Non-profit

Center for Election Innovation & Research

Website:

electioninnovation.org/

Location:

Washington, DC

Tax ID:

81-3815137

Tax-Exempt Status:

501(c)(3)

Budget (2017):

Revenue: $277,800
Expenses: $77,461
Assets: $278,400

Executive Director:

David Becker

Type:

Electoral reform nonprofit

Formation:

2016

Center for Election Innovation and Research (CEIR) is an electoral policy advocacy group which provides grants and conducts research to increase voting security and increase voter turnout. The organization was created in the wake of the 2016 election in response to foreign interference and alleged low voter turnout; in 2020, it took specific action to counter the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the general elections. [1]

In August 2020, Facebook founder and billionaire Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, announced they were donating $50 million to CEIR, a sum 50 times larger than the organization’s 2017 revenues. The actual amount of the grant was later confirmed to be much larger, totaling $69.5 million according the Zuckerberg Chan Initiative’s website.[2]

Activity

Grants

The Center for Election Innovation and Research provides grants to state governments to increase the efficiency and voter turnout for elections. The group’s 2020 election priorities, which focused on combatting impacts from the pandemic coronavirus, included:[3]

  • Informing voters about registration and deadlines
  • Mail voting
  • Early voting
  • Polling locations and hours
  • Vote counting updates

In 2020, CEIR reported distributing $64 million in grants to fund “urgent voter education assistance” in 23 different states. The CEIR’s grantmaking during 2020 is shown in the table below:[4]

StateNet Grant Amount
Arizona$4,788,444
Connecticut$2,100,000
DC$811,835
Florida$287,454
Georgia$5,591,800
Illinois$2,762,777
Iowa*$1,075,000
Kentucky$1,600,000
Maryland$575,000
Massachusetts$200,000
Michigan$11,939,365
Minnesota*$1,500,000
Missouri$1,129,391
New Jersey$6,180,001
New Mexico*$768,748
New York*$5,000,000
North Carolina$1,141,241
Ohio*$1,128,090
Pennsylvania*$13,260,000
Rhode Island*$632,189
South Carolina$1,071,797
Vermont$312,615
Washington$405,000
Total$64,260,747
* Final grant amount pending. Any unspent funds are to be returned, reducing the total grant.

 

According to CEIR’s 2020 report, 85 percent of CEIR funding was used to fund paid-media campaigns, 11 percent was used for direct mail campaigns, and four percent was used for other communication activities. [5]

Research

CEIR primarily conducts research on voter security. In August 2020, CEIR released its Voter Registration Database Security report which warned of impending electoral interference from Russia, China, and Iran, but commended most states for implementing double-factor authentication in their voter security. [6]

On August 20, 2020, the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) published a research paper by executive director David Becker speculating on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the 2020 election. Becker predicts that the election will see the highest voter turnout in over a century (up to 65%) but only if state governments make significant efforts to increase access to mail-ballot voting and protect in-person voting from COVID-19. [7] However, in June 2020, Becker expressed surprise at historically low voter registration levels during the first half of 2020, which he attributed to impacts from COVID-19. [8]

In February 2021, CEIR published the “Confidence in the 2020-2021 Elections in Georgia” report, which reported findings from a survey of Georgia voters on their confidence that their votes were counted as intended. The report stated that voter confidence had dropped significantly, but that 83 percent of all voters in Georgia believed their votes were counted properly, and that “It is heartening to see a relatively small reduction in overall confidence in the face of the unprecedented and false attacks on Georgia’s voting system in the immediate aftermath of the presidential election.” [9]

In March 2021, CEIR’s internal assessment of their “voter educations grant program” celebrated substantial reductions in the rates of mail-in ballot rejection between the 2020 primary and general elections. The report claims that “On average, grantee states rejected around 70% fewer ballots in the general election compared to their primary campaigns,” a change which the report attributes to voter education programs that helped voters to properly submit mail-in ballots. [10]

