Crystal Mason has been sentenced to five years in prison for what the state says was illegally voting.
On Election Day in 2016, Mason, who is black, tried to cast a provisional ballot in Tarrant County, Texas. But because she was on “federal supervised release,” — a probationary period after serving time in prison for tax fraud—she was ineligible to vote.
But Mason didn’t know that.
“No one ever told her that she wasn’t allowed to vote until her federal supervised release was over,” the ACLU of Texas, who is representing Mason, wrote in a blog post. “It was an honest mistake that will cost her five years in prison – unless her conviction is overturned on appeal.”
Mason’s vote wasn’t even counted anyway.
The ACLU of Texas and the Texas Civil Rights Project were in court Tuesday asking the judges to either acquit Mason or order a new trial. Since her provisional ballot wasn’t counted, the civil rights group argued, she didn’t vote and therefore can’t be punished for illegally voting.
“I am hopeful that the justices understood that my conviction was unfair and shouldn’t stand,” said Mason, in a statement issued by her attorneys this week. “I just want justice here. For a fair chance. And for the justices to see that I don’t deserve this. I have faith in God and believe that whatever happens is in his plan.”
Advocates say her case is an example of the crackdown on what some hardline conservatives baselessly claim as voter fraud.
The Bigger Picture
Many Texas Republicans are convinced, without evidence, voter fraud is a problem— that all sorts of people, so the paranoia goes, are itching to illegally vote. The previous Texas Secretary of State, David Whitley, in fact, attempted a wholesale purge earlier this year of tens of thousands of Texans whom the state claimed were ineligible to vote. It turns out they were eligible to vote. People of color would have been disproportionately impacted had the purge been successful.
The Texas-sized GOP scandal made national headlines. In the end, Whitley was forced to resign after not being confirmed by the state Senate following the imbroglio. Gov. Greg Abbott’s office, according to one account, was aware of the attempted suppression.
In May, Stacey Abrams, former gubernatorial candidate in Georgia and now a national champion for voting rights, attended a luncheon hosted by Annie’s List to speak about the efforts to suppress and disenfranchise black and brown voters across the country. Significant restrictions have been placed on voting in 25 states since 2010.
Since Trump has been in office, he has made “voter fraud” a signature issue of his presidency, saying Monday, “a lot of illegal voting going on out there, by the way.”
The third presidential debate
According to HuffPost, questions about voter suppression, gerrymandering and other structural matters of democracy have not been asked during the 2020 presidential debates. But the leading Democratic candidates, including Texans Beto O’Rourke and Julian Castro, have addressed the issues repeatedly on the campaign trail. The third debate is Thursday in Houston.
The candidates on the debate stage should “outline their vision for building an America as good as its ideals,” said Shin Inouye, a spokesperson for the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights in Washington, D.C. said in an interview. “This includes: guaranteeing access to the ballot box, transforming our criminal-legal system to respect the humanity, dignity and the rights of all people, protecting our courts to be fair and independent, ensuring all students have equal educational opportunities, and safeguarding an accurate 2020 Census, to name just a few,” he said.
James Douglas, president of the NAACP Houston Branch and a law professor at Texas Southern University’s Thurgood Marshall School of Law for almost 50 years, said he would like to see more diversity among federal court appointments. “The most important thing that the next president can bring to the table is that they will agree to put individuals in federal court that understand the needs of minorities in this country.”
Photo: Max Faulkner/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Tribune News Service via Getty Images