The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Friday challenging Iowa’s tough policies that bar felons from voting, seeking to restore the right to thousands of former offenders before the 2016 presidential election. The case aims to end confusion over rules that followed a 2011 policy change by Gov. Terry Branstad and a criminal investigation into people who improperly voted. Iowa is among three states where felons cannot vote after completing their sentences unless their rights are restored by the governor. “The widespread denial of voting rights on the basis of a felony conviction is the single biggest denial of civil rights in Iowa. It has kept thousands of Iowans from voting,” ACLU attorney Rita Bettis said. “We’re very excited about this case and its potential to right a tremendous wrong.” One of them, stay-at-home mother Kelli J. Griffin of Montrose, is the plaintiff in the lawsuit. “I believe I am a productive member in society and that I deserve to vote,” she said. “So do other felons who have turned their lives around.”
After a 2008 conviction for delivering less than 100 grams of cocaine, she was sentenced to five years of probation. Her lawyer told her she could vote after completing her sentence, and months after leaving probation, she voted in a 2013 mayor’s election in Montrose unaware that Branstad changed the policy and she was ineligible to vote.
Weeks later, she said, she was shocked she was charged with perjury, accused of lying on a registration form. Prosecutors charged her as a habitual offender, meaning a conviction would carry a minimum prison sentence of three years.
During the trial, prosecuting attorney Michael Short argued that Griffin intentionally deceived the state by voting when her rights hadn’t been restored. “It’s not much of a scheme,” Griffin’s attorney Curtis Dial said during the trial. “Kelli gave her information. All the state had to do was plug in the information and see that she can’t vote.”