‘Not Plan A’: Charities are stepping up to pay for elections
As Congress balks, well-funded nonprofits are donating hundreds of millions of dollars to help state and local officials run elections during the pandemic — a sudden infusion of private cash in what was once considered a core government function. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, earlier this month announced they will donate $300 million to two nonpartisan nonprofits. The groups, the Center for Tech and Civic Life and Center for Election Innovation and Research, will funnel the money to local officials working “to ensure that everyone can vote and every vote can be counted,” Zuckerberg said in announcing the donation.The Center for Tech and Civic Life had already doled out more than $20 million from other donors — money that allowed the city of Philadelphia to double its election budget and quadruple its mail-ballot-processing capacity. In Milwaukee, its contribution is helping recruit as many as 1,000 new poll workers. In Fulton County, Georgia, the cash will help keep open more polling places after a June primary plagued by last-minute closures of polling places.The nonprofits’ involvement was welcomed by election officials who have been pleading with state and federal lawmakers for help paying for a raft of new equipment, protective gear and staff needed to adjust for the surge of mail-in voting expected this year. Congress sent money in March, largely to assist with primary elections. Republicans have blocked Democratic attempts to allocate more. The direct infusion of millions of dollars marks a new level in private funding for a core public responsibility. The cash comes with a new set of questions about donor transparency, motivations and the influence of groups and figures that are not democratically accountable.“This is not Plan A,” said David Becker, head of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, which received $50 million from Zuckerberg and Chan. However, Becker said his group, which until this year normally raised only a few hundred thousand a year, was trying to respond to what he considered an emergency caused by the pandemic.With the election nearing, “failure is not an option,” he said.