Wondering Why the Election Ran So Smoothly After All? Here’s One Big Reason…

Election 2020: Managing Election Stress. Image courtesy of first 5la.org.

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?


25 thoughts on “Wondering Why the Election Ran So Smoothly After All? Here’s One Big Reason…

  1. Excellent summary, including a few things I wasn’t aware of. As for 2022, if Dems win the two Georgia senate seats, giving them control of both houses of congress for the next two years, more federal $ to state and local election officials will probably be approved to allocate sufficient funds to run the 2022 election without the need of private money. Should the latter should actually be banned? I think it depends upon whether legislation can be passed which ensures adequate federal funding for all future Presidential and Congressional elections.

    P.S. I love your use of the word “hapless’ to describe Trump followers who donated to his phony election fraud scam.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. mm: Thanks for your thoughtful response. Yes, I’ve got Georgia on my mind too. What a difference it could make. Though when I hear how many Dems are saying they won’t vote for Biden’s pathbreaking Sec of Defense (though I understand the reasoning), it feels as though the honeymoon has ended even before the ceremony’s occurred.

      “Hapless” is my effort to move to the sunny side of the street. Other selections would have been in the shadows…

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes; they did a very good deed. But I’d be happier if we didn’t have to depend on the largesse of the wealthy to fund our important institutions. Our democracy is so fragile now; we need to shore it up in many places, and election security is surely an important one.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “where would you rank this one in terms of importance?”
    Funding voting is absolutely on of two top priorities, as part of a general cleaning up of voting.
    Banning private funding might sound like a great idea, but this year it would have just made it easier to starve the election of needed funds.
    General cleaning up of voting would include things like giving mail in balloting a secure place in more elections, since it seems to be pretty easy to disenfranchise some precincts by eliminating polling places. Mail in balloting would offset that trend. Allowing recording of mail in ballots as they come in rather than having to wait until election day seems like a no-brainer.
    Then there is gerry mandering…

    Without fair voting, any other progress made will be easily dismantled and tossed in the junk pile like so many high speed mail sorting machines.

    Tied for the top spot, in my view, is applying the law to everyone equally. If any congressman wants to pass a bill, they should be willing to submit to the terms themselves. i.e.: No more IOKIYAR shenanigans, and THAT is one thing that should go for both sides.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for this response, MDavis.
      Private funding clearly was essential this year, but I do hope we don’t have to depend on it. We have enough trouble with money in politics without having to have the safety of our elections dependent on billionaires.

      I think your list is right on target. Unfortunately, we’re seeing in Georgia that the success of vote by mail is leading Republicans to make it harder: attaching a new ID requirement, etc.

      I learned a new acronym from your comment: IOKIYAR. Had to look it up. So thanks for that, too!


      1. I do not. I have a sort of blog page (picture of Jim Thorpe prominent) but I didn’t like getting people asking for access to the rest of it. When I locked it down more it sort of overwrote that page with a “Not Welcome” landing mat.
        I don’t really understand WordPress, clearly, but it does make it easier to comment on the WordPress blogs I like, so I keep it.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for this post. I hadn’t heard about Zuckerberg’s grants. I totally agree with your assessment that it’s good that the election ran smoothly and was the most secure in history but not good that this outcome is a result of private funding. We shouldn’t be relying on rich people to fund government programs out of the goodness of their hearts. Instead, they should be paying much higher taxes to fund such programs. Maybe they could even earmark a portion of what they pay beyond a certain threshold to go to specific areas. There are so many government initiatives that are suffering and the rich now pay a small fraction of what they once were expected to contribute.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Brava, Carol! Our tax system is way out of whack. Though the earmarks idea is creative, I don’t think I’d leave that decision to the wealthy taxpayers to make “out of the goodness of their hearts.” I’d like to see wise comprehensive budgeting for the common weal that includes substantial funding to ensure fair, secure, and transparent elections.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah. The earmark idea would probably open up a new batch of problems/conflicts, but it is tempting to me. Again, after a certain threshold is reached. Partly because If I were rich, I would only want my millions supporting the military industrial complex up to a certain point. After that, I’d direct money elsewhere. Given that our tax code already exceeds 65,000 pages, however, we probably don’t want to go there.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. A fact-filled post on the actual election process. Thanks for the info. I would go a little deeper. Why did the Dems win? Well, for the last 4 years there has been a quiet voter registration drive . Obama, Holder , Abrams and others have been working to overcome the GOP voter suppression by getting folks registered to vote. We can be thankful that this time we kept out the Russians and others. But we need to keep registering new voters so the suppression techniques of the GOP , which will only become more sophisticated, can be overcome by sheer numbers.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Absolutely correct, Joseph. Unfortunately, we’re seeing familiar suppression in Georgia now with cutbacks in voting locations in the three most populous minority counties and new laws attacking mail-in ballots. We can expect such efforts to proliferate.

