The Dallas County Elections Department has received more than $15 million in a grant from the Center for Technology and Civic Life (CTCL) to help with critical resources in the upcoming general election.
The CTCL is a nonprofit that provides funding to local election offices across the country. Before the pandemic, their aim was to modernize election technology and “push our democracy into the 21st century.” The group says it is now focusing on unexpected costs associated with the pandemic to ensure local election offices “have the critical resources they need to safely serve every voter in 2020.”
Major donors to the group include Google, Facebook and The Knight Foundation. On Sept. 1, Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg committed $250 million to the CTCL.
Dallas County Elections Administrator Toni Pippins-Poole is on the advisory committee of the CTCL. She submitted a request for a $15 million grant, dated Sept. 10, explaining:
“Specifically, Dallas County faced poll worker recruitment and retention difficulties; deficient inhouse staffing; mail ballot processing (volume vs. time) constraints; curb-side voter processing; printing and funding shortfalls for community outreach and voter education; equipment rationing requirements; and inadequate funding for personal protective equipment and supplies.”
The $15 million is intended to cover expenses above what is already available from the county. The CTCL stipulates “this grant may not supplant previously appointed funds.”
Dallas County commissioners will consider the grant at its meeting Tuesday.
Absentee Ballot And Early Voting Outreach
In the request, Pippins-Poole provided specific details on how the funds will be used. More than $5 million is intended for “absentee ballot assembly and processing equipment.” The county expects between 150,000 to 200,000 absentee-by-mail votes. It has 42 people to tabulate ballots by mail and want to hire 100 more.
Most of that $5 million ($4.1 million to be exact) will go toward printing outreach materials, promoting ballot by mail and early voting. These mailers will be sent to every household in Dallas County.
In order to vote absentee by mail, voters must be 65 years or older, disabled, in jail or absent from the county. The deadline to apply for an absentee ballot in Dallas County is Oct. 23; for those wishing to apply for a ballot by mail in-person, the deadline is Oct. 12. If an absentee application is approved, a ballot will be mailed and voters will have until Nov. 3 to get it postmarked or drop it off at the Dallas County Elections office at 1520 Round Table Drive.
The county is also using $300,000 of the grant money for a mail sorting machine. The Runbeck Election Service’s Agilis Inbound Mail Sorter System can process up to 18,000 pieces of mail per hour. It can also sort ballot packets and verify voter signatures and allows for a full audit trail at the facility where it’s housed. It was scheduled to be received on Sept. 28. (We’ve asked the county for a photo.)
Early Voting Locations
In terms of early voting, $1.8 million will go toward expanding the number of locations, hazard pay for election workers ($100 stipend for full time workers, $50 for all others) and additional early voting personnel.
Election Day Voting
In the request for the grant, Pippins-Poole estimated there will be between 469 and 475 polling locations on Election Day, including at least five mega centers.
In the 2016 general election, there were more than 700 Election Day polling places. So, 475 is still a decrease of 225 locations. This could be a result of Dallas County transitioning away from precinct-based voting to voting centers, which allow voters to cast ballots anywhere in their county. By doing so, the state allows counties to have up to 50% fewer polling places.
Previously, the elections department said there would be 450 places, so they’re adding 19 to 25 locations, as well as four additional mega voting centers.
The grant request also indicated Dallas County will procure additional voting and ballot-on-demand equipment to support the number of polling locations and an anticipated record voter turnout. With these additional places, they’ll need 950 more poll workers than previously estimated, for a total of 5,950 election workers. Election Day poll workers, hazard pay, PPE, sanitization, additional temporary personnel costs and equipment will ring in at $7.95 million.
William Busby, the communications director with the Dallas County Republican Party, said is concerned about strings attached to these funds.
“With just a little over 10 days before the start of early voting, the timing of this grant brings about more questions with very few answers. The Dallas County Republican Party is committed to guaranteeing the citizens of Dallas a fair and free election. We hope the Dallas County Elections Administration will do the same,” Busby wrote in a statement to the Observer.
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Carol Donovan with Dallas County Democrats is not concerned about how the grant is going to be used.
“Toni Pippins-Poole specified pretty specifically what the money was going to be used for in her grant application,” Donovan said.
Dallas County didn’t respond to requests for information on the timing of the $4 million mailer outreach program and information on the additional mega centers, aside from the American Airline Center, which was already planned.
As well, there is an elections commission meeting scheduled for Oct. 8 and Item F is the “Update and review of Applications for Position of Elections Administrator.” If you’re up for a bit of civic engagement, being aware of who the county’s next elections administrator is after Pippins-Poole's retirement at the end of November is a great place to start.