Salem council candidate Deanna Gwyn has rarely voted, records show

Deanna Gwyn, 2022 Salem City Council candidate for Ward 4 (Campaign photo)

A Salem real estate broker seeking election to the Salem City Council has voted just twice in local elections the past decade, records show.

Deanna Gwyn, who’s running for council seat representing south central Salem, has not voted in 14 elections since 2012, according to voter records at the Marion County clerk’s office.

Gwyn moved into Ward 4 last spring after living for 17 years in a home just outside city limits in south Salem, according to her responses to Salem Reporter’s candidate questionnaire. Before that home, she and her husband lived in neighboring Ward 7.

She’s one of two candidates running for the council seat in the May 17 election and has no prior local government experience, according to her Voters’ Pamphlet statement.

As of April 18, her campaign has raised over $35,000 in cash contributions, the largest from the Home Builders Association of Marion & Polk Counties’ political action committee.

Contacted Monday by Salem Reporter over the phone, Gwyn said a question about her voting record “caught me off guard” and asked for time to formulate a response.

In an email Tuesday, she said her lack of participation reflects feeling disengaged from the political process.

“It’s true that I didn’t vote between 2008 and 2018. Like many in our community, I felt disenfranchised and that my voice didn’t count. But having seen the problems in Salem continue to get worse with no effective leadership from our City Council, I realized a few years ago that I can no longer stand on the sidelines. I’m committed to turning this community around and I’m proud to have received the support of so many Salem residents who know that our city can be far better than what it is today,” she said.

She said if elected, she’ll provide better leadership than the current city council.

“We need to tackle our homeless problem head-on, cleaning up our parks and our downtown so they can again be enjoyed by everyone in the community and connecting our homeless population to the services that can help them find stable housing and employment.  We need to strengthen our public safety so that everyone in Salem feels safe. We need better solutions to our traffic problems so that individuals and families can more easily get to work, school, shopping and activities,” she said in the email.

Gwyn most recently cast a ballot in November 2020, county records show. Her last time voting before that was in the 2012 general election, according to her voter history file provided by the Marion County elections office.

Salem Reporter reviewed voter records for all city council and mayoral candidates during routine research into those seeking office.

Gwyn didn’t vote in May 2021, when local voters selected four new members of the Salem-Keizer School Board. 

She also didn’t cast a ballot in primary races May 2020 or May 2018, or the 2018 and 2016 general elections.

“Generally people run for elected office because they have a policy they want to see advanced or an issue to advance and voting is kind of the baseline for doing that,” said Chris Stout, associate professor at Oregon State University’s School of Public Policy. Stout studies voting behavior and representation.

A candidate seeking elected office without having participated in the elections regularly “raises questions about how genuinely you care about any particular topic,” he said.

Regina Lawrence, associate dean of the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication, who studies civic engagement and political communication, said voting is an important indicator somebody is engaged in a community’s civic life.

“I can’t comment specifically on Ms. Gwyn’s voting record. But I would say that as a citizen and as a scholar, I would be concerned about anyone running for office who hasn’t voted on a regular basis,” she said in an email. “Anyone who wants to serve in government but who hasn’t exercised that basic right or performed that basic obligation of voting seems a bit puzzling to me.”

Voter participation among other candidates for city office varies, but records from the Marion and Polk County election offices show Gwyn’s record is distinct.

Her opponent for the Ward 4 seat, Dynee Medlock, has voted in every primary and general election in the past decade, missing four special district elections during that time.

Special elections typically are low key and involve races like school board positions and ballot measures like bonds or levies for government operations or building projects. Special election turnout is typically far lower than during general elections.

Stacey Vieyra-Braendle, a candidate in Ward 6, has voted in every general election in the past decade, but missed the 2018 primary, when the council position she seeks was last on the ballot, and several other primaries and special district races. Overall, she’s voted in 10 of 19 elections in the past decade.

Vieyra-Braendle, 35, acknowledged her voting record wasn’t perfect and said as a young Latina, she’s part of a demographic that candidates often don’t reach out to. She and her husband both started graduate school in 2018, she said, which made it difficult to stay on top of things in their lives.

In recent years, she said she’s made an effort to be more engaged and seen how local races are often won by just a few votes.

“There has been a long time where I didn’t feel certain where my vote mattered, where my vote really made a difference in my day to day life and I’m obviously learning that’s not true,” she said.

Vieyra-Braendle said she’s now seeking to engage voters like her who candidates often ignore and who may feel their vote doesn’t matter.

She said her message to those voters is, “As somebody who’s been in your shoes I understand, and I want to assure you that it matters to turn out and vote.”

Her opponent in Ward 6, Julie Hoy, has voted in every primary and general election since 2012, and missed seven special elections.

Aside from Gwyn, only one other council candidate has missed a general election vote. Chris Cummings, running for Ward 8, didn’t vote in the 2014 general election, but has voted in 14 of 19 races over the past decade.

When reached Tuesday, he said he couldn’t recall why he missed that election but believes it may have been when his family was moving.

“We are avid voters at our house,” he said. “If you’re gonna complain, you gotta vote.”

His opponent, City Councilor Micki Varney, has voted in 18 of 19 races since 2012, missing a 2017 special election.

Mayoral candidate Chane Griggs has voted in every election in the past decade. Her opponent, City Council President Chris Hoy, has cast a ballot in every general and primary election, missing special district elections in 2013 and 2015.

Correction: This article previously referred to Gwyn as a Realtor, not a real estate broker. Salem Reporter apologizes for the error.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

JUST THE FACTS, FOR SALEM – We report on your community with care and depth, fairness and accuracy. Get local news that matters to you. Subscribe to Salem Reporter starting at $5 a month. Click I want to subscribe!