It’s no secret that life moves a little slower in Wisconsin.
However, one thing that never seems to slow in America’s dairyland is democracy, as even in an off-year election officials are busier than ever preparing for one of the most highly contested presidential elections the state has ever seen.
For many residents in Dane County, next year’s presidential election may not be at the top of their agenda, but for local municipalities, preparation couldn’t be more important.
“We do a lot of things to make sure what we’re doing is voter-centric, that we’re looking out for the voter, and what we’re doing is always in their best interest, and that all of our voters that wish to cast a ballot can cast that ballot and have it counted,” said Madison Deputy Clerk Jim Verbick.
Dane County’s elections became a national focus after its results were contested by former President Donald Trump after the 2020 election. Despite several taxpayer-funded audits and a state Supreme Court challenge reaffirming the results of the 2020 election, local organizations are working harder than ever to ensure Dane County residents that elections in the county are both safe and secure.
According to Verbick, one of the major challenges surrounding elections in Dane County is the increased focus on rules and regulations surrounding elections in Wisconsin by the state Legislature.
Wisconsin currently boasts one of the strictest voter ID laws in the country, requiring citizens to possess a physical ID to cast their vote.
These laws have made it increasingly more difficult for college students to cast their vote, especially at UW–Madison, which has the largest out-of-state student population in Wisconsin.
“Here in Wisconsin we make it more difficult for college students without a Wisconsin driver’s license to vote [than] in almost any state in the country,” said Jay Heck, the executive director of Common Cause Wisconsin.
Heck and Common Cause Wisconsin have been one of the largest nonpartisan advocates for voter rights in Wisconsin dating back to the 1990s. The organization’s primary focus is protecting democracy within the state, as well as ensuring voters receive the proper information to make sure their vote is counted.
Heck views the partisan divide as one of the key factors in the constant turnover of voting legislation. As was the case in 2020, Heck believes Wisconsin will play a key role in deciding the winner of the 2024 election, making voter education even more important.
“We are going to be one of those handfuls of states — Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania — that are going to decide the 2024 election,” Heck said.“It’s going to be very closely contested, there’s going to be a great deal of disinformation about voting procedures in Wisconsin, as well as attacks on election officials.”
According to Heck, the highly contested nature of this upcoming election has put increased pressure on local officials to provide transparency surrounding the election process in Dane County.
While many organizations are looking at new ways to inform voters in the Dane County community, others, such as the Democratic Party of Dane County, are taking a more traditional approach to helping citizens better understand Wisconsin’s complicated elections process.
Focusing primarily on door-knocking and cold-calling campaigns, the Democratic Party of Dane County is hopeful that helping voters in the community understand the process from a face-to-face standpoint can make a real impact.
One of the organization’s primary focuses is ensuring that out-of-state students— a demographic Alexia Sabor of the county party views as one of the most important populations in deciding elections here — understand how to register to vote.
“Students coming from other states often don’t have good information about how to register to vote,” Sabor said. “Wisconsin is unique among other states in offering same-day registration, that’s something that people from other states oftentimes aren’t always aware of.
With the 2024 election set to be one of the closest elections in recent history, organizations across the county are working to ensure voters have every opportunity to have their say in its result.
“People are obviously concerned about making sure their votes are counted; we want to be as supportive of them as we possibly can,” Verbick said.