Charges of serious election fraud in the U.S. have turned out to be baseless. Nevertheless, the allegations are now influencing voting reform in many states. One of these claims is that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg bought the 2020 election.
Facebook and its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, can’t ever get it right. After the 2016 presidential election, the social network was accused of threatening American democracy because, among other things, it offered Russian disinformation an unlimited platform. Presumably with the intention doing something good for democracy, Zuckerberg and his wife subsequently donated a total of $350 million to a little known nongovernmental organization called the Center for Tech and Civic Life prior to 2020 presidential election. The center distributed the money to 2,500 election departments across the country in an effort to guarantee a secure voting process.
The Scandal Is a State Failure
But after Donald Trump’s defeat, people in conservative circles charged that Zuckerberg’s millions had influenced the result in Joe Biden’s favor. The headline on the conservative web portal Wisconsin Spotlight last October read, “The election Mark Zuckerberg bought.” A Wall Street Journal editorial in January asserted that “Zuckerbucks shouldn’t pay for elections.”
According to research by the conservative nongovernmental organization Capital Research Center, CTCL essentially made larger donations to constituencies that Biden won. The Wall Street Journal noted, however, that the need for money is greater for election agencies in urban districts with larger populations than in rural areas. Because cities voted predominantly for Biden and residents in rural areas voted for Trump, the larger donations to Democratic city districts were justified as being for completely impartial reasons.
In addition, The Wall Street Journal reported that the CTCL gave nearly $20 million, the largest donation, to the Democratic stronghold of New York. If CTCL had really intended to influence the result of the election, the donation to the Big Apple was a “waste of eight figures.” The same thing applies to constituencies that Trump clearly won and that also received funds from Zuckerberg, the paper asserted. Even though private funding of election agencies is extremely questionable, the actual scandal lies elsewhere. The responsibility lies with Congress, which allocated merely $400 million to local and regional elections. State donors were too stingy to support a trouble-free voting process given a very high turnout under pandemic conditions, where many more people voted by mail. In Wisconsin, the largest cities had exhausted their budgets after the primaries, which were marked by long lines of people waiting, a shortage of poll workers and many rejected ballots.
Thanks to Zuckerberg’s millions, these districts could better prepare for the presidential election. They bought additional voting machines and high-performance scanners, invested in voter information, bought personal protective equipment, gave poll workers hazard pay, installed mobile ballot boxes and hired more people to monitor them. Without private donations, election workers don’t know what they would have done, according to a local Pennsylvania election manager who spoke with investigative reporters at APM Reports.
Conservative critics also accuse Zuckerberg and CTCL for using their donations to promote a higher voter turnout, which helped Biden win the election. However, APM Reports compared the data from Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania, where Trump lost the majorities to Biden that he had won in 2016. Regardless of whether or not they received funds from CTCL, the votes were higher for Biden than Trump in all three states. “Every election department that applied, received funding,” CTCL executive director Tiana Epps-Johnson said.
“I hope that for future elections the government provides adequate funding,” Zuckerberg wrote on Facebook in October 2020. But even if that doesn’t happen, private donors will likely not be able to fill the gap. In recent months, at least eight Republican stronghold states have banned non-state funding for election administration as part of state election reform. This despite the fact that to this day, no court has ever established that there was anything improper about the allocation of CTCL donations.
Lies Encourage Doubt
A similar tendency to enforce restrictions and bans is also apparent in Republican states with regard to collecting ballots. Trump has disdainfully called the process “ballot harvesting.” If a voter is unable to personally cast a vote or post it by mail because of health or other reasons, the voter can designate a trustworthy contact or a family member to do so in most states. However, approximately a dozen states make no provision for that.
Labor unions, political and ecclesiastical groups and other nongovernmental organizations take advantage of legal loopholes to collect votes. Their members call on people at home to collect absentee voting forms, a procedure that presents the opportunity for abuse. Still, experts agree that this hardly ever occurs and is generally reported when it does. “Fraud by ballot collection, like all incidences of election fraud, is rare,” said Nancy Martorano Miller, a political science professor at the University of Dayton.
To this day, Trump supporters in Georgia are trying to prove there was extensive manipulation during the 2020 presidential election through “ballot harvesting.” In Atlanta, election authorities initiated an investigation even now on the basis of an anonymous claim by someone who says he received $10 for every ballot he collected. However, no one will be surprised if this fraud charge also amounts to nothing. The conspiracy theorists’ goal is not to prove actual fraud, but to keep the lies about rigged votes alive for as long as possible by continuously sowing the seeds of doubt for the sake of politics.