Whether people run for mayor, governor or offices in-between - there are minimum eligibility requirements. The majority of offices require candidates to be 18 years of age, have a 90-day residency, only one day as a U.S. citizen and you must be a registered voter. But, can you run for office, or, hold office, if you've been convicted of a crime?
Alabama law states the following persons shall be ineligible to and disqualified from holding office under the authority of this state: "Those who shall have been convicted of treason, embezzlement of public funds, malfeasance in office, larceny, bribery or any other crime punishable by imprisonment in the state or federal penitentiary and those who are idiots or insane."
Several elected officials have faced this issue. Talledega Mayor Larry Barton is one of them.
Talledega Mayor, Larry Barton said, "I approved the expenditures and I have no qualm about pleading guilty to that."
Barton is open and up-front about his conviction on one count of fraud and 26 counts of money laundering of $5900 while he was Talledega mayor. He served 37+ months in federal prison and has even written several books about his experience. Once he served his time, Barton petitioned for his voting rights back, making him eligible to run and hold office once again.
Barton said, "I chose not to let this defeat me. I chose to prove that I was worthy of a second chance."
According to the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles, since 2003, more than 24,000 felons have petitioned to have their voting rights restored. Nearly 10,000 were granted. 7500 were denied and, another 7,000 did not lose their voting rights, based on the type of charges they faced like drug possession.
Birmingham City Councilwoman Lashunda Scales, representing District 1, also faced this issue after she was indicted on four felonies this past June.
According to this indictment, some of the charges stemmed from an incident that happened here at Sun Valley Elementary and its polling place. The chief inspector at the polling place told me, that Councilwoman Scales walked up to several people asking them, how they were voting.
After several attempts to get an interview with her all of which she declined we tried to talk to Scales at city hall about the details in the indictment.
District One Councilwoman Lashunda Scales said, "I don't, no ma'am, I'm focused on my district... Linda asks: "One last chance."
As you just saw, she had no comment. Although Scales wouldn't talk to me while the camera was rolling, she had plenty to say to me on the telephone but it was all off the record.
But, in our investigation, we discovered Scales was asking voters about the Birmingham Bond issues that included improvements for sewer, parks, sidewalks and other issues, here at Sun Valley Elementary October 9th, 2012 - which is also her polling place.
Chief Voting Inspector Anthony Adams told me Scales was asked three or four times to stop what he called "politicking inside the building", he said he also told her that quote, "she knew better".
Scales' plea bargained those charges to a misdemeanor and she was placed on probation.
Despite the guilty plea - can she still hold office?
According to state law, a misdemeanor conviction does not disqualify anyone from political office.
And, Birmingham's Mayor-Council Act says, "If a councilman ... shall be convicted of [a] crime involving moral turpitude, his office shall immediately become vacant."
Merriam-Webster's definition of moral turpitude is "an act or behavior that gravely violates the moral sentiment or accepted moral standards of the community."
Who decides when moral turpitude has been violated? According to Birmingham's city clerk - a judge would have to quote, "render that decision."
Although Scales would not talk about the details in the indictment, she did have this to say, right after the plea deal.
Scales, June 2013, said, "There may have been times when I was overly zealous, trying to get something accomplished, but I have not intentionally engaged in criminal activity for professional or personal gain."
Scales went on to say she would continue to work hard to maintain the trust of the citizens of Birmingham.
One of Scales' opponents in the District One Birmingham City Council race is Pat Davis, a former Alabama Representative who was convicted of four felonies involving extortion in 1995 described in the court case as "cash for votes." She served 5 years in federal prison. We left several messages for her but our calls were not returned.
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