In refusing to order Gov. Bob Taft to call a special election to fill the vacancy created by the expulsion of James A. Traficant Jr. from the U.S. House of Representatives, federal Judge Edmund A. Sargus has offered an even more poignant argument than the cost, which is what Taft had used: Protecting the integrity of the elections process.
Sargus, who serves in the U.S. District Court in Columbus, based his ruling on the following factors: The potential difficulty that boards of elections would have in securing voting locations; 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 judge also concluded that the governor did not abuse his discretion in deciding not to hold a special election. Last month, Taft said that such an election would be a waste of money given the brief time a replacement for Traficant would serve and could cause confusion among voters.
His decision reflected our position, detailed in an editorial published July 23. Here's what we said: "Even $400,000 is an exorbitant amount to pay for an election in which the winner would serve in the office for about six weeks. The $400,000 figure is what state officials estimate it would cost to hold a special primary in September and a general in November to fill a vacancy in the 17th District congressional seat ... Local officials contend, however, that the cost of having a special election could be as high as $800,000 and that Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties, which make up the current 17th District, cannot afford this non-budgeted item."
Thus we applauded Taft for taking the position that he did and we now applaud Judge Sargus for giving even more substance to the arguments against holding a special election.
Sargus correctly pointed out that with Congress scheduled to recess on Oct. 3, there is a strong likelihood that an individual selected by voters in a special election would never cast a vote.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit to force the governor order a special election, has appealed the judge's decision to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. "The federal command contained in the constitution is that an election be held," Raymond Vasvari, the ACLU's legal director told the Associated Press. "This decision confuses the issue of when to hold an election with whether to hold an election."
Indeed, as we noted in our earlier editorial, there is nothing in the Constitution that says the governor must set a definite date for a special election. Thus, even if Taft were ordered by the courts to call one, he could do so without specifying when the primary and general would be held.
It's time this issue were put to rest. The 17th Congressional District will suffer no addtional damage as a result of not having an interim representative.