An Iowa judge upheld a state law that disqualifies felons from voting but said the state Supreme Court needs to sort out the confusion it caused last year when it ruled not all felons are automatically disenfranchised. Judge Arthur Gamble ruled Monday in the case of a woman who voted in a 2013 city election thinking her voting rights had been restored after she completed probation on a 2008 felony cocaine delivery charge. The case was one of the first brought against a felon who had voted that went to a jury. Kelli Jo Griffin of Montrose, 42, who said she’s turned her life around from drug addiction, was charged with perjury for registering to vote as a felon but a jury last year found her not guilty. Jurors concluded she’d made an honest mistake.
After 2½ years of delays, a prosecutor has dropped an election misconduct charge against an ex-felon accused of illegally voting in the 2012 presidential election. Jefferson County Attorney Timothy Dille said Wednesday that he concluded the case against Cheri Rupe, 43, “wasn’t something that needed to be pursued” any longer. He said he made his decision in the interest of justice, citing the amount of time that had lapsed and noting that a similar case last year ended in an acquittal. The dismissal is another setback for a state effort to criminally punish ineligible voters who participated — or tried to participate — in elections. Under a two-year investigation involving former Secretary of State Matt Schultz and the Division of Criminal Investigation, about two dozen people, including ex-felons and non-U.S. citizens, were charged with registering and/or voting illegally.
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad is pushing to end the state’s Republican straw poll, but the state party chairman says the event may still go on next year. Branstad said Monday that the poll — traditionally held in Ames the summer before a contested presidential caucus — is a turnoff for many candidates and could diminish the power of the state’s caucuses. “I believe that a number of candidates have chosen not to participate because they don’t think it’s necessarily representative,” Branstad said. “The most important thing is to keep the Iowa precinct caucuses first in the nation and the first real test of strength of candidates.” But State Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said he thinks there’s interest in continuing the tradition, provided it’s permissible under Republican National Committee rules.
A task force created to fix errors in Iowa’s database of ineligible felon voters met once for two hours, failing to resolve a problem that has disenfranchised at least a dozen people, records show. Secretary of State Matt Schultz formed the group in April after finding 12 cases in which errors on the 50,000-name list resulted in the wrongful rejection of ballots from non-felons or people who had their voting rights restored. Schultz said the panel would develop a “long-term solution to fix inaccuracies contained in the state’s felon file. More than four months passed before the group held its first and only meeting Aug. 29, according to documents obtained by the Associated Press under the public records law. “If we get done early, so be it,” then-Secretary of State general counsel Charlie Smithson emailed members before the meeting, scheduled for four hours.
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.”
Iowa elections officials will continue to bar convicted felons from voting despite a landmark state Supreme Court ruling that suggests not all of them lost their voting rights, a spokesman said Wednesday. Three justices ruled Tuesday that only some felonies are “infamous crimes” under the Iowa Constitution that bar individuals from voting or holding office. Writing for that group, Chief Justice Mark Cady said only crimes that suggest the offenders “would tend to undermine the process of democratic governance through elections” qualify. Cady said justices would have to “develop a more precise test” in future rulings to define them. The ruling concluded that state Senate candidate Tony Bisignano can hold office even though he had been convicted of second-offense operating while intoxicated, an aggravated misdemeanor. Cady’s opinion invalidated three of the court’s prior rulings dating to 1916, which had held that any offense for which the potential punishment is imprisonment was an “infamous crime.” Cady suggested the new definition followed the intent of authors of Iowa’s Constitution, who wanted to protect the integrity of elections.
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.
Editorials: Former drug offender acquitted at rare voter fraud trial in a rebuke to Iowa crackdown | Associated Press
A former drug offender who believed her voting rights had been restored when she cast a ballot last year was acquitted of perjury Thursday, a public rebuke of Iowa’s two-year investigation into voter fraud. The 12-member jury took less than 40 minutes to reject the prosecution’s argument that Kelli Jo Griffin intentionally lied on a voter registration form she filled out for a municipal election in the southeastern Iowa town of Montrose. It was the first trial stemming from the state’s voter fraud investigation championed by Republican Secretary of State Matt Schultz. And it highlighted Iowa’s status as one of just four states in which ex-offenders have to apply to the governor to regain their voting rights, under a 2011 order that has created confusion. Griffin, a 40-year-old mother of three young children and one stepdaughter, would have faced up to 15 years in prison if convicted since she was charged as a habitual offender. “I’m glad that I can go back to being a mother,” she told reporters afterward. Griffin had lost her voting rights following a 2008 felony conviction for delivery of less than 100 grams of cocaine. She testified that she believed her right to vote had been restored when she left probation last year, which had been the state’s policy until it was rescinded three years ago by Republican Gov. Terry Branstad.
The attorney for an ex-felon charged with illegally voting must be allowed to question an aide to Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad before the trial begins, a judge ruled Thursday. Kelli Jo Griffin’s attorney had claimed that Branstad aide Rebecca Elming, a prosecution witness, refused to be deposed last week on the advice of state lawyers. But Branstad spokesman Jimmy Centers disputed that Thursday, saying the deposition had not been scheduled. “Now that a deposition has been requested, we will work with the parties to make Elming available,” he said. Judge Mary Ann Brown said Griffin had a right to depose Elming before trial, which she delayed from Thursday until March 19 due to an attorney’s illness.