Jurisprudence

Pennsylvania’s So-Called Election Audit Is Another Attempt to Discredit Trump’s 2020 Loss

Attorney for the President, Rudy Giuliani speaks to the media at a press conference held in the back parking lot of Four Seasons Total Landscaping on November 7, 2020 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The campaign to overturn the Pennsylvania election continues. Chris McGrath/Getty Images

On Wednesday, a Republican-led committee in the Pennsylvania Senate voted 7 to 4 along party lines to advance a subpoena of private information of millions of the state’s voters as part of a partisan Arizona-style inquiry into the 2020 election.

There will almost certainly be court battles over the subpoena in the weeks ahead. The Democratic governor has promised to fight elements of the subpoena, noting that other portions of the request are already publicly available. The subpoena seeks driver’s license numbers, addresses, and the last four digits of the Social Security numbers of Pennsylvania registered voters, as well as whether or not they voted by mail in 2020. According to the Associated Press, it is illegal to publicly release a voter’s driver’s license number and Social Security number in the state.

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If the subpoena succeeds, Republican officials have acknowledged the data could end up in the hands of private vendors affiliated with Donald Trump’s campaign to delegitimize the 2020 election.

The Pennsylvania inquiry comes in the wake of a similar effort in Arizona and efforts in Wisconsin and Georgia by Republican-led legislatures to revisit the 2020 election, pursuing claims of fraud by the former president that have been widely debunked.  In Arizona, a group called Cyber Ninjas—run by a 2020 election conspiracy theorist—has for months conducted a so-called audit of the Maricopa County election results that has not followed typical audit procedure. There’s reason to believe the Pennsylvania inquiry will be similarly unorthodox. The Philadelphia Inquirer has stated in its coverage of the local inquiry that the paper “is not currently referring to attempts by Pennsylvania Republicans to investigate the 2020 presidential election as an audit because there’s no indication it would follow the best practices or the common understanding of an audit among nonpartisan experts.”

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Unlike Arizona’s audit, Republicans in Pennsylvania have said that the inquiry will be funded by taxpayers, rather than conservative dark money groups affiliated with Donald Trump. However,  the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee  that  is overseeing the audit is chaired by Sen. Cris Dush, who “visited the Arizona audit and vowed to bring it to Pennsylvania,” the Associated Press reported.

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During a hearing on the inquiry on Wednesday, Dush said he was undertaking it “because there have been questions regarding the validity of people who have …. voted, whether or not they exist.” Multiple official audits and court proceedings have uncovered no proof of widespread fraud in Pennsylvania, a state Joe Biden won by more than 80,000 votes. Trump has continued to push for “audits” of state election systems nationwide in an effort to discredit his loss in 2020.

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Pennsylvania Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman denied that the inquiry he authorized will be like the previous audit in Arizona, which turned into a national joke after revelations about the audit’s bizarre procedures and hunt for bamboo-laced ballots. Corman has, however, turned it over to Dush, who explicitly said the Arizona audit is his model after visiting the Phoenix audit site.

Corman has been vague about who will actually be running the inquiry if his body’s subpoenas overcome the likely legal challenges, telling the Inquirer that experience wasn’t a prerequisite. “I don’t know how much experience is out there for auditing elections, right?” he said. “I don’t know there’s a lot that has been done over time.”

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A Democrat on the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee asked Dush if any of the vendors under consideration had ties to Trump attorney and discredited election lawyer Sidney Powell, the New York Times reported. “It is absolutely possible,” Dush said.

Meanwhile, State Senate Democrats were asking the Department of Justice to step in to investigate a previous county audit that was conducted by one of the same firms that took part in the Arizona audit, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Andrew Seidman reported on Wednesday. Seidman reported that Democrats “are calling on U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate the activities that unfolded in Fulton County in December of 2020, which apparently involved granting partisan consultant access to sensitive voter information without a public vote.”

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In May, the Department of Justice sent a letter to the Arizona Senate over its audit, warning it that an effort to track down individual voters via a canvass using the same sort of information sought in the Pennsylvania inquiry could violate civil rights law. The Arizona Senate officially put that portion of the audit on hold, but a local Republican activist last week released the highly misleading results of a supposed canvass, drawing pushback from local Republican officials. (It’s unclear whether or not the “canvass” actually tracked down individual voters, which could violate civil rights laws against voter intimidation, or merely looked at voting data.)

And in July, the department doubled down on its earlier message to Arizona, issuing a memo to all 50 states warning that audits with outside vendors run the risk of violating civil rights law against voter intimidation and reminding officials to protect the chain of custody of election materials.

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