Plans underway for new Dane County election center

MADISON, Wis. — There are still a few weeks until the November election, but local clerks are already preparing for the next round of midterms.

An executive budget proposal from the Dane County Clerk’s Office lays out plans for a new election center. The project is still in the early planning stages, but officials are already anticipating the site’s added layer of safety during elections, not just for ballots but for those that process them.

“When you have so many people who don’t believe in the outcome of the election and they’re listening to disinformation, it makes us think we’re going to have to live with this for a while,” county clerk Scott McDonell said.

Despite a legitimate win by President Joe Biden in 2020, skepticism surrounding election integrity continues, even two years later. As more voters question ballot security, more election officials are left to question their own personal security.

“The safety for clerks has really become an issue the last few years, especially given the threats against election officials in Wisconsin and around the country,” McDonell said. “We really need to make sure those folks feel safe doing their job.”

Alongside added security for clerks and poll workers, McDonell said the new office will provide security for critical election equipment. He said this is especially important, given the county’s equipment has already been destroyed by floods on two separate occasions.

“We also just need the simple security part of it all, which means keeping equipment climate-controlled and safe from water,” McDonell said. “So mostly, the space is just professionalizing and protecting election infrastructure.”

The new election office will also provide enough space to insource election workflow. That’s a big step up from the current set-up, which requires tasks such as ballot printing, sorting, packaging, and shredding to be contracted out of Dane County.

“I also think the clerks will be happy to have a place to safely store ballots and pull books,” McDonell said. “Plus the equipment will be easier to service it. So, there’ll be a lot of advantages to having a centralized facility.”

McDonell said because of supply shortages, construction costs, and an ongoing architect search, he can’t give a definitive project timeline, but he did note that he fully expects the new office to be ready by the next midterm election in 2026. The next steps for the project include its discussion during Thursday’s county executive committee meeting, followed by a finance committee meeting later in the month.