On Sept. 1, Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, announced they would donate a combined total of $300 million to the Center for Tech and Civic Life and the Center for Election Innovation and Research in a bid “to promote safe and reliable voting in states and localities during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
About the Center for Tech and Civic Life and the Center for Election Innovation and Research
The Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL) describes itself as “a nonpartisan nonprofit that uses technology to improve the way local governments and communities interact.” The nonprofit Center for Election Innovation and Research (CEIR) says its mission is “to build voter trust and confidence, increase voter participation, and improve the efficiency of election administration.”
Both CTCL and CEIR are organized under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, which exempts charitable, religious, and educational organizations from federal income tax. These and other nonprofits are required to submit regular financial disclosure reports to the Internal Revenue Service. According to CTCL’s 2019 disclosure, the group had $1,414,981 in revenues and spent $1,119,630 in 2018. CEIR, meanwhile, had $890,647 revenues and spent $515,837 in 2017 (the most recent year for which information is available).
About the donation
Zuckerberg and Chan donated $250 million to CTCL, which will in turn “regrant funds to local election jurisdictions across the country to help ensure that they have the staffing, training, and equipment necessary so that this November every eligible voter can participate in a safe and timely way and that their vote is counted.” These grants will be used to support:
- Poll worker recruitment, training, and hazard pay
- Polling place rental
- Temporary staffing
- Drive-through voting
- Ballot processing equipment
- Personal protective equipment for poll workers
- Nonpartisan voter education
The press release announcing the grant said that Zuckerberg and Chan’s $50 million donation to CEIR would be used in “helping election officials across the nation reach their voters with critical information about voter registration, mail voting, early voting, polling locations and hours, and the vote-counting process.”
In a Facebook post, Zuckerberg said, “Priscilla and I are personally supporting [these] two non-partisan organizations that are working to make sure every voter’s voice can be heard this November.” He added, “This is in addition to the work that Facebook is doing to run the largest voting registration campaign in American history — with a goal of helping more than 4 million people register to vote and providing authoritative information about topics like how to vote by mail in each state.”
What are the reactions?
- In a Newsweek op-ed, the Brennan Center’s Wendy Weiser and Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, said: “[The] pandemic poses a national emergency impacting the very foundation of our democracy, and the Senate adjourned until Labor Day without giving states and local officials the funding they need to run safe and fair elections this fall. … We have reached an extraordinary point where we have no choice but to look to civil society—the business community and other private groups and organizations—to help fill the breach.”
- Frank LaRose (R), Ohio’s secretary of state, said, “In a time when so much is changing around us, Americans need to know now more than ever how to make their voice heard in this fall’s election. That requires getting them the information they need from trusted sources, and these dollars are going to go a long way to making that happen.”
- Robert Reich, U.S. Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton (D), said, “Mark Zuckerberg has raked in $40,800,000,000 since the pandemic began. That’s 136 times the $300 million donation he hopes will distract us from all the ways he’s allowed fascism and misinformation to erode our democracy.”
- Scott Walter, president of the Capital Research Center, said that CTCL staffers are former Democratic Party operatives whose goal is to improve Democrats’ electoral prospects: “Can you imagine if the Charles Koch Foundation were to become involved with election officials? It would be front page news in The New York Times.”
Absentee/mail-in voting modifications since our last issue
Since our Aug. 26 edition, we’ve tracked the following absentee/mail-in voting modifications:
- Georgia: On Aug. 31, Judge Eleanor L. Ross of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia issued an order extending the return deadlines for absentee ballots in the general election. Ross ordered officials to accept as valid any absentee ballots postmarked Nov. 3 and received by 7:00 p.m., Nov. 6.
- Maine: On Aug. 27, Gov. Janet Mills (D) signed an executive order extending the mail-in voter registration deadline from Oct. 13 to Oct. 19.
- Mississippi: On Sept. 2, Judge Denise Owens of the Hinds County Chancery Court ordered Mississippi officials to expand absentee voting eligibility in the general election to individuals with “pre-existing conditions that cause COVID-19 to present a greater risk of severe illness or death.”
- New Jersey: On Aug. 28, Gov. Phil Murphy (D) signed three bills into law making a number of modifications to the state’s absentee/mail-in voting procedures for the general election. Among these changes is an extension of the receipt deadline for ballots postmarked on or before Election Day to Nov. 9).
