“The election infrastructure in the United States is collapsing,” Epps Johnson declared in a speech at this week’s TED conference in Vancouver.
“Election officials serving millions of voters lack the basic technology they need to reliably perform their work,” she said. “It either doesn’t exist or it’s shockingly outdated.”
The group’s efforts in 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic threatened to throw the presidential election into disarray, helped managers manage a record turnout with relatively few snags — but also sparked a backlash from Republicans focused on the role of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife . Priscilla Chan funded this work.
Two years later, that money was lost and Zuckerberg and Chan refused to send more to the election departments.
But while the pandemic has subsided, it has not gone away, and new challenges have emerged, including rising security threats, supply chain disruptions and escalating costs for essential items such as paper ballots, which are up as much as 50 percent nationwide by some estimates.
Moreover, Republicans rejected a proposal by Congressional Democrats to inject $5 billion into the election administration into next year’s federal budget. Funding is in President Biden’s budget proposal but he needs bipartisan support to survive. The bipartisan spending bill passed last month contains just $75 million for election grants.
Sparking a backlash over Zuckerberg’s and Chan’s donations, 16 Republican-controlled state legislatures banned special election funding, with many supporters claiming that Zuckerberg’s participation exposed a partisan effort to direct funding to Democratic cities.
In Virginia, for example, Governor Glenn Youngkin (right) announced on conservative talk radio in late January that he would replace the state’s election director, Chris Piper, after the host, John Fredericks, claimed that the state’s election office was “deeply ‘infiltrated’ by Before ‘Left-Party Nonprofits’ – an apparent reference to CTCL grants.
Piper, who learned of his impending dismissal from the broadcast, said in an interview at the time that his office had not accepted any money from the nonprofit and that the vast majority of grants that came to Virginia went to Republican counties that voted for Trump. .
According to the CTCL website, the program was grant-based and optional, and distributed funds to nearly 2,500 electoral offices in 49 states, with the majority of grants going to smaller communities.
Meanwhile, election officials and voting experts are now warning that as the midterm elections begin, new funding is needed to avoid major problems in November.
In her TED talk, Epps-Johnson noted that election resources have been allocated to critical infrastructure by the Department of Homeland Security, putting it “on a par with things like the power grid and water supply.”
However, counties spend half of 1 percent of their budgets on elections, she added — roughly the same percentage they spend on parking facilities.
“In 2020, we supported an election department in a small New England town to replace the manual ballot boxes they’ve been using to count votes since the early 1900s,” she said. “One was literally tied together with duct tape.”
The American Alliance for Electoral Excellence is a collaborative, nonpartisan alliance that brings together election officials, designers, and technology experts to support US elections. It is led by the Center for Technology and Civic Life, and its partners are the Center for Civic Design, the Center for Safe and Modern Elections, the Election Group, the Hasso Blattner Institute for Design at Stanford University, and the University’s Prototyping Laboratory. California at Davis and the American Digital Response.
Its funding comes through the Audacious Project, a TED initiative that brings together social entrepreneurs with private donors. The alliance was one of five such initiatives first launched Monday at TED 2022.