What You Need To Know:

Crystal Mason is fighting for her freedom after casting a provisional ballot on Election Day 2016. Mason, a Black woman and felon released on probation, was sentenced to five years in prison for illegal voting in Tarrant County, Texas. Mason, who was helped by a poll worker when completing the provisional ballot, insists she was unaware that she was ineligible to vote. Her ballot was never officially counted or tallied.

“This is very overwhelming, waking up every day knowing that prison is on the line, trying to maintain a smile on your face in front of your kids and you don’t know the outcome,” Mason said in a phone interview. “Your future is in someone else’s hands because of a simple error.”

Mason’s error resulted in her being indicted by a Tarrant County grand jury in March 2018 for a violation of Texas election law, which says that a person must knowingly vote illegally to be guilty of a crime. Her case is now headed for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the highest state court for criminal cases. Mason previously asked for a new trial but lost her case in an appellate court. The latest appeal is Mason’s last chance to stay out of prison.

Alison Grinter, one of Mason’s lawyers, said the government made it clear in the Help America Vote Act of 2002 that provisional ballots should not be criminalized because they represent “an offer to vote — they’re not a vote in themselves.”

Tommy Buser-Clancy, a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said Mason should never have never been convicted. If there is a question of someone’s eligibility, the provisional ballot system is there to account for it, he explained.

“That’s very scary,” he said of Mason’s conviction, “and it guts the entire purpose of the provisional ballot system.”

Why We Need To Know:

At least 72% of Texas’ 531 voter fraud cases target people of color.

Celina Stewart, chief counsel at the League of Women Voters, said Mason’s case sent “a very clear message” that people with felony convictions must be cautious and could be deterred from voting, even if they are eligible.

“She’s being made an example, and the example is that you don’t want returning citizens, Black people, Black women to vote,” Stewart said. “That’s an egregious narrative, and we have to push back on that because that’s not how democracy works.”