The six-year sentence of Memphis resident and activist Pamela Moses because of a voter error has highlighted challenges convicted felons face when they try to restore their voting rights. Moses stated both her corrections department and county election commission signed off on her voter registration application in 2019 – so a mistake, that wasn’t her fault, has resulted in her going to prison.
According to the Associated Press, a few legal experts don’t understand why Shelby County Criminal Court Judge W. Mark Ward gave such a harsh sentence. A former attorney in the voting section of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, David Becker, acknowledges that state representatives around the country are working towards changing” punitive and restrictive laws”– but Tennessee hasn’t made movement. Becker also notes that law language is a significant factor in these cases.
“It appears that Tennessee is an outlier here, that it is maintaining very restrictive laws that are difficult to navigate, and so difficult to navigate that I don’t think voters understand them and have questions and have misunderstandings about them,” Becker said Wednesday.
“In many cases around the country where there’s issues related to alleged voter registration fraud, almost every single case arises from legitimate confusion about difficult-to-understand laws,” said Becker, executive director and founder of the nonpartisan, nonprofit Center for Election Innovation & Research. “How a sentence of six years might fit the crime here, I have to admit, is baffling to me.”
Sylvia Albert, director of voting and elections for the government watchdog group Common Cause, feels that lack of education around voting laws and race are factors in the decision.
“It is well understood and well known that the criminal justice system is harsher on Black and brown defendants than it is on white defendants, and there’s plenty of research to show that,” Albert said.
Wade Henderson, interim president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, thinks the sentence was a “stunning indictment” of a legal system that has historically disenfranchised Black people.
“Voting is one of the most fundamental aspects of our democracy, and the right to do so should not be taken away from anyone,” Henderson said in a statement.