- New York: On Sept. 2, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced the launch of an online absentee ballot request portal for the general election.
- Oklahoma: On Aug. 28, Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) issued an executive order extending Oklahoma’s state of emergency by 30 days. This triggered the implementation of several modifications to Oklahoma’s absentee ballot procedures. Among these changes is the suspension of the notarization requirement, provided the voter submits a copy of his or her identification.
- Utah: On Aug. 31, Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signed into law legislation making several changes to administration procedures for the general election. Among these changes is the requirement that counties provide some form of in-person Election Day and early voting).
To date, 38 states have modified their absentee/mail-in voting procedures. These modifications can be divided into the following five broad categories. The changes may apply to primary, special, or general elections:
- Automatic mail-in ballots: Five states (California, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, and Vermont) either have sent or will send mail-in ballots automatically to all eligible voters in select elections to ensure that most voting takes place by mail. These states are shaded in yellow in the map below.
- Automatic mail-in ballot applications: Seventeen states (Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wisconsin) either have sent or will send mail-in ballot applications automatically to all eligible voters in select elections. These states are shaded in dark blue in the map below.
- Eligibility expansions: Ten states (Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia) either have expanded or will expand absentee voting eligibility in select elections. These states are shaded in light blue in the map below.
- Deadline extensions: Five states (Minnesota, Mississippi, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Utah) either have extended or will extend absentee/mail-in ballot application or submission deadlines in select elections. These states are shaded in dark gray in the map below.
- Other process changes: One state (North Carolina) has made other modifications to its absentee/mail-in ballot procedures in select elections. This state is shaded in gray in the map below.
Redistricting developments since our last issue
Since our Aug. 26 edition, we’ve tracked the following redistricting-related developments.
- On Sept. 5, Judge Lucy Koh of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California temporarily enjoined U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and the U.S. Census Bureau from proceeding with plans to wind down census counting efforts. On Aug. 3, the Bureau announced its intention to suspend field data collection efforts by Sept. 30, saying it would use incentive awards and additional hires “to accelerate the completion of data collection and apportionment counts by our statutory deadline” of Dec. 30. On Sept. 3, the National Urban League, the League of Women Voters, and, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples, among others, motioned for an injunction against implementation of this plan. The plaintiffs allege that the plan’s “shortened timelines will unlawfully harm the accuracy of crucial census data.” Koh did not comment on the merits of plaintiffs’ larger claims. The injunction will remain in force until Sept. 17, when the court will conduct a hearing on the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction.
- A temporary restraining order is a short-term injunction against a challenged action (in this case, the Census Bureau’s Aug. 3 plan). It lasts only until a preliminary injunction hearing. If a preliminary injunction is granted, the challenged action will generally be enjoined for the duration of legal proceedings.
To date, we have tracked 227 lawsuits and/or court orders involving election policy issues and the COVID-19 outbreak. In each issue of The Ballot Bulletin, we shine a spotlight on what we consider one of the more interesting recent developments in this area. Click here to view the complete list of lawsuits and court orders.
This week, we turn our attention to DSCC v. Pate.
- Case name: DSCC v. Pate
- Case number: 05771 CVCV060641
- State of origin: Iowa
- Court: Polk County District Court
- Summary: On Aug. 31, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), and the Democratic Party of Iowa filed suit against Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate (R) and the Iowa Legislative Council in the Polk County District Court. The plaintiffs allege the defendants’ July 17 emergency election directive, which prohibits county auditors from sending voters pre-addressed absentee ballot request forms, violates the state constitution.
- Background: After state officials issued the directive, the auditors in Linn, Johnson, and Woodbury counties began mailing pre-address absentee ballot request forms to voters. State and national-level Republican groups filed suits against the three auditors, seeking injunctions “ordering each auditor to follow the directive.” On Aug. 27, a Linn County judge granted Republicans’ request for an injunction. A judge in Woodbury County did the same on Aug. 28. These actions precipitated the DSCC’s lawsuit.
- Court documents:
To date, we have tracked 305 bills that make some mention of both election policy and COVID-19. States with higher numbers of relevant bills are shaded in darker blue on the map below. States with lower numbers of relevant bills are shaded in lighter blue. In states shaded in white, we have tracked no relevant bills.