By Tom Travis
This article has been updated on Oct 8, 2020 to include the motion filed in Federal Court.
A conservative group called Election Integrity Fund is suing the City of Flint over a $475,000 grant for the City Clerk’s office to use in the Fall election season. EVM reported last month that the Flint City Clerk’s office had applied and received this grant from the Center for Tech and Civic Life.
Various media outlets are reporting that the grant money came from a personal contribution from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg and his wife Dr. Priscilla Chan. The original Zuckerburg/Chan contribution was between $250-$300 million donation to the Center for Tech and Civic Life. From that donation both the cities of Flint and Lansing received grant money. Flint received $475,000 and Lansing received $440,000.
The source of that grant money is now being challenged. Michigan Public Radio reported Oct. 1 that Election Integrity Fund is arguing in their lawsuit that it isn’t legal to use private grant money for election operations.
New York Times journalist Kenneth Vogel reported in a Sept. 25 article that conservative groups are raising concerns about money from personal donations being funneled into democratic strongholds, like Flint, “arguing they will disproportionately help Democrats like the party’s presidential nominee, Joseph R. Biden Jr.”
The lawsuit is in the Federal Court system and the case number is 20-cv-00950. The City of Flint is named in the opening paragraph of the twenty-eight page motion filed on September 29. City of Flint residents Kirklyn Valentine and Jim Miraglia are named in the lawsuit along with a City of Lansing resident. The lawsuit states that both Valentine and Miraglia have “an interest because Valentine [and Miraglia] opposes the election of progressive candidates in local, state and federal elections.”
Flint City Attorney Angela Wheeler responds to lawsuit
Responding to the lawsuit, City Attorney Angela Wheeler released this statement, “These claims are misguided. Providing resources to assist city clerks in ensuring a fair and accurate election is not a partisan or political issue. This is about protecting our right to vote and the sanctity of elections during these extraordinary times.”
City Clerk Inez Brown could not be reached for a comment, as of Wednesday evening.
Clerk Brown explains how the grant money will be used
In remarks to the City Council last month and in the opening paragraphs of the grant application, Clerk Brown described the dire financial needs for “cash strapped” clerk offices across the country due to the high number of expected mail-in ballots.
In that grant application, Brown stated, “Michigan election officials typically conduct presidential elections with 25 – 30% of the voters casting ballots by mail and 70 – 75% casting them in–person on election day. It now appears that mail balloting may account for 65 – 70% of the turnout. This trend is breaking municipal election budgets beginning with the higher-than-expected mail turnout in the August Primary that will continue through the November General Election.”
Brown explained to the City Council Sept. 16 that the money will be used to purchase eight additional ballot drop-boxes, additional staffing to process the expected high number of absentee ballots in November’s election, assist voters to be able to safely request absentee ballots, expand in-person voting opportunities, and expand the strategic voter education and outreach effort.
A press release from the City Clerk’s office added the grant will provide cameras to monitor each location to ensure election security. “Additional funds are dedicated to increase staffing and pay for election inspectors, voter education, and outreach efforts, as well as additional election support,” the release stated.
Brown said her office expects to hire an additional 250 workers for the November election. She said she normally has about 350 workers for elections but due to the pandemic, many of the workers didn’t show up for the August primary. Brown added election workers will be paid an additional $100/day in hazard pay.
Brown indicated the additional workers hired will assist with the expected high number of absentee ballots in the general election. Brown said her office processed 9,300 absentee ballots in the primary election. She explained the number of primary election absentee ballots usually triples at the general election, and she expects the number of absentee ballots to swell well to more than 20,000 in the November election.
This is a developing story and EVM will post updates as they are available.
EVM Managing Editor Tom Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.