The city of Minneapolis can accept a nonprofit’s $2.3 million grant to help cover soaring election costs after a federal judge on Friday denied a group’s request to block it.
Minneapolis officials intend to use the money from the Chicago-based Center for Tech and Civic Life to help cover a budget gap as they hire additional staff and boost safety precautions amid the coronavirus pandemic. Among other things, the city will use the money to buy face masks and shields, sanitizer and letter openers to help process mail-in ballots.
The Minnesota Voters Alliance and four Minneapolis residents had asked the courts to block the city from accepting the money, arguing that a combination of state and federal laws would prohibit those types of private donations. The alliance, which describes itself as “election integrity watchdogs,” also accused the center of focusing its help on places with “progressive voting patterns.”
In a ruling issued Friday, U.S. District Judge Michael Davis noted that the Center for Tech and Civic Life has awarded grants to 22 municipalities in Minnesota, including Albertville, Becker and Watertown.
Davis wrote that the alliance lacked standing and the voters involved in the suit failed to show that the city’s acceptance of the grant money would interfere with their ability to vote.
“As Minneapolis voters, they are beneficiaries of the City’s use of the grant money to make voting safer and more efficient,” Davis wrote. “An attenuated argument that Plaintiffs will be unhappy with the election results if their fellow Minneapolis residents can also safely vote during a pandemic does not show that Plaintiffs’ own voting rights have been impaired or denied.”
The city of Minneapolis welcomed the judge’s ruling.
“This grant funding is critical to the City’s work to ensure all voters in Minneapolis, regardless of party affiliation, can safely cast a ballot during the pandemic,” the City Attorney’s Office said.
An attorney for the Minnesota Voters Alliance could not immediately be reached.
City officials had told the judge it would have been extremely difficult to find additional money in their general fund to cover election costs because of the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic and the impact of the unrest following George Floyd’s death this summer.
City officials initially budgeted $6.4 million for elections this year and spent $3.7 million of that running the presidential nomination primary, the Sixth Ward special election and the state primary.
Spokesman Casper Hill previously said the city originally estimated it would cost $4.1 million to run the presidential general election, leaving a gap of roughly $1.4 million. Any leftover funding could be used to reimburse costs from the primary or help cover next year’s election costs, the city has said.
Liz Navratil • 612-673-4994