Former Ohio U.S. Rep. James Traficant has been disqualified in his bid to return to Congress after seven years in prison because he did not turn in enough valid petition signatures to make the fall ballot, a county elections official said Tuesday.
The colorful Traficant, who represented the Youngstown area of northeast Ohio as a Democrat in Congress for nearly two decades before being convicted in a corruption case, plans to appeal, an adviser said.
The elections board in Trumbull County ruled that more than 1,000 of the 3,138 petition signatures that Traficant turned in were invalid. Signatures were thrown out because signers did not live in the congressional district or were not registered to vote, among other reasons, board director Kelly Pallante said. As a result, Traficant came up 107 signatures short of the number needed to make the ballot, she said.
Traficant, 69, was hoping to run as an independent on his home turf against Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, who once worked for Traficant and beat him when he ran for re-election from prison as an incumbent. Ryan's district covers all or part of four counties; Trumbull County took the lead on reviewing the petitions because it includes the most populous part of the district, Pallante said.
Traficant will appeal the elections board's ruling and seek copies of documentation from the petition verification process, said Linda Kovachik, a former congressional staff member who's advising Traficant on his comeback attempt.
Traficant would have an opportunity to make his case to the elections board in writing if he felt some of the tossed-out signatures should have been validated, Pallante said.
The ex-lawmaker was known in Congress for his distinctive toupee, wild hairstyle, bellbottom pants and one-minute floor speeches punctuated with the Star Trek catch phrase, "Beam me up." He left federal prison in September.