Good gov’t advocates, voters request to join lawsuit to block Senate election investigation

‘When Pennsylvanians register to vote, they have a reasonable expectation that the state will safeguard their personal data,’ Vic Walczak, legal director for the ACLU of Pa. said

By: - October 5, 2021 11:51 am

Attorney General Josh Shapiro. Source: AG Josh Shapiro Flickr.

A coalition of good government advocates and Pennsylvania voters have asked to join the state’s top prosecutor’s lawsuit against Senate Republicans that seeks to block subpoenas issued as part of an election investigation.

Arguing that the release of identifying information will affect advocates’ work and voter privacy, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania filed a motion to intervene on behalf of the state chapters of Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, and Make the Road, as well as eight voters. 

If the Commonwealth Court grants the request, the interveners will join the case, and their attorneys will participate in legal proceedings.

“When Pennsylvanians register to vote, they have a reasonable expectation that the state will safeguard their personal data,” Vic Walczak, legal director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said in a statement. “In fact, they have a right to privacy in their personal information under both the U.S. and Pennsylvania constitutions that protects their data. Senate Leaders are potentially exposing 9 million Pennsylvanians to increased likelihood of identity theft and financial fraud, while also creating dangerous new vulnerabilities in the state’s election systems.”

Attorney General Josh Shapiro filed a 76-page lawsuit against Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, and Sen. Cris Dush, R-Jefferson, after the 11-member Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee, headed by Dush, voted along party lines to issue subpoenas for voter records and identifying information — name, birth date, and address — as part of a probe into the 2020 general and 2021 primary elections.

The Senate committee’s legal request also asked the Department of State, which oversees elections, for voters’ identifying information, including driver’s license numbers and partial social security numbers.

“Their subpoenas were largely a stung because the vast majority of the data that they’re requesting, but by trying to pry into driver’s license and social security numbers, we believe they have gone too far,” Shapiro told reporters last month. “These subpoenas demand this new set of data protected by law and by our constitution without providing any information regarding what they are doing to keep it secure.”

The ACLU filing echoes this argument, saying that the groups — which focus on voter registration — will have to pivot to educating voters about the release of their personal information and how to take precautions against identity theft.

“These subpoenas are a frightening violation of voters’ privacy and an egregious abuse of power,” Common Cause Executive Director Khalif Ali said. “Some of the data subpoenaed is usually exempt from public release because of privacy concerns, and that information could be a goldmine for identity thieves.”

The subpoenas gave the Department of State an Oct. 1 deadline to respond. A spokesperson for the agency declined to comment ahead of the deadline, and the Senate committee has decided not to hire a third-party vendor until the legal proceedings conclude.

Dush, who was one of 21 lawmakers who signed a letter asking Congress to delay certification of Pennsylvania’s Electoral College results after the 2020 election, has said the identifying information would help verify a person voted. Corman, who also signed the letter, has argued there are “irregularities” worth investigating.

“There have been questions regarding the validity — of people who have been — who have voted, whether or not they exist,” he said last month to justify the legal request. 

Former President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election by 80,555 votes in Pennsylvania. As required by law, all 67 Pennsylvania counties conducted post-election audits of a statistical sampling after the 2020 general election. Sixty-three counties conducted “risk-limiting” audits. Neither review found evidence of fraud.

Efforts to review the 2020 general and 2021 primary elections in Pennsylvania come after Trump made unsubstantiated claims that widespread voter fraud caused his loss. Republican allies across the country — including in Harrisburg — have echoed these calls.

“With this sham election review, Pennsylvania legislators are intentionally injecting discord into our election process and threatening the personal privacy of millions of voters,” Terrie Griffin, president of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, said in a statement. “Pennsylvania’s 2020 Election was executed safely and securely. This election review is a blatant attempt to weaken voters’ trust in our election system while exposing their sensitive data to possible exploitation and manipulation.”

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