MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Illegal voting is front and center in Shelby County courts after a woman was convicted of illegally registering to vote.
Black Lives Matter activist Pam Moses is now facing jail time and fighting for her freedom.
“They want to pick and control who the Black leaders are in the South. And they do it through voter suppression. They suppressed my right to vote forever,” Moses said.
Moses said it began in 2015 when she pleaded guilty to a 10-count indictment. She was in jail for five and a half months on a $500,000 bond. She said she saw a plea as the only way out.
Among the charges against her were forgery, perjury and stalking, after she said she complained about some elected officials. Tampering with evidence was also included in her charges, a crime that strips you of your right to vote forever in Tennessee.
“I maintain I didn’t do anything but complain on public officials that are corrupt. That’s all I did,” Moses said. “I complained about it and put it in writing.”
In 2019, Moses got a rude awakening when she applied to have her voting rights restored. She was charged with falsifying information on her voter registration. Her trial was set for this year on Nov. 1.
“I didn’t even know I was going to trial until like a few days before this,” Moses said.
She said she refused to take a plea because she feels she had done nothing wrong.
The 12 counts of illegal registration or voting were dismissed almost as soon as the trial started. Prosecutors could not prove she had intentionally registered illegally.
The application to have her voting rights restored was filled out for her and approved by Department of Corrections officials on September 3, 2019. Staff from the Shelby County Election Commission signed off on the application.
One day later, a letter came saying they were wrong.
“I relied on the election commission because those are the people who were supposed to know what you know you’re supposed to do,” Moses said. “And I found out that they didn’t know.”
Shelby County Election Administrator Linda Phillips said the state caught the mistake.
“Very little of this has made any sense whatsoever,” Phillips said. “But the fact is she was convicted of a felony which has permanently terminated her right to vote.”
The election commission then notified the district attorney’s office.
“It’s just bringing the issue to their attention. Again, we send letters like that all the time,” Phillips said.
It landed Moses back in court, facing perjury and falsifying an election document charges.
“Voter fraud is generally very, very rare,” Phillips said.
Phillips also said she has never seen it happen before.
District Attorney Amy Weirich’s office took the case to trial.
“Felons are not allowed to vote in the state of Tennessee unless their rights have been restored by court,” Weirich said. “What we had proved, we presented to that jury and they listened to the evidence. They listened to the facts. They applied their common sense, and they returned the verdict of guilty.”
The DA’s press release said Moses was found guilty of illegally registering to vote in 2019, saying because she pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence in 2015, under the law she is permanently deemed ineligible to vote in Tennessee.
“You can’t just go vote because you feel like it after having been convicted of a felony you have to have a court give you that privilege back,” Weirich said. “She did not have that she chose to vote, and I just want many, many times.”
Moses maintains she never actually voted, but simply registered, something she thought she could do.
“I was convicted of altering a document that I didn’t even sign,” Moses said.
She said she and many others were never told tampering with evidence could strip you of voting forever. Now, she wants to make people aware.
“They just included that charge on my indictment because she knew that that would keep me from voting forever, and you cannot run for office if you are not registered to vote,” Moses said.
As she fights this latest conviction, she is also trying to get the 2015 plea deal overturned, claiming it was coerced.
Josh Spickler with Just City, an organization that supports efficient use of the justice system, has concerns why this case took priority when hundreds of other cases involving violent crimes are awaiting trial.
“Why would the criminal justice system, why would the district attorney’s office and the court spend a week of very, very precious and valuable resources to try this woman?” Spickler said.
“The optics of this being one of the first, if not the first, out of custody jury trials, since we came out with pandemic is really telling,” Spickler said. “And you know, the race component of this is not lost on this community either. You have a white woman who is the only Republican left in county wide office prosecuting a Black woman who attempted to register to vote.”
“I think that’s just silly and short-sighted, and I think that would be a claim by anybody that has not spent any time over here,” Weirich said.
“I highly doubt anyone’s going to step up and say ‘We charge this woman, we try this case, we got a guilty verdict the year before an election in order to send a signal to the rest of the country.’ No one’s gonna say that. But that’s what happened,” said Spickler.
But Moses said she will continue to fight.
“I believe that the law will change where people who are citizens and pay taxes will have the right to vote and if it has to be me to take the lead on that, I’m willing to do that, because it’s important to the future of America, not just Memphis,” Moses said.
Moses will be sentenced on Friday, Dec. 10 and faces four to eight years in prison.