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Facebook Money Helped Election Offices Nationwide in 2020. Maybe Yours.

A Jackson County ballot box.
Erik Neumann/JPR
A Jackson County ballot box.

Jackson County is one of numerous municipalities in Oregon and California that received money from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan last fall to help election administrators in the 2020 election.

In the face of a pandemic that disrupted many election systems around the country, the couple personally donated $350 million to support local election offices. According to Jackson County Clerk Chris Walker, her office was awarded $111,846 from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a nonprofit that distributed the couple’s donation.

“We’re grateful that groups have recognized that there are huge costs involved and we’re grateful too that we were already vote-by-mail,” Walker says. “We were able to take the funding that we received and put it to other areas besides trying to conduct a vote-by-mail election.”

The costs applied to their grant are still being finalized, Walker says, but they had a variety of expenses this year including new ballot boxes, a pandemic voting marketing campaign, temporary staff help, and new computer and election tally equipment.

In California, Shasta County received $95,658, according to County Clerk Cathy Darling Allen.

“It really took the pressure off of us to allow us to focus on the voters that we wanted to serve, as opposed to worrying about pinching pennies,” she says.

Shasta County was already nearly 80% vote-by-mail, so election officials used the funds to reconfigure work spaces to accommodate social distancing, including six-foot barriers and dividers, plus to pay for some election security staff.

Walker says the funds helped her office when the Almeda and South Obenchain Fires destroyed communities in the Rogue Valley.

“So, not only that but COVID on top of it,” she says. “[The grant] really assisted us, knowing we’re going to have some grant funds that we can utilize to actually push out a secondary social media marketing campaign concerning COVID and wildfires.”

Elections offices in more than 2,500 jurisdictions in 49 states received grant funds, according to the Center for Tech and Civic Life. Others in Southern Oregon and far Northern California include: Curry, Douglas, and Josephine in Oregon and Del Norte California.

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.