Report: Zuckerberg-Backed Grants, Which Were Irregularly Distributed, Increased Voter Turnout for Democrats in Wisconsin 2020 Election
Report: Zuckerberg-Backed Grants, Which Were Irregularly Distributed, Increased Voter Turnout for Democrats in Wisconsin 2020 Election

By Li Hai

A Wisconsin-based think tank analyzed the impact of private election administration grants on the 2020 presidential election in Wisconsin, claiming in its newly released report that the donations had a “significant” impact on voter turnout for Democrats.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), a think tank and litigation center, requested and received records from 196 of the 216 municipalities that received between $2,212 to $3.4 million in grant funding for the the 2020 election from the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), a nonprofit foundation funded in part by Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan.

“This analysis provides convincing evidence that the CTCL grants played a role in increasing turnout for Joe Biden in 2020,” WILL Research Director Will Flanders said in a statement released on Wednesday. “Wisconsin lawmakers should act to ensure local election administration isn’t captured by private money seeking partisan advantage.”

After analyzing the change in turnout between 2016 and 2020 for Democrats and Republicans, WILL found a “statistically significant increase” in turnout in cities that received CTCL grants.

Residents wait in line to vote at a shuttered Sears store in the Janesville Mall in Janesville, Wisconsin, on Nov. 3, 2020. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

In those cities, Biden received approximately 41 votes more on average in each of 196 municipalities. In comparison, CTCL funding did not increase voter turnout for former President Donald Trump.

Given the number of municipalities in Wisconsin that received grants from CTCL, the potential impact is more than 8,000 votes in the direction of Biden, the report claimed.

According to data from the Wisconsin Elections Commission, Trump lost Wisconsin by 20,682 votes or 0.6 percent.

The report noted that according to the Amistad Project, an initiative from the Thomas More Society, CTCL’s 20 largest donations all went to cities that Hillary Clinton won in the 2016 election—targeting states such as Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

“By dumping large sums of money into strategically selected municipalities, groups seeking partisan advantage could, in effect, enlist local election administrators into get-out-the-vote operations that serve to help one candidate over another,” WILL said in a statement.

The five largest cities in Wisconsin—Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Kenosha, and Racine—received $8.8 million in CTCL grant funds; that is 86 percent of CTCL’s $10.3 million grant funds in Wisconsin.

Other non-CTCL grants accounted for only three percent of the total grants received.

The report also said that CTCL exerted “a concerning amount of control” and access to election oversight in cities that received grant money.

A file photo shows an election voter collecting the count from a voting machine in a file photo of the Nov. 3 election (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

For example, in Milwaukee, CTCL assisted in the ballot curing process. In Green Bay, CTCL officials were given keys and access to absentee ballots. The report noted that the process was so frustrating that assistants to the clerk were threatening to leave.

For the five big cities who received most of the money, CTCL stipulated that the municipalities must hold to the “Wisconsin Safe Voting Plan” or “CTCL may discontinue, modify, withhold part of, or ask for the return of all or part of the grant funds.”

According to the “Wisconsin Safe Voting Plan,” which was proposed by the five recipient cities, there are four main recommendations to ensure a safe and secure election: encourage and increase absentee voting; dramatically expand strategic voter education and outreach efforts, particularly to historically disenfranchised residents; launch poll worker recruitment, training, and safety efforts; and ensure safe and efficient election day administration.

The report also found that most of the grant money was spent on poll worker recruitment, hazard pay, and training; vote-by-mail or absentee voting equipment or supplies; election administration equipment; and temporary staffing support.

The report said there was a need to ensure that such funds are distributed equitably in a per capita manner and used in similar ways across all voting districts.

“While we have no objection to the use of resources to help people vote (with appropriate safeguards), it is important to remember that elections are a contest. When resources are expended that ease voting in some areas and not in others, their expenditure has a distorting effect on the election,” the report concludes. “It is not surprising that they were perceived as unfair. They were unfair.”

Zuckerberg and his wife granted $350 million to CTCL last year, distributed to nearly 2,500 election jurisdictions across 49 states.

Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg attend the 2020 Breakthrough Prize Red Carpet at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., on Nov. 3, 2019. (Ian Tuttle/Getty Images for Breakthrough Prize)

“While Mark and Priscilla provided an overall grant to CTCL to ensure funding was available, they did not participate in the process to determine which jurisdictions received funds, and as a [501] (c)(3) [organization] CTCL is prohibited from engaging in partisan activities,” a Chan-Zuckerberg family spokesperson told The Epoch Times.

The spokesperson also provided a list of counties that received grants from CTCL, saying the list shows more counties nationwide that received grants voted for Trump than Biden, although it is unclear if the list was corrected to account for significant changes to voting patterns from 2016, as was done in the WILL analysis.

CTCL didn’t respond to a request from The Epoch Times for comment.

State Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville) and state Rep. Adam Neylon (R-Pewaukee) are advancing Assembly Bill 173 to require that no local municipalities to apply or receive private donations for election administration, except expressly authorized under election statutes. If the Elections Commission accepts a donation or grant, the commission must distribute the money to each municipality in Wisconsin on a per capita basis.

The Assembly passed the bill in May, and the Senate passed it on Wednesday. Now, it’s back in the Assembly.

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