By Kelli Jo Griffin
On Election Day in 2013, I took my four children with me to watch me register to vote and cast my ballot in a city election in my small town in Iowa. Earlier that day, my daughter's class learned about the meaning of democracy and the importance of elections.
Two months after I cast my ballot as a civics lesson for my daughter, the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation agents parked across the street from my house, questioned me, and eventually arrested me and charged me with voter fraud.
Let me explain: When I was convicted on a nonviolent drug charge in 2008, my defense attorney told me that once I served my probation, I would regain my right to vote automatically – correct information at the time. But Gov. Terry Branstad suddenly changed the rules in 2011, and now all citizens with a felony conviction lose their voting rights for life. Our Secretary of State Matt Schultz, in fact, has made this subversion of democracy a point of pride. He has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars hunting down and prosecuting people with past convictions who unknowingly registered or cast a vote.
I explained that I did not know about the rule change, but the local county attorney insisted on prosecuting me, spending thousands of taxpayers' money to try to send me to jail – away from my husband and young children for up to 15 years. Knowing that I had not committed a crime, I withstood the crippling expense and emotional roller coaster of a trial instead of accepting a plea deal for a crime I knew I did not commit. Finally, three months later, I was acquitted by a jury of my peers. It only took them 40 minutes to come to that decision. I cried with relief as I heard the verdict.
I'm the mom of four wonderful children. I volunteer at my children's schools and a women's crisis center. I speak to domestic violence survivors to support and encourage them. I have overcome a lot in my life, including a destructive prior marriage and a dependency that led to the nonviolent felony drug conviction in 2008. I'm not proud of some parts of my history, but I am proud that I managed to turn my life around and find happiness in my family, my accomplishments, and what I can now offer my community.