On Election Day 2016, Crystal Mason went to vote after her mother insisted that she make her voice heard in the presidential election. When her name didn't appear on official voting rolls at her polling place in Tarrant County, Texas, she filled out a provisional ballot.
Mason's ballot was never officially counted or tallied because she was ineligible to vote: She was on supervised release after serving five years for tax fraud. Nonetheless, that ballot has wrangled her into a lengthy appeals process after a state district court sentenced her to five years in prison for illegal voting, as she was a felon on probation when she cast her ballot.
Mason maintains that she didn't know she was ineligible to vote.
Her case is headed for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the highest state court for criminal cases, whose judges said on Wednesday that they had decided to hear it. Mason unsuccessfully asked for a new trial and lost her case in an appellate court.
The new appeal is the last chance for Mason, 46, who is out on appeal bond, to avoid prison. If her case advances to the federal court system, Mason will have to appeal from a cell.
Alison Grinter, one of Mason's lawyers, said the Help America Vote Act of 2002 made it clear that provisional ballots represent "an offer to vote — they're not a vote in themselves." She said Texas' election laws stipulate that a person must knowingly vote illegally to be guilty of a crime.
A Tarrant County grand jury indicted Mason for a violation of Texas election laws, a spokesperson for the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney's Office said in a statement.
"Our office offered Mason the option of probation in this case, which she refused," the statement said. "Mason waived a trial by jury and chose to proceed to trial before the trial judge."
In March 2018, Judge Ruben Gonzalez of Texas' 432nd District Court found Mason guilty of a second-degree felony for illegally voting.
According to Tommy Buser-Clancy, a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, if there is ambiguity in someone's eligibility, the provisional ballot system is there to account for it.