Crystal Mason is a Black Texas resident who was convicted in March 2018 of voter fraud and sentenced to five years in prison for casting a provisional ballot while on supervised release. Her vote was never counted. Ms. Mason maintains she was unaware she was ineligible to vote at the time. In November 2018, Ms. Mason appealed to the Texas Second Court of Appeals seeking to overturn her conviction. After several appeals, in which the League of Women Voters Texas filed amicus briefs supporting Ms. Mason, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the Texas Second Court of Appeals’ decision upholding her conviction sending Ms. Mason’s case back to the lower court for reconsideration.
Crystal Mason is a Black Texas resident who registered to vote in 2008 in Tarrant County. In 2011, Ms. Mason pled guilty to a felony and was sentenced to five years' imprisonment and three years of supervision after her release. In 2013, the Tarrant County Elections Administration mailed several notices to her home stating her voter registration had been cancelled. Ms. Mason was in federal custody at the time, and she did not receive them. After finishing her prison term, Ms. Mason returned home on supervised release. The probation office never informed her that she could not vote while on supervised release.
In November 2016, Ms. Mason went to her polling place to vote. The election worker checking for her registration could not find it and allowed her to complete a provisional ballot. The election worker who had checked the registration reported a concern about Ms. Mason’s provisional ballot to her precinct’s election judge, who then reported the issue to the district attorney's office. Ms. Mason’s ballot was not counted in the election. In early 2017, the District Attorney indicted Ms. Mason for voter fraud because she attempted to vote while ineligible. Ms. Mason was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison.
In November 2018, Ms. Mason appealed to the Texas second Court of Appeals for a new trial. The League of Women Voters of Texas (LWV Texas) and the Texas State Conference of the NAACP filed an amicus brief supporting her appeal in July 2019. In March 2020, the Court of Appeals upheld the conviction, ruling the state did not need to prove Ms. Mason knew she was ineligible to vote. Instead, the state only needed to prove that Ms. Mason voted while knowing she was on federal supervised release after being imprisoned for a felony.
In December 2020, Ms. Mason appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals — the highest criminal court in the state — arguing that the second Court of Appeals made four errors in affirming her conviction. First, the court incorrectly ruled that her lack of awareness about her ineligibility to vote "was irrelevant to her prosecution.” Second, the court’s interpretation of Texas’ illegal voting statute criminalized the good faith submission of provisional ballots by individuals who were wrong about their eligibility to vote, contrary to the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA). Third, she argued that the court incorrectly decided that she had voted in the election when the provisional ballot she submitted was never counted. Fourth, in a supplemental brief, she also argued that a subsequent change in Texas Election law nullified her conviction.
In December 2020, LWV Texas and the Texas State Conference of the NAACP filed a second amicus brief in support of Ms. Mason’s appeal and then a third amicus brief in August 2021.
In May 2022, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected Ms. Mason’s second, third, and fourth arguments. However, the court ruled that the second Court of Appeals should have required proof that Ms. Mason actually knew it was a crime for her to vote while on supervised release. The case was remanded to the second Court of Appeals to decide if Ms. Mason had actually known it was a crime for her to vote while on supervised release. The case is currently pending.
In February 2022, LWV Texas and the Texas State Conference of the NAACP filed a third amicus brief in support of Ms. Mason.
The League is represented by Vinson and Elkins LLP.
Texas district court finds Ms. Mason guilty of illegal voting
Ms. Mason appears for a bench trial and is found guilty and sentenced to five years of imprisonment.
Ms. Mason appeals her conviction to the Texas second Court of Appeals
Ms. Mason files a petition requesting the Texas second Court of Appeals review her case, reverse her previous conviction, and acquit her of the illegal voting charge.
LWV Texas and partners file amicus brief
LWV Texas and the Texas State Conference of the NAACP file an amicus brief in the Texas second Court of Appeals arguing Ms. Mason's conviction should be overturned on the grounds that (1) the evidence presented at trial was legally insufficient to sustain a conviction; (2) that the relevant election laws' text and ambiguity favored a lenient interpretation and (3) affirming the conviction would chill voter participation.
Texas second Court of Appeals denies Ms. Mason’s petition for a new trial.
The Court of Appeals affirms Ms. Mason’s conviction and denies her petition for a new trial.
Ms. Mason appeals to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
Ms. Mason petitions the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s court of final appeal for criminal cases, for review and a new trial or judgment of acquittal.
LWV Texas and partners file a second amicus brief
LWV Texas and the Texas State Conference of the NAACP file a second amicus brief arguing the trial court improperly disregarded the requirement that Ms. Mason voted while knowing she was barred from doing so, and that the Court of Appeals’ interpretation of the law was incorrect and conflicted with the Help America Vote Act.
League of Women Voters of Texas and partners file third amicus brief
In a third amicus brief, LWV Texas and the Texas NAACP argue the Court of Appeals incorrectly decided that Ms. Mason’s unawareness about her ineligibility to vote "was irrelevant to her prosecution” and impermissibly ignored the text of the statute on illegal voting. The brief also argues HAVA did not allow the court’s interpretation of Texas’ illegal voting statute, as Congress expressly regulated federal elections by creating a right for individuals to cast provisional ballots through HAVA and required states to comply. Lastly, the brief argues that the Court of Appeals incorrectly characterized rejected provisional ballots as “votes” within the meaning of the illegal voting statute.
Court of Criminal Appeals reverses the Texas second Court of Appeals
The Court of Criminal Appeals rules that the Court of Appeals erred in failing to consider whether Ms. Mason knew it was a felony for her to vote while on supervised release. The case is remanded to the Court of Appeals for the issue to be reheard.
LWV Texas and the Texas NAACP file a fourth amicus brief
LWV Texas files a fourth amicus brief, arguing the illegal voting statute did not criminalize attempting to vote (or voting) while ineligible when there was no clear evidence of “actual knowledge” of ineligibility. In addition, they argue that Texas’ reading of the facts is insufficient to show that Ms. Mason “actually realized” she was ineligible to vote when she filled out her provisional ballot. Lastly, amici argue the over-enforcement of illegal voting laws stretches the illegal voting statute beyond its text and intended scope.