KEOKUK — 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 Secretary of State Matt Schultz, a Republican. 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her right to vote had been restored when she left probation last year, which had been the state's policy until it was rescinded three years ago by Republican Gov.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.
Lee County Attorney Michael Short had argued that Griffin deliberately left blank a question on the form that asked whether she was a convicted felon, and if so, whether her rights were restored.
"That's a knowing lie!" he shouted during closing arguments, forcefully lunging his head toward Griffin. He said she was trying to hide her past as a drug dealer and promote an image of a "stay-at-home mom who is just doing her thing."