Illegal voting charges dropped against Texas woman

A woman in Texas who had been sentenced to five years in prison for wrongfully voting in the 2016 election has been acquitted of the charges.

Crystal Mason said she was "overjoyed" on Thursday after a Texas appeals court overturned her illegal voting conviction.

Her legal troubles began when she voted while on supervised release for a federal tax fraud conviction.

It is illegal for convicted felons to vote in Texas until "fully discharged".

The decision by Texas' Second Court of Appeals means the felony voting charge against Ms Mason has been dropped.

The court said there was not enough evidence to show that she knew she was ineligible to vote when she cast her ballot, a requirement for an illegal vote conviction.

"I've cried and prayed every night for over six years straight that I would remain a free black woman," Ms Mason said in a statement.

"I thank everyone whose dedication and support carried me through this time and look forward to celebrating this moment with my family and friends."

In 2016, Ms Mason submitted a provisional ballot in the presidential election after discovering her name was not listed on the state's voter roll.

Provisional ballots allow people not on a voter roll to cast a ballot, which is then set aside until a voter's registration status is checked.

She was arrested a few months later.

State prosecutors' argument rested on a document that Ms Mason signed that declared she was aware she had "completed all my punishment", including supervised periods.

In court, a poll worker testified he watched Ms Mason read and run her finger along each line of the document. But Ms Mason says she did not read the entire thing.

She was convicted by a trial court in 2018 and sentenced to five years in prison. The conviction was upheld during a 2020 appeal.

However, in Thursday's decision, Texas' highest court said: "In the end, the State's primary evidence was that Mason read the words on the affidavit.

"But even if she had read them, they are not sufficient... to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she actually knew" what she was doing was illegal.

The court's decision was hailed by voting rights groups as a major victory.

"The harms of the criminal prosecution can never fully be undone, but this decision is vindication for Ms Mason and a win for our democracy, which can only thrive when people can fearlessly engage in the civic process," said Thomas Buser-Clancy, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas, in a statement.

Texas is known as a US state with some of the strictest voting laws.