Southern Poverty Law Center Provided Funding to Fulton County, Georgia for 25 Absentee Ballot Drop Boxes

A voter cast her mail-in ballot at in a drop box in West Chester, Pa., prior to the primary election, Thursday, May 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
AP Photo/Matt Rourke

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) provided funding to Fulton County, Georgia, for 25 absentee ballot drop boxes to be used the November 3 general election.

The SPLC made the announcement of the $85,000 grant, dated September 1, 2020, to accomplish this on October 7, 2020:

Today, in response to the anticipated overwhelming number of absentee ballots that will be cast during the 2020 General Election in November and service cuts to the United States Postal Service (USPS), the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) announced it provided funding to Fulton County, Georgia, for the purchase of up to 25 absentee drop boxes* to be distributed throughout the county. The SPLC also announced that it will mail over one million voters of color across all 159 Georgia counties 3 separate times – first with information on the online portal to facilitate absentee voting, then with a blank copy of the official Secretary of State application to request an absentee ballot along with instructions for completion and submission by mail, and finally a last reminder on absentee voting. The deadline for requesting an absentee ballot in Georgia is October 30.

The organization’s efforts are part of a multi-pronged strategy along with its Vote Your Voice campaign to eliminate as many barriers to the ballot box as possible in Georgia and across the Deep South.

Fulton County Commission Chairman Robert L. Pitts placed his signature of  acceptance on the grant document on October 7, 2020, just four weeks before the election:

“The SPLC is proud to assist in providing the necessary grant funding to counties like Fulton facing budgetary constraints and support efforts to increase the safe exercise of absentee voting. However, the ultimate solution is increased support and funding guarantees from the Governor and Secretary of State to ensure all people have equal access to voting regardless of their county of residence or zip code,” SPLC Chief Strategy Officer Seth Levi said in the October 7 statement.

“To comply with current State regulations, the drop boxes in Fulton are placed on county or municipal property; they have video surveillance; and they are made of durable material able to withstand inclement weather and vandalism. The cost of a single drop box can be as high as $6,000. The SPLC anticipates providing funding totaling $85,000 to pay for approximately 25 new boxes and accompanying video security equipment in the county,” Levi added.

As Breitbart News reported:

The Fulton County Board of Commissioners voted to accept a $6.3 million grant from the Mark Zuckerberg-funded Center for Technology and Civic Life “Safe Elections” project at a September 2, 2020 board meeting. It proceeded without asking a single question about the name of the group providing the funding, the origin of the funding, or the details of what the funding would be used for.

At that September 2 meeting, Fulton County Elections Director Richard Barron stated, based on the budget approved by the Fulton County Board of Commissioners earlier in the meeting, “We are also increasing the number of absentee ballot drop box locations from 20 to 40.”

On Election Day, November 3, Fulton County used a total of 37 absentee ballot drop boxes.

As Breitbart News reported earlier this month, “Phill Kline, director of the Amistad Project of the Thomas More Society, said that a number of election security concerns were not addressed in Georgia’s election code rule regarding the use of absentee ballot drop boxes in Georgia and elsewhere.”

More than $1.4 million of the $6.3 million Zuckerberg-funded Center for Technology and Civic Life (CTCL) “Safe Elections” Project $6.3 million grant to Fulton County was specifically dedicated to the absentee ballot process, as the grant application submitted to CTCL on August 18 by Fulton County Elections Director Richard Barron indicated:

Absentee Ballot Processing and Equipment Necessary for Operations

For the November elections, we anticipate absentee-by-mail turnout to be somewhere around 40%, which would lead to more than 300,000 ballots cast through that mode of voting.

Automation will be critical to efficiently and accurately manage hundreds of thousands of ballot envelopes and ballots in weeks leading up to Election Day and in the canvassing process afterwards and help report results faster. To that end, the following equipment and personnel are needed:

● High-speed industrial Printer: Printers will be used to print absentee ballots. During the primary, Fulton Co. struggled to keep up with demand. High-speed Oki-900 series industrial printers capable would greatly reduce the time between application approval and a voter’s ballot entering the mail stream. This is particularly important around the application deadline. Cost: $37,000 for 3 Oki 900 printers.
● Absentee Ballot Application Equipment and Personnel for Processing: We are going to receive an unprecedented number of absentee-by-mail applications for the November election. We need to staff a second call center/processing center. Additionally, we will need an additional 60 laptops for data entry purposes. Estimated Cost: laptop purchases, $59,400; and labor $307,200. Total Cost: $192,000, plus $115,200 for overtime for a total cost of $307,200.
● Extractors: The process of physically removing ballots from envelopes is time consumingand diverts staff away from other activities that cannot be automated. Seven extractors will eliminate the need for any envelope opening by hand and open all anticipated ballots in a timely manner. Estimated cost = $175,000
● Personnel for absentee ballot tabulation: We currently have an additional 32 full-time employees hired to process voter registration applications, absentee-by-mail ballot applications, separate from the call center described above, and to staff our early voting call center. For September, November, December and January we will need an additional number of staff for each election to process received ballots and to scan them. Estimated cost = $420,000
● Absentee Ballot Outreach Materials: To promote absentee by mail and early voting ahead of the November election by sending a flyer to every household. The mailer will also include information on early voting opportunities. To promote the absentee by mail portal ahead of the November election in a second mailer to every household. Cost: $419,426
● Signature Verification Software: Required to add to our Bluecrest mailing equipment. Cost: $30,000


TOTAL $1,448,026

It is not clear why the SPLC announced the funding of an additional 25 drop boxes for Fulton County on October 7 if the county already had approved a budget that approved 40 drop boxes and a total of 37 were used on Election Day.

Nor is it clear why the Fulton County Commission accepted or needed the SPLC grant, given the high level of funding it had already received in the $6.3 million grant provided by the Zuckerberg-funded CTCL.

Breitbart News asked SPLC for comment but is yet to receive a response.


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