Who has been doing their civic duty at the polls and who hasn’t

By Bill Felber

Candidates on next Tuesday’s general election ballot have experiences as varied as voters themselves. Several are regulars at doing what is often characterized as their civic duty, while others have been spotty visitors to the polls on recent election days.

As we have done for the past two decades, The Mercury recently combed through public records to identify how often those seeking our votes actually vote themselves. Our measuring stick is the 10 most recent elections held in Riley County, which for this election encompasses every election held since November of 2006.

Of the 10 candidates in contested races for legislative or county office that have a significant base in the county, four voted in every election for which they were eligible. Those four were the two candidates for the 22nd District Senate, Democrat Tom Hawk and Republican Bob Reader, as well as incumbent Democrat Sydney Carlin in the 66th District House race and incumbent Republican Tom Phillips in the 67th District. (Reader, who lives outside the city limits, was ineligible to vote in the 2007 quality of life bond election, so his official score is nine of nine.)

Two others had nearly perfect scores. Lee Modesitt, Carlin’s Republican opponent, voted in six of the seven elections for which he was eligible. Modesitt was ineligible by age to vote prior to the August 2008 primary, and he missed the 2009 city and school board elections. “Honestly I didn’t give that election the significance that it deserved or needed,” he told The Mercury when asked about that election in 2010. “I had talked to people about it but in the end I was unsure who was running and what platforms they were running on. So I decided I’d rather not vote then to vote blindly just for the sake of voting.”

Democrat Scott Seel, who is seeking the second district seat on the County Commission, voted in nine of the past 10 elections, missing the 2011 school board election. Seel explained that he was living in the Auburn-Washburn school district, which elects school board members by district, and which in 2011 held a low-key election featuring no contests for the available positions. He said he “honestly doesn’t remember” not voting, although the record shows he would have been eligible to cast a ballot in the uncontested at-large race in that school district. Beyond that, his record is spotless.

Other than Seel, all the candidates for the two county commission seats have hit-and-miss voting records.

Generally, they attributed their failures to vote to a combination of not living within the boundaries of the city and the absence of contested school board races. Republican Ron Wells, seeking the third district seat, failed to vote in the 2007, 2009 or 2011 elections in USD 383, two of which featured contested elections. Wells was ineligible to vote in the 2007 quality of life bond issue, giving him a score of six out of nine.

Second district Republican nominee Bob Boyd and third district Democratic nominee Rod Harms both voted in five of the nine elections for which they were eligible (Like Wells, they were ineligible to vote in the 2007 quality of life bond election.) Boyd missed the school board elections as well as the 2006 Kansas primary. Asked about that failure in August, he cited his work as an airline pilot and speculated that he might have been out of town at the time. Harms missed the three school board elections along with the 2008 Kansas primary. He said he was registered as an unaffiliated voter in 2008, and of the school district elections he suggested that “perhaps we were out of town … no excuse.”

Of the 10 candidates, easily the most complex case is that of Democrat Aaron Estabrook, who is challenging Phillips for the 67th District House seat. Formally, the record indicates that Estabrook voted in only two of the past 10 elections, the 2008 general election and the 2012 primary.

Estabrook is a former soldier whose experience includes duty in combat zones that may have made voting a challenge, although even soldiers stationed overseas can vote in local elections if they request ballots. In any event, here is Estabrook’s explanation of the circumstances regarding the eight elections he missed:

“2011 city/school board and 2010 general —  I was stationed at Joint Base Lewis McChord in the state of Washington and although I chose to pay taxes in Kansas and reserve my right to vote in Kansas, I did not vote in 2010 due to re-deployment from Afghanistan. I did not believe I should vote on specific city or school board elections.

“2010 primary —  I had been back from Afghanistan less than a week and spent primary night at the hospital for my daughter’s birth. (I remember watching the results in the recovery room.)

“2009 city/school board — I was stationed at a combat outpost in Kandahar, Afghanistan in a hostile fire zone that was not conducive to voting.

“2008 August primary. I did participate in the (April) presidential caucus.”

“2007 Quality of Life bond issue and 2007 city/school board election — Attending K-State but not registered to vote in Manhattan. 

“2006 general — Attending K-State and did not vote.”

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