Loeffler calls for ‘investigation’ after DeKalb accepts elections grant

County fires back at ‘baldly partisan accusations’
Before the poles close, DeKalb residents bring in their absentee ballots to the DeKalb County Elections Office on Tuesday, Nov 8, 2022.  (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Before the poles close, DeKalb residents bring in their absentee ballots to the DeKalb County Elections Office on Tuesday, Nov 8, 2022. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler and her conservative elections group are calling for an investigation into DeKalb County after it accepted money from an outside organization to help it run smoother elections.

The county commission voted last month to accept a $2 million grant from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a national nonprofit that has backing from Facebook and its founder Mark Zuckerberg, among many others. The new money, DeKalb officials said at the time, would go toward “planning and operationalizing safe and secure election administration infrastructure in DeKalb County.”

It’s at least the third grant DeKalb has accepted from CTCL. The other two, though, were awarded in 2020 — before Georgia’s newest election law, Senate Bill 202, was adopted.

That law prohibits local elections board from directly accepting outside donations.

“After the 2020 elections, Georgia lawmakers acted swiftly to ban Zuckerbucks — and all other outside money — from influencing our elections,” Loeffler, a Republican who founded her nonprofit Greater Georgia in 2021, said in a Wednesday morning press release.

“Today, two years later, deep-blue DeKalb County is blatantly skirting that law to get the same money, while undermining trust and fairness in our electoral process.”

To be clear, the most recent CTCL grant accepted in DeKalb was awarded to the county government, not directly to the elections board. SB 202 does not prohibit county governments from accepting outside grants, or stop elections boards from taking money allocated by their county governments.

In a lengthy statement provided to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, DeKalb Elections Board Chairwoman Dele Lowman Smith said Loeffler’s “baldly partisan accusations do not reflect an accurate reading of state law and undermine the work of already overburdened, underpaid public servants.”

“Since Ms. Loeffler was unsuccessful in using her own Zuckerberg-sized net worth to buy a U.S. Senate seat, perhaps she should consider using it to hire better attorneys,” Lowman Smith wrote. “The DeKalb County Finance Department applied for the grant in accordance with state law, and our county attorneys conducted a diligent review to ensure the grant award met the letter of the law.

“While the General Assembly has a lot to say about how counties should run elections, they provide no funding to us to meet these legislative burdens. To then try and restrict counties from pursuing the funding necessary to meet our legal obligations — a longstanding practice for many government services besides elections — is a slap in the face and seems to indicate that their intention is to hamstring election administration entirely.”

In addition to the new grant, DeKalb was recently named among an inaugural group of “centers for election excellence,” a five-year nonpartisan initiative launched by the U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence. The CTCL helped launch that program.

“The county is pleased to be a recipient of this funding in support of the elections department’s ongoing efforts to serve as a model for election integrity not just in Georgia but throughout our nation,” DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond said in a press release last week.

Specifics about how DeKalb’s latest CTCL grant would be used were not immediately available. Previous money from the CTCL was used for things like increase staffing and equipment purchases.

Loeffler suggested that Georgia’s attorney general or the state ethics commission investigate DeKalb.

The AG’s office does not have the authority to investigate elections-related matters, a spokesperson said Thursday morning.

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