Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Oconee County Republican Candidates Not All Pure Republicans, Voting History Shows

Some Cross Over in Primaries

While all the Oconee County candidates in competitive contests in the July 20 Republican primary have declared not just that they are Republicans but that they are Conservative Republicans, an analysis of voting files for 2004, 2006 and 2008 shows several have flirted with the Democratic party, some as recently as in February of 2008.

Tammy Gilland, seeking the Post 3 position on the Board of Commissioners, voted in the Democratic presidential primary in February of 2008, in the Democrat primary and primary runoff in 2006, and in the Democratic presidential primary in March of 2004.

In sum, Gilland voted as a Democrat as often as she voted as a Republican in the last three elections.

Mack Guest, the incumbent Post 2 member of the Oconee County Board of Education, also voted in the Democratic presidential primary in both 2008 and 2004, but he voted in the Republican primaries at the state and local levels.

Hank Huckaby, seeking to represent the county in the Georgia House of Representatives, voted in the Democratic presidential primary in 2004, but he has voted as a Republican in six primaries since, including in the 2008 presidential primary.

At the June 17 candidate forum, sponsored by the Oconee County Republican Party and by the Oconee Regional Republican Women, moderator Blake Giles, with Oconee County Republican Party Chairman Jay Hanley at his side, asked each candidate to declare if she or he was a Conservative Republican.

All did so.

Giles also asked Guest and challenger Mark Thomas how they would vote in the state school superintendent race and Huckaby, Tommy Malcom and Kirk Shook how they plan to vote in the governor’s race. Malcom and Shook also are running for the 113th House seat.

And he asked incumbent BOC Commissioner Margaret Hale and Gilland if they were members of the Oconee County Republican Party and of the Oconee Regional Republican Women. Hanley certainly had the ability to know in advance how the two candidates were going to answer at least the Republican Party part of the question.

Individuals can join the Republican Party by simply filling out a form and paying a $20 annual membership fee. Being a member is completely voluntary and has no impact on voting choice, or, as Hale’s answer indicated, on being a candidate.

Gilland said she was a “new member” of both groups.

Hale said she was not a member of either, though “I do support the local Republican Party and will join after the election.”

Hale has voted as a Republican in seven of the eight primaries or primary runoffs in 2004, 2006 and 2008. She did not vote in the August primary runoff in 2006.

None of the candidates has a perfect voting record. Guest, Huckaby and Malcom did the best, missing only two of the 14 elections in the three years.

Public records show who voted–but not how they voted–as a necessary step in preventing voter fraud. In Georgia, where voters do not register by party and publicly ask for either the Republican or the Democrat ballot before voting, that information also is public, again to provide a mechanism to check against fraud.

Candidates can request a list of registered voters, as can individual citizens. That record indicates the name, address, and registration number for each voter as well as the ballot the voter selected in the most recent primary.

The Georgia Secretary of State also has available on the official web site the historical records of voting by year, though these records contain only the county of each voter, his or her registration number, and the elections in which that voter participated during the year. The record also indicates which ballot was selected by the voter in the primaries that year.

I purchased, with my own funds, the Oconee County voter list in the autumn of 2008 for a graduate class I teach each year at the University of Georgia. As part of that class, I downloaded the voting history files to show students how to use the available records to validate samples drawn for public opinion surveys.

I did not have access to these same files from Oglethorpe County, so I could not check on the voting history of Shook, who lives there.

I have summarized the records for the other candidates for the 113th House seat as well as for Kim Argo, incumbent Post 3 BOE member who is unopposed on the July 20 Republican primary ballot, and for John Daniell, incumbent Post 2 commissioner, who also is unopposed in the Republican primary.

These are viewable in this table stored on

Daniell selected the Republican ballot in six of the primaries in 2004, 2006 and 2008. No vote is recorded for him for the 2008 presidential primary or for the 2006 August runoff.

Argo voted in the 2008 Democratic primary, but she has voted in six Republican primaries and missed a runoff in the three years for which I examined the records.

Daniell and Argo did not participate in the June 17 GOP forum, since neither has opposition in the primary.

At that forum, moderator Giles asked Gilland and Hall if they would support making the BOC election nonpartisan. Both said they would not.

“You need to know exactly who you are electing. What Party we represent,” Gilland said.

“The system that we have now works very well,” Hale said.

Giles did not ask this of the House candidates, who would be the ones who would need to introduce any such change to the Georgia legislature, which would have to approve before the change could go into effect.

At the beginning of the forum, Giles said the questions he was asking had been submitted to him by the audience and he was adding some of his own. He didn't indicate which were which.

The Republic Party might find it easier to enforce a conservative orthodoxy if the county had more people who identified as Democrats and a stronger Democratic Party. Candidates who were not so conservative might be willing to run as a Democrat if they had a chance of being elected.

With the Republicans being so dominant in the county at present, however, Democrats are probably the ones who would gain from nonpartisan elections.

Which is why the question was relevant at the GOP forum.

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