After serving about three years in prison for a felony tax fraud charge, Crystal Mason was granted probation. The mother-of-four believed that she was eligible to vote in the 2016 presidential election and promptly cast her ballot in Tarrant County. However, Texas law states that felons may not vote until they successfully complete their probationary period.
According to the Huffington Post, Mason was found guilty in March and sentenced to five years behind bars. She, along with many community activists, believed the penalty to be too harsh, so Mason appealed State District Judge Ruben Gonzalez’s decision. Last Monday, Gonzalez denied her request for a new trial.
The law bars any individual from voting until “any term of incarceration, parole, or supervision” has been completed. But Mason’s attorney, Alison Grinter, argues that the statute is too broad and does not make it clear who is eligible to vote. Judge Gonzalez countered with Mason’s signed voters’ affidavit where she declared that she was indeed eligible to cast a ballot.
Mason’s treatment, in this case, has drawn national attention when compared to another voter fraud case in the same county. A white judge pleaded guilty to turning in forged signatures so that he could be added to a ballot. He was sentenced to five years on probation. Grinter argues that the penalties are starkly different because of race; Mason is black.
Grinter plans to appeal yet again, as she believes that the Texas statute is in direct contrast to federal law. A provisional ballot may be cast if the voter believes that he or she is eligible. If it is later discovered that the voter is not eligible, then the ballot would just be cast aside.
The attorney sees a bigger problem on the horizon if she does not win Mason’s appeal. Lawmakers and voters who are in support of limiting voting rights will have a green light to pursue more aggressive measures, Grinter said.
“There are going to be Crystal Masons in the world. There are gonna be people who cast a provisional ballot because they’re not sure or they mistakenly believe that they are qualified. If you round up every single Crystal Mason that there is, you might be able to patchwork together a fraud on the populace which is that in-person voter fraud is a real thing. Once you do that you give a lot of fertile ground to lawmakers who want to pass voter intimidation laws.”