On Election Day 2016, Crystal Mason went to vote after her mom insisted that she make her voice heard in the presidential election. When her identify didn’t seem on official voting rolls at her polling place in Tarrant County, Texas, she crammed out a provisional poll, not considering something of it.
Ms. Mason’s poll was never officially counted or tallied as a result of she was ineligible to vote: She was on supervised launch after serving 5 years for tax fraud. Nonetheless, that poll has wrangled her right into a prolonged appeals course of after a state district court docket sentenced her to 5 years in jail for unlawful voting, as she was a felon on probation when she forged her poll.
Ms. Mason maintains that she didn’t know she was ineligible to vote.
“This is very overwhelming, waking up every day knowing that prison is on the line, trying to maintain a smile on your face in front of your kids and you don’t know the outcome,” Ms. Mason mentioned in a cellphone interview. “Your future is in someone else’s hands because of a simple error.”
Her case is now headed for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the very best state court docket for felony instances, whose judges mentioned on Wednesday that they’d determined to listen to it. Ms. Mason unsuccessfully requested for a brand new trial and misplaced her case in an appellate court docket.
This new attraction is the final probability for Ms. Mason, 46, who’s out on attraction bond, to keep away from jail. If her case has to advance to the federal court docket system, Ms. Mason must attraction from a cell.
Alison Grinter, certainly one of Ms. Mason’s legal professionals, mentioned the federal authorities made it clear in the Help America Vote Act of 2002 that provisional ballots shouldn’t be criminalized as a result of they characterize “an offer to vote — they’re not a vote in themselves.”
She mentioned that Ms. Mason didn’t know she was ineligible and was nonetheless convicted, and that Texas’ election legal guidelines stipulate that an individual should knowingly vote illegally to be responsible of against the law.
“Crystal never wanted to be a voting rights advocate,” Ms. Grinter mentioned Thursday. “She didn’t want to be a political football here. She just wanted to be a mom and a grandmother and put her life on track, but she’s really taken it and run with it, and she refuses to be intimidated.”
A Tarrant County grand jury indicted Ms. Mason for a violation of the Texas election legal guidelines, a spokeswoman for the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office mentioned in an announcement.
“Our office offered Mason the option of probation in this case, which she refused,” the assertion mentioned. “Mason waived a trial by jury and chose to proceed to trial before the trial judge.”
In March 2018, Judge Ruben Gonzalez of Texas’ 432nd District Court discovered Ms. Mason responsible of a second-degree felony for illegally voting.
According to Tommy Buser-Clancy, a lawyer on the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, Ms. Mason ought to by no means have by no means been convicted. If there may be ambiguity in somebody’s eligibility, the provisional poll system is there to account for it, he mentioned.
“That’s very scary,” he mentioned of Ms. Mason’s conviction, “and it guts the entire purpose of the provisional ballot system.”
If her eligibility was incorrect, he mentioned, “that should be the end of the story.”
The appeals court docket’s determination may set an essential precedent for the way forward for how the general public interprets voting, particularly in the event that they’re confused, based on Joseph R. Fishkin, a regulation professor on the University of Texas at Austin. He mentioned he hoped that the court docket establishes a precept to not “criminalize people for being confused about the complexities of the interaction between the criminal law and election law.”
Professor Fishkin mentioned that he and lots of different regulation consultants consider that if the court docket upholds Ms. Mason’s conviction, the state could be in direct battle with the federal Help America Vote Act.
(*5*) Professor Fishkin mentioned Thursday. “If this case stands, that’s obviously concerning, because a lot of people who may not understand the details of their status or who is allowed to vote will be deterred from voting.”
Across the United States, 5.2 million Americans can’t vote due to a previous felony conviction, based on the Sentencing Project, a analysis group devoted to crime and punishment.
The workplace of the Texas legal professional common, Ken Paxton, mentioned that 531 election fraud offenses have been prosecuted since 2004. The outcomes of these instances weren’t instantly accessible. At least 72 p.c of Mr. Paxton’s voter fraud instances have focused individuals of shade, based on The Houston Chronicle.
Ms. Mason’s trigger has obtained help from the Cato Institute, a libertarian suppose tank. Clark Neily, a senior vp for felony justice on the institute, mentioned the case represented an instance of extreme criminalization.
“It’s putting people in a position where they can commit a criminal offense without even knowing that they’re in violation of any law,” he mentioned.
Celina Stewart, chief counsel on the League of Women Voters, which has filed supporting briefs on Ms. Mason’s behalf, mentioned her case despatched “a very clear message” that folks with felony convictions needs to be cautious.
“She’s being made an example, and the example is that you don’t want returning citizens, Black people, Black women to vote,” she mentioned. “That’s an egregious narrative, and we have to push back on that because that’s not how democracy works.”