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Two North Carolina counties withdraw from ‘Zuckerbucks’ alliance as 2024 election cycle begins

The counties' "withdrawal from the U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence marks a major development, and victory, in the fight against left-wing dark money influence on election administration," said Jason Snead, Executive Director of the Honest Elections Project.

Published: January 23, 2024 11:00pm

Updated: January 24, 2024 12:53am

Two North Carolina counties left a Zuckerbucks nonprofit — where private money is injected into public election administration — as the 2024 election cycle began, citing time commitment as the reason for leaving.

Brunswick and Forsyth counties in North Carolina have left the U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence, a project of the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), after joining it last year.

The alliance is awarding funds to counties and municipalities under the Centers for Election Excellence program. The alliance will provide $80 million over five years "to envision, support, and celebrate excellence in U.S. election administration," according to CTCL.

However, both Brunswick and Forsyth counties chose to not take money from the alliance when they became members in 2023.

CTCL poured about $350 million into local elections offices managing the 2020 election, with most of the funds donated to the nonprofit by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. The nonprofit has claimed its 2020 election grants — colloquially known as "Zuckerbucks" — were allocated without partisan preference to make voting safer amid the pandemic.

However, a House Republican investigation found that less than 1% of the funds were spent on personal protective equipment. Most of the funds were focused on get-out-the-vote efforts and registrations.

Other philanthropic actions of Zuckerberg have come under scrutiny for failure. A much touted $100 million donation to help Newark, N.J., schools was widely criticized as a failure, according to The New Yorker and CNBC. The New Yorker reported that between 2010 and 2012, more than $20 million of Zuckerberg’s gift and matching donations went to “consulting firms with various specialties: public relations, human resources, communications, data analysis, teacher evaluation.” Consultants were paid as much as $1,000 a day.

Following controversy surrounding the disproportionate private funding funneled to Democratic jurisdictions and claims the imbalance helped sway the 2020 election in Biden's favor, 27 states have either restricted or banned the use of private money to fund elections, while 12 counties have also restricted or banned the funds, according to the Capital Research Center.

The Republican-led North Carolina state legislature banned Zuckerbucks over the Democratic governor's veto last October.

Both North Carolina counties explained in their letters the reasoning for reluctantly leaving the alliance.

In the letter from Brunswick County that was sent to the alliance last month but was just posted online Friday, the county elections director wrote, “After careful consideration, I have made the difficult decision to no longer continue as one of the centers for excellence. With the upcoming busy election cycle, I find myself unable to dedicate the time and attention required to contribute fully to the invaluable work that the organization is doing.”

Brunswick Elections Director Sara Lavere told Just the News on Monday that her “top priority is to ensure my office is prepared to conduct the primary and general elections this year.” She also noted the various commissions and committees she’s currently serving on, explaining that she needed “to remove something from my plate” with the busy election year.

The Forsyth County letter was sent by the elections director to the alliance in November, but also wasn’t posted online until Friday.

The letter reads, “It is with deepest regret that we are ending our membership and participation as a Centers for Election Excellence. The Forsyth County Board of Elections office will not be able to fully participate in all upcoming Alliance activities due to the immense amount of work and preparation needed to effectively administer the 2024 election cycle. We want to be respectful to the Alliance and to the other Centers who are wholly committed to this initiative and not take away from another elections office that could benefit from this incredible opportunity.”

Forsyth Elections Director Tim Tsujii told Just the News on Monday, “Due to the workload demands of preparing for and conducting the 2024 election cycle, our office will not be able to fully participate in the different Alliance activities that are planned for this year.”

Tsujii explained, "As part of the inaugural class, some of the activities included contributing to the development of professional, nonpartisan standards for election officials, development of training resources for future cohorts that cover best practices from election offices across the country, and participating in different training opportunities on topics such as cybersecurity in elections administration, how to develop a continuity of operations plans, how to combat mis/dis/mal-information, etc.”

He added that the alliance doesn’t have requirements for counties to meet to “maintain membership,” but that his “office just didn't want to take away this opportunity from another elections office that could fully participate in all of the activities.”

Both counties are still listed on the alliance’s website. CTCL didn’t respond to a request for comment.

When CTCL was asked by The Federalist about the counties remaining on the alliance’s website after withdrawing last year, the nonprofit said that the alliance is “proud” to have had both counties “in the inaugural cohort,” adding that the website is “undergoing updates which will be released soon.”

Jason Snead, Executive Director of Honest Elections Project, said in a statement released on Friday, “Brunswick and Forsyth Counties’ withdrawal from the U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence marks a major development, and victory, in the fight against left-wing dark money influence on election administration.

“Officials from both counties cite membership requirements that were too time consuming to continue while preparing for the upcoming election season – an interesting admission about a group that claims to ‘make the work of election officials easier, not harder,’” Snead added.

He later noted, “Honest Elections Project encourages the rest of the counties enrolled in the Alliance to withdraw from this ideological program led by CTCL – the group behind Zuck Bucks in the 2020 election. The offices that run our elections should be accountable to the public alone. Special interests privately funding election administration sow distrust in our election process. The U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence has no place in the democratic process.”

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