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She Voted, and Went to Jail

Terry H. Schwadron

April 2, 2018

Congratulations, Texas. You’ve nailed a fraudulent voter.

This is one of those back of the book stories that just sets my teeth on edge, and just makes me wish for an outbreak of real problem-solving with an ounce of empathy.

A lawyer told The Washington Post and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the tale of hapless Crystal Mason v. the state of Texas reflects an out-of-proportion response to find problems to prove a political point: There can be mistakes in admitting a barred person from voting.

But Mason did, when she was not allowed — and she’s been sentenced to five years in jail as a result. The conviction is now on appeal. The judge was correct in his ruling, but it does say something about the degree to which Texas officials will go to prove that there is voter fraud, a favorite refrain of President Trump’s, and will punish her severely.

Politics first, problem-solving, well, never. The state will be paying out imprisonment fees for five years because Mason did not know the law.

As a parolee, Mason was not eligible to vote in the 2016 election, and indeed, had not planned on it, until her mother prevailed on her to go to the election site. Mason, 43, a former tax preparer who had pleaded guilty to inflating tax returns for her client had been released, but remained under community supervision, according to her lawyer, J. Warren St. John.

Had she had known it was illegal, Crystal Mason said she would have never cast a vote in the 2016 presidential election. No one, including her probation officer, ever told her that being a felon on supervision meant that she could not vote in Texas.

Last year, Mason was indicted on a charge of illegal voting in Tarrant County, Tex.; last week, she was found guilty despite arguing that she simply was not aware that she was barred from casting a ballot and never would have done it had she known.

As she told the Star-Telegram, “You think I would jeopardize my freedom? You honestly think I would ever want to leave my babies again? That was the hardest thing in my life to deal with. Who would — as a mother, as a provider — leave their kids over voting?”

So, to review, we have state Republicans who say fraudulent voting is rampant — echoed in Kansas and amplified in the Trump campaign — but have yet to provide hard proof except for outlying cases like Mason. Trump argues that he would have won the popular vote across the United States but for fraudulent voting on behalf of is opponent, Hillary Clinton. The U.S. Court of Appeals reviewed the 2016 Texas voting ID law, which state legislators said was needed to stop such voter fraud. That court found two convictions for in-person voter fraud among 20 million ballots cast in the years before the law.

Comparatively, mail voter fraud happens more often, though still way short of “rampant,” various elections experts have said.

Trump created a voter fraud commission that had to disband when states declined to participate in creating a single, federal database of all voters. The commission leader, Kris Kobach, said he was planning to run name matches — a notoriously poor name-matching filter, against Latino-sounding names.

According to the Star-Telegram, there was another case last year from the same county — a Mexican woman with a green card was sentenced to eight years in prison after falsely claiming to be a U.S. citizen on her ballot. She said she was confused about her rights. Ironically, she said she voted as a Republican.

“This case shows how serious Texas is about keeping its elections secure, and the outcome sends a message that violators of the state’s election law will be prosecuted to the fullest,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said after she was sentenced. Lawyer St. John said he believes that Mason’s five-year prison sentence, for what he said was an honest mistake, is a direct result of such rhetoric from Paxton’s office.

On the day of the presidential election, Mason arrived at her polling place to find that her name wasn’t on the voter roll, St. John said. An election worker offered to help, he said, and presented her with a provisional ballot, which allows a person to cast a vote as long as they certify they are eligible by signing an affidavit. Small print at the top asks the voter to certify that if she is a felon, she has fully completed her sentence, including supervision or parole of any kind. Mason tried to explain to the judge that, since an election worker was helping her, she was not reading carefully, which, St. John said, failed to sway him.

Ultimately, her vote didn’t even count. Provisional ballots are subject to review, which ultimately led to an investigation of Mason.

Mason says she won’t vote again.

For me, the tragedy is that we have enough real problems that we never seem to solve. What waste the zealousness on a crime that almost doesn’t exist. And, in any event, how does jailing this woman for five years fix the problem at hand?

Those questions don’t fit on a hat.

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terryschwadron.wordpress.com

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Journalist, musician, community volunteer

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