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Pamela Moses sentenced to six years, outraged voting rights supporters

She was sentenced to a year in prison because she tried to get people to vote for the wrong candidate.

In January, a judge sentenced Pamela Moses, a voting rights activist, to six years in prison. She won't get a new trial, a prosecutor said.

When Pamela Moses tried to get back her right to vote in 2019, a judge gave her six years and one day in prison. On Friday, a Tennessee prosecutor dropped all the charges against her.

In February, a judge ruled that the Tennessee Department of Correction had not properly kept evidence that was later found by The Guardian. This meant that her voter fraud conviction was thrown out. In court on Monday, Ms. Moses was supposed to find out if the prosecution would try to get her to go to prison again.

Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich said that Ms. Moses won't have to go through another trial "in the interest of speed." Mrs. Weirich said that Ms. Moses spent 82 days in prison on this case, which is enough. Ms. Moses can't register to vote or vote in Tennessee for the rest of her life. Ms. Weirich didn't want to talk about the case any more.

When Ms. Moses, a Black woman, was sent to prison, voting rights supporters were outraged. They said that Ms. Moses' case showed that people with felony convictions don't get the same treatment when they try to get their voting rights back.

During the summer of 2019, Ms. Moses, who is a Black Lives Matter activist, decided that she wanted to run for mayor of Memphis, or at least vote in the next election.

Pamela Moses sentenced to six years, outraged voting rights supporters
Afterwards of a news conference, Pamela Moses looked tired.

Because of previous felony convictions, including one for tampering with evidence, she was on probation. She knew she couldn't do either while she was on probation. But her lawyer, Bede Anyanwu, says that she thought her probation was over. As a whole, the district attorney's office says that Ms. Moses had 16 previous criminal convictions. These included misdemeanor charges of perjury, stalking, and theft under $500 from 2015.

When a judge told Ms. Moses that she was still on probation in September 2019, she was shocked. However, when she went to the probation office to make sure, a probation officer told her that she was actually done with her felony probation, records show. This is what happened. Probation officers signed off on her certificate of restoration to vote, and then Ms. Moses turned it in to the people who run the polls.

Corrections sent a letter to the Shelby County Election Commission the next day to say that the probation officer had made a mistake and that Ms. Moses could not vote because she was still on probation.

Ms. Moses told a judge at a hearing in January: "All I did was try to get my voting rights back the way the people at the election commission told me."

You fooled the probation department into giving you a document that said you were no longer on probation, the judge told you.

In court, Ms. Moses was accused of lying on a registration form and agreeing to a false entry on election documents. This means the first charge was dropped. In November, she was found guilty of the second charge and sentenced in January. In the end, Ms. Moses' felony conviction for tampering in 2015 made her ineligible to vote in Tennessee even if she was still on probation.

In Mr. Anyanwu's words: "The case should not have been tried from the start because there was no trickery." On Saturday, Ms. Moses refused to say anything.

In the last few years, Republican officials have tried to stop people from voting illegally, even though the crime is very rare and often happens by accident or by mistake.

The Florida secretary of state's office says that out of more than 11 million votes cast in the 2020 election, only 75 were referred to law enforcement agencies for possible fraud. Only four cases have been prosecuted as voter fraud out of all the ones that have been looked into.

The penalties for voting-related crimes in some states have been raised, and prosecutors have been very aggressive in felony cases that might have been legitimate mistakes.

Voting rights groups think this is a way to keep people from voting.

"These prosecutions are meant to scare people who have been convicted of crimes before from even trying to register to vote," said Blair Bowie, a lawyer with the Campaign Legal Center in Washington, D.C., who has been working with Ms. Moses and Mr. Anyanwu since October.

These prosecutions also unfairly blame people for not being able to navigate a process that isn't clear, she said, adding that state officials are responsible for making sure there are enough procedures in place for that process.

Ms. Bowie is representing the Tennessee N.A.A.C.P. in a lawsuit against Gov. Bill Lee and other officials that says they didn't set up clearer procedures for people with felony convictions, which led to a process that was "unequal, inaccessible, opaque, and inaccurate."

People who have been disenfranchised in the state for a long time may be able to get their voting rights back, but only a very small number of them have been able to get a completed certificate of restoration of voting rights and have tried to register to vote, according to a lawsuit.

Voting rights advocates say that the case also shows that there is a lot of racial disparity in how people are prosecuted for voting fraud.

People who make honest mistakes when they come back to the country are punished to the fullest extent, but people who make bad decisions aren't punished as much, says Sylvia Albert, a government watchdog. "And in most of those cases, the defendants are white."

He was charged with two counts of voter fraud in Las Vegas in October. Donald Kirk Hartle, a white Republican who lived in Las Vegas, forged his dead wife's signature to vote with her ballot. In November, he was sentenced to one year of probation, the AP said.

In 2020, a white Republican official in Ohio forged his dead father's signature on an absentee ballot and was charged with voting illegally, NBC News said. Last year, as part of a plea deal, he was sent to jail for three days.

Ms. Moses is still trying to get her civil rights back, which include the right to vote, through a lawsuit in Shelby County Circuit Court, says Ms. Bowie, who is representing her. People who have been convicted of tampering with evidence in Tennessee can't vote in that state for life. This lawsuit is a constitutional challenge to that law.


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