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Can Traficant stay on ballot?



Published: Tue, August 6, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The ballot doesn't go to print for several weeks.

WARREN -- The Trumbull County Board of Elections will ask for a legal opinion concerning the congressional candidacy of James A. Traficant Jr., now imprisoned out of state.

Lyn Augustine, deputy director, said the board would meet this afternoon, then consult Prosecutor Dennis Watkins about whether Traficant can stay on the ballot. The board also will consult with the Secretary of State's Office, Augustine said.

Augustine said the ballots won't be printed until late this month or early September.

Traficant, an independent candidate for the 17th District, is serving an eight-year sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution at Allenwood in White Deer, Pa. He had requested a prison in Ohio.

Deciding eligibility

The eligibility issue rests with the board of elections of Trumbull County, the most populous county in the reconfigured 17th District. The U.S. Constitution states that a person be an "inhabitant" of the state in which he seeks office.

"If a guy elected in California moves to Washington, D.C., buys a house there, his wife gets a job there and his kids go to school there -- where's his residency?" Youngstown attorney Don L. Hanni Jr. asked. "Obviously, it's Washington. Where's his domicile? California."

Hanni said domicile is the place to which you intend to return. The big issue, Hanni said, is whether the framers of the Constitution meant domicile and inhabitant to be the same thing.

Hanni suggested Traficant's problem is not whether he gets removed from the ballot, but if elected whether he can serve from prison.

Dean Caputo, Traficant spokesman, could not be reached.

Discussing residency

"In my view, I can't imagine a forced change of residency would actually affect the state of [Traficant's] Ohio residency," said Lewis R. Katz, a law professor at Case Western Reserve. He said the move to Pennsylvania was "not a matter of choice."

Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul J. Gains said the question of residency is not cut and dry and would have to be researched. He likened it to someone serving in the military whose "residence" is still here.

Last month, after an ethics subcommittee recommended that the U.S. House of Representatives expel Traficant, the question of residency was put to the Ohio Secretary of State's Office. The House expelled Traficant on July 24.

"The standard used to determine one's residency for voting purposes is the place one goes when they intend to return home," James Lee, a spokesman for the Ohio Secretary of State's Office, said at time. "That's the standard that is generally used."

If Traficant considers his Poland house or any other location in Ohio -- and not a federal prison out of state -- to be his home, it is possible that he could remain on the ballot, Lee said.

The Secretary of State's Office prefers to give the benefit of the doubt regarding residency to the candidate because it allows voters to have more of a choice, Lee said.

State law does not require members of Congress to live in their congressional districts, only somewhere in the state. Traficant's Poland home, where his wife lives, is actually in the newly drawn 6th District.

During a presentence investigation by the U.S. District Court pretrial services, Traficant would not permit a visit to his home and, because of that, his residence was not verified, records show. He was sentenced July 30.




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