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A worker scans ballots as the presidential recount process gets under way Nov. 24, 2020, in DeKalb County, Ga. (AP) A worker scans ballots as the presidential recount process gets under way Nov. 24, 2020, in DeKalb County, Ga. (AP)

A worker scans ballots as the presidential recount process gets under way Nov. 24, 2020, in DeKalb County, Ga. (AP)

Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman March 15, 2023

Grant to Georgia’s DeKalb County doesn't amount to an elections 'takeover'

If Your Time is short

  • The Center for Tech and Civic Life is granting DeKalb County $2 million for elections. 

  • Grant funds can be used for equipment and materials, voting sites or personnel. The overall purpose is to help plan and operate safe and secure elections.

  • Local election officials will continue to administer elections based on state laws.

Some Republicans in 2020 criticized election officials nationwide for accepting grants linked to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg. A new round of grants is drawing similar criticism, although Zuckerberg didn’t give money this time.

Georgia’s DeKalb County expects to receive $2 million from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a nonprofit that offered grants in 2020.

The Federalist, a conservative website, published a Feb. 21 story headlined, "How Georgia Became Democrats’ Test Site For Their 2024 Private Takeover Of Election Offices." Although the headline says "Georgia," the story is about only one county, DeKalb.

The statement appeared on Facebook and it was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook.)

Does the $2 million grant for DeKalb County represent a "private takeover of election offices"? 

When we’ve fact-checked claims that a bill in Congress equals a "federal takeover" of an industry (such as health care), we’ve considered whether the measure calls for the government to assume total control of the sector. 

The Facebook post’s claim of a "takeover" of an elections office suggests that the nonprofit would control crucial tasks, such as in-person or mail-in voting operations. But we found no evidence of such a takeover in DeKalb, a left-leaning county. Local officials will continue to run elections based on state law requirements.

How DeKalb County applied for the grant 

In 2020, Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, gave about $400 million to nonprofits (a spokesperson for the couple told PolitiFact they’re no longer funding election grants). Those nonprofits distributed the money to state and local election offices to help them cover the costs of running an election during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of those nonprofits, the Center for Tech and Civic Life, gave grants to cities and counties to cover staffing costs and for personal protective equipment and equipment that sorts absentee ballots.

The Federal Election Commission rejected claims that the donations were designed to help Democrats, and courts upheld the grants

After the 2020 general election, about half the states passed bans on private election funding, including Georgia.

Some Republicans have decried DeKalb’s application for a new grant. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote in 2021 that Georgia’s ban has "a big loophole."

"The law doesn’t ban outside donations to county governments, which could then allocate resources to their election boards. The law only affects direct payments to election offices," the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Georgia’s State Election Board is investigating a complaint about the donation. The Senate voted in March in favor of a bill that bans outside funding and penalizes violations as a felony punishable by jail time. The bill also would retroactively require any county to return outside funding received in 2023 — a provision that targets DeKalb.

DeKalb hasn’t provided details about how it will use the grant money

Funds from the Center for Tech and Civic Life may be used to buy election equipment and technology, to run voting sites or offices and pay personnel. 

We found no details about how DeKalb plans to use the grant; county officials may not have decided how to spend the money in 2023-24.

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A February document from a county government meeting states that the grant is to "cover certain expenses associated with planning and operationalizing safe and secure election administration infrastructure." 

PolitiFact submitted a public records request to get more information from the county. A document by DeKalb states that it was seeking an "increase in operating budget, and upgrade & enhancements" of facilities.

Documents provided to PolitiFact do not suggest that the nonprofit will take over elections in DeKalb.

An agreement states that the nonprofit "will never attempt to influence the outcome of any election. Period." It also states that partners will never touch "live ballots" — ballots that haven't yet been counted or a ballot in a current election — or tabulating equipment, give legal advice or require the county to follow specific advice or recommendations.

