FILE PHOTO: In this file photo from Nov. 19, 2019, the dome of the Pennsylvania Capitol is visible through the fall trees in Harrisburg, Pa.
Matt Rourke / AP Photo
Matt Rourke / AP Photo
(Harrisburg) — Republicans in the Pennsylvania Senate said Friday they will pay up to $270,000 over the next six months to have an Iowa consulting firm examine the 2020 election with an eye toward developing changes to state election law.
The investigation is being launched in response to pressure from Republican supporters of former President Donald Trump upset over his 80,000-vote loss in the state, but is well short of the Arizona effort that many of them have clamored for.
A related subpoena issued by a GOP-controlled Senate committee, seeking voter data from the executive branch, is on hold awaiting a hearing in Commonwealth Court next month.
The contract was signed by Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, and Envoy Sage, a Dubuque, Iowa-based company. Senate Republican spokesperson Jason Thompson said it will be made public in redacted form in the coming days.
The company will be paid out of a taxpayer-funded leadership account that Ward controls and the agreement can be extended, Thompson said.
“The goal is to determine what flaws exist in our election system and to fix them through legislation,” Thompson said Friday.
Multiple court rulings, two state-mandated audits, and election security experts and officials of both parties all concluded the results of the 2020 election were accurate. Acting Secretary of State Veronica Degraffenreid has said a number of minor technical glitches occurred during the 2020 May primary, but nearly all were resolved on Election Day and there is no evidence any affected the outcome.
Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R-Centre) has said his party is responding to “concerns” he says people have about the election. But many concerns voiced by voters were spurred on by former President Donald Trump’s repeatedly false claims of election fraud, which began as early as last July.
Pennsylvania Republicans have complained about court decisions. But the state Supreme Court upheld much of the Department of State’s guidance in a decision last fall, which included allowing mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day to be counted up to three days later. The U.S. Supreme Court later refused to block the rule.
Envoy Sage president Steve Lahr issued a statement saying company officials have no “pre-conceived notions for what we will or will not find” and that he considers objectivity to be critical. Thompson said Lahr, who did not reply to a message seeking an interview, recalled making only a single political donation, several years ago, to a friend from his time in the military.
Lahr’s statement described the process ahead as including document analysis, review of concerns solicited from the public by the Senate and a look at election integrity initiatives in other states.
Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee Chair Cris Dush, R-Jefferson, who is leading the review process, said in a statement that Envoy Sage had handled sensitive documents for other governmental entities.
Democrats in the Senate and on the committee Dush chairs had no role in selecting the consultant, said Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny. Costa noted his Republican colleagues had previously said they would wait until the subpoena litigation had been resolved.
“They agreed to wait, and then went ahead with hiring their own firm to carry out this political, unnecessary and costly witch hunt,” Costa said in a release. He also noted Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, recently announced his entry into the 2022 gubernatorial primary.
Thompson said the firm was hired now in part because, in opposing the subpoena, Democrats had said they did not know who would be given the voter data.
Senate Democrats and state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat who also is in the race for governor, have sought to block the subpoena, calling it an abuse of legislative power and focusing on the demand for information about roughly 9 million registered voters.
The subpoena seeks state elections officials’ communications with counties and the names of who voted in last year’s presidential election, including birth dates, addresses, driver’s license numbers and partial Social Security numbers.