Seal of Dane County County of Dane
Dane County Clerk's Office

About Scott McDonell

Scott Andrew McDonell (born 4/29/69 in Washington, D.C.) is the elected County Clerk in Dane County, Wisconsin.

McDonell is a Democrat in the progressive county located in southern Wisconsin that includes the state capital of Madison and has held the position since he was first elected clerk in 2013. In Nov. 2020 he was elected for a four-year term that ends on Jan. 6, 2025, in an uncontested election where he received more than 98% of the vote. He resides in Madison with his wife Megin. The couple has two children.

McDonell previously served as a Dane County supervisor representing a downtown Madison district for 17 years, from 1996 - 2013. He served as Dane County Board Chair for his final eight years on the board, a position elected by his board peers.

In 2014, McDonell became the first clerk in Wisconsin to issue a same-sex marriage license leading to spirited, festive celebrations on the steps of the City County Building as couples recited vows. And he is the only clerk in the country to oversee two presidential recounts (2016, 2020).

Early life and education

McDonell grew up in Bethesda, Maryland, graduating from Walt Whitman High School, where he played varsity soccer and was active in the arts. He also played soccer at the UW-Madison, where he graduated with a BA in political science in 1995. Shortly after graduation, he successfully ran for a seat on the Dane County Board.

His early career also included employment in the state Department of Administration and public service on the boards of the Tenant Resource Center and the Madison Community Cooperative. As clerk he served on Dane County’s Redistricting Commission.

Dane County Board 1996-2013

On the board, McDonell focused on issues including criminal justice reform, regional transportation solutions, mental health services and conducting an audit of Dane County’s justice system. Highlights of his service include adoption of a Regional Transit Commission (which was repealed by Republicans when they took over the Wisconsin Legislature) and creating the first county domestic partner registry. He served briefly as acting Dane County Executive and in 2011 ran unsuccessfully for that office.

Dane County Clerk 2013 - present

A primary duty of the Dane County Clerk’s Office, in addition to overseeing elections, is to issue marriage licenses. Long a supporter of same-sex unions, one of McDonell’s first high-profile actions as clerk took place on June 6, 2014 when a federal judge ruled that same-sex marriage was legal in Wisconsin. He had prepared for that possibility in advance, having staff, judges and court commissioners at the ready for a “marriage rush” that day and adding open office hours into the following weekend.

When Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen pushed back arguing the ban remained in place and even threatening clerks who issued licenses suggesting they could be prosecuted, McDonell took them on, accusing them of obstruction based on their personal objections to gay marriage. “The court has ruled,” he shot back at Van Hollen. “He should call off his dogs and turn off his fire hoses.”

When the county got new voting equipment in 2014, McDonell joined forces with YouTube sensation “Chad Vader” (Darth’s younger, less famous brother created by Blame Society Productions) to create a voting information video for Dane County. He also co-wrote the scripts for videos with Vader on the topics of Voter ID and a 2020 pandemic video on absentee voting. The latter won a national award for best municipal public service announcement.

Election challenges

After Republicans took control of state government in 2010, they implemented a number of measures that made it more cumbersome to vote, changing procedures for election officials and voters. McDonell helped organize communication among clerks on how to approach these new laws, which made Wisconsin voting requirements among the most restrictive in the nation. He also worked on helping voters get needed identification, including coordinating free rides to the Department of Motor Vehicles to obtain a voter ID.

Further challenges emerged in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic – and the resulting shelter at home order – came just weeks before Wisconsin’s presidential primary. This resulted in legal challenges and rapidly changing guidance from courts and elected officials, while requests for absentee ballots surged. The Wisconsin Republican Party sued McDonell over advice he gave on Facebook that voters could be considered “indefinitely confined” due to the pandemic and the WIsconsin Supreme Court ordered him to remove the post. Another pandemic challenge was a lack of available poll workers. In Dane County, 249 Wisconsin National Guard members filled in as poll workers, keeping lines much shorter than they were elsewhere in Wisconsin.

Fair & secure elections expertise

After President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, his followers and many Republican officials challenged the election results. In heavily Democratic Dane County and Milwaukee County, Trump’s campaign paid for a recount. This was the second presidential recount McDonell oversaw making him the only clerk in the country to do so twice. (In 2016, Jill Stein’s campaign ordered a recount after Trump won Wisconsin. Although both margins of victory were narrow, both recounts affirmed the initial results.)

Further attempts to discredit and overturn the clear 2020 election results included false information targeting election officials, which created a dangerous environment for clerks, poll workers and others involved in elections. McDonell spearheaded a plan to add panic buttons, bullet-proof glass, scan-card door access and other security measures to keep his team safe. He also administered training courses on de-escalating conflict at the polls.

With the unprecedented attacks on election integrity, McDonell took on national roles and became a frequent statewide and national media resource on such topics. He is involved with Election Sciences, Reform, and Administration (ESRA) conferences, which bring together election experts from academia, government and nonprofits around the topic of best election practices. In 2022, McDonell became a member of the Committee for Safe and Secure Elections (CSSE) board, a nonpartisan organization with bipartisan membership that creates partnerships between local law enforcement and election officials aimed at protecting election workers.


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