By Carol M. Swain
If Tennessee and all Americans aren’t prudent, they’ll cast only a cursory glance at the recent and controversial conviction of Black Lives Matter (BLM) Memphis Chapter founder Pamela Moses for illegally registering to vote as a convicted felon, taking no more stock of it than a splashy headline on par with the resignation of BLM founder Patrisse Cullors after the discovery of her “Black Lives Manors.” Indeed, Moses’s six-year prison sentence has far greater implications for the 2022 and 2024 elections.
Most mainstream coverage on Moses’s conviction is shocking: If you know the real, unfiltered story, you’re shocked that they de-emphasize how she accrued 16 criminal convictions prior to running for mayor illegally in 2019 and casting six illegal votes before being caught. If you know only the watered-down version presented by most outlets, you’re shocked at what you believe to be harsh treatment of this woman for mere misunderstanding.
Even the headlines lend a friendly disposition to her plight, painting her as a woman simply trying to vote and serve her community, unaware that her righteous work in political activism had resulted in felony charges. By all their accounts, she’s a go-getter who wants to lead others: a hometown hero. After all, she brought the first BLM chapter to majority-black Memphis. In reality, Moses’s sentence of six years ties back to run-ins with the law spanning two decades.
Only a broken system would enable Moses to cheat the system six times. It should go without saying that every state needs a modern, fail-proof system for verifying voter registration information and detecting unauthorized voting from people who cast votes illegally.
Some might say that better informing voters would be the best first steps. Moses did claim during her hearing that she wasn’t aware she had lost her voting rights. One solution for dissuading that behavior would be to better inform ex-felons and parolees of their rights: Have them sign an attestation that they understand that a loss of citizenship rights is part of their punishment, and then give them information on how those lost rights may be restored, if at all.
It’s unlikely more information would’ve helped Moses in her case. The judge and jury who convicted and sentenced her believed otherwise to her claims. Since we’re not told that it was an all-white jury, we can assume that the majority-black Memphis gave her a jury of her peers; even they concluded that Moses deceived government officials to get what she wanted. So what other options do we have?
Notifying local election offices might be a start. The Arizona legislature is considering a bill (pdf) currently that would have their secretary of state dispense monthly records of felonies to county recorders.
What’s Your Argument for Why Felons Shouldn’t Vote?
In Tennessee and most states, a felony conviction bars a person from holding public office and voting unless under state laws a process is followed for restoration of full citizenship rights.
The practice of stripping voting rights along with all other citizenship privileges as enhanced penalties for felonious behavior may be traced back to ancient Greco-Roman civilizations and Medieval Europe (1100 BC—16th century). With the creation of common law, the practice earned a name: “civil death.” According to a timeline provided by Britannica Pro-Con, the common law version of the practice was carried into the British Colonies, lasting from 1607 until American independence.
Stripped voting rights have obviously continued after independence, but at the discretion of the states. Some states used the practice to punish certain individuals and communities living certain lifestyles contrary to polite society of the day. In 1901, Alabama’s constitution stated the following crimes as eligible for felony disenfranchisement, crafted in a way thought to apply to black communities, according to Britannica Pro-Con:
“All idiots and insane persons; those who shall by reason of conviction of crime be disqualified from voting at the time of the ratification of this Constitution; those who shall be convicted of treason, murder, arson, embezzlement, malfeasance in office, larceny, receiving stolen property, obtaining property or money under false pretenses, perjury, subornation of perjury, robbery, assault with intent to rob, burglary, forgery, bribery, assault and battery on the wife, bigamy, living in adultery, sodomy, incest, rape, miscegenation, crime against nature, or any crime punishable by imprisonment in the penitentiary, or of any infamous crime or crime involving moral turpitude; also, any person who shall be convicted as a vagrant or tramp, or of selling or offering to sell his vote or the vote of another, or of buying or offering to buy the vote of another, or of making or offering to make a false return in any election by the people or in any primary election to procure the nomination or election of any person to any office, or of suborning any witness or registrar to secure the registration of any person as an elector.”
As the law stands in America today, most states have some law on the books stripping a person of their voting rights and implementing some sort of restoration process. One notable exception is Washington, D.C.: There, prisoners may vote while incarcerated. They’re not alone. The Sentencing Project reports that Maine, Vermont, and Puerto Rico do not impose any restrictions on ex-felons when it comes to voting.
What’s their gambit? Progressives champion their “voting rights” laws removing any voting restrictions for current and ex-felons for several reasons. In the short term, they hope to gain generations of loyal voters; in the long term, they’re applying another pressure to ensure a cultural overhaul that will benefit them: an immoral society whose terms and conditions are predicated on their whims, creating a permanent ruling and servant class.
Their public argument, of course, has nothing to do with their real, private intentions. They advance that one tired accusation that somehow is behind every problem this country faces and probably ever will face for time to come: racism. They claim the felons’ punishment is racist because it disproportionately bars the very people who have been purportedly disenfranchised and repressed their whole lives: black men and women. Their ilk carry the water for people like Moses and her lawyers, who argued during sentencing that her 16 previous convictions should be discounted from current considerations of her illegal voting registration because of her poverty and race.
Her defense feeds into the familiar-yet-irresistible Democrat narrative of black incompetency, which fosters similar arguments that they’re unable to get voter identification or rides to the polls, and therefore must be treated like children with their hands held by the state. That’s why they argue that risky solutions such as ballot harvesting and third-party ballot corrections are needed to ensure voting rights for black people: Because the system is so rigged against the oppressed, Americans must do anything at all costs to ensure equity.
Their crafty rhetoric distracts supporters from how demeaning and outrageous the original implications are: Black people aren’t intelligent and incapable of performing basic tasks for themselves.
That’s the rhetoric that would have people believe that Moses—the very community leader capable of running as a mayoral candidate, starting a local chapter of a national organization, and serving as their leader, and submitting votes six times successfully—is some kind of a victim of an unjust system. The real victims of an unjust system are the law-abiding Americans and their watered-down votes.
Republicans quake in their boots at the possibility of having to defend what everyone from mainstream media on high is shouting is an absurd sentence, when they could use this to firm their grip on the gauntlet of election reform. At the very least, they could have the sense to start with reforming laws to thwart felony voters.
That, election reform, is the most important societal good that could come out of the attention-grabbing headlines. Hopefully, lawmakers will seize the opportunity and not render us victims with their cowardice.