The Ohio Secretary of State's Office prefers to give the benefit of the doubt on residency to the candidate.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. could quite possibly be permitted to remain in the 17th Congressional District race even if he is sent to a federal prison thousands of miles from Ohio.
"The standard used to determine one's residency for voting purposes is the place one goes when they intend to return home," said James Lee, a spokesman for the Ohio Secretary of State's Office. "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 the congressman 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 actually lives in the newly drawn 6th District.
U.S. District Court Judge Lesley Brooks Wells is to sentence Traficant on July 30. There is no indication as to where she would send Traficant or when. Federal prosecutors have asked her to sentence Traficant to more than seven years in prison.
The initial decision on Traficant's eligibility should he be sentenced to a prison outside Ohio rests with the board of elections in Trumbull County, the most populous county in the newly drawn 17th District, which also includes portions of Mahoning, Portage and Summit counties.
Norma Williams, Trumbull elections director, said there has been no discussion about Traficant's eligibility. The board has permitted candidates whose residency was in question to remain on the ballot if they can prove residency, Williams said. But there has never been a situation involving a federal prisoner, she said.
Lee said he expects the Trumbull board to ask the secretary of state for an opinion on this issue should Traficant be ordered to serve his sentence outside the state. If asked, the Secretary of State's Office would look to its staff elections experts about Traficant's eligibility and have a recommendation after researching Ohio and federal election laws, Lee said.
"Certainly there's a lot of speculation about this issue," he said.
Residency questions regarding candidates often end up in the court system, and this one could head there, Lee said.
Vows to run
Traficant has vowed to continue his independent bid for re-election to the 17th Congressional District seat even if he is sentenced to a federal prison. But Traficant has said he was under the impression that he would remain on the ballot only if he were placed in a federal prison in Ohio.
"My name will appear on the ballot," he said. "I want the public back home to know that they can vote for me. ... I can run. I can operate and function as effectively as any member of Congress from behind bars."
Traficant, a Poland Democrat, is running as an independent for the congressional seat. The other candidates are Democrat Timothy J. Ryan of Niles, Republican Ann Womer Benjamin of Aurora and independent Warren Davis of Akron.