Douglas County received more than $1.7 million in election grants from nonprofits backed by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, pediatrician Priscilla Chan, and movie star and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Zuckerberg and Chan donated $400 million to the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), which gave Douglas County a grant of $1,662,490. The county received $99,600 from the USC Schwarzenegger Institute funded by the politician and actor who is perhaps best known for his role as “The Terminator.”
During a Board of Commissioners meeting in October, Douglas County Election Supervisor Milton Kidd called the CTCL grant “one of the largest grants that a county our size has ever received.”
Kidd said that while the grant funds are required to go to election-related expenses, the county will save on expenses it would have had to pay had it not been for the awards.
District 4 County Commissioner Ann Jones Guider, the only Republican member of the BOC, said she had the county legal staff look at the grants “to make sure we were not tied to doing things that would be biased to one party or the other.”
“I was very leery of it, but they assured me that there were no strings attached,” Guider said.
In November, the county announced it was using $371,553 from the CTCL grant money for a bus that can ease long lines and serve as a pop-up component during early and regular voting.
“With the addition of this mobile voting unit, we will be able to address underserved segments of the Douglas County community that may have a more difficult time reaching our early voting locations,” Kidd said last month.
Guider said it’s important that once the county receives the bus that it “goes to all parts of the county.”
The Douglas County Board of Elections also sponsored programming on National Public Radio. Neither Kidd nor county spokesman Rick Martin responded to inquiries about the radio sponsorships, but Guider said she believed the spots were paid for with the grant money. The sponsorships urged Douglas County citizens to vote early and listed information including sites for early voting.
A press release from CTCL said the funds from Chan and Zuckerberg were being used to support the couple’s ongoing efforts to expand voter access including:
• Poll worker recruitment, hazard pay, and training
• Polling place rental
• Temporary staffing support
• Drive-through voting
• Equipment to process ballots and applications
• Personal protective equipment (PPE) for poll workers
• Nonpartisan voter education from cities and counties
“Voting is the single most important thing you can do as a citizen, and it’s the way that we hold our leaders accountable,” Chan and Zuckerberg said in a release. “We should be doing everything we can to make it easier for people to cast their ballots. Inadequate public funds and a global pandemic have led to unprecedented challenges for election administrators throughout the country, and we are doubling down on our commitment to ensuring that every qualified jurisdiction has the resources it needs to allow every eligible citizen to vote safely and have their vote counted. These funds will serve all sorts of communities throughout the country — urban, rural, and suburban — and we remain determined to ensure that every state and local election jurisdiction has the resources they need so Americans can vote.”
In addition to Douglas, several other Georgia counties, including neighboring Cobb, Carroll, Paulding and Fulton counties, all received grants from CTCL.
Carroll County’s elections office received $66,776 from CTCL, according to a report in the Times-Georgian.
The Schwarzenegger Institute launched its Democracy Grants for Voting Access & Election Administration in September.
Schwarzenegger, in a letter announcing the launch, wrote that he had “read news stories about over a thousand polling locations closing around the country, even before the pandemic” and that he has “seen over and over that these closures are based on a lack of funding.”
He said as a former governor he understands “the dilemmas of a budget crunch.”
“I made millions because of this country, and spending my money to help my fellow Americans vote is the least I can do,” Schwarzenegger said.