On Oct. 13, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, announced they would donate an additional $100 million to the Center for Tech and Civic Life. In a Facebook post announcing the grants, Zuckerberg said the money was intended “to support election officials with the infrastructure they need to administer the vote – including voting equipment, PPE for poll workers and hiring additional poll staff.”
In total, Zuckerberg and Chan have donated $350 million to the Center for Tech and Civic Life. They have also donated $50 million to the Center for Election Innovation and Research, saying the money was intended to help “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.”
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 must 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 had $890,647 revenues and spent $515,837 in 2017 (the most recent year for which information is available).
About the donation and grants
CTCL is regranting its 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.” CTCL says 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
As of Oct. 8, CTCL had received more than 2,100 grant applications. Every eligible, legitimate election department that applies for a grant will receive one. The minimum grant amount is $5,000. Nearly 800 election departments covering jurisdictions with between 5,001 and 25,000 registered voters applied for grants. Election departments with fewer than 5,001 registered voters submitted nearly 700 applications, and election departments with between 25,001 and 100,000 registered voters submitted almost 800 applications. The remainder of applications came from larger jurisdictions.
What are the reactions?
The Thomas More Society has filed lawsuits in Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Georgia, and Iowa in an attempt to block election administrators from accepting or using the grant funds. The group describes itself as a “national public interest law firm dedicated to restoring respect in law for life, family, and religious liberty.” Phill Kline, director of the group’s Amistad Project, said, “Privatizing the management of elections undermines the integrity of our elections because private donors may dictate where and how hundreds of millions of dollars will be managed in these states.”
On Oct. 14, Judge William Griesbach of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin declined to intervene and block several Wisconsin cities (including Green Bay, Kenosha, Madison, Milwaukee, and Racine) from accepting the grants.
Griesbach wrote, “The risk of skewing an election by providing additional private funding for conducting the election in certain areas of the State may be real. The record before the Court, however, does not provide the support needed for the Court to make such a determination, especially in light of the fact that over 100 additional Wisconsin municipalities received grants as well. Plaintiffs argue that the receipt of private funds for public elections also gives an appearance of impropriety. This may be true, as well. These are all matters that may merit a legislative response but the Court finds nothing in the statutes Plaintiffs cite, either directly or indirectly, that can be fairly construed as prohibiting the defendant Cities from accepting funds from CTCL.” Griesbach is a George W. Bush (R) appointee.
Lawsuits in the other states are pending.
On Sept. 29, Rep. Blake Miguez (R) introduced HB 51 in the Louisiana House of Representatives. HB 51 would prohibit state and local election officials from accepting or using private donations “for the purpose of funding election-related expenses during a declared state of emergency.”
On Oct. 13, the House voted 68-28 in favor of HB 51. Sixty-six Republicans, one Democrat, and one independent voted for the bill. Twenty-eight Democrats voted against it. The bill is pending in the Senate Committee on Senate and Government Affairs. A hearing is scheduled for Oct. 21.
Absentee/mail-in voting modifications since our last issue
Since our Oct. 7 edition, we’ve tracked the following absentee/mail-in voting modifications:
- Alabama: On Oct. 13, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed a district court order suspending Alabama’s witness requirement for absentee/mail-in voters with underlying medical conditions. The panel also reversed the lower court’s order waiving photo identification requirements for voters 65 and older.
- Alaska: On Oct. 12, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed a lower court’s order suspending the state’s witness requirement for absentee/mail-in ballots.
- Indiana: On Oct. 13, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit stayed a lower court’s order that had extended Indiana’s return deadlines for absentee/mail-in ballots. As a result, the original receipt deadline (noon on Election Day) was reinstated.
- Michigan: On Oct. 16, a three-judge panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed a lower court order that had extended Michigan’s receipt deadline for absentee/mail-in ballots. The appellate panel reinstated the original receipt deadline: 8 p.m. on Election Day.
- Missouri: On Oct. 9, Judge Brian C. Wimes of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri issued an order requiring Missouri election authorities to accept mail-in ballots returned in person. However, on Oct. 10, Wimes stayed his order pending appeal, leaving the requirement that mail-in ballots be returned by mail in place.
