By DAVID SKOLNICK
Jim Traficant’s name will be on the November ballot as an independent candidate for the 17th Congressional District seat — something the former congressman didn’t think could happen.
“He told me, ‘I don’t think we’ll get on the ballot,’” said Linda Kovachik of Boardman, a Traficant campaign adviser and his longtime friend. “Jim Traficant believes the system is against him.”
Though Traficant “was in doubt” about being eligible, “he’ll be pleased with the outcome,” Kovachik said.
Since The Vindicator first reported July 3 that Traficant’s eligibility — because of a possible lack of valid signatures on his nominating petitions — was in danger, the ex-congressman/ex-convict has let Kovachik and other members of his election committee do the talking while he largely stayed in the background.
Traficant didn’t attend Monday’s meeting of the Mahoning County Board of Elections. He is on vacation, Kovachik said.
At the meeting, the board ruled that 31 signatures on Traficant’s nominating petitions were valid — 11 more than he needed to qualify as an independent candidate.
The formal decision to put his name on the ballot will come Wednesday when the Trumbull County Board of Elections officially certifies his petitions.
Traficant had initially fallen 107 signatures short of qualifying as a candidate.
But thanks to the efforts of Kovachik and Werner Lange of Newton Falls, two longtime Traficant friends, who pointed out errors in the number of signatures the ex-congressman needed as well as having elections boards in the 17th District reconsider the validity of other signatures, Traficant will be on the November ballot.
The two, with the help of a handful of others, obtained affidavits from some voters who stated they signed Traficant’s petitions.
With the 31 additional signatures certified Monday, Traficant has 2,154 valid signatures.
Traficant submitted petitions with 3,138 signatures, but elections boards in the 17th District — Trumbull, Mahoning, Portage and Summit — only found 2,092 to be valid. Also, because of confusion among the elections boards, it was believed Traficant needed 2,199 valid signatures to get on the ballot.
The amount of signatures needed for an independent candidate to run for Congress is 1 percent of the district’s total vote in the most recent gubernatorial election.
Traficant’s supporters filed an appeal saying some valid signatures weren’t counted and the 2,199 figure was too high.
It turns out Traficant needed 2,154 signatures and he had 2,123 after another recount by the boards of elections.
Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner ordered the Mahoning County board to have a meeting with Traficant supporters on the signatures its employees had ruled invalid. That meeting was Friday, with the elections board ruling Monday that 31 signatures should be counted.
About 14 of the signatures approved Monday were disqualified originally because of partially printed signatures or illegible signatures.
Some mistakes were made by election employees, but the board used a lot of leeway in allowing some signatures to be considered eligible that were disqualified before, said Thomas McCabe, the board’s director.
In allowing partially printed and/or illegible signatures to be counted — primarily because the district’s three other county boards permitted them to be counted — the Mahoning board has gone against its long-standing rules, he said.
Kovachik said she “wonders” if elections officials purposely ruled signatures invalid to keep Traficant off the ballot.
Also, Rick Berger of Beaver Township, a Traficant supporter, said “something smells” with how the signatures were counted by the Mahoning board.
McCabe and Mark Munroe, the board’s vice chairman and Mahoning County Republican Party chairman, strongly objected to the accusation.
But all agreed they’d never seen anything like this in politics.
Mahoning County Democratic Chairman David Betras sent a letter Monday to Brunner urging her office to investigate the board of elections, writing that “I and many others in our community have serious concerns about the manner in which this critically important entity conducts business and discharges its duties.”
Betras wrote that “recurring mistakes, missteps and miscues undermine the public’s trust and confidence in our electoral system.”
Betras wants Brunner’s office to investigate the board’s “processes and procedures” and “take any action you may deem appropriate.”
The board welcomes an investigation, Munroe and McCabe said.
“We’re not perfect and mistakes can happen,” Munroe said.
Kevin Kidder, Brunner’s spokesman, said if an investigation is to be done, it would be handled by the board of elections, and not the secretary of state.