Big Tech-Aligned Group Wants to Go ‘Nationwide’ in Shaping Election Operations

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A Big Tech-aligned group funded through liberal dark money is moving to expand “nationwide,” even though about half the states have banned using private money to run elections. 

The Center for Tech and Civic Life launched the U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence in partnership with organizations funded by the liberal Arabella Advisors and Democracy Fund, as The Daily Signal previously reported. The tech center is the same group that distributed $350 million in election-administration grants in 2020 from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife.

“The Alliance is here to learn from election officials, inspire them to excellence, and celebrate their success,” reads the membership agreement used by the Alliance for Election Excellence, adding:

To accomplish these goals, the Alliance will develop and establish a nonpartisan, nationwide certification program so that jurisdictions meeting certain performance standards may hold themselves out as Centers for [Election] Excellence.

The Center for Tech and Civic Life handles press inquiries for the Alliance for Election Excellence, but did not respond to numerous inquiries from The Daily Signal. 

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The election alliance selected eight counties and two cities for its first program, issuing grants of as much as $3 million for election offices, The Daily Signal first reported. 

Although the alliance can’t do the same in states that banned such grants for operating elections, jurisdictions can pay as little as $1,800 to become members of the Alliance for Election Excellence, according to a report by the Washington, D.C.-based Honest Elections Project and the North Carolina-based John Locke Foundation, that relies on documents obtained through public records requests. 

The report, citing public records obtained by the two conservative organizations, shows the grants have strings attached. 

Documents on the election alliance’s grants say that the money may be spent only on physical and technological components needed for an election office, as well as “personnel with specialized training … whose absence could cause undesirable consequences or hamper the election security mission.”

“The documents show the election officials are accepting nonprofit support of [the election-related] grants and the alliance is pivoting to buy their [counties’] way into this membership,” Jason Snead, executive director of the Honest Elections Project, told The Daily Signal, referring to cities and counties. “So it’s a bait and switch/” 

Leading into the 2024 elections, the Alliance for Election Excellence picked 10 jurisdictions to participate in the program. 

Some of those jurisdictions have disclosed the amount of grant money from the alliance; in others, requests for public records requests are pending: 

  • Contra Costa and Shasta counties in California, which each got unknown amounts.
  • Greenwich, Connecticut, which got $500,000, according to records obtained by The Daily Signal.
  • Kane County, Illinois, which got $2 million, according to the report by the Honest Elections Project and John Locke Foundation.
  • Macoupin County, Illinois, which got $500,000, according to information obtained by The Daily Signal through a public records request.
  • Ottawa County, Michigan, which got an unknown amount. 
  • Clark County, Nevada, which got $3 million, according to information obtained by The Daily Signal through a public records request.
  • Madison, Wisconsin, which got $1.5 million, according to the Madison State Journal newspaper.
  • Brunswick and Forsyth counties in North Carolina, which each got unknown amounts. 

“It’s clear they are using these 10 spots because they are politically safe,” Snead said. “There are none in the 24 states that have Zuckerbuck bans. None have Republican attorneys generals that would sue.”

“But they want forward expansion,” he said, referring to the Alliance for Election Excellence. “The emails [from the alliance] talked about a nationwide network.”

The report from the Honest Eletions Project and the Locke Foundation says that, in an email acquired from Forsyth County, an alliance representative explained that the group had decided on a membership structure so that “jurisdictions from across the country could participate.” 

This, the report says, was a “pivot” from the alliance’s original vision to offer “free” programming to participating jurisdictions.

The email from the alliance official to Forsyth County, quoted in the report, reads:

In addition to celebrating your work, compliance with federal, state, and local laws is a top priority for the Alliance. This means that we’ve been meeting with Alliance partners and our expert legal team to design a membership structure so jurisdictions from across the country can participate in the program. 

To be clear, this is a pivot from our original vision that would have offered Alliance programming for free, and it reflects our commitment to integrity and compliance.

For jurisdictions that get grants from the election alliance, the fee is $1,600 for basic membership and $4,800 for premium membership. However, in some cases, the alliance says it will waive membership fees through “scholarships.” 

“They want to expand from these 10 jurisdictions with an influence campaign and gain access to the data and inner workings of election offices,” Snead said. “Even if a place can’t accept the scholarships under the Zuckerbuck bans, membership is as low as $1,600 to have access to these resources. They are playing the long game.”

The report from the Honest Elections Project and the Locke Foundation contends that left-leaning organizations making up the Alliance for Election Excellence use large amounts of money to influence local election offices to establish national standards, ultimately influencing other jurisdictions that aren’t participants. 

The election alliance’s membership agreement, obtained through public records requests, also says:

A core purpose of the Alliance is to promote the exchange of information about best practices in all directions: from the Alliance partners to centers, between centers, and from centers to the Alliance. One outcome of this exchange of information will be the creation of Values and Standards of Election Excellence (‘the standards’), which reflect nonpartisan excellence in election administration of local election departments across the country.

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