‘This is not about politics’: Pa. GOP lawmakers accuse Department of State of intimidation tactics

“If you’re afraid of transparency, you’re part of the problem,” Sen. Doug Mastriano, who has repeated baseless claims of a rigged election, said Friday outside of the Fulton County courthouse.

By: - July 23, 2021 3:44 pm

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

(*This story was updated at 6 p.m. on Friday, 7/23/21, to include comment from the Department of State.)

With two of three counties declining to comply with a “forensic investigation” into Pennsylvania’s elections, the GOP state senator who’s pushing the review is keeping quiet about what’s next.

Instead, Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, and some of his Republican colleagues have turned their focus toward the Department of State after it decertified Fulton County voting machines for participating in a Mastriano-backed audit.

“If you’re afraid of transparency, you’re part of the problem,” Mastriano, who has repeated baseless claims of a rigged election, said Friday outside of the Fulton County courthouse.

Joined by Republican Fulton County Commissioner Stuart Ulsh, Sen. Judy Ward, R-Blair, and Rep. Jesse Topper, R-Bedford,  Mastriano accused Democrats and the Department of State of trying to “threaten and bully” counties, so they don’t comply with similar reviews.

In December, Mastriano and Ward asked Fulton County officials to let Wake Technology Services Inc. conduct an audit of the 2020 general election, according to the Arizona Mirror, a sibling site of the Capital-Star. 

The lawmakers’ request came amid former President Donald Trump’s campaign to further false claims that the 2020 election was riddled with voter fraud, targeting Pennsylvania and other swing states.

Fulton County’s participation in the review, led by Wake TSI, a technology company with no experience auditing elections, prompted acting Secretary of State Veronica Degraffenreid to decertify its voting machines. 

In a July 20 letter to county officials, Degraffenreid said there is no way for the state, county, or Dominion Voting Systems to verify that the machines “are safe to use in future elections.”

On Friday, the GOP lawmakers asked that the Department of State rescind its decertification, something Ward called a “strong-arm move” meant to intimidate counties from participating in similar reviews.

In a Thursday statement, Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, and Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, said the Department of State, which oversees elections in Pennsylvania, has taken a “we know better” approach by decertifying the machines.

A spokesperson for the Department of State said Degraffenreid “took the only safe action in decertifying” the voting machines, citing a failure from Fulton County to maintain the chain of custody over all voting materials and equipment.

“Had Fulton County officials made us aware of the third-party review before it was done, the department and the manufacturer would have had a chance to warn them about the serious risk of those activities resulting in the decertification of their voting equipment,” the spokesperson told the Capital-Star in a statement — adding that “the secretary acted to protect the voters of Fulton County and the integrity of future elections.”

And now, despite knowing the consequences of complying, Mastriano has shown no sign of giving up on investigating the 2020 general and 2021 primary elections in York, Tioga, and Philadelphia counties.

Ahead of the July 31 deadline to respond to the request for equipment, ballots, voter rolls, software, and election records, leadership in York and Tioga — historically Republican counties — said they will not hand over the information. 

Tioga County officials cited a July 8 directive, which followed Mastriano’s request, from the Department of State that prohibits third-party access to election equipment.

Philadelphia Commissioner Al Schmidt, a Republican, told the Capital-Star that the county is still reviewing the request.

Mastriano, who has not answered repeated requests for comment, has not said whether the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee — which he chairs — will issue subpoenas for the information; where it would take place; or who would serve as a contractor.

During a July 14 interview with Chambersburg-based News Talk radio host Pat Ryan, Mastriano said taxpayer dollars could fund the investigation either partially or entirely. The review would cost “a lot of money,” he said.

Gov. Tom Wolf and Attorney General Josh Shapiro, both Democrats, have dismissed Mastriano’s proposed investigation as “un-American” and a “sham.” Legislative Democrats have urged counties not to comply with the request.

On Friday, Mastriano described attempts to derail the investigation as “bully tactics of thugs in faraway countries.”

“I’m appalled by the politics and the politicians. I’m tired of the lies and deceit,” Mastriano said.

He added: “This is not about politics with me. It’s about facts.”

As required by law, county election offices conducted a statistical sampling of ballots cast in the 2020 general election; 63 counties in Pennsylvania also conducted “risk-limiting” audits. Neither post-election review found evidence of fraud or misconduct, according to the Department of State.

The Capital-Star has repeatedly asked every Republican state senator if they support the proposed investigation and — if so — how it should be paid for, but the majority of them aren’t answering.

Sens. David Argall, R-Schuylkill, Chris Gebhard, R-Lebanon, and Cris Dush, R-Jefferson, have voiced support for the proposed investigation. They, along with Ward, sit on Mastriano’s committee. Argall also chairs the Senate State Government Committee, which has oversight of election issues.

And while Ward has not directly voiced support for the investigation, her comments on Friday indicate that it’s a possibility, arguing that prohibiting third-party access to election equipment prevents counties from demonstrating that elections are “fair and accurate.”

“This aggressive move is just another example of why we need meaningful election reform,” Ward said.

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