Maybe you’ve heard of Crystal Mason. Last year, a Texas judge sentenced her to five years in prison for illegally voting in the 2016 election.
Voting rights advocates say Mason’s severe sentence is obvious voter suppression ― an attempt to scare people with felony convictions from voting (the district attorney prosecuting the case denies this).
During Mason’s trial, a probation official conceded he never told her she couldn’t vote. Mason admitted she signed an affidavit swearing she was an eligible voter, but says she never read the fine print saying she couldn’t vote if she was on supervision for a felony. She ended up voting with a provisional ballot that was not ultimately counted in 2016.
Mason appealed her sentence, and three justices on the Texas Court of Appeals could issue a ruling at any time.
HuffPost spent several days with Mason in the days leading up to the oral argument in her appeal. At the time, Mason was still deeply optimistic that the justices in her case ― all Republicans ― would exonerate her. Watch HuffPost Reports’ video above.
But regardless of what happens in her appeal, Mason has already suffered severe consequences. Because she was convicted of a state crime while on supervised release for a federal one, she was sent back to prison for several months. She lost her job and her family nearly lost their house. When she went back to prison, her teenage daughter was responsible for running the household.
There’s a reason Mason’s case touched a national nerve ― and it has to do with more than voting.
Her case underscores the way we brand someone with a felony conviction forever. The right to vote is the glue that binds all Americans together in a civic community ― a promise that regardless of who you are or what you believe, you have the right to shape the direction of society. In Mason’s case, the right to vote has been turned on its head. Instead of being used to include Mason in society, the franchise is being used to punish her as an “other” and to remind her that no matter what she does to turn her life around, she is still a felon, deprived of the full rights of American citizenship.
What price would be high enough for Mason to pay to fully regain her rights? Would it be the $4.2 million ― an amount she can likely never repay ― she owes in restitution for inflating tax returns? Losing her home? Serving several more years in prison in addition to the years she’s already served? Is there any price that would be high enough?