With an important primary election just around the corner, Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell wants you to know two things: first, Dane County’s elections are entirely secure, since we use a paper ballot that can’t be hacked, and second, it’s a really good idea to vote early — which you can do right now.
On Tuesday, August 14, Wisconsin voters will choose their party’s nominee for governor, lieutenant governor and a variety of legislative races. Democratic voters will choose between Mahlon Mitchell, Kelda Roys, Tony Evers, Kathleen Vinehout, Mike McCabe and a few other candidates for governor, and between Mandela Barnes and Kurt Kober for lieutenant governor. Madison Alder Arvina Martin is also running against 40-year incumbent Doug La Follette for secretary of state in the Democratic primary. Four candidates, including Dane County Board Supervisor Shelia Stubbs and immigration attorney Shabnam Lotfi, are vying to fill the State Assembly seat vacated by Terese Berceau.
Early voting opened Monday, so anyone who resides in Madison can vote at any public library any time the library is open. You don’t have to go to the library in your neighborhood, just any public library while they’re open. Those who live outside Madison can go to your local city hall or municipal building during business hours.
You do have to bring a drivers license or voter ID card — but your ID doesn’t have to have your current address on it. It just has to show that you are who you say you are.
“That’s probably the biggest thing that confuses people,” McDonell said. “It does not have to have your current address on it.”
It does have to be a Wisconsin ID, though.
But in any case, the still-relatively-new voter ID laws are one good reason to vote early.
“If there is any issue with your photo ID, you have time to fix it,” McDonell said. “A lot of UW students, for example, even though we’ve tried to get the message out, they can’t use their Minnesota driver’s license. They don’t realize that until they get in there (to vote). Well that’s easier to fix now, two weeks ahead of the election. You need to go to the DMV and get a get an ID that you can use, or on campus you can get a secondary voting ID from UW. You have time to do that now.”
But maybe the best reason to vote early is simply to make it easier on your schedule, since the libraries are open on evenings and weekends.
McDonell also wants to assure voters that their votes will not be hacked by Russians or anyone else.
Every ballot is cast on paper — even the assisted voting machines for people with disabilities use an electronic pencil to mark a paper ballot, which is then fed into the tabulation machine to be counted. Those machines take a digital photo of every ballot, and every ballot is also saved. And Dane County is one of the only places in the country that makes those digital images available online after every election — meaning you could perform your own recount if you wanted, just by downloading ballots from the County Clerk website.
Furthermore, the vote tabulation machines aren’t connected to the internet, so there’s virtually no way to tamper with the vote counts.
“They’d have to send Russian agents over here,” McDonelll said.
Election security in Dane County is “like a castle with 10 walls and two moats,” McDonell said. “People focus on, well they could penetrate this one moat. And I’m like, yeah. Then they get oil poured on them.”
McDonell said the only vulnerability to Dane County voting might be a hacker deleting people from the state voter registration files — but then Wisconsin still has same-day registration, so you can just re-register.
“Maybe they would rather just stick to hacking the state voter registration database. They can do that from Moscow,” McDonell said. “They’ve beefed up the security on that. But then I say election day registration is it the greatest security feature, too. Because if they did something to the database, we just grab last year’s poll book, pull it out and then anyone who’s not on there go register at that table over there, which we’re already ready to do. It would be harder, no doubt, but we can handle it.”
McDonell acknowledged that August primary turnout is often low, but there’s also more excitement around elections than usual these days.
“We planned for 40 percent turnout,” McDonell said. “I don’t expect that, but we’re going to watch the numbers carefully. Uh, as far as the early voting and if we have to play it safe, we’re goign to order more ballots if we’re seeing numbers that are higher than usual. That’s another advantage of early voting. It can be a bellwether for us to see what’s happening out there.”