Ahead of midterms, safety remains top priority for county election officials

MADISON, Wis. — With just over three days until the midterm election, campaigns are in full swing.

“Campaigners are going everywhere, knocking on doors,” Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell said. “So you know, that’s indicative of a very competitive race. I think we’re going to see really high turnout, and in Dane County, we could probably see 80%.”

The likelihood of a highly competitive race has county election officials preparing for every possibility on Election Day, including potential threats to polling locations.

“We’ve done some security improvements here in the city clerk’s office, and we’ve done de-escalation and active shooter training with all the clerks,” McDonell said. “That is something [poll workers] requested because they’re worried they’re going to deal with someone angry, where it’s kind of hard to deal with them.”

Along with increased training and added security improvements, the Dane County clerk’s office has also upped its coordination with local law enforcement.

“We’ve made a pocket guide for law enforcement so they know what the laws are, to really reinforce that the chief inspector at the polls is the one who’s in charge,” McDonell said. “We really try to improve communication, too, so that if something’s going on, we all know about it right away.”

McDonell said law enforcement will mostly be working in the background, to limit voter distractions. Still, that added level of security will be close by if needed.

“You don’t really don’t want uniformed officers in the polls or nearby if you can avoid it, but, you know, in rural areas, some of those response times can take a little longer, so they’ll be close by there,” McDonell said. “But, you know, they won’t be standing right by the lines that go in or anything.”

The county election office is also being proactive in preparing for a possible recount, which McDonell said is really the focus these final few days before the election.

“When you’re prepping for a recount, it’s about securing the space and trying to get the layout together, because it’s a lot more ballots when you’re doing a November election,” McDonell said. “We did an August recount, but that was maybe half the ballots we expect this November. So, we want to make sure we aren’t scrambling at the last minute because a recount is a huge production.”

Finally, McDonell urges the public to be patient with results, as the ballot counting process may take a bit longer than normal given this year’s predicted voter turnout.

“It might take a little while for results to come in because there’s going to be a lot of absentee ballots to count and a lot of people in line to vote on Tuesday,” McDonell said.