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County Council accepts grant to bolster accessible voting

At its meeting on Oct. 13, the St. Charles County Council took up Emergency Bill No. 4893, which concerned the county accepting a grant of $667,919 from the Center for Tech and Civic Life. The Center is an election advocacy group with some financial ties to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. 

Council member Joe Brazil (District 2) stated that he had a number of questions concerning the bill, which had been sponsored by county Financial Director Bob Schnur and submitted by council chairman Terry Hollander (District 5). He asked why this bill had been designated as an “emergency” measure and suggested that it should have been treated as a standard revenue measure with two readings and time for the full council to give the proposal adequate consideration. 

Brazil suggested that the bill was being rushed through without a complete and thorough vetting. He also wondered why the county would consider accepting Zuckerberg’s money, in light of Facebook’s known censoring of opinions, particularly those of known conservative voices, including the President of the United States. 

“Do you guys know that we are taking Zuckerberg’s money … have any of you guys given any thought to this? Are you kidding me?” Brazil asked. 

Schnur’s response led to a sharp exchange with Brazil over the measure, with Schnur stating that the proposed bill had nothing to do with Zuckerberg or his politics. Instead, he said it dealt with accepting money to buy necessary equipment mandated by federal law.  

Schnur further suggested that Brazil had not thoroughly read the council packet. To which Brazil responded, “… we have been forbidden to talk to anyone in county government about this issue.” 

“I’m trying to tell you, if you would just listen,” Schnur replied.

County Director of Elections Kurt Bahr took over the answering of questions at this point. He stated that Zuckerberg had given a $250 million contribution to the Center For Tech and Civic Life. Additionally, he noted that the county was legally required by the Americans With Disabilities Act to have at least one ADA-compliant voting machine at each polling place, and that HAVA (Help Americans Vote Act) imposed other mandates, as well. He stressed the necessity to move quickly on this issue, and said that the $667,919 grant would allow the region to meet its obligation with little expense to county taxpayers.   

Brazil asked about the make-up of Unison Corporation, the company from whom the county buys most of their voting equipment; a question that Bahr could not answer. 

Council member Joe Cronin (District 1) stated that he favored anything that would solve a problem without overburdening the county taxpayers. His view seemed to carry the day. 

The council voted 5-1 to pass the bill, with Brazil opposed.

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