By Ashley Luthern and ED RUNYAN
Jim Traficant tentatively has seven more petition signatures than needed and will be on the ballot Nov. 2 as an independent candidate for Congress in the 17th District.
Mark Munroe, a Mahoning County Board of Elections member, said Friday night that Traficant’s ballot placement is likely to be approved formally by boards of elections in Mahoning and Trumbull counties next week.
Munroe said he asked elections-board staff to meet with Traficant campaign members at 1 p.m. Friday to handle the “leg work” of looking at the evidence presented by the campaign committee before a formal meeting 6 p.m. Monday.
Friday’s meeting would expedite the Monday meeting ordered by Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, he said. Friday’s meeting lasted three hours.
Munroe said Tom McCabe, Mahoning elections board director, and Joyce Kale-Pesta, deputy director, told him Friday that the meeting caused them to validate tentatively 27 signatures that were previously declared invalid. Before Friday, Traficant was 20 signatures short of having enough.
“The voters are going to have a choice,” Munroe said of Traficant being on the ballot, along with incumbent Democrat Tim Ryan of Niles and Republican Jim Graham of Cortland.
“I commend the Traficant supporters for doing the legwork that provided the [elections] boards with what they needed to validate some of these signatures,” Munroe said.
When asked what types of signatures previously ruled invalid were being ruled valid, Munroe said he didn’t know specifically, but some were changed because people whose signatures were in question wrote letters to the board saying they did, indeed, sign the petition.
“Sometimes with some legwork and some research, you can find out who that person is,” Munroe said.
Linda Kovachik, one of two Traficant committee members to attend the Friday meeting, said she and committee member Werner Lange will still ask for additional signatures to be validated on Monday, but they are thrilled that their work has paid off.
“We’re on the ballot. I’m so excited,” Kovachik said. “I may be crazy, but I’m not lazy,” she added.
At noon Friday, Kovachik and Lange held a small “Rally for Justice for Jim” outside the elections board office. The rally attracted 13 supporters.
“We’re here to defend democracy and express the will of the people,” said Lange, adding that those present represented people who signed the petitions but couldn’t attend.
“It was short notice, and it’s on a working day,” he said of attendance.
Traficant himself didn’t show up for the rally and has been largely absent from the public spotlight during the campaign.
“Once he’s on the ballot, he will speak to any reporters that come near him,” Kovachik said.
John Green, director of the University of Akron’s Bliss Institute of Applied Politics, said some scholars describe American politics as being “candidate-centered,” making Traficant’s behavior unusual.
“In most such efforts, the candidate is an integral part. He or she is involved constantly and out front,” Green said.
Traficant’s supporters have taken up the ballot battle, arguing that the Mahoning elections board under-counted valid signatures, such as entries with an illegible signature, but a legible address.
The Trumbull County board will meet at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday to make a final determination on whether Traficant appears on ballots in that county.
“People hate to see Jim Traficant’s name on a ballot,” said Fred Gibson of Youngstown’s South Side. “When they see it they panic. ... It’s up to all of us that we get his name on the ballot.”
Traficant, a longtime Democrat, would not be running under that party’s banner.
“I appreciate that there are people that support Jim Traficant. People have a right to assemble and to try to put forth a candidate or an issue. That’s as American as apple pie or lemonade or hot dogs,” said Atty. David Betras, Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman.
Green said an independent candidate does not have the resources of party backing.
“Running as an independent, the organization has to be built by the candidate. [Traficant is] very well known in northeast Ohio and the Youngstown area, so he may very well have a big following, but really what he has to offer is himself,” Green said.