But Zuckerberg has been unmoved by legal threats, arguing in a Facebook post expected to go live Tuesday that his decision to fund election administration does not have a partisan political motive.
“Since our initial donation, there have been multiple lawsuits filed in an attempt to block these funds from being used, based on claims that the organizations receiving donations have a partisan agenda. That’s false,” Zuckerberg writes in the post. “These funds will serve communities throughout the country — urban, rural and suburban — and are being allocated by nonpartisan organizations.”
The Zuckerberg and Chan effort to fund U.S. election administration was announced after President Trump signed a coronavirus relief bill this spring with $400 million in additional funds for state election assistance, far short of the $4 billion sought by voting rights leaders and congressional Democrats.
The couple initially gave $250 million to the nonprofit Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), which has set up a grant program that funds local government efforts to expand voter access, including drive-through voting, temporary staffing support, equipment to process ballots and applications and nonpartisan voter educations. They gave an addition $50 million to another nonprofit, The Center for Election Innovation and Research, to help secretaries of state with voter education.
“We’ve seen massive interest in the covid-19 Response Grant program over the last month from over 2,100 election officials who are seeking funding to ensure safe, healthy election options for voters in every corner of the country,” CTCL executive director Tiana Epps-Johnson said in a statement Tuesday. “I’m thrilled that these additional funds will allow us to continue to meet the tremendous demand.”
Johnson said the funds are available to all local election offices responsible for administering elections and “every eligible election department that is verified as legitimate will be approved for a grant.”
A conservative legal group, Thomas More Society, has filed lawsuits in eight states, including the presidential battlegrounds of Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Georgia and Iowa, seeking to block the grants from going through.
“Privatizing the management of elections undermines the integrity of our elections because private donors may dictate where and how hundreds of millions of dollars will be managed in these states,” Phill Kline, director of the Amistad Project of the Thomas More Society, said in a public statement last week.
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry (R) has also objected to the use of private money to fund elections. Election officials in that state have withdrawn their applications for the funds, and a Republican in the legislature has proposed a bill that would outlaw the practice.
The significant investment in public elections by Zuckerberg and Chan has occurred as Facebook faces renewed regulatory scrutiny in Washington, including antitrust investigations from both the U.S. House and the Federal Trade Commission.
At the same time, Facebook has taken a far more aggressive approach to election protection measures this year than in 2016, when the company faced enormous criticism for hosting foreign disinformation campaigns on its platform.
The company announced this month that it was removing all affiliated groups and pages involving QAnon conspiracy theories, which include baseless allegations that Democratic officials and Hollywood celebrities are engaged in unconscionable crimes while seeking to undermine the Constitution.
The company has also started to remove posts by Trump that are false, including a recent post that inaccurately said covid-19 is less deadly than the seasonal flu. In August, Facebook removed a Trump post that falsely said children are “almost immune” to covid-19.
Trump has reacted angrily, calling for new regulations of social networks.
“REPEAL SECTION 230!!!” Trump tweeted last week, an apparent reference to a part of U.S. law that protects social networks from litigation for their decisions regarding content moderation.
The company has also sent every American of voting age on its platforms messages with voting information, including links on how to register to vote, with the goal of registering 4 million voters and helping at least as many get to the polls. Company leaders have announced new restrictions on political advertising in the final week before the election, as well as a system for informing people about the legitimate counts of the ballots after the polls close.
The election administration donations are coming directly from Zuckerberg and Chan, not their separate philanthropic effort, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI). In recent months, employees there have said leadership has urged them to back away from projects that could bring unwanted scrutiny to Facebook, even if they were aligned with the philanthropy’s goals to promote justice and opportunity.
The technology blog Recode reported in June that CZI scrapped plans for a voter data project. The Washington Post reported in August that Black employees at CZI believed Facebook’s desire to appear unbiased and welcoming to conservatives was hurting its support for Black community leaders and causes.
“Inadequate public funds and a global pandemic have led to unprecedented challenges for election administrators throughout the country,” Zuckerberg and Chan said in a statement accompanying the announcement of the new donation, “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.”
Nitasha Tiku in San Francisco contributed to this report.