Pa. Senate committee launches election investigation, beginning with 2020 guidance

‘This investigation is not about overturning the results of any election as some would suggest,’ Sen. Cris Dush said.

By: - September 9, 2021 5:11 pm

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

A Pennsylvania Senate committee launched an investigation into the state’s two most recent elections on Thursday, beginning with guidance issued by the Department of State the night before Election Day.

Sen. Cris Dush, R-Jefferson, who was tapped by Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, to lead the investigation as chair of the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee, said the review is not a recount. Instead, it is the first in a series of public meetings aimed to evaluate Pennsylvania’s Election Code and restore confidence in the electoral process, he said.

“This investigation is not about overturning the results of any election as some would suggest,” Dush said, adding that the review will not lead to the reinstatement of former President Donald Trump. “That horse is out of the barn as far as this investigation is concerned.”

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 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.

The Senate investigation into the 2020 general and 2021 primary elections could lead to changes to the state Election Code, Dush said, referencing Act 77, the 2019 law that authorized no-excuse mail-in balloting. The bill received bipartisan support from the Republican-controlled General Assembly and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.

“As we all know from our everyday lives in everything we do as humans, there’s room for improvement,” Dush said. “Nothing is perfect.”

Fulton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Stuart Ulsh, the only local official to testify before the 11-member panel, said that while guidance sent by the state agency with election oversight was confusing, there is no evidence of fraud. 

The south-central Pennsylvania county had its voting machines decertified by acting Secretary of State Veronica Degraffenreid earlier this year, after officials agreed to an unauthorized election investigation at the request of Sen. Judy Ward, R-Blair. 

During Thursday’s hearing, Ulsh said Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, was involved with and helped advocate for the review conducted by Wake Technology Services Inc, a company with no experience auditing elections. 

Ulsh, who has been a commissioner for five years, was unable to provide a cost or funding source for the investigation. A 93-page report from Wake TSI that’s posted on the county’s website does not disclose the information either.

Ulsh did say former Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar reached out to him before, during, and after the 2020 election to ask about mail-in and absentee ballot numbers, as well as the count between Trump and now President Joe Biden. He added that Boockvar, who resigned in February, asked him on Election Day if Fulton County needed assistance carrying out the election.

“I find that very, very unusual, especially the secretary of state calling you herself,” Ward said. “She must’ve, I’m assuming, felt concerned about what was happening in Fulton County.”

But for Ulsh, who has overseen a series of elections, it was “just another day.”

“I’m glad to hear from her,” Ulsh said during a line of questioning from Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia. “I’m glad she was there.”

Jason Thompson, a spokesperson for Corman, said the committee reached out to the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, for additional testifiers. However, officials from more populous areas said they were not invited to participate in Thursday’s hearing, the Associated Press reported.

The four Democrats who sit on the panel railed against what they dubbed a “sham” review.

“Donald Trump and his forces lost. Republican judges said he lost. Democratic judges said he lost. Trump-appointed justices said that he lost,” Hughes told reporters before the hearing. “The election was free. The election was fair. The election was secure. The election was audited and recounted in 63 of the 67 counties. No changes were made. It had no impact on the outcome. There was no massive fraud.”

The Department of State, which has oversight of elections in the commonwealth, declined an invitation from the committee to participate in Thursday’s hearing, citing active litigation.

“Over and over, the dozens of lawsuits and at least 22 hearings held by the General Assembly, conspiracy theorists have tried to prove otherwise,” the Department of State said in a statement issued after the hearing. “They have failed and they will fail again. They will find no evidence of widespread fraud because there is none there to uncover.”

So far, Sens. Dan Laughlin, R-Erie, and Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming, are the only GOP members to publicly oppose the investigation.

“At first blush, an audit sounds like a good idea, but after any reasoned thought into the ramifications such an undertaking may trigger, this will not be a productive undertaking,” Yaw said in an August statement.

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