Fort Worth

Fights about voting trigger countless court cases in Texas. You should expect more.

Crystal Mason, a woman sentenced to five years in prison because she was accused of voting illegally, authorized her mother to take over her household and business while she was locked up.

A federal judge sent Mason to prison because she violated the terms of her supervised release by voting.

Mason’s attorneys argued that Mason never actually voted — that she merely cast a provisional ballot and presumed that election officials would invalidate her ballot if she was not eligible to vote and count the ballot if she was eligible.

And that would be it.

It wasn’t.

Mason, set to be released from federal custody Friday, will be free to continue her challenge to her five-year state prison sentence in appeals court. A date for oral arguments has not been set.

Mason testified at trial that it never occurred to her that she might be voting illegally and was never told by court officials that felons who have not completed their sentences are not allowed to vote.

Mason’s mother, Sherrian McGrady, said she has carried the guilt of encouraging Mason to vote in 2016. But McGrady’s guilt has not altered her plans to encourage everyone she knows to vote in the upcoming elections.

“Nothing that has happened can change my mind about that,” McGrady said. “Even though I’ve had some people tell me that, ‘Now I’m scared to vote.’ The people who cared so we could vote wasn’t scared of nothing. They went out in front of guns and billy clubs and bottles that was thrown at them.

”Our ancestors went through a lot so we could vote. If you look at the politics, the way it’s going on the news, you will know. It’s very important to get out there and vote to try to get the right person in office. Someone who will help us and not hurt us. Not lock us up.”

Sherrian McGrady, Crystal Mason
Sherrian McGrady, Crystal Mason’s mother, talks about her daughter’s conviction in their home, Wednesday, July 3, 2019, in Fort Worth. Yffy Yossifor yyossifor@star-telegram.com

Mason’s challenge to court rulings on Texas voting is not the first and certainly will not be the last voting case that goes before the courts. Also, more legislative activity around voting in Texas looms in the future.

A sampling of recent court rulings and legislative changes that Texas and United States voters have experienced follows:

July 2019 — The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision that there will not be a citizenship question on the 2020 U.S. Census. But after abandoning his fight to get the question on the Census, President Donald Trump issued an executive order requiring federal agencies to turn over any information relating to an individual’s citizenship to the Census Bureau.

“The citizenship question was going to amount to voter suppression anyway,” said Tim Smith, executive producer of “Rigged: The Voter Suppression Playbook,” a documentary explaining how politicians create districts to maintain incumbencies. “Black and Hispanic voters tend to pay attention to this kind of thing. White voters usually don’t.”

June 26, 2019 — In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that partisan gerrymandering is not an issue for federal courts to weigh in on, or decide for politicians.

January 2019 — The review of a list of about 95,000 alleged non-citizens registered to vote in Texas officially ended in April. The pullback was part of a settlement to close the books on federal lawsuits by civil rights groups against the state over the list. The Texas Secretary of State, David Whitley, had alleged a possible 58,000 illegal votes were cast from 1996-2018. But the office failed to factor in those individuals who had become naturalized citizens over the years.

July 25, 2018 — In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that lower courts which said state lawmakers had discriminated against some African-American and Latino voters in drawing racially gerrymandered maps were wrong. The case dated back to maps drawn after the 2010 census. The one district the court held was problematic was held by State Rep. Ramon Romero, D-Fort Worth.

April 2018 — After being ruled discriminatory by courts in multiple cases since 2011, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans upheld the most recent version of the Texas Voter ID law. The law’s major opponents later announced that they would file no further challenges to the law following seven years of litigation.

May 11, 2017 — President Donald Trump signed an executive order creating the “Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.” Vice President Mike Pence was appointed chair. In June 2018, after legal objections from various civic organizations, the commission postponed a request for information from states pending a court ruling. By that time, 21 states and the District of Columbia had declined to provide any data, and others expressed concern about releasing voters’ sensitive information, according to reporting from the Brennan Center for Justice. The court subsequently allowed data collection to proceed, and the Commission sent a renewed request for information on July 26. Texas organizations filed legal challenges that temporarily prevented state officials from turning over voter data. Mired in legal challenges from organizations such as the Brennan Center, the American Civil Liberties Union, Common Cause, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Fair Elections Legal Network, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Legal Defense Fund, and Public Citizen, on a variety of transparency, privacy, and administrative policy grounds, the commission was dissolved in January 2018.

June 25, 2013 — In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down two key provisions in the 1965 Voting Rights Act that required states to obtain pre-clearance from the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal district court in D.C. before putting proposed changes in voting law into effect, saying it was based on an old formula. Congress has been asked by supporters of the Voting Rights Act to adopt a new formula, but as yet has chosen not to do so. According to a panel of members of the American Bar Association, Texas and North Carolina each enacted more restrictive voting laws almost immediately after the decision.

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Mitch Mitchell is an award-winning reporter covering courts and crime for the Star-Telegram. Additionally, Mitch’s past coverage on municipal government, healthcare and social services beats allow him to bring experience and context to the stories he writes.
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