Black woman gets six years in prison over voting errors made by state officials

A Memphis woman was sentenced to six years and one day in prison for illegally registering to vote -- but the case is more complicated than it appears.

Black Lives Matter activist Pamela Moses was convicted in November of registering to vote in 2019 while on probation for a 2015 conviction for perjury and tampering with evidence, which is one of a small number of felonies that cause the permanent loss of voting rights in Tennessee, but state officials knowingly conceded to a series of errors about her voting eligibility, reported The Guardian.

“They never mentioned anything about voting," Moses said about her guilty plea nearly seven years ago. "They never mentioned anything about not voting, being able to vote … none of that."

Election officials should have removed her from the voter rolls, but the court never sent local officials the necessary documents, and Moses wasn't aware anything was wrong until she launched a long-shot mayoral campaign two years ago.

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That's when election officials notified Moses, whose defamation win over a county official was overturned last year on a technicality, that her name couldn't appear on the ballot because of her felony conviction, and they discovered she had never been removed from the voter rolls.

She went to court and asked a judge to clarify whether she was still on probation, and the court confirmed that she was -- but Moses didn't believe the judge had correctly calculated her sentence.

Moses went to the local probation office to get the matter sorted out, and an officer signed a certificate stating that her probation had ended, and she then submitted that to local election officials.

However, the next day an official at the corrections department notified election officials that a probation officer had made an error on the certificate and said Moses was still serving an active felony sentence and was ineligible to vote.

Prosecutors told jurors that Moses knew she was ineligible to vote when she submitted the certificate, and the sentencing judge said she had "tricked" the probation department, but civil rights activists say voting rules are extremely complicated in Tennessee, where about 8 percent of certificates that were submitted in one 2017 study were rejected because the voters were ineligible.

“That seems absurd to me on its face,” said Blair Bowie, an attorney at the Campaign Legal Center. “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.”

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