FAIRFIELD (AP) | After 2 1/2 years of delays, a prosecutor has dropped an election misconduct charge against an ex-felon accused of illegally voting in the 2012 presidential election.
Jefferson County Attorney Timothy Dille said Wednesday that he concluded the case against Cheri Rupe, 43, "wasn't something that needed to be pursued" any longer. He said he made his decision in the interest of justice, citing the amount of time that had lapsed and noting that a similar case last year ended in an acquittal.
The dismissal is another setback for a state effort to criminally punish ineligible voters who participated — or tried to participate — in elections. Under a two-year investigation involving former Secretary of State Matt Schultz and the Division of Criminal Investigation, about two dozen people, including ex-felons and non-U.S. citizens, were charged with registering and/or voting illegally.
Schultz, a Republican, defended the program as ensuring election integrity. He was a proponent of a plan requiring voters to show identification, which has been blocked by Democrats who say it would disproportionately disenfranchise voters who tend to support them.
Democrats and civil libertarians, who note in-person voter fraud is extremely rare, called the investigation a waste of money that targeted some who were confused about their voting rights and lacked criminal intent. Five others charged as part of the crackdown are still awaiting trial.
Dille charged Rupe with election misconduct in January 2013, asserting she illegally registered and voted in November 2012 at a community center in the 500-population town of Batavia. The Class D felony carries up to five years in prison.
Rupe was convicted of a felony drug charge, possession of a precursor, in Wapello County in 2008 and lost her voting rights. After getting treatment and completing community service, Rupe was discharged from probation in June 2011.
Under the Iowa policy in place from July 2005 through 2010, Rupe would have automatically regained her voting rights at that point. But Republican Gov. Terry Branstad issued an executive order changing the policy in January 2011, requiring ex-felons to complete a lengthy application process through his office to get their rights back. A tiny fraction of thousands of eligible ex-felons have done so.
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The change confused many ex-felons, who say they were never told about it. Some, including Rupe, were allowed to vote in subsequent elections because poll workers didn't check their criminal histories. The county auditor flagged Rupe's ineligibility after the election by running her name through a database of felons, Dille said.
Rupe's attorney, Victoria Siegel, said her client believed she was eligible and made a mistake. She praised Dille's decision to drop the case, arguing the rules on felon voting weren't enforceable because they were confusing and hadn't been communicated well.
"Nobody really knew what the law was because it was hidden in those executive orders," she said.
Rupe waived her right to a speedy trial. The case was then repeatedly delayed by the prosecutor, put on the backburner as other trials took precedence.
The facts of Rupe's case were similar to that of Kelli Jo Griffin, who was acquitted by a jury in Keokuk in less than 40 minutes last year after arguing she believed she was eligible to vote.
Dille defended his decision to charge Rupe.
"At the time, we believed there was a violation in the law," he said. "Now we're aware of it. She won't be able to register to vote in future elections because of her status."
Judge Randy DeGeest granted Dille's motion to dismiss the case on June 29 but ordered Rupe to pay $254 in court costs, records show.