Tarrant County DA wants Crystal Mason’s illegal voting conviction reinstated

Crystal Mason in Fort Worth on Sept. 9, 2019. (Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson For The Texas Tribune, Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson For The Texas Tribune)

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Tarrant County District Attorney Phil Sorrells wants Crystal Mason’s illegal voting conviction reinstated, his office announced Thursday.

Mason, a Tarrant County resident, was acquitted of an illegal voting charge last month. Sorrells’ office is now asking the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to overturn the ruling that cleared her.

Mason was convicted of illegal voting in March 2018 and sentenced to five years in prison for casting a provisional ballot in the 2016 election while on supervised release for federal tax evasion.

"This office will protect the ballot box from fraudsters who think our laws don't apply to them," Sorrells’ office said in a statement.

The office argues the Second Court of Appeals did not give proper deference to the trial court's guilty verdict and reweighed the evidence in favor of Mason when it overturned her conviction.

Sorrells' office adds Mason was fairly convicted based on testimony from election staff that she understood she was not eligible to vote.

[This East Texas town hasn’t held a city council election in at least 18 years]

Mason has maintained she did not know she was ineligible to vote.

“It is disappointing that the state has chosen to request further review of Ms. Mason's case, but we are confident that justice will ultimately prevail,” Tommy Buser-Clancy, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Texas, said in a statement. “The court of appeals' decision was well reasoned and correct. It is time to give Ms. Mason peace with her family.”

Though it had initially upheld her conviction, the Tarrant County-based Second Court of Appeals overturned it last month after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals instructed the lower court to "evaluate the sufficiency" of the evidence against Mason.

Initially, the court found that Mason's alleged knowledge that she was on supervised release, and therefore ineligible to vote, was sufficient for an illegal voting conviction. But in instructing it to reevaluate the case, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeal ruled the lower court “erred by failing to require proof that [Mason] had actual knowledge that it was a crime for her to vote while on supervised release.”

The yearslong saga began in 2016 when Mason,on advice from a poll worker, submitted a provisional ballot during that year's presidential election after she discovered her name was not on the voter roll.

Her ballot was rejected because she was not eligible to participate in elections while still on supervised release for a federal tax fraud conviction. She was arrested a few months later.

The case against Mason hinged on an affidavit she signed before casting her provisional ballot that required individuals 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.”

A trial court judge convicted her of illegally voting, a second-degree state felony at the time, after a poll worker testified he watched Mason read, and run her finger along, each line of an affidavit. Mason, however, said she did not read the entire affidavit. At trial, a supervisor from the probation office overseeing her release testified that no one from that office had informed her she was still ineligible to vote.

In its 2022 ruling instructing the lower appellate court to reevaluate the case, the Court of Criminal Appeals held that Texas election law requires individuals to know they are ineligible to vote to be convicted of illegal voting. The law had been clarified by lawmakers in 2021 with additions to the election code stating Texans may not be convicted of voting illegally “solely upon the fact that the person signed a provisional ballot,” and instead required other evidence to corroborate they knowingly tried to cast an unlawful vote.

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