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GOP state lawmaker pushes for controversial election audit: A look at if it could actually happen

  • Julia Agos
Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas, Thursday, May 6, 2021 at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix. The audit, ordered by the Arizona Senate, has the U.S. Department of Justice saying it is concerned about ballot security and potential voter intimidation arising from the unprecedented private recount of the 2020 presidential election results.

 Matt York / AP Photo

Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas, Thursday, May 6, 2021 at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix. The audit, ordered by the Arizona Senate, has the U.S. Department of Justice saying it is concerned about ballot security and potential voter intimidation arising from the unprecedented private recount of the 2020 presidential election results.

(Harrisburg) – Election experts and state and federal officials of both political parties have concluded that last November’s election was free and fair, and its results are not in doubt.

Yet Republican state Senator Doug Mastriano, who has backed former President Trump’s election-fraud lie, is pushing for an examination of voting machines used in November 2020 — a Pennsylvania version of the widely discredited effort going on in Arizona right now.

Pa results have already been audited and certified, and independent election experts warn this kind of effort could sow doubt among Pennsylvania voters.

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witf · GOP state lawmaker pushes for controversial election audit: A look at if it could actually happen

Here to talk about whether it could actually happen is WITF’s State Capitol Bureau Chief Sam Dunklau. Sam, thanks for being with us.

Good to be here, Julia.

So, Sam, Mastriano has requested records and access to voting machines from three counties. Why did he choose those three? And how did they respond?

So, before we start that, Julia, let’s make sure that we set up some important context here. Former President Trump has been pushing GOP controlled swing states to at least try this.  They’re all places that he lost and places where he’s been pushing lies about election fraud. And Republican controlled state legislatures in places like Wisconsin and Georgia and Michigan are at least exploring ways to do this. Back in Pennsylvania – the three counties that Mastriano has chosen to target with these requests are York, Tioga and Philadelphia counties, two that voted for Trump – York and Tioga – and one that voted for Biden.

On the surface that split makes it look like he’s not targeting any political opponents, but Mastriano was at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th. He’s an outspoken Trump booster. And he’s been in contact with the former president. And now Mastriano wants to use the power of a Senate committee to conduct a type of audit that has been widely panned by election and security experts and would not change any of the results of the 2020 election, but in the words of Philly, Deputy City Commissioner, Nick Custodio, it would so distrust and pose a real challenge to the democratic process.

And so far, the county response to this has been split. Philly hasn’t responded at least as of last week, York County hasn’t said yes or no to the audit, but they’ve been asking for a lot more information about what it would entail and Tioga, for its part, told the AP that they couldn’t afford to lose their, you know, extremely expensive voting – which is probably what would happen if they did participate.

Governor Tom Wolf’s Department of State has said counties that participate risk having their voting machines decertified. What does that mean? And in what other ways have Democrats and voter advocates been pushing back on the investigation?

That’s been the rub of this whole thing. Mastriano’s audit ask – it resembles the one that Arizona has undertaken – requires third parties – and when we talk about those, we’re talking about people who are not involved in the usual election process – to access voter materials that could not only expose individual identities potentially but give them a behind the scenes look at things that are off limits.

The Pennsylvania Department of State is basically saying that by doing this kind of examination, you’re inviting bad actors who could exploit the info for their own ends and unintentionally damage equipment. So, if that happens, there’s no way that any of the material could be used in a future election and that’s throwing cold water on this effort so far in at least one of the three counties. And it’s actually played out this week in another, the Department of State decertified south central Fulton County, because it allowed a third-party software company to inspect its voting machines.

And then you’ve got Attorney General Josh Shapiro among those floating the idea of challenging Senate Republicans in court if they try to force this issue by subpoena in counties for that election material.

Many are assuming this audit won’t happen because of comments a key lawmaker, Republican Seth Grove of York County, made a few months ago. What did he say and why is his voice so important?

While there are two elements? State Representative Grove, who is influential because he chairs the House State Government Committee, has basically entirely dismissed the idea of another audit. In June, he said his committee, which serves as the legislature’s election review arm, would not authorize any further audits.

But as WHYY’s Katie Meyer reported last week, key state senators like President Jake Corman are trying to find ways to make some kind of investigation happen. Though he and State Government Committee Chair Dave Argall aren’t exactly, really sure how to do that yet. They both have so far refused to take the idea off the table.

And something good to note here about that – both signed letters, asking Congress to vote against certifying the state’s 2020 election result, despite there being no evidence that would call the result into question.

As a last note, I’m curious: didn’t Pennsylvania already audit the election?

Yeah. And as a matter of fact, twice, that’s something that’s kind of gotten lost in this whole conversation a bit. All of the state 67 counties are required to audit at least 2% of all ballots cast in an election or 2000 ballots.

And then there’s the state’s risk limiting audits. A large majority of the counties have already reviewed 45,000 randomly selected ballots. And that process confirmed the accuracy of the vote.

That’s WITF’s State Capitol Bureau Chief Sam Dunklau catching us up on the potential investigation of the 2020 presidential election results. Sam, thanks for being with us.

Thanks for having me, Julia.

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