Two North Carolina county election offices named to receive grants from a nonprofit tied to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg will not accept any direct funding, opting instead to leverage the affiliation for networking and training.
The Center for Tech and Civic Life recently announced 10 county and municipal election offices slated to receive grant funding from the center’s U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence, which bills itself as “a five-year, $80 million strategy to envision, support, and celebrate excellence in U.S. election administration.”
Brunswick and Forsyth counties join other 2023 grant recipients on the list from California, Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan and Nevada.
The announcement follows more than $400 million distributed by the nonprofit during the 2020 presidential election – the vast majority donated by Zuckerberg – that Republicans have argued was unfairly distributed to Democrat-leaning districts. The money is often called Zuckerbucks.
More than 20 states responded by banning private funds for elections. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, however, vetoed similar legislation in December 2021 saying outside money is needed because the Legislature does not properly fund local election boards.
Sara Lavere, director of the Brunswick County Board of Elections, told The Center Square she joined the alliance through a $4,000 premium membership that will be offset by a scholarship of the same amount, but currently does not “have any plans to outright take money from the alliance” to administer elections.
The alliance membership agreement stipulates that the nonprofit’s “commitment to nonpartisanship is total. We will never attempt to influence the outcome of any election. Period.”
Brunswick County – in the far southeastern corner of the state bordering South Carolina and across the Cape Fear River from Wilmington – received $67,291 from CTCL in 2020, and used money to hire a temporary employee, she said.
“I don’t know if I would consider (the alliance grants) similar funds” as the 2020 CTCL grant, Lavere said.
“They have a scholarship that would pay for the membership. And they’d have funds available to reimburse me for travel to meetings,” she said. “I don’t plan to have any money given to me to help run the elections.”
Lavere said she applied for an alliance membership as “an opportunity to network with others on elections.”
“It’s really helpful to see how other people do things,” she said.
“If there’s opportunity to visit other counties across the country, and they will cover travel expenses, that might be something I’d take advantage of,” Lavere said, adding that she gained approval from her bipartisan county board before joining the alliance.
Lavere agreed to consult with her county board before implementing any initiatives inspired by the alliance.
Forsyth County Elections Director Tim Tsujii, a member of CTCL’s advisory committee, also cited the opportunity to network for joining the alliance, and promised to reject any direct elections funding.
“We have no intent or plans to apply for or to even accept any grant funds,” he said. “We’re purely participating in this program for professional development purposes, and the certification and educational piece.
“So we’re not anticipating receiving any grants, because we had no intent for applying for or receiving any of that grant funding,” Tsujii said.
Forsyth County – home to Winston-Salem in the northwestern Piedmont region of the state – did not apply for or receive any CTCL funding in 2020, he said.