On Saturday, Markeita and Misskeith Prevost, sisters who are running for a pair of seats in the Louisiana House of Representatives, will head to their polling places and, presumably, select their own names from among the hopefuls.
It will be a big moment for them, given that it’s the first time either of the young sisters has run for office — and also because it will be the first time that either of them has voted.
The duo’s voteless history has emerged as a point of contention in 97th and 99th District House races. One of their election opponents accuses them of more or less jumping into politics on a whim.
But they aren’t the only candidates running for state office on Saturday who have been less than consistent about showing up to do their civic duty on election day.
The New Orleans Advocate requested public voting records for 75 legislative candidates seeking to represent the New Orleans area. As it turns out, every other candidate has voted at least once, but eight candidates in addition to the Prevosts have voted on less than half the occasions they could have since 2008.
Ed Chervenak, a political scientist at the University of New Orleans, said the skipped votes raise legitimate questions about whether certain candidates are committed to the public good.
“They seem to be disconnected, and then all of a sudden, they are jumping into the political arena as candidates,” he said. “You’ve got to question, why are you getting involved at this level when you weren’t involved at the most basic level?”
Jimmy Harris, an attorney competing with Markeita Prevost for the 99th District seat, agrees. “We have to make sure that we take voting seriously,” said Harris, who has voted in 22 of 28 elections in the past seven years. “And in order to ask for a vote, we have to vote ourselves.”
What the data show
At the newspaper’s request, the Secretary of State’s Office provided voting records for candidates running in Orleans, Jefferson, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. John the Baptist, St. Charles and St. Tammany parishes, going back to elections from 2008. There were fairly complete records for 71 candidates.
The number of times a candidate had an opportunity to vote varied because of special elections in one parish or another. Some candidates could have gone to the polls as many as 30 times over seven years, some fewer.
There were some minor holes in the data. Senate candidate R. Erich Caulfield, for instance, lived out of state for a stretch of the period in question. And several House candidates moved from one parish to another, making their records harder to track down.
Still, the available records were illuminating.
Most candidates voted most of the time. The group of steady voters includes 33 incumbents seeking re-election — including a few who won automatically when no one else signed up to run — and 26 challengers.
Mirroring broader turnout trends, nearly every candidate voted in the 2008 and 2012 U.S. presidential elections. Most candidates — 65 of the 72 with available records — voted in the 2011 Louisiana gubernatorial and statewide elections.
Among those who sat out the gubernatorial contest were Ray Crawford — also running in the 99th District seat against Markeita Prevost — Roy A. Glapion, Anthony Ibert, Willie Jones Jr. and Charles Nassauer.
Crawford, Ibert and Glapion also turned up on the list of candidates who voted less than half the time, which also includes Gary Carter Jr., Chris Delpit, Rodney Lyons Sr., Joseph Swider and Rep. Ebony Woodruff, D-Harvey, the only sitting lawmaker who fell into that category.
Why they stayed home
The Prevosts and others with similarly lackluster turnout argued that they should not be defined solely by their voting records.
Both sisters said they simply have not been inspired by past names on the ballot. In a joint statement, they said, “We have not previously voted because there has not been a candidate that represented and holds the best interests of the youth and young adults.”
Crawford, a New Orleans pastor who has shown up to the polls about 33 percent of the time, said he has missed some votes because his home was damaged by Hurricane Katrina and his family ended up living in Alabama until 2012. Crawford said he didn’t fill out absentee ballots because he wasn’t sure if he would return to the city.
He also argued that many black voters such as himself have been turned off of voting by the quality of local politicians.
“What has happened is our black elected officials have threw us to the curb,” he said. “And people are frustrated, and they say, ‘Why even vote?’ ”
Glapion, an infrequent voter running for the Senate District 7 seat, said he does not believe he has skipped elections as often as state records showed — 15 no-shows in 27 elections — though he acknowledged that he may have missed votes while out of town.
Other candidates who have infrequently voted, such as Carter, Ibert and Swider, said they were surprised to learn of their record.
“I may have missed some along the way, but that’s no excuse,” said Carter, who has voted 44 percent of the time and who wants to represent House District 102. “There’s power in voting.”
Swider, a psychiatrist who has voted 30 percent of the time and who wants the Senate District 4 seat, said he works long hours, often on Saturdays.
Ibert, another House District 102 hopeful who has voted almost half the time, said he has skipped elections when he hasn’t been enthused about the ballot.
Some candidates also pointed out other ways they have shown civic participation. The Prevosts said they’ve served the community by creating jobs; they each own temporary staffing agencies that employ about 10 people. Glapion touted time spent with the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission, which he chairs, as well as the Bureau of Governmental Research and other organizations. Carter, too, mentioned his volunteer work around education and with the nonprofit Project Lazarus.
All that aside, voting, at a minimum, does gauge one’s level of engagement, Chervenak said.
He acknowledged that there are plenty of voters who are discouraged by how elected officials behave, but he doesn’t buy it as an excuse to sit things out. “The only way that you are going to get those people out of office is to vote,” he said.
For anyone who agrees, the primary election is Saturday. The runoff is Nov. 21.
Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.
|Voted what percentage of the time since 2008?||Voted in presidential elections? (Nov. 4, 2008, Nov. 6, 2012)||Voted in last governor's, legislative race? (Oct. 22, 2011)|
|*Jerry "Truck" Gisclair, D||100||Yes (both)||Yes|
|*Gregory A. Miller, R||87||Yes (both)||Yes|
|*Randal Gaines, D||61||yes (both)||Yes|
|*Scott M. Simon, R||72||Yes (both)||Yes|
|Malinda Brumfield White, D||58||Yes (both)||Yes|
|Charles A."Chuck" Nassauer, D||54||Yes (both)||No|
|*Joseph Kevin Pearson, R||88||Yes (both)||Yes|
|*John M. Schroder, R||83||Yes (both)||yes|
|*Michael "Kirk" Talbot, R||93||Yes (both)||Yes|
|*Julie S. Stokes, R||82||Yes (both)||Yes|
|*Joseph Lopinto III, R||93||Yes (both)||Yes|
|Lester A. Mclin, Jr., R||64||Yes (both)||Yes|
|*Clay John Schexnayder, R||58||Yes (both)||Yes|
|*John (J.) Cameron Henry, R||88||Yes (both)||Yes|
|*Robert E. Billiot, Sr., D||93||Yes (both)||Yes|
|Kyle Mark Green, Jr, D||50||Yes (both)||Yes|
|*John Patrick Connick, R||83||Yes (both)||Yes|
|*Bryan J. Adams, R||50||Yes (both)||Yes|
|Rodney Lyons Sr., D||42||Yes (both)||Yes|
|*Ebony Woodruff, D||39||Yes (both)||Yes|
|Reid Falconer, R||92||Yes (both)||Yes|
|Eugene "Pat" Phillips, R||75||Yes (both)||Yes|
|*George Gregory "Greg" Cromer, R||83||Yes (both)||Yes|
|*Walter "Walt" Leger III, D||96||Yes (both)||Yes|
|*"Tom" Willmott, R||96||Yes (both)||Yes|
|*Helena Moreno, D||83||Yes (both)||Yes|
|*Nicholas Joseph "Nick" Lorusso, R||93||Yes (both)||Yes|
|Stephanie Hilferty, R||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|*Joseph "Joe" Bouie, D||71||Yes (both)||Yes|
|Misskeith Prevost, D||0||No||No|
|*Neil Abramson, D||93||Yes (both)||Yes|
|James "Jimmy" Harris, D||79||Yes (both)||Yes|
|Ray Crawford, D||33||Yes (both)||No|
|Markeita Prevost, D||0||No||No|
|Alicia Plummer Clivens, D||85||Yes (both)||Yes|
|Willie L. Jones, Jr., D||79||Yes (both)||No|
|John Bagneris, D||67||Yes (both)||Yes|
|Shawn Lockett, D||56||Yes (both)||Yes|
|Kenneth P. Garrett Sr., D||93||Yes (both)||Yes|
|Lourdes Moran, D||89||Yes (both)||Yes|
|Charles Joseph "Skip" Gallagher, D||52||Yes (both)||Yes|
|Anthony Ibert, D||48||Yes (both)||No|
|Gary Carter Jr., D||44||Yes (both)||Yes|
|Kenneth Jerome Cutno, D||N/A||Yes (2012), N/A (2008)||N/A|
|George Cavignac, R||86||Yes (both)||Yes|
|*Raymond Edward "Ray" Garofalo, R||71||Yes (both)||Yes|
|Leola Anderson, D||52||Yes (both)||Yes|
|Casey Hunnicutt, D||N/A||Yes (2012), N/A (2008)||Yes|
|*Paul Hollis, R||83||Yes (both)||Yes|
|*Christopher J. "Chris" Leopold, R||100||Yes (both)||Yes|
|Alexis Catherine Billiot, D||75||Yes (both)||Yes|
|Matthew Peter Schneider III, R||82||Yes (both)||Yes|
|Sharon Hewitt, R||63||Yes (both)||Yes|
|Eric Weil, N||72||Yes (both)||Yes|
|*Troy E. Brown, D||67||Yes (both)||Yes|
|Heurlin "Chris" Delpit, D||44||Yes (both)||Yes|
|*"J.P." Morrell, D||75||Yes (both)||Yes|
|Wesley T. Bishop, D||82||Yes (both)||Yes|
|Joe Swider, D||30||Yes (both)||Yes|
|R. Erich Caulfield, D||N/A||Yes (2012)||N/A|
|*Karen Carter Peterson, D||90||Yes (both)||Yes|
|Jeffery Arnold, D||81||Yes (2008), No (2012)||Yes|
|Leslie Ellison, D||81||Yes (both)||Yes|
|Troy A. Carter, Sr., D||56||Yes (both)||Yes|
|Roy A. Glapion, D||44||Yes (both)||No|
|*John A. Alario Jr., R||81||Yes (both)||Yes|
|*Conrad H. Appel III, R||92||Yes (both)||Yes|
|John LaBruzzo, R||65||Yes (2008), N/A (2012)||Yes|
|*Daniel R. "Danny" Martiny, R||82||Yes (both)||Yes|
|*John "Jack" Donahue, R||91||Yes (both)||yes|