Officials had said Moses was eligible to vote but made an error that led to her being arrested for trying to register to vote.
A Black woman has been sentenced to six years in prison because of an error from the county election commission and the corrections department. Pamela Moses has a record of felony convictions but she wasn't told she couldn't vote. She clarified with the county election commission if her probation had ended, and they said it had, and signed off on her voter registration application in 2019. However, she was still under probation and the county election commission had made an error. When the 44-year-old Black Lives Matter activist and former Democratic mayoral candidate in Memphis submitted the certificate as part of her voter registration, she was charged with trying to illegally register to vote, reported The Washington Post.
The county election commission and the corrections department later admitted that they had made an error as her probation had not ended and hence her voting rights had not been restored. “I relied on the election commission because those are the people who are supposed to know what you’re supposed to do,” she said, reported WREG. “And I found out that they didn’t know.” Moses told the court that she thought her voting rights were restored. “I did not falsify anything.” Criminal Court Judge W. Mark Ward was angered by the declaration and said she had intentionally deceived probation officials to restore her voting rights. “You tricked the probation department into giving you documents saying you were off probation,” said Ward in court, before sentencing her to six years and one day in prison.
Moses says she was never told that pleading guilty would mean she'd be ineligible to vote. “They never mentioned anything about voting,” she told The Guardian. Many have pointed to the harsh penalty as a result of racism, especially when you consider other cases of voter fraud involving conservative white men who were given much simpler punishments. “There are two criminal justice systems in America,” tweeted the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Bede Anyanwu, Moses' attorney also pointed out the gravity of the punishments meted out to Black people. “This case is one about the disparity in sentencing and punishment—and one that shouldn’t have happened,” said Anyanwu, who confirmed that Moses would appeal the decision. “It’s all very, very disturbing.”
Janai Nelson, the associate director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense, said, “It points to everything that is wrong in our democracy. It’s a confluence of racial discrimination and voter suppression.” Moses' case has been compared to cases in Ohio and Pennsylvania, where GOP officials and voters admitted to casting ballots for their dead parents but only received probation with a maximum of three days in jail.
Moses' case is complicated because she has 16 previous felony convictions as per a news release from Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich. Anyanwu said most of the counts were from Moses' 20s and she was forced to plead guilty because she didn't have the money or resources to continue to fight legal battles. The most serious count against Moses was when she pleaded guilty in 2015 to a 10-count indictment, including perjury and tampering with evidence. She also allegedly stalked and harassed a Shelby County judge by impersonating a lawyer and notary public in an effort to file a complaint against the judge, according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal. She still maintains that all she did was to file a complaint in writing against corrupt officials. Moses has since been at the forefront of the Black Lives Matter movement in Memphis, even founding a local chapter. She also launched a long-shot campaign to become the city’s mayor in 2019.