Media

Becker and other CEIR personnel are regularly interviewed by media outlets on election matters. In a September 2018 article from Wired, Becker highlighted vulnerabilities in voting machines, particularly to hacking. [11] In a November 2018 Politifact article, Becker rejected claims of widespread voting by illegal immigrants. [12] In a September 2019 NBC News article, Becker cited a CEIR study which found that 40% of voters will believe that an election is unfair if their candidate loses. [13]

In 2018, David Becker spoke at a panel discussion entitled “Fighting Back Against Russian Active Measures” organized by Netroots Nation. [14] In 2017, HuffPost called Netroots Nation “The Nation’s Largest Progressive Gathering” [15] and TIME described it as “the largest gathering of the liberal grassroots in the country.” [16]

Leadership

The Center for Election Innovation and Research was founded in 2016 by David Becker. From 1998 to 2005, Becker was a trial lawyer in the Voting Section of the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Civil Rights Division. [17] There he served as lead trial counsel in Georgia v. Ashcroft, an eventual Supreme Court case concerning alleged gerrymandering of senatorial districts to restrict Black voting power. [18] Becker won the case by successfully arguing that the Georgia Senate did not adequately account for disparate impacts on racial minorities, thereby violating the Voting Rights Act. [19]

In 2005, when Becker was still a trial lawyer in the Civil Rights Division, a formal complaint was made against Becker after he contacted the city of Boston offering to help defeat a lawsuit opened against them by his employer, the DOJ, for voting infractions. Brad Scholzman, acting head of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights division at the time, stated, “It was the most unethical thing I’ve ever seen” and called Becker “a hard-core leftist” who “Couldn’t stand conservatives.” [20]

Hans von Spakovsky, who worked as counsel to the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, agreed with Scholzman’s characterization of Becker. “In his role with the DOJ, he was supposed to be non-partisan, but his emails uncovered in the Boston investigation revealed nasty, disparaging remarks about Republicans. Very unethical and unprofessional.” Becker did not deny these claims when asked for comment by Legal Newsline. “There was no action taken against me by the Department of Justice as a result of this complaint,” he answered, dismissing the complaint as irrelevant. [21]

While as of September 2020 he did not list it on his LinkedIn profile nor in his CEIR biography, Becker was a senior staff attorney at the People For the American Way (PFAW) in 2006 before becoming the director of PFAW’s Democracy Campaign in 2007. [22] [23] [24] [25] [26] [27] PFAW is a left-of-center activist group that promotes a policy agenda featuring public funding of abortion providers, amnesty, and government funded healthcare, seeks to expand liberal control of the judiciary, and helps to elect liberal political candidates.

In 2008, Becker became the director of election initiatives at Pew Charitable Trusts. At Pew, Becker started the Electronic Registration and Information Center (ERIC), a voter registration and sharing system between 30 states which has corrected 4 million voter registrations[28] and registered millions of new voters. [29]

Zuckerberg Donation

In early September 2020, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, announced they were personally donating $300 million to nonprofits which support voter protection efforts. The pair are giving $250 million to the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a left-of-center election reform group, and $50 million to Center for Election Innovation and Research. [30] Though the donation’s structure has not been revealed, the sum is more than 50 times CEIR’s 2017 revenues. [31] The actual amount of the grant was later confirmed to be much larger, totaling $69.5 million according the Zuckerberg Chan Initiative’s website.[32] In a statement, CEO David Becker said CIER will use the money to increase the scale of its existing operations. [33]

Critics like Democratic strategist Tara McGowan have claimed that Zuckerberg is attempting to buy public goodwill with the donation after Facebook was accused of facilitating electoral problems by permitting offensive speech and serving as an unwitting platform for some forms of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. [34]

Controversies

Michigan Grants Paid to Democratic Consulting Firms

In August 2020, CEIR drew criticism for the Michigan Center for Election Law and Administration’s (MCELA) use of a $12 million dollar grant to give more than $11 million in consulting fees to Democratic consulting firms to conduct supposedly nonpartisan voter education.

