Negotiations are ‘ongoing,’ but Senate panel has yet to hire third-party vendor for election probe

‘It wouldn’t make sense to spend taxpayer dollars for an investigation if the courts would overrule our clear constitutional legal authority to provide oversight,’ a GOP spokesperson said

By: - October 4, 2021 9:53 am

State Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia, speaks at a Sept. 15, 2021 Senate hearing to approve subpoenas for a legislative investigation of the 2020 election as panel chair Sen. Cris Dush, R-Jefferson, listens. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

Subpoenas issued as part of a taxpayer-funded election investigation are tied up in court, putting the release of 9 million Pennsylvania voters’ identifying information to a third-party vendor on ice.

“It wouldn’t make sense to spend taxpayer dollars for an investigation if the courts would overrule our clear constitutional legal authority to provide oversight,” Jason Thompson, a spokesperson for Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, told the Capital-Star.

Negotiations with potential vendors charged with conducting the GOP-backed probe are ongoing, Thompson said. However, no contract will be final until legal proceedings are resolved, he added.

The 11-member Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee voted on party lines last month to subpoena state election records, including voting history, address, birth date, driver’s license number, and partial social security numbers, from the Department of State.

Most of the requested information is already publicly available, but state law prohibits the public release of driver’s license and social security numbers.

“There have been questions regarding the validity — of people who have been — who have voted, whether or not they exist,” Sen. Cris Dush, R-Jefferson, who’s leading the review, said last month to justify why the panel requested voters’ private information.

Corman’s office declined to comment further on the litigation, lawsuits filed by Senate Democrats and Attorney General Josh Shapiro to block the subpoena appear to have delayed the election probe. They argued that the legal request is unconstitutional and could compromise Pennsylvanians’ privacy.

The subpoena gave an Oct. 1 deadline. A spokesperson for the department, which has election oversight, declined to comment on compliance on Friday.

In response to Senate Democrats’ legal request to delay the subpoena deadline, Corman and Dush’s attorney wrote that Democrats’ claims — “that a committee of the Senate is attempting to do something unusual, unlawful, or impermissible — is flawed.”

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.

Dush said the probe will not reinstate Trump to office. It’s also not a recount, Corman, who has argued there are “irregularities” worth investigating, said in August. Both lawmakers signed a letter asking Congress to delay certification of Pennsylvania’s Electoral College results after the 2020 election. 

Dush also toured the GOP-backed election review facility in Maricopa County, Arizona, earlier this year. Corman said he’s spoken with Arizona Senate leadership to learn more about their investigation and with Trump “on numerous occasions.” 

The costly and time-consuming Arizona review wrapped up last month and further legitimized President Joe Biden’s victory. It also found no conclusive evidence that fraud influenced the election.

Despite the legal delay, efforts to review the commonwealth’s elections haven’t stopped.

In a self-published op-Ed on Friday, Dush said any vendor granted access to personal information must sign a non-disclosure agreement. He added that the Senate committee is making security “a key consideration” in its search.

He also urged Pennsylvanians: “Do not allow yourself to be fooled.”

“Don’t buy into the disingenuous propaganda of politicians who are actively trying to shield our election system from transparency,” he wrote. “Trust me to do exactly what I have been pledging since I took over this effort more than a month ago — to conduct an honest, responsible, secure investigation of our elections with fidelity.”

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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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