- North Carolina: On Oct. 19, the North Carolina State Board of Elections directed counties to accept absentee/mail-in ballots received by 5 p.m. on Nov. 12 and postmarked on or before Election Day. The state board of elections also issued new guidance on how voters can resolve problems with their absentee/mail-in ballots.
- Ohio: On Oct. 9, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit stayed a district court’s order directing Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) to allow counties to install absentee/mail-in ballot drop boxes at locations other than election board offices. As a result, LaRose’s initial order limiting drop boxes to one site per county was reinstated.
- Pennsylvania: On Oct. 19, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to block the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s order extending the receipt deadline for mail-in ballots to Nov. 6 for ballots postmarked on or before Election Day.
- Tennessee: On Oct. 19, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit unanimously upheld a district court decision that temporarily suspended a Tennessee law requiring first-time voters to vote in person.
- Texas: On Oct. 12, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit unanimously upheld Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) order restricting the number of absentee/mail-in ballot return locations to one per county.
- Wisconsin: On Oct. 8, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit voted 2-1 to stay a lower court order that had extended registration and absentee/mail-in ballot return deadlines in Wisconsin.
To date, 37 states have modified their absentee/mail-in voting procedures for the general election. These modifications can be divided into the following five broad categories:
- Automatic absentee/mail-in ballots: Five states (California, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, and Vermont) automatically sent absentee/mail-in ballots automatically to all eligible voters in the general election. These states are shaded in yellow in the map below.
- Automatic mail-in ballot applications: Eleven states (Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Nebraska, New Mexico, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Wisconsin) automatically sent absentee/mail-in ballot applications automatically to all eligible voters in the general election. These states are shaded in dark blue in the map below.
- Eligibility expansions: Twelve states (Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia) either have expanded absentee/mail-in voting eligibility in the general election. These states are shaded in light blue in the map below.
- Deadline extensions: Five states (Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania) have extended absentee/mail-in ballot application or submission deadlines in the general election. These states are shaded in dark gray in the map below.
- Other process changes: Four states (Alaska, Ohio, Texas, and Virginia) have made other modifications to their absentee/mail-in ballot procedures in the general election. These states are shaded in gray in the map below.
The following states have made other modifications to their voting procedures in the general election:
- Arizona: On Oct. 13, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed a lower court’s order that had extended Arizona’s voter registration deadline. The court set Oct. 15 as the new registration deadline.
- Virginia: On Oct. 14, Judge John A. Gibney of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ordered that Virginia’s voter registration deadline be extended from Oct. 13 to Oct. 15.
Redistricting developments since our last issue
Since our Oct. 7 edition, we’ve tracked the following redistricting-related developments.
- On Oct. 16, the U.S. Supreme Court accepted Trump v. New York for expedited review and scheduled oral argument for Nov. 30. The case originated in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. It concerns congressional apportionment following the 2020 U.S. census. The U.S. government is asking the Supreme Court to decide if the president can order the secretary of commerce to exclude individuals residing unlawfully in the U.S. from the census’ apportionment base.
- On July 21, President Donald Trump (R) issued a memorandum directing U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to exclude individuals living unlawfully in the U.S. from the census apportionment base. A group of state and local governments filed suit against the federal government, arguing the policy violates the U.S. Constitution and laws governing the census and apportionment. The federal government argued that (1), the court did not have jurisdiction to review the claims, and (2), the policy is legal. The district court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, finding the president had exceeded his authority in issuing the memorandum. The federal government appealed this decision directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.
- The federal government has presented the following two questions to the high court:
- Does the group of state and local governments have the legal right—or standing—to challenge the memorandum?
- Does the president have the authority to exclude individuals unlawfully residing in the U.S. from the apportionment base?
Litigation and legislation tracking
To date, we have tracked 397 lawsuits and/or court orders involving election policy issues and the Covid-19 outbreak. Changes to election dates, procedures, and administration in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 2020#Relevant litigationClick here to view the complete list of lawsuits and court orders.
To date, we have tracked 341 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.