CRYSTAL MASON should not have voted in the 2016 presidential election. She probably should have realized that, because she was on probation for a tax-fraud conviction, Texas law barred her from casting a ballot. But a judge’s decision to sentence her to five years in prison is wildly out of proportion to the offense. It not only calls into question the court’s judgment but also underscores the absurdity and unfairness of Texas’s crackdown on voter fraud.
Ms. Mason, who was indicted last year on a charge of illegal voting in Tarrant County, waived a jury trial, figuring she would be fairly treated once she told her story to a judge. She explained that she hadn’t planned on voting on Nov. 8, 2016, and went to the polls only after her mother told her she needed to vote. Her name wasn’t on the voter roll, and she filed a provisional ballot after being coached by an election worker. No one — including her probation officer and staff at the halfway house to which she had been released — told her about the state’s voting restrictions on felons. The election worker also didn’t tell her, and she didn’t carefully read the affidavit she signed attesting eligibility. Provisional ballots are subject to review, and her ballot was never counted.
State District Judge Ruben Gonzalez found her guilty of vote fraud and proceeded to sentence her to five years in prison. So much for reason and fairness. Never mind that after serving nearly three years in prison, the 43-year-old former tax preparer had trained for a new job and was working, taking care of her family and checking in with her probation officer. Why, she asked, would she knowingly jeopardize her freedom and risk being separated from her children over voting?
What is gained from — and what is the cost of — jailing this woman for five years? Ms. Mason is an African American in a predominantly white county in a state that has used the myth of widespread voter fraud to inhibit minorities from voting — something that did not go unnoticed on social media. Meanwhile, a white woman in North Carolina who admitted voter fraud was not charged; a white man in Colorado convicted of voter fraud was given probation; a white woman in Iowa who tried to vote twice for Donald Trump received probation and a $750 fine. Many noted the contrast between Ms. Mason’s sentence and the treatment by Tarrant County courts of a white teenager who killed four people while driving drunk: He was given probation after arguing he was a victim of an affluent lifestyle, and then sentenced to two years in prison after violating that probation.
Ms. Mason’s attorney has appealed her sentence. Let’s hope cooler legal heads prevail. Texas residents should look at this case and recognize how excessive officials have become in pursuing isolated instances of voter fraud. Not only is it wasteful, but it is also wrong.