- Associated Press - Monday, March 3, 2014

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - A former Iowa felon charged with illegally voting in a municipal election is expected to fight the allegation Tuesday at the first jury trial stemming from a contentious statewide crackdown on election-related crimes.

Kelli Jo Griffin is expected to stand trial for perjury in Keokuk. Prosecutors say she signed a form falsely claiming she was not an ineligible felon before she voted in the Nov. 5 city election in Montrose. Court records show she remained on probation for a 2008 felony drug conviction.

Griffin, 40, has pleaded not guilty. Her attorney, Curtis Dial, said she would contest the case but declined to reveal her defense before trial. Broadly, he said he believes many former felons are confused about their voting rights given conflicting state policies on the issue.

Griffin is among 26 charged with election-related crimes under a two-year investigation by the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation and the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office. Most of them are former felons charged with casting ballots despite having lost their rights, or noncitizens charged with voting.

The DCI says agents closed the investigation last month after forwarding 80 more potential cases to county attorneys to decide whether to file charges. Democrats and voting rights advocates have called the investigation a waste of resources, while Schultz has said the investigation helped protect the integrity of Iowa elections.

Several cases are awaiting trial, but others have been resolved through guilty pleas, plea bargains or dismissals. Some lawyers have said they’ve advised clients to plead guilty to lesser charges rather than risk trial and a stiff prison sentence.

Lee County Attorney Michael Short said Griffin’s case was uncovered separate from the state investigation - which he called “a waste of money” - and would have been prosecuted regardless. Short said he believes it is the first voter fraud case he’s brought during a 40-year career.

Short has charged Griffin as a habitual offender, meaning she faces a minimum three-year prison sentence if convicted. He said the actual time served likely would be less than half of that, after credit for “good time.”

He said Griffin had been warned by her parole officer that she was ineligible to vote.

“First, tell me where the confusion is? Secondly, the choice was hers,” he said. “This was a mayoral and city council election. As heated as important as those are, that’s what it was.”

When Griffin registered, a database didn’t flag her as a potential felon since her earlier conviction had been under a different last name, said county auditor Denise Fraise. But after she voted, a second check in another database that uses different matching criteria revealed the felony, she said.

The case illustrates the conflicting approaches governors have taken toward voting rights for felons. The Iowa Constitution says anyone convicted of an “infamous crime” - felonies and some aggravated misdemeanors - loses their right to vote until restored by the governor.

Then-Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack in 2004 granted Griffin’s application to restore voting rights after she had earlier been convicted of drug charges. The next year, Vilsack signed an executive order that automatically restored voting rights for felons once they left state supervision. That policy stayed in place for the next five years, resulting in thousands of people getting their voting rights back.

But Republican Gov. Terry Branstad ended that policy in 2011, reinstating a process in which each former offenders must apply to the governor to regain their voting rights. In three years, Branstad has restored voting rights to 40 people out of thousands eligible to apply.

Griffin pleaded guilty in 2008 to delivery of 100 grams or less of cocaine. She wasn’t discharged from probation until December - a month after she voted.


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