Civil rights groups are celebrating a decision by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to remand and send back a lower court decision sentencing a Fort Worth area woman to 5 years in prison for “illegal voting.”
In 2018, Crystal Mason was convicted for voting in the 2016 presidential election while on probation.
Despite voting with a provisional ballot that would ultimately be uncounted due to Mason being on supervised release, a state district judge sentenced Mason to 5 years in prison, a punishment so harsh that her conviction quickly became a cause célèbre for opponents of Republican “election integrity” reforms that threatened to criminalize simple mistakes at the ballot box under the guise of eliminating voter fraud.
Mason, of course, was not trying to commit voter fraud. She was not aware she was not eligible to vote while on probation, and no Tarrant County poll worker told her otherwise — election workers allowed Mason to fill out a provisional ballot despite the county previously canceling her voter registration with records of her felony conviction in hand.
The decision was upheld by the Second Second Court of Appeals in 2020, but now Texas’ highest appeals court has sent the case back to the lower court, arguing that state prosecutors must prove that Mason knew she was illegally voting or committing a crime.
“I am pleased that the court acknowledged issues with my conviction, and am ready to defend myself against these cruel charges,” said Crystal Mason in a statement provided to the civil rights groups defending her in court, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the ACLU, and the Texas Civil Rights Project.
“My life has been upended for what was, at worst, an innocent misunderstanding of casting a provisional ballot that was never even counted,” Mason said. “I have been called to this fight for voting rights and will continue to serve my community.”
Kim T. Cole, a defense attorney for Mason, said she should have never been convicted.
“Innocent mistakes can happen and the State should not be in the business of making people fearful to vote,” Cole said. “I trust that the court will accurately interpret and apply the law and overturn Crystal’s conviction”
Tommy Buser-Clancy, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas said Mason would have never risked her freedom by submitting a ballot if she knew the state considered her ineligible to vote.
“She followed the rules, committed no crime, yet was slapped with an egregious 5-year sentence,” Buser-Clancy said. “We hope the court system soon will overturn this unwarranted conviction. Ms. Mason and her family have fought this for far too long.”
Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org