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Forensic election audit initiated in Pennsylvania; AG vows to strike back

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(By Christen Smith | The Center Square) – A Republican senator in Pennsylvania initiated the first steps this week of a forensic election audit, even as the state’s top law enforcement official promised intervention should the effort continue.

Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Gettysburg, said in an editorial Wednesday he’s requested information and materials from three counties needed for a “forensic investigation” into both the 2020 general election and the 2021 primary election completed in May.

He said the effort is “necessary” because millions of residents harbor serious doubts about the accuracy of the results, citing a January poll from Muhlenberg University that showed 40% of respondents “are not confident” that the outcome “accurately reflected how Pennsylvanians voted.” 

“Discounting or mocking their concerns is neither an answer nor proper in this constitutional republic,” he said.

In the editorial, Mastriano said the counties – comprised of a mix of geographical, demographic and partisan features – must respond by July 31 with a plan to comply.

“A full forensic investigation is critically necessary for our Commonwealth for the sake of transparency and accountability,” he said. “There is nothing to fear if there is nothing to hide.” 

Attorney General Josh Shapiro fired back against Mastriano’s editorial, telling the counties to ignore the “fishing expedition” that’s more than a continued effort “to pay homage to former President [Donald] Trump and further spread misinformation about our elections.”

“This ‘audit’ could risk decertifying the counties’ voting machines, costing county taxpayers’ millions of dollars,” he said. “Right now this information is being requested voluntarily but should subpoenas be issued, you can expect our office to do everything to protect the Commonwealth, its voters and the free, fair election that was held in Pennsylvania.”

Officials in Tioga, York and Philadelphia counties confirmed to The Associated Press that they’d received letters from Mastriano requesting the information. 

Mastriano, an ardent Trump supporter, faced national scrutiny after organizing a bus trip to the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington D.C. He was photographed near Capitol Hill, but said he left before rioters stormed the building.

“This investigation is not about overturning the results of either election,” he said Wednesday. “The goals are to restore faith in the integrity of our system, confirm the effectiveness of existing legislation on the governance of elections, and identify areas for legislative reform.”

The development comes after Mastriano and two other Republican lawmakers visited the forensic audit site in Phoenix where a team recounted more than 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County last year. President Joe Biden clenched the state by roughly 10,000 votes – the first time a Democratic candidate carried Arizona since 1996. 

Trump called the three men “great patriots” in a statement released that same week that urged both Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Bellefonte, and State Government Committee Chairman Dave Argall, R-Pottsville, to use their “full powers” to do the same in Pennsylvania. 

Argall later told media outlets he sees no “damage in doing it one more time to try to answer the concerns that people have.”

“Do I have 100% confidence … that everything was perfect? No, I’d really like us to take a detailed review of that,” he said. “That’s why we’re looking at changing pieces of the election legislation and it’s also why I think it wouldn’t hurt at all to go back, do that audit, and say, ‘How exactly did that work out?’”

Biden won Pennsylvania by fewer than 81,000 votes in November. The Trump campaign fired off a series of lawsuits alleging mail-in voter fraud that were later dismissed for lack of evidence. Several Republican lawmakers supported the effort, Mastriano chief among them.

But it was Gov. Tom Wolf’s decision to veto House Bill 1300 – an election reform proposal that tightened voter I.D. rules and signature verification for mail-in ballots and placed population limits on drop boxes – that drove Mastriano to initiate the audit. 

“The damage to our election process will not be undone with the passing of time,” he said. “I believe the only way to restore confidence in our Commonwealth’s election process is to undertake a forensic investigation. By doing this, faith in our election system will be restored.”

The administration points to two state-conducted audits that showed no widespread voter fraud or other anomalies as more proof of Mastriano’s true intentions. 

Wolf even slammed Arizona’s audit as a “sham” organized by fringe politicians bent on perpetuating skepticism about the outcome of last year’s presidential race – and he vowed to discourage “the same chaos and dysfunction” from occurring in Pennsylvania. 

“It is wrong to pass laws that take away someone’s freedom to vote for your own political gain,” he said. “Lies and disinformation about fair elections drove our nation to the brink of disaster on January 6, and now the same people who spread those lies, who encouraged the mob that attacked our nation’s leaders, are attacking the freedom to vote.”

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  • If we’re going to review the election, which doesn’t seem at all necessary to me, I think we should review it in every county — not just the ones Mastriano wants to look at.

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