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Voting habits vary for local primary candidates
Moon says all have experienced voter apathy
Sheri Duke casts her ballot March 6 for a city council representative at the Flowery Branch City Hall. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Find a chart with voting records for all local candidates in Sunday's print edition of The Times, available at retail outlets throughout Northeast Georgia.

They ask you for your vote, but they may not always do so themselves.

Records provided for candidates seeking the support of Hall County voters show that while most voted in at least half of the elections since 1996, not all did.

Martha Zoller, who is running for a new U.S. House seat in Northeast Georgia, can remember the one election of local significance she missed — Aug. 10, 2004 — in 12 years.

Her Republican opponents in the race for Congress, Doug Collins and Roger Fitzpatrick, also have consistent voting marks.

When she headed to work at 7 a.m. that day, Zoller said she decided to wait until later to vote.

“It was one of those days when it was pouring down rain,” Zoller said. “I decided I’d (vote) on the way home, and then I ended up working all day.”

Zoller, a former radio host, said her father drilled into her the importance of voter participation, and took her to register on her 19th birthday.

“If you don’t vote, then why should an elected official listen to you?” Zoller asked.

And when you’re a candidate, failing to vote may mean the same from the voters’ point of view.

Charles Bullock, a political scientist at the University of Georgia, said candidates who need voters to show up at the polls may seem less credible when they did not fulfill that duty in the past.

But it also may make them seem uninformed, Bullock said.

“Voters may also consider that a candidate who has often sat out elections does not have a deep interest in politics,” Bullock said. “That may also prompt a judgment that the candidate’s knowledge about issues is shallow.”

While a candidate’s voting record may not determine how she votes, knowing that a candidate does vote is important to Mary Landry, an organizer with the Lanier Tea Party Patriots.

“It’s important to know that they’re an active part of their community and, in the voting process, that they want to have their voice heard before they’re running to be my voice, whether it’s at the state level or the federal level,” Landry said.

As for a candidate that she knew who didn’t vote in the past, Landry said she’d feel the need to ask why.

Jon P. Strickland, one of five Republican candidates for Hall County sheriff, said he has no excuse for his absence at the polls.

“There’s really no reason, period, for anybody not to vote,” Strickland said.

Strickland was absent from the polls in the 2000 primaries and the general election in 2002. He skipped elections altogether in 1998 and 2004.

“I would say (missing the elections) would be more out of living life, like if something else came up and it got where it wasn’t convenient to go,” Strickland said. “There’s a thousand things you could say, but I’d be lying if I told you I knew the exact reason.”

While he can’t remember what made him miss those elections — he says it could have been anything from working a detail with the Georgia State Patrol to dealing with family issues — Strickland says he began taking part in early voting so he wouldn’t have to worry about Election Day emergencies.

And he said running for office has made him more aware of the importance of voter participation.

“You can have all the money in the world, but if people don’t make that ‘X’ turn green (in the ballot box) then it’s not going to help you any,” Strickland said.

Hall County Commissioner Ashley Bell, who faces Republican opposition from Jeff Stowe in his bid for re-election, says he spends time encouraging young people to register.

Bell has voted in every election since July 2004. Hall County elections records show Bell registered in 2001, but missed voting in the 2002 elections and the 2004 presidential preference primary.

Bell said that gap doesn’t mean he wasn’t voting in 2002. At the time, he was attending law school in Louisiana, and said he voted there.

“I haven’t really missed any elections from where I’ve lived,” Bell said. “I’ve tried to make sure I’ve made them all, and I can only think of maybe once or twice where I’ve missed an election.”

Hall County Elections Superintendent Charlotte Sosebee says it’s possible Bell could have registered in Louisiana without being purged from Hall County’s rolls.

Bell said he takes his civic duty seriously.

“Being an active voter reflects that you’re aware of what’s going on in your community,” Bell said. “It says a lot about the fair-weather mindset of someone who runs for office if they’re not really voting.”

Lisa Maniscalco, who is running for Hall County Probate Judge, has a short voting history with the county.

Maniscalco moved to Hall in 2003 and registered to vote in November 2004.

While records show she was active in the 2006 and 2008 elections, Maniscalco didn’t participate in 2010.

Maniscalco, 42, says it wasn’t until a recent fight with insurance companies that she became more mindful of local and statewide politics.

“You get older and you start getting more interested in things, and you realize how this stuff affects you,” Maniscalco said. “I pay more attention to it now, not only because I’m running for election, but because I should be.”

Eugene Moon, a Republican challenger to Post 2 Commissioner Billy Powell in the July 31 primary, said his dedication to voting became stronger in the last decade.

Moon’s voter history provided by the Elections Office showed he skipped statewide elections in 1998, as well as primaries in 2002, 2004 and 2006.

Moon can’t remember exactly where he was on the days of those elections, saying he traveled on his job a lot at the time. In 2004, he said his family traveled out of town for an emergency.

But Moon also said he’s had a political wake-up call that’s made him more aware.

“The economy was a lot better then; we didn’t have the problems going on in Hall County that we do now,” Moon said. “When times are good, people get lax.”

But Moon said as the economy started to sink into a recession and oil prices began to rise, he started paying attention.

“We all at one point in our life had voter apathy, because we were all consumed with other things that were going on,” Moon said. “But I want everybody to get out and vote. We’re in this situation because of lack of participation.”