After a huge infusion of cash from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla, the Center for Tech and Civic Life is providing grants to county boards of election across the country to help facilitate November’s elections.

According to its website, the non-profit, non-partisan “CTCL is a team of civic technologists, trainers, researchers, election administration and data experts working to foster a more informed and engaged democracy, and helping to modernize U.S. elections.”

What You Need To Know

  • Facebook's founder and his wife have committed $250 million to the Center for Tech and Civic Life, which is re-granting the money to local election jurisdictions across the country to ensure they have the staffing, training, and equipment necessary for every vote to be counted

  • On September 4, the New York State Board of Elections forwarded the CTCL grant application to county boards of election

  • The grant money must be used before January 2021, and may be used for expanding voter education and outreach, recruiting and training poll workers, supporting early in-person voting and vote by mail, and maintaining safety protocols to protect officials and voters from COVID-19

In April, the New York State Board of Elections announced it would need an additional $50 million to process an estimated 5 million absentee ballots for the general election.

“This may seem crazy in the 21st century, but [county boards of election] need money for actual printing on paper and postage,” ReInvent Albany Executive Director John Kaehny told Spectrum News.

“The governor issued a series of executive orders that require county boards of election to make it easier to vote by mail and tell voters it’s easier to vote by mail,” Kaehny continued. “The boards of elections therefore need to put together those mailings, the first one which was supposed to be out last week on September 8, and print them and mail them.”

The new mandates, which came with no funding, are expensive. Good government groups like ReInvent Albany, the New York Public Interest Research Group, Citizen Action, and the League of Women Voters have written a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo, urging the administration to foot the bill.

Instead, the state seems to have given counties leave to pursue non-traditional pathways to pay for these extra costs.

Douglas Kellner, co-chair of the New York State Board of Elections, confirmed to Spectrum News that the State Board of Elections emailed the CTCL grant application to county boards of election.

“It’s money that’s available that everyone needs,” Kellner stated.

Dustin Czarny, Democratic elections commissioner for Onondaga County and the Democratic caucus chair for the NYS Elections Commissioners Association, told Spectrum News his county is more than happy to take the money.

“We’ve applied. That’s as far as I know. Many counties did,” he said. “We’re hopeful.”

If Onondaga County BOE wins the grant money, Czarny says it would use the funding to offset the costs that will be incurred by increased absentee balloting – costs in manpower, postage and printing – costs that were not budgeted for this year.

While Czarny is pleased the money is available, he’s not happy that this basic function of democracy has become dependent on charity.

“In my opinion, in my view, it was a total abdication of responsibility by the federal government to not include further election funding in another COVID relief package,” Czarny said. “States are out of money. Counties are out of money. The only government source that could have provided this funding is the federal government and they failed to do so.”

It’s a position shared by Kaehny.

“In our view, it’s pathetic,” Kaehny said. “The state can’t come up with $50 million? It seems like total madness.”