The 43-year-old Texas woman who was sentenced to five years in prison last month for filling out a provisional ballot while she was still on supervised released for a felony tax fraud conviction has requested a new trial.
Crystal Mason and her attorney, Alison Grinter, filed a motion for a new trial in Tarrant County, Texas on Wednesday, arguing that not only did Mason not actually vote — her provisional ballot was rejected — in the 2016 presidential election, she may have been eligible to vote in the state of Texas, Grinter told TPM Wednesday.
According to the motion shared with TPM, in the state of Texas it is legal for a person to vote if they have a state felony conviction, but only if they are out prison, are off probation and off parole or supervision. When Mason cast her provisional ballot — which she filled out with an election official because her name was not on the voter roll — she was on federal supervised release, which is a period of interaction with federal authorities that is tacked on to the end of every federal prison sentence.
Mason, who is currently out of custody on an appeal bond, served 57 months of her 60 month sentence for inflating tax returns for clients in 2011 and had been out of prison for more than a year before the incident occurred, Grinter said.
On the day she cast her ballot, Mason “believed” she was done with her federal prison sentence, she wrote in an affidavit attached to the motion.
“Supervised release is designed to help you integrate back into society,” Grinter said. “Basically Crystal didn’t have to report to a probation officer or take a drug test, she just had to log in online once a month and verify her address and her phone number there and confirm she hadn’t been arrested.”
In the court filing, Grinter argued that state law is unambiguous about when a person convicted of a felony by the state of Texas is allowed to vote, but that state law doesn’t anticipate what that means for a federal conviction.
“Had Crystal come to me at the time and asked if she were eligible to vote, I would have said ‘I don’t know,’” she said.
Grinter also argues that there were several flaws in the initial court proceedings — Mason waived her right to a jury trial and argued her case before Tarrant County Judge Ruben Gonzalez — that landed Mason with the “absolutely ridiculous” five year sentence.
Namely, the evidence of bias in the initial case was not explored. The witness who made the initial report about Mason’s vote, a man named Karl Diedrich, who was serving as the election judge at her precinct, is Mason’s neighbor. As the election judge, Diedrich testified that he gave Mason her provisional ballot, swore her to it and signed off on her ID.
“He knows Crystal well and knows that she went to prison previously,” the motion said. “That the record does not show any follow up questioning on why he did not admonish Crystal Mason on her potential ineligibility, but instead waited a couple of days and then called the District Attorney to report her, is a disservice to the interests of justice. There is clear evidence of Diedrich’s bias or potential bias against Crystal Mason in his silence on the matter of her potential ineligibility, and that crucial evidence was not brought to the attention of the Court as the finder of fact.”
Before Judge Gonzalez sentenced Mason to five years in prison in March, Mason reportedly told him that she would not have knowingly broken the law or “jeopardize(d)” her freedom just to vote.
“I feel like the GOP broadly really wants to make it look like in-person voter fraud is a real thing,” Grinter told TPM Wednesday. “The numbers have shown that it’s not, but if they can drum up enough cases like this, then they have the ability to at least make the claim that it exists. … Stories like this will scare people away from voting and it will make us a less democratic country.”
Read the motion for a new trial below (TPM has removed some personal information related to Mason):