Lancaster County will accept nearly half a million dollars from a Chicago-based group to defray costs of managing this year's general election.
The county commissioners expressed some hesitation about accepting money from a third-party group, but voted in favor of accepting the $474,201.96 grant, noting that the money will be used to pay for services and other items that the county had already decided to purchase.
“I’m not a big fan of third party money being used to administer elections, but because of how narrow this application is crafted, we’re basically paying for things we were already going to do,” Commissioner Craig Lehman said at Tuesday’s commissioner’s work meeting.
The grant comes from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a nonpartisan group that says its mission is to help election officials nationwide better manage the most important element of democracy -- voting.
The center's funders include technology companies like Google and Facebook, as well as established nonprofit funders like the Knight Foundation and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Rock The Vote is another supporter.
The money will be used for a range of election costs the county already purchased or planned to cover, including new ballot processing equipment. Some of the funds will compensate staff hired to help open and process mail-in ballots, as well as pay for:
- Production of voter outreach materials;
- Rental fees for the mail-in ballot processing location;
- Election Day poll workers;
- Security costs for the extended drop box hours at the Lancaster County Government Center.
The only new expense the grant will be used for is boxed meals for volunteers opening mail in ballots.
“I am not aware of any strings (attached) other than reporting at the end on how the money is spent,” Randall Wenger, chief clerk of the county’s board of elections, said Tuesday. “We’re not creating any new programs, we’re not creating satellite offices or things that were not otherwise going to be part of the administration of this election.”
Lehman said accepting third-party money was concerning “on some level” because of the precedent it sets if outside entities throw money at different parts of the elections infrastructure to try to benefit their side. But he said this particular grant did not create any fairness concerns.
Commissioner Josh Parsons agreed with Lehman’s concerns, but noted the taxpayers would be picking up the tab for these items in any event.
“We’re essentially being offered free money to do things we would have to do otherwise,” he said. “It benefits the taxpayer.”'