By JORDAN COHEN
Supporters of Jim Traficant said they don’t accept a ruling Tuesday that the ex-congressman lacked enough valid petition signatures to run for his old seat in November and have vowed to file an appeal.
“It’s not over,” said a visibly angry Linda Kovachik of Boardman, Traficant’s campaign coordinator, after the Trumbull County Board of Elections ruling eliminated him from competing on the ballot for the seat now held by U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Niles. Supporters vowed to review every disqualified signature in advance of an appeal.
“Mr. Traficant needed 2,199 signatures, but only 2,092 were valid, so he is 107 signatures short of the required amount,” said Kelly Pallante, board of elections director, during a board meeting Tuesday. Pallante advised Kovachik that any appeal should be filed in writing “as soon as possible.”
Board officials said a number of signatures were thrown out because the addresses are outside the 17th Congressional District. She said others were disqualified because their addresses did not match those in board of elections records. Officials speculated that some of those residents may have moved within the district but failed to update their addresses with the board.
Traficant submitted petitions with 3,138 signatures from the district’s four counties—Trumbull, Mahoning, Portage and Summit—for his bid for an independent run but boards of election in each county found many to be invalid.
Pallante said of 1,931 names on the Trumbull petitions, 489 signatures were invalid. In Mahoning County, 471 signatures out of 1,074 were disqualified, while in Portage and Summit counties, 86 signatures were ruled invalid out of 133 names on the petitions in the two counties.
The total number of disqualified signatures in the four counties was 1,046 or 33 percent of all the names turned in by the Traficant campaign.
Traficant, who lives in the 6th District in Poland, did not attend the board meeting and could not be reached to comment.
“We heard he would not get on the ballot ... and now I can see that what was said was done,” Kovachik said. Asked after the meeting if she was alleging a conspiracy, Kovachik said she was not.
“Nothing was done underhanded,” responded Christ Michelakis, Trumbull elections chairman.
However Rick Berger of Boardman, another Traficant supporter who is a Democratic precinct committeeman, pointed the finger at Mahoning Democratic Chairman David Betras, whom he alleged was behind the effort to keep Traficant off the ballot.
“[Betras] hates Traficant , and he hates me,” said Berger, wearing a Traficant jersey.
“His accusations are ridiculous, slanderous and laughable,” Betras responded.
The party chairman denied having conversations with anyone on the Mahoning County Board of Elections about Traficant’s campaign until he found out the ex-congressman did not appear to have accumulated enough signatures to get on the ballot.
Meanwhile, the man who succeeded Traficant as 17th District congressman said Tuesday’s ruling will not impact how he runs his re-election campaign.
“We’ve done a good job of staying focused regardless of the sideshows going on,” Ryan said.
Traficant served for 17 years in Congress, but was expelled in 2002 after being convicted of bribery, racketeering, filing false income taxes and obstruction of justice. He served more than seven years in federal prison and was released last September.
Even though Traficant has been disqualified from the ballot, he could still run in November as a write-in candidate for Congress because it is a federal office.
Kevin Kidder, a spokesman for the Ohio secretary of state, originally told The Vindicator in a story published Saturday, that an independent candidate cannot run in November if disqualified for not having enough valid signatures.
On Tuesday, Kidder said that state law only prohibits such filings for candidates for state or county office, he said.
“As far as we’re concerned, there’s nothing that would keep someone who filed to run for federal office, as Mr. Traficant did, from filing as a write-in as well,” Kidder said.