- Apr 18, 2013
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The G.O.P.’s war on voting has human casualties. Here’s one.
Ms. Mason, who is African American, received a 5 year prison sentence for using a provisional ballot she was told to use by Texas poll workers. Her ballot was never counted. She is awaiting appeal.4/6/21
Whenever you hear Republican rants about widespread voter fraud supposedly undermining Americans’ faith in the integrity of their elections, remember the story of Crystal Mason. Ms. Mason, a 46-year-old grandmother from the Fort Worth area, has been in the news on and off since 2016, when Texas prosecutors decided she was a vote fraudster so dangerous that justice demanded she be sentenced to five years behind bars. Her offense? Visiting her local precinct on Election Day that year and casting a provisional ballot for president. Ms. Mason was not eligible to vote at the time because she was on supervised release after serving a prison term for federal tax fraud. Texas, like many states, bars those with criminal records from voting until they have finished all terms of a sentence. Ms. Mason, who had only recently returned home to her three children and had gone to the polls that day at the urging of her mother, said she did not realize she wasn’t allowed to cast a ballot. When poll workers couldn’t find her name on the rolls, they assumed it was a clerical error and suggested she fill out the provisional ballot. Provisional ballots are a useful way to deal with questions about a voter’s eligibility that can’t be resolved at the polling place. Ms. Mason’s ballot was rejected as soon as a search of the database determined that she was ineligible. In other words, the system worked as it was intended to.
Tarrant County, Texas prosecutors went after her for illegal voting anyway. They said she should have known she was not allowed to vote. She was convicted after a one-day trial and sentenced to five years behind bars for casting a ballot that was never counted. After her voting conviction, a federal judge found she had violated the terms of her supervised release, and sentenced her to 10 extra months behind bars. That punishment, which she began serving in December 2018, earned her no credit toward her five-year state sentence. Ms. Mason has continued to fight her case, but so far she has lost at every step. In March 2020, a three-judge panel on a state appellate court rejected her challenge to her sentence. The court reasoned that she broke the law simply by trying to vote while knowing she was on supervised release. It didn’t matter whether she knew that Texas prohibits voting by people in that circumstance. Last week, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest court for criminal cases, agreed to rule on Ms. Mason’s appeal. It’s her last chance to avoid prison for voting. Given the disproportionate number of Black and brown people caught up in the criminal justice system, it’s not hard to see a connection between cases like Ms. Mason's and the broader Republican war on voting, which so often targets people who look like her.
Their day in court was very different for wealthy white celebrities Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman. Huffman paid someone $15,000 to take her daughter's SAT college admission test. She pleaded guilty and sentenced to 14 days in prison. Loughlin paid $500,000 to have her daughter accepted into USC as a rower recruit. She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 2 months in prison.