Panel sinks GOP lawmakers' push for election audit

Marie Albiges for Spotlight PA and Cynthia Fernandez of Spotlight PA
State Rep. Rep. Dawn Keefer, R-Franklin Township, and other GOP state lawmakers called for the formation of an investigatory committee Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020, of voting in Pennsylvania,  following a slew of lawsuits filed by President Donald Trump's campaign claiming, without evidence, widespread fraud. Photo by Lindsey O'Laughlin

This article is made possible through Votebeat, a nonpartisan reporting project covering local election integrity and voting access. 

HARRISBURG — An attempt by Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled Legislature to audit the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election failed Monday when a bipartisan panel rejected it, citing its redundancy.

The Legislative Budget and Finance Committee voted 2-1 against the audit, which was requested by the House last week. The two Democrats on the panel voted against the measure, with one Republican in favor and another absent from the meeting.

In rejecting the request, the panel’s two Democratic members — Sen. James Brewster, D-Allegheny, and Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Allegheny— said it would duplicate the efforts of an ongoing Department of State audit, which is mandated by law.

“There are other ways of validating our election results, making sure we had a fair return in our election process. And I would encourage us to not prolong this wasted effort,” said Wheatley, who is treasurer of the committee. “I would just really suggest that we put this to bed now and move forward with some of our other prioritized reports and audits.”

The resolution — passed by the House on Thursday by a 112-90 vote, with three Democrats joining the Republicans — directed the finance committee to compile a report auditing the accuracy of the results and identifying any inconsistencies. The measure was a watered-down version of an earlier attempt by the state House to investigate the presidential election. But, in a somewhat unusual move, the bipartisan, bicameral panel rebuffed the latest House request.

Sen. Bob Mensch, R-Montgomery, who voted in favor of the audit, said he wasn’t sure whether the committee had ever said "no" to adopting a requested study. Patricia Berger, the committee’s executive director, said she recalled at least two instances in which a study was adopted but not completed.

More:Keefer, other lawmakers call for investigation into election

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Republican legislators maintained that the resolution was necessary because the audit would be independent of a review by Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar, who they noted is named in several election lawsuits brought by President Donald Trump’s campaign.

Most counties in Pennsylvania certified their results by Monday's deadline. 

While state Republicans have repeatedly stated they have no evidence of fraud, they have said constituents are concerned about wrongdoing. They blame the confusion on a state Supreme Court ruling that extended the deadline to accept mail ballots by three days, as well as guidance from the Department of State allowing counties to share information with political parties about voters whose ballots had problems.

A spokesperson for the Department of State said Monday, “Pennsylvania had a free, fair, and secure election.”

“Millions of Pennsylvanians followed the rules allowed by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and the Supreme Court of the United States. Allegations of fraud and illegal activity have been repeatedly debunked and dismissed by the courts,” spokesperson Ellen Lyon said in an email.

Still, Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, the chairperson of the House State Government Committee, said he has sent counties questions in an effort to conduct his own investigation. The committee doesn’t have subpoena power, and counties can choose whether or not to respond.

“I want to hear from all 67 counties,” Grove said at a news conference Monday. “And we look forward to reviewing everything in December, and the goal is to again hit the ground running this January to provide Pennsylvanians a better election law that they can be proud of.”

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