A Texas three-judge panel has upheld the five-year prison sentence of a Black woman who voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election.
Crystal Mason, 45, has been fighting to appeal her sentence after a judge ordered her to prison after she cast a provisional ballot, not knowing her status as a convicted felon on parole made her ineligible to vote. Her ballot ultimately wasn’t counted.
Still, Mason was convicted and sentenced.
Now her lawyers are seeking to have the full panel of the Court of Appeals for the Second District of Texas review the decision, according to a release published by the American Civil Liberties Union last Friday.
“We are disappointed with the decision and believe that it is wrong on the law,” said Tommy Buser-Clancy, a senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas, which is also representing Mason. “Crystal submitted a provisional ballot that wasn’t counted, she did not vote illegally. We’ll continue to fight on behalf of Crystal by asking the entire Second Court of Appeals to re-hear this decision.”
Mason was also sentenced to an additional 10 months in federal prison for violating the terms of her parole, which she was serving on a previous tax fraud conviction when she attempted to vote. The mother of three insisted she didn’t know her voting rights were revoked.
However, state officials pointed to evidence, including an affidavit signed by Mason warning her about voter eligibility, to argue that she knew she was ineligible to vote but chose to anyway.
In court, Mason acknowledged not reading the warning, which was printed on the back of the provisional ballot, because she was focused on filling out the other side with her personal information. Speaking to CNN last year, she said she never would’ve run the risk of voting had she known it’d force her to “leave my children, to lose my job, to go through what I’m going through right now.”
Mason was released from prison in July and remains free on an appeal bond as she fights to have the state’s five-year sentence overturned.
“These are difficult times for me, but I have faith that with the help of my family and God, right will prevail,” she said. “A punishment of five years in jail for doing what I thought was my civic duty, and just as I was getting my family’s life together, is not simply unfair, it’s a tragedy.”
Mason’s team of lawyers, which includes the ALCU of Texas, the ACLU Voting Rights Project, the Texas Civil Rights Project and her criminal defense attorneys, have vowed to keep pushing on her behalf.
Voting rights advocates, like attorney Beth Stevens with the Texas Civil Rights Project, also see Mason’s case as one of clear voter suppression.
“They know these prosecutions and harsh sentences in cases like Crystal’s are thinly veiled attempts to suppress the vote,” Stevens told HuffPost after a separate appeals court hearing last year. “These are efforts that are meant to strike fear in the heart of other people.”
Kim Cole, one of Mason’s criminal defense lawyers, said this latest denial “is not the end” of their efforts.
“Our community has stood by Crystal from the beginning and will never lose hope,” she said in a statement. “We’ll continue to fight with Crystal so that she gets the justice she deserves.”