Johnson County gets $300,000 grant to enhance safety, security infrastructure during election

The funding, supplied by the non-profit Center for Tech and Civil Life, “must be used exclusively for the public purpose of planning and operationalizing safe and secure election administration.”


Emily Wangen

Johnson County Supervisor Janelle Rettig listens to a presentation during a meeting on Thursday, Feb. 12, 2020.

Clinton Garlock, News Reporter

Johnson County will receive a $336,275 grant for election security that has brought lawsuits in two other counties.

The grant will come from the nonprofit Center for Tech and Civil Life. The grant is funded in part by a $250 million contribution to the nonprofit from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, and the Iowa Voters Alliance has filed suit against the auditors of both Black Hawk and Scott Counties alleging that the grant illegally targets Democratic-leaning counties.

The money is allocated for three main purposes:

  • $162,084 for absentee ballot distribution and processing
  • $105,357 for early voting and ballot drop-off locations
  • $68,834 for in-person efforts on Election Day

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors voted to accept the grant at its meeting on Thursday.

“It provides extra safety, security type stuff for election day,” said Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert, whose office originally applied for the grant, among dozens of other county applicants.

However, Supervisor Janelle Rettig noted claims surrounds the funding, with some saying the efforts will advance a partisan agenda. The Center for Tech and Civil Life is not affiliated with a political party, and it says it’s dedicated to modernizing the American voting experience through technology.

“This isn’t one of those types of deals where we’re using it to target certain voters,” Weipert clarified. “It’s all about keeping the voters safe.”

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Rettig said that the money will be used to keep both voters and poll workers safe, and that the grant will actually save taxpayers money since they won’t have to foot the bill for the changes that COVID-19 has caused for the election process.

“I think we should accept this money and be grateful for getting it because we won’t have to raise property tax pay for all that,” Rettig said.

Board Chair Rod Sullivan said the county has already spent a significant amount in response to the pandemic, and that the grant will help to offset those costs. He noted county projects totaling more than $100,000 will likely be retroactively covered by this new funding.

“We’ve already incurred, probably, almost half of this money in things we’ve already done,” Sullivan said..

Weipert also said the grant would help save money even after the election.

“A lot of the stuff the auditor’s office wants to purchase is going to be able to be used by other departments long term,” he said. “So, this isn’t just… ‘burning through cash,’ but it’s going to be there for other departments to also utilize when we’re not which I think is a positive.”Rettig said she didn’t see how a grant ensuring the safety of voters and poll workers during a nationwide pandemic could be so controversial, and challenged those who felt differently.

Rettig said she didn’t see how a grant ensuring the safety of voters and poll workers during a nationwide pandemic could be so controversial, and challenged those who felt differently.

“If they want to sue us,” she said. “They should bring it.”

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