By Yustin Riopko
MONROE – In the wake of 2020 election fraud rumors around the nation, Union County Board of Commissioners is striving for transparency.
Commissioners debated at a Jan. 4 meeting the implications of taking and distributing money the state received from nonprofits like the Center for Tech and Civic Life, which itself received $250 million from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
In this case, $46,294 from that very donation has trickled down to the Union County Board of Elections.
Discussion of the topic was prompted when commissioner David Williams motioned early in the meeting to move the item to new business from the consent agenda – an item that compiles uncontroversial business and reports to be approved in just one action.
“My reason for asking that this be moved is not to vote against it,” Williams said. “It’s to bring attention to the source of these funds, because I think it’s something our broader community needs to know about.”
County Manager Mark Watson said the process was the same the county would go through for any money it receives.
“Upon receiving that award, that money has to come into our accounting system,” Watson explained. “A budget amendment has to be done. The real purpose of this agenda item is to receive that grant and approve the budget amendment, which places it into a line item so that it may be used by the Board of Elections.”
Commissioner Stony Rushing said he didn’t know about the Center for Tech and Civic Life until Williams mentioned it.
“I researched them a little bit,” Rushing said. “The major funders are Google, Facebook, Rock the Vote – organizations like that, who typically have a leaning, and this election it’s shown that they completely have a leaning.
“I think we need to be very careful,” Rushing added. “If we’re gonna open it up in the future where organizations like Right to Life or National Rifle Association or any other organization can come in and offer a bonus to election workers if things go their way, then I think we’re setting a dangerous precedent.”
Vice chairman Dennis Rape called Williams’s motion “a perfect lesson in hypocrisy.”
“I wish I had two faces where I could look at two commissioners, because this is two-faced,” Rape said. “You advertised on Zuckerberg’s platform and attacked three sitting commissioners, and then you turned around and you funded money to Facebook … I have tried to extend the hand of friendship to you. This dais is not a pulpit for you to get up here and sound like you know more about county government than all of the staff and the other commissioners.”
Union County Director of Elections Kristin Jacumin said COVID-19 challenged her board to keep staff and community members safe.
“Most of the elections officials from the past are elderly and retired,” Jacumin said, “and were most vulnerable for the virus and not willing to work for this election.”
The bonus is specifically for the 188 temporary early voting staff, not permanent county employees.
According to Jacumin, the bonus is well deserved.
“We were open more hours this year,” she said. “We were open 17 consecutive days including Saturdays and Sundays. [Staff was] face to face with over 90,000 voters that came in for early voting. We appreciate their stepping up because they really were at risk by serving the community and serving to be sure this election was successful and safe for everyone.”
Across eight locations, regular poll workers earned $12 an hour and supervisors earned $14. That is, before the bonus.
“I think it’s important to understand when we see these stories in the media to know that often times there’s a local connection,” Williams said. “Sometimes that local activity is modest, and I think in this case, it looks like it is.”
Board chairman Helms congratulated Jacumin and her staff for their hard work, and reminded commissioners Rushing and Williams that the money came through the state, not directly from the nonprofit.
A motion to pass the money on down eventually passed 4-1, Rushing being the only commissioner against.
“I think you and your staff did a marvelous job in an especially demanding election cycle,” Williams said, “but I just wanted to talk about this a bit because I think it behooves us to be wary when we see this kind of money from private entities coming into something as essential to the operation of our democracy as our election system.”