McBryde, the sentencing judge in her fraud case, that she would not be able to vote in elections until she finished serving her sentence, supervised release included. She also said she did not carefully read the form because an election official was helping her.
Gonzalez, a Republican appointed by Rick Perry in 2009, sentenced Mason to five years in prison. According to the Star-Telegram, her lawyer has already filed an appeal.
The stripping of voting rights from felons has undeniably functioned as a way to disenfranchise black voters, particularly in the South. (Mason is black.) In 2016, the Sentencing Project said that 6.1 million Americans were ineligible to vote because of past convictions, including one out of every 13 black people. In Texas specifically, the Sentencing Project noted, 6.1 percent of black people can’t vote due to felony convictions.
Fourteen states and Washington, D.C., allow people to vote once they’ve completed their sentences, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Maine and Vermont are the only states where people can vote while incarcerated.
Recently, there’s been some progress on this front; two days ago, a Florida judge ordered Governor Rick Scott and his cabinet to create a better system than the antiquated one it has to restore the voting rights of felons. In 2016, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, tried to restore the right to vote for over 200,000 people with an executive order, and when a court said he couldn’t do that, he said in April 2017 that he had individually restored the right to vote for over 150,000 people. And last year, Alabama passed a law to restore voting rights to people who have committed nonviolent felonies, which later drew the ire of Senate candidate and all-around scumbag Roy Moore.
But although Texas does allow some people who’ve completed nonviolent felony sentences to get their voting rights back, apparently Mason’s crime of being confused over when she’d be able to vote was enough to rip her away from her family again and lock her up for five years—a longer sentence than the one she received for the crime she actually committed, which made it illegal for her to cast a ballot in the first place. The system works!
“I was happy enough to come home and see my daughter graduate,” Mason reportedly told the court. “My son is about to graduate. Why would I jeopardize that? Not to vote...I didn’t even want to go vote.”