Local elections boards using private donations in the administration of their elections is getting the attention of lawmakers, as some question the fairness and impartiality of the process.

During the 2020 presidential election, the term “Zuck Bucks” came to the forefront, after Marc Zuckerberg and his wife donated more than $350 million to the Center for Tech and Civic Life. CTCL then gave that money to 34 North Carolina cities and counties to help in the process of administering the 2020 election. 

At a recent Brunswick County commissioners meeting, commissioner Frank Williams brought forward a resolution that “strongly encourages” the Board of Elections to remove itself from a partnership with the U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence, which is reportedly funded with $80 million by The Audacious Project, a TED initiative.

The resolution passed the Republican-led board unanimously. Eric Terashima the Chairman of the Brunswick County Democratic Party took aim at the resolution.

“Apparently, there are baseless allegations that the Alliance distributed money from rich liberal contributors to help Democrats,” Terashima wrote in a press release. “Such allegations have been proven false by none other than the Federal Election Commission… The root of the problem is underfunding by the state’s GOP-controlled legislature and the very Brunswick County Commissioners who proposed this resolution.”

Counties with 3rd party election money skew Democrat

 However, a study from Dr. Andy Jackson, Director of the Civitas Center for Public Integrity at the John Locke Foundation indicated that in 2020 the N.C. counties receiving money from groups like CTCL skewed Democratic in voting.

“While CTCL gave to both Democratic-leaning and Republican-leaning counties, the 33 counties given CTCL funds backed Democrat Cal Cunningham 52.7% to 47.3%, while the other 67 counties went for Republican Thom Tillis 53.6% to 46.4%,” Jackson reported. “Regardless of whether the partisan bias in CTCL funding during the 2020 election in North Carolina was intentional, it existed.”

The Brunswick County GOP spoke out in favor of the resolution against the use of third-party funding in elections.

“Any money that comes from private groups to support the administration or actual voting brings an appearance of impropriety whether justified or not,” aid Bill Moore the GOP Chairman. “Voters cannot help but be concerned as to what if anything that money is purchasing.” 

Members of the North Carolina General Assembly have expressed similar concerns. Senate Bill 89, the Prohibit Private Money in Elections Admin would “prohibit the acceptance of private money for conducting elections or hiring temporary elections workers.” The House Budget has included portions of the Senate Bill under Section 26.5, which would prohibit both state and local Boards of Elections from accepting any private funds. 

Brunswick Board of Elections rejects resolution

Despite the unanimous passage of the resolution, the Brunswick County Board of Elections appeared to place little importance on it. The board voted along party lines, with three members voting to maintain their partnership with the Alliance, while two members voted against it. 

Brunswick County Board of Elections votes at April meeting. Source: WWAY screenshot

“Today’s vote is disappointing but not surprising,” said Commissioner Williams in a statement. “Given the composition of the board of elections, the writing was likely on the wall when the Democrat Party weighed in and injected partisan political pressure into a debate about removing partisan influences from election administration, The likely next step will be the finalization of the North Carolina budget which could force the Brunswick Board of Election to terminate their relationship with the U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence.”