Opinion | Crystal Mason Was Sentenced to Five Years Behind Bars Because She Voted

You wouldn’t get that sense from how Ms. Mason has been handled. After her voting conviction, a federal choose discovered she had violated the phrases of her supervised launch, and sentenced her to 10 additional months behind bars. That punishment, which she started serving in December 2018, earned her no credit score towards her five-year state sentence.

Ms. Mason has continued to combat her case, however thus far she has misplaced at each step. In March 2020, a three-judge panel on a state appellate courtroom rejected her problem to her sentence. The courtroom reasoned that she broke the regulation just by making an attempt to vote whereas figuring out she was on supervised launch. It didn’t matter whether or not she knew that Texas prohibits voting by individuals in that circumstance.

This seems to be a transparent misapplication of Texas election regulation, which criminalizes voting solely by individuals who really know they aren’t eligible, not those that, like Ms. Mason, mistakenly imagine that they’re. It’s as if Ms. Mason had requested a police officer what the native velocity restrict was, and he responded: “Beats me. Why don’t you begin driving and see if we pull you over?”

Final week, the Texas Court docket of Prison Appeals, the state’s highest courtroom for prison circumstances, agreed to rule on Ms. Mason’s enchantment. It’s her final probability to keep away from jail for voting. Tossing her conviction would deliver a small measure of justice to a girl whose punishment ought to have been restricted to, at most, not with the ability to forged a poll.

But it surely wouldn’t give her again the final 4 years of concern and uncertainty she has endured for no good cause. Ms. Mason’s first grandchild was born a couple of months in the past, one other reminder of how a lot she would miss if she had been to lose the enchantment and find yourself again behind bars. “That is very overwhelming, waking up on daily basis figuring out that jail is on the road, making an attempt to keep up a smile in your face in entrance of your youngsters and also you don’t know the result,” Ms. Mason told The Times in an interview. “Your future is in another person’s arms due to a easy error.”

Figuring out errors like these is the entire level of providing provisional ballots: The loopy quilt of voting guidelines and laws that Individuals face from state to state can journey up even the best-informed voters, and trustworthy errors are widespread. By prosecuting Ms. Mason, simply certainly one of greater than 44,000 Texans whose provisional poll in 2016 was discovered to be ineligible, the state is saying that you simply try to take part in democracy at your individual danger.

That danger is sort of all the time increased for individuals of colour. Texas’ legal professional normal, Ken Paxton, likes to brag about the 155 individuals his workplace has efficiently prosecuted for election fraud within the final 16 years — a mean of fewer than 10 per 12 months. What he doesn’t say out loud is what The Houston Chronicle present in an evaluation of the circumstances he has prosecuted: nearly three-quarters concerned Black or Latino defendants, and practically half concerned ladies of colour, like Ms. Mason.

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