The MCELA, originally the Richard Austin Center for Election Law and Administration, was founded in 2008 by Democratic Michigan Secretary of State, Jocelyn Benson, who remained president on MCELA up until February of 2020. [35]

Frank David Miele, of the Star News Network, reported that the MCELA’s public disclosures for 2020 showed $11.7 million in consulting fees paid to two powerful Democratic consulting firms for “media strategy and purchase.” The powerhouse Democratic consulting firm, Waterfront Strategies, received $9.7 million dollars, and Alper Strategies, the consulting firm of former Democratic National Committee (DNC) political director Jill Alper, received $2 million. [36]

The consulting fees reportedly paid for television and radio ads encouraging citizens to vote as well as text messages sent directly to voters who had not voted yet. Miele noted that the text messaging campaigns in particular were cause for concern. “The targeted use of text messages means that the only way to ascertain the non-partisan nature of the campaign is to know where the phone lists for the text messages originated. If they were provided by Waterfront Strategies or Alper Strategies, they could have been lists of potential Democrat voters,” Miele wrote. [37]

In a comment about CEIR’s funding of MCELA to The Star, Phill Kline, executive director of the Amistad Project at the right-of-center Thomas More Society, stated “These funds empowered illegal activities that turned formerly objective government offices into Biden campaign satellite offices.” [38]

