Combating Racism – Unveiling Injustice

QUESTION: WHAT IS SIGNIFICANT ABOUT THESE CASES?

Bruce Bartman is a 70-year-old man from Delaware County, Pennsylvania who, in the weeks leading up to the 2020 presidential election, illegally registered his dead mother and dead mother-in-law as Republicans. He used an old driver's license number to request the mail-in ballot for his mother and then used the ballot to successfully cast her vote for former President Donald Trump on Oct. 28. That vote was counted. His mother died 12 years ago.

Bartman also tried to obtain a mail-in ballot for his dead mother-in-law using her social security number, but the request was flagged by state officials. When the state’s system flagged the information as belonging to a dead person, Bartman fraudulently signed a letter claiming she was still alive.

When pleading guilty to felony counts of perjury and unlawful voting last December, Bartman apologized to Court Judge George Pagano saying he took full responsibility for his actions.

“I was isolated last year in lockdown,” Bartman said. “I listened to too much propaganda and made a stupid mistake.”

In addition to his five-year probation term, Bartman also loses the right to vote for four years.

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Terri Lynn Rote, a 56-year-old resident of Des Moines, Iowa, was arrested in October, 2016 at a satellite voting station in Des Moines after first casting an early voting ballot at the Polk County Election office. She went to the early voting site in Des Moines to cast a second vote for Mr. Trump in the presidential election.

She was booked on a first-degree charge of election misconduct and was released after posting a $5,000 bond. Under Iowa state law, the charge is considered a Class D felony.

In a telephone interview with The Washington Post, Rote she hadn’t initially planned on voting twice but that it was “a spur-of-the-moment thing” when she walked by the satellite voting location. "I don’t know what came over me,” she told The Post at the time.

She previously told police that she cast two absentee ballots before the November election because, “The polls are rigged.” She was convinced her first vote for Mr. Trump would be manipulated and changed to a vote for candidate Hillary Clinton. According to her statement to the police, Rote believed Mr. Trump's claims about widespread election rigging.

Ms. Rote pled guilty to election misconduct and the felony charge on June 27, 2017. A district court judge accepted her plea. Rote was sentenced to two years of probation and a $750 fine. In a sentencing order, district court Judge Robert Hanson said the felony conviction will be erased from Ms. Rote's record once she finished probation and paid the fine.

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On Election Day 2016, Crystal Mason went to vote after her mother insisted that she make her voice heard in the presidential election. When her name didn’t appear on official voting rolls at her polling place in Tarrant County, Texas, a poll worker suggested she complete a provisional ballot, something she was unaware of.

Because she was still on supervised release for a federal tax fraud conviction, she was not eligible to participate in elections and her vote was never officially counted or tallied.

Mason has repeatedly said she didn’t know she was ineligible to vote under Texas law and wouldn’t have knowingly risked her freedom. During her trial, Kenneth Mays indicated that Ms. Mason was not warned that she could not vote when she was on supervision. He testified that “That is not a standard part of the procedures during an initial intake to begin supervised release. That’s just not something we do.”

But Tarrant County prosecutors pressed forward with charges, and in March 2018, Judge Ruben Gonzalez of Texas’ 432nd District Court found Ms. Mason guilty of a second-degree felony for illegally voting. She was sentenced to five years in prison.

She was sent back to prison for several months while waiting to be released on appeal bond, she lost her job, and her family nearly lost their house. While in prison, her teenage daughter was responsible for running the household.

Mason turned to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals late last year after a state appeals court panel upheld the trial court’s judgment.

The Help America Vote Act of 2002 established provisional ballots as a way for people whose registration is in doubt to record their votes and allow local officials to later determine if those ballots should be counted. In HAVA, the federal government made it clear that provisional ballots should not be criminalized because they represent “an offer to vote — they’re not a vote in themselves.” If there is ambiguity in someone’s eligibility, the provisional ballot system is there to account for it.

A number of law experts believe that if the court upholds Ms. Mason’s conviction, the state would be in direct conflict with the federal Help America Vote Act.

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ANSWERS:

INJUSTICE

Texas’ election laws stipulate that a person must knowingly vote illegally to be guilty of a crime. Ms. Mason did not knowingly vote illegally. In its ruling, the three-judge appeals panel wrote that the fact Ms. Mason did not know she was ineligible was “irrelevant to her prosecution.”

Both Bruce Bartman and Terri Lynn Rote knew that they were violating election laws; Crystal Mason did not. Yet Ms. Mason was convicted and sent to jail, while Mr. Bartman and Ms. Rote were both given probation. According to Clark Neily, a senior vice president for criminal justice at the Cato Institute, Ms. Mason’s case represents excessive criminalization.

Bruce Bartman and Terri Lynn Rote are White. Crystal Mason is Black.

The office of the Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, said that 531 election fraud offenses have been prosecuted since 2004. According to The Houston Chronicle, at least 72 percent of Mr. Paxton’s voter fraud cases have targeted people of color.

DISENFRANCHISEMENT

Across the United States, an estimated 5.85 million Americans (1 in 40 adults) cannot vote because of a prior felony conviction, according to the Sentencing Project, a research organization dedicated to crime and punishment.

In a future newsletter, I will present the pros and cons of felons’ disenfranchisement. Stay tuned.

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