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Republican Wisconsin Senate candidate says he doesn't oppose elderly people voting

FILE - Businessman and Republican U.S. Senate candidate, Eric Hovde speaks Tuesday April 2, 2024, at a former President Donald Trump rally in Green Bay, Wis. Hvode emphasized this week that he doesn't oppose elderly people voting after initially saying that “almost nobody in a nursing home is in a point to vote.” (AP Photo/Mike Roemer, File)
Original Publication Date April 19, 2024 - 9:56 AM

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Republican candidate in Wisconsin's closely watched U.S. Senate race emphasized this week that he doesn't oppose elderly people voting after initially saying that “almost nobody in a nursing home" is at a point in life where they are capable of voting.

Eric Hovde faces Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin in the race that is essential for Democrats to win in order to maintain their majority in the Senate. A Marquette University Law School poll this week showed the race is about even among likely voters.

Baldwin and Democrats have been attacking Hovde over comments he first made April 5 on a Fox News radio show about nursing home voting. Who can vote in a nursing home, and how they cast their ballots, has been a hot issue in Wisconsin since 2020 when supporters of former President Donald Trump alleged that people were voting illegally.

No charges were brought, and President Joe Biden's victory over Trump has withstood a nonpartisan audit, numerous lawsuits, a partial recount and a review by a conservative law firm.

But Hovde has been raising the issue of nursing home voting when discussing what he said were problems with the 2020 election.

“We had nursing homes where the sheriff of Racine investigated, where you had 100 percent voting in nursing homes,” Hovde said.

That claim of 100% voting in nursing homes, first made by former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman in a discredited report, has never been verified. Voting data has shown that participation in nursing homes across the state was much lower than 100%.

“If you’re in a nursing home, you only have a five, six-month life expectancy,” Hovde said last week on the “Guy Benson Show.” "Almost nobody in a nursing home is in a point to vote.”

Baldwin, in reaction to Hovde's comments, said last week that “thousands of Wisconsinites live in nursing homes."

“Eric Hovde does not have a clue what he’s talking about," she said on MSNBC.

In two subsequent interviews this week, when asked to clarify his comments in the wake of Democratic criticism, Hovde accused his opponents and the media of “political hits.”

“They tried to say I didn’t want elderly people to vote,” Hovde said Monday on WISN-AM. “I don’t even know how they came up with that.”

Hovde reiterated that his issue was based on reports of people who questioned how their severely ill relatives in nursing homes had voted.

Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling, a Trump backer, said in 2021 that the families of eight residents told investigators they believed their love ones did not have the capacity to vote but ballots were cast for them.

Hovde this week said “a large percentage" of nursing home residents "are not in the mental capacity to (vote).”

But he said that does not mean he thinks elderly people should not be allowed to vote.

“I think elderly should absolutely vote," he said Wednesday on WSAU-AM.

Nursing home voting became a focus for Trump supporters following his narrow loss in Wisconsin in 2020.

State law requires local election clerks to send so-called special voting deputies to nursing homes to give residents an opportunity to vote.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission, in a bipartisan 5-1 vote in March 2020, determined that poll workers could not be sent into nursing homes to help with voting due to a safer-at-home order issued by Gov. Tony Evers early in the COVID-19 pandemic. The order came at a time when nursing homes were severely limiting who could come into their facilities, often not even allowing immediate family members inside.

An audit by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau determined that the elections commission broke the law when it told clerks not to send or attempt to send deputies into nursing homes.

Schmaling, the sheriff and a Trump backer, called for criminal charges against the commissioners who voted not to send in voting deputies. But the Racine County district attorney declined to charge, citing lack of jurisdiction. The Milwaukee County district attorney also declined to charge two commissioners in his county, saying there was a lack of evidence that a crime was committed.

Republicans in the Legislature have tried to tighten rules about voting in nursing homes, but the measures have either failed to pass or been vetoed by Evers.

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This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling’s last name. It is Schmaling, not Shmaling.

News from © The Associated Press, 2024
The Associated Press

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