Crystal Mason thought she was doing the right thing. Newly out of federal prison after a three-year stint for helping people file inaccurate tax returns, Mason was pulling her life together while serving out the rest of her sentence on supervised release. She'd found a job and headed back to school. Then, at the behest of her mother, she went to her local church to vote in the 2016 presidential election.
"I didn't know that, because I was on probation, I couldn't vote," Mason said at a Tuesday afternoon press conference. "Nothing told me that I couldn't vote."
Mason wasn't on the voter rolls, so poll workers gave her a provisional ballot after she signed an affidavit, she said.
Despite the fact that provisional ballots cast by those who aren't legally registered to vote aren't counted, Tarrant County prosecutors indicted Mason in 2017 for illegal voting. During Mason's trial, her defense attorney, J. Warren St. John, was incredulous about Mason's prosecution, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
"I find it amazing that the government feels she made this up," St. John told state District Judge Ruben Gonzalez. "She was never told that she couldn't vote, and she voted in good faith. Why would she risk going back to prison for something that is not going to change her life?"
After her conviction, Mason waived her right to have a jury decide her punishment, leaving her sentencing up to Gonzalez. The judge gave her five years in prison March 28.
After Gonzalez's decision, Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson said that Mason should've known she was voting illegally.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the Observer's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Dallas's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
"There were multiple safeguards in place to keep Crystal Mason from breaking the law, but she still made that choice," Wilson said. "She signed and affirmed a document which clearly stated that one, she was prohibited from voting due to her status as a convicted felon still serving her term of supervision, and two, she would be committing a second-degree felony if she lied about her status."
Mason is the second person convicted in Tarrant County for voting illegally in the last two years. In February 2017, a Tarrant County jury sentenced Rose Maria Ortega, a permanent U.S. resident, to eight years for voting in several elections without being a U.S. citizen.
Mason is out on bail, pending an appeal of her sentence.
"You think you're doing everything you're supposed to do to rehabilitate yourself and show your kids that, no matter what happens in life, you can get back [on] track," Mason said. "I voted, and look where I'm at."