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Crystal Mason, Sentenced To Prison For Illegally Voting, Asks For New Trial

Crystal Mason is fighting a five-year prison sentence for trying to vote in the 2016 presidential election.

RENDON, Texas ― If Crystal Mason’s mom doesn’t cook for their big family on Sundays, Mason stops at a tiny doughnut store on the way to church in Dallas, just off the road, to get breakfast for everyone. 

Sunday, a scorching day in early September that reached triple digits, was a doughnut day. 

crystal mason.jpg (6 KB)

Mason ordered a dozen pigs-in-a-blanket, two dozen doughnut holes for her family of about 12 — a combination of children, nephews, nieces and grandchildren she has raised. As she was getting ready to pay, she paused and decided to order a dozen more chocolate-flavored ones. Her boys are always hungry, she said, and would eat more. 

Soon, Mason’s Sunday routine might disappear. Last year, she was convicted of illegally voting in the 2016 election and sentenced to five years in prison. On Tuesday, her lawyers will appear before three Republican judges on the Texas Court of Appeals, argue that she was wrongly convicted and ask for a new trial. 

If the Texas Court of Appeals denies Mason’s request on Tuesday, she will appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest criminal court. 

'They don’t want folks who look like Crystal to show up at the polls. Kim Cole, an attorney for Crystal Mason

Mason had no idea she couldn’t vote three years ago. Texas prohibits convicted felons from voting while they’re serving their sentences, and in 2016, Mason was on supervised release for a felony. When a 16-year-old poll worker couldn’t find her name on the rolls on Election Day, he offered her the chance to vote with a provisional ballot. Mason filled out an affidavit, submitted it, and ultimately, election officials rejected it because she was ineligible. 

Even though her ballot didn’t count, prosecutors brought charges against Mason and, after a bench trial that lasted just a few hours, successfully convinced a judge she had knowingly voted illegally. The severity of her sentence made national news.

Civil rights groups and other activists have held up Mason’s case as an egregious example of voter suppression. Mason obviously made a mistake, they say, and is being severely punished to intimidate minorities and people with a criminal record from voting. 

“Crystal’s case is an effort in voter suppression. This has nothing to do with whether or not she was eligible to vote,” Kim Cole, one of Mason’s attorneys, said to the nearly all-Black congregation at Mason’s church on Sunday. “They don’t want folks who look like Crystal to show up at the polls.”

Making An Example Of Mason

Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson (R), who chose to bring charges against Mason, denies the case has anything to do with voter intimidation. 

“The only ones who have ever tried to politicize this case are Mason and her representatives. No one has anything to fear from our office unless the person chooses to break the law,” Wilson said in a statement earlier this year.

Prosecutors don’t dispute probation officials failed to tell Mason she couldn’t vote. But the evidence used to convict Mason is shaky. Two poll workers, the key prosecution witnesses during the trial, testified that Mason appeared to read over the provisional ballot affidavit before signing it. But both men, who were also Mason’s neighbors, had different recollections about what happened at the polls in 2016, raising questions about whether Mason actually read the language. 

Jarrod Streibich, the 16-year-old poll worker who checked Mason in at the polls, told HuffPost he knew she was ineligible to vote, but it just slipped his mind when she walked into the polling place. 

Wilson’s decision to prosecute Mason’s case is unusual. 3,990 of the 4,500 people who cast provisional ballots in Tarrant County, where Mason lives, had their ballots rejected during the 2016 election. Mason was the only one of those thousands of people the district attorney singled out.