Did Cassius Lanier Qualify to Run for District 7’s Council Seat?
The 2021 Tuscaloosa municipal election saw most incumbents re-elected by healthy margins, including Mayor Walt Maddox, who was re-elected to serve a fifth term. However, one of the most intense races ended with District 7 incumbent Sonya McKinstry losing by a margin of 25 votes to opponent Cassius Lanier: 749 to 724.
McKinstry has since filed two separate cases against Lanier through the Tuscaloosa Circuit Court, claiming that since Lanier has not been pardoned for his four felony convictions between the years of 1997 and 2008, this should bar him from holding public office.
The first docket was filed just after the election results, putting Lanier's eligibility to run into question. It asked that if Lanier was declared the winner when the election was certified, McKinstry should outright be declared the rightful winner. The second docket was in response to the certification, and asked to disqualify him from holding public office, should he not obtain pardons for his previous convictions.
A felony conviction bars someone from being able to vote. However, Lanier has said before that his voting rights were restored back in 2017. The State of Alabama outlines that voting rights can be restored if a person has completed their sentence, probation or parole, and their conviction did not include impeachment, murder, rape, sexual abuse or related sexual crimes.
However, the suit states that the issue is with Lanier qualifying to run against McKinstry.
"Cassius Marcellous Lanier has not obtained a pardon from the State of Alabama for any of the said crimes," the file states. "The Contestee is disqualified from holding public office... because on the date of the election, March 2, 2021, he had not obtained a pardon from the State of Alabama for any of his said convictions."
In order to be able to take office, Lanier must present a certificate of election eligibility to run from the state by May 17 when the new council is instated. The question is: is it possible for Lanier to qualify for a pardon?
According to state law, a person can be considered for a pardon if they have either completed their sentence or served three years on parole for any offense.
“The other thing that is required for someone in his position in order to make sure that they can hold public office is to obtain a certificate of election eligibility that is only provided by the department of pardons and paroles," Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said.
Lanier already passed city guidelines for qualification. Had he not, he would not have been able to run against McKinstry at all. Should he be found unfit to hold office in this suit, the seat would not automatically defer to McKinstry. The seat would go vacant, and the city would call a special election because the next regular election is beyond the normal window to appoint someone themselves.
If Lanier obtains the pardons by the time the council calls for a special election, he would be eligible to run again, as would McKinstry or any other resident of District 7.
This story is developing, so check back with The Tuscaloosa Thread as more information is released.