The case of Crystal Mason, a Tarrant County woman convicted of voter fraud, continues to draw national attention and the support of bipartisan attorneys and leaders who say her five-year sentence should be overturned.
On Thursday, a group of former state and federal prosecutors, along with the States United Democracy Center, filed an amicus brief in support of Mason in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the court in which Mason is appealing her illegal voting conviction. Texas House Democrats in D.C. met with Mason on Wednesday as part of a series of meetings about voting rights.
“As it stands, Ms. Mason’s prosecution lies far outside the bounds of any reasonable exercise of prosecutorial power, and threatens the integrity of our democratic process and our electoral integrity as a nation,” said Donald B. Ayer, former deputy attorney general at the U.S. Department of Justice under President George H.W. Bush.
Mason, who is from Rendon, cast a provisional ballot in the 2016 election, later saying she was not aware she could not vote while on federally supervised release. Her ballot was not counted — provisional ballots are meant to allow a voter to cast a potential ballot even if their name does not appear 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 convicted and sentenced to five years in prison for illegal voting in March 2018. The case has since worked its way through various appeals courts.
At the heart of Mason’s case is the question of whether Black and white voters are treated equally in the U.S. In a January column in the Star-Telegram, Mason questioned why a Tarrant County justice of the peace who forged signatures to get on the ballot for re-election was only given probation.
“Why was my case even prosecuted?” she wrote. “Why was I not shown that same grace? My life and my family matter, too.”
Advocates surrounding Mason’s case also pointed out in a press release that the first person to be sentenced for his 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 States United Democracy Center said in a press release this is one example of the double-standard within the criminal justice system for Black and white Americans.
“This unjust prosecution of Crystal Mason exemplifies our country’s unfortunate relationship between race, voting, and criminal justice,” said Christine P. Sun, legal director at the States United Democracy Center, in the press release. “Furthermore, as demonstrated by the breadth of the signers on this brief, upholding the right to vote is not a partisan issue — it is a matter of protecting and strengthening our democracy.”
Another Black voter in Texas was prosecuted on allegations of illegal voting this month. Hervis Rogers first went viral in March 2020 when he was the last person to vote after an hours-long wait at Texas Southern University, the Washington Post reported. On July 7, Hervis made headlines again when he was arrested and accused of voter fraud, NPR reported. Rogers’ parole for a burglary committed in 1995 was set to end June 13, 2020, meaning he was likely ineligible to vote on Election Day.
Attorneys argue in the brief filed Thursday that Mason’s conviction is also at odds with Texas law. According to Texas election code, a person can cast a provisional ballot if they do not know if they are eligible to vote or not. A provisional ballot can be examined for validity after it is 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 prosecution sends the troubling message that casting a provisional ballot carries a serious risk, with a consequent chilling effect on the use of provisional ballots,” the brief says. “Such chilling is likely to disproportionately impact minority voters, who tend to cast more provisional ballots.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has made voter fraud a focus of his office. Between 2005 and 2015, the Attorney General’s Office prosecuted or investigated 117 cases, for an average of 11.7 cases a year. But between 2016 and 2018, that number jumped. The office investigated or prosecuted 35 cases for an average of 17.5 cases a year, records from Paxton’s office show.
Mason, who was known as Crystal Mason-Hobbs at the time, pleaded guilty to tax fraud in 2011 and was ordered to pay $4.2 million in restitution, according to court documents.
While on federally supervised release, Mason cast a provisional ballot in the 2016 election. She was convicted of voter fraud in March 2018.
In June 2018, a judge denied her motion for a new trial. In August 2018, Mason was sentenced to 10 months in federal prison for violating the terms 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 her case to Texas’ Second District of Appeals.
“There is no way I would do anything to jeopardize my kids,” Mason said outside the Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center at the time. “I would not have went to vote if I knew I could not vote.”
In March 2020, three justices on the Court of Appeals for the Second District of Texas denied Mason’s appeal, although the court agreed she did not know she was ineligible to vote.
In November 2020, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas filed a motion to appeal the case again to the higher court of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The ACLU filed a motion on Mason’s behalf, and ACLU legal director Andre Segura called the case, “one of the most important voting rights cases in modern Texas history.”
In March 2021, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted a review of the case.
This story contains information from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s archives.