It was a case so unfair, it quickly became a go-to talking point to illuminate the criminal justice system’s deep racial inequities: Crystal Mason, a 44-year-old Texas woman was sentenced to five years in jail for unknowingly casting an illegal ballot.
Last Friday, two major civil rights groups, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Texas Civil Rights Project, said they’ll be appealing Mason’s verdict, framing her case as an issue of voting rights. As the Huffington Post reports, Mason’s new legal team will include Dale Ho, the ACLU’s top voting rights lawyer.
Mason’s sentence, handed down last year for her attempt to cast a ballot in the 2016 election, made national headlines for its severity. Mason was on probation after a 2011 conviction for tax fraud and said no one had told her she wasn’t eligible to vote. Because it was a provisional ballot, her vote wasn’t counted.
“I am very excited to have the ACLU of Texas and the Texas Civil Rights Project joining me in my fight,” Mason said in a press release. “I am very grateful and I hope that justice will prevail here.”
Felony disenfranchisement happens across the U.S., but laws vary widely among states. In California and New York, people convicted of a felony can vote once their incarceration and parole have been completed. In Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania, disenfranchisement ends upon a person’s release from prison. In Texas, ex-offenders are eligible to vote again after they’ve completed their sentence, parole and probation. Mason says she was unaware that her supervised release meant that she was still ineligible. According to her, no one—not the federal court, not her supervision officer, and not the election worker helping her fill her ballot—told her it was illegal for her to vote.
The ACLU plans to argue that the law Mason was convicted under is vague and that she received inadequate counsel from her trial attorney. The organization also plans to stress the point that her ballot ultimately didn’t even count.
“The prosecution of Crystal Mason for the innocent mistake of casting a provision ballot that wasn’t even counted is a severe injustice,” Andre Segura, an attorney with the ACLU of Texas, said in a statement. “Ms. Mason simply attempted to follow the law and participate in what she believed to be her civic duty, and in return has been sentenced to an outrageous length of time in prison.”
Last year, the same judge who originally sentenced Mason to five years in prison turned down her bid for a retrial. According to the Huffington Post, Mason was released from federal prison last week; she’s currently staying in a halfway home.
Oral arguments for Mason’s appeal are set to begin on June 4.