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New election rules and suspicions fueled by Zuckerberg's cash

When Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg donated $400 million to help fund election offices as they scrambled to deal with the coronavirus pandemic late last summer, he said he hoped he would never have to do it again.

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New election rules and suspicions fueled by Zuckerberg's cash

Republican legislatures grant him this wish.

As Republicans attempt to stop outside funding of voting operations, at least eight GOP-controlled states have enacted bans on donations to electoral offices. This legislation is often part of Republican packages. These include new restrictions on voters' ability to cast ballots, and new requirements for county- or city-based election officials.

This is fueled by anger and suspicion at the fact that Zuckerberg's money was used to benefit Democrats in 2020. Conservatives have accused Zuckerberg's social media platform for censoring right-wing voices in its fight against misinformation.

The majority of Zuckerberg's money was distributed by a nonpartisan foundation with liberal roots. Conservative groups point out that the money was distributed disproportionately in key states like Florida and Pennsylvania to Democratic-leaning counties.

"People saw it, and looked around. They were increasingly concerned about how a billionaire could fund our elections through the backdoor," Jessica Anderson, executive director at Heritage Action, a conservative group that has supported bans in many states, said.

Many election officials believe that this effort is shortsighted and driven by paranoia. They argue that election offices are chronically underfunded and cannot now benefit from donations that continue to flow to many other branches, such as schools and libraries.

They also claim that there is no evidence of favoritism in the grant distributions from Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan. In dense urban areas, elections are more costly, especially last year when states had to switch to mail voting in an effort to combat the pandemic. To open and sort mail ballots in metro areas, it was necessary to purchase expensive equipment. This task is something smaller, GOP-leaning states could easily do manually or with less equipment.

Because of conservative suspicions about Zuckerberg, areas with Republican leanings were already disqualified from receiving election grants. The Republican attorney general of Louisiana last year ordered his state's election offices to turn down grants from the nonprofit, the Center for Tech and Civic Life, which distributed $350 million of the Zuckerberg money.

Tiana Epps Johnson, CTCL's executive Director, stated that funding was provided to every election department that applied. She also said that the money distribution "reflects the choices of those who applied."

Zuckerberg's spokesperson declined to comment on the new legislation.

Ben LaBolt stated that Mark and Priscilla stepped in to fill a funding gap and gave $350 million to Center for Tech and Civic Life. This nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) organization was created when our nation's election infrastructure was faced with unprecedented challenges due to the pandemic. "Mark stated that this was an unprecedented effort to address the unprecedented pandemic challenge and that he preferred elections to be public funded.

The center distributed grants to over 2,500 election offices across the country, from Alaska to Florida. The money was used in many ways, including protective gear for poll workers and public education campaigns to promote new methods of voting during the pandemic.

Coconino County in northern Arizona used its $614,000 grant for election workers. It included Navajo speakers and established drive-up locations for voters to drop their ballots.

She stated that it was the first time she had enough funds to reach the entire county. The county is 18,600 sq. miles in size, but it is sparsely populated.

She stated that "Because the legislation passed by the governor, it will never be possible to get a grant such as that ever again." "They are cutting off funding sources to meet these additional requirements that they have placed on us."

Although election officials have complained for years that they are underfunded, they never felt more desperate than last year, when they had to immediately restructure their entire operation during the height of the pandemic. Mail voting was the most popular option, but in-person voting required additional protections and hazard payments for poll workers.

The Democrats tried to get an additional $2 billion for election office funding in the April coronavirus aid bill, but they only received $400 million. After a summer of difficult primaries and partisan impasse over funding, Zuckerberg intervened. Chan and he donated $400 million to election offices. $350 million was in grants to local offices through CTCL.

Some conservatives were skeptical about the selection of CTCL due to its roots. Epps Johnson was one of the group's founders. The New Organizing Institute provided data and training for liberal activists. However, CTCL is now well-respected among election officials. It also has a Republican on its board, Pam Anderson, a former clerk in a suburban Denver-area County. She stated that the group was "100% nonpartisan" in an interview.

Other Republican election officials also supported the program's impartiality. Brian Mead, a Republican election official in Licking county, Ohio outside of Columbus, said that "I don’t see why governments should not be allowed to try to work with the private sector when securing grant funds." The program received $77,000 from CTCL. Mead stated, "If we can collaborate with the private sector to secure funds where our taxpayers save money, then that's a great thing."

This did not placate conservatives, particularly after initial grants were given to large, Democratic-voting communities. CTCL provided $10 million to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which was one of the key battlegrounds in the presidential election. Philadelphia has an annual election budget that is $12.3 million. The conservative Foundation for Government Accountability found that in Pennsylvania, Democratic-voting counties received an average of $4.99 per voter, while Republican-voting ones got $1.12 per voter.

The difference was even more dramatic in Florida. One-third of $18 million went to Democratic-leaning Palm Beach County and $2.4 million to Miami-Dade County. This county voted for Joe Biden, although it was less than expected. The state was won by Republican Donald Trump.

Hayden Dublois, a Foundation for Government Accountability researcher, said that Charles Koch would have done this. He was referring to conservative billionaire.

The new laws in some states, such as Texas and Georgia, require that all donations to local elections offices be made to the secretary of state. They are prohibited in states like Arizona, Kansas, and Iowa.

Anderson, a Republican CTCL board member said that this will cause real damage.

Anderson stated, "If you want me to block this funding, I will ask if legislators are funding election campaigns." "Because so many states don't."

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