‘Two justice systems’: Anger as white Trump supporter who used dead mother’s vote walks free while Black woman faces jail for voting error

Ms Mason claims she was unaware she was ineligible to vote under Texas law

Graig Graziosi
Monday 03 May 2021 20:56
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A white man who pretended to be his dead mother in order to cast an extra vote for Donald Trump was sentenced to five years of probation after being found guilty.

A Black woman, who voted while on probation but who claims she was unaware she was ineligible to do so, has been sentenced to five years in prison.

Ari Berman, the author of "Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America," pointed to the disparate sentences on Monday as evidence of the "two justice systems in America."

Bruce Bartman, 70, pleaded guilty to perjury and unlawful voting in the 2020 election. He registered his dead mother and cast a vote for her to support Mr Trump.

The Pennsylvanian man was sentenced to five years of probation for intentionally committing voter fraud.

Meanwhile, Crystal Mason, a Texan woman, was on probation following a federal tax fraud conviction when she learned she was not on the state's voter roll.

After talking with a poll worker about getting back on the voter roll in 2016, she was advised to cast a provisional ballot, which she did. Her vote was rejected, and she is now facing five years in prison for illegal voting.

Ms Mason claims she had no idea that she was ineligible to vote under Texas law, and said she would never have jeopardized her freedom just to vote.

A Court of Criminal Appeals is reviewing her case.

While the disparity between the punishments does not appear on its face to involve the race of either individual, critics pointed out that state laws intended to bar felons from voting is a hold-over from Jim Crow laws aimed at disenfranchising Black voters.

While Black Americans make up only 12 per cent of the country's population, they make up 40 per cent of the people who have lost their right to vote or have had it restricted due to felonies.

Racial justice activists and legal organisations like the ACLU argue that overpolicing of Black communities and harsher sentences upon convictions have caused a disproportionate number of Black voters to lose their rights to participate in American democracy.

Despite the fact that Ms Mason claims she did not know she was ineligible to vote, Texas prosecutors have pushed for her to face the prison sentence claiming she actually was aware she was ineligible.

Ms Mason's lawyers argued against applying the voting law to their client.

“These issues have far reaching implications for Texas voters who make innocent mistakes concerning their eligibility to vote and could potentially be prosecuted for such mistakes, including the tens of thousands of voters who submit provisional ballots in general elections believing in good faith they are eligible to vote but turn out to be incorrect in that belief,” they said in a brief.

Before Ms Mason's case, another woman, Rosa Maria Ortega, was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2017 and granted parole in 2019 for voting while ineligible. She was made ineligible due to her immigration status, but also claimed she had no idea she was not allowed to vote, nor was she aware of the steep prison sentences tied to violating that law.

Ms Mason and her legal team are still fighting to try to overturn her criminal conviction.

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