References

  1. “About CEIR.” Center for Election Innovation & Research. Accessed September 12, 2020.  https://electioninnovation.org/our-work/. ^
  2. “Grants.” Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, August 12, 2021. https://chanzuckerberg.com/grants-ventures/grants/. ^
  3. “Apply for a Grant.” Center for Election Innovation & Research. Accessed September 12, 2020. https://electioninnovation.org/apply-for-a-grant/. ^
  4. “CEIR 2020 Voter Education Grant Program.” The Center for Election Innovation & Research. Accessed August 9, 2021. https://electioninnovation.org/research/ceir-2020-voter-education-grant-program. ^
  5. “CEIR 2020 Voter Education Grant Program.” The Center for Election Innovation & Research. Accessed August 9, 2021. https://electioninnovation.org/research/ceir-2020-voter-education-grant-program. ^
  6. “Voter Registration Security Database.” Center for Election Innovation & Research. August 2020. Accessed September 12, 2020. ^
  7. Becker, David. “Conducting Elections During a Pandemic.” SSRN. August 20, 2020. Accessed September 12, 2020. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3675846. ^
  8. Rogers, Kaleigh; Rakich, Nathaniel. “Voter Registrations are Way, Way Down During the Pandemic.” Fivethirtyeight. June 26, 2020. Accessed September 12, 2020. https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/voter-registrations-are-way-way-down-during-the-pandemic/. ^
  9. “Confidence in Georgia’s 2020-21 ELECTIONS.” The Center for Election Innovation & Research. Accessed August 9, 2021. https://electioninnovation.org/research/georgia-voter-confidence-2020/. ^
  10. “CEIR 2020 Voter Education Grant Program.” The Center for Election Innovation & Research. Accessed August 9, 2021. https://electioninnovation.org/research/ceir-2020-voter-education-grant-program. ^
  11. Newman, Lily Hay. “Voting Machines are Still Absurdly Vulnerable to Attacks.” Wired. September 28, 2018. Accessed September 12, 2020. https://www.wired.com/story/voting-machine-vulnerabilities-defcon-voting-village/. ^
  12. Kruzel, John. “No evidence ‘many’ illegal immigrants voted in midterm elections, as Lou Dobbs says.” Politifact. November 16, 2018. Accessed September 12, 2020. https://www.politifact.com/factchecks/2018/nov/16/lou-dobbs/no-evidence-many-illegal-immigrants-voted-midterm-/. ^
  13. Popken, Ben. “Election security experts say hack of voters’ confidence may be biggest threat to 2020.” NBC News. September 21, 2019. Accessed September 12, 2020. https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/elections/election-security-experts-say-hack-voters-confidence-may-be-biggest-n1057246. ^
  14. “Fighting Back Against Russian Active Measures.” Netroots Nation. Accessed March 5, 2021. https://www.netrootsnation.org/nn_events/nn18/fighting-back-against-russian-active-measures/. ^
  15. Nelson, Eliot. “The Nation’s Largest Progressive Gathering Disappoints Many.” Huffington Post. July 18, 2016. Accessed February 6, 2018. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/progressives-meet-up-accomplish-little_us_578be40be4b0867123e1ab5e ^
  16. Frizell, Sam. “Ghost of Hillary Clinton Haunts Liberal Convention.” Time. July 19, 2015. Accessed February 6, 2018. http://time.com/3963825/hillary-clinton-netroots-nation/ ^
  17. “David Becker.” LinkedIn. Accessed September 12, 2020. https://www.linkedin.com/in/davidjbecker/. ^
  18. “Secretary of State Launches Partnership with Nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation and Research.” Georgia Secretary of State. Accessed September 12, 2020. https://sos.ga.gov/index.php/elections/secretary_of_state_launches_partnership_with_nonpartisan_center_for_election_innovation_and_research. ^
  19. “David Becker.” LinkedIn. Accessed September 12, 2020. https://www.linkedin.com/in/davidjbecker/. ^
  20. Kennedy, W.J. “Mark Zuckerberg Beneficiaries Promoting Fair Elections Not Exactly Non-Partisan as Advertised,” September 30, 2020. https://legalnewsline.com/stories/555822683-mark-zuckerberg-beneficiaries-promoting-fair-elections-not-exactly-non-partisan-as-advertised. ^
  21. Kennedy, W.J. “Mark Zuckerberg Beneficiaries Promoting Fair Elections Not Exactly Non-Partisan as Advertised,” September 30, 2020. https://legalnewsline.com/stories/555822683-mark-zuckerberg-beneficiaries-promoting-fair-elections-not-exactly-non-partisan-as-advertised. ^
  22. “David Becker.” LinkedIn. Accessed September 12, 2020. https://www.linkedin.com/in/davidjbecker/. ^
  23. “David Becker.” Accessed September 29, 2020. https://www.c-span.org/person/?davidbecker02. Archive: Screen Capture – CSPAN – David Becker ^
  24. “Senate to Investigate ‘Voter Fraud’ Fraud in Missouri.” People For the American Way. Accessed September 29, 2020. https://www.pfaw.org/press-releases/senate-to-investigate-voter-fraud-fraud-in-missouri/. Archive: Screen Capture – People For the American Way – David Becker. ^
