Russian meddling…Chinese meddling…even Iranian meddling. Deliberate sabotage of the US Postal Service equipment and personnel practices. Announced plans that would suppress the vote in predominantly minority areas by diminishing the number of available voting locations.
Trump announcing conspiracy theories while inviting all the above. And Congressional Republicans’ refusal to allocate any funds to protect the elections beyond the $400 million in March, which was reportedly only ten percent of what was needed.
“Congress really failed our election officials,” said Liz Howard of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.
It’s almost understandable that Trump, having encouraged all these efforts (or at best failed to denounce them) could wonder how he could have lost. He seemed to have done everything he could to make sure that the deck was stacked veryveryvery high against fair elections. Fortunately, it wasn’t high enough.
Of course, huge credit is due to the election workers nationwide who labored so mightily. And to those officials, regardless of party, who did their best to protect the sanctity of this most important of our democratic rights and responsibilities.
Considering all that transpired, I was both delighted and slightly amazed when I heard Chris Krebs, Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency in the US Department of Homeland Security, a Trump appointee, declare this election the most secure in American history.
Trump rewarded Krebs for that statement by firing him, generating death threats from the president’s loyal fans—including a lawyer who also plays one on TV: Joseph diGenova.
Backing up Krebs and his staff with their experiences, Republican and Democratic officials in the various states declared the elections accurate and free of the massive fraud that Trump and his allies continue to declare (making tons of money through donations from hapless followers in the process of trying to reverse/subvert Biden’s clear win).
And judges—appointed by both Democratic and Republican presidents, including Trump—have thrown out the many charges of fraud claimed by Trump’s ragtag diminishing team of lawyers. Often, the remarks from the bench have been scathing comments about the flimsiness or total absence of evidence.
As I write, the Supreme Court has delivered what appears to be the coup de gras to Trump’s attempts to overthrow the election results, denying to hear a suit about alleged massive voter fraud in Pennsylvania.
But apart from Chris Kreb’s vigilance, what happened to the chaos we seemed destined to experience?
A story that hasn’t been told widely explains how local officials, whose offices are typically underfunded, were able to function so well during a pandemic that vastly increased mail-in ballots, affected their usual poll workers, and made their work in this highly contentious election more pressurized than ever before.
One big reason—okay, two big reasons—the elections ran so smoothly were Mark Zuckerberg (yes, that Mark Zuckerberg) and his wife, Priscilla Chan.
They donated $350 million of their private funds to a small non-profit, the Center for Tech and Civic Life, which awarded grants to local election officials. Another $50 million from the Zuckerbergs went to other election-associated efforts.
According to APM Reports (which describes itself as “non-partisan, independent investigative and documentary journalism”), in an article appearing on the National Public Radio (NPR) website,
“Election offices around the U.S. say they couldn’t have carried out this year’s challenging election without help from a nonprofit tied to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.”
Many election officials had no money left following the primaries. There were fears that the Presidential election “would become a catastrophe.”
APM Reports interviewed 25 election directors from swing states “who said the grant money was essential to preventing an election meltdown amid worries over a pandemic and a president who continues to openly question—without evidence—the legitimacy of the process.”
More than 2500 jurisdictions received grants to cover the administration of the election. Chester County, Pa, received $2.5 million, an amount that exceeded its 2020 budget. Bill Turner, who ran that effort, said:
“Honestly, I don’t know what we would have done without it.”
The purchases he made with those funds indicate how districts responded to the challenges, including methods and equipment that made it possible post-election to demonstrate the absence of fraud.
Turner bought 14 drop boxes for ballots and paid staff to watch those sites, as well as body cameras that recorded the ballots being collected from those drop boxes.
He allocated a big chunk of the grant for more equipment and individuals to facilitate the prompt mailing and counting of ballots.
“The county processed 150,000 ballots…in 36 hours. Without the new equipment and personnel, he said, it would have take a week or longer.”
The Center for Tech and Civic Life wouldn’t say how the funds were used, though it did list the jurisdictions that received the grants.
APM Reports examined grant applications and agreements to discern that requests were primarily for “election logistics: increased pay for poll workers, expanded early voting sites and extra equipment to more quickly process millions of mailed ballots.”
For some jurisdictions, the grants allowed those in charge to “fund their dream elections.”
Not surprisingly, the nonprofit’s grants have figured in Trump’s conspiracy theories, though the APM Reports didn’t find a clear impact on which voters turned out in areas that received funding.
Nor did they find consistency between counties in Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Arizona that did and did not receive the funds in terms of the level of turnout.
Apparently, the funds just made the elections run more smoothly—kind of a nice thing to happen—especially when we had reason to fear the worst.
OK. It was great that Zuckerberg and Chan bailed us out of a terrible mess in 2020. It appears to me that Trump’s charges of fraud might have had more heft in his team’s multiple failed forays into court if election supervisors hadn’t made good use of the funds to ensure careful documentation of their efforts.
The possibility that the donors’ magnanimity was at least in part an attempt to garner positive publicity, which Facebook sorely needs, doesn’t negate the good that the money accomplished in protecting our democracy.
Not surprisingly, some election officials expressed their happiness with the grants, saying they
“helped avert a potential disaster where long lines, missing mail and slow counting could have led Trump to further question the integrity of results in Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Arizona.”
BUT STILL…Though I’m also grateful for the smooth elections, I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks it’s a terrible idea to have our elections funded by private individuals.
I’m with Rachel Cobb, associate professor of political science and legal studies at Suffolk University in Boston.
Though private money was essential this year, she said, “over time, it in and of itself is corrosive.” And continuing with this approach, “sullies [the election] in a way that we don’t need it to be sullied at all.”
And yet, what if Congress continues to refuse to allocate funds for the upgrading of elections overall, long term?
Is this an issue you could get sufficiently riled up about to make your feelings known to your elected officials—and keep nagging until they actually act on it?
The Biden administration has a long list of essentials to address. Looking toward 2022, where would you rank this one in terms of importance?