The New York Times has a story this morning with a headline that sounds as if we are living in an authoritarian regime:
Crystal Mason Was Sentenced to Five Years Behind Bars Because She Voted
The subhead reveals that Crystal Mason is one of the “human casualties” of the “GOP’s war on voting.”
Rorschach Alert: How many of you read this headline and immediately suspected that the Times wasn’t being on the up and up with the reader?
Crystal Mason was not sentenced to five years because she voted; she was sentenced to five years because she voted illegally. That is the important distinction that was omitted to create a misleading headline.
Ms. Mason, described as a “46-year-old grandmother,” was on supervised release from prison where she had been sent after being convicted of federal tax fraud. In Texas, where Ms. Mason lived, people with criminal records cannot vote until they have completed their sentences. Being out on supervised release is not completing the sentence.
Ms. Mason had been notified by mail in 2012, shortly after her conviction on federal tax fraud, that she would be ineligible to vote until she had served her complete sentence. The letter was sent to her home, which her lawyer seemed to imply was devious. “They sent it to the one place they knew she was not going to be,” the lawyer, Alison Grinter, was quoted saying.
Nevertheless, Ms. Mason presented herself at the polls in 2016:
Ms. Mason, who had only recently returned home to her three children and had gone to the polls that day at the urging of her mother, said she did not realize she wasn’t allowed to cast a ballot. When poll workers couldn’t find her name on the rolls, they assumed it was a clerical error and suggested she fill out the provisional ballot.
. . .
Ms. Mason’s ballot was rejected as soon as a search of the database determined that she was ineligible. In other words, the system worked as it was intended to.
Yes, the system had worked the way it was intended to: an illegal vote was discovered and discarded. Crystal Mason, who had not completed her prison term for federal tax fraud, had voted illegally. Ms. Mason pleaded ignorance, even though:
The prosecutors also pointed out that when she cast her ballot in 2016, she signed an affidavit stating that she had completed all terms of her sentence. Ms. Mason said she had not read the fine print; she was focused on writing down her address in exactly the form it appeared on her driver’s license. She was convicted after a one-day trial and sentenced to five years behind bars for casting a ballot that was never counted.
Five years behind bars does not seem overly harsh for voter fraud.
University of Minnesota Law Professor Christopher Uggen, however, who serves as an expert witness for those on trial for voter fraud, seeks to perpetuate the Times canard that Ms. Mason was prosecuted merely for voting:
“It’s a surreal experience to be in a courtroom for these trials,” said Christopher Uggen, a professor of law and sociology at the University of Minnesota who has studied the impact of felon disenfranchisement for decades, and has testified as an expert in prosecutions of people charged with illegal voting. “You’ve got the judges, you’ve got the lawyers. You’ve got somebody who often is a model probationer called in, and what’s at issue is whether they voted. I have this overriding sense of, gosh, don’t we have other crimes to prosecute? It really should be a consensus issue in a democracy that we don’t incarcerate people for voting.”
Don’t we have other crimes to prosecute? I’d say that, if we want to continue living in a functioning democracy, where our (legal) votes count, there is nothing more important than prosecuting people who commit voter fraud.
Professor Uggen’s quote reveals an alarming consensus that is emerging on the left: there is no real difference between an illegal vote and a legal vote. Voter suppression, according to this view, is enacting safeguards to ensure that only legal votes count. Oddly, this view is obtaining the moral high ground, as we see from the MLB boycott of Georgia, which has passed legislation to protect voter integrity.
The lead-in to the Times report on Crystal Mason actually gave the game away:
Whenever you hear Republican rants about widespread voter fraud supposedly undermining Americans’ faith in the integrity of their elections, remember the story of Crystal Mason.
You should also remember Crystal Mason whenever you hear Democrats rant about voter suppression. Crystal Mason voted illegally, and while there may be an argument for leniency (we can’t tell from the story), her vote undermined our system of democracy and was punishable under the law (at least for now).