Category Archives: felon voting

“Florida gave voting rights to people with felony convictions. Now some face charges for voting.”

Kira Lerner:

Florida authorities arrested a Black man while he was staying in a homeless shelter and charged him with voting illegally in a case tied to Republicans’ drive to root out election fraud.

But Kelvin Bolton’s arrest raises questions about the rollout of Amendment 4, passed by Florida voters in 2018 to restore voting rights to Floridians with felony convictions. 

The case is one of the first of its kind since Florida ended the Jim Crow-era voting policy that disproportionately affected Black citizens. Bolton’s arrest shows how the constitutional amendment now is being weaponized against poor people who may not realize they are committing a crime. 

When law enforcement found 55-year-old Bolton at the homeless shelter and arrested him for illegal voting, according to court records and as first reported by Fresh Take Florida at the University of Florida, he was on early release from jail but still serving two-and-a-half years for theft and simple battery. 

Bolton, who is currently being held in the Alachua County jail on $30,000 bail, is one of 10 people recently charged in the Gainesville, Florida, area with third-degree felonies for illegal voting. Eight of the 10 are Black men.

They all registered to vote while in jail or mailed ballots from jail, but had unpaid fines and fees from prior felony convictions that barred them from voting under a 2019 law, according to the state attorney’s office. Each is facing a potential five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. 

Bolton currently owes $7,018 in unpaid court fines and fees, including $1,500 in attorney and indigent appearance fees, according to an analysis of court records.

Share this:

“Prosecutor drops all charges against Pamela Moses, jailed over voting error”

Sam Levine for The Guardian:

A Memphis prosecutor has dropped all criminal charges against Pamela Moses, the Memphis woman who was sentenced to six years in prison for trying to register to vote.

Moses was convicted last year and sentenced in January. She was granted a new trial in February after the Guardian published a document showing that had not been given to her defense ahead of the trial.

Moses was set to appear in court on Monday to find out whether prosecutors would pursue a retrial.

The central issue in her case was whether she had known she was ineligible to vote when a probation officer filled out and signed a form indicating she was done with probation for a 2015 felony conviction and eligible to cast a ballot. Even though the probation officer admitted he had made a mistake, and Moses said she had no idea she was ineligible to vote, prosecutors said she knew she was ineligible and had deceived him. Moses stood in the lobby of the probation office while the officer went to his office to research her case for about an hour, he said at trial….

Amy Weirich, the Shelby county district attorney, who prosecuted the case, noted Moses had spent 82 days in jail before she was granted a new trial, “which is sufficient”.

“In the interest of judicial economy, we are dismissing her illegal registration case and her violation of probation,” she said in a statement.

She noted that Moses is permanently barred from voting in Tennessee. One of the crimes she pleaded guilty to in 2015, tampering with evidence, causes people to permanently lose their voting rights in Tennessee. During Moses’s trial, the judge overseeing the case and the two probation officers said they were unaware that was a crime that caused people to permanently lose the right to vote.

Share this:

“NC trial judges again allow more felony offenders to vote”

AP:

North Carolina’s law that prohibits people convicted of felonies from registering to vote while they are still serving probation, parole or other supervision discriminates against Black residents and is unconstitutional, a panel of state judges ruled on Monday.

The decision expands on a preliminary injunction issued last August by the majority on the same panel that heard evidence in a trial challenging a 1973 state law that delays the restoration of voting rights for some offenders who aren’t serving prison or jail time. It could affect tens of thousands of people previously convicted of felonies.

That injunction was blocked by the state Supreme Court in September. But any offender who registered during a roughly 10-day period when that injunction was in place could remain on voting rolls, the justices ruled last year.

Now Monday’s order essentially makes the content of that previous injunction more permanent. Lawyers for the state and General Assembly leaders could appeal the decision and seek to delay its enforcement for now.

But if upheld, the ruling signed by Superior Court Judges Lisa Bell and Keith Gregory could mean offenders still on probation or parole or being formally supervised for a state or felony conviction could register to vote.

Share this:

“Judge orders new trial for US woman sentenced to six years for trying to register to vote”

Sam Levine:

A Memphis judge ordered a new trial for Pamela Moses, a woman who was sentenced to six years in prison for trying to register to vote.

