The Ottumwa Courier

AP Iowa

March 20, 2014

Former Iowa felon says she believed she could vote

KEOKUK, Iowa (AP) — A former drug offender on trial for illegally voting in an Iowa municipal election last fall testified Wednesday that she believed her right to cast a ballot had been restored when she completed probation.

Kelli Jo Griffin's case highlights Iowa's unusually harsh and confusing policies on voting rights for former offenders, which have changed three times over the last decade. Iowa is considered to be among the most difficult states for convicted felons to get back the right, and more than a dozen have faced charges of voting illegally during a two-year state investigation.

Griffin, who faces up to five years in prison if convicted, became the first of that group to challenge the charges at trial. Closing arguments and jury deliberations are expected Thursday at the county courthouse in Keokuk.

She testified Wednesday that when she was convicted of a cocaine delivery charge in 2008, her lawyer advised her that she would regain her rights to vote and hold public office when she completed her five-year term of probation. That was the policy in place at the time, under a 2005 executive order signed by Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack.

Griffin said she was unaware that Republican Gov. Terry Branstad rescinded that policy in 2011, once again requiring former offenders to apply to him to get their voting rights back. Iowa is only one of four states with such a policy. She said she believed her rights were restored automatically when she was discharged from probation in January 2013.

By then, Griffin said, she had turned her life around. She said she was abused as a child and by her first husband and became addicted to drugs, which led to felony drug convictions in 2002 and 2008. She said she got remarried in 2011 and was living in the town of Montrose, population 878, with young three children and one stepdaughter. Griffin was a stay-at-home mom who was volunteering at school and served as vice president of a county child abuse prevention council.

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