For the past few years, Crystal Mason has awoken every day fearing she’d lose her freedom, but on Wednesday the Fort Worth mother of three found reason to celebrate. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals had decided to review her case.
Mason faced a five-year prison sentence after she was convicted of illegal voting during the 2016 presidential election. A poll worker had advised Mason to submit a provisional ballot after her name wasn’t found on the voter roll, according to The Texas Tribune. She didn't realize it at the time, but Mason wasn’t eligible to vote because she was on supervised release for a previous federal tax fraud conviction.
Her vote wasn’t counted, but Mason was still convicted of a second-degree state felony. Even so, she never lost her faith.
“I was just like, ‘God I trust you, God I trust you,’ because I just knew that everything was going to be OK,” Mason said on learning the appeals court’s decision.
Tommy Buser-Clancy, a senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said the court’s decision is a “critical” first step to getting justice for Mason.
The appeals court will review a lower court decision regarding whether someone can be prosecuted for illegal voting when they didn’t realize they weren’t eligible and when their ballot wasn't counted, according to an ACLU news release.
Wednesday’s decision serves as a contrast to the baseless GOP-backed narrative that voter fraud is widespread and rampant. Still, Texas lawmakers have made “election integrity” a priority this legislative session — efforts that voting rights advocates condemn as voter suppression.
Criminal defense attorney Alison Grinter has been fighting to get Mason acquitted and reverse her previous conviction, as have the state and national ACLU chapters and the Texas Civil Rights Project. Grinter said she was relieved when she learned of the Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision.
“There is a big, happy family in Fort Worth today,” she said.
In Tarrant County, 12,668 provisional ballots were cast between 2014 and 2019, according to The Guardian. More than 11,000 had been rejected, but Mason was the only one targeted and prosecuted.
In the petition for discretionary review, Buser-Clancy and Grinter argued the Court of Appeals erred when it found it irrelevant that Mason didn’t realize she was ineligible to vote. On the contrary, Grinter said there’s precedent showing a person has to subjectively know that they’re violating the election code in order to be criminally prosecuted.
“That’s a pretty stark double-standard,” Grinter said, adding the court should apply the law equally to the powerful and not powerful alike.
While his office didn’t prosecute the case of Mason, who is Black, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has been accused of cracking down on minorities suspected of voter fraud. Since 2015, at least 72% of the cases from his office's Election Integrity division have been against Black and Latino defendants, according to an analysis by the ACLU. At least 45% of the prosecutions were of Black and Latina women.
Wednesday's decision is an unusual one; it's rare that the all-Republican court would opt to review a non-death penalty conviction, according to The Tribune. But the court won’t hear oral arguments in Mason’s case — a fact that disappoints Grinter.
“I really would prefer to have them see Crystal there as a human being, you know? Instead of just having this on paper,” Grinter said. “But one way or the other, we’re very excited.”
Moving forward, Mason is keeping the faith. “I’m just trusting God that they will do the right thing and see the unjust in this situation,” she said.
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