Illegal voting is taken very seriously in Texas and can land suspects in jail. A Fort Worth woman who claims she cast her ballot while she was ineligible is seeking to have her conviction overturned.
Crystal Mason was sentenced to five years in prison for illegal voting. She cast a provisional ballot in the 2016 presidential election while on supervised release for a federal conviction. Mason argued she was unaware she was ineligible to vote under Texas law, which required her to complete her sentence on a federal tax fraud conviction before she could vote. Mason said she cast her ballot – which did not count because it was provisional – on the advice of a poll worker.
A request for review of the conviction by the state’s highest criminal court, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, has been filed by Mason’s attorneys as well as the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the national ACLU, and the Texas Civil Rights Project.
Mason’s attorneys say she never wanted to be at the center of a politically divisive battle over voting rights in Texas. They say what happened to her is a textbook case of why provisional ballots were created and the matter should not have been criminalized.
They point out her vote was never even counted in the presidential election of 2016. Notwithstanding, the high profile nature of the issue, convictions for voter fraud are extremely rare.
However, a Texas appeals court let Mason’s conviction stand earlier this year. The three-judge panel of the Fort Worth appeals court affirmed the trial court’s judgment of illegal voting in March 2020, The Texas Tribune reported.
The hearing turned on the narrow question of whether Mason voted illegally. However, the Tribune reported nearly 4,500 provisional votes were cast in Tarrant County, where Mason lives, in 2016, and 3,990 were rejected. Mason was the only voter who faced criminal prosecution. Her lawyers said her case is the first known instance of someone facing criminal charges for casting a ballot that ultimately did not count.
Mason has described her punishment of five years in jail “for doing what I thought was my civic duty” as unfair and a tragedy.
Prosecutors maintain they are not criminalizing people who vote by mistake. They cite an affidavit Mason signed before casting her provisional ballot.
The trial judge convicted her of voting illegally after a poll worker testified he watched Mason read, and run her finger along, every line of an affidavit that required voters 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.” Mason maintained she failed to read that side of the paper.
Mason was indicted almost two decades ago for helping clients at her tax preparation business to claim improper exemptions to lower their tax bills and falsify expenses.
Mason’s attorneys point to some ambiguity in the law. They say that state law allows convicted felons to vote after the completion of their “sentence,” including any “parole or supervision.” It’s unclear if federal “supervised release” lines up with “supervision” under that law, Mason’s lawyers claim.
Voter fraud has become a major issue in the 2020 presidential election. President Donald Trump has unsuccessfully filed numerous lawsuits claiming widespread irregularities in the poll.
Notwithstanding the lack of evidence of widespread voter fraud, some GOP leaders in Texas have filed anti-fraud bills for the next legislative session in Austin. The bills take aim at illegal voting, mail-in-balloting, and behavior by election officials.
If you or a family member has been charged with any kind of fraud, it’s important to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. At Broden & Mickelsen, our team has a long track record in defending people accused of white collar crimes. Call us at (214) 720-9552.