The same judge who originally sentenced her to five years prison for casting an illegal ballot while being a felon under supervision has denied Crystal Mason's motion for a new trial.
Mason, of Rendon south of Fort Worth, was convicted on March 28 and sentenced to a five-year prison stint by State District Judge Ruben Gonzalez.
Gonzalez denied her petition late Monday in a 16-page ruling.
Since her conviction, Mason has been at the center of controversial arguments about the existence of white privilege and voter suppression efforts, with more than 38,000 signatures on a petition to have all charges against her dropped, numerous news stories and editorials and a deluge of social media posts in support of and against the sentence imposed in her case.
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Mason's attorney, Alison Grinter, said that she and other groups who thought the prison sentence was harsh were disappointed. Obviously, it was an uphill struggle to get the judge who made the initial ruling to change his mind.
But no one is more disappointed than Mason, Grinter said.
"She's one step closer to going to prison for a vote that didn't even count," Grinter said. "Hopefully, we'll be able to get this case before fresh eyes in the appellate court and have a better outcome."
The Tarrant County district attorney's office vigorously opposed the new trial motion during a March 25 hearing and in a brief in support of the state's position.
Matt Smid, the prosecutor trying Mason's case, argued in his court filing that the judge does not have the authority to consider a friend of the court brief from the Texas Civil Rights Project and the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Texas.
The civil rights groups' brief states that the law that convicted Mason is trumped by a 2002 federal statute that gives an individual who believes that he or she has voting privileges the right to cast a provisional ballot in a federal election, shifting the burden of proof to the state.
Smid never argued that the two non-profits' attorneys were incorrect, only that the assertions in the brief cannot be considered because they were not submitted by the deadline and because they were not raised by Mason's attorneys.
Grinter argued that the judge could consider points stated by the attorneys with the Texas Civil Rights Project and ACLU. The argument that the federal government has provided a pathway for voters unsure about their eligibility to vote provides a new perspective the judge can use to evaluate Grinter's arguments, according to her brief.
Rebecca Stevens, one of the Texas Civil Rights Project attorneys who worked on the brief, said the federal law worked in Mason's case. Mason tried to vote and the state did not count that vote after determining that she was ineligible. But the sentence handed down was unfair, Stevens said.
"Of the prosecutions we've seen engaging in election misconduct, the sentence that Mason received is far more aggressive," Stevens said. "The problem with that, at least anecdotally, is that people of color are being prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, versus an election official actually forging signatures who got probation."
In the end, the judge agreed with the state. Grinter said she will file an appeal with the Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth. Grinter also said the ruling dovetails with a U. S. Supreme Court ruling upholding Ohio's purging of its voter rolls.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that states could kick people off voter rolls if they have not recently voted and did not answer a notice from election officials, according to a New York Times story.
"Those who are working to suppress voting need to prove that in-person voting fraud is a real thing," Grinter said. "And they use cases like this to do that. It's sad those kinds of efforts have to stand on the backs of people like Crystal."