Woman sentenced to 5 years for voting while on probation says she didn't know she couldn't vote

A woman in Texas got an unusually harsh sentence of five years in prison for voting illegally in the 2016 election.

A woman in Texas has given an unusually harsh sentence of five years in prison for voting illegally in the 2016 election — but she said she wasn’t aware she was banned from voting.

Crystal Mason, 43, was on supervised release from a 2011 tax fraud conviction, which landed her in prison for three years. In Texas, convicted felons are prohibited from voting until they’ve completed their sentence and a period of supervised release. But at her mother’s urging, Mason went to cast her vote in the 2016 presidential election while on probation in Tarrant County. A poll worker even helped her and gave her a provisional ballot to fill out after failing to locate her on the voter roll.

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Mason’s plight touches on two hot-button issues: voter fraud and felon disenfranchisement. President Donald Trump and many of his political allies were insistent that fraudulent ballots plagued the 2016 election, ultimately costing the president the popular vote. Meanwhile, civil rights advocates argue that stripping felons of their right to vote disproportionately impacts minority or low-income citizens, who tend to vote Democrat, and is used as a tool to consolidate Republican power.

Thirty-three other states have similar rules to Texas barring felons from voting until they’ve done their time, plus parole, probation, or an additional post-sentencing waiting period. That makes Mason one of 6 million felons in the United States who were ineligible to vote in 2016, and one of almost 500,000 in Texas, according to data collected by the Sentencing Project.

Mason said that nobody told her she wouldn’t be able to vote in the election, including the federal court and federal judge overseeing her case, her supervision officer, and the election workers. When asked by District Judge Ruben Gonzales why she didn’t thoroughly read the paperwork she was provided by the election worker, Mason cited getting assistance from the worker.

Regarding her crime, Mason told the judge, "I was trying to get more money back for my clients. I admitted that. I owned up to that. I took accountability for that,” according to the Star-Telegram. She ran a tax preparation business, which inflated people’s returns, with her ex-husband. “I would never do that again. I was happy enough to come home and see my daughter graduate. My son is about to graduate. Why would I jeopardize that? Not to vote …. I didn't even want to go vote."

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Mason’s sentence seems particularly stiff compared to other recent Texas voter fraud cases in the White House’s case tracker. A poll worker in Harris County illegally cast a ballot for her daughter and spent one day in jail. A postal worker was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for taking a $1,000 bribe from a paid campaign worker to provide names and addresses of mail-in ballot recipients, as part of a local voting-fraud ring.

A man in Galveston pleaded guilty to submitting absentee ballots in two states during the 2012 general election. He got a $4,000 fine.

The most comparable case to Mason’s is that of Rosa Maria Ortega, who’s undocumented. Ortega was found guilty of voting in the Nov. 2012 election and the 2014 Republican primary run-off. Ortega said she thought she was a citizen and pointed to her lack of education for why she got confused. She was sentenced to eight years in prison in Feb. 2017— which experts at the time said was unusually harsh — and faces the possibility of deportation.

Mason’s lawyer, J. Warren St. John, told the Star-Telegram that they’ve filed an appeal in her case so that she can be released on bond.

Cover image: Signs mark a polling site as early voting begins, in San Antonio. Democrats in Texas are early voting in bigger numbers ahead of the nation's first primary elections of the 2018 midterms on March 2, 2018. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)