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Legal Questions Surround Stevens’ Future in Senate

Ted Stevens with supporters on election night. (Johnny Wagner/Getty Images) Earlier we asked what might happen if Alaskan voters re-elected Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), who was convicted last month of a felony. Stevens runs a real risk of being booted from the Senate.

This afternoon ProPublica spoke with Jack Chenoweth, counsel to Alaska’s state legislature, who shed some more light on the question. In 2004 Alaskan voters approved an initiative that stripped the governor of the authority to temporarily appoint a replacement when there is a U.S. Senate vacancy. The referendum, however, is at odds with the state law we cited earlier today. That law says the governor can make a temporary replacement, followed by a special election within 90 days.

According to Chenoweth, it remains “unsettled” whether Gov. Palin, or any future Alaskan governor, will be permitted to play a role in filling a vacant Senate seat. As the Anchorage Daily News pointed out last week, when the state Supreme Court ruled the initiative could be placed on the ballot it failed to address whether, if passed, it would supersede state law.

It is a question that may have to be addressed by the Alaska state legislature come January, Chenoweth said.

We also learned that in Alaska no primary would be held before the special election. Recognized parties choose their respective candidates, and candidates without a party may be nominated by petition.

And whether Stevens could wind up back on the ballot should a special election be held? That’s another “unsettled” matter, Chenoweth said.

Stevens could be denied the opportunity to run in Alaska because he had lost his voter registration, which would happen once he is formally sentenced, Chenoweth pointed out. Alaska requires its lawmakers to be registered.

But Chenoweth believes in this scenario federal law trumps state law so in theory the Republican Party in Alaska could nominate him. It’s an open argument, he said.

It appears we may have to wait and see how it all unfolds.

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