Highest Criminal Court in Texas to Review Crystal Mason's Conviction

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Highest Criminal Court in Texas to Review Crystal Mason’s Conviction in Illegal Voting Case

Tarrant County resident Crystal Mason

The highest criminal court in Texas on Wednesday announced that it has agreed to hear an appeal in the case of Crystal Mason, the Texas woman who was sentenced to five years in prison for unknowingly casting an illegal provisional ballot that was not counted in the November 2016 election.

“This has been a long journey, but I never gave up faith,” Mason said in a statement Wednesday. “I’m hopeful that the judges will understand that any Texan, like me, who at most unknowingly makes an innocent mistake, should not be punished for it.”

Mason, who was on supervised release for felony tax fraud, tried to cast her vote at the Baptist Tabernacle Church in Tarrant County, a polling site where she had voted multiple times prior to her incarceration. She gave her ID to the poll worker, but was told that her name wasn’t on the voter registration roll. At the advice of the poll worker, Mason filled out a provisional ballot.

She was unaware, however, that Texas law forbids convicted felons from voting until they have “fully discharged their sentence, including any term of incarceration, parole, or supervision.”

Following a 2018 bench trial that lasted only one day, a state court judge convicted Mason of the second-degree felony crime of voting illegally. The trial primarily focused on the fine print that appeared on the back of the provisional ballot which Mason signed. The passage read: “I am a resident of this political subdivision, have not been finally convicted of a felony or if a felon, I have completed all of my punishment including any term of incarceration, parole, supervision, period of probation, or I have been pardoned.”

Mason testified that she did not fully read the provisional ballot before signing and her probation officer testified that he had never reviewed the voter restriction conditions with her before her supervised release began.

Reasoning that it was Mason’s responsibility to know the law, the trial judge sentenced her to five years in prison. That sentence was upheld last year by an appeals court, leaving the all-Republican slate of judges on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals as Mason’s last resort.

According to the Texas Tribune, the court “indicated it won’t hear oral arguments” in Mason’s case and will instead base its decision on legal briefs submitted by both parties.

The appeal comes after a Republican-led effort to push false claims of widespread voter fraud culminated with supporters of President Donald Trump storming the U.S. Capitol building to prevent Congress from certifying electoral college votes in January. In the weeks since, several GOP-led state legislatures have passed what they call voting integrity laws restricting access to voting or criminalizing such activity as providing water to people waiting in line at the polls.

The decision to prosecute Mason was unusual given the number of people in the area who exhibited the same behavior. According to The Guardian, since 2014, at least 12,668 people in Tarrant County have voted using a provisional ballot; 88 percent of such ballots were rejected because the voter was simply not eligible. Mason was the “only voter who used a provisional ballot who was prosecuted for illegal voting,” per the report.

“Crystal never set out to be a voting rights advocate. The fact that she has found herself in the center of a very messy and very political fight over the voting rights of Texans is a sad reality, but her strength, courage, and devotion to her faith and her community has been a source of inspiration to so many people,” said Alison Grinter, Mason’s criminal defense attorney. “I am overjoyed that our fight for Crystal and for the rights of Texans will continue to our highest court.”

Mason pleaded guilty to the underlying tax fraud matter which resulted in her conviction.

[image via YouTube screengrab]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.