It seems simple. You’re convicted of a felony, you lose your right to vote—for life. But, what if it wasn’t that simple? What if someone is mistakenly caught up in a permanent bureaucratic loop, where officials are determined to suppress your vote. Forty-four-year-old Black Lives Matter activist Pam “P” Moses has been trapped in a legal nightmare since 2019, and Monday she was convicted to six years in prison for it.
The whole thing started in 2015 when Moses pleaded to charges, including stalking, theft, forgery, and tampering with evidence—a crime that permanently revokes a person’s right to vote in Tennessee.
Moses claimed no one ever told her that her plea would lead to the loss of her voting rights. “They never mentioned anything about voting. They never mentioned anything about not voting, being able to vote … none of that,” Moses told The Guardian.
It wasn’t until Nov. 2019, when Moses tried to kick off a mayoral run and was asked for proof of her right to vote that she learned that her rights had been revoked. She attempted to unravel her ordeal and filed an official Certificate of Restoration of Voting Rights, along with her voter registration, with the Shelby County Election Commission. That’s when things got very murky.
When Moses asked the court if she was still on probation, the court confirmed that she was. But Moses questioned the judge’s calculations and asked a local probation officer to calculate it again. The officer filled out and signed a certificate confirming that, in fact, her probation had ended. In Tennessee, once a felon receives that certificate, they are allowed to vote. Moses submitted the document to officials, along with her voter registration (again), and thought everything was done.
The very next day, she got an email telling her that the probation officer incorrectly calculated her probation, and the certificate was given to her in “error.” She was told she was still a felon on probation and ineligible to vote.
Submitting the certificate landed Moses back in court, this time facing charges of perjury and falsifying election fraud charges.
During her trial, prosecutors claimed that Moses knew she was on probation when she filed her certificate, and thus she knew she wasn’t allowed to vote.
The judge said Moses was trying to “trick” the probation department.
“That seems absurd to me on its face,” Blair Bowie, an attorney at the Campaign Legal Center working to challenge voter suppression in Tennessee told the Guardian.
“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.”
Local prosecutor Amy Weirich has gone on a full media blitz about Moses, at one point telling WREG in Memphis that Moses refused to file the correct paperwork and fraudulently voted multiple times, an allegation Moses vehemently denies.
Moses says she simply registered, something she thought she could do. She maintains she thought her voting rights had been restored.
“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,” she told the court on Monday.
She says one ever told her that the tampering with evidence charge would revoke her right to vote indefinitely.
“They included that charge on my indictment because [Weirich] knew that would keep me from voting forever and running from public office,” Moses told WREG.
Many are asking why Weirich was so hellbent on prosecuting Moses for what amounted to a voting error, especially in light of the many other, more pressing cases on the docket.
The only thing different in 2022 is the midterm election, and voter suppression seems to be on the ballot in Tennessee—at least for Black people—not unlike it has been since Black folks were given the right to vote in 1880 over a century ago.