AUSTIN, Texas – The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the national ACLU, and the Texas Civil Rights Project, along with criminal defense attorneys Alison Grinter and Kim Cole, today filed a petition requesting the Court of Criminal Appeals — the state’s highest criminal court — to review the case of Crystal Mason, a Fort Worth woman challenging her conviction of illegal voting.
“This is one of the most important voting rights cases in modern Texas history,” said Andre Segura, legal director for the ACLU of Texas. “In reversing the criminal conviction of former Republican U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, the Court held that an individual must actually realize they are acting in violation of the Election Code in order to be lawfully convicted for such a violation. The same result must apply to Crystal—a woman who was not aware she was ineligible to vote and had no reason to risk her liberty. Any other outcome would be a miscarriage of justice. We humbly ask the Court to review Crystal’s appeal to decide her future, and the future of voting rights for all Texans.”
Mason was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison for submitting a provisional ballot that was not counted in the November 2016 election. In March, a three-justice panel of the Court of Appeals for the Second District of Texas denied an appeal for Mason but agreed that she was not aware the state considered her ineligible to vote.
“I'm more energized than ever before and I refuse to be afraid,” said Crystal Mason. “I thought I was performing my civic duty and followed the election process by filling out a provisional ballot. By trying to criminalize my actions, Texas has shown me the power of my voice. I will use my voice to educate and empower others who are fighting for their right to vote.”
Mason’s attorneys ask the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to take the case to evaluate whether the lower court erred in holding that Mason’s lack of knowledge regarding her eligibility was irrelevant to her prosecution. The attorneys argue the lower court’s opinion violates Texas law and conflicts with DeLay v. State, a case involving former Republican U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, in which the Court of Criminal Appeals threw out his conviction on the basis that an individual must actually “know” that their conduct violates the Election Code.
“Crystal did exactly what she was permitted to do under federal law,” said Sophia Lin Lakin, deputy director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “The sentence she received for an innocent mistake that tens of thousands of Texas voters make every federal election is beyond outrageous. The court should take this case up and end this injustice once and for all.”
In addition, the attorneys argue that the lower court’s holding that individuals may be convicted of illegal voting for submitting provisional ballots that are not counted, even when they believe in good faith that they were eligible to vote, conflicts with the Federal Help America Vote Act and the meaning of the term “vote” in Texas's Illegal Voting statute.
“Crystal’s submitted a provisional ballot that ultimately was not counted,” said Emma Hilbert, staff attorney for the Texas Civil Rights Project. “Like her, thousands of voters cast provisional ballots during every federal election. Criminalizing those actions jeopardizes our democratic values and risks silencing the voices of voters across this state and nation.”
“Crystal Mason never wanted to be a voting rights advocate,” said Alison Grinter, criminal defense attorney for Crystal Mason. “She never wanted to be on the news or have her name become a rallying point in a politically divisive battle. Hers is a textbook case for why provisional ballots were created and why they must not be criminalized. Crystal’s fight is a fight for every Texan.”
The petition submitted today by the legal team asks the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to accept review of Mason’s case and ultimately to reverse Mason’s previous conviction and acquit her of the charge of illegal voting.