David Blair, who is running to become Montgomery's county executive, did not regularly vote in primary elections before 2014. The omission sets him apart from his competitors in Maryland's largest jurisdiction, who describe voting as a core civic duty.
Blair, a wealthy Potomac businessman, voted in each general election over the past 10 years as well as in primaries in 2014 and 2016. But according to data from the Maryland State Board of Elections, he did not vote in gubernatorial or presidential primaries in 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012.
"During those days, I was probably more focused on building our business and had an unpredictable schedule," Blair, 48, said in an interview. "It doesn't surprise me that I might have missed some elections."
Turnout in party primaries typically lags far behind turnout for general elections. In Montgomery, 38 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the 2016 primary, compared with 74 percent in the general. But Mark Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, said voters expect those who run for office also to be active voters.
"A lack of the most basic level of party activity — voting — is seen as a lack of serious commitment both to the party and to its issues," Rozell said.
Former Rockville mayor Rose Krasnow (D), who also is vying to succeed Isiah Leggett (D), the current county executive, said elected officials shape the lives of county residents. "So to not even step up and vote is almost an abdication of your civic responsibility," she said.
Blair is the only candidate for county executive who has never held elective office. In the June 26 Democratic primary, in addition to Krasnow, he faces three longtime County Council members — Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda), Marc Elrich (D-At Large) and George L. Leventhal (D-At Large) — and Maryland House Majority Leader C. William Frick (D-Montgomery).
Each of them, in addition to Republican candidate and former state delegate Robin Ficker, has voted in every primary and general election since at least 2006.
Blair founded Catalyst Health Solutions, a pharmacy-benefit management organization, in 1999 and was its chief executive until 2012. He said he has become more attuned to local politics over the past decade as his "acute awareness to policy decisions" increased.
"As I became more aware of what really drives our environment and our community and understanding the importance of local elections, you see a larger participation in primary elections," he said.
His opponents say there is no excuse for not voting.
"Democracy depends on participation," Berliner said. "So the people that seek to lead our county should certainly be among those who have participated."
Elrich said that even those who vote strictly along party lines have a choice during the primaries. "You can't just put a 'D' in front of somebody's name," he said. "If you haven't voted on this stuff, then it must not be very important to you."
State records also show that Blair, Frick and Ficker all changed their party affiliations at different points.
Blair registered to vote as a Republican at age 18, largely because his father was a Republican, he said. He switched to the Democratic Party in 2003.
"I was probably less politically aware of the stark differences between the parties," Blair said. "As I moved through my 20s, it was pretty clear that my values aligned with the Democratic Party."
Frick said he became "unaffiliated" in 2003 while trying to build his career as a young lawyer in Washington during the Republican administration of President George W. Bush. He later re-registered as a Democrat.
Ficker was unaffiliated from March 2006 to November 2007, a 20-month span that included an unsuccessful run for county executive as an independent.