Texas Appeals Court Overturns Crystal Mason’s 5-year Illegal Voting Term


On Thursday, a Texas appeals court overturned Crystal Mason’s illegal voting conviction. Mason was sentenced to five years in prison after casting a provisional ballot in the 2016 election while on supervised release for federal tax evasion.

The ruling by Tarrant County’s Second Court of Appeals means she has been formally exonerated of the felony voting allegation. The court stated in its conclusion that there was no evidence Mason knew she was unqualified to vote when she cast her ballot, which is a requirement to convict her of illegal voting.

Mason has maintained throughout the seven-year lawsuit that she was unaware she was disqualified and would not have jeopardized her freedom if she had. She said in a statement Thursday that her lengthy court battle, which received international attention, was painful.

“I am overjoyed to see my faith rewarded today,” he remarked. “I was thrown into this fight for voting rights and will keep swinging to ensure no one else has to face what I’ve endured for over six years, a political ploy where minority voting rights are under attack.”

The lawsuit pulled Mason, who is Black, into the political mix amidst a Republican-led crackdown on voter fraud, spurred in part by bogus accusations of widespread illicit voting.

“I’ve cried and prayed every night for over six years straight that I would remain a free Black woman,” Mason went on to say. “I thank everyone whose dedication and support carried me through this time and look forward to celebrating this moment with my family and friends.”

The Second Court of Appeals initially upheld Mason’s conviction, but was directed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals two years ago to “evaluate the sufficiency” of the evidence against Mason, stating that the lower court had “erred by failing to require proof that [Mason] had actual knowledge that it was a crime for her to vote while on supervised release.”

“We are relieved for Ms. Mason, who has waited far too long with uncertainty about whether she would be imprisoned and separated from her family for five years simply for trying to do her civic duty,” said Thomas Buser-Clancy, senior staff counsel for the ACLU of Texas.

“The harms of the criminal prosecution can never fully be undone, but this decision is vindication for Ms. Mason and a win for our democracy, which can only thrive when people can fearlessly engage in the civic process.”

Mason’s case began in 2016 when she discovered she was not on the voter roll and submitted a provisional ballot in the presidential election at the suggestion of a poll worker. Her ballot was rejected because she was not entitled to vote while on supervised release for a federal tax fraud conviction. She was captured many months later.

Mason’s prosecution was based on an affidavit she signed before casting her provisional ballot, which required individuals to swear that “if a felon, I have completed all my punishment including any term of incarceration, parole, supervision, period of probation, or I have been pardoned.”

A trial court judge convicted her of illicit voting, a second-degree state felony, after a poll worker testified that he saw Mason read and drag her finger along each line of an affidavit. Mason said she did not read the entire affidavit. At trial, a supervisor from the probation office in charge of her discharge testified that no one there had notified her that she was still ineligible to vote.

The Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in 2022 that to be convicted of illegal voting, individuals must be aware that they are unable to vote under Texas election law. Legislators clarified the law in 2021 by adding to the election code that Texans cannot be convicted of voting illegally “solely on the fact that the person signed a provisional ballot,” and must provide additional evidence to prove they knowingly attempted to vote illegally.

The appeals court stated in its 2022 opinion that the new statute demonstrated that lawmakers never intended to imprison a voter with good intentions.

“To construe the statute to mean that a person can be guilty even if she does not ‘know the person is not eligible to vote’ is to disregard the words the Legislature intended,” the judge stated in his ruling. “It turns the knowledge requirement into a sort of negligence scheme wherein a person can be guilty because she fails to take reasonable care to ensure that she is eligible to vote.”

Tarrant County Court’s decision on Thursday accepted this.

“We conclude that the quantum of the evidence presented in this case is insufficient to support the conclusion that Mason realized that she voted knowing that she was ineligible to do so and, therefore, insufficient to support her conviction for illegal voting,” the ruling goes on to say.

Tarrant County prosecutors have insisted that they are not criminalizing those who vote by mistake, claiming Mason’s case is about intent and the fact that she signed the statement, which they contend constituted a recognition of her ineligibility.

“In the end, the State’s primary evidence was that Mason read the words on the affidavit,” the Tarrant County ruling said. “But even if she had read them, they are not sufficient — even in the context of the rest of the evidence in this case — to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she knew that being on supervised release after having served her entire federal sentence of incarceration made her ineligible to vote by casting a provisional ballot when she did so.”

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