Report on Election-Related Contingency Planning

Executive Summary

Elections are the cornerstone of our democracy. A citizen’s right to vote is one of our
enduring principles. There are many scenarios both natural and man-made that warrant
taking precautions and making preparations to prevent, mitigate, and recover from an
emergency situation that may disrupt an election. Wisconsin Statutes give emergency
management powers to the governor, §166.03(1)(a), (b), Wis. Stats. However it is up to
state agencies, such as the State Elections Board, and local units of government to respond
accordingly in the event of an emergency situation, §166.03(5a), Wis. Stats. The State
Legislature recognized the need for a proactive approach to election preparedness planning
and required, in 2005 Wisconsin Act 451, that the State Elections Board prepare this report
and recommendations with regard to state, regional and local election-related contingency
planning efforts and preparedness regarding both large-scale and limited-scope natural
disasters or technological threats that may occur at or near election time.

A variety of resources were drawn upon to obtain information about election-related
contingency planning including information requests from all Wisconsin counties and
municipalities, phone and email survey of other state governments, and guidance from a
National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) coalition report entitled Overview:
Election Security Planning for States. Additionally, Rob Rude, Bureau Director for
Response and Recovery within Wisconsin Division of Emergency Management provided a
review and recommendations for a draft version of this report.1 The county and municipal
plans obtained provided an insight into the methods currently used around Wisconsin in
anticipating Election Day emergency situations as well as indicated areas where we might
improve. The collected state plans supplied a comparative mechanism for which we could
assess the status of Wisconsin’s efforts with those of our neighbors. Finally, the
Emergency Management guidance and NASS report helped to construct a framework for
many of the recommendations outlined in the report.

Emergency situations can and do occur. In the November 2006 election, the City of
Madison experienced this first-hand as they had to respond to the threat of a bomb at the
Madison East High School polling place on Election Day. Such situations are not limited
solely to Election Day. Hurricane Katrina, in late August 2005, not only devastated much
of the Gulf Coast but also created a state of uncertainty regarding the following Spring
2006 elections for New Orleans and surrounding communities. These emergency
circumstances can cause a range of problems for conducting a fair and transparent election
if effective responses are not planned and implemented. Obviously, every emergency
event is a unique experience that requires a specifically tailored response; however, this
does not mean that proactive steps are futile. Advance preparations can help mitigate the
confusion surrounding extraordinary events and create public confidence in the security of
our elections.

Click the attachment below to download the entire report.

Resource Type