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Woman given 5 years for illegal voting is 'pawn' in war on voter rights, legal team says

Kaley Johnson, Fort Worth Star-Telegram on

Published in News & Features

FORT WORTH, Texas -- The legal team for a Texas woman sentenced to five years in prison for illegal voting in Tarrant County argued her conviction should be overturned at an appeal hearing Tuesday.

Crystal Mason, 44, was arrested for casting a provisional ballot in the 2016 presidential election while on federally supervised release. She was sentenced in March 2018 and is appealing the conviction.

The ballot that Mason cast was not counted, and Mason said no one told her she was not allowed to vote while on supervised release from a 2011 fraud conviction.

"There is no way I would do anything to jeopardize my kids," Mason, who is from Rendon, said outside the Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center on Tuesday. "I would not have went to vote if I knew I could not vote."

Mason said she has tried to rebuild her life despite her past by going to school and working hard. She is raising her three biological children and supporting four of her brother's children and three grandchildren.

Mason's legal team has argued that her case is an example of voter suppression in Texas and in the U.S. The team consists of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the ACLU Voting Rights Project, and the Texas Civil Rights Project.

Those groups say Texas convicted Mason to make an example of her and intimidate other minorities into not voting.

"It's a window into how the myth of voter fraud is weaponized to keep voters of color shut out from our democracy," said Sophia Lin Lakin, a staff attorney with ACLU's Voting Rights Project, at a press conference after the hearing. "She's being used as a pawn in this ongoing assault on voter rights in this country."

During the hearing, Assistant Criminal District Attorney Helena Faulkner argued the state's case against Mason, and ACLU staff attorney Thomas Buser-Clancy presented arguments against Mason's conviction. Three justices of Texas' Second Court of Appeals heard the arguments -- J. Wade Birdwell, Elizabeth Kerr and Dabney Bassel.

Buser-Clancy argued Mason did not commit voter fraud because her provisional ballot was not actually cast and she did not know she could not vote while on supervised release.

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Provisional ballots are used when a voter's eligibility is questioned -- the ballot is later reviewed for legitimacy and only counted if the voter was eligible. Such was the case for Mason, Buser-Clancy said. He argued Mason had no ill intentions when she cast her provisional ballot, and it does not make sense to punish someone for casting a ballot that was not counted. In 2016, for example, 40,000 people in Texas cast provisional ballots that were rejected.

Faulkner argued Mason cast the ballot while knowing she could not. Mason's provisional ballot included a written section explaining a person cannot vote if he or she is on supervised release, and Mason voted anyway, she said.

The justices will review Mason's appeal and make a determination. There is no set time frame in which they will make a decision.

At the time that she voted, Mason was serving probation after being convicted of tax fraud in 2011. She was released early after three years. Shortly after casting her provisional ballot in 2016, she was arrested.

In August 2018, a judge determined the illegal voting conviction, even while being appealed, violated the terms of Mason's parole. She was sentenced to 10 months in federal prison, and returned back home in June.

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