Government watchdog latest to sue Fulton County over missing 2020 election review documents

American Oversight tried to work cooperatively with the county to ensure all records were made public, but we’ve been stymied at every turn,’ American Oversight Senior Adviser Melanie Sloan said in a statement

By: - Sunday January 16, 2022 6:30 am

Government watchdog latest to sue Fulton County over missing 2020 election review documents

American Oversight tried to work cooperatively with the county to ensure all records were made public, but we’ve been stymied at every turn,’ American Oversight Senior Adviser Melanie Sloan said in a statement

By: - 6:30 am

Fulton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Stuart Ulsh, a Republican, testifies during a Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee hearing on Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021.

Fulton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Stuart Ulsh, a Republican, testifies during a Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee hearing on Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021.

A government watchdog organization is the latest group to sue Fulton County over information related to an off-the-books 2020 election review and has asked a court to order the release of all information requested as part of an open records request.

In a lawsuit filed last week, Washington D.C.-based American Oversight says Fulton County has released some information requested as part of a Right-to-Know Law request, but not records of government-related communication conducted by county officials on their personal email accounts. 

American Oversight also claims the county has not turned over communications between local officials and Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, an ally of former President Donald Trump who spread false claims of a stolen election.

“American Oversight tried to work cooperatively with the county to ensure all records were made public, but we’ve been stymied at every turn,” American Oversight Senior Adviser Melanie Sloan said in a statement. “Our patience is exhausted; we have no choice but to vindicate in court the public’s right to these records.”

The lawsuit marks the second legal challenge over missing documents in Right-to-Know requests related to the election review, carried out by a West Chester-based company with no experience auditing elections, and facilitated by Mastriano. The unauthorized inspection prompted the Department of State, which has election oversight, to decertify the county voting machines.

The Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit earlier this month, asking a judge to order that Fulton County release all records related to the review, including financial data and email conversations about public business from the commissioners’ private accounts. The ACLU claims that the requested information “logically must exist.”

After appealing an open records request, initially denied by Fulton County in July, American Oversight released hundreds of documents, including text messages that confirm Mastriano, with assistance from Sen. Judy Ward, R-Blair, helped facilitate the third-party review in December 2020.

Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, joins GOP colleagues in Fulton County, Pennsylvania on July 23, 2021, to respond to the decertification of voting machines. (Screenshot)

Days later, Wake Technology Services, Inc. spent an afternoon in the rural county recounting 954 mail-in ballots and reviewing data from voting machines.

“They just got done. They will send us a report. Everything seemed to go well,” Fulton County Elections Director Patti Hess wrote in a Dec. 31 group text to the county commissioners and chief clerk.

“Who did that?” Paula Shives, the lone Democrat on the board of commissioners, asked.

“Sent by [state] Senator [Doug] Mastriano [R-Franklin] all counties are to do this or be subpoena[ed] to prove votes,” Hess replied, including contact information for Wake TSI co-founder Gene Kern.

American Oversight has said the Dec. 31 text conversation suggests that earlier correspondence between county officials and Mastriano occurred. Those records, however, have not been released.

The lawsuit asks the court to compel the release of election officials’ communications with outside parties, including those involved with reviewing the election results and voting equipment.

Records obtained through a Right-to-Know request and released by American Oversight, a left-leaning government watchdog, confirm reflect a miscommunication, documented later in Feb. 5 meeting minutes, between the Fulton County commissioners — two Republicans and one Democrat — about their compliance with the Wake TSI review.

Fulton County officials — including Republican Commissioner Stuart Ulsh, who testified before a Senate committee in September — maintain that county taxpayers didn’t pay for the Wake TSI review. And because the county did not pay for it, Ulsh claims that’s why they never entered into a formal agreement.

American Oversight also sent the Republican-controlled Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee, an 11-member panel leading an investigation of the 2020 general and 2021 primary elections with Envoy Sage, a third-party vendor with no election-related experience, a letter in December asking its members to investigate inconsistencies in Ulsh’s testimony.

Jason Thompson, a GOP spokesperson, told the Capital-Star in a December email: “Outside of what is already available in the contract with Envoy Sage, it would be inappropriate at this time to discuss what topics the committee might investigate in regards to Pennsylvania’s elections going forward.”

County documents obtained by the Capital-Star, other media outlets, and government watchdogs reflect ties to Sidney Powell, a pro-Trump lawyer who helped file lawsuits to challenge the 2020 election, founded Defending the Republic, a conservative nonprofit, the Capital-Star previously reported.

Hess shared a signed document in a text with county officials that reflects who attended the Wake TSI review and helped facilitate the inspection. The Arizona Mirror, a sibling site of the Capital-Star, first reported the form in May.

At the bottom of the document, a handwritten note says: “Senator Mastriano set this review of Fulton [County’s] voter system and mail-in ballots. Wake TSI is contracted to Defending the Republic, a 501(c)4.”

Wake TSI also briefly helped count ballots for the GOP-backed election review in Arizona but left the probe, which ultimately further solidified Biden’s win.

In a recently granted Right-to-Know request from Fulton County to the Capital-Star, Hess included a statement, saying: “I do not have anything from Doug Mastriano or Judy Ward. They have never been in contact with me or me with them. We never paid Wake and never had a contract with Wake to my knowledge.”

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Marley Parish
Marley Parish

A Pennsylvania native, Marley Parish covers the Senate for the Capital-Star. She previously reported on government, education and community issues for the Centre Daily Times and has a background in writing, editing and design. A graduate of Allegheny College, Marley served as editor of the campus newspaper, where she also covered everything from student government to college sports.

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