Montrose woman acquitted of voter fraud speaks out

Kelli Jo Griffin was acquitted of a voter fraud charge in March.

Iowa is one of the most difficult states in the nation for felons to regain their right to vote.

The law changed during the Branstad administration about three years ago. Before then, felons automatically regained their voting rights when they finished probation. The new rules require felons to fill out an application to get their voting rights restored.

It's this law that led to the arrest Kelli Jo Griffin, of Montrose, early this year.

Griffin is the first to admit she has a past. She was convicted in 2008 on a cocaine charge. But since then, she's turned her life around. She re-married, moved to quiet Montrose and became a mother to four children. When Griffin cast a ballot in a municipal election in 2013, she did it to set a good example for her kids. She wanted to show them how important it is to vote.

When the Division of Criminal Investigation later told her she had broken the law, she says she had no idea how.

"I was in shock that this was happening because I was voting," Griffin said. "I thought my rights had been restored. I'm used to being in trouble in the past and knowing I was in trouble. So being in trouble and not really feeling guiltyâ?¦ I felt scared."

Two years ago, Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz launched a $250,000 investigation into voter fraud. Griffin was one of 27 individuals charged as a result of the investigation. Hers was one of the first cases to go to trial. While opponents of the voter fraud campaign say it's a waste of the state's time and money, Schultz maintains the investment ensures fair and honest elections in Iowa.

"People do need to know that if you're not eligible to vote, you can't vote. And in this case, she wasn't eligible to vote and she did vote," Schultz said. "Now, there's a question on whether or not she knew or some confusion and the jury obviously took that into consideration, but at the end of the day, she canceled the vote out of a legitimate Iowa voter."

It took that jury 40 minutes to find Griffin not-guilty. Her lawyer, Curtis Dial, said the prosecution's argument she was trying to cover up her past as a drug dealer by pretending to be an upstanding citizen was "a joke".

Dial and Griffin firmly believe the state should do a better job of explaining the voting policy to felons in the future.

"I really think the state could do a much better job through their probation and parole officers of explaining rights to people when they get off probation, as opposed to not saying anything and leaving it up to them to make that determination," Dial said. '

"There needs to be a process, a piece of paper. If not the judge that needs to tell people when they're being [found] guilty, then a probation or parole officer needs to say - you do not have your rights to vote, you have to fill out an application," Griffin added.

Schultz says Iowa won't stop cracking down on voter fraud.

"We have a task force that's working on our lists, in terms of making sure our lists of those individuals who are listed as felons are accurate and I think some of those things will be discussed by that task force this summer," he said.

If Griffin had been found guilty, she would have faced up to 15 years in prison. She told KTVO she is thankful for all the support she received from the Lee County community, friends, family and her husband.

In addition to Griffin's case, seven individuals were found guilty, four cases were dismissed and 15 cases are still in the court system. Another 17 cases are still being investigated.