With the stroke of a pen, Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte could make Montana the next state to outlaw the use of ranked-choice voting and outside private money in elections.
On Monday, the Montana Legislature sent SB 117 — which mandates that “[a]ll costs and expenses relating to conducting elections must be paid for with public funds” — to Gianforte’s desk for signature. If signed into law, the bill would make Montana the 25th state to ban or restrict the use of private money in the conduction of elections. The measure previously passed the state House (64-31) and Senate (34-14) with overwhelming support.
During the 2020 election, nonprofits such as the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL) received hundreds of millions of dollars from Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg. These “Zuckbucks” were poured into local election offices in battleground states around the country to change how elections were administered, such as by expanding unsupervised election protocols like mail-in voting and the use of ballot drop boxes. To make matters worse, the grants were heavily skewed toward Democrat-majority counties, essentially making it a massive, privately-funded Democrat get-out-the-vote operation.
Montana received nearly $2.1 million from CTCL over the course of the 2020 election.
While a Senate bill banning the use of “Zuckbucks” was introduced during Montana’s 2021 legislative session, the measure died before it could be transmitted to the House for consideration. A year later, the Public Interest Legal Foundation released a report detailing how local Montana election administrators worked behind the scenes to convince state legislators to “try and kill” the measure.
“I am writing in opposition to SB 335,” an email sent to Montana state senators by a Yellowstone County official read. “Yellowstone County saved the taxpayers $320,593.00 in fiscal year 20-21 by accessing nongovernmental grants and this bill would disallow a critical avenue of funding in the future. … Passage of this bill only puts more of a burden on local tax payers via unfunded mandates. … Please vote no!”
Ahead of 2024, CTCL and other left-wing nonprofits are once again attempting to interfere in the electoral process under the guise of the U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence, an $80 million venture designed to “systematically influence every aspect of election administration” and advance Democrat-backed voting policies in local election offices. In its attempt to replicate CTCL’s strategy, the Alliance is attempting to skirt existing “Zuckbucks” bans by providing election offices with “scholarships” to cover Alliance membership costs. These scholarships are then “instantly converted into ‘credits’ that member offices can use to buy services from CTCL and other Alliance partners.”
Ranked-Choice Voting Ban
It’s not just “Zuckbucks” that could receive the axe with a Gianforte signature, however. On Friday, the Montana Legislature sent HB 598, a law banning the use of ranked-choice voting (RCV) in elections, to the Republican governor’s desk. The measure passed the Senate (27-23) earlier this month and the House (56-43) last month.
Under RCV, which critics often refer to as “rigged-choice voting,” voters rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate receives a majority of first-choice votes in the first round of voting, the last-place finisher is eliminated, and his votes are reallocated to the voter’s second-choice candidate. This process continues until one candidate receives a majority of votes.
As Victoria Marshall reported in these pages, RCV tends to boost disfavored or leftist candidates and often leads to confusing and even inaccurate election outcomes. In an Oakland school board race, for instance, “election officials announced — two months after the fact — that they got the count wrong,” resulting in the “rightful winner … suing for his seat.” Some studies have even suggested RCV disenfranchises segments of voters that left-wing election groups often classify as marginalized, such as nonwhite people and non-English speakers.
A Gianforte representative told The Federalist that Gianforte opposes bringing ranked choice voting to Montana, as well as the use of private money in election administration. The representative furthermore added that Gianforte will carefully review the bills, but did not say whether the governor would sign them.
This article has been updated since publication to include a statement from Gov. Gianforte’s office.