Felons in office: Ted Stevens set to join an even more elite club

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If the current returns hold up, then Alaskans will have reelected a newly convicted felon to the U.S. Senate; Senator Ted Stevens, the longest-serving Republican in that august body, currently leads his opponent by about 3,000 votes. His victory comes less than two weeks after he was convicted on seven counts of corruption. Unlike the chattering classes, what surprises PaperTrail is not Stevens’s victory, but that he will be the first convicted felon to be elected – or reelected – to the U.S. Senate. Apparently, in even the darkest corners of our history books, we have so far managed to avoid this eventuality.

But that doesn’t mean this country has entirely avoided electing convicted felons to office. If he wins, Stevens will belong to an even more select group than the Senate, including:

  • Matthew Lyon: The first person convicted under President John Adams’s infamous Sedition Act, which prohibited publishing “false, scandalous, and malicious writing” about the U.S. government and its officials, Lyon won reelection to the House of Representatives in 1798 while in jail. (Were that law still in effect, most office-seekers would also probably end up behind bars.)
  • James Michael Curley: Though only under indictment at the time of his 1945 victory, Curley served part of his fourth and final term as Boston’s mayor in prison. Five months into the 18-month term for mail fraud, President Harry Truman commuted the sentence.
  • William Musto: The mayor of Union City, New Jersey, described by The New York Times upon his death as having lived with “unchecked gusto,” won reelection the day after he was sentenced to prison in 1982 “for helping mobsters and contractors pocket public money designated for schools.”
  • Marion Barry: The Washington, D.C., mayor was famously videotaped by the FBI smoking crack cocaine and later convicted of a misdemeanor possession charge. He served six months in prison beginning in October 1990. Four years later he was reelected mayor of the nation’s capital. He currently serves on D.C.’s city council.

In all likelihood, Stevens will be expelled or resign his seat, paving the way for a special election to fill the vacancy — a special election in which Stevens will probably be unable to vote for his successor, since Alaska does not allow felons convicted of a crime of “moral turpitude” to vote.

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