RNC Sues DeKalb County, Georgia Over Election Grant Records

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Republican National Committee (RNC) filed a lawsuit against DeKalb County, Georgia to obtain public records related to funding the county received from the nonpartisan pro-voting group, the U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence.

In May of 2023, Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed a bill into law that bans private funding for election administration. The bill was borne out of 2020 conspiracy theories related to the $400 million in no-strings-attached grants that Meta CEO Mark Zuckerburg gave to election offices across the country to help cover the unexpected increased costs of administering an election during the pandemic. Republican officials falsely claimed that the money, which they dubbed “Zuckerbucks,” was used to boost turnout for Democratic voters. 

Since then, a number of states — including Georgia — have passed laws banning private funding in elections. Despite Georgia having already outlawed this type of funding, the RNC alleges that in 2023, DeKalb County, located to the east of Atlanta, received a $2 million grant from the U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence — a new program that operates within the nonpartisan Center for Tech and Civic Life, which distributed the no-strings-attached donation from Zuckerberg as grants in 2020. 

When the Republican committee submitted a records request to confirm if DeKalb County did indeed receive the grant, the request said that county officials “took months to make its productions and provided implausibly few documents about this substantial injection of funds,” according to the RNC’s statement.

In early 2023, DeKalb County was one of a handful of bipartisan counties chosen as the organization’s inaugural cohort of “Centers for Election Excellence,” which comes with a $2 million award that can be used to support the county’s election administration efforts and “share best practices and strategies” with other county election officials throughout the country. 

“The County is pleased to be a recipient of this funding in support of the Elections Department’s ongoing efforts to serve as a model for election integrity not just in Georgia but throughout our nation,” DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond said in a statement at the time of the announcement.

The $2 million award given by the U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence does not violate the third party election funding law because the grant was technically given to the county in support of administering elections — and not directly to the elections office, as the law prohibits. As the the Daily Signal — a media outlet founded by the conservative Heritage Foundationreported, the grant is to the county’s treasury, and the funds can be appropriated for use by the election office. Still, as VoteBeat notes, the new organization has reignited a lot of the same “ZuckerBuck” conspiracy theories from right-wing media outlets who allege that the money will be used with a partisan agenda.

“My vision as Chair has been for DeKalb County to become a pacesetter for elections in the Southeast, so earning the Center for Elections Excellence designation is particularly gratifying,” Dele Lowman Smith, chair of the DeKalb County Board of Registration & Elections, said at the time of the award announcement. “What is even more exciting is how the resources and collaboration that come with this will enable us to keep innovating for the benefit of DeKalb voters.”

Read the lawsuit here.

Learn more about the states that have banned private funding for election administration here.