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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher August 10, 2012

In GOP Wisconsin Senate primary, Tommy Thompson chastises rival Eric Hovde, claims he's voted "every year"

When the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel disclosed that political newcomer Eric Hovde had voted in only two of 11 elections between 2004 and 2011, his opponents in the Aug. 14, 2012 Republican primary for U.S. Senate pounced.

"The first time he's going to vote for the U.S. Senate is for himself in Wisconsin," Tommy Thompson said of Hovde, a Wisconsin native who lived in Washington, D.C. for 24 years before returning to the state in late 2011.

Thompson declared in the July 22, 2012 article: "I have voted every year in Wisconsin."

Since Thompson has spent quite a bit of time in Washington himself over the past decade, including as former secretary of Health and Human Services, we wondered about his voting record.

On the campaign trail, the former governor has repeatedly said he has maintained his residence in Madison since joining President George W. Bush's Cabinet in 2001 and later going to work for a Washington legal and lobbying firm.

The Madison city clerk was not able to provide us a list of all elections that Thompson could have voted in. The office instead referred us to a list of elections kept by the Dane County clerk.

Thompson’s voting

The Madison clerk did provide us with Thompson's voting record; we also checked it against the Wisconsin Government Accountabilty Board’s searchable database. Both sets of records date back to the fall 2002 primary elections and they are identical, in terms of which elections Thompson voted in.

Thompson campaign spokesman Brian Nemoir pointed out to us that the state board says its database for records from 2005 and earlier may not be complete. But board spokesman Reid Magney told us that doesn’t relate to whether a person voted at all. Rather, some earlier records simply don’t indicate whether a person who voted did so at the polls or by absentee ballot.

Here are the elections Thompson did not vote in, along with some of the contested races that were on each ballot:

2003: February primary and April general -- state Supreme Court, Dane County circuit judge, Madison mayor. The April ballot also included statewide referendum on the right to hunt and fish.

2005: February primary -- state schools superintendent; April general -- schools superintendent and Dane County circuit judge. Also on the April ballot was a statewide referendum on four-year terms for certain county offices.

2006: February spring primary -- Madison Metropolitan School Board, Dane County Board of Supervisors; April spring general -- school board, Dane County circuit judge; November fall general -- governor (Democrat incumbent Jim Doyle defeated Republican Mark Green), U.S. senator (Democrat incumbent Herb Kohl defeating Republican Robert Lorge), state attorney general and others.

2010: February spring primary -- state court of appeals judge; April general -- appeals judge, county supervisor.

2012: May recall primary -- Gov. Scott Walker was opposed by protest candidate Arthur Kohl-Riggs.

So, the records show that, since fall 2002, Thompson did not vote in 10 elections -- five primaries and five general elections in five different years.

Asked to respond, Nemoir said in an email that Thompson "makes all efforts to vote and the results provided by the (city) clerk do not take into consideration what was actually on the ballot in terms of contested elections and seemingly fail to represent his participation in the electoral process."

But he offered no evidence of any inaccuracies in Thompson’s voting record. And even if there is an error in the record -- say, for the 2006 general election for governor -- it’s clear that Thompson skipped a number of elections over a number of years.

Our rating

Thompson said: "I have voted every year in Wisconsin."

Records show that since fall 2002, he missed voting in elections in five different years.

We rate his statement False.

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Aug. 13, 2012 -- a footnote: Folks who heard Thompson's claim might have thought he meant he had voted in every election. The record shows he did not vote in every election. And to be clear, he missed voting entirely in 2003 and 2005 (there were two statewide elections both years). 

Our Sources

Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, voter record and statewide election databases

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Hovde defends light voting record," July 22, 2012

Email interview, Tommy Thompson campaign spokesman Brian Nemoir, Aug. 3 and 10, 2012

Email interview, Madison municipal clerk Elena Berg, Aug. 3, 2012

Email interview, Wisconsin Government Accountability Board spokesman Reid Magney, Aug. 3, 2012

Dane County Clerk, election results

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More by Tom Kertscher

In GOP Wisconsin Senate primary, Tommy Thompson chastises rival Eric Hovde, claims he's voted "every year"

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