ST. PETERSBURG — Turnout is expected to dip near record lows in the Nov. 8 city election, so it's not uncommon to hear candidates urge supporters to get out and vote.
Yet some of these same candidates have lackluster voting histories of their own. During an Oct. 18 League of Women Voters candidate forum, the seven candidates running for City Council were asked what sounded like the easiest question of the night: Since you have been eligible to vote, have you ever missed voting in an election?
Council member Steve Kornell, who is running to retain his District 5 seat, said he hadn't. Twice.
But Pinellas County Supervisor of Election records show that far from having a perfect voting record, Kornell is hitting a bit over .500. Of 22 elections and primaries he has been eligible to vote in since November 1996, Kornell has voted 12 times, a rate of 55 percent.
When asked about this discrepancy, Kornell said at first he believed he had been asked about voting in presidential elections. Minutes later, Kornell called back. Turns out he missed voting in the 2000 Bush-Gore election.
He missed other races, such as the January Democratic presidential primary, where he could have chosen from a field that included Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards. He also missed voting in the 2007 primary for District 5 — the same district he was elected to represent two years later.
"I was just wrong when I said that," Kornell said. "I apologize. I take full responsibility for misspeaking." Kornell's opponent dropped out in August. Still, to win he must get more votes than the "New Election" option voters will have.
He wasn't alone in flubbing his voting record.
Brent Hatley is challenging Bill Dudley in the District 3 race. He said that the only time he didn't vote was in the 2000 presidential race. But Pinellas County election records show between 2007 and 2008, he missed four out of five elections, including a close race in District 3 — the same district he's now trying to represent.
A producer of Bubba the Love Sponge Clem's morning radio show on WHPT-FM, Hatley said he was on the road during much of that period.
"It's kind of a blur because I was doing two shows a day then," Hatley said. "It's possible I missed sending in an absentee ballot. I must have been in error."
Meanwhile, his opponent, Dudley, had a perfect voting record in 32 elections and primaries since November 1996.
Wengay Newton, who is running for re-election to District 7, replied that he hadn't missed a vote, either. Close.
Records show Newton has voted 29 of 32 of the times he was eligible. He missed the Democratic primary in 2004, which included a local School Board race and a U.S. Senate contest between Betty Castor and Peter Deutsch; a mayoral primary in 2001 with nine candidates; and a 1999 referendum that expanded the Pinellas County Commission.
"I was talking about the best of my recollection," Newton said. "I don't know why I missed those. I always vote, so that doesn't make sense why I didn't vote in those races."
His opponent, Gershom Faulkner, said at the forum that he hadn't missed voting in 10 years. Records show that he missed voting four times in the past decade — including when he was the legislative aide for former state House Rep. Frank Peterman.
"I don't know why I said that I hadn't missed a vote in 10 years," he said. "It was just one of those things, being on the hot seat, where I needed to think quickly, and I couldn't remember."
The two candidates vying for District 1 were among the most accurate about their voting record. Bob Kersteen said he hadn't missed a vote. Records show he voted in 30 of 31 contests, missing only the 2000 presidential primary. By then, George W. Bush had already won because John McCain had dropped out of the race.
Charles Gerdes, his opponent, admitted that he had missed voting. Five years earlier, the Times highlighted Gerdes as having one of the worst voting records among those seeking elected office. Since 2006, however, Gerdes hasn't missed an election.
Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or firstname.lastname@example.org.