A Black woman who was convicted in November 2021 of illegally registering to vote in 2019 has been sentenced to six years and one day in prison. Pamela Moses, 44, said she was not aware that she was ineligible to vote.
In 2015, Moses pleaded guilty to two felonies and three misdemeanors, which resulted in her receiving probation for seven years. The felony convictions caused her to permanently lose her voting rights in Tennessee. But Moses told the Guardian last year that no one explained to her that pleading guilty meant she would be ineligible to vote.
“They never mentioned anything about voting,” she said. “They never mentioned anything about not voting, being able to vote … none of that.”
Moses went on to found a local Black Lives Matter chapter in Memphis and in 2019, she decided to ran for mayor. She was told by Shelby County Elections officials she could not appear on the ballot because of her felony conviction. And that was when she realized she was still on probation and ineligible to vote. At that moment, officials also realized that Moses had not been taken off the voting rolls.
Moses then went to court and asked a judge to clarify whether she was still on probation. The court confirmed that she was. Moses subsequently went to the local probation office to find out from an officer if her sentence had been correctly calculated by the judge.
The officer told her that her probation had ended via a certificate and Moses sent it to local election officials together with a voter registration form. Later, an official at the corrections department contacted the election officials and told them that Moses was still serving an active felony sentence and was not eligible to vote, adding that the officer made an error.
Moses was last month accused by the sentencing judge of deceiving officials but she argued that she believed her voting rights had been restored.
“You tricked the probation department into giving you documents saying you were off probation,” Judge Michael Ward said in court during her sentencing on January 31.
“I did not falsify anything. All I did was try to get my rights to vote back the way the people at the election commission told me and the way the clerk did,” Moses said at the hearing.
On Friday, members of her community protested her sentencing, holding signs that read “Justice for Pamela” and “Trying to vote is not a crime”. Critics have said that her punishment is harsher than those in other voting fraud cases involving conservative White men.
“This is the very definition of a nonviolent crime,” Josh Spickler, the executive director of Just City, an organization that supports the efficient use of the justice system, earlier said in an interview with the Commercial Appeal. “It involves paper, the only things that happened that were criminal, potentially, were things written on pieces of paper. The travesty here is that what happens next is, she can appeal, and it sounds like she probably will, but she’s gonna be in jail or prison unless something remarkable happens.”
Moses’ attorney, Bede Anyanwu, said that his client plans to appeal the sentencing. “She believes the sentencing was beyond the evidence that was presented,” he told The Washington Post.