They want your vote in November, but 90 percent of the people seeking seats on the Augusta Commission and Richmond County Board of Education skipped voting at least once over the past decade.
The Augusta Chronicle analyzed the voting records of the 21 commission and school board candidates who qualified for the 10 seats coming open this year, comparing the number of times each voted since 2002 with the number of opportunities they had.
Only three – District 5 incumbent Commissioner Bill Lockett and school board members Patsy Scott and Helen Michew – made it to the polls every time.
Lockett, retired from careers in the military, U.S. government and board of education, said he was stationed overseas during much of the civil rights era but recalled the sacrifices his parents and others made as a reason to always vote.
“We knew people that lost their jobs because they chose to vote, and there were even people that made the ultimate sacrifice … I don’t want their work to go down in vain,” said Lockett, who – like Scott – is unopposed for re-election and voted in 31 of the 31 opportunities he had.
A strong work ethic also sent him to the polls every time, Lockett added.
“In too many instances we choose not to vote, then complain about the decisions made by elected officials,” he said.
In a June Chronicle report, six of 41 Augusta-area politicians analyzed, including three legislators and three judges, had voting records of 100 percent. The records of commission and school board hopefuls weren’t as exemplary, although seven voted at least 90 percent of the time.
Voting least often was District 3 commission hopeful Mary Fair Davis, who cast a ballot in only 15 of 33 opportunities, or 45 percent.
Davis, who served as Mayor Deke Copenhaver’s campaign manager in 2005 and 2006, was surprised to learn she missed so many, including the 2009 District 3 commission race.
“On the occasions that I may not have voted, I was thinking that I was just one vote and my vote would not make a difference,” Davis said. “Now I know differently. Even if you think your vote doesn’t count, it does, because your vote is your voice.”
Her opponents in November voted more often. Attorney Ed Enoch voted in 26 of 35 elections, or 74 percent, while educator Cleveland O’Steen cast a ballot during 13 of 20 opportunities or 65 percent. O’Steen, who has a master’s degree in political science, didn’t register to vote in Georgia until he moved here in 2006.
“Particularly for people who are asking to govern, it’s reasonable to expect that they’ve been active in participating,” Enoch said, but “voting record isn’t the whole person; you have to look at what they’ve done in the community.”
Super District 9 commission hopeful Harold Jones, who voted in 29 of 31 chances or 94 percent, was shocked to learn he’d skipped any, recalling how he drove home from college to vote rather than voting absentee.
“I actually consider it an honor to vote,” said Jones, a former State Court solicitor who ran for state Senate three years ago. “That’s why I used to come back from school and vote. I enjoyed being in line, and it tells you how far this country has come.”
Jones’ opponent in the District 9 race, former District 2 Commissioner Marion Williams, also voted 94 percent of the time, in 31 of 33 opportunities.
Voting 90 percent of the time were District 1 commission hopeful Stanley Hawes and District 8 school board member Jimmy Atkins, both of whom voted in 28 of the 31 chances they had.
Voting less often was Atkins’ opponent for school board Robert Cheek, who voted in 16 of 31 opportunities (52 percent), the second-least among the group analyzed.
Cheek attributed his absences to a longstanding bowhunting vacation he and a small group take every fall.
“It probably isn’t the best of reasons,” he said. “Like this election now, if people don’t get out and vote, this country is going to be hurting.”
Also at the lower end were District 7 commission hopeful Donnie Smith and District 1 school board hopeful Lucien Williams.
Smith, who voted in 19 of 30 opportunities or 63 percent of the time, pointed to his career as a lieutenant with the Georgia State Patrol, which can call him out of Augusta for weeks with little advance warning.
“If I missed an election, there was a reason for it,” Smith said.
Smith’s opponent for the commission seat, former school board member Ken Echols, voted in 23 of 28 chances, or 82 percent.
Williams, who voted in 20 of 34 elections or 59 percent, said he tried “to vote in the most important ones” but likely missed a few while on vacation.
His opponent for the school board seat, three-term incumbent Marion Barnes, voted in 26 of 34 races, or 76 percent of the time.
In the five-way District 1 commission race, hopeful Bill Fennoy voted in 30 of 34 chances or 88 percent, while Thelonious Jones voted in 25 of 33 elections or 76 percent. Hopeful Denice Traina tied incumbent Matt Aitken in turnout, with each voting in 24 of 33 opportunities, or 73 percent of the time.
District 4 school board member Barbara Pulliam voted in 26 of 32 opportunities or 81 percent of the time.