Kathleen Rice among politicians who often fail to vote

Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice. (May 17, Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice. (May 17, 2010) Photo Credit: Newsday/Audrey C. Tiernan

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As Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice ramps up her campaign to become New York's next attorney general, she also joins the ranks of politicians who ask voters to cast ballots for them but often have failed to vote themselves.

Rice, 45, first registered to vote as a Republican in Nassau County in October 1984. But election records show she never voted for the better part of two decades.

Rice, who faces four challengers in a Sept. 14 primary contest for the Democratic nomination, cast the first vote of her life in November 2002. All told through 2009, she voted in eight of the 26 years since she first registered to vote as a Republican in 1984.

Rice characterizes her long-term failure to vote as a youthful lapse.

"It was my mistake," said Rice, when asked about the 18-year gap between registering to vote and actually doing so. "During that period of my life, I did not vote. Unfortunately, like a lot of young adults early in their professional lives, I failed to see the political significance of casting a ballot."

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Voting histories reviewed

To compile the voting histories, Newsday reviewed available electronic and paper voting records for all six candidates for attorney general, including Republican Daniel Donovan. The records came from boards of election in Nassau, Westchester and New York City. In cases where candidates recalled having voted in other states, Newsday contacted election officials in those localities.

Assemb. Richard L. Brodsky (D-Westchester) has voted every year since 1975, according to available records - and he says he began voting in the late 1960s.

Donovan, 53, the Republican Staten Island district attorney, voted every year since 1992, and says he has voted every year since becoming eligible in the mid-1970s.

Democrat Sean Coffey, 54, a former federal prosecutor, voted in 15 of the 26 years since he registered to vote in Nassau in 1984, and recalled voting previously in other states.

Eric R. Dinallo, 46, a former Democratic state insurance commissioner, voted in 14 of the 18 years since registering to vote in New York City in 1991.

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State Sen. Eric T. Schneiderman (D-Manhattan), 55, voted in 20 of the 24 years since he registered to vote in New York City in 1986, and said he voted as a student in Massachusetts in the 1970s.

Rice first voted in 2002 in Philadelphia and has voted every year since. She had registered as an independent in Philadelphia in 2000 after she began working there as a federal prosecutor.

In April 2005, Rice returned to Nassau, this time registering as a Democrat to run that year for district attorney. She won and was re-elected in 2009.

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A question of civic duty?

Douglas Muzzio, a political-science professor at Baruch College of the City University of New York, argues that a failure to vote indicates those seeking public office lack commitment to the political process and to civic duty.

"It indicates a not very strong commitment to electoral politics," Muzzio said.

Said Princeton University politics and international affairs professor John Londregan: "My sense of fairness suggests they ought to vote. The public should make up their own minds about this."

But Londregan also said, "A lot of what voters really care about in politics is the more controversial issues: abortion, detention, sentencing." Voters who care more about such issues may not let a poor voting record influence them, he said.

Rice said no questions had ever been raised about her voting record until Newsday inquired recently. Newsday obtained Rice's voting record through a Freedom of Information request filed in June with the Nassau Board of Elections.

In Newsday's review of available records for all the attorney general candidates, Brodsky, 64, had the longest voting history, dating back to at least 1975.

Brodsky said he's been voting since he first became eligible in the late 1960s, when he helped minorities register to vote, though available records don't go that far back. "My God, you had to vote," Brodsky said. "If you were really concerned about what was going on in the world, you voted."

Spokeswoman Virginia Lam said Donovan "has voted in every single election" since he first registered to vote in New York City in the mid-1970s. New York City election officials said they could not locate records for Donovan prior to 1992.

After reviewing his available voting history in New York, Coffey said, "I didn't pitch a perfect game." Coffey and his campaign spokeswoman Tammy Sun said Coffey's voting record predates his registration in Nassau, because he voted several times prior to 1984 in Virginia and Florida while serving in the military. Election officials in those states could not find voting records for Coffey.

Candidates explain records

Spokeswoman Lauren Passalacqua said Dinallo has had a solid voting record since first registering in New York in 1991. But she said Dinallo had not registered until he was 28 years old.

"Eric spent 10 consecutive years working towards his undergraduate, graduate and law degrees at three separate schools in different cities," Passalacqua said. "He settled in New York City in 1991, when he first registered to vote and has been a consistent voter ever since."

