Texas woman sentenced five years in prison for casting ballot while ineligible to vote

Woman gets 5-year sentence for voter fraud

Last Updated Jun 15, 2018 1:07 PM EDT

A Texas woman plans to challenge a judge's decision to deny her a new trial after sentencing her to five years in prison for voter fraud. Crystal Mason was convicted in March of voting illegally in the 2016 presidential election. Texas law makes the 43-year-old ineligible to vote because she was on probation for tax fraud. Mason says she didn't know about that law.

When Mason showed up to vote last November, her name wasn't on the voter roll, so she was asked to fill out and sign a provisional ballot. That's when elections workers discovered she was a convicted felon, reports CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller. 

"I'm wishing that I never voted. That's how I'm wishing. I'm wishing that I never ever went up there to vote," Mason said.
  
Mason said she hadn't even planned on voting in the 2016 election until her mother convinced her.

The former tax preparer was sentenced to five years in federal prison in August 2011 and discharged in August 2016. She was then was put on three years supervised release. She said no one ever told her she was not allowed to vote under Texas law.

"Right now, I'm very overwhelmed with all this. Everything is a shock, you know? Everything," Mason said.
 
Mason was arrested in February this year and sentenced to another five years in prison, this time for illegal voting.
 
"Voting is something that people should be scared of. That's the message, pure and simple. And it certainly worked on Crystal," Mason's defense attorney Alison Grinter said.
 
The Tarrant County district attorney declined to comment, but in a previous statement said: "There were multiple safeguards in place to keep Crystal Mason from breaking the law, but she still made that choice."
 
"One of the things that we are going to complain to the appellate court is that this law really isn't clear," Grinter said.
 
Felon voting rights vary by state. In Maine and Vermont, felons never lose their right to vote. Texas is one of at least 21 states that prohibits felons from voting until their sentences have been fully served, including probation. It's estimated that 6.1 million Americans are barred from voting because of felony disenfranchisement laws.

"Any group of six million voters who are left out of the political conversation can have a really important effect on both on the terms of the debate and the outcomes of political elections," said Christopher Uggen, a criminologist and professor at the University of Minnesota. He said Mason's sentence goes too far.
 
Mason said she was helped by a polling officer when she cast her ballot. According to one of her attorneys, she was never asked if she was a convicted felon when she voted.

Editor's note: We first reported Mason served three of her five-year sentence and was on probation at the time she voted. But she was actually on supervised release.