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Crystal Mason was acquitted, but will Texas repeat its mistakes?

Be wary of laws that target confused voters for harsh punishment.

The far right’s obsession with widespread voter fraud is growing louder even as the movement fails to turn up much evidence of any significant problem. Now one of the most high-profile cases of illegal voting here in Texas has been tossed by an appellate court.

It was the right outcome.

Crystal Mason of Fort Worth became a household name in Texas after a court sentenced her to five years in prison for trying to vote in the 2016 presidential election while still serving her punishment for a felony tax fraud conviction. Mason was ineligible to vote because she was on supervised release and had not yet completed her sentence. She insisted she didn’t know she was barred from voting, but Tarrant County prosecutors said she signed a provisional ballot affidavit with language that indicated she was ineligible.


Think about that. Five years in prison for casting a provisional ballot that wasn’t even counted. Five years for signing an affidavit even though no one could prove that Mason had read every line or that she knew she was breaking a rule.


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Her case had been tied up in appeals for six years. Eventually the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that officials had not properly evaluated whether Mason knew she was acting illegally when she tried to vote in 2016. A lower appellate court decided there wasn’t enough proof of that and acquitted her Thursday.

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We wrote last week about Attorney General Ken Paxton — Texas’ chief defender of election conspiracy theories — benefiting from a series of lucky breaks that got his securities fraud charges dismissed without so much as having to enter a plea while everyday Texans have to sit in judgment of the courts. Mason is a prime example of the discrepancy in treatment between those who have power and money and those who don’t. She has said that her conviction for illegal voting cost her jobs, put her at risk of losing her home and affected her son’s college career.

Mason’s over-the-top punishment drew national scorn for good reason. Compare her case to a recent one in Georgia, where a court ruled that the vice chair of the state’s Republican Party voted illegally nine times while on probation for check forgery. Brian Pritchard, a promoter of Donald Trump’s voter fraud lies, was fined $5,000 and was ordered to face a public reprimand from state election officials.

Despite Texas’ heavy hand with Mason, the state Senate last year passed a bill to lower the bar for an illegal voting conviction. The proposed legislation raised questions about whether anyone who fills out a provisional ballot and was deemed ineligible to vote might be prosecuted. The bill didn’t advance in the House, but Texans should be wary of future legislation that could lead to more cases like Mason’s.


Texas shouldn’t be in the business of locking up voters who made an honest mistake, and its politicians should stop pretending our electoral system is ridden with fraud.

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