They want your vote, but most area politicians seeking office this year skipped voting in elections several times over the past 10 years, and a handful cast ballots in fewer than half the opportunities they had.
The Augusta Chronicle analyzed voting records of all the candidates who qualified for office this year, comparing the number of times they voted since 2002 with the number of opportunities they had, based on their address at the time.
Three Augusta-area legislators, two Augusta Circuit Superior Court judges and a Superior Court judge hopeful were among the 41 politicians analyzed, with (in order) Jesse Stone, Barbara Sims, Lee Anderson, Michael Annis, Danny Craig and Willie Saunders coming in at 100 percent.
“I can’t imagine not voting in an election,” said Craig, a Superior Court judge and former district attorney who the records showed voted in all his 34 opportunities. “Unquestionably the highest duty a citizen owes is to participate in the election process, and the second-highest duty is to be willing to serve on a jury.”
Among those who didn’t participate fully in the election process were the five men seeking to replace retiring Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength, a couple of whom had some of the lowest voting percentages in the analysis.
Democratic candidate and longtime Deputy John Ivey had the highest rate among the sheriff’s candidates, voting in 82 percent of 33 elections for which he was eligible. Freddie Sanders, a lawyer and former sheriff’s deputy who also served as Richmond County police chief from 1983 to 1985, followed, voting in 64 percent of 28 elections.
Next in line were sheriff’s Lt. Robbie Silas, who cast a ballot in 16 of 28 elections, a 57 percent clip, and Capt. Scott Peebles, who voted in 14 of 25 elections, or 56 percent.
“In law enforcement, especially what I was doing, it’s hit or miss,” Peebles said. “I know there were times when I intended to vote, but I didn’t because of something that happened, or I wasn’t educated enough about the race.”
Voting the least were the other two sheriff’s candidates: Richmond County Board of Education Police Chief Richard Roundtree and Michael Godowns, a former road patrol deputy for the sheriff’s office.
Roundtree voted seven times in 18 opportunities, or 39 percent of the time, since registering to vote in Richmond County six years ago, while Godowns has voted only twice in 15 chances since registering to vote in 2006, or 13 percent.
Roundtree offered little explanation for his low participation but said he lived in Columbia County before 2006. Records showed he registered to vote there in 2006 but never voted.
Like Peebles, Godowns said his work as a road patrol officer got in the way. “The hours that I worked, a lot of times it was not feasible that I did that,” he said.
Strength, who voted 73 percent of the time over the past 10 years, was unsympathetic to the law officers’ excuses.
“That’s why they have early voting; that’s why they have absentee ballots,” he said. “The system makes every effort to make sure that people can vote.”
‘It’s serious business’
Voting is the minimal level of political participation that voters should expect from a candidate, said University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock. If a candidate hasn’t voted, “it suggests that in the past you didn’t pay that much attention politically, or that you just didn’t care,” Bullock said.
A lack of previous participation creates suspicion about a candidate’s sudden interest in politics and knowledge of the issues, he said.
Sims, who voted in all 34 chances she had, said she doesn’t take voting for granted.
“I don’t think I have the right to make any kind of judgment on anything unless I take the time and effort to study things and make sure I do what is right,” she said. “The older I get, the more important I realize how every person’s vote is important. It’s serious business with me.”
Stone, a state senator from Waynesboro who also had a 100 percent voting percentage in 25 chances, said his family attempts to cast ballots at every opportunity.
“It’s not something I see as an inconvenience. It’s my duty, and I want to participate in the elections process,” he said.
Superior Court judges had some of the higher voting percentages. Chief Superior Court Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet voted in 32 of 35 chances, or 91 percent. Superior Court Judge Carl C. Brown voted in 28 of 33 chances, or 85 percent.
“Heavy prices have been paid for the right to vote, and our voice should be heard in the process so that we can determine our future and preserve what’s been entrusted to us,” Brown said.
The judge skipped 2005’s special election for the Senate District 22 seat and the general election for Augusta mayor, runoffs in 2004 and 2010, and the March referendums on Sunday alcohol sales and new education sales tax.
Trailing in participation among her peers was Superior Court Judge Sheryl Jolly, who cast a ballot in 53 percent of 30 elections. She did not return a phone call requesting comment.
Among other Augusta legislators, Democratic state Rep. Earnest Smith voted in 88 percent of 32 elections, and Democratic Reps. Quincy Murphy and Wayne Howard each voted in 85 percent of 33 election opportunities they had.
Slightly less frequent at the polls were Sen. Hardie Davis, D-Augusta, at 24 of 31 elections, or 77 percent, and Rep. Gloria Frazier, D-Augusta, voting in 26 of 32 opportunities, or 81 percent.
David Hopper, a 27-year-old college student seeking Smith’s legislative seat, cited work and lack of transportation as one of the reasons he voted in only 12 of 29 elections, or 41 percent, since registering in late 2002.
Hopper said he probably didn’t vote while attending North Georgia College in Dahlonega for two years without a car, or while working as a long-haul truck driver for three years.
One of the wider gaps in voting participation is between the two candidates for probate judge. Candidate Carleton Vaughn voted on 30 of 33 opportunities, or 91 percent, and Harry James voted in 17 of 31 chances, or 55 percent of the time.
James said despite speaking at voter registration rallies on a number of occasions, he sometimes skipped elections when he was certain of their outcome.
“If I feel very strongly that it’s a done deal, I might not get there,” James said.