Why lawmakers are asking you to vote on private election grants

Posted at 3:08 PM, Apr 02, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-02 16:08:07-04

MADISON — State lawmakers are asking Wisconsin voters to decide whether to ban private election grants over lingering concerns about the 2020 election.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has already vetoed the proposal once, but if a majority of voters say “yes” to the Republican-backed ballot question at the polls on Tuesday, the ban would be enshrined as a constitutional amendment, which Evers cannot block.

Debates over private election grants stem from the $350 million that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg donated to help election officials carry out the 2020 presidential election at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Conservatives have termed the grants “Zuckerbucks” and accused Zuckerberg of using the money as a bribe to tip the election in favor of President Joe Biden, but there is no evidence to support that theory.

Wisconsin elections offices received more than $10 million in grants funded by Zuckerberg in 2020. A vast majority of that money – about $8.5 million – went to the state’s five largest cities: Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Kenosha, and Racine. Those cities are typically Democratic strongholds in the battleground state.

Election officials used the funds for everything from hiring more staff and paying for more absentee ballots to purchasing personal protective equipment and new voting machines. Supporters of private election grants argue that the money is necessary because government funding doesn’t always cover the costs of running an election.

Public funding for elections could become a hot topic in future races if voters pass Tuesday’s ballot question. The proposed constitutional amendment comes with no guarantees that lawmakers will increase elections funding after banning private grants.

“I suspect that election administrators will say, ‘If you’re not going to allow us to fill these gaps, then make sure there aren’t gaps,’” said Rob Yablon, co-director of the State Democracy Research Initiative at UW-Madison Law School. “So we may see some moves or at least some lobbying to try to increase public funding.”