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Half of Senate candidates have spotty voting records

They want your vote, but three of six candidates running for the seat in Senate District 3 in the May primary have spotty voting histories.

Athena Goldberg, D-Medford, Jessica Gomez, R-Medford, and Julian Bell, D-Ashland, have failed to vote in numerous elections, mostly for primaries or special elections, including those for school districts.

Voting histories for the candidates were obtained by the Mail Tribune through a public records request to the Jackson County Elections Center. The results reflect whether the candidates returned ballots sent to them in elections they were eligible to vote in since 2004, the year the most consistent electronic records became available.

Goldberg voted in 10 of 21 elections, or 48 percent of the time. The most recent elections she missed were the May 16, 2017, special election, and the regular district election May 19, 2015, both of which included school board races. She’s missed four primary elections.

Gomez voted in 12 of 21 elections, or 57 percent of the time. The most recent votes she missed were in a regular district election May 19, 2015, and a special election to tax marijuana in the county on March 10, 2015. She’s missed four primary elections.

Bell, who became a registered voter in Jackson County in 2006, voted in 14 of 20 elections, or 70 percent of the time. The last two elections Bell missed were a regular district election May 19, 2015, and the marijuana tax election March 10, 2015. He’s missed one primary election.

The other three candidates, Curt Ankerberg, R-Medford, Kevin Stine, D-Medford, and Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, have a far higher participation rate.

Goldberg, Gomez and Bell say they should have done better but offered various reasons why they sometimes didn’t vote.

Goldberg, director of behavioral health with AllCare Health, said she found her voting record “surprising” because she has been an avid follower of politics, often discussing issues with her three children.

“I will get grief from them and disbelief,” she said.

She acknowledged she should have been more aware that she had missed so many elections.

Last year, in the May 16 election, she said she was in the process of transitioning 1,400 mental health patients from one health system to another, which meant long nights and a fast-and-furious schedule.

Often in the month of May, when primaries are held, she said, her family goes traveling, including once to a wedding.

“I’m sure there were times when I didn’t get my ballot off in time,” said Goldberg. “It’s not something I’m particularly proud of.”

She remembers having long discussions with her oldest child about the issues before they voted.

When she was 20, not long after marrying and moving to Portland, she demanded her husband head to a polling booth. “He thought I was crazy,” she said.

Gomez said she should have voted more but has done better about getting off her ballots in recent years.

“I would say that it is not a reflection of how dedicated I am to the community,” Gomez said.

When she and her husband started their business, they worked 18-hour days, Gomez said. At the same time, they were raising a young family.

“I would say that it is really due to the focus on the business,” Gomez said. She is the founder and chief executive officer of Rogue Valley Microdevices, a microelectronics manufacturing company.

She said she missed voting in May 2015 because she and her husband had a difficult time finding the ballot box in Talent and drove to Ashland in search of another ballot box.

“We missed it by three minutes,” Gomez said. “That was a whole fiasco, pretty disappointing.”

Gomez changed party affiliation twice since 2004, from nonaffiliated to Democratic in 2008, and from Democratic to Republican in 2017.

Bell has changed political parties five times, going from Democratic to Pacific Green in 2011, to Republican in 2014, to Democratic in 2015, and to Pacific Green then Democratic in 2016.

Bell said he went through a phase in life when he was turned off by the candidates and elections.

“I would put myself in the category of people who feel very disenchanted with politics in general,” he said.

He said in the past six years he has regained interest in politics but continues to find fault with himself for not voting in the past.

“I would criticize myself for not voting in those elections,” he said. “I would have criticized myself back then for not voting.”

Bell said candidates, including himself, should do a better job explaining to voters why it’s important to vote and to better explain the issues that are relevant to voters in local races.

He described his party-switching as a pragmatic search to discover the variety of political thinking.

Making the leap from Pacific Green to Republican was, in part, an attempt to discover more about the Republican Party and to play a kind of devil’s-advocate political discussion with himself, he said.

“I wanted to see if I would burst into flames if I became a Republican,” Bell said.

He discovered it gave him the opportunity to understand Republicans. He said he embraced some of the thinking of traditional Republicans but found the party was overtaken by extremist points of view.

At the same time, he said he faults some Democrats who embrace identity politics as also extreme.

“Having a focus on individual identities divides us more than unites us,” Bell said.

Both Stine and Golden spoke about the importance of voting.

“It’s troubling that people are asking for your vote when they themselves don’t even care to vote for school districts and other local elections,” Stine said.

He said that in Oregon, when the ballot is mailed to voters’ houses, it’s easy to vote and inexcusable to say you were too busy.

Stine has voted in all eight elections since he first registered to vote in Jackson County in 2013. He was previously in the military stationed out of Oklahoma. During that time, Stine said, he submitted absentee ballots, but sometimes he wouldn’t get a ballot or wouldn’t have the opportunity to vote because he was on a submarine deployment.

Golden has missed two of 28 elections since 2004.

“It’s really important to vote,” Golden said.

When the founders had finished drafting the Constitution, Benjamin Franklin spoke about the creation of the Republic.

“It’s a Republic if you can keep it, and voting may be the most important part of keeping it,” Golden said, paraphrasing Franklin.

Ankerberg has missed two elections out of 23 since 2004. He has changed political parties 10 times since he became a county voter in 2000, from nonaffiliated to Democratic in 2007; to nonaffiliated in 2009; to Democratic, nonaffiliated and Republican in 2010; to nonaffiliated to Republican and back to nonaffiliated in 2011; to Libertarian in 2013; and finally to Republican in 2015.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.