A Texas woman imprisoned for casting a provisional ballot in the 2016 presidential election is asking Texas’ highest criminal court to overturn her conviction, in a case that could have major ramifications on the future of voting rights.
Crystal Mason was on a federal supervised release in November 2016 when she cast her provisional ballot, which was never counted. The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, as well as the national ACLU and the Texas Civil Rights Project joined Mason’s attorneys in filing the petition this week, reports the Texas Tribune. They are arguing that provisional ballots exist specifically for voters whose eligibility is in question, as Mason’s was, and that she never intended to vote illegally.
Mason, who was released to a transitional home this spring, has fought the conviction for years, becoming a voting rights advocate along the way.
But as Alison Grinter, a defense attorney for Mason, said in a statement released by the ACLU, it was never Mason’s intention to be a spokesperson or case study for voting rights.
“She never wanted to be on the news or have her name become a rallying point in a politically divisive battle,” Grinter said. “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.”
Andre Segura, legal director for the ACLU of Texas, also emphasized the importance of Mason’s case, calling it “one of the most important voting rights cases in modern Texas history.”
Mason attempted to cast a vote in 2016 at the behest of her mother. The pair went to “the same polling place we always went to,” Mason said. She had recently been released after serving time in federal prison for tax fraud; upon her release, Mason says, no one told her that she wasn’t allowed to vote.
Mason didn’t understand why her name wasn’t on the rolls, but a poll worker advised her to fill out a provisional ballot.
Provisional ballots have been around for less than 20 years, but provide voters an imported avenue to still be counted as their eligibility is being confirmed. It can take up to 20 days for provisional ballots to be reviewed and voters notified about whether their ballots counted. In 2016, Pew Research estimated that 2.5 million people voted provisionally, with just 1.5 million ballots being fully counted.
Mason was one of 700,00 people whose provisional ballot ended up being tossed out because of eligibility issues. In a campaign video for Bernie Sanders earlier this year, a defense attorney noted that in Tarrant County, where Mason attempted to vote, she was among 4,500 people who cast a provisional ballot—3,990 of which were rejected. Mason is the only person to be convicted of a crime and sentenced to prison for it.
She was sentenced to five years in prison in 2018.
Her case went before an appellate court earlier this year that upheld her conviction, even as they acknowledged that she was unclear about the law. That decision, Mason’s representation says, contradicts the Federal Help America Vote Act.
In a statement this week, Mason said she was “more energized than ever before” to fight the case.
“I thought I was performing my civic duty and followed the election process by filling out a provisional ballot,” she said. “By trying to criminalize my actions, Texas has shown me the power of my voice.”