On Election Day 2016, Crystal Mason went to vote after her mother insisted that she make her voice heard in the presidential election. When her name didn’t appear on official voting rolls at her polling place in Tarrant County, Texas, she filled out a provisional ballot, not thinking anything of it.
Mason’s ballot was never officially counted or tallied because she was ineligible to vote: She was on supervised release after serving five years for tax fraud. Nonetheless, that ballot has wrangled her into a lengthy appeals process after a state district court sentenced her to five years in prison for illegal voting.
According to Mason maintains she was unaware of any status that she was ineligible to vote. The Republican party has increased its efforts to intimidate and in some cases use the legal system to scare African-American voters from voting.
Her case is headed for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the highest state court for criminal cases, whose judges said on Wednesday that they had decided to hear it. Mason unsuccessfully asked for a new trial and lost her case in an appellate court.
The new appeal is the last chance for Mason, 46, who is out on appeal bond, to avoid prison. If her case advances to the federal court system, Mason will have to appeal from a cell.
Mason’s cause has received support from the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. Clark Neily, a senior vice president for criminal justice at the institute, said the case represented an example of excessive criminalization.
“It’s putting people in a position where they can commit a criminal offense without even knowing that they’re in violation of any law,” he said.
Celina Stewart, chief counsel at the League of Women Voters, which has filed supporting briefs on Mason’s behalf, said her case sent “a very clear message” that people with felony convictions should be cautious.
“She’s being made an example, and the example is that you don’t want returning citizens, Black people, Black women to vote,” she said. “That’s an egregious narrative, and we have to push back on that, because that’s not how democracy works.”