Pa. election investigation hearings begin next week, Senate committee seeks public testimony

By: - September 3, 2021 8:36 am

The Capitol building in Harrisburg (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

Ten months after the November 2020 election, and seven since the results were certified, a Pennsylvania Senate committee expects to launch an investigation into the electoral process next week. And its members are soliciting the public for help.

The Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee will hold its first public hearing as part of the investigation on Sept. 9 at the Capitol, its chairman, Sen. Cris Dush, R-Jefferson, said late Thursday. A time and hearing room have yet to be announced.

As part of the probe into the 2020 general and 2021 primary elections, the 11-member panel has invited the public to share “any potential violations of election law or voting irregularities they have witnessed personally.”

“This evidence will be critical in the committee’s efforts to identify gaps in our elections that can be addressed by the General Assembly,” a statement on the web page to submit testimony reads.

The online form, which asks for an individual’s name, address, and contact information, is intended for Pennsylvanians who witnessed election law violations. The committee could ask those who submit information to sign an affidavit and testify under oath at a future hearing.

The committee also invited Department of State officials to testify at the hearing, specifically about “last-minute guidance provided to counties and its impact on the 2020 General Election.” The agency has oversight of Pennsylvania elections.

Two post-election reviews — a statistical sampling required by law and a risk-limiting audit — were conducted after the 2020 election in Pennsylvania. Sixty-three out of the commonwealth’s 67 counties participated in the risk-limiting audit pilot, and neither assessment found evidence of fraud.

Certified results show that former President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election by 80,555 votes in Pennsylvania. In the same cycle, Republicans triumphed in state races — maintaining their legislative majorities in Harrisburg. 

But a months-long campaign, launched by Trump and embraced by supporters, has sought to cast doubt on election integrity. And despite the absence of any evidence proving claims of fraud, the Pennsylvania Senate GOP has decided to investigate.

“Sometimes Republicans win. Sometimes Democrats win,” Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, told the Capital-Star last month. “We all move on. But if you don’t have faith in the results, you fracture your democracy.”

Corman, who has noted election “irregularities” rather than alleging fraud, tapped Dush to lead the review in August after Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, “retreated,” citing a “weakened and diminished” cause. 

Although the restructuring sparked an internal GOP feud, Mastriano — who was still without a Capitol staff as of Tuesday — continues to sit on the Senate committee responsible for the investigation.

Mastriano, who said he has “little confidence that a real investigation will ever take place” after his demotion, has stayed quiet about his role in the forthcoming review. However, he has continued to rail against Corman and the “swamp” in Harrisburg.

“He better make it right before he has a falling out with enough of the other senators out there,” Mastriano said of Corman during a since-deleted Facebook Live on Tuesday.

Dush has not outlined a scope for the investigation; however, taxpayer dollars will fund the probe, Jason Thompson, a spokesperson for Corman, told the Capital-Star. The panel also will incorporate hearings conducted by the Senate State Government Committee, which began last month, as part of the investigation.

“The purpose of this investigation is to uncover information which is necessary for the Legislature to potentially take future legislation action,” Dush said in a statement, highlighting his military service and experience as an insurance investigator. “I look forward to putting my years of experience with legal cases, court proceedings, and evidence collection to good use in restoring faith in our elections.”

Earlier this summer, Dush toured the GOP-backed election probe facility in Arizona with Mastriano and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin. The review, carried out by a cyber security company with no experience auditing elections, served as a model for what Mastriano proposed in Pennsylvania.

Dush was one of 21 Senate Republicans to sign a letter asking Congress to delay certification of Pennsylvania’s Electoral College results after the 2020 election. Sen. Chris Gebhard, R-Lebanon, who wasn’t in office at the time, is the only Republican member of the panel who didn’t sign the letter.

Sen. Dan Laughlin, R-Erie, is the only GOP senator to publicly oppose the review.

In July, Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, and Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia, sent a letter to Corman and Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, urging them to stop the review. Gov. Tom Wolf called the investigation a “disgrace to democracy,” and Attorney General Josh Shapiro dubbed it a “sham” that will create chaos.

Since then, Corman has promised “a hundred percent” commitment to a full forensic investigation.

In a self-published op-Ed, Corman said the investigation is not a recount. Instead, the goal is “to find any flaws in the system that could be exploited by bad actors and take action to correct those flaws through legislative changes to our Election Code,” he said.

“Our goal should be to proceed carefully, thoughtfully, and transparently,” he said. “I am not interested in a process that panders to any one point of view. We need to follow the evidence wherever it leads and get real results to make our election system stronger and more secure.”

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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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