COVID-19 grants for Georgia elections funded drop boxes, supplies

10/13/2020 - Lawrenceville, Georgia - Michael Roark of Grayson places his mail-in ballot inside an official drop box on the second day of early voting at the Gwinnett County Voter Registration and Elections building in Lawrenceville, Tuesday, October 13, 2020.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Caption
10/13/2020 - Lawrenceville, Georgia - Michael Roark of Grayson places his mail-in ballot inside an official drop box on the second day of early voting at the Gwinnett County Voter Registration and Elections building in Lawrenceville, Tuesday, October 13, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Georgia election officials distributed about $192,000 in federal coronavirus relief money to counties last year, helping them pay for ballot drop boxes and personal protective equipment, according to state records.

The money came in the form of grants given to county governments that applied through a program run by the secretary of state’s office. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained spreadsheets of grant funding through the Georgia Open Records Act.

Each county was eligible to receive up to $3,000 for drop boxes and $3,000 for equipment through Georgia’s share of federal COVID-19 money allocated for election administration. Counties were required to put up some of their own money in matching funds, covering at least 25% of the cost of drop boxes and 10% of the cost of equipment.

Five large counties applied for and received the $6,000 maximum: Cobb, Gwinnett, Muscogee, Paulding and Richmond.

In all, 58 counties spent federal money on drop boxes and 55 counties funded protective equipment, according to documents from the secretary of state’s office.

Some counties that installed drop boxes didn’t receive grants, including DeKalb and Fulton counties, records show. Instead, they relied on their own funding sources, such as tax money and donations.

Over 120 counties installed drop boxes for last year’s elections. The number of drop boxes funded in each county wasn’t included in the grant documents.

The grant funding was part of $11 million in federal COVID-19 money distributed to Georgia for elections through the CARES Act. Most of the money was spent directly by the secretary of state’s office on items including absentee ballot mailing costs, an absentee ballot request website and high-speed ballot scanners.

Republican leaders in the Georgia House of Representatives have requested an audit of the secretary of state’s spending of federal money.

House Speaker David Ralston and House Appropriations Chairman Terry England asked the state auditor in March to look into election spending. Their request came after the General Assembly passed Georgia’s new voting law, which limits drop boxes, requires different forms of ID for absentee voting and curtails Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s power.