Mason v. State of Texas – Voting Rights (TX)
On July 22, 2021, a bipartisan group of former state and federal prosecutors, represented by States United Democracy Center, Cooley LLP and Susman Godfrey LLP, filed an amicus brief in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in support of Crystal Mason, a Tarrant County woman who is appealing her conviction for illegal voting. The former prosecutors argue that her prosecution was “far outside the bounds of any reasonable exercise of prosecutorial power.” Ms. Mason cast a provisional ballot in the 2016 election, believing she was eligible to vote. State election officials determined that she was not eligible to vote because she was, at the time, on supervised release for a federal conviction. Her ballot was not counted. County prosecutors charged Ms. Mason with illegal voting, despite her lack of knowledge that she was ineligible, and despite the absence of intent or any harm.
The brief lays out how the prosecution of Ms. Mason is inconsistent with Texas’s illegal voting statute and with the fundamental principles of prosecutorial discretion. Her prosecution also risks seriously undermining an already vulnerable public trust in the criminal justice system. The brief is signed by a bipartisan group of eleven prominent former prosecutors from Texas and around the country, including: Donald B. Ayer, Gregory A. Brower, Paul Coggins, John Farmer, Jonathan S. Feld, Sarah R. Saldaña, Richard H. Stephens, Matthew D. Orwig, Joyce White Vance, William F. Weld, and Grant Woods. The case is ongoing, awaiting a decision from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
- In 2022, The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas 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.”
- On February 14, 2023, States United Democracy Center filed a second amicus brief in support of Mason. The brief argues that Ms. Mason’s case represents a serious misuse of prosecutorial discretion that risks chilling the right to vote, especially among minority communities. It points out the unusual harshness of the sentence of Ms. Mason, who was sentenced to 5 years in prison and did not know she was ineligible to vote, compared to those defendants who willingly committed voter fraud, many of whom escaped jail time. It also explains that criminal prosecutions for illegal voting are not the only—much less the primary—tool for ensuring that only eligible voters vote in Texas. Texas law establishes a comprehensive system to prevent ineligible voters from voting, which worked in this case and successfully stopped Ms. Mason’s mistaken vote from counting.
- On February 9, 2023, the court granted a motion to postpone oral arguments; a new date has not been set.