A black woman who was sentenced to five years in prison for voting in the 2016 election while on supervised release from prison and is seeking a new trial won’t get a second chance in court, a judge ruled this week. The case, and the racial implications surrounding it are fueling a major debate in Texas where a white official from the same county, who knowingly turned in fake petition signatures, escaped jail time altogether.
Crystal Mason, a black resident of Tarrant County, had said she was unaware that she was barred from voting while on supervised release after serving jail time time related to a felony tax fraud charge, but was still found guilty and sentenced to five years. In court, Mason publicly questioned state prosecutors as to why they thought she would have willingly jeopardized her freedom for a vote that didn’t even count in the end. In spite of that — as well as a brief from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Texas Civil Rights Project that argued that the Texas statute that barred Mason from voting violated a federal law that allows people to cast provisional ballots if they believe they are eligible to vote — State District Judge Ruben Gonzalez sentenced her to five years in prison. This week he summarily denied requests for a new trial.
The severity of Mason’s punishment stood in stark contrast to the penalty handed down to Russ Casey, a white Tarrant County justice of the peace who forged signatures to get his name on the ballot for re-election and was awarded no prison time and five years of probation. Unlike Mason, Casey, a judge, was well informed about the law — and while Mason stood to gain nothing from voting, Casey’s voter fraud was clearly intended to benefit himself.
Adding to the racial tensions surrounding Mason’s harsh sentencing was the history surrounding the practice of disenfranchisement itself, which was employed as a tool by Southern lawmakers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to strip their black constituents of the right to vote. According to The New York Times, one in every 13 black persons has had their right to vote revoked — a rate four times that of nonblack citizens nationally.
Below, watch a press conference Mason gave earlier this year in which she discussed her case.
Read the full story at HuffPost.