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Counties can't afford special election



Published: Sat, July 20, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The proposed special election could cost as much as $800,000.

By DAVID SKOLNICK

VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties do not have the money to pay for a special election for the 17th Congressional District seat expected to be vacated by the expulsion of U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. from the U.S. House, according to county commissioners.

Gov. Bob Taft recently said that he believes state law compels him to call a special election to fill the vacancy, even for just a few weeks. State officials are researching the law on filling U.S. House vacancies.

The House ethics committee is recommending the House expel Traficant, a Poland Democrat. The House will consider the recommendation to make Traficant only the fifth congressman ever expelled next week.

Cost

While state officials have estimated the cost of a special election -- which would also require a primary -- at $400,000, officials at the boards of elections in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana estimate the cost at about twice that amount.

"We don't have the money for it; our budget is so tight," said Mahoning County Commissioner Ed Reese. "We don't have any contingency for a special election like this."

Mahoning County election board officials estimate the cost of a special primary and general election in their county at $200,000 each.

Commissioner David Cranmer of Columbiana County, which would have to pay about $50,000 each for a special primary and general election there, said his cash-strapped county couldn't afford it.

"It's almost an impossibility on the part of Columbiana County," he said.

The special primary and general election would cost Trumbull County about $136,000 each.

"We absolutely do not have the money," said Trumbull Commissioner Michael O'Brien. "I don't see the point of wasting taxpayers' money. It's just ridiculous. If Gov. Taft says we need a special election, then Gov. Taft should pay for the special election."

Taft said the possibility exists that the state, which is going through a serious budget crunch, could help pay for a special election for the 17th Congressional District.

"There could be an issue as to whether or not the counties can afford to pay," he said.

State law

State law on filling U.S. House vacancies reads: "The governor, upon satisfactory information thereof, shall issue a writ of election directing that a special election be held to fill such vacancy in the territory entitled to fill it on a day specified in the writ."

State law doesn't require a certain time frame for a special primary and general election, which means Taft could set the dates for anytime he chooses, or even theoretically drag his feet and not set dates.

Taft would prefer to have the special primary held before the Nov. 5 general election and hold the special election Nov. 5. That move would cut the cost of the special election in half.

"It's such a waste of taxpayer dollars," said Lyn Augustine, Trumbull elections board deputy director. "By the time we finish the special election, certify the results and swear the person in, it will be about a month that person would serve."

Also, the House is expected to have a very light schedule through the rest of the year, with most of its members spending much of the next few months not in Washington, D.C., but in their districts working on their re-election efforts.

Traficant, who is running for re-election as an independent candidate, would probably seek the position if there was a special election to replace him, said Charles Straub, his spokesman.

Confusion

Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana officials say there would also be mass confusion among voters if there was a special election. That is because the lines for the 17th District will change effective Jan. 1. The current 17th includes Mahoning, nearly all of Columbiana County, and all of Trumbull except its western portion. The new 17th would include portions of Mahoning, Trumbull, Portage and Summit counties.

Those in Columbiana County could see two congressional races on their Nov. 5 ballots -- one for the 6th District, where the county will be located effective next year, and one for the current 17th, where it is now.

"It's going to cause voter confusion," said John Payne, Columbiana County elections board director.

Taft said he wants to see a special election because "the people of the Mahoning Valley would like to have strong, vigorous representation in Washington."

But the 17th District has not been represented in Congress this year; Traficant has not cast a vote in Congress this year.

If Traficant is expelled from the House, his congressional staff would remain in Washington, D.C. until a replacement is elected or he is re-elected.

"I don't know what's going to be resolved by doing this," Cranmer said. "What purpose does it serve?"

skolnick@vindy.com




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