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Zuckerberg’s money fuels GOP suspicion and new election guidelines

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DENVER (AP) — When Fb founder Mark Zuckerberg donated $400 million to assist fund election workplaces as they scrambled to cope with the coronavirus pandemic late final summer season, he mentioned he hoped he would by no means must do it once more.

Republican legislatures are granting him that want.

At the very least eight GOP-controlled states have handed bans on donations to election workplaces this yr as Republicans attempt to block outdoors funding of voting operations. The laws typically comes as a part of Republican packages that additionally put new limits on how voters can forged ballots and impose new necessities on county or city-based election officers.

The response is spurred by anger and suspicion on the suitable that Zuckerberg’s cash benefited Democrats in 2020. Conservatives have lengthy accused the tech mogul’s social media platform of censoring right-wing voices as a part of its marketing campaign towards misinformation.

Zuckerberg’s cash was largely distributed by means of a nonpartisan basis that had liberal roots. Conservative teams cite analyses that the cash went disproportionately to Democratic-leaning counties in key states akin to Florida and Pennsylvania.

“Individuals noticed that, and seemed round, and so they have been more and more involved about why would you may have a billionaire funding our elections by means of the backdoor,” mentioned Jessica Anderson, government director of the conservative group Heritage Motion, which has pushed the bans in a number of states.

However many election officers say that effort short-sighted and fueled by paranoia. Election workplaces, they argue, are chronically underfunded and now can not profit from donations that also circulate to so many different branches of presidency, together with police, colleges and libraries.

Moreover, they are saying there isn’t a signal of favoritism within the distribution of the grants from Zuckerberg and his spouse, Priscilla Chan. Elections are costlier in populous city areas, and particularly extra so final yr, when states scrambled to shift to mail voting to cope with the pandemic. Metro areas had to purchase costly gear to open and kind mail ballots, a process that smaller, extra GOP-leaning counties might do by hand or with much less gear.

Additionally, Republican-leaning areas have been already discouraged from accepting election grants as a consequence of conservative suspicion of Zuckerberg. The Republican legal professional common of Louisiana final yr ordered his state’s election workplaces to show down grants from the nonprofit, the Heart for Tech and Civic Life, which distributed $350 million of the Zuckerberg cash.

“Each election division that utilized, obtained funding,” mentioned CTCL’s government director, Tiana Epps-Johnson, including that the distribution of the cash “displays those that selected to use.”

A spokesman for Zuckerberg declined to handle the wave of recent laws.

“When our nation’s election infrastructure confronted unprecedented challenges final yr as a result of pandemic, Mark and Priscilla stepped as much as shut a funding hole and granted $350 million to the Heart for Tech and Civic Life, a nonpartisan, 501 (c)(3) group,” mentioned Ben LaBolt. “Mark made clear this was a singular effort to handle the unprecedented problem of the pandemic and his desire for elections to be publicly funded.”

The middle distributed grants to 2,500 election workplaces nationwide, from Alaska to Florida. The cash was spent in all kinds of how — protecting gear for ballot staff, public training campaigns selling new strategies to vote throughout the pandemic, and new vans to haul voting gear.

In northern Arizona, sprawling Coconino County used its $614,000 grant to rent extra election staff, notably Navajo audio system who might do outreach on a reservation, and arrange drive-up websites for voters to drop off ballots, mentioned county recorder Patty Hansen.

She mentioned it was the primary time she had sufficient cash to broaden outreach to all the county, which is among the many largest in land dimension within the nation at 18,600 sq. miles however is sparsely populated.

“Due to the laws handed and signed by the governor, we are going to by no means have the ability to get a grant like that ever once more,” she mentioned. “They’re chopping off a funding supply to have the ability to present these further necessities they’re placing on us.”

Election officers have lengthy complained they have been underfunded, however by no means extra so than final yr once they needed to immediately revamp their total operations on the peak of the pandemic. There was an enormous shift to mail voting, whereas even in-person voting required new protecting measures, and hazard pay for ballot staff.

Democrats pushed for an additional $2 billion for election workplaces within the preliminary coronavirus support invoice in April however solely bought $400 million. After a spring and summer season of troubled primaries and partisan impasse over extra funding, Zuckerberg stepped in. He and Chan donated a complete of $400 million to election workplaces — $350 million within the type of grants to native workplaces that have been distributed by means of CTCL.

The number of CTCL raised eyebrows amongst some conservatives due to the group’s roots. A few of its founders, together with Epps-Johnson, as soon as have been on the New Organizing Institute, which offered information and coaching to liberal activists Nonetheless, CTCL has grow to be revered amongst election officers and features a Republican, Pam Anderson, former elected clerk of a suburban Denver-area county, on its board. In an interview, she mentioned the group was “100% nonpartisan.”

Different Republican election officers have additionally vouched for the impartiality of this system. “I don’t see why governments ought to be barred from making an attempt to work with the non-public sector in securing grant funds,” mentioned Brian Mead, a Republican election director in Licking County, Ohio, outdoors Columbus, which obtained $77,000 from CTCL. “If we are able to work with the non-public sector and safe funds the place we save our taxpayers cash, I believe that’s an excellent factor,” Mead mentioned.

That didn’t mollify conservatives, particularly after the preliminary grants went to main, Democratic-voting cities. In Pennsylvania, one of many central battlegrounds of the presidential election, Philadelphia, with an annual election funds of $12.3 million, obtained $10 million from CTCL. The conservative Basis for Authorities Accountability discovered that in Pennsylvania, Democratic-voting counties obtained a median of $4.99 per voter, whereas Republican-voting ones bought $1.12 per voter.

In Florida, the differential was additionally dramatic, with one-third of the $18 million in whole cash going to Democratic-leaning Palm Seashore County, and a further $2.4 million for Miami-Dade County, which backed Democrat Joe Biden, albeit extra narrowly than anticipated. Republican Donald Trump received the state.

“If Charles Koch was doing this, properly, for a lot of of those individuals the shoe can be on the opposite foot,” mentioned Hayden Dublois, a researcher on the Basis for Authorities Accountability, referring to the conservative billionaire.

In some states, together with Georgia and Texas, the brand new legal guidelines require all donations to native election workplaces to be distributed by the secretary of state. In Arizona, Kansas, Iowa and elsewhere, they’re banned altogether.

Anderson, the Republican CTCL board member, mentioned that may do actual injury.

“If you wish to block this funding, then I need to ask if the legislators are funding elections?” Anderson mentioned. “As a result of so many states do not.”

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Related Press writers Felicia Fonseca in Flagstaff, Arizona, and Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.

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