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Cheney has lackluster voting history

The candidate did not cast a ballot in 14 of the 16 elections that occurred while he was registered in Texas.

By Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 9, 2000

AUSTIN -- The man who wants to be the education president has picked a running mate who voted in almost no local elections, including school board races and a school bond issue, since he moved to Dallas more than four years ago.

The Dallas Morning News reported Friday that Republican vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney did not vote in 14 of 16 elections since registering in Dallas County in late 1995 -- including the March primary in which he could have cast his vote for his future running mate, George W. Bush. The elections also included state primaries, runoffs, municipal and school board elections, and votes on constitutional amendments and a school bond issue.

Cheney and Bush have spent much of the last three weeks traveling the country and stressing the importance of local involvement and control of schools. Asked Friday by reporters what his voting record said about the importance of school elections, Cheney said: "I'm sure they are for people that are connected with them. But I also traveled a great deal. Dallas was my base, that's where I lived and was headquartered. But I was not involved in community affairs very extensively in Dallas. My focus was on global concerns."

Cheney, campaigning in Connecticut, said he voted in "every federal primary and general election in the last twenty-some years."

An aide to Cheney explained that he was out of town for this year's presidential primary and noted that Bush's main challenger, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, had already dropped out of the race by then.

Even extended absences from the country would not normally bar a Texan from voting, experts said. State election law includes generous provisions allowing absentee and advance voting for those who cannot get to the polls on Election Day. Records in Austin show that Bush has used those measures to vote in advance in most of the 18 elections held since he became governor.

Dallas County records show that Cheney registered to vote in the state in December 1995 after moving to Highland Park from the Washington, D.C., area as the new chief executive officer of Halliburton Co.

The elections in which he took part were the November 1996 presidential election and the November 1998 race for governor and other state and local offices.

To avoid a constitutional conflict with running mates from the same state, Cheney changed his voter registration to his home in Wyoming in July, days before being tapped as Bush's running mate. He voted in the subsequent GOP presidential primary there.

Democrat Al Gore's campaign was quick to seize on the story.

"Certainly, people would expect those seeking to lead them would take the time to vote," said Douglas Hattaway, a spokesman for the Gore campaign. "But I guess it's hard when you're a busy oil company executive. I suppose he had other priorities."

That prompted a response from Cheney's communications director, Dirk Vande Beek. "Secretary Cheney has voted in every general federal election for over 20 years," he said. "He is a patriot and an avid participant in the political process."

The number of local, state and national elections each year varies widely by jurisdiction, according to local laws and whether officials put multiple issues on one ballot.

Some experts said Cheney's voting reflects that state and local governments are holding too many elections.

"On one level, every citizen should try to vote whenever they have the opportunity," said Curtis Gans, director of the non-partisan Washington-based Committee for the Study of the American Electorate. But "a lot of those elections should have been held during state or national primaries. Holding them on off days (as many cities and schools do) is almost designed to reduce participation."

The 14 elections Cheney skipped in Dallas County were the presidential and state primaries, primary runoffs and Highland Park city elections in 1996; two state constitutional amendment votes in 1997; a Highland Park school board vote, a Highland Park city election, a state primary and primary runoffs in 1998; a hotly contested Highland Park school bond vote and a constitutional amendment vote in 1999; and this year's primary and primary runoffs.

Cheney was registered in Casper, Wyo., from 1978 until he moved to Dallas -- a period that includes his 21 years in Congress and his tenure as defense secretary from 1989 to 1993. Only records of federal elections, not state or local ballots, are available for Wyoming in those years. Those show that Cheney voted in every federal primary and general election from 1978 to 1994.

Gans said the record suggests that Cheney, once out of office, joined a bulk of Americans who only vote in the "big" elections. "Not voting in an uncontested primary is not a crime," he said.

Cheney's two-for-16 voting history compares with a five-for-six election participation rate of his Democratic counterpart, Sen. Joe Lieberman, over the same period in Connecticut.

Records in New Haven show that Lieberman voted in all but one of six elections there since December 1995, missing a November 1997 mayoral contest. Records before 1995 were not available.

Voter logs in Austin and Dallas show that since 1988, Bush has voted in 38 of 39 elections, missing only the 1992 primary. Gore has not missed any of the 16 elections since 1972 in his hometown of Carthage, Tenn.

Poll shows Cheney's negative rating growing

Also on Friday, Cheney shrugged off a new poll showing his unfavorable ratings among voters was growing. The poll, by ABC-Washington Post, showed 42 percent of voters viewed Cheney favorably, while 20 percent viewed him negatively -- almost double his negative ratings shown in a poll taken after Bush chose him about six weeks ago.

"I don't spend a lot of time worrying about my favorables or unfavorables," Cheney told reporters. "It's not a personality contest in terms of the vice presidential campaigns. It's about which ticket can win the election."

The favorability ratings of Gore's running mate, Lieberman, have nearly doubled to 46 percent from 24 percent a month ago, the poll showed.

Fifteen percent of voters had a negative opinion of Lieberman in the latest poll, up from 10 percent in August.

- Information from the Dallas Morning News, Associated Press and New York Times was included in this report.

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