Crystal Mason Acquitted in Texas Voter-Fraud Case


Judge denies new trial for Texas woman sentenced to 5 years for illegal voting

Photo: Max Faulkner/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

A Texas woman who was sentenced to five years in prison for voting while on probation had her conviction overturned by an appeals court on Thursday. Crystal Mason, a 49-year-old Black mother of three, has long maintained that she was unaware she was ineligible to vote when she cast a provisional ballot in November 2016. Mason was on supervised release after serving time for federal-tax fraud. Although sentenced, Mason was out on bond pending her appeal.

At the end of a long legal battle, the Second Court of Appeals in Tarrant County ruled in her favor after previously upholding her sentence years earlier after an initial appeal. “We conclude that the quantum of the evidence presented in this case is insufficient to support the conclusion that Mason actually realized that she voted knowing that she was ineligible to do so and, therefore, insufficient to support her conviction for illegal voting,” the decision read.

In a statement provided by the Texas ACLU, Mason said she was “overjoyed” by the news of her acquittal. “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. I thank everyone whose dedication and support carried me through this time and look forward to celebrating this moment with my family and friends.”

In 2012, Mason, who operated a tax-preparer business with her then-husband, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States. She was sentenced to five years in federal prison and three years of supervised release, per the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. While out on supervision, Mason said she went to vote, only to discover that she wasn’t on the voter rolls. She said a poll worker helped her fill out the ballot, but she later received a letter stating that her vote wasn’t counted. Mason didn’t learn the reason why until she was arrested a few months later after a meeting with her probation officer.

Under Texas law, Mason was not allowed to vote while on supervised release. According to the Texas Tribune, prosecutors alleged that Mason knowingly signed an affidavit that read, “If a felon, I have completed all my punishment including any term of incarceration, parole, supervision, period of probation, or I have been pardoned.” She claims that she was never told upon her release from prison or by her probation officer that she wasn’t allowed to cast a ballot.

“You think I would jeopardize my freedom?” Mason said at the time of her conviction, per the Star-Telegram. “You honestly think I would ever want to leave my babies again? That was the hardest thing in my life to deal with. Who would — as a mother, as a provider — leave their kids over voting?”

Mason first filed an appeal in 2019, backed by the ACLU and its Texas branch as well as the Texas Civil Rights Project. After the state appellate court upheld her conviction, Mason’s team took her case to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. In 2022, the court ruled that the lower court must reconsider Mason’s sentence, saying the panel wrongly concluded that Mason’s lack of knowledge of her eligibility to vote was “irrelevant” to her conviction.

From the moment it became public, Mason’s conviction received national attention, the stiff sentence handed down standing in stark contrast with the lighter penalties others were given for more serious offenses. In 2021, Bruce Bartman, a Pennsylvania man, pleaded guilty to intentionally mailing an absentee ballot for his deceased mother in order to vote for Donald Trump and signing an official document claiming she was alive. Bartman, who is white, was sentenced to five years of probation. Terri Lynn Rote, a white Iowa woman, was ordered to serve two years of probation and pay a $750 fine in 2017 after pleading guilty to attempting to vote twice for Trump.

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