Black Woman Who Tried to Register to Vote Handed 6 Years

Prosecutors alleged Pamela Moses knew she wasn't eligible to vote, submitted forms anyway
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 9, 2022 2:45 PM CST
Black Woman Who Tried to Register to Vote Handed 6 Years
A voter registration sign is shown in Dallas on June 19, 2020.   (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

A Black woman in Tennessee was handed a sentence of six years and one day after being found guilty of illegally registering to vote. Pamela Moses' cases is attracting national attention due to its particulars: The 44-year-old says she went through the system and just followed the process that "the people at the election commission told me." What you need to know:

  • The Memphis Commercial Appeal reports Moses pleaded guilty to two felonies in 2015 and got seven years of probation. In 2019 the Black Lives Matter activist ran for Memphis mayor, only to learn that felony conviction kept her from appearing on the ballot. That's when voting comes into play: Moses discovered she was still on the voter rolls, and tried to figure out if her probation was still active.

  • She went to a court, where a judge confirmed she was still on felony probation, then to her local probation office—which told her that her probation had ended and gave her a certificate to that end. She filled out a voter registration form, paired it with the document, and submitted it.
  • The New York Times reports the very next day the Department of Correction determined the probation officer had erred; Moses was still under an active felony sentence. The Guardian notes the DOC didn't explain its mistake, but did alert the Shelby County Election Commission. Moses was charged with consenting to a false entry on official election documents. She was found guilty in November.
  • The Guardian reports prosecutors alleged that Moses knew she wasn't eligible to vote, pointing to the fact that a judge told her so prior to her getting the certificate.
  • What Judge W. Mark Ward told Moses at her Jan. 31 sentencing: "You tricked the probation department into giving you a document saying that you were off probation." Fox13 reports he said he'd consider giving her probation after 9 months if she behaves in prison and finishes programs. Moses plans to appeal the conviction.
  • What her lawyer thinks: "This is a vendetta-type prosecution."
  • And how the executive director of Just City sees it: "This is the very definition of a nonviolent crime. It involves paper, the only things that happened that were criminal, potentially, were things written on pieces of paper."
  • The Guardian notes that Tennessee's voting rules as they relate to felonies are confusing, which does lead to certificates getting submitted and then rejected; one 2017 study found that happened with 8% of certificates. One attorney tells the paper she can't recall anyone being charged in such a scenario prior to Moses.
(More voting rights stories.)

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