Schneiderman also points to records showing he has voted consistently since registering to vote in New York in 1986. He also says he believes he voted previously in New York, but city officials could locate no records. Campaign spokesman James Freedland said Schneiderman had previously registered as early as 1977 in Massachusetts and voted as a student. A Massachusetts election official said available voting records date only to 1998.

"Eric Schneiderman is a proud, lifelong Democrat who has always been actively involved in the democratic process," Freedland said.

For her part, Rice said she hopes other young people will learn from her mistake - registering to vote as a teenager but not voting until she was 37. "I was fighting for social justice every day in my job as a young prosecutor but I failed to see how that fight could and should extend to the political ballot box," she said.

With Dan Janison

and Reid J. Epstein

Voting records of attorney general candidates

Newsday reviewed the voting histories of all five Democratic candidates for state Attorney General running in the Sept. 14 primary - Richard L. Brodsky, Sean Coffey, Eric R. Dinallo, Kathleen M. Rice, and Eric T. Schneiderman - as well as Daniel M. Donovan, the Republican nominee in November's general election. These histories are derived from all available electronic and paper records, including several obtained from Freedom of Information requests, and from interviews with the candidates or their designated representatives.

Democrats:

Candidate: Richard L. Brodsky, 64

State Assemblyman from Westchester.

Earliest documentable registration: 1971 in Westchester

Voting History: Westchester County records show he voted every year since 1975; officials could not locate voting history records for Brodsky prior to that. In an interview, Brodsky recalled registering to vote in the late 1960s, and voting in all years he was eligible.

Candidate: Sean Coffey, 54

Retired private attorney; former federal prosecutor.

Earliest Documentable Registration: 1984 in Nassau

History: Voted in 15 of the 26 years since he registered to vote, based on available records in Nassau, Manhattan and Westchester County. In interviews, Coffey and his campaign spokeswoman Tammy Sun said he had voted several times prior to 1984 in Virginia and Florida while serving in the military. Officials in those states said they could not locate voting records for Coffey.

Candidate: Eric R. Dinallo, 46.

Teaches at New York University's Stern School of Business; former New York State Superintendent of Insurance.

Earliest Documentable Registration: 1991 in New York City.

History: Voted in 14 of the 18 years he's been registered to vote, New York City election records show.

Candidate: Kathleen M. Rice, 45

Nassau County District Attorney

Earliest Documentable Registration: 1984 in Nassau County

History: Rice voted in eight of the 26 years since she first registered to vote, according to records in Nassau and Pennsylvania. She voted for the first time in Pennsylvania in 2002, while working as a federal prosecutor in Philadelphia. Rice has voted every year since. She registered to vote as a Democrat in Nassau in 2005, the same year she won election at the county's District Attorney.

Candidate: Eric T. Schneiderman, 55.

State senator from Manhattan

Earliest Documentable Registration: 1986 in New York City

History: Schneiderman voted 20 of the 24 years since he registered to vote, according to New York City records. A campaign spokesman said Schneiderman was previously registered as early as 1977 in Massachusetts and voted there as a student. Election officials there saidavailable voting history records date only to 1998.

Republicans

Candidate: Daniel M.Donovan, 53

Staten Island District Attorney.

Earliest Documentable Registration: 1989 in New York City

History: Voted every year since 1992, New York City records show. City elections officials said they could not locate voting records for Donovan prior to 1992. A Donovan campaign spokeswoman said Donovan "has voted in every single election" in New York City since first becoming eligible to vote in the mid-1970s.

Sources: Nassau, Westchester and New York City Boards of Election


Other candidates who failed to vote

Caroline Kennedy: In 2009, as she sought a gubernatorial appointment to replace U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, revelations surfaced that Kennedy failed to vote in a number of primary and general elections in New York. A spokesman said Kennedy, daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy, realized the importance of voting and had a strong record of going to the polls.

Former N.J. Gov. Jon Corzine: When Corzine left Wall Street to run for the U.S. Senate in 2000, he had not voted in three general elections and 10 primaries. Corzine said he went out of his way to vote and that he was surprised he had missed elections.

John Edwards: When the former 2008 Democratic presidential candidate ran for the U.S. Senate in North Carolina in 1998, records that surfaced in news reports showed he hadn't voted in half of the elections in the previous seven years. Edwards blamed his work schedule.

Meg Whitman: The current Republican candidate for California governor didn't register before 2002 and missed many elections while living in California, Ohio and Suffolk County. The former EBay executive has said she regrets her failure to vote.

Compiled by Thomas Maier and Kathleen Kerr

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