The case attracted national attention in recent weeks because of the severity of the sentence. Moses said she had no idea she was ineligible.

Moses has been in prison since December, when her bond was revoked. She was being released from custody on Friday, according to Claiborne Ferguson, her attorney….

Share this:

“New evidence undermines case against Black US woman jailed for voting error”

Sam Levine in The Guardian:

I have an update in my reporting on the case of Pamela Moses, the 44-year-old Black Lives Matter Activist in Memphis who was sentenced to six years in prison for trying to register to vote. The case has attracted significant national attention because many see Moses’ sentence as too severe and a clear example of disparities in the US criminal justice system.

The prosecution’s case is built around the argument that Moses knew she was ineligible to vote because she was on probation, and people on felony probation in Tennessee cannot vote. Indeed, a few months before she tried to register, a judge had issued an order telling Moses her probation was ongoing. But nevertheless, prosecutors argued, she convinced a probation officer into signing a form saying she was eligible to vote and then knowingly submitted the document knowing it was false. “You tricked the probation department into giving you documents saying you were off probation,” W Mark Ward, the judge who sentenced Moses, said in January.

Moses, for her part, told me she did now know she was ineligible and her lawyers have said she went to the probation office genuinely seeking clarity about whether she could vote. A new email I obtained through a public records request adds to evidence undercutting the claim that Moses tricked the officer.

In September 2019, just two days after a probation officer mistakenly signed a certificate telling Moses her probation was complete, officials at the Tennessee department of corrections investigated how exactly their employee made the error. Their investigation didn’t find that Moses had deceived a probation officer, but rather that the officer had made a good-faith mistake.

The review found that the probation officer – referred to as Manager Billington – spent about an hour investigating whether Moses was still on probation. Billington came across a note in Moses’ file noting that in 2016, she had been placed on supervised probation for two years. Even though the system said that Moses remained on unsupervised probation, Billington thought this was a mistake. The person who handled the file, he believed, forgot to close out the case when the supervised probation ran out. That’s why he ultimately signed Moses’ voting certificate saying her probation had expired in 2018 and she was eligible to vote….

Share this:

“Pamela Moses, a Black woman, has been sentenced to six years in prison because of a voting error. Meanwhile, white individuals who are known to have committed blatant voter fraud have only received probation.”

Watch Janai Nelson discuss this case on Maddow.

Sam Levine:

Over the last few months, I’ve been following the case of Pamela Moses, a 44-year-old activist in Memphis who was convicted in November for trying to register to vote while she was ineligible. On Monday, Moses, who is Black, was sentenced to six years and one day in prison.

To my eye, the case is far more complex than it seems.

Amy Weirich, the local prosecutor, has trumpeted both the conviction and the sentence in press releases. She has highlighted that Moses has an extensive criminal record, and she told a straightforward story about Moses’ voting crime. In 2015, Moses pleaded guilty to perjury and tampering with evidence in connection to allegations that she stalked and harassed a local judge. Tampering with evidence is one of a handful of felonies that causes someone to permanently lose their voting rights in Tennessee. Nonetheless, Moses, still on probation, knowingly tried to register to vote in 2019.

The case caught my attention for a few reasons. First, it is rare to see a prosecutor bring criminal charges against someone for election crimes, and I was curious whether this was a bona fide case of fraud or of someone who had made a mistake. Second, there has been growing awareness of racial disparities in punishments for election-related crimes. Black people such as Crystal Mason and Hervis Rogers have faced years in prison for making mistakes about their voting eligibility. White voters have received much lighter sentences for election-related crimes.

Weirich’s office did not respond to interview requests, but the more I looked into Moses’ case, the more I realized the case wasn’t straightforward at all. Behind the scenes, Tennessee officials conceded that they had made a series of mistakes concerning Moses’ voting eligibility.

In 2015, when Moses pleaded guilty to her felony, she says no one told her she couldn’t vote. “They never mentioned anything about voting. They never mentioned anything about not voting, being able to vote … none of that,” Moses told me last year. (She added she hadn’t discussed the case with her two sons, 24 and 13, but described it as “traumatic”.)

