Mastriano opens Pennsylvania election audit plan; York among targeted counties
HARRISBURG — A Pennsylvania state lawmaker and ardent supporter of former President Donald Trump is launching a “forensic investigation” of the state’s 2020 presidential election, demanding cooperation from counties and mimicking a widely criticized partisan effort in Arizona.
Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, issued letters to three counties Wednesday, giving officials there a sweeping information request, with the threat of subpoenas for holdouts who do not respond affirmatively by July's end.
The effort is facing strident opposition from Democrats, and any Senate-issued subpoenas for a partisan Arizona-style “election audit ” will almost certainly be challenged in Pennsylvania’s courts. Arizona's audit was widely criticized by both election experts and Republicans.
Trump has persistently claimed the 2020 election was rigged against him and pressured Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania and other states he narrowly lost to conduct an audit, as is happening in Arizona.
In an interview streamed online by former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, Mastriano suggested the undertaking will be similar to that in Arizona, where Republicans are searching for evidence of fraud in what critics say is an attempt to discredit President Joe Biden's victory in the state.
“As we go through the ballots, my desire is to recount them but also forensically analyze with photographic material whether the ballots were copied or filled in by a human,” Mastriano told Bannon, saying he planned to study what type of paper was used, look for what he called software “shenanigans” and review the chain of custody for the ballots.
Mastriano is also asking for information from May's primary election.
Reaction from York: Two Republican-controlled counties — Tioga and York counties — confirmed receiving letters Wednesday, as did the Democratic bastion of Philadelphia, the state’s largest city.
“We have received a letter from Senator Mastriano, and we are reviewing it and will get back to him within the time frame he’s specifying,” said York County President Commissioner Julie Wheeler, who declined to comment further.
Commissioners Doug Hoke and Ron Smith did not respond to requests for comment. Steve Ulrich, director of York County's elections office, directed requests to county spokesperson Mark Walters. Walters said the county would not comment on the matter.
Top Senate Democrats quickly objected, saying Democrats have “grave concerns about the authority and legality of such an audit," and in a letter asked the Senate's Republican majority leaders to “end this misguided and political farce immediately.”
Senate Republican majority leaders have been silent about it.
No county election board, prosecutor or state official has raised a concern over any sort of widespread election fraud in November’s election in Pennsylvania. Critics say an election audit is duplicative, given the legal requirements for each county and the state to review election results for accuracy and investigate any discrepancies.
Democrats, meanwhile, blame Trump and Republicans for spreading lies about the election that have sown distrust among voters.
On Twitter, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, said Mastriano is requesting confidential and privileged information “in continued efforts to pay homage to former President Trump and further spread misinformation about our elections.”
Shapiro also suggested his office would challenge a subpoena.
Mastriano, who has spoken of his desire to bring an Arizona-style audit to Pennsylvania, said more counties could receive information requests in the future.
Such an audit could cost millions of dollars, and The Associated Press reported Friday that Mastriano has solicited legal advice from a Philadelphia-based law firm about the Senate Republican caucus using private money to finance consultants and lawyers for the investigation.