Back in her school days, she looked forward to the time she could vote because it meant she would get one of those “I voted” stickers.
Ciara Hernandez, 24, takes voting more seriously now. She is reading and talking about issues, learning how to become a well-educated voter.
Like others her age, she said, she’s starting to realize that decisions made at the polls have consequences.
“It’s not a fun thing to do to get a sticker anymore, it’s something that’s going to affect the next four years of our life,” she said.
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Hernandez, an independent, said she hasn’t decided whether she will vote in Tuesday’s primary election or in the November general election. She wants to become more informed. Four years ago, she said, she voted for President Obama because he reached out to young people and she could relate to him.
“I have learned that uneducated voting can be just as un-civic as not voting at all,” said Hernandez, who works for a Wichita insurance agency.
Although turnout for the primary is expected to be light, those who do plan to participate will take their votes as seriously as Hernandez. In interviews and in an Eagle query conducted with the Public Insight Network, voters cited a sense of duty, which in many cases was passed down from their parents and grandparents, as the main reason they get involved and vote.
Phil Daignault, athletic director and basketball coach at Wichita West High, said he votes out of a sense of patriotic obligation that was instilled in him by his grandfather, a World War II veteran who served on the front lines radioing German positions back to his fellow soldiers.
“If I do not vote, it insults all of the men and women that have given their lives in defense of our freedoms,” said Daignault, a Republican. “I stay informed and vote as a tribute to them and those that serve now.”
Some voters said this election is too important to sit out. They think the country is heading in the wrong direction. They offer opposing solutions — one wants to oust all Democrats, another wants to oust all Republicans — but they said that voting will give them the right to complain if things don’t turn out the way they want.
Some are young voters excited about the opportunity to vote. Others are cynical about the process, but determined to vote for or against a particular candidate.
Tim Penner, 34, a stock and bond trader in Wichita, is a Republican who usually doesn’t vote in presidential elections because he feels his vote doesn’t count in a red state. Still, his dislike of President Obama is sending him to the polls this November, he said, knowing he can’t gripe if he doesn’t vote.
But he won’t vote in the primary election.
“Politics in general make me sick,” Penner said, “but I will vote every now and again just to feel like I’m actually having some impact. As for local elections, I never know where and when to vote, and who has the time to sift through all the bashing and negative crap out there?”
‘Did my duty’
Kansas residents seem to be more inclined to vote than voters nationally. The U.S. Census Bureau, which tracks voting behavior, shows a higher percentage of Kansas adults registered and voted in the November 2010 election than adults nationwide.
Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites in Kansas registered to vote and voted at a higher percentage than their counterparts nationally, while black residents in Kansas registered and voted at a lower percentage than blacks nationally.
Those who vote most often tend to be older Republicans. Among the most frequent voters — those who voted in the general and primary elections in 2008 and 2010 — the average age was 63.1 compared with 48.9 for all voters, according to the Kansas secretary of state’s voter registration database.
Most — 78.7 percent — were Republicans. More than half — 52.7 percent — were women.
Republican Cindy Claycomb, 55, a marketing professor at Wichita State University, said she has voted consistently when able, and already has cast her ballot for this year’s primary election.
If she doesn’t vote, she can’t complain about how politicians deal with issues, she said.
“I feel, ‘OK, I did my duty and I have a right to speak my mind,’ ” Claycomb said. “Even if you aren’t a voter, you have that right, but I just feel better about it.”
Laurie Pivonka, 52, a registered nurse, said voting was a value instilled in her by her family. Her grandmother couldn’t vote until the women’s suffrage movement changed that, and then voted in every election until she died at age 90.
Pivonka, a Democrat, carries on the family tradition.
“I’m a blue in a red state and some people say my vote is wasted, but I feel like I have to remind the majority that I am here,” she said.
Jenna Kemp, 28, a legal secretary who works for a judicial candidate in Wichita, will vote for the first time. She is excited about the opportunity, and proud of herself for learning about the candidates and issues.
“The last two months I have learned way more about politics than I had my entire life,” she said. “Better late than never, right?”
As the mother of two children, ages 6 and 8, Kemp, a Republican, said, “My kids are getting older and it affects them and myself in many ways.”
Jennifer Baysinger, 39, first voted in 1992, casting her ballot for Ross Perot. She has voted in every election since, though she didn’t pay much attention to local issues.
But Baysinger — who owns eDrop, a company that places items on eBay, with her husband, Blake — said she has never been more concerned about the direction of the country, and she believes change starts at the local level. Lately she has been paying more attention to local issues and has decided she couldn’t “just sit on the couch and complain.”
“I had to get up, get involved and make a difference,” said Baysinger, who describes herself as a conservative Republican.
Patrick Sanchez, 52, of Derby, served 17 months in Iraq, starting in late March 2003. He was a member of the longest-serving combat unit in the Army since World War II. He since has retired from the Army.
He worked for the Wichita school district, but now he is unemployed and disabled. His wife, Rosa, suffered a stroke about two years ago and can’t work, either, he said. They have 10 children, including four who were adopted. Sanchez said he hasn’t been able to find anybody who will give him a chance to work. But that has not discouraged him from voting, a tradition that started with his grandfather, he said.
His grandfather came to the U.S. from Mexico in the early 1900s, was naturalized, taught Spanish to officers at Fort Leavenworth during World War II, and made his children speak only English in the house.
“He made them understand how great it was to be an American citizen,” said Sanchez, a Democrat. “Voting is a right, but it’s also a responsibility to go out and do it. Even if your guy isn’t elected, you have to go out and cast your vote and let people know what you think.”
Long-time Wichita voter Charles Bell, 93, said he always is eager to vote. He remembers his parents’ days, when African-Americans weren’t allowed to vote.
Bell, a Democrat, already has voted by mail.
“I just like voting. I feel like I have an input in what’s going on,” he said.
“Sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t. You have to learn how to be a good sport when you lose. You can’t win everything,” he said.