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Texas appeals court acquits Crystal Mason's illegal voting conviction

Crystal Mason, center, at the Tim Curry Justice Center in Fort Worth, Texas, on May 25, 2018.
Max Faulkner
Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Tribune News Service via Getty Images
Crystal Mason, center, at the Tim Curry Justice Center in Fort Worth, Texas, on May 25, 2018.

AUSTIN — A state appellate court in Fort Worth, Texas, has acquitted Crystal Mason of an illegal voting conviction that would have required her to serve a five-year prison sentence.

Judge Wade Birdwell wrote in his ruling that the state did not have enough evidence to prove that Mason knew she was ineligible to vote when she cast a ballot in the 2016 election.

In a statement, the ACLU of Texas said this acquittal amounts to a "victory for Mason, a Black grandmother from Fort Worth, whose life was upended by the state's aggressive charges."

"I am overjoyed to see my faith rewarded today," Mason said in a statement. "I was thrown into this fight for voting rights and will keep swinging to ensure no one else has to face what I've endured for over six years, a political ploy where minority voting rights are under attack."

Mason's case has garnered significant media attention in the past several years. Voting rights advocates have warned that the state's ongoing "crackdown" on alleged illegal voting would inevitably ensnare voters who simply make mistakes while voting. The state's election policing efforts have been led by the state's Republican attorney general, Ken Paxton, who has been embroiled in his own legal troubles throughout his entire time in office.

In Mason's case, she was on supervised release from prison after serving time on federal tax evasion charges when she voted in the 2016 election, at the urging of family members.

Mason has maintained that she had no idea she couldn't vote because she technically hadn't finished her sentence. She has said that she thought she was eligible once she was released from prison. And because Mason wasn't on the voter rolls at the time, she voted using a provisional ballot — which eventually wasn't even counted.

Alison Grinter Allen, a criminal defense attorney who represented Mason, said her conviction "should never have happened."

"Crystal and her family have suffered for over six years as the target of a vanity project by Texas political leaders," she said. "We're happy that the court saw this for the perversion of justice that it is, but the harm that this political prosecution has done to shake Americans' confidence in their own franchise is incalculable."

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ashley Lopez
Ashley Lopez is a political correspondent for NPR based in Austin, Texas. She joined NPR in May 2022. Prior to NPR, Lopez spent more than six years as a health care and politics reporter for KUT, Austin's public radio station. Before that, she was a political reporter for NPR Member stations in Florida and Kentucky. Lopez is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and grew up in Miami, Florida.