Mark Zuckerberg’s $250 million gift to bolster local governments has set off a gold rush across the country as frenzied election officials rush to apply, secure, and deploy the money.
In rural America and the nation’s biggest cities alike, the cash bonanza is proving to be a godsend for election administrators who have insufficient budgets and who have been faced with the possibility of forgoing critical safety measures to protect voters from the coronavirus. But because Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, unveiled the gift just two months before Election Day, election officials are now scrambling to get their hands on the cash on an awfully pinched timeline.
Almost 2,000 election offices — about one-fifth of the country’s total election administration jurisdictions — have applied for the money, generating so much interest that the group awarding the funds, the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), had to extend the tight application deadline from October 1 to October 15. In some of these districts, the late checks are allowing them to increase their election budgets by as much as 30 or 40 percent, with the Zuckerberg gift replenishing coffers that were depleted by a deteriorating economy and stretched further by the costs of the pandemic.
Grants have ranged from large figures, like the $15 million that Dallas County, Texas, took home, to much smaller sums, like the $5,000 granted to small Maine coastal towns like Union.
That money was badly needed — but also introduced thorny ethical questions.