IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — The foreman of a jury that acquitted a former Iowa drug offender of voter fraud said Friday the woman made an honest mistake when she cast a ballot because she believed her voting rights were restored.
The 12-member panel agreed that Kelli Jo Griffin did not have criminal intent when she voted in the Nov. 5 municipal election in Montrose, jury foreman Mike Hickey of Keokuk told The Associated Press in a phone interview.
"We came to the conclusion from what we heard and were told that it was a mistake," he said, noting there was "no real dissension" on the panel. "She thought she had her rights restored. As it turned out, they weren't."
The jury took 40 minutes to acquit Griffin of perjury in the first trial stemming from Iowa's two-year voter fraud investigation. The 40-year-old mother of young children had faced between three and 15 years in prison had she been convicted, since she was charged as a habitual offender given her prior criminal record.
Lee County Attorney Michael Short argued that Griffin intentionally lied when she left blank a question on the voter registration form asking whether she was a convicted felon, and if so, if her rights had been restored. He argued that she knew she was ineligible but voted anyway to create a false image that she's a law-abiding, stay-at-home mom without a troubled past.
Hickey, a construction company owner, said early in the trial he thought she was probably guilty. But he said after the defense put on its case and Griffin testified, "it became apparent that she wasn't."
He said Griffin convinced jurors that she believed she became eligible to vote when she left a five-year term of probation in January 2013 for a 2008 conviction related to delivering less than 100 grams of cocaine. That was the policy in place at the time of her conviction under an executive order signed by Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack in 2005 that automatically restored voting rights for offenders when they left state supervision.
Griffin testified that she was unaware the policy was changed by Republican Gov. Terry Branstad in 2011, who reinstated an old policy that requires ex-offenders to apply to the governor individually to regain their voting rights. Her probation officer testified that she never warned Griffin about the policy change.
"We changed governors and the new governor changed the rules. She stated she did not become aware of that. Should she have done more due diligence? Possibly. Did she? Apparently not," Hickey said.
He said it was also clear that Griffin did not have any scheme to vote that day but did so spontaneously to show a stepdaughter who was learning about elections how voting worked. Testimony showed that she had four kids with her when she registered, three of whom were younger than 4 and bored.
"There was a lot going on there," Hickey said. "We saw where she could have been distracted" when filling out the form.