By ED RUNYAN
Two members of Jim Traficant’s election committee submitted a letter to the Trumbull County Board of Elections on Thursday, asking election boards in Mahoning, Trumbull, Portage and Summit counties to review petitions Traficant submitted for his 17th Congressional District candidacy.
The five-page appeal letter says the elections boards improperly invalidated 250 signatures, including 134 in Mahoning County and 88 in Trumbull County.
Ex-U.S. Rep. Traficant’s bid to get on the ballot as an independent candidate was ruled to be 107 signatures short of qualification early this month, but based on mistakes found in Mahoning, Summit and Portage counties in recent days, that number is now down to about 55.
In all, 489 signatures were deemed invalid on Trumbull County petitions, and 471 in Mahoning County.
The letter says “vastly overly stringent standards” for petition signatures were used by the elections boards. The letter doesn’t say specifically in most cases why the signatures should be valid.
But Werner Lange, a committee member, said most of the signatures they want to be ruled valid are in Trumbull and Mahoning counties and they were disqualified because they are not “identical” to the person’s registration card.
“They demand an exact match. There are scores of those” that are not exact matches, Lange said.
Kelly Pallante, Trumbull elections board director, said there are always a lot of signatures disqualified each election because the signer printed his or her name instead of signing it in cursive.
“Every citizen who put their name on this petition, whether signed or printed, did so with the clear intent of putting the name of James Traficant on the ballot,” the Traficant campaign’s letter said.
Joyce Kale Pesta, deputy director of the Mahoning County Board of Elections, said Thursday the board has determined that its counting of voters in the 2006 gubernatorial race was 1,531 too high.
Since Traficant needed a number of signatures equal to 1 percent of that vote, Traficant needed 15 fewer valid signatures than originally thought, Kale-Pesta said.
The Mahoning elections board also determined that five invalid signatures were actually valid, she said.
Pallante, meanwhile, said the elections board in Summit County notified her that it had originally calculated 2,961 too many voters in the 2006 election, meaning Traficant needed 30 fewer signatures than before.
And Portage County reported to Pallante that it had counted 26 too many voters, meaning Traficant needed about three fewer signatures.
Trumbull had found no mistakes, Pallante said.
Traficant was convicted of taking bribes, filing false tax returns, racketeering, and was released from prison last year after a seven-year sentence.
Linda Kovachik, a former Traficant aide when he was a congressman and a committee member now, said Traficant feels that his petitions being ruled invalid is “unjust,” but he doesn’t want to comment right now. Traficant was not present when Lange and Kovachik arrived at the Trumbull elections board Thursday.
“The mild interpretation is that it is human error, but closer to the truth is that there is intentional suppression of the will of the people,” Lange said of the mistakes uncovered so far and issues raised in the letter.
Lange said elections boards are run by Democrats and Republicans, which means a non-party candidate like Traficant is more likely to be mistreated.
David Betras, Mahoning County Democratic Party chairman, said he has used his “bully pulpit” as party chairman to ask the elections board to treat Traficant fairly.
“There are rules that have to be applied to everybody,” Betras said. The Mahoning elections board was “not more stringent than they were for everybody else.”
Pallante said the Trumbull elections board will likely meet next week to discuss the Traficant committee’s letter. The Trumbull board might then send the petitions back to the three other elections boards for review.