      Hopefully, with passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and a strong new Attorney General, we’ll have ways to curb their anti-democratic (small d) enthusiasm.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Hey, didn’t know about the Zuckerberg/Chan gift. I’m okay with it and very glad they did it given the feedback from the line workers who claim it made all the difference in getting the job done, and done well. I see the long-range point — yes, of course, it’s not a great direction — but the short term is so screwed up around here, I’ll take the fix. Now . . . if they could do something about Congress, get rid of the sycophants . . . and if they can figure out how to squelch misinformation without trampling the First Amendment . . . and if they can throw their support at educating those who have fallen victim to conspiracy theories and nonsense . . . and if they can . . . But here’s the thing: I have to do my part, we all do, on whatever issues large or small we can tackle, and not wait for the wealthy to step in to save the day. Thanks, Annie. Always something to think about when I read your work.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Really interesting article as always. I didn’t know about the donation from Zuckerberg and his wife. I’ve been thinking about the stress test that the US election has just passed a lot recently, and how we are subject to a post-truth Prime Minister here in the UK, again bringing those democratic institutions under stress. I hope Biden strengthens the election infrastructure for next time around (mail boxes in Harris County et al.)!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Matthew! No, the story about the Zuckerbergs’ involvement hasn’t been covered much; that’s one reason I found the topic so interesting.

      Though they may have played an outsized role in saving our democracy this time, FaceBook has long been a facilitator of conspiracy theories (not quite as much lately), so he’s also been a part of the problem. Who knows? Maybe there were pangs of conscience involved as well. Or maybe not…

      I share your hope for strengthened democratic institutions in both our countries—and elsewhere, of course. Mail boxes in Harris County? Matthew, you have a more granular awareness of what’s going on here than most Americans do—bless your heart!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m not sure I’m on board with your premise about the election running smoothly when such a substantial part of the public is convinced that shenanigans played a significant role. Of course if you’re getting your news from NYT/WAPO/CNN and such you would never hear of many of the problems.

    We do agree that private money is a problem. You wouldn’t have liked the result if the money had come from Koch and it had been funneled to red strongholds the way Zuck money went blue.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I didn’t like the money coming from Zuckerberg. When the President’s Attorney General, his director of cyber security, Republican state election officials, Republican appointed judges all say there’s no evidence of fraud, I think it’s time to give it a rest, JP. Trump declared fraud before and after 2016, and he said repeatedly before this election that if he didn’t win, it would mean the election was stolen from him! He keeps HIS fraud going to collect contributions from his hapless supporters that are mostly going into his personal coffers.

      There still remains such a thing as facts, fortunately. Despite the terrible harm trump and your party have done to democracy with this nonsense, the reality is gaining ground. Biden won a resounding victory in both the popular vote and the Electoral College—despite great odds made possible by the grifter president and those who follow him out of cowardice or nefarious motivations. I’ll stop here.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. JP. You are correct . I get most of my news from NYT and WaPo. Why? Because they will not run a story without 2 credible sources And they do their background research. And you can count on one hand any retractions they have had to make over the last few years. Now, you say a “substantial ” amount of the public does not think the election ran smoothly. Correct. Some people think that. Because they get their “news” from Fox, OAn and Newsmax. Sources which do virtually no vetting or background.

      So, let’s have it. Let’s have the data and evidence of election corruption. Where is it? Over 80 cases have been brought to court and not ONE of them has succeeded. You see, there is a big difference between gassing off on TV and then having to go to court to provide evidence. If there has been massive fraud it should be pretty easy to provide evidence. Yet, so far no court has ruled that evidence exists. So, believe Powell or Trump or Giuliani if you want. But as for me, I will require evidence. And therein lies the difference between independent thought and cult following.


      1. 1 – I saw a listing of some of these “witnesses” and some of the claims were incredible. One was that some of the poll workers had pens. Another had (illegally) switched her affiliation from Republican to Democrat in an effort to spy on the Dem poll watchers and she didn’t like the way some people looked at her. One guy had to wait in a line. Oh. The humanity.
        2 – I doubt that OAN and Newsmax actually make retractions (allegedly) they just stop reporting stuff that turns out to be actionable, at least once they get the lawyer’s warning letter in hand.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I think Newsmax did make what the real world would consider a retraction.

        There are little bitty individual cases of voter fraud emerging. They have one thing in common: they voted for trump!

        Thanks for your comment. On to January 20th!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Two more things, JP. I thought I made it clear that Zuckerberg’s money did not just go to blue states. It went to that non-profit, which responded to grant applications that were requested. I think it’s obvious why officials in the swing states, Dem or Rep, would be eager to ensure that they had transparency in their results. And 6o separate court decisions showed that worked.

    Then, after the results were clear and certified, trump et al tried to have those votes overthrown. Even his handpicked Supreme Court justices found that untouchable.

    Liked by 1 person

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