Lawsuit seeks to block counties’ use of private money for election expenses

A gavel and scales of justice in front of an open briefcase. (Creative Commons photo via Pxhere.com)

A political organization with conservative ties is going to court to block two Iowa counties from using private money to facilitate voting in the upcoming general election.

A federal lawsuit brought by the Iowa Voters Alliance seeks a restraining order that would prevent Black Hawk and Scott counties from using grants awarded by the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a self-proclaimed non-profit organization dedicated to modernizing voting, to help with the November election.

The center has offered grants to cities and counties throughout the nation in an effort to help them meet the additional expense of staging an election during a pandemic. Some Republican election officials have rejected the offer, in some cases raising concerns about potential voter fraud, an issue championed by the party’s leader, President Donald Trump.

Other election officials say those concerns aren’t founded and have been more receptive to accepting the grant money.

So far, at least 50 of Iowa’s 99 counties have accepted the CTCL grants, although the lawsuit names as defendants only Black Hawk County, which has collected $267,500 in grants, and Scott County, which has received $286,870. Both counties tend to vote Democratic.

The two counties have yet to file a response to the lawsuit, but Black Hawk County Auditor Grant Veeder has said CTCL offered assistance to all counties in Iowa, not just those that lean Democratic.

“We expect to break past records, and so we’re hiring more part-time temporary staff, and this will help us offset those costs,” Veeder told the Waterloo Courier last month.

Iowa Voter Alliance claims CTCL is focusing its funding assistance on urban cities and counties with the unstated “objective of turning out progressive voters.” CTCL denies the allegation and says it is a nonpartisan organization.

CTCL’s work is funded in part by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg who has said he’s attempting “to ensure that everyone can vote and every vote can be counted” this November.

A hearing on Iowa Voter Alliance’s request for a temporary restraining order is scheduled for Oct. 20.

Similar lawsuits are pending in Texas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia, Pennsylvania and South Carolina — all of which are considered key battleground states in the upcoming election.

Some of the lawsuits have been brought by the Thomas More Society, a conservative organization that is aligned with President Trump and is fighting what it calls an “extraordinary effort to privatize elections.” The lawyers representing the Iowa Voter Alliance also represent the Thomas More Society.

In its lawsuit, the Iowa Voter Alliance alleges the grants create an unlawful public-private partnership and violate federal laws that delegate the task of administering elections to the states, not to the counties.

Clark Kauffman
Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.