Wisconsin Voters Approve Ballot Measures to Ban Private Funding of Election Administration

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Election clerks in Wisconsin can no longer apply for, accept or use grants or private donations to help administer elections due to one of two election-related ballot measures passed by voters in Tuesday’s primary election. The other ballot measure approved by voters in the Badger State ensures that only appointed election officials can administer elections.

Both of the referendums — which 54.4% and 58.6% of voters approved of, respectively — were proposed by the Republican majority in the state legislature and stemmed from right-wing misinformation related to the 2020 election. 

The first ballot measure, which “prohibits any level of government in the state from applying or accepting non-governmental funds or equipment for election administration,” was inspired by a $350 million funding effort from Meta CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg to help local election offices address financial hardships during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Republican officials attacked the funding, which they dubbed “Zuckerbucks,” falsely claiming that the money was spent specifically to help Democrats win local elections by increasing voter turnout. Despite the fact that Zuckerberg himself said he no longer plans to administer such grants, Wisconsin Republicans introduced legislation for a ballot measure after Gov. Tony Evers (D) vetoed a bill passed by the Legislature to ban private funding for elections.  

The second ballot measure, which ensures that “only election officials designated by law may administer elections,” also stems from right-wing paranoia related to the 2020 election and the grants administered by Zuckerberg during that election. A consultant with the organization funded by Zuckerberg’s grant was hired to help with running elections in some Wisconsin cities in 2020, prompting criticism by the state’s Republican lawmakers, despite the fact that the consultant had no decision-making authority. 

Though the second ballot measure might sound straightforward, the vagueness of the language may allow for a deluge of lawsuits that could ultimately restrict the myriad non-governmental groups and volunteers who help with election administration. As Bolts Magazine reports, “a slew of lawyers, elections experts, and nonprofit leaders [said] Question 2 is written so vaguely as to invite lawsuits over what constitutes a ‘task’ and what, exactly, it means to help ‘conduct’ an election.”

“Wisconsin has spoken and the message is clear: elections belong to voters, not out-of-state billionaires,” Brian Schimming, the chair of the Republican Party of Wisconsin said after the ballot measures passed yesterday. “Thanks to the efforts by the Republican Party of Wisconsin and grassroots organizing, Wisconsinites have turned the page on Zuckerbucks and secured our elections from dark money donors.”