After colleagues visit Arizona, top Pa. Senate Republican weighs election audit; House GOP says no

By: - June 3, 2021 9:53 am

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, addresses a crowd of Trump supporters at the Pennsylvania state Capitol on Saturday, Nov. 7, the day the presidential race was called for Democrat Joe Biden. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

(*This story was updated at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, 6/3/21, to include comment from Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny.)

The key Pennsylvania Senate committee chair overseeing state election law opened the door for an audit of the 2020 election on Thursday, one day after three state lawmakers toured an Arizona facility where a similar process is being carried out.

“We are still reviewing the pros and cons,” of a legislative election audit, Senate State Government Committee Chairman Sen. Dave Argall, R-Schuylkill, told the Capital-Star. 

Argall, and his counterpart in the House, State Government Committee Chairman Seth Grove, R-York, have key voices in any proposed changes to state election law.

On an audit, they do not agree. Grove tweeted Thursday that “the PA House of Representatives will not be authorizing any further audits on any previous election.”

While the two may need to be aligned to pass bills, Argall said the state’s upper chamber could, like in Arizona, pursue a legislative audit alone.

Arizona’s election review began when the state Senate subpoenaed Maricopa County’s ballots and voting machines. Both the Pennsylvania state House and Senate have the power to independently issue similar subpoenas.

Approval for a Senate audit could be included as part of a package of changes to election code that Argall and Grove have said they’d like to pass by the end of June, Argall added.

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His statement comes the day after three Pennsylvania lawmakers, including state Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, toured Arizona’s ongoing audit facility. In media appearances after their tour, Mastriano and others called for Pennsylvania to approve its own audit. 

“We can’t stand aside. Once again, we were all for transparency. Right? Well, there should be transparency, especially in elections,” Mastriano told the far-right One America News Network on Wednesday. “I told you before, Pennsylvania should be the model of free and fair elections, and instead, we’re a laughingstock.”

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There has been no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 general election. But Republican lawmakers have continued to cast doubt on election integrity — citing “irregularities.” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin, and state Sen. Cris Dush, R-Jefferson, joined Mastriano in Arizona, where the GOP-controlled Senate ordered the review of 2.1 million ballots in February.

This audit marks the second time ballots in Maricopa County, where President Joe Biden won by more than 45,000 votes, have been reviewed. After the election, the county conducted a hand count audit of sample ballots and hired independent firms to conduct a forensic audit of tabulation equipment. The county found no abnormalities.

The most recent review follows a months-long campaign from former Republican President Donald Trump to overturn the 2020 election results and has come under fire for its credibility.

Audit the Vote PA, a group that repeats Trump’s false claims, organized a petition, asking lawmakers to investigate the election. More than 65,000 people have signed it.

Mastriano, who attended the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington, has repeated those false allegations. But he has only called for an audit of the 2020 election — not the most recent May 18 primary. 

All three Pennsylvania lawmakers signed a letter in December, asking federal representatives to object to certifying Pennsylvania’s Electoral College results.

Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, said an audit would be a “waste of taxpayer time and resources.”

“This has been litigated and relitigated; there was no widespread fraud in Pennsylvania,” Costa said in a statement. “Let’s move on and make it easier for folks to vote and counties to process those votes.”

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf called the trip to Arizona “an insult” to county election workers and Pennsylvania voters. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, described the Arizona review as a “sham” and said the three state lawmakers are “a danger to voters in both our states.”

“The fact is, these PA GOP conspiracy theorists would rather travel across the country in service of the ‘Big Lie’ than tell the truth to Pennsylvanians,” Shapiro wrote in a tweet. “I think that says it all.”

David Becker, executive director and founder of the Washington-based Center for Election Innovation & Research, described the “so-called audit” in Arizona as biased, partisan, and “fraught with incompetence.”

“Pennsylvania just successfully ran its most secure, transparent, and verified election in the commonwealth’s history,” Becker told the Capital-Star. “For the first time in decades, the entire state used auditable paper ballots. There was more pre- and post-election litigation to clarify the rules and confirm the results than ever.”

What’s happening in Arizona, Becker said, is “not to serve to answer questions,” but “only to divide citizens further and inflame anger.”

But Mastriano told OAN the trip wasn’t political. Instead, he said it was educational and gave him an idea of what he thinks needs to happen in Pennsylvania before lawmakers can effectively change election law. 

During the interview, Mastriano said he recently spoke to Sen. Patrick Stefano, R-Fayette, about potential reform circulating in Harrisburg. Stefano, who recently announced plans to introduce legislation that would repeal Act 77 — a bipartisan election reform bill — did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A 99-page state House report released in May by Grove calls for voter ID, earlier deadlines for registration, and signature verification on all mail-in ballots. Other proposals include suspending mail-in voting until 2023 or until lawmakers can improve voting law.

Local and state elections officials have instead asked for more time to process mail-in ballots and an extension on the deadline to request one.

Grove voiced his own opposition to a legislative election audit on Twitter Thursday.

“We are focusing on fixing our broken election law to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat,” Grove wrote.

The House authorized an audit of the 2020 election in November, but it was voted down by a bipartisan legislative research committee. That attempt would be the extent of the House’s efforts, Grove said.

In an earlier interview with the Capital-Star, Grove also argued that while some election fraud did occur last year, it was not enough in Pennsylvania to change the outcome of the election.

Capital-Star Staff Reporter Stephen Caruso contributed to this story. 

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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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