Pa. ACLU files lawsuit over missing financial information in 2020 Fulton County election review

‘The Fulton County commissioners are playing fast and loose with the law,’ Witold Walczak, Pennsylvania ACLU legal director, said in a statement

By: - January 7, 2022 12:04 pm

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

The Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has asked a court to order officials in Fulton County to release all information requested as part of an open records request related to a third-party review of the 2020 General Election.

The county initially denied the ACLU’s Right-to-Know Law request. After an appeal, the Office of Open Records ruled in the organization’s favor, ordering that the county produce all records related to the election review, carried out in December 2020 by Wake Technology Services, a West Chester-based company with no official experience auditing elections.

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Fulton County Court of Common Pleas, the ACLU said some documents requested as part of a Right-to-Know Law request are missing — including financial information for the review. 

The organization also claimed that the county has refused to turn over email conversations about public government business from the commissioners’ private accounts.

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

Represented by Saul Ewing LLP, the ACLU has asked the court to require Fulton County to release all documents related to the records request, specifically communications between county officials and Wake TSI co-founder Gene Kern. The ACLU also asked that Fulton County receive a $1,500 fine and pay for the plaintiffs’ legal fees.

“The Fulton County commissioners are playing fast and loose with the law,” Witold Walczak, Pennsylvania ACLU legal director, said in a statement. “Their flagrant refusal to honor the order by the Office of Open Records that the document must be disclosed raises the question: What are they trying to hide?”

Records obtained by the Capital-Star, other media outlets, and government watchdogs confirm that Sens. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, and Judy Ward, R-Blair, helped facilitate the review. County documents also 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.

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 May, the Arizona Republic reported

A document submitted to county officials, and obtained by the Capital-Star, states that Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, helped coordinate the Wake Technology Services, Inc. election review in Fulton County and asked the company to inspect absentee ballots.

And while local officials maintain that taxpayer dollars did not fund the probe, Fulton County has not produced a formal contract agreement or disclosed how and who paid for it — claiming that since local dollars weren’t involved, county officials don’t have the information.

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.

“The Right-to-Know Law exists so that government operates in the sunlight, not in the dark,” Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said in a statement. “Transparency is a critical value in a democracy, especially when public officials try to undermine voters’ trust in elections, as the commissioners and senator have done.”

Meeting minutes and conversations obtained through Right-to-Know Law requests also show that the Republican-controlled Fulton County Board of Commissioners never took a formal vote to approve the review.

They also reflect that Commissioner Paula Shives, the sole Democrat on the board, said she was unaware the count happened, while Republican Commissioners Stuart Ulsh and Randy Bunch attended.

Mastriano, who furthered unsubstantiated claims that fraud contributed to former President Donald Trump’s loss to now-President Joe Biden, has ignored repeated requests for comment about his involvement with the Fulton County election probe. Ward has maintained that she approached the county at the request of Mastriano. Both lawmakers sit on the Senate committee responsible for leading the taxpayer-funded investigation into the 2020 general and 2021 primary elections.

During a September Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee hearing as part of the election investigation, Ulsh testified that Ward approached him about the review. He added that he was not aware of Mastriano’s involvement “until after the investigation was done and the report [came] out.” Text messages between the commissioners contradict his testimony.

Faced with questions from Democrats on the 11-member panel about the cost and funder at the time, Ulsh could not provide an answer. Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee Chairman Cris Dush, R-Jefferson, asked the commissioner to provide the committee with the information after the hearing.

A document submitted to county officials states that Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, coordinated the Wake Technology Services, Inc. election review in Fulton County. Wake TSI was contracted to a group founded by pro-Trump lawyer Sidney Powell.

It’s been four months since Ulsh’s testimony and more than a year since the Wake TSI review, and questions about its funder and cost remain unanswered.

In a recently granted Right-to-Know Law request from Fulton County to the Capital-Star, county Elections Director Patti Hess included a statement, saying: “We never paid Wake and never had a contract with Wake to my knowledge.”

During an October interview, Office of Open Records Executive Director Liz Wagenseller told the Capital-Star that if questions about the funder and cost become public, a judge will likely be the deciding factor.

After Fulton County officials disclosed their compliance and maintained the probe was secure, the Department of State decertified the voting machines. Then-acting Secretary of State Veronica Deggrafenreid and Dominion Voting Machines said they could not verify the equipment was safe to use. And the county was left to deal with the financial consequences of replacing the equipment

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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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