At first glance it seems like Crystal Mason got a raw deal. An excessive sentence of five years for voting in the 2016 presidential election, when the law prohibits her from casting a ballot because she’s an ex-felon serving her sentence.
There’s no indication the 43-year old Rendon woman was conspiring with anyone else to fix the vote. She claims she didn’t know it was illegal for her to vote, and it wasn’t made clear at the polling place.
Make no mistake, Mason broke the law. A judge found her guilty and had to come up with a penalty that fits the state’s sentencing guidelines.
What we should be asking is whether the sentencing guidelines set by the legislature are fair. Do they promote justice? Is taking this women to trial a good use of taxpayer money and does sending her back to prison really safeguard our election process?
Or is what Mason describes as an honest mistake part of an amped up campaign for polling place purity?
Here’s how Mason says she found herself in the headlines — and facing time behind bars.
She was on supervised release for a 2011 conviction for filing false federal tax returns through a tax preparation business she owned with her now ex-husband. She was convicted for inflating clients’ returns so they would receive bigger tax return checks.
After serving nearly three years in prison, Mason was out on supervised release. She says her mother insisted she vote in the presidential election. Unaware of a Texas law that a felon serving out their sentence can’t vote, Mason cast a ballot.
When she got to the polling place election workers discovered her name didn’t appear on a list of registered voters and coached her through the voting process. As part of that effort, Mason says she signed an affidavit but claims she didn’t realize it said she couldn’t vote if she was still serving a prison sentence.
We don’t know if the election worker verbally talked to Mason about felons not voting. She admits not reading the document closely.
She testified she was never told by the federal court, her supervision officer, or U.S. District Judge John McBryde, the sentencing judge in her fraud case, that she couldn’t vote.
Last week Gonzalez found Mason guilty of a second-degree felony, which carries a sentence of 2 to 20 years. The five years he gave her was on the low end of that scale.
Her sentence mirrors others for voting violations in Texas since 2005. The exception is Rosa Maria Ortega, a Grand Prairie woman who got eight years for illegally voting in 2017. Ortega, a permanent resident from Mexico, said she did not know she was not allowed to vote.
We believe the judge in this case rendered a sentence that was consistent with the law, but we believe the legislature needs to reexamine the law to make sure the time fits the crime and the money spent on these isolated trials is worth spending.
In an era where we rightly worry about Russians hacking into our election systems and efforts to undermine the outcome of our voting, let’s put greater attention on the big threats. Years of prison time should be reserved for those who knowingly try to undermine this important democratic freedom.