Bar is exceedingly low for filing petitions to run as independent

Independent candidates seeking Youngstown City Council seats have done poorly in general elections for years.

The last one to win was 24 years ago.

While it’s not easy for independents to get elected to Youngstown council, it’s not that difficult to get on the ballot, though you wouldn’t know it from this recent batch of candidates.

All they need to do is get signatures – you only need 25 valid ones – fill out the form, make sure you don’t do anything that would violate your independent status – such as vote in that year’s partisan primary – and you’re a Youngstown council candidate.

Simple, right?

Well, it wasn’t for five candidates who filed as independents and were disqualified by the Mahoning County Board of Elections.

Being a first-time candidate isn’t an excuse, but two of the five were political newcomers.

David Starr was disqualified because he voted early in the Democratic primary and then filed to run as an independent.

The other newcomer not certified was Lee David Pupio in the 5th Ward. His reason for failing to get on the ballot was not enough valid signatures. As I wrote, you need only 25 valid signatures to be an independent candidate for city council.

Pupio filed nominating petitions with 26 signatures. Board of elections employees determined four weren’t valid leaving him with only 22 good signatures. It makes you wonder why Pupio didn’t bother to give himself more wiggle room than one bad signature.

The board ruled Mike Write wasn’t eligible to be an independent candidate in the 1st Ward because he voted in the Democratic primary.

This is almost inexcusable as Write ran in the Democratic primary for the same position four years ago and should know the rules.

Even more bizarre was the rejected candidacies of Cecil Monroe in the 2nd Ward and Ronald Shadd in the 3rd Ward.

Monroe has run, and lost, numerous times for elected city positions and Shadd was elected four years ago to a seat on the city school board.

Both went to the board of elections May 6 with nominating petitions that didn’t list their city council wards. That is required before a candidate can circulate the documents in order to let those who sign them know what they’re actually signing.

After being told of their errors, Monroe filled in the ward number at a board of elections counter and Shadd left with the petitions and returned about 45 minutes to an hour later with the ward on the documents.

Only four of the nine who filed to run as independent candidates will be on the ballot.

The last independent to win a Youngstown council seat was Herman Hill in the 3rd Ward in the November 1995 election and that turned out to be an embarrassing spectacle.

Hill was convicted in December 1997 of theft in office for using a fake receipt to cover up his using a city credit card to withdraw more than $2,400 to buy a computer for his personal use. [Do you remember when personal computers cost that much and that was with dial-up service?]

Hill appealed and appealed and lost and lost and was removed from city council in April 1998. It wouldn’t be until August 2000 that Hill would serve 10 days at a Youngstown halfway house for his crime. His record for that crime was sealed in December 2005.

Since then, independents have filed to run for city council, and the ones certified by the board were all soundly defeated.

In 2007, 13 independents filed to run for council. But only two made the ballot. Three withdrew as candidates while eight were disqualified.

At the time it was a surprise.

It wasn’t uncommon for candidates to run as independents years ago, or even now, though they were actually Democrats or Republicans.

But a September 2006 federal appeals court decision interpreting state election law determined that candidates couldn’t be considered independents if they declared their candidacy and still voted in a party primary election or if they served on a political party’s central or executive committees when they filed nominating petitions.

However, the secretary of state’s opinion wasn’t given until June 2007, a month after that year’s filing deadline for independents.

Seven candidates were disqualified for voting in the Democratic primary that year and one was removed because he was a member of the county Republican central committee.

It should have been a lesson learned for future candidates.

If you’re going to run as an independent candidate, you’d better not vote in the primary – which is a day after the independent filing deadline, though Ohio has early voting – or be a committee member of a political party.

Of the two independent city council candidates that made the ballot in 2007, one received 18.3 percent of the vote and the other got 26.2 percent of the vote in blowout wins for Democrats.

There was only one independent city council candidate in the 2011 election, and he received a mere 28.5 percent of the vote.

In 2015, eight independents filed with two disqualified for voting in the Democratic primary.

Of the other five, all were soundly defeated with Monroe doing the worst in the 2nd Ward with 6.9 percent of the vote. The best was Victoria Allen in the 6th Ward, and she received only 33.4 percent of the vote.