Private funding saved the 2020 election. Now, some GOP-led states are banning it. Money from the private sector leading up to the 2020 election was a lifeline for voting officials.
In Philadelphia, the city was able to buy new high-speed appliances to help sort mail votes by ward and precinct, as it roughly received $10 million in donated funds.
In Coconino County, Ariz. The money was paid for temporary staff to encourage Native American voters to register and vote.
In Chester County, Pa., it was paid for body cameras for election workers to pick up mail ballots from drop boxes.
Why is private funding being ousted from public elections?
But a year and a half later, that lifeline has also generated a slew of corruption and put efforts in dozens of states to ban the kind of financing that helped local election officials save them.
More than 1,000 people were dying every day because of the pandemic and the risks it posed made voting exponentially more costly as officials hurried to implement mail options and make in-person territories safer.
But Congress didn’t allocate more money to help make the general election happen, which left local election officials desperate for other allotment sources.
Republicans’ take on the move
Al Schmidt, a Republican former election commissioner in Philadelphia said “I know the benefit that the [private] funding provided And I cannot comprehend what a mess the 2020 election would have been if we did not have the equipment that we were able to purchase”.
For many Republican legislators across the country, the use of private money to run a government operation was distasteful. And now, in many states, it won’t happen again.
Call for a US-wide ban on private funding for elections
Since voting ended in 2020, more than a dozen Republican-controlled state legislatures have legislated laws that prevent local election officials from accepting donations as they did in that election.
In five other states also, Republican legislatures have tried to do the same, but they got blocked by the vetoes of Democratic governors.
Much of the money donated to the election, nearly $350 million, came from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr Priscilla Chan. It was distributed through a grant program run by a nonprofit organization called the Center for Tech and Civic Life.
Facebook and Zuckerberg have been facing criticism since the election held in 2016 for advertising democracy by allowing misinformation to flourish on the platform.
Republicans have interpreted Zuckerberg’s donations as a sign that the tech executive infringed on the voting process in 2020 to advantage Democrats, but there is no evidence that is the case.
Michael Gableman, who is a conservative former state Supreme Court judge in Wisconsin who was hired by the GOP-controlled state legislature to investigate the 2020 election, has just released a report that falsely implied the private donations amounted to “illegal bribery.”
Gableman said in a recent interview with Fox News host Tucker Carlson that he had been shocked at how deeply embedded the private Zuckerberg agents or employees came in actually administering the elections in those cities to one degree or another. In some cities, they took over the election.
Gabelman said targeting Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg over private funding for elections.
Republicans denounce CTCL
Republicans have also denounced the CTCL as being politically biased because relatively more of the donation money was distributed to districts won by Joe Biden than by former President Donald Trump.
The Center for Tech and Civic Life gave grant funding to every election jurisdiction that applied for it.
Tiana Epps-Johnson, the executive director of the Center for Tech and Civic Life said that they invited every single election department in the entire country to apply for grant funding if they needed it.
Ultimately, they received about 2,500 applications from election departments across 49 states and awarded funding to all of them.
An analysis of three swing states after the election by APM Reports found no compatible difference in turnout rates among counties that received grants and those that didn’t.
The financial mystery persists nevertheless
Everyone in the elections community, including Epps-Johnson, wants these sorts of private grants to be unnecessary, regardless of whether they are legal.
Epps- Johnson said that they have always agreed that the best way to fund election departments is strong, predictable public funding.
The problem is that dependable public funding hasn’t come, even as state legislatures scramble to cut off this other funding source for voting officials.
In 2020, Congress distributed $400 million to help election officials in response to the coronavirus but didn’t send cash in 2021, and this year the federal government sent another $75 million as part of the recent spending package which was signed by President Joe Biden.