Then-state Rep. Cris Dush, R-Jefferson. Dush now chairs the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee, which is probing the 2020 election (Capital-Star file)
(*This story was updated at 9:46 a.m. on Monday, 8/23/21, to include comment from Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman.)
The Pennsylvania lawmaker now tasked with leading an investigation into the state’s elections says he’s taking the newfound responsibility “very seriously.”
“We should have been having hearings and moving toward a more formalized plan to conduct an investigation weeks ago,” Sen. Cris Dush, R-Jefferson, said in a statement released late Friday. “My team and I are in the process of getting things organized and will work with Senate leadership to get it done.”
The change has resulted in a political feud, with Mastriano — a staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump — accusing Corman of “stonewalling” his efforts to conduct a review into the 2020 general and 2021 primary elections. Mastriano’s supporters, including right-wing One America News Network personality Christina Bobb, have alleged that Corman appointed Dush to block the probe altogether.
Audit the Vote PA, a group that promotes unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud, called on Corman to let Mastriano lead the investigation, citing a possible financial “conflict of interest” if Dush leads the investigation.
Dush, who chairs the Senate Local Government Committee, said: “The opposite is true.”
“The purpose of this investigation is to uncover information which is necessary for the Legislature to potentially take future legislative action,” Dush said, 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. Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, is the only Republican on Dush’s committee who did not sign the Jan. 4, 2020 request.
Trump, who lost by 80,555 votes in Pennsylvania, led a campaign questioning the validity of the 2020 election. While some legislative Republicans have latched on to unsubstantiated claims of election fraud and voter misconduct, others — including Corman — have argued there are “irregularities” worth investigating
As required by law, all 67 Pennsylvania counties conducted post-election audits of a sampling of ballots. Sixty-three counties conducted “risk-limiting” audits following the 2020 election. Neither review found evidence of widespread voter fraud or election misconduct.
Wisconsin, Michigan, and Georgia also have faced calls to review the 2020 presidential election, despite no evidence of a “rigged” election.
Sen. Dan Laughlin, R-Erie, is the only Senate GOP lawmaker to oppose an election review publicly. In an op-Ed, he said the “only credible result” of the Arizona review was an “undermined public trust in democracy and a cost of millions of dollars to taxpayers.” He urged his colleagues — on both sides of the aisle — to focus on governing and move on from previous elections.
But Senate Republican leadership is committed to a review, just without Mastriano, who “is more interested in rallies and press conferences than actually doing the hard work,” Corman told the Capital-Star.
During a Monday morning interview with media personality Wendy Bell, Corman reiterated his commitment to conducting a “full forensic audit” of the 2020 general and 2021 primary elections. He said hearings on the investigation could begin this week, adding that Senate leaders are working to research “and do this perfectly” to avoid legal challenges.
Corman told Bell that he’s spoken with Arizona Senate leadership to learn more about the GOP-backed review in Maricopa County and with Trump “on numerous occasions.”
“I think he’s comfortable with where we’re heading,” Corman said of the former president.
Dush did say that updates won’t be regular, telling the public: “I will be treating evidence as evidence and not as a means of obtaining publicity.”
He added: “You may be frustrated with not hearing updates as quickly as you would like, but there is an investigative need to hold that evidence close until the review is completed.”
Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, vowed to challenge any attempts to investigate Pennsylvania’s elections.
In a move criticized by Corman and Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, acting Secretary of State Veronica Degraffenreid also issued a directive, which is still in effect, that prohibits third-party access to voting machines. If a county disobeys the order, its election equipment faces decertification.
But to challengers of the review, Dush concluded: “I will not stand idly by if you threaten county and other officials and stand in the way of transparency and legislative oversight of our elections. The Senate has the authority to conduct this investigation, and we will do so in a responsible manner.”
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