A Texas woman whose five-year prison term for illegally casting a preliminary vote in the 2016 election sparked outrage among voting rights activists will have her case reconsidered by an appeals court, the state’s highest criminal court ruled Wednesday.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that a lower appeals court wrongly upheld parts of the conviction of the woman, Crystal Mason, who voted in the 2016 general election when she was a criminal on probation, and ordered a preliminary vote had been filled. that has never been officially counted or counted. Ms Mason has maintained that she was not aware at the time that she was not allowed to vote and that she had been advised by a polling officer to submit her provisional ballot.
The Second Court of Appeals in Tarrant County had said in 2020 that Ms. Mason’s ignorance was “irrelevant to her prosecution”. But the Court of Criminal Appeals disagreed and opened a channel to overturn the conviction.
“This is great news for Ms. Mason, but the battle is not over,” Tommy Buser-Clancy, a senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, which represents Ms. Mason, said by phone Wednesday.
The Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office, which was prosecuting the case, declined to comment Wednesday.
Ms Mason, who is out on bail, said in a statement that she was pleased with the court’s decision and that she was “ready to defend myself against these brutal charges.”
“My life has been turned upside down because of what was at worst an innocent misunderstanding about putting in a preliminary vote that was never even counted,” she said. “I am called to fight for the right to vote and will continue to serve my community.”
The case of Ms. Mason, who is black, has sparked anger among voters who say her and others’ experience in recent years has highlighted racial disparities in the criminal prosecution of voter fraud cases. They have described voting rights laws as opaque and confusing for those with criminal convictions who are unsure of their rights.
Republican officials have begun tackling voter fraud since the 2020 election, despite the crime remaining a very rare and often accidental occurrence.
Mr Buser-Clancy said the Court of Criminal Appeals had clarified “that in order to be convicted, a person must actually know that he is not allowed to vote.”
The case now goes to the Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth, which will re-examine the evidence.
Mason’s attorneys have argued that in the Help America Vote Act of 2002, the federal government made it clear that draft ballots should not be criminalized because they represent an offer to vote — not an actual vote. They have also argued that Texas electoral laws require a person to knowingly vote illegally to commit a crime.
In a similar case, a Tennessee state attorney last month dropped all charges against Pamela Moses, a Memphis woman previously convicted of a felony who was sentenced in January to six years and one day in prison after trying to get her right to vote in 2019. to recover. †