Moses didn’t know anything was amiss until 2019, when she launched a long-shot mayoral campaign. Election officials said she couldn’t appear on the ballot because of her felony. When they began to look into her eligibility, they also realized she had never been taken off the voter rolls. Moses went to court and asked a judge to clarify whether she was still on probation, and the court confirmed that she was. What happened next is at the crux of the case against her.

Moses did not believe the judge had correctly calculated her sentence. So she went to the local probation office and asked an officer to figure it out. An officer filled out and signed a certificate confirming her probation had ended. In Tennessee, people with felony convictions who want to vote need that document from a correction official. Moses submitted it to local election officials along with a voter registration form.

But the day afterwards, an official at the corrections department wrote an email to election officials saying a probation officer had made an “error” on Moses’ certificate. Moses was still serving an active felony sentence, they wrote, and was not eligible to vote. The department offered no explanation for the mistake.

Such errors are actually fairly common in Tennessee, where the voting rules are extremely confusing for people with felonies, Blair Bowie, an attorney at the Campaign Legal Center, told me. A 2017 study found that about 8% of the certificates submitted were rejected because the voters remained ineligible. Bowie said she was unaware of any voter in the state ever facing criminal charges for submitting a certificate but later turning out to be ineligible to vote….

Share this:

Challenge to Minnesota’s Procedures for Restoring Voting Rights to Felons Heard in State Supreme Court

Minnesota Public Radio

Minnesota’s Supreme Court heard arguments this week in a case that may determine whether continuing to disenfranchise voters on parole or on probation violates the state’s constitution. The case turns on the fact that, under the Minnesota precedent, statutes and policies that have a racial disparate impact must meet heightened scrutiny to survive a constitutional challenge.

“It seems to me when you were disenfranchising just huge swaths of the population, particularly when that population are primarily people of color, who the Equal Protection Clause was a design to the very people it was designed to protect,” Hudson said. “How is that the tight fit that Russell [the Minnesota precendent] requires?”

50,000 Minnesotans with active felony records will be affected by the Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision.

Share this:

Must Read and Must View Photos: “When It Costs $53,000 to Vote”

Jesse Wegman and Damon Winter for NYT Opinion:

Twenty years ago, Judy Bolden served 18 months in a Florida prison. She has been free ever since, but she is still barred from voting by the state until she pays all court fines and fees associated with her conviction.

When Ms. Bolden sat to be photographed by The Times earlier this year, she said she had received a letter informing her that her outstanding debt was a few hundred dollars. Then she checked the Volusia County website and learned that she actually owes nearly $53,000. “I was so taken aback,” she said. “I was like, What? That’s not right. I was just deflated. It’s like, when is this going to end?”

Ms. Bolden is one of more than 700,000 people in Florida who are barred from voting because they can’t afford the financial obligations stemming from a prior felony conviction. “It’s like I’m not a citizen,” she said. “That’s what they’re saying.”

Earlier this year we asked Floridians whose voting rights had been denied because of a criminal conviction to sit for photographs, wearing a name tag that lists not their name but their outstanding debt — to the extent they can determine it. This number, which many people attempt to tackle in installments as low as $30 a month, represents how much it costs them to win back a fundamental constitutional right, and how little it costs the state to withhold that right and silence the voices of hundreds of thousands of its citizens. The number also echoes the inmate identification number that they were required to wear while behind bars — another mark of the loss of rights and freedoms that are not restored upon release.

Share this:

“Mississippi voting rights case is argued at US appeals court”

AP:

The authors of Mississippi’s 1890 constitution had racist intent when they stripped voting rights from people convicted of some felonies because they chose crimes they thought were more likely to be committed by Black people, an attorney argued Wednesday in a federal appeals court.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals should overturn most of Mississippi’s felon disenfranchisement plan, attorney Donald B. Verrilli Jr. argued on behalf of people with felony convictions. The case could affect thousands who have lost voting rights.

