Fulton County commissioner ‘clarifies’ response to Senate committee investigating Pa. elections

In an email to the Capital-Star, a lawyer for Commissioner Stuart Ulsh said he ‘just wanted to be sure that his testimony was accurate’

By: - April 4, 2022 1:49 pm

Fulton County Commissioner Stuart Ulsh swears an oath before continuing remarks during a Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee hearing on Sept. 9, 2021. (Screenshot)

More than a month after appearing before the Pennsylvania Senate committee that’s investigating past elections, Fulton County Commissioner Stuart Ulsh signed an affidavit to “clarify” statements he made during a September hearing.

During the Sept. 9, 2021, meeting on guidance issued by the Department of State ahead of the 2020 election, Sen. Steven Santarsiero, D-Bucks, who sits on the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee, asked if “any member of the General Assembly or any staff person” talked to Ulsh about the hearing.

Ulsh, a Republican, replied: “Not about the hearing, other than just if I was available to come down to testify.” He specified that he spoke to the chief-of-staff for Sen. Cris Dush, R-Jefferson, who chairs the committee, about his availability to appear before the panel.

In an October 2021 affidavit, Ulsh revised his answer and said Sen. Judy Ward, R-Blair, talked to him the morning of the scheduled hearing.

Dush disclosed that he had received the documents from Tom King, an attorney for Ulsh, during a hearing last week on ballot drop boxes and said they would be added to the committee’s records and shared with members.

In an email last week to the Capital-Star, King said that Ulsh “just wanted to be sure that his testimony was accurate,” explaining why he corrected his remarks.

Ulsh did not respond to an interview request.

Stuart Ulsh Letter to the S… by PennCapitalStar

 

In the affidavit, Ulsh said he “frequently” speaks to Ward, whose district includes Fulton County, and added that she “inquired as to whether any questions (without specifying such questions) presented by her would interfere with” ongoing litigation.

Fulton County filed a lawsuit against the Department of State after the agency decertified the county’s voting machines for complying with a third-party election review. Ward and Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, helped facilitate the off-the-books probe, according to documents obtained by the Capital-Star and government watchdog groups through Right-to-Know requests.

“I did not discuss any substantive questions with her, and the conversation was very cordial and brief,” Ulsh stated. “I advised her that my lawyer would object if any questions affected our case.”

American Oversight, a Washington D.C.-based government watchdog group, sent the Senate committee a letter in December asking its members to investigate inconsistencies in Ulsh’s testimony, including statements about Mastriano’s involvement, whether it was voluntary, and if all three county commissioners agreed to comply with the review.

Ulsh’s affidavit did not address those topics.

The Senate committee solicited the public to share “any potential violations of election law or voting irregularities they have witnessed personally” during the 2020 general and 2021 primary elections. The committee also asked witnesses whether they were “willing to sign an affidavit and testify under oath at a Senate hearing under penalty of perjury.”

Swearing in individuals before they testify during a legislative hearing is typical practice. Senate and House rules state that committee chairs “may” and “have the power” to administer oaths and affirmations to witnesses who appear and testify before committees.

When state health and education officials appeared before the Senate Education Committee last year, they took an oath. Most participants took an oath before participating in a series of House State Government Committee hearings on election law.

Former acting Secretary of State Veronica Degraffenreid took an oath last August when she testified before the Senate State Government Committee about post-election audits. The Senate recently wrapped up weeks of budget hearings where most participants were sworn in before testifying.

But hearing participants don’t always take an oath before speaking to a legislative panel.

Cannabis industry stakeholders did not take an oath during Senate Law and Justice Committee hearings on legalization last month. Participants in a March Senate State Government Committee hearing on election reform were not sworn in.

So far, Ulsh is the only one who took an oath while participating in the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee’s hearings as part of its investigation. Dush interrupted Ulsh during his opening remarks to swear him in before the legislative panel.

When the committee met last week to discuss ballot drop boxes, Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, urged Dush to swear in a panel of four conservative participants. Dush denied the request, and Democratic committee members later left the meeting.

Explaining why he had Ulsh swear an oath but not the most recent panel, Dush told reporters that “it was requested, and I hadn’t considered the prior precedent at the time, and I just did it.”

After he walked out, Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, told the Capital-Star that not swearing in participants “puts the veracity of truth in question.” Swearing people in “allows a level of trust,” he added, saying: “If they lie, that’s called perjury, so they have accountability.”

“I wanted this to be more informative and free-flowing in the way that the discussion went,” Dush said of his decision not to swear in the recent panelists. “I’m a little disappointed that we didn’t have that kind of cooperation. My testifiers were willing to answer any question.”

Lehigh County Republican Committee Chairperson Joseph Vichot submitted a video to the Senate committee allegedly showing an individual placing multiple ballots into a drop box. Vichot, who did not sign an affidavit before speaking to the committee, faced questions from Hughes about the video’s origin, the chain of custody, and authenticity.

“We have no intention of trying to do any prosecutions,” Dush said, adding that the committee doesn’t know whether the “person of interest” in the video knowingly broke Pennsylvania law, which prohibits turning in someone’s ballot without authorization. “Our purpose right now in this committee is to make sure that we’re getting the information out there so that we can take corrective action.”

Legislative Democrats, Gov. Tom Wolf, and Attorney General Josh Shapiro have dubbed the taxpayer-funded investigation a sham and compared it to the GOP-backed recount carried out in Arizona last year. The Arizona review further reaffirmed now-President Joe Biden’s victory against former President Donald Trump.

Part of the investigation — a legislative subpoena issued by the committee to the Department of State — is tied up in state court, with Democrats challenging the request for millions of voters’ driver’s license numbers and partial Social Security numbers. 

Democrats also argued that Envoy Sage, an Iowa-based firm with no direct election-related experience contracted with the Senate Republican Caucus for the review, is not qualified or credible to maintain voters’ privacy.

Legal challenges to the results failed in court, and two post-election audits carried out in Pennsylvania after the presidential election found no evidence of fraud.

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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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