The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), most notorious for smearing conservative and Christian nonprofits as “hate groups” to raise millions and to cut its ideological opponents off from polite society, also donated money to run ballot drop boxes during the 2020 presidential race in Georgia. Those drop boxes, also funded by Mark Zuckerberg’s Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), weakened crucial ballot safeguards, opening the door for fraud. The Republican National Committee (RNC) filed a lawsuit to restore ballot protections but the SPLC joined a legal effort to preserve the drop boxes for the January 5 Senate runoff election.
“Drop boxes decentralize election oversight to an absurd level,” J. Christian Adams, president of the Public Interest Legal Foundation, warned in a statement to PJ Media. “Centralized elections with official oversight are the gold standard. SPLC should stick to smearing people and stay out of election administration litigation.”
Yet on Thursday, the SPLC joined the ACLU of Georgia in representing the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in filing an amicus curiae brief opposing the RNC effort to safeguard the election.
On December 9, the RNC and the Georgia Republican Party sued Fulton County, requesting that drop boxes only be accessible during business hours and asking county registrars to host a livestream video of the drop boxes’ surveillance videos on the internet. The SPLC’s brief urges Fulton County to allow access to the drop boxes after business hours and warns that a drop box livestream “poses a significant risk of increasing voter intimidation for the runoff elections.”
Poy Winichakul, an SPLC staff attorney, condemned the RNC’s lawsuit as “another last-minute attempt to impose two extremely anti-voter election changes just three weeks before the January 5 runoff. Our brief asks the court to safeguard the voting rights of all Georgians by rejecting the plaintiffs’ outrageous requests.”
Ironically, the alternative voting methods Democrats have pushed during the pandemic, most notably universal mail-in voting, undermine legal protections aimed at preventing voter intimidation. For instance, in-person polling places prohibit electioneering and intimidation at the polling place.
Yet left-leaning groups have encouraged mail-in voting and the use of less secure drop boxes in the name of expanding access to voting during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On October 7, 2020, the SPLC made a curious announcement. The organization announced it had sent an $85,000 grant to Fulton County to pay for 25 absentee ballot drop boxes for the November 3 election. As Breitbart reported, this announcement came after CTCL approved a $6.3 million grant to Fulton County, $1.4 million of which went to the absentee ballot process.
The Fulton County Board of Commissioners voted to approve the $6.3 million CTCL grant on September 2, more than a month before the SPLC’s announcement. The county’s elections director, Richard Barron, announced that the county would increase the number of absentee ballot drop box locations from 20 to 40. Fulton County used 37 absentee ballot drop boxes on November 3.
It remains unclear why the SPLC announced its separate grant more than a month after the county approved the CTCL grant. It seems the SPLC’s additional 25 drop boxes failed to materialize, unless they were part of the 40 drop boxes that had already been approved by Fulton County a month before.
The SPLC issued the grant as part of its “Vote Your Voice” campaign “to eliminate as many barriers to the ballot box as possible in Georgia and across the Deep South.” Along with the grant, the SPLC announced it would 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 SPLC has repeatedly used its “hate group” accusations to tar conservative and Christian groups. Earlier this year, when it released its updated list of “hate groups,” the SPLC mentioned President Donald Trump’s name no fewer than 66 times and featured images of Trump, his Twitter profile, and his staff.
The SPLC’s leaders did not launch this effort out of the goodness of their hearts. As Adams explained in an important post at PJ Media, the CTCL efforts helped create an urban turnout machine that may have made the crucial difference in the swing states Democrat Joe Biden needed to win the 2020 election.
“Hundreds of millions of private charitable dollars flowed into key urban county election offices in battleground states. The same private philanthropic largess did not reach red counties. Urban counties were able to revolutionize government election offices into Joe Biden turnout machines,” Adams wrote. He also noted that as scandalous as these efforts are, they appear to have been legal.
Adams warned that “the rush to mail balloting created weaknesses all across the system,” opening up the voting system to potential fraud. It remains to be seen just how much fraud there was, but ballot drop boxes like the ones that the SPLC defends formed part of the problem.
Now, the SPLC is fighting to preserve for the Georgia runoffs one of the aspects of the November 3 election that set off alarm bells regarding election integrity.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.