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Dane County task force calls for hardening clerks’ offices and election machine storage against potential violence, interference

Recommendations come as state lawmakers, former President Trump repeat false claims of stolen election in 2020

A worker holds up a ballot to a plexiglass wall as two other workers examine it
Election officials began the presidential recount in Dane County on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020, at the Monona Terrace in Madison, Wisc. President Donald Trump requested a partial recount of the 2020 presidential election, targeting the Democratic strongholds of Milwaukee and Dane counties. Laurel White/WPR

A Dane County task force is recommending increasing security for clerks they say are facing growing threats in the wake of false claims of widespread voter fraud during the 2020 election, along with improving security at facilities used to store voting equipment.

A report issued by the Dane County Election Security Task Force says the “critical infrastructure” of election administration is inadequate in the county and clerks in Madison and surrounding municipalities “do not feel safe.”

In a task force statement, Town of Perry Clerk Mary Price said, “We are constantly dealing with people who believe the lies they are being told about election equipment, voter databases, etc. It is causing us to lose good people and it has to stop.”

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During a virtual press conference Monday, University of Wisconsin-Madison Political Science Professor and task force chair Ken Mayer said storage facilities and clerk offices where results are tabulated don’t meet U.S. Department of Homeland Security recommendations.

“So, our recommendations were that municipalities in the county need to take a look at their office structures and, where appropriate, increase the security of those structures with access controls, barriers to protect the staff, (and) increased physical security for the storage of election equipment and ballots that are required to be stored for 22 months after federal elections,” said Mayer.

Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell said municipal clerks have faced increased threats of violence and accusations following former President Donald Trump’s false accusation that the 2020 election was stolen from him in swing states like Wisconsin.

“We know the clerks are concerned,” said McDonell. “We know that law enforcement is concerned. We know that this problem is out there and it needs to be addressed.”

Neither McDonell or Mayer gave specifics on threats in Dane County. But McDonell pointed to examples from Michigan, including a plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the theft of election equipment in a rural Michigan community.

A task force survey of clerks found 84 percent of respondents say threats against election officials have increased in recent years. More than half of clerks who were threatened said they contacted local police or the FBI.

McDonell said Madison’s City-County government building, where election results are tallied, has “too many access points.” He said the situation is the same for town and village clerks offices.

“With the increase in threats that we’re seeing, the fact that Dane County is probably one of ten places in the country that would be potentially a target for who knows what kind of anger from websites or social media — this needs to be a priority to protect clerks,” said McDonell.

He said in a worst-case scenario, elections staff could be hurt.

“I’m going to ask, in my budget request for the county, for a facility that would house the equipment, ballots and personnel that’s secure, that’s not in a city-county building,” McDonell said.

He also pointed to flooding in July 2016 that destroyed election machines and ballots that were to be used in a primary election the following month. He said machines and ballots are now stored in a private warehouse, which is not climate controlled.