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Your ballot, but not theirs

A number of office seekers haven’t been leading by example. Almost a third in Pinellas have missed a primary or general election since 1996.  

By AARON SHAROCKMAN
Published August 8, 2006


Marti Folwell was in a car accident. Leonard Dramesi was traveling cross country. LeAnne Lake had back surgery.

Rod Jones was biking around the world.

Whatever the excuse, they didn’t vote.

Now they want your vote.

Folwell, Dramesi, Lake and Jones are just some of the candidates in this fall’s elections who at some point over the last decade decided not to vote themselves.

In fact, of Pinellas County’s 80 candidates this year, 32 (40 percent) missed a primary or general election vote since 1996, according to a survey of Pinellas County supervisor of elections voting records.

Nine candidates missed a vote in a fall presidential election.

Each candidate who spoke to the Times said there was a perfectly reasonable explanation.

Marti Folwell, who is running for the School Board, was in a minor car accident while driving through Pennsylvania, she said, and didn’t make it back to Florida in time for the 2004 presidential election. “I was trying diligently to get there to vote,” Folwell said.

Leonard Dramesi, a Democrat running for the Pinellas County Commission, said he was traveling in a motor home with his wife and was not around to vote in the 2004 election.

“We weren’t available to vote,” said Dramesi, who is running against incumbent John Morroni. “Just weren’t around.”

LeAnne Lake, running for circuit judge, missed more votes than any other candidate running for office, according to the Times analysis of Pinellas voting records. She skipped the 1996 presidential election, as well as the 1998 and 2002 statewide elections. She also missed primary votes in 2002, 2000 and 1996.

Lake said she had reconstructive back surgery in 1996 and was ill and undergoing treatment in Atlanta in 2002.
Other candidates’ explanations:

- Charlie Gerdes, a Democrat running for state House in District 53, said he was working in Chicago when he missed a vote in the 2000 presidential election. He also missed the 1998 general election.

- Minetha Morris, who missed votes in 2000 and 2002 and this year is a candidate for Pinellas County School Board, said she went to the wrong precinct and was unable to vote in 2000.

- Carl Neumann, who also is running for Pinellas County School Board, said he got to his polling place too late in 2002. “I was so upset,” Neumann said. “Voting is important to me.”

- Ken Peluso, who is running for state House in District 48 in north Pinellas County, remembers holding signs for Jeb Bush on Election Day in 1998 and questions the record that shows he did not vote that year. “I don’t agree with the supervisor’s data,” Peluso said.

What’s an appropriate excuse? Some say there’s no excuse for not voting. Absentee and early voting makes the election last a month or more. And candidates and the major parties will all but push you into the voting booth on Election Day, whether you need a ride or just a reminder that it’s voting day.

Rod Jones, a Republican running in state House District 54 and the son of current state Sen. Dennis Jones, failed to vote in the tantalizingly close presidential election of 2000, according to voting records.

Jones, a chiropractor and a triathlete, was biking around the world with his wife in 2000. Jones said Tuesday he was somewhere around Singapore in November 2000, though he believes he filled out an absentee ballot.“Basically, voting in our family is like blood flow,” Jones said. “It’s vital.”

The worldwide trip helped cement Jones’ nickname: “Ramblin’ Rod.” The 17,545-mile trip even is referenced in his campaign biography.

It fails to mention that he did not vote.

Aaron Sharockman can be reached at (727) 892-2273 or asharockman@sptimes.com.

[Last modified August 8, 2006, 21:54:52]


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