Bipartisan State and Federal Prosecutors Urge Acquittal for Crystal Mason After Unwarranted Illegal Voting Conviction

Legal Experts Say Allowing Crystal Mason’s Conviction to Stand will Undermine Public Trust, Discourage Minority Voters

Published: 2.14.23

Fort Worth, Texas and Washington, D.C. – Today, a bipartisan group of former state and federal prosecutors, led by the States United Democracy Center, filed an amicus brief urging the Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth to spare a Texas woman, Crystal Mason, from a conviction and prison time for “illegally voting.” The signers – including Texans from both major political parties – argue the case should never have been brought in the first place. Prosecutors are asking the court to set aside Ms. Mason’s conviction because it was based on an incorrect application of the illegal voting statute’s “knowledge” requirement. In other words, she had no knowledge that any of her actions were unlawful – nor did she have any intent to defraud.   

In 2018, Mason was sentenced to five years in prison after casting a provisional ballot in the 2016 presidential election, believing she was eligible to vote. State election officials determined the Tarrant County resident was ineligible because she was, at the time, on supervised release for a federal conviction. Her vote was never counted. Despite the lack of any concrete harm to the county and no intent to commit fraud – Mason was convicted of illegally voting, a second-degree state felony. Her conviction and harsh penalty have garnered national attention as a prime example of racial disparities in voter fraud cases, and a bipartisan group of Texas lawmakers have strongly questioned the legitimacy of her conviction. 

“Minority voters – especially Black Texans like Crystal Mason – are both disproportionately impacted by the complex rules of rights restoration, and disproportionately reliant on provisional ballots,” said Sarah Saldaña, former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas appointed by President Barack Obama and member of the States United’s bipartisan Advisory Board. “This misuse of prosecutorial power sends a troubling message that a harmless mistake could result in harsh criminal consequences. We cannot ignore that this could have a chilling effect on minority voters’ participation in elections.”  

Last year, Texas’ highest criminal court ordered a lower appeals court to reconsider the case, disagreeing with the Second Court of Appeals in Tarrant County that Mason’s unawareness of being ineligible to vote “was irrelevant to her prosecution.” The amicus brief filed today is in support of Mason’s appeal and precedes oral arguments. 

“This is an unjust prosecution of what appears to be an honest mistake,” said Donald Ayer, a former Deputy Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice under President George H.W. Bush and member of States United’s bipartisan Advisory Board. “It appears that Crystal Mason did not intend to vote fraudulently; she simply did not know she was ineligible to vote. We respectfully urge the Court to overturn this unwarranted conviction.” 

The brief argues that Mason’s conviction should be overturned because she did not have actual knowledge that her actions were unlawful – nor did she have intent to vote for a fraudulent purpose. Texas law provides ample safeguards to ensure only eligible voters are counted – and the fact that Mason’s provisional ballot was ultimately excluded is proof that these safeguards worked.  

“Allowing Crystal Mason’s conviction to stand would undermine public trust in our justice system and send a chilling message to Texans about freely exercising their fundamental right to vote,” said Christine P. Sun, Senior Vice President, Legal at the States United Democracy Center. “That former government officials from both sides of the aisle signed onto this amicus brief clearly demonstrates that this is not a partisan issue. Mason never should have been charged, much less convicted.”  

The brief was signed by a bipartisan group of prominent former prosecutors from Texas and around the country, including members of the States United Bipartisan Advisory Board. The list of signatories is below.   

Donald B. Ayer, Former Deputy Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice. 

Gregory A. Brower, Former Assistant Director and Deputy General Counsel of the Federal Bureau of Investigation 

Stephen C. Bullock, Former Attorney General and Governor of Montana 

Paul Coggins, Former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas

Thomas Coleman, Former Member of Congress from Missouri and Assistant Attorney General of Missouri

John William (Jack) Conway, Former Attorney General of Kentucky 

John Farmer, Former Assistant U.S. Attorney and New Jersey Attorney General 

Jonathan S. Feld, Former Associate Deputy Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice 

Patricia A. Madrid, Former Attorney General of New Mexico 

Janet A. Napolitano, Former Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona, Attorney General of Arizona, and Governor of Arizona 

Matthew D. Orwig, Former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas 

Sarah R. Saldaña, Former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas  

Richard H. Stephens, Former Chief of the Criminal Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas 

William F. Weld, Former Assistant U.S. Attorney General in charge of the Criminal Division and Governor of Massachusetts  

 Key excerpts from the brief: 

  • Ms. Mason’s prosecution was outside the bounds of any reasonable exercise of prosecutorial power. To violate Texas’s illegal voting statute, a voter must have “actual knowledge that it was a crime for her to vote.”
  • Texas law provides ample safeguards to ensure that only eligible voters’ ballots are counted. If Ms. Mason’s conviction stands, Texas’s elections will not be more secure. All that such an outcome would achieve is to make Texas voters fearful that a mistake about their eligibility could result in harsh criminal consequences, harming our democratic processes and undermining the legitimacy of our justice system. 
  • Ms. Mason’s prosecution sends the troubling message that casting a provisional ballot carries a serious risk, with a consequent chilling effect on the use of provisional ballots. This chill would likely disproportionately impact minority voters, who tend to cast more provisional ballots. 
  • The potential chilling effect here is greater because Ms. Mason’s five-year prison sentence for a mistake far exceeds the punishments imposed in cases involving flagrant violations of Texas’s election laws. 

Cooley LLP and Susman Godfrey LLP served as co-counsel on the brief. 

The States United Democracy Center also filed an amicus brief in support of Crystal Mason in July 2021. 


About the States United Democracy Center 

The States United Democracy Center is a nonpartisan organization advancing free, fair, and secure elections. We connect state officials, law enforcement leaders, and pro-democracy partners across America with the tools and expertise they need to safeguard our democracy. For more information, visit https://statesuniteddemocracy.org/.