Convicted Sen. Ted Stevens Hangs On to Narrow Lead

By William Branigin and Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, November 5, 2008; 6:05 PM

A little more than a week after being found guilty on seven federal felony charges, Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens (R) was clinging to a slim lead today over Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D) with thousands of votes yet to be counted from Tuesday's election.

If his lead holds up, Stevens would be the first convicted felon to win election to the Senate. Four other senators convicted of felonies resigned or left office at the end of their terms, according to the Senate historian's office.

In its latest count, Alaska's Division of Elections said that with all but three precincts reporting, Stevens led Begich by 3,353 votes, 48.1 percent to 46.5 percent. Three other candidates had 5.1 percent.

But an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 votes remained to be counted, Alaskan officials said, and it could take 10 days to two weeks to determine a winner in the Senate election. The uncounted votes include at least 40,000 absentee ballots, about 9,000 early votes and thousands of challenged ballots.

"This is still anybody's race; this is far from over," said Julie Hasquet, a spokeswoman for the Begich campaign. "We think there's still a very good chance that Mayor Begich will end up being the U.S. senator." She said today that ballots from an early voting site at the Anchorage City Hall and from the University of Alaska at Anchorage campus had not yet been counted.

Democrats hoped to pick up Stevens's seat to pad their majority in the 100-seat Senate, possibly helping to push it to a filibuster-proof 60 votes. Democrats picked up five GOP-held seats in Tuesday's elections, bringing their total to 54. In addition, two independents usually vote with the Democrats.

Stevens, 84, the longest-serving Republican senator in U.S. history, sought a seventh full term despite his Oct. 27 conviction in a federal corruption trial in Washington on charges of failing to properly report gifts worth more than $250,000. He is challenging the verdict on grounds of "prosecutorial misconduct." Going into the election, polls showed Stevens trailing Begich, 46, by four to seven percentage points.

Senate rules do not expressly forbid felons from serving and voting in the chamber. But if Stevens continues to serve while appealing his conviction, the Senate ethics committee could hold hearings on expelling him. Expulsion would require a two-thirds vote of all sitting senators.

The last senator convicted of a felony, Harrison A. Williams (D-N.J.), remained in office nearly 10 months after his 1981 conviction in the Abscam scandal, finally resigning just before a floor vote to expel him.

The last senator to face such a predicament was Bob Packwood (R-Ore.), who was accused of sexual misconduct with female aides. Packwood resigned in September 1995 when the ethics committee recommended his expulsion.

The committee chairman at that time was Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), now the Senate minority leader, who said last week that Stevens would be expelled if he failed to overturn his conviction on appeal.

According to an Oct. 22 report from the Congressional Research Service, however, both the House and Senate have traditionally refrained from bringing expulsion charges if a lawmaker wins reelection after his misconduct is already known by the voters.

"The Senate, in a similar manner as the House of Representatives in relation to its members, has express reticence to exercise the power of expulsion (but not censure) for conduct in a prior Congress when a senator has been elected or reelected to the Senate after the member's conviction, when the electorate knew of the misconduct and still sent the member to the Senate," wrote Jack Maskell, a legislative lawyer for the research service.

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