The case of Crystal Mason, a Tarrant County woman convicted of electoral fraud, continues to garner national attention and support from lawyers and bipartisan leaders who say her five-year sentence should be overturned.
On Thursday, a group of former state and federal prosecutors, as well as the United States United Democracy Center, filed an amicus brief in favor of Mason in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the court before which Mason makes appeal of his conviction for illegal voting. Texas House Democrats in Washington met with Mason on Wednesday as part of a series of meetings on voting rights.
“As it stands, Ms. Mason’s lawsuits go far beyond the bounds of any reasonable exercise of the prosecutorial power and threaten the integrity of our democratic process and our electoral integrity as a nation,” said Donald B Ayer, former Deputy Attorney General of the US Department of Justice under President George HW Bush.
Mason, a native of Rendon, voted provisionally in the 2016 election, later claiming she was unaware she could not vote during her federally supervised release. His ballot was not counted – provisional ballots are intended to allow a voter to vote even if their name is not on the list of registered voters.
Even though the ballot was not counted and Mason said she was unaware she was not allowed to vote, she was found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison for illegal voting in March 2018 The case has since made its way through various appellate courts.
At the heart of Mason’s case is whether black and white voters are treated equally in the United States.In a January column in the Star-Telegram, Mason asked why a justice of the peace in the County of Tarrant who forged signatures re-election was only subject to a probationary period.
“Why was my case even prosecuted? ” she wrote. “Why haven’t I been shown this same grace?” My life and my family matter too.
Lawyers surrounding Mason’s case also pointed out in a press release that the first person to be sentenced for their role in the U.S. Capitol riot received a much lighter sentence than Mason. Paul Hodgkins was sentenced Monday to eight months in prison for his role in the riot. The United States United Democracy Center said in a press release that this was an example of the double standard within the criminal justice system for black and white Americans.
“This unfair lawsuit of Crystal Mason illustrates our country’s unfortunate relationship between race, voting and criminal justice,” Christine P. Sun, legal director at the United States United Democracy Center, said in the press release. “Furthermore, as the breadth of the signatories to this brief demonstrates, respecting the right to vote is not a partisan issue – it is about protecting and strengthening our democracy.”
Another black voter in Texas was prosecuted on illegal voting allegations this month. Hervis Rogers first went viral in March 2020 when he was the last person to vote after waiting several hours at Texas Southern University, the Washington Post reported. On July 7, Hervis made headlines again when he was arrested and charged with electoral fraud, NPR reported. Rogers’ parole for a burglary in 1995 was scheduled to end on June 13, 2020, meaning he was likely not eligible to vote on election day.
Lawyers argue in the brief filed Thursday that Mason’s conviction is also at odds with Texas law. According to the Texas Election Code, a person can vote provisionally if they do not know whether they are eligible to vote or not. The validity of a provisional bulletin can be examined after it has been submitted.
Nearly 4,500 other people submitted provisional ballots in Tarrant County in the 2016 election. Of those, 3,990 provisional ballots were rejected, the Texas Tribune reported.
“Ms. Mason’s accusation sends the disturbing message that a provisional vote carries a serious risk, with a consequent chilling effect on the use of provisional ballots,” the brief said. “Such cooling is likely to have a negative impact on the use of provisional ballots. disproportionate impact on minority voters, who tend to vote more provisionally.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has made voter fraud a target of his office. Between 2005 and 2015, the attorney general’s office prosecuted or investigated 117 cases, for an average of 11.7 cases per year. But between 2016 and 2018, that number jumped. The office investigated or prosecuted 35 cases for an average of 17.5 cases per year, according to Paxton office records.
Mason, who was called Crystal Mason-Hobbs at the time, pleaded guilty to tax evasion in 2011 and was ordered to pay $ 4.2 million in restitution, court documents show.
During her release under federal supervision, Mason voted provisionally in the 2016 election. She was convicted of electoral fraud in March 2018.
In June 2018, a judge dismissed his request for a new trial. In August 2018, Mason was sentenced to 10 months in federal prison for violating the conditions of her parole that were issued in the 2011 tax fraud case.
In May 2019, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the ACLU Voting Rights Project, and the Texas Civil Rights Project joined Mason’s legal team.
In July 2019, Mason was released from prison.
In September 2019, Mason appealed his case to the Texas Second Appeals District.
“There’s no way I’m doing anything to endanger my kids,” Mason told the Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center at the time. “I wouldn’t have gone to vote if I had known I couldn’t vote.”
In March 2020, three judges in the Texas Second District Court of Appeals dismissed Mason’s appeal, although the court agreed that she did not know she was not entitled to vote.
In November 2020, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas filed a motion to re-appeal the case to the superior jurisdiction of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeal. The ACLU filed a motion on behalf of Mason, and ACLU General Counsel Andre Segura called the case “one of the most significant voting rights cases in modern Texas history. “.
In March 2021, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted a reconsideration of the case.
This story contains information from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram archives.