In late July, the Dane County Election Security Committee released its final report with recommendations on how to keep election workers safe. The report includes the results of a survey of election officials conducted in May, which was completed by clerks from 50 of the county’s 62 municipalities. Of the clerks surveyed, 84 percent felt that “threats have increased in recent years” and 30 percent are “thinking about leaving their jobs because of fear for their safety.”
In response, Madison and Dane County are both beefing up local ordinances on disorderly conduct to explicitly include harassment of election workers. The ordinance change was approved by the county’s Public Protection and Judiciary committee on July 26. Jeff Weigand, the only supervisor to oppose the changes, questioned whether election workers were really seeing an increase in threats.
“I don’t think that we have any credible cases of this actually occurring. Certainly it’s not happening anywhere in the areas of the county that I represent. To me, this sounds like a solution in search of a problem,” said Weigand, who represents the villages of Windsor, Cottage Grove, Marshall and part of the city of Sun Prairie and is one of the most conservative supervisors on the board. “We can pass this resolution tonight. Pat ourselves on the back. The paper will maybe do a story about how we’re modernizing our misdemeanor ordinances to really crack down on election harassment that isn’t occurring…. I’m not going to stand for it.”
“Tell me I’m wrong,” said Weigand, before wrapping up his testimony. “Tell me I’m off the mark.”
Tell Dylan asked former Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney about whether threats and harassment of election officials have increased in the county since the 2020 presidential election. Mahoney served as sheriff for 15 years before retiring in May 2021.
“The supervisor is wrong,” says the former sheriff, who applauds the county and the city for making changes to their disorderly conduct ordinances. “It’s a solution to an existing problem. It’s absolutely one of the things we need to be doing.”
Mahoney says what changed after the 2020 election was that “hateful groups and individuals were emboldened. These people have always been in our communities. I know because of my years as sheriff,” says Mahoney. “But in the past, they were forced under the rocks where they belong. Not anymore.”
Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell says protecting our democracy means protecting election workers. “Madison clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl and her staff have received death threats investigated by the FBI,” says McDonell. “I don’t know how anyone can deny that it isn’t real.”
When contacted by phone, Weigand told Tell Dylan to call him back in 15 minutes and then did not pick up several subsequent calls or respond to texts.