Elect 2012: Candidates share voting history
By Sarah Campbell and Karissa Minn
SALISBURY – They want your vote, but over the years have they cast their own?
The Post recently took a look at the voting history of candidates for both the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education and Rowan County Board of Commissioners to find out.
The majority of the candidates have voted regularly in general elections, but primary races received less attention, according to records obtained from the North Carolina Board of Elections. Those records do not date back further than 1992.
School board candidates
Three of the candidates seeking a spot on the school board have scarce voting records available because they have lived outside of Rowan County.
Connie Johnson, who is seeking the Salisbury seat, hasn’t voted any since at least the 2008 election. She said until earlier this year she was traveling back and forth from Salisbury to Chicago for seminary school. She is the only school board candidate who did not vote in this year’s primary.
“I would say between 2009 and 2012 I was kind of overwhelmed … voting was pretty tough to focus on,” she said. “Seminary is no joke, it’s worse than law school, you can’t think of anything else, you’re reading six books a week and if you don’t, you fail.”
Prior to that, Johnson was registered in Mecklenburg County, where she lived for about nine years. She said she voted there regularly.
“I’ve always been very active in politics and concerned about what’s going on not just in my town, but in my state,” she said. “I’m an engaged person, I don’t just sit back and say ‘Well it’s going to happen and that’s just the way it is.’
“I have never missed an election since age 18, except when I was in seminary.”
One of Johnson’s opponents for the Salisbury seat, Quentin Woodward Jr. has voted four times since 2008. That includes including two general elections and two primaries.
Woodward moved back to Salisbury about eight years ago from Columbia, S.C..
He said he voted regularly in South Carolina before returning home.
“I wouldn’t say that I voted in every single election, but I try to get out most definitely for general elections and those elections that I feel like it’s important to get out and cast a ballot for a candidate,” he said. “Voting certainly makes a difference as we saw in the last presidential election.”
Dr. Jim Emerson, who is seeking re-election for the east seat, has voted nine times since 2004, including four general elections, four primaries and one municipal election.
Prior to that, Emerson said he voted in Mecklenburg County where he was a resident.
“I don’t think I’ve missed a presidential election, I might have missed a primary,” he said. “I’ve been very diligent in voting over the years, I think it’s a duty more than anything else.
“Voting and jury duty are probably the only things every citizen can do.”
A Post reporter contacted the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections on Wednesday to obtain Johnson and Emerson’s voting histories during the time they lived there, but an employee said the office doesn’t have the manpower to fulfill such a request.
The importance of primaries
Emerson’s opponent for the east seat, Josh Wagner has voted eight times since 2000. That includes four general elections, two primaries and the second primary held in July.
Although he’s been voting since he became eligible, Wagner didn’t cast a ballot in a primary race until 2010.
“I definitely became more knowledgeable and more informed, my involvement with the local county party gave me a much higher level of understanding, ” he said. “For a long time I don’t think I understood how important the primaries truly were.”
Wagner said as a veteran, voting is especially important to him.
“A lot of folks have sacrificed to give us that ability,” he said.
Bryce Beard, Susan Cox, Chuck Hughes and Dr. Lynn Marsh all have long voting histories.
Beard, who is seeking his third term on the board serving the Salisbury area, has voted 29 times since 1992. He’s participated in 10 general elections, eight primaries, eight municipal elections and three second primaries.
“I think if you don’t vote, you’re not being responsible because it’s the premise on which how we govern,” he said. “We have low voter turnout and to me that just doesn’t make any sense because we actually have more influence voting in the local elections than the national elections.”
Beard said he’s always been a political person, voting in every election that he can remember since he became eligible.
“I enjoy Election Day, I probably spend more time in front of the television that day than any other day of the year,” he said. “For me, it’s similar to the Masters and the Super Bowl.”
Cox, who is seeking the southeast seat, has voted 27 times since 1992. That includes 11 primaries, 10 general elections, four second primaries and two municipal elections.
“I feel that voting is our responsibility, it is a right and a privilege that we have, so I vote every single time,” she said.
Hughes, a candidate for the Salisbury seat, has voted 21 times since 1994, including nine general elections, seven primaries, three second primaries and two municipal elections.
“Voting compromises more than the simple act of casting a ballot. It is the manifestation of the First Amendment clause protecting freedom of speech. The vote is the firewall for all of the other amendments. It is an abrupt reminder to those who enjoy the privilege of public service that we the people are in charge and they serve at our pleasure. As long as we can vote, the constitution and the bill of rights will be preserved, Hughes said.
“As a voter, I do my homework. I do not depend on party or privilege to determine my vote. I am more concerned about what a candidate has done than what he says he will do. I look at where he or she has been before putting faith in where they say the will take me. I care more about what they can do for my country than what they can do for me. More important, if I fail to vote, I fail to have a voice in the debate or to criticize the outcome. And I do cherish the ability to criticize the outcome.”
Marsh, who is challenging Cox for the southeast seat, has voted 18 times since 1992, including 10 general elections, seven primaries and July’s second primary.
Marsh could not be reached for comment.
County commissioner candidates
Of the county commissioner candidates, three have voted regularly in both general elections and primaries.
Craig Pierce, a Republican, has voted in nine general elections since 1992 but only two primaries – one in 2002 and one this past May. He also voted in the July second primary.
He said he didn’t start voting in the partisan primaries until he became active in the local Republican party. Before then, he was registered unaffiliated.
Pierce said he thinks he changed his affiliation in 2006, but at first he was still too busy running his company to get involved at the primary level. The slowdown in the economy has given him more time, he said.
“And to be honest with you, I’m older now,” Pierce said. “I was in my 40s and busy trying to make a living. In my 50s, I’ve got the time and resources to dedicate to doing community service.”
In total, Pierce has voted in 13 elections since 1992, and his registration date is listed as Oct. 1, 1992.
Pierce said he actually first registered as a freshman in college. He lived and voted in Davidson County for a few years before moving to Rowan and changing his registration.
“I consider it an obligation for any citizen or taxpayer who wants to be represented to vote,” he said. “If you want to effect change, you need to do your part to vote in elections for candidates you think best represent your views.”
Since 1998, Republican Mike Caskey has voted in 16 elections. That includes all seven general elections, six primaries and two second primaries.
“I just think lot of people sacrificed lot for us to be able to vote,” Caskey said. “The least I can do is go out there and state my opinion.”
His registration date is listed as July 15, 1998, but Caskey said he registered about five years earlier and voted in two elections before 1998. He said he had been living in Lincoln County at the time.
Ralph Walton, a Democrat, registered to vote on April 6, 1968. Since 1992, he has voted in 22 elections since 1992, including all 10 general elections, nine primaries and two second primaries.
“If you don’t vote, you don’t feel like you have any control of anything,” Walton said. “If you’re a citizen, you should vote, and you should do what you need to do to make sure the government is run like you want it to run.”
Democrat Leda Belk has voted in 25 elections since 1992. That includes all 10 general elections, three primaries and three second primaries.
Belk didn’t participate in the most recent second primary, which included the Democratic runoff race for county commissioner. She said she had intended to vote, but she was out of town because of problems with her husband’s health.
Her registration date is listed as March 3, 1987, but she lived in Mecklenburg County for about 20 years before that. Belk said she registered the first time she could vote at age 21.
“I think more people need to vote,” Belk said. “If everybody votes, whatever happens, it’s truly a reflection of what the people want. That’s why I vote.”
Each of the four county commissioner candidates voted during a municipal election year, which could include city or town elections as well as bond referendums.
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