Texas’ highest criminal court on Wednesday ordered a lower court to reconsider the controversial case against Crystal Mason, a Texas woman who was convicted of illegally voting in the 2016 election.
At the time Mason voted, she was on probation after serving time for federal tax evasion.
Alison Grinter Allen, Mason’s attorney, said Mason had no idea she couldn’t vote because she technically hadn’t finished her sentence. Mason wasn’t on the voter rolls at the time, so she voted using a provisional ballot – which ultimately didn’t count.
But in 2018, Mason was convicted of illegal voting, which was a second-degree felony, and was sentenced to five years in prison. She is currently on bail.
According to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals decision, when a lower court upheld that conviction, it erred by “not requiring proof that [Mason] knew it was a crime for her to vote while on probation.”
Tommy Buser-Clancy, a senior attorney with the ACLU of Texas, said in an interview that the court clarified that Texas law says the state “must show that the person knew they were ineligible. to vote” when she voted.
“What this decision says is that innocent mistakes cannot be prosecuted,” he said.
The case now returns to an appellate court, where it is ordered to resume this case with this new direction from the superior court.
The impact of the new state election law
Last year, Republican lawmakers in Texas passed a controversial election law that, among other things, cracked down on alleged voting crimes in the state. The law, known as Senate Bill 1, created new criminal penalties for people who assist voters in person or vote by mail, and it strengthened penalties for existing voting crimes.
SB 1, however, also included language aimed at preventing another case like Mason’s.
One of the other reasons the High Criminal Court wanted his case re-examined is that Texas lawmakers included a provision in the law that clarifies that a person “cannot be convicted solely on the fact that he or she signed a provisional voting affidavit…unless corroborated by other evidence that the person knowingly committed the offence.”
“The amendment clarifies that a provisional voting affidavit alone is not sufficient evidence that the person MASON – knowingly committed the offence,” the court wrote. “Corroboration by other evidence is required for conviction.”
Suffrage advocates in the state had warned lawmakers that the legislation as a whole could trap people who make mistakes while voting. They say increased lawsuits targeting voters could deter people from voting in Texas.
Voting groups also worry that the continued criminalization of voting will disproportionately affect communities of color. Mason, for example, is a black woman.
According to an ACLU of Texas study released in March 2021, more than 70% of election prosecutions by the Texas Attorney General’s Election Integrity Unit were against black and Latino voters.