For at least two Florida counties, the new voting law means losing millions in private grant money bankrolled mostly by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and closing the spigot for more private dollars to fund election administration.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, signed the bill Thursday that includes provisions such as adding voter ID requirements to absentee voting and limiting ballot harvesting. The law also outright bans private money from being used to pay for local elections.
“No agency or state or local official responsible for conducting elections, including, but not limited to, a supervisor of elections, may solicit, accept, use, or dispose of any donation in the form of money, grants, property, or personal services from an individual or a nongovernmental entity for the purpose of funding election-related expenses or voter education, voter outreach, or registration programs,” the legislation read.
The Zuckerberg-financed Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL) gave almost $400 million to election jurisdictions across the United States, asserting it was to assist election offices amid the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Republicans countered the money disproportionately went to turn out the vote in heavily blue areas of the country. The CTCL money went to 49 states across 2,500 jurisdictions for election administration to pay for additional polling places, ballot drop boxes, “voter education” and other matters.
Officials from Palm Beach County – which got $6.8 million in CTCL grants—and Miami-Dade County—which got $2.4 million—told Fox News last week the leftover funds would be used to pay for future elections.
Miami-Dade, which did not get the grant money until Oct. 15, did not spend any of it for the 2020 election.
“We will not use or dispose of any unspent funds now that the law is in effect,” Robert Rodriguez, assistant deputy supervisor of elections for Miami-Dade County, told Fox News after DeSantis signed the bill. “The unspent funds will be returned.”
The money was going to be spent mostly on additional election equipment, Rodriguez said.
The Foundation for Government Accountability, a Florida-based government watchdog, that has researched how the Zuckerberg-funded grants were used, praised the legislation for blocking all private funds going to election administration.
“The Florida Legislature prohibited third party funding of local government election offices for one simple reason: to restore Florida voters’ trust in the integrity of the election process,” Tarren Bragdon, CEO of the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA), said in a statement. “The governor and legislature have made protecting elections a top priority, and I applaud their efforts to make Florida the most accessible, transparent, and efficient election system in the country.”
Former President Trump carried Florida in the 2020 presidential election, but FGA research noted that the Zuckerberg funding likely helped President Biden in the state in the state by boosting turnout among Democrats.
The Center for Tech and Civic Life did not respond to Fox News inquiries for this report, but the group’s executive director Tiana Epps-Johnson responded to an earlier story.
“Private funding is used to supplement a variety of government services where there are funding shortfalls, including schools and libraries,” Epps-Johnson told Fox News in April. “We hope that as states consider the issue of private funding, they solve the real long-standing problem, which is making sure that election departments are fully funded so they are able to deliver a professional, inclusive, secure voting process for all of their voters.”
The law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, left, halts the types of grants provided by Mark Zuckerberg for election administration. (Getty Images, File)
Palm Beach County did not respond to Fox News’ request for comment. Last week Wendy Sartory Link, the county’s supervisor of elections, said her county received permission from the CTCL to spend the remaining money in elections in 2021 and 2022.
Several other Florida jurisdictions spent all of the grant money. Based on preliminary numbers, the CTCL gave at least $13.2 million to Florida jurisdictions, according to an analysis by the Public Interest Legal Foundation. Grants to other Florida counties included $1.4 million for Broward County, $1.4 million for Leon, $850,000 for Brevard, $707,606 for Alachua, $109,404 for Osceola, and $69,564 to Wakulla County.
A February analysis of the money by the Foundation for Government Accountability found 78% of counties that Democrat Hillary Clinton carried in 2016 received CTCL grants compared to 7% of counties that Trump carried. The analysis also contrasted Leon County and Gadsden County. Leon County accepted $1.4 million in Zuckerberg-financed grants, while Gadsden took in none. Both counties had a similar increase in voter participation compared to four years earlier. Democratic turnout in Leon County jumped 12%.
The FGA analysis added, “Put simply, these two adjacent counties—with historically similar voting patterns— experienced wide differences in turnout swings amongst voters for the Democrat candidate for president and the Republican candidate for president.”