In ‘Major Victory for Voting Rights,’ Texas Court Overturns Crystal Mason’s Conviction

Brett Wilkins, Common Dreams

Crystal Mason, the Texas woman sentenced in 2018 to five years in prison for casting an illegal ballot in the 2016 election, was cleared Thursday by a state appeals court, which found no evidence that she knew she was ineligible to vote.

The 2nd Court of Appeals in Fort Worth formally acquitted Mason, a grandmother and mother of three who was on supervised release for felony tax fraud when she filled out a provisional ballot that was never counted in the 2016 presidential election. Her prosecution was based on an affidavit she signed before voting that required her to swear that she had “completed all my punishment including any term of incarceration, parole, supervision, period of probation, or I have been pardoned.”

Mason’s parole supervisor testified at her trial that no one from the office informed her that she was ineligible to vote.

The court’s ruling states that prosecutors’ primary evidence “was that Mason read the words on the affidavit, 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.”

Mason contended that she did not carefully read the affidavit and that she would never have risked her freedom by knowingly casting an illegal ballot.

“I am overjoyed to see my faith rewarded today,” Mason said Thursday in a statement published by the ACLU. “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,” Mason added. “I thank everyone whose dedication and support carried me through this time and look forward to celebrating this moment with my family and friends.”

Christina Beeler, voting rights attorney at the Texas Civil Rights Project, said that “this ruling gives us hope not just for Ms. Mason, but for the broader fight for voting rights in Texas.”

“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,” she continued.

“We are proud to have assisted in securing Ms. Mason’s freedom, and we are proud of Ms. Mason—instead of intimidating Ms. Mason through her unlawful prosecution, the state has empowered Ms. Mason to continue fighting for voting rights alongside other advocates,” Beeler added.
Sophia Lin Lakin, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said: “Crystal Mason has bravely fought this grave injustice for years now. No one should be forced to endure what she has, and Crystal’s victory today is an inspiration and cause for celebration.”

Mason’s case attracted international attention and widespread condemnation, with voting rights defenders comparing her conviction and sentencing to white offenders who received more lenient punishments.

For example, Russ Casey, a justice of the peace in the same county where Mason was convicted, admitted to submitting fake signatures on documents required to secure a spot on a primary ballot. Initially sentenced to two years behind bars, Casey had his punishment reduced to five years’ probation. He also resigned from his job.

On Wednesday, a Georgia judge ruled that Brian Pritchard—a vice-chair of the state Republican Party, right-wing talk show host, and prominent 2020 election denier—voted illegally nine times from 2008-10 while he was on probation for felony check forging. Pritchard will not serve any prison time; instead he was fined $5,000 and will receive a public reprimand from the State Election Board.

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