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ACLU plans an appeal on special election decision



Published: Tue, August 20, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The judge agreed that anyone elected in the old 17th district might never cast a vote in Congress.

By JEFF ORTEGA

and DAVID SKOLNICK

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITERS

COLUMBUS -- The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio is vowing to appeal a federal court decision upholding Gov. Bob Taft's decision not to call a special election to fill the remaining months of former U.S. Rep. James Traficant's two-year term.

U.S. District Judge Edmund A. Sargus Jr. declined Monday to issue a court order directing the state to call an election.

Judge Sargus sided with the state, which argued that a special election would be confusing and that there's a possibility that a person elected wouldn't have a chance to vote in the remaining 41/2 months left on Traficant's unexpired term.

Raymond Vasvari, legal director of the ACLU of Ohio, which filed the suit, plans to appeal the decision to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.

Traficant was expelled from the House of Representatives in July for ethics violations stemming from the Mahoning County Democrat's conviction on bribery, racketeering and corruption charges.

Traficant, who is running this year as an independent, was sentenced to eight years in federal prison.

Taft, a Republican, decided not to call for a special election in the old congressional district, which takes in Mahoning, Columbiana and portions of Trumbull counties, citing the potential $800,000 cost to hold both a special primary and special general election.

New 17th District

Taft also cited the potential confusion for residents voting under the old congressional lines and also deciding contests in the new congressional districts. Taft added that anyone chosen might only serve a few weeks.

The new 17th District, which takes effect Jan. 1, covers portions of Trumbull, Mahoning, Portage and Summit counties.

"The issue here is not one of cost," Judge Sargus said, noting that the issue was protecting the integrity of the elections process.

As part of his reasoning, the judge mentioned the potential difficulty of securing voting locations, the declining interest among voters generally when there are few items on a ballot and the possibility that a person seated for the remaining months might never cast a vote.

The U.S. House recessed in late July and was scheduled to return Sept. 4 and remain in session until early October. Congress is expected to hold a lame-duck session after the Nov. 5 general election, according to Congressional Quarterly.

The ACLU says the U.S. and state constitutions and state law require the governor to call a special election to fill a vacant congressional seat. The ACLU acknowledged the state's argument that the governor has discretion as to the date and manner of elections.

Decision supported

Attorneys representing Taft said they were pleased at the decision, noting that "the court realized all the hard work that the governor put into making this difficult decision," said Arthur J. Marziale Jr., deputy chief counsel for the state attorney general's office.

State Sen. Timothy J. Ryan of Niles, the Democratic candidate in the new 17th District, said Sargus' decision was acceptable to him.

State Rep. Ann Womer Benjamin of Aurora, the Republican candidate in the new 17th District, did not favor a special election.

"Across party lines, people in the [Mahoning] Valley didn't want to be forced to spend dollars on a special election" to name a member of Congress who would serve for such a short time, said David All, Womer Benjamin's campaign manager.

Neither Traficant nor Warren Davis of Akron, both running as independents in the new 17th District, could be reached to comment Monday.




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