Sen. Ted Stevens was found guilty of seven felony counts on Monday for failing to disclose gifts and services he’d received while in office. Despite the conviction, he pledged to continue his campaign for re-election. As a convicted felon, will Stevens be able to vote for himself next Tuesday?
Yes. Alaska law states that convicted felons are barred from voting if their crime is one of “moral turpitude,” which in Alaska includes a wide swath of illegal activities. “Receiving a bribe” is listed among them, although the state government set up a special review of the Stevens case. In a decision released Wednesday night, the Alaska Division of Elections announced that the senator’s crimes were, in fact, of moral turpitude but that a guilty verdict wasn’t enough to make him a convicted felon for purposes of voting. Until February, when he’s sentenced—and thus “convicted,” according to a more formal definition—he’ll be able to exercise his right to vote. (Stevens’ crimes of moral turpitude may also be grounds for disbarment in Alaska and the District of Columbia.)
Even if he weren’t allowed to vote, Stevens would still be able to continue his Senate campaign. There’s no law barring felons from the Senate, and he fits the only constitutional requirements for the position: He’s an Alaskan resident over the age of 30 and has been a U.S. citizen for more than nine years. State law does stipulate that a candidate for the Senate must be a registered voter—and thus not a felon who committed acts of moral turpitude—when he files for the office. But Stevens had not yet been found guilty when he filed.
Bonus Explainer: If Stevens wins re-election but is expelled by the Senate, can Gov. Sarah Palin appoint herself to his seat? No. In most states, when a Senate seat is vacated midterm, the governor of the state appoints someone to fill it. That was the case in Alaska until 2004, when public outrage over Gov. Frank Murkowski’s 2002 appointment of his daughter Lisa to his vacated Senate seat prompted accusations of nepotism and led to a ballot initiative requiring that special elections be held within 90 days. (Palin may still be able to make a temporary appointment within those three months.)
In general, governors aren’t allowed to pick themselves to fill a vacant Senate seat. Some, however, have tried to get around that constraint by resigning from office and then letting a newly bumped-up lieutenant governor appoint them instead. Those who do this are rarely re-elected: One exception was “Happy” Chandler of Kentucky, who had himself appointed in the 1930s.
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Explainer thanks Jack Chenoweth of the State of Alaska Legislative Affairs Agency, Gail Fenumiai of the Alaska Division of Elections, Steven F. Huefner of Ohio State University, and Don Ritchie of the U.S. Senate Historical Office.