Kelli Jo Griffin has a criminal record, but she got her life back on track and wanted to become engaged in her community by voting in a local election. For that act, the state of Iowa accused Griffin of a criminal act that could have put her in prison for up to 15 years. That would have been a personal travesty and a cruel injustice. Fortunately, a Lee County District Court jury acquitted her Thursday on charges she intentionally violated state law by registering and voting even though as a convicted felon she had lost that right. Griffin’s criminal prosecution is a result of Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz’s campaign to go after non-citizens and persons with felony records who have registered or voted in Iowa elections. Griffin’s case, the first to go to trial, clearly illustrates why Schultz’s campaign is so terribly misguided.
Griffin was convicted in 2008 of delivery of cocaine, which under the Iowa Constitution means she lost her right to vote and to hold public office. Griffin testified, however, that she was told by her attorney that her voting rights would be automatically restored once she completed probation.
That would have been true under an executive order issued by former Gov. Tom Vilsack, but Gov. Terry Branstad rescinded that order in 2011. Griffin’s probation officer testified that she did not inform Griffin of the change.
So, when she registered to vote in the Montrose City Council election, Griffin left blank questions about whether she was a convicted felon or had her voting rights restored by the governor. She did that, she testified, because she misunderstood her voting rights status.