The Bucks County Board of Elections recently accepted almost $2.5 million in grant money from the Commonwealth to help pay for the upcoming Nov. 8 election based on a simple formula: $5.15 for each of the County’s 476,145 registered voters.
The funding is the result of Senate Bill 982, now referred to as Act 88 of 2022, but should not be perceived as a sign of generosity from the Pennsylvania GOP controlled legislature.
The 2020 election brought about dramatic changes in the voting process due to the Covid pandemic. Reporting from PA Spotlight reveals that the Center for Tech and Civic Life (TCL), a not-for-profit organization largely funded by FaceBook’s Mark Zuckerburg, offered grants to help offset increased election costs including the printing of mail in ballots.
Republican House leadership expressed animosity toward the TCL funds.
“It is deeply disturbing to me, and to many people I represent, that outside organizations were permitted to ‘invest’ in our elections in this way,” said Rep. Clint Owlett (R-PA68). “As we work to restore the people’s faith in our election processes, eliminating this type of grant funding from outsiders should be a top priority.”
According to Pennsylvania Spotlight’s article, that sentiment was inconsistent with Republican county commissioners.
“Of the counties that applied — including 13 that former President Donald Trump won in 2020 — all received what they requested or more,” PA Spotlight reported.
“We had no issues with receiving those dollars or using those dollars,” Juniata County Commissioner Alice Gray, a Republican, told Spotlight PA and Votebeat. Her county — which Trump won with 80 percent of the vote — received $11,364 to spend on poll workers, cleaning supplies, and temporary staff.”
Nevertheless, PA Senate Bill 982 advanced, was passed and now provides additional financial support for conducting elections.
In exchange for the money, however, counties must agree to refuse funding from any outside sources and adhere to more stringent reporting.
The Bucks County Board of Elections has never received outside funds under the current or prior administrations, according to James O’Malley, the Deputy Director of Communications for the agency.
Examples of the required reporting — including some documentation that is already performed — incorporates internal auditing to ensure that the names of voters who have died or moved away are removed from the voter rolls.
A new requirement, with specific regard to mail-in-ballots, includes the non-stop counting of those ballots beginning at 7 a.m. on Election Day and continuing until all ballots received have been tallied.
“The requirement to continue canvassing without interruption will pose new challenges,” said O’Malley. “We are working out the details of how we intend to continue uninterrupted.”
He doesn’t believe the ballot counting requirements tied to the funding will cause an increase in staffing.
“There will be no increase in needed poll workers. Bucks uses a mix of full time elections staff, part time elections staff and other County employees to assist in the pre-canvass and canvass” said O’Malley. “Working out the logistics of uninterrupted staffing management will be the bigger administrative task than filling the positions.”
Potentially, adhering to the audit and reporting requirements may quell some claims of voter fraud that have become all too common.
O’Malley acknowledged that “eligible grant [funding] uses include physical security and transparency costs, as well as list maintenance activities,” all of which should provide voters with confidence that Bucks County is carrying out free and fair elections.
The ACLU initially objected to the legislation due to severe criminal penalties for intentionally disregarding the parameters that govern receipt of the funds. However, the group issues a statement changing “its position from ‘oppose’ to ‘neutral’ on SB 982 when the criminal penalty for violations of its provisions was reduced from a felony to misdemeanor charge and the legislature agreed to $45 million in funding for county election offices in the 2023-2024 budget.”
Only four of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties have refused the funds.