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TN Judge Sentences Woman To Six Years For Attempting To Register To Vote While Black
No, a different woman.
A judge in Memphis, Tennessee, threw the book at voting rights activist Pamela Moses this week for the crime of illegally trying to register to vote in 2019. Moses was on probation for a 2015 felony conviction, but says she was never told that the conviction took away her right to vote. What's more, Tennessee state officials admit they made a number of mistakes that led to Moses thinking it was actually legal to vote, although that didn't seem to matter to the prosecutor who pursued the stiffest possible sentence, or to Judge Mark Ward, who insisted that Moses had "tricked" the officials into signing documents saying it was OK for her to vote. On Monday, Ward sentenced Moses to six years and a day in state prison.
Moses has said from the start that she made a mistake, but the state has treated her as the most dangerous frauder that ever tried to steal an election, although she never actually completed the registration process in 2019; her application was denied due to the prior conviction. Moses was convicted in November of "making or consenting to false information on an election document."
Last night on MSNBC, Rachel Maddow contrasted the heavy sentence given to Moses with the slaps on the wrist handed to four white men who deliberately voted fraudulently for Donald Trump in the 2020 election:
Three of the fine gentlemen who voted twice got probation, and one served three whole days in jail. Again, they actually voted, knowing full well they were submitting fraudulent ballots. You might recall that one of the dudes, Donald "Kirk" Hartle of Las Vegas, Nevada, voted the absentee ballot of his late wife and then enjoyed wingnut fame for a while when he insisted terrible Democrats had stolen her ballot and frauded with it. Nevada Republicans and rightwing media hyped the story for months, until Hartle was arrested in October 2021 for having been (allegedly!) the actual frauder.
Hartle was convicted and sentenced to probation and a $2,000 fine. If he keeps his nose clean on probation for a year, he'll even be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea and plead to a misdemeanor charge instead. No judges or Republican officials that we know of have called for Hartle to be sent to prison for years on end to set an example for would-be election thieves.
Ms. Moses, on the other hand, says that after she pleaded guilty to felony charges in 2015, she was never told that she had lost her right to vote under Tennessee law. She told The Guardian's Sam Levine in an interview last year,
They never mentioned anything about voting. They never mentioned anything about not voting, being able to vote … none of that.
To complicate matters further, elections officials should have removed her from the voting rolls when she was convicted, but they failed to, oopsie! Levine explains that
[The] the court never sent election officials in Memphis the documents they needed to do so, according to a letter from an election official I obtained.
In 2019, Moses announced she was running for Memphis mayor, in an admittedly long-shot campaign, but was informed by elections officials she was ineligible because of her conviction, the first time she'd heard of it. Like any good citizen, she tried to get herself legal:
Moses went to court and asked a judge to clarify whether she was still on probation, and the court confirmed that she was. What happened next is at the crux of the case against her.
Moses did not believe the judge had correctly calculated her sentence. So she went to the local probation office and asked an officer to figure it out. An officer filled out and signed a certificate confirming her probation had ended. In Tennessee, people with felony convictions who want to vote need that document from a correction official. Moses submitted it to local election officials along with a voter registration form.
But the day afterwards, an official at the corrections department wrote an email to election officials saying a probation officer had made an “error” on Moses’ certificate. Moses was still serving an active felony sentence, they wrote, and was not eligible to vote. The department offered no explanation for the mistake.
At trial, the prosecution argued that even if elections officials had made mistakes, Moses knew she was ineligible to register because the judge had told her so when she went to court, and therefore everything she did after that was proof that she was out to do fraud of the most nefarious sort. At her sentencing Monday, Judge Ward told her he didn't believe her filthy lies:
It’s that simple. You went down to the probation office, told them you weren’t on probation, tricked them into giving you a form so you could re-register to vote when you had a court order in your hand from the judge presiding over your case.
Levine notes that in fact, it's not all that unusual for people to be confused about the status of their voting rights, according to Campaign Legal Center attorney Blair Bowie, who is part of a lawsuit to fix Tennessee's voting rights restoration process but isn't involved in Moses's criminal case. She noted a study finding that about eight percent of former felons' applications for restoration of voting rights are rejected because the applicants haven't actually completed their probation, but said she'd never heard of anyone being prosecuted after mistakenly submitting an erroneous certificate.
The judge's insistence that Moses deliberately tricked the probation office didn't hold much water with Bowie, who said it "seems absurd to me on its face."
The instructions on the certificate of restoration form are very clear to the probation officer or the clerk. They say you will check these records and you will sign off on this based on what the records say.
They’re saying that she tricked the probation officer into filling out this form for her. That creates a really scary prospect for people who think they’re being wrongly told they’re not eligible.
Moses is likely to appeal, and depending on her behavior, it's possible she could be eligible for release as soon as her May 20 status update hearing, according to her attorney.
But for now, she's gone to prison, and no doubt all the rightwing media that said nothing about frauders deliberately voting for Trump will point to Moses and insist her case proves that elections just can't be trusted. And all voters of color will be assumed to be up to something, because look what that one lady in Tennessee did.
We also have no doubt that even more Republicans, absolutely convinced that Democrats steal all the elections, will be voting multiple times this fall, to even things out. That's only fair, right?
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