Oversight of outside election money proposed by Georgia election board

Regulations sought for money from groups such as Zuckerberg’s

Credit: Miguel Martinez/AJC

Credit: Miguel Martinez/AJC

The State Election Board voted unanimously Tuesday to ask Georgia legislators to create a program to distribute outside election money donated by organizations such as the Center for Tech and Civic Life, which was funded in part by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Under the proposal, election donations would be overseen by the board and awarded to county governments in the form of grants to fund capital needs, including equipment, facilities and security.

The board’s proposal came after Georgia’s 2021 voting law banned county election superintendents from accepting nongovernment funding or gifts, a restriction put in place after the Center for Tech and Civic Life gave about $43 million to over 40 counties across the state during the 2020 general election and runoffs.

The Republican majority in the General Assembly passed the election law along party lines after supporters of former President Donald Trump repeated unsubstantiated claims of election fraud following his loss in Georgia by about 12,000 votes.

“The General Assembly undertook this because of the concern that there was an inequitable distribution of grants in which some counties received grants from private sources while others did not,” said State Election Board member Ed Lindsey, a former Republican state lawmaker. “A lot of the specific needs are usually in those smaller counties.”

Smaller, rural counties trend heavily toward Republicans in Georgia, while the Democratic base is in urban areas like metro Atlanta.

Though much of the funding from the Center for Tech and Civic Life went to Democratic-leaning counties, several majority Republican counties also benefited. The organization’s grants in 2020 included at least $9.4 million to DeKalb County, $6 million to Fulton County, $4.2 million to Gwinnett County, nearly $1.7 million to Douglas County, $765,000 to Cherokee County and $360,000 to Paulding County.

The money went toward elections staffing, hazard pay, absentee ballot postage costs, equipment, voter outreach and personal protective gear.

Any grant applications from counties would be available for public comment for at least 30 days, based on a recommendation by State Election Board member Janice Johnston. Grant funding wouldn’t be allowed for normal election operational costs.

“I’m opposed to grants and the influence it has and the effect on behavior it results in for the recipients of such grants,” said Johnston, a Georgia Republican Party appointee to the board. “If there are grants and the State Election Board is the one to administer this, then I would recommend that all these grant applications be posted publicly.”

The General Assembly could consider the State Election Board’s grant funding proposal during next year’s legislative session, which starts in January.