A Texas appeals court on Thursday upheld a five-year sentence for Crystal Mason, a Fort Worth woman who cast a provisional ballot in the 2016 election despite being ineligible to vote.
Texas authorities jumped on Mason’s case to bolster claims of a widespread “voter fraud” problem and sought to make an example of her, even though her ballot was never even counted. Voter fraud is very rare in the United States.
In 2016, Mason was on federal supervised release for a prior conviction of tax fraud. She’d never been told she couldn’t vote, a fact her probation officer testified to during her trial.
Writing for the appellate panel, Justice Wade Birdwell deemed that fact “irrelevant to her prosecution.”
Representatives from Mason’s legal team told The Guardian they intend to appeal. “Crystal submitted a provisional ballot that was not counted, she did not vote illegally,” Thomas Buser-Clancy, an attorney with the Texas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, told the outlet.
Voting rights advocates say the case is a clear instance of voter suppression.
“They know that these prosecutions and harsh sentences in cases like Crystal’s are thinly veiled attempts to suppress the vote,” Beth Stevens, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project helping to represent Mason, said after an appeals court hearing in 2019. “These are efforts that are meant to strike fear in the heart of other people.”
Texas has been at the forefront of a movement to restrict access to the voting booth since 2013, when the Supreme Court overturned a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. Following the ruling, the state has rapidly reduced polling sites in Black and Latino communities.