DeKalb County Commissioner Ted Terry told PolitiFact that he would like the money to be used to launch a civic engagement office focused on voter education and communications on how and where to vote.

We asked Terry whether the Center for Tech and Civic Life will have any say over hiring election workers, buying equipment, operating in person voting sites or managing voting by mail. 

Those tasks are "wholly in the discretion" of the elected commissioners and election administrators, Terry said. 

A Center for Tech and Civic Life spokesperson told PolitiFact that the agency won’t run DeKalb’s elections.

Grants beyond DeKalb County

Communities in California, Illinois and Nevada have also been approved for grants.

The money comes from the Audacious Project, which convenes funders for a variety of causes, including the Center for Tech and Civic Life’s U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence

Private funding for elections is  only necessary because local and state governments and the federal government have failed to provide adequate funding for decades, said Rachel Orey, an election expert at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington, D.C.–based think tank.

The grant to DeKalb County "is limited to covering core election infrastructure needs that benefit all voters, like election security improvements and new personnel, and in no way functions as a 'takeover' of the election office," Orey said.

The Federalist article links to a report by the Honest Elections Project and the John Locke Foundation, two conservative groups that have criticized the grants. The report said jurisdictions are expected to submit an improvement plan for office operations and that members can receive guidance on staff recruitment and training. The report authors drew from records they obtained from two North Carolina counties.

Our ruling

A Facebook post claimed that a $2 million grant for DeKalb County amounts to a "private takeover of election offices." 

DeKalb documents do not show exactly how the county plans to use the Center for Tech and Civic Life’s grant. But the county can use the money for equipment; voting and office sites; and personnel.

A "takeover" suggests that the center will be in charge of elections in DeKalb; we found no evidence to back that up. Local election officials will continue to administer elections based on state laws.

We rate this statement False. 

RELATED: 'Zuckerbucks' for 2022 elections? Republicans say thumbs down

Our Sources

DeKalb County, Agenda item, January 2023

DeKalb County, Press release about grant, Feb. 1, 2023

DeKalb County, Budget information, 2022-23

Georgia SB 222, March 2023

U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence, Letter to DeKalb County, Jan. 4, 2023

DeKalb County Deputy Chief Financial Officer Preston Stephens, Get Involved in the U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence, Relates to 2023-24 grant

U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence, Agreement, Jan. 24, 2023

U.S. Alliance for Election Administration, FAQs, Accessed Feb. 27, 2023

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, How Georgia’s voting law works, May 6, 2021

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Loeffler calls for 'investigation' after DeKalb accepts elections grant, Feb. 9, 2023

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, New wave of Georgia election bills targets ‘Zuckerbucks’ and bar codes, Feb. 25, 2023

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Georgia panel approves bill to restrict ‘Zuckerbucks’ elections money, Feb. 27, 2023

Georgia Public Radio reporter Stephen Fowler, Twitter thread about house elections subcommittee hearing, March 14, 2023

Fox News, Zuckerberg-funded group violated Georgia law with $2M for elections board: watchdog, Feb. 24, 2023

Bipartisan Policy Center, New Election Security Funding Positive but Misses the Mark, Feb. 28, 2023

Honest Elections Project, Report about the U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence, January 2023, Complaint sent to State Election Board, Jan. 16, 2023

Statement to PolitiFact, Brandi Hoffine Barr, Chan Zuckerberg family spokesperson, March 13, 2023

Email interview, Mike Hassinger, spokesperson for the Georgia Secretary of State, Feb. 27, 2023

Email interview, DeKalb County Commissioner Ted Terry, Feb. 28, 2023

Email interview, Brandon Lorenz, spokesperson for the Center for Tech and Civic Life, Feb. 28, 2023

Email interview, Rachel Orey, associate director of the Elections Project at the Bipartisan Policy Center, March 14, 2023

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Grant to Georgia’s DeKalb County doesn't amount to an elections 'takeover'

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