As the second largest county in Wisconsin, Dane County is closing in on potential record turnout in Tuesday’s general election — setting the stage to play a crucial role in the outcome for the battleground state and nation alike.
The New York Times cited Wisconsin as one of the six most important states to affect election results this year. Further, Dane County is listed among the 20 counties that will help decide who wins enough electoral votes to reach the White House — and for good reason.
Dane county saw a Democratic surge in the April 2020 race for the State Supreme Court, and, compounded with high absentee and early voting, this could indicate a record-breaking voter turnout. Now, as Election Day looms, the county has already reached 80 percent of its total turnout in the 2016 presidential contest.
Compared with other Wisconsin counties, Dane currently sits at 390,887 voters registered with the Wisconsin Elections Commission while Milwaukee County has 557,089 registered voters and Brown County, where Green Bay is located, has 162,076 voters. Milwaukee holds a population around 900,000 and Dane County around 500,000, which emphasizes the significant amount of active voters in Dane County compared to Milwaukee.
Not to mention, nearly as many votes were cast in Dane County as in Milwaukee County, even though Dane has less than 60 percent of Milwaukee’s population.
Unlike the swing Brown County, which leaned towards Obama in 2008, then Romney in 2012, then Trump in 2016, Dane County has consistently leaned Democratic — Clinton won Dane County in 2016 by over 140,000 votes, expanding on Obama's margins in 2008 and 2012.
If Dane can expect the same voter turnout it saw from the 2020 April elections, voters could flip the state blue.
“We've been practicing for this election, refining and improving our tactics, for four years,” Dane County Democratic Party Chair Alexia Sabor said. “We got an early taste of what we would need to do to win the November election when the pandemic hit just before our spring elections, and in the last few months we've made hundreds of thousands of calls and texts to voters and contactless literature drops.”
Since the 2016 election, the Democratic Party of Dane County has worked to ensure that Wisconsin’s overall results are flipped for the upcoming vote. They put their energy towards building up a powerful network of grassroots activists through their neighborhood teams.
This year, Sabor expects another Democratic landslide in Dane County.
“Dane County has a rich history of political activism, and also large populations of well-educated voters and young voters,” Sabor said. “Typically people in those demographics vote for more progressive candidates. Well-educated, middle aged and older voters vote at higher than average rates. And more recently, we're also seeing younger people realizing the power of their vote and exercising that right more consistently.”
One such well-educated and young voter is UW-Madison junior Roan Haines from Detroit, Mich.
“I voted because so many before me and currently do not have the same opportunity to have their voice heard,” Haines said. “The two party system is limited and the booths are not the place where radical change lives, but voting is a way to make incremental change during the in-between of massive change.”
Molly Phelan, another youth voter and sophomore from San Francisco, Calif., also already cast her vote early in Dane County.
“I’m voting so that I use my privilege as a white, cis woman to amplify the voices of the countless Americans who face voter suppression due to systemic racism,” Phelan said. “I am voting because I recognize that I benefit from how our society functions and I must use these benefits to uplift the interests of marginalized communities.”
Cole Migas, a UW senior from Washington, D.C., is voting because he believes it is his constitutional right to do so.
“As someone of African American heritage, I’m acutely aware that this right was oftentimes denied to my ancestors,” Migas said. “My ability to participate in this election is proof of America’s continuous march towards progress.”
While early voting has concluded, the polls will open in many locations around Madison and Dane County on Election Day at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. Residents can visit myvote.wi.gov to find their polling place.