Appeals Court Vacates Illegal Voting Sentence

Crystal Mason
Crystal Mason | Image by Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson/The Texas Tribune

A Texas appeals court recently vacated the five-year sentence given to a convicted felon caught attempting to vote in Fort Worth.

Crystal Mason, who was convicted of tax fraud in 2011, was arrested after trying to submit a provisional ballot in the 2016 Texas primary despite being on supervised release from prison. Even though the Texas ballot contains a written warning that felons cannot vote, Mason has argued that she did not know her status made her ineligible to cast a vote. She was later convicted of voter fraud and sentenced to five years in federal prison — plus 10 more months due to having violated the terms of her release.

“There is absolutely no reason Crystal should have been prosecuted,” Kim Cole, Mason’s attorney, said, according to Democracy Now! “She was not aware that she was not eligible to vote.”

The decision to vacate the five-year sentence hinged on the burden of proof not being met by prosecutors against Mason, Second District Appeals Court Justice Wade Birdwell explained, per NBC News. They had relied on Mason not being credible to obtain a conviction, which, the judge said, was not enough to prove guilt.

“In the end, the State’s primary evidence was that Mason read the words on the affidavit,” Birdwell wrote in his decision. “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 actually 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.”

“I am overjoyed to see my faith rewarded today,” Mason said in a statement from the ACLU of Texas. “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. I’ve cried and prayed every night for over six years straight that I would remain a free Black woman.”

The ACLU of Texas represented Mason through her appeal and called the decision to vacate the sentence a “victory for voting rights.”

“Crystal Mason was unfairly targeted because of bad faith actors in this state who are determined to use every tool at their disposal to attempt to intimidate voters, especially Black and Brown voters, but that approach will not work here in Texas,” said Christina Beeler, who is a voting rights attorney at the Texas Civil Rights Project, per ACLU of Texas.

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