The Republican-controlled Pennsylvania Senate took steps to review the 2020 election last week, requesting thousands of documents from three counties in the state.
State Senator Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, an ally of former President Donald Trump, announced the review Wednesday on a tour of conservative radio shows.
He said it was a way to restore confidence in the election after the 2020 election – an election Trump and Mastriano have tried for months to delegitimize with baseless fraud allegations.
“The arguments in favor of a forensic investigation into the 2020 general election are obvious to any impartial observer,” Mastriano said.
For clarity, here’s everything you need to know about what Masstriano has to offer:
What was asked?
Mastriano sent a letter to Philadelphia County, home to Pennsylvania’s largest city, York County, an exurban county in south-central Pennsylvania, and Tioga County, a rural county in north-central Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania, asking for data on the 2020 general election and 2021 primary. Philadelphia is staunch Democrat, while York and Tioga are staunch Republicans.
Mastriano said the counties showed he was attempting an unbiased fact-finding mission, as the counties targeted represent different geographic and political tendencies.
In a wednesday radio interview along with conservative host John Fredericks, Mastriano has hinted that he may request materials from other countries in the future.
“It’s the first round”, Matriano mentionned. “I have other counties that want to be looked at as well, so we could do another second round.”
The letter requested 45 separate bullet points, possibly representing hundreds of thousands of pieces of evidence.
Among the items requested by Mastriano were all 2020 general election ballots, voting machines, voters lists, mail-in ballot envelopes, sample ballots, computer logs, security protocols. , as well as the software and hardware used during the voting process.
Counties have until July 31 to give Matriano a plan to provide him with all of this, or he has threatened to issue subpoenas.
Will the counties comply?
Mastriano’s request will likely result in the delivery by the three targeted counties of hundreds of thousands of documents, as well as thousands of voting equipment.
The three counties contacted for information did not say whether they would voluntarily share the requested documents on Wednesday, and none offered an update on Friday. They also have good reason to be wary.
According to the Philadelphia investigator, if counties hand over the equipment Mastriano requested, they may not get it back in time to prepare for the 2021 general election in November.
Counties also run the risk of having to pay millions of dollars to replace the equipment if it is handled by someone without the proper training, according to the Inquirer. The equipment in this scenario would be decertified for use.
In fact, Governor Tom Wolf’s Acting Secretary of State Veronica Degraffenreid released a directive Friday which prohibits third party access to electronic voting machines. She said such access “undermines chain of custody requirements and strict access limitations” to prevent systems tampering.
The directive, which has no final expiration date, prohibits countries from providing physical, electronic or internal access to third parties. If access is granted, these machines will be considered insecure and will lose State Department certification.
In Arizona, where a similar audit ends, the audited county is purchase new voting machines and had to pay off the balance of the lease. And in Fulton County, Pa., The county also had to pay $ 25,000 to buy new machinery after Mastriano. encouraged the small rural county to verify its election earlier this year.
What’s wrong with subpoenas?
Summons are legally binding requests for information that are typically issued by a court during an investigation.
But legislative bodies also have the capacity to issue them. In the Pennsylvania Senate, they can be issued by any committee chairman with a majority vote of the committee. This will require the vote of six of the 10 senators on the Mastriano Intergovernmental Operations Committee.
But legislative subpoenas are rare, former Senate members told the Capital-Star, especially when it comes to a demand as broad as Mastriano’s. Typically, subpoenas have only been used to force a response from the executive.
An example can be seen last year, in April 2020, when a Senate committee research information on the response to the pandemic from Governor Tom Wolf.
The administration did not immediately comply and the two went to court. However, the Case was discontinued in July.
“The administration has worked cooperatively with the Senate to address their concerns without the need for judicial intervention,” a spokesperson for Wolf said in an email.
Democratic State Attorney General Josh Shapiro also said that if the Senate approves the subpoenas, “you can expect our office to do everything to protect the Commonwealth, its constituents and free and fair elections. held in Pennsylvania “.
Can the Senate do this?
Mastriano’s requests for information might not be met with as much of a cooperative spirit, given the public comments from many state officials.
There will also be an institutional debate on whether Matriano can, according to Senate rule or custom, use the obscure committee he chairs to conduct a review of the parliamentary elections. In the past, it has focused on regulatory issues and not on election monitoring.
In a letter they sent to counties on Thursday, Senate Democrats said election monitoring fell outside the authority of the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Operations.
But Bruce Ledewitz, a professor at Duquesne University Law School, said he has not seen state or federal courts dismiss the subpoenas if they are approved, regardless of the legal fight against Mastriano. .
The state’s constitution grants lawmakers the right to investigate and means Mastriano is likely within his right as a lawmaker to request the documents.
“It is a very broad power. It’s very common in our legislative system, ”said Ledewitz, who is also a Capital-Star opinion contributor. “As long as a member abides by the rules, it is highly unlikely that a state court will have a problem with this.”
Have there not already been audits?
As required by law, counties conducted post-election audits of a sample of ballots, and “limiting the risksAudits were conducted in 63 of the state’s 67 counties. There was no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the Pennsylvania election.
Who is going to pay for this?
In interviews with right-wing media, Mastriano said the GOP-backed audit in Arizona, which was paid for, at least in part, by taxpayers, should serve as a model in Pennsylvania.
In Arizona, Senate Republicans contributed $ 150,000 of taxpayer dollars to help pay for the operation, but lawmakers and Cyber Ninjas – the prime contractor – are not disclosing the cost of the audit or the source of the rest of the funds.
Former Trump attorney Sidney Powell contracted with a company that helped conduct the audit, according to the records obtained by the Arizona Mirror, a sister site to the Capital-Star. However, the company has left the audit team.
Mastriano also led a private briefing with state senators last week to discuss his plans for a similar process in Pennsylvania, according to to the associated press.
What do Masstriano’s GOP colleagues say?
The Capital-Star has contacted the 28 Senate GOP members to ask if they support the investigation and how to pay for it.
Only two responded – Sens. Dave Argall, R-Schuylkill, and Chris Gebhard, R-Lebanon. Both sit on the Matriano committee.
Through a spokesperson, Argall, chairman of the state government’s Senate Committee, which oversees electoral matters, said he supported Mastriano “very favorably” and his efforts to review the general election of 2020 and the 2021 primaries in Pennsylvania. He added that he sees “the forensic audit as a crucial first step in restoring people’s confidence in our electoral process.”
Gebhard, who was elected in a special election in May, said one of the biggest concerns he heard from voters was “a general lack of confidence in our electoral system”. He added that the committee should explore “all avenues of funding”.
“As the Senate Intergovernmental Affairs Committee begins its review of the previous two elections, I am delighted at the opportunities this will provide to bring clarity, transparency and help restore confidence in our elections,” Gebhard said.
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