TRAVERSE CITY — The nine people vying for seats on Traverse City’s commission face a legion of important community votes if they’re successful in their quest for office. Their voting records in other local elections suggests a mixed bag of engagement.
The city’s current mayor hasn’t missed a vote on any election issue since 2000, while one commission hopeful managed to make it to the polls just once in the last decade.
A review of voting records of candidates for the city commission shows Mayor Michael Estes maintains a perfect voting record since 2000, while his opponent, Rick Buckhalter, failed to vote in six of 10 elections over the same period.
Voting records obtained from the Grand Traverse County Clerk show many city commission candidates made their way to the polls more consistently on election day over the past eight years than in elections from 2000 to 2004.
Commission candidate John Reid cast the fewest local votes in recent years. Reid, 28, spent six years in the U.S. Coast Guard and voted in the 2008 November general election. He returned to the area in 2011 but doesn’t believe he moved his voter registration back into Grand Traverse County until 2013.
He did not vote in Northwestern Michigan College’s August millage election after he declared as a candidate.
“As a military member being gone 200 days a year, I didn’t feel it was my right to vote without being informed,” Reid said. “It would be a disservice to the people.”
Buckhalter cast his first ballot of the 21st Century at the November 2004 general election. Since then he skipped two August primaries, two presidential primaries, and one school board election.
“I didn’t get politically active until 2004,” Buckhalter said. “I don’t vote in primaries. I don’t belong to a party.”
Presidential primaries require voters to publicly declare a party preference and are not always counted by the political parties when choosing their nominee for president. August primaries do not require political affiliation, and for local races the winners often run unopposed in November.
Two other commission candidates have strong voting records in recent years, but tended to skip elections in the early years of this century. Gary Howe didn’t vote in the last two presidential primaries, but missed just one other election since 2007 — the August primary in 2008. Since November 2002, Howe cast a ballot in 63 percent of the elections.
Howe lived overseas or in Marquette from 2000 until he moved back to Traverse City in 2002 and missed a string of 13 straight elections during that time.
“It’s certainly possible to vote when living abroad, but at the time certainly not the easiest thing, particularly when living in China,” Howe said.
Tim Werner missed both the presidential and August primaries in 2012 and the August primary in 2008. He said he was surprised to learn he missed six consecutive elections from a May 2005 school board election through the August 2006 primary. Overall, he’s voted in 60 percent of elections since moving to Traverse City in 2000.
Commission candidates at the other end of the spectrum include Ross Richardson and Jan Warren, who cast ballots in 90 percent or better of all elections.
Richardson failed to vote in one school board election since he moved to Traverse City from Illinois in mid-2003. His voting record is 96 percent.
Warren missed two school board elections since 2000 and passed on voting in the last two presidential primaries. Her overall voting record is 90 percent since 2000.
Jody Bergman has a perfect voting record since she joined the city commission in 2005. Prior to the 2005 city commission primary she cast ballots in just six of 20 elections.
Pat McGuire has a perfect voting record since November 2005 and missed three elections since 2002. He was less attentive in 2000 and 2001 when he moved back to Traverse City and didn’t vote in six of eight elections.