  25. “Crawford v. Marion County.” The Federalist Society. Accessed September 29, 2020. https://fedsoc.org/commentary/publications/crawford-v-marion-county. Archive: Screen Capture – Federalist Society – David Becker debate. ^
  26. Becker, David J. “David J. Becker.” The Federalist Society. Accessed September 29, 2020. https://fedsoc.org/contributors/david-becker-1. Archive: Screen Capture – Federalist Society – David Becker bio. ^
  27. Vogel, Kenneth P. “Short of Money to Run Elections, Local Authorities Turn to Private Funds,” September 25, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/25/us/politics/elections-private-grants-zuckerberg.html. Archive: Screen Capture – New York Times – Short of Money to Run Elections, Local Authorities Turn to Private Funds. ^
  28. “Our Team.” Center for Election Innovation & Research. Accessed September 12, 2020. https://electioninnovation.org/who-we-are/our-team/. ^
  29. “About CEIR.” Center for Election Innovation & Research. Accessed September 12, 2020.  https://electioninnovation.org/our-work/. ^
  30. Schleifer, Theodore. “Mark Zuckerberg’s $300 million donation to protect elections must overcome Facebook’s past.” Vox. September 1, 2020. Accessed September 12, 2020. https://www.vox.com/recode/2020/9/1/21417022/mark-zuckerberg-elections-300-million-facebook-center-for-tech-and-civic-life. ^
  31. “Legal Services Corporation Form 990.” ProPublica. Accessed September 12, 2020. https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/display_990/813815137/06_2019_prefixes_75-81%2F813815137_201806_990_2019062816452245. ^
  32. “Grants.” Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, August 12, 2021. https://chanzuckerberg.com/grants-ventures/grants/. ^
  33. Dier, Arden. “Zuckerberg, Chan Just Gave Huge Boost to Election Setup.” September 1, 2020. Accessed September 12, 2020. https://www.newser.com/story/295662/zuckerberg-chan-offer-300m-in-election-funding.html. ^
  34. Schleifer, Theodore. “Mark Zuckerberg’s $300 million donation to protect elections must overcome Facebook’s past.” Vox. September 1, 2020. Accessed September 12, 2020. https://www.vox.com/recode/2020/9/1/21417022/mark-zuckerberg-elections-300-million-facebook-center-for-tech-and-civic-life. ^
  35. “Certificate of Change of Registered Office and/or Resident Agent.” OpenCorporates. Accessed August 5, 2021. https://opencorporates.com/filings/594484737.[/note] [note]Miele, Frank Daniel. “Zuckerberg-Funded Nonprofit Paid $11.8 Million to Democrat Political Consulting Firms FOR ‘Nonpartisan VOTER Education’ in MICHIGAN 2020 Election.” The Star News Network, August 5, 2021. https://thestarnewsnetwork.com/2021/08/05/zuckerberg-funded-nonprofit-paid-11-8-million-to-democrat-political-consulting-firms-for-nonpaFBensonrtisan-voter-education-in-michigan-2020-election/. ^
  36. Miele, Frank Daniel. “Zuckerberg-Funded Nonprofit Paid $11.8 Million to Democrat Political Consulting Firms FOR ‘Nonpartisan VOTER Education’ in MICHIGAN 2020 Election.” The Star News Network, August 5, 2021. https://thestarnewsnetwork.com/2021/08/05/zuckerberg-funded-nonprofit-paid-11-8-million-to-democrat-political-consulting-firms-for-nonpaFBensonrtisan-voter-education-in-michigan-2020-election/. ^
  37. Miele, Frank Daniel. “Zuckerberg-Funded Nonprofit Paid $11.8 Million to Democrat Political Consulting Firms FOR ‘Nonpartisan VOTER Education’ in MICHIGAN 2020 Election.” The Star News Network, August 5, 2021. https://thestarnewsnetwork.com/2021/08/05/zuckerberg-funded-nonprofit-paid-11-8-million-to-democrat-political-consulting-firms-for-nonpaFBensonrtisan-voter-education-in-michigan-2020-election/. ^
  38. Miele, Frank Daniel. “Zuckerberg-Funded Nonprofit Paid $11.8 Million to Democrat Political Consulting Firms FOR ‘Nonpartisan VOTER Education’ in MICHIGAN 2020 Election.” The Star News Network, August 5, 2021. https://thestarnewsnetwork.com/2021/08/05/zuckerberg-funded-nonprofit-paid-11-8-million-to-democrat-political-consulting-firms-for-nonpaFBensonrtisan-voter-education-in-michigan-2020-election/. ^

Directors, Employees & Supporters

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Nonprofit Information

  • Accounting Period: June - May
  • Tax Exemption Received: June 1, 2017

  • Available Filings

    Period Form Type Total revenue Total functional expenses Total assets (EOY) Total liabilities (EOY) Unrelated business income? Total contributions Program service revenue Investment income Comp. of current officers, directors, etc. Form 990
    2017 Jun Form 990 $277,800 $77,461 $278,400 $78,061 N $268,800 $9,000 $0 $50,458 PDF

    Additional Filings (PDFs)

    Center for Election Innovation & Research

    1120 Connecticut Ave NW
    Washington, DC 20036