Government voter suppression can take many forms. One way is for government to discourage participation by one voting demographic. Another is for government to selectively encourage participation by a favored group of voters. And the harmful effects of each are amplified when both occur at the same time as is happening in America today.
On September 2, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, announced with great fanfare that they were gifting $250 million to the Center for Tech and Civic Life. This gift was ostensibly provided to “provide every American with the opportunity to vote and have their vote counted in safety.” Yet, CTCL is not using these funds to benefit every citizen equally.
Rather, CTCL is dedicating its windfall to expanding voting opportunities and increasing voter turnout in jurisdictions that gave Hillary Clinton overwhelming majorities in the 2016 presidential election or jurisdictions in which she underperformed to harness what is called the “undervote” for Biden, and in areas with key congressional races
To date, our review has found that these grants have gone to cities and counties that, in the aggregate, provided Hillary Clinton with over 75 percent of their combined 2 million votes in 2016. Despite the expected denial by CTCL, the effect of these grants is to involve government in efforts to turn out Clinton voters for Joe Biden and also to reduce the undervote among predictably left-leaning voters.
For example, CTCL has granted Flint, Michigan $475,626. Flint is in Genesee County, a county in which President Trump in 2016 outperformed Mitt Romney in 2012. In fact, Mr. Trump carried 21 of the 27 boroughs and towns in Genesee County — yet, overall, he narrowly lost the county. Mr. Trump’s sizable win in the rural parts of Genesee County was swamped by Ms. Clinton’s overwhelming victory in the city of Flint, which she won with 84 percent of the vote. CTCL did not grant its money to the county of Genesee; rather, it granted the funds specifically to Flint.
We see a similar pattern in other heavily urban areas that strongly supported Ms. Clinton. CTCL has granted over $3.5 million to Wayne County, which includes Detroit. Ms. Clinton collected more than 280,000 votes in Wayne County in 2016, more than 96 percent of the vote. And the same holds true for predominantly rural states such as Iowa, where CTCL is trying to push a grant on Scott County, one of the 6 out of 99 Iowa counties that Clinton won in 2016.
The significance of this effort can be seen through the fact that the President won Michigan by just over 10,000 votes in 2016. Ms. Clinton would have won Michigan if she gained just over two additional votes per precinct in 2016 — not two percent more votes, just two measly votes.
At the same time that CTCL is working with local government officials to turn out Clinton votes for Biden, the governors of these states are actively discouraging in-person voting, and even making it more difficult to vote in person through draconian executive orders issued due to COVID. This means that in many suburbs and rural areas of these states that do not have private funds to expand voting opportunity, voting in person will be more difficult in this election than it has been in over a generation.
In short, Mr. Zuckerberg and his wife are providing CTCL with a war chest that it is using to help elected officials in specific areas make it easier for a targeted, urban demographic to vote, while at the same time left-leaning governors in those states are making it harder for suburban and rural voters to exercise their rights.
The privatization of elections must not happen. Government has the responsibility to conduct fair, honest, transparent elections — not just in certain jurisdictions, but everywhere.
This is why The Amistad Project of The Thomas More Society is working to protect our First Amendment rights, rein in the overuse of emergency police powers to harm those rights, and defend the integrity of our elections.
As part of that effort, The Amistad Project is filing federal lawsuits in the states of Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania to challenge city and county governments that are planning to use privately targeted private funds in the management of their elections.
If CTCL and Mr. Zuckerberg genuinely want to help every American vote safely, they could donate their money directly to state legislatures, which have the constitutional responsibility and the legal responsibility under federal law to appropriately manage elections. Government election agencies must not serve personal interests and their mission must not be available for purchase by the highest bidder. Government has played favorites in election management before and courts rightfully stepped in to stop such discrimination and protect every person’s right to vote.
If their intentions are truly nonpartisan, then CTCL and Mr. Zuckerberg should immediately stop targeting their funding and grant monies to state legislatures, and also release all communications regarding the use of these funds and the gifting of these funds, including all communications they’ve had with grant recipients. If their intentions are partisan they should give up their charitable claims and donations and give the monies to the political party of their choice. Americans should not be forced to subsidize their partisan choices.
Since they’re not willing to offer the level of transparency that the American people are entitled to with the integrity of our elections at stake, we’re asking the courts to shed light on the matter. Voter suppression can take many forms, and we must always be vigilant to guard against all of them.
Phill Kline is the Former Kansas Attorney General. He currently serves as Pulpit Pastor of Amherst Baptist Church, a law school professor, and director of the Amistad Project of The Thomas More Society. Previously, he served as president of the Midwest Association of Attorneys General, was on the Executive Committee of the National Association of Attorneys General, and was co-chairperson of the Violent Sexual Predator Apprehension Task Force. He was a Kansas House member for eight years where he chaired the Appropriations Committee and the Taxation Committee and authored victims rights laws and welfare reform.