“Because the 1890 provisions were unconstitutional, they were invalid from the moment that they’re enacted,”

Attorneys representing the state said Mississippi dropped burglary from the list of disenfranchising crimes in 1950 and added murder and rape to the list in 1968. They said in written arguments that those changes “cured any discriminatory taint on the original provision.”

“The ultimate question for this court is whether the Mississippi Constitution’s felon disenfranchisement provision comports with the equal protection clause. It does,” Mississippi’s deputy solicitor general, Justin Matheny, told the appeals court judges.

Share this:

Pa. ends ‘prison gerrymandering’ with closely divided committee vote

From WHYY in Philadelphia:

“The commission in charge of redrawing Pennsylvania’s House and Senate maps has voted 3-2 to make a major change to the redistricting process: It will no longer count many state prisoners as residents of the districts where they’re incarcerated, but rather as residents of the districts where they originally lived.

. . . .

It fell to the committee’s court-appointed tiebreaker, longtime University of Pittsburgh law professor Mark Nordenberg, to make the decision. He noted that this is a big change in a redistricting process already marred by late census data, and the logistics will be time consuming and tricky. But ultimately, he voted for change.”

The decision does not affect federal election districts.

Share this:

“NC court grants voting rights to thousands of people on probation or parole for a felony”

News and Observer:

Judges have restored voting rights to an estimated 55,000 North Carolinians on parole or probation for a felony.

GOP state lawmakers, who were defending the law in court, plan to appeal Monday’s ruling to a higher court. But if the ruling is upheld on appeal, then people convicted of felonies in North Carolina will regain their right to vote once they leave prison.

“Everyone on felony probation, parole or post-supervision release can now register and vote, starting today,” the challengers’ lawyer, Stanton Jones, said in a text message Monday morning after the ruling came down.

Share this:

Bernie Grofman: “How Best to do Prison Population Data Reallocation, i.e., How Best to Mitigate Prison Gerrymandering?”

The following is a guest post from my UCI colleague Bernie Grofman:

There are now eleven states that committed to using data on past home addresses of prisoners and locating them for redistricting purposes not in the prison but where they had a  previous in-state address. Ten of these states will implement the change this decade, and there are several other states/redistricting commissions that are in the process of considering whether or not to  reallocate  prisoner population data. However, there are some key differences in how this reallocation is being accomplished in different states and jurisdictions, and these differences raise questions that involve both legal issues and practical complexities. The three key complications are:  (1) how to handle prison populations that do not have an in-state past address, (2) potential legal differences between how prison populations are to be treated for state legislative (or local) redistricting as opposed to congressional redistricting, and (3) differences in treatment of state and federal prisoners.

In an extended essay (nearly 7,000 words) that is available  from SSRN How Best to do Prison Population Data Reallocation, i.e., How Best to Mitigate Prison Gerrymandering? by Bernard Grofman :: SSRN , I discuss these complexities in detail and propose a best practices rule. That rule involves a recommendation that states copy the practices used in Virginia, in which the residual category of  prisoners without an in-state past address, or whose immediate past address is in a different state, be tallied at the prison. While this is not an ideal solution, it balances in my view competing representational concerns. Moreover, adoption of this rule has the practical effect that it is unlikely that state legislative district districts created with this limited tallying of prisoner population included will be so overpopulated with prisoners that even the removal of this out-of-state and unknown past home address prison population from the district would put that district in violation of  federal “one person, one vote” guidelines –at least if such districts are not excessively underpopulated relative to ideal.

Share this:

“One Year After Executive Order Restored Voting Rights To Iowans With Felony Convictions, Most Haven’t Registered To Vote”

Katarina Sostaric at Iowa Public Radio:

One year after Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed an executive order restoring voting rights to an estimated 35,000 to 45,000 Iowans with past felony convictions, about 5,000 of the newly eligible individuals have registered to vote. Voting rights advocates say the state should put more effort into reaching people to let them know they can vote.

A report from The Marshall Project in June put the number of registered voters at 5,000, and the Iowa Secretary of State’s office told IPR 4,127 people had registered as of January 29. Iowa SOS spokesperson Kevin Hall told IPR it would cost $160 to provide a more recent number.

According to Hall, 3,179 of these newly eligible voters voted in the 2020 election.

Share this: