A Texas woman has been sentenced to five years in prison for attempting to vote in the 2016 presidential election when she was ineligible because she was on probation.
Crystal Mason, 43, will appeal the punishment handed down this week in Fort Worth, according to her attorney. The sentence was handed down despite the fact that Mason’s provisional ballot was not ultimately counted.
At the time of the 2016 election Mason was on probation, having served nearly three years of a five-year sentence for defrauding the federal government. A former tax preparer, in 2011 she was accused of illegally inflating refunds for clients. She was convicted the following year.
Mason was put on a three-year term of supervised release and had to pay $4.2m in restitution, according to court documents.
She testified that she did not know people convicted of felonies could not vote until they had completed their sentences, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported. She had gone to vote at her mother’s encouragement, she told the paper, and was not told when released from federal prison that she could not do so.
Mason testified that when she voted in November 2016, she signed a provisional ballot affidavit stating that she had not been convicted of a felony. Prosecutors said she signed the form with the intent to vote illegally. Mason’s attorney called it a mistake, made as she was guided by an election worker.
The case is reminiscent of that of another Texas woman, Rosa Ortega, who was sentenced to eight years for illegally voting in several elections because, according to her, she believed her permanent residency card made her a US citizen.
According to the Washington Post, of 38 Texas prosecutions for illegal voting between 2005 and 2017, only one resulted in a sentence of more than three years. It involved a public official knowingly registering several non-citizens to vote.
But in 2015 the state elected attorney general Ken Paxton in part on a platform of rooting out voter fraud. He decided to make an example of Ortega. Announcing Ortega’s indictment, Paxton said election integrity was “essential to our democracy and a top priority of my administration”.
Ortega was a Republican and a supporter of Paxton.Mason believes she was targeted because she voted for the Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, over the Republican, Donald Trump. Tarrant county, where both women were prosecuted, leans Republican.
Mason’s attorney, J Warren St John, did not immediately comment.
Trump, who lost the popular vote to Clinton by nearly 3m ballots but took the presidency in the electoral college, has alleged widespread voter fraud but produced no evidence. A widely criticised White House commission on “election integrity”, led by Vice-President Mike Pence, was scrapped.