How to restore trust in the election system
The election of 2020 forced states to come to terms with all the inadequacies of the election process. Voting during the pandemic exposed and exploited weaknesses like questionable counting tactics, inconsistent and illegal handling of absentee ballots, and third-party funding of local elections.
These and other issues muddied the waters of the election at the local and national level and diminished public trust in the process itself.
By the time races were called and counting (finally) stopped, the mounting issues and waning public faith exposed the peril democracy is in if elections aren’t both secure and trusted by the American public.
One particular issue brought to the fore by the 2020 election was the influence of third-party money on local elections. Currently available data shows that third-party grants may have influenced election results in some states at worst and, at best, brought up numerous egregious conflicts of interest that need to be rooted out to make sure American elections are fair and secure.
States can restore trust in the election system by enacting policies that make it easy to vote, but hard to cheat.
A quick recap of Zuckerbucks
During the 2020 presidential election, nearly 2,500 election offices across the country received grants of varying amounts from the Center for Technology and Civic Life (CTCL), a Democrat-led non-profit funded in part by Google and Facebook. One of the largest donors was the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. They contributed $350 million to the initiative so that CTCL could regrant the funds to local election jurisdictions.
CTCL’s election grants—or “Zuckerbucks”—were advertised as additional resources to help election jurisdictions “safely serve every voter” amid the COVID-19 public health emergency.
However, a deep dive into the available data shows that the funds were largely requested for get-out-the-vote efforts, influenced voter turnout in favor of Democrats, and may have impacted the results of the election in some states.
In just a few examples, Boone County, Missouri paid to produce a music video and radio spot to encourage voter turnout. Chester County, Pennsylvania spent six figures to send a postcard to all registered voters and produce a promotional video in English and Spanish. The mayors of the five largest cities in Wisconsin requested more than $6 million in Zuckerbucks, but less than 14 percent of that was projected to go towards safety measures.
Zuckerbucks boosted Democrat voter turnout
It appears these grants were much less about protecting voters from COVID-19 and much more about registering and getting Democrat voters into the polls. Counties that Biden won received substantially higher grant amounts than counties won by Trump in the general election.
Grant dollars followed Democrats, in Florida in particular, with 78 percent of counties that voted for Clinton in 2016 receiving Zuckerbucks while just seven percent of the counties that Trump carried in 2016 received Zuckerbucks. This resulted in dramatically higher voter turnout in Democrat-held areas compared to 2016.
Zuckerbucks may have impacted election results
Given that more Zuckerbucks were given with more generosity to Democrat-held areas, and that these funds were often used for voter education efforts, it is unsurprising that the data shows that Zuckerbucks may have influenced election results in some states.
In states like Arizona and Pennsylvania, counties that received Zuckerbucks saw an increase in Democratic voters that offset changes in Republican votes. Similarly, data shows that Democratic candidates often won by significantly higher margins in counties that received Zuckerbucks compared to those that did not.
Why restoring trust is important
Participating in elections and doing so with the confidence that your vote will be fairly counted, is a cornerstone of democracy. If the public lacks trust in its election system—if it assumes its rigged, that their vote won’t matter, or that outside money will ultimately influence the result—the stability and longevity of America’s system of governance is threatened.
Securing elections from fraud and outside influence isn’t a partisan issue—in fact, 68 percent of voters support improving election integrity by closing loopholes in election laws that erode trust in the election process.
So, where do we go from here?
States must prioritize securing their election processes and maintaining election integrity with commonsense reforms.
Make it easy to vote, and hard to cheat. States should enact legislation that prohibits ballot harvesting. Specifically, prohibit a person from picking up and delivering completed absentee applications and ballots from more than two voters who aren’t family members.In addition, states and local election jurisdictions should ensure constant surveillance of drop boxes by election officers, law enforcement, or security personnel. These and other reforms mirror what was recently signed into law in Georgia as part of the Georgia Election Integrity Act of 2021.
Eliminate the influence of outside funding on elections. Prohibit local and state officials from accepting non-government funds, grants, or gifts. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) recently signed Senate Bill 90 into law which prohibits state and local election officials from accepting private, third-party funding in future elections. States like Arizona and Idaho have followed suit with similar legislation.
Secure the process from start to finish. Allowing voter registration on the day of the election makes it nearly impossible for election officials to actually ensure those who register are eligible to vote. Secure voter registration by requiring applications to be received 14 days before Election Day. Voter rolls should also be not only easily accessible by the public, but also crosschecked with state and federal databases twice a year. Require identification for absentee ballots, especially first-time voters.
It’s time for states to secure their elections
Commonsense election integrity reforms are working for states like Florida, Arizona, and Georgia. In these states and others who prioritize election integrity, voters will be able to go to the polls knowing their votes will count. They’ll trust that local and federal election officials won’t be swayed or influenced by outside money or bad actors. They’ll know the process is secure and fair from start to finish.
Every American should be able to trust that the vote they cast will be counted. It is this trust in the election process that is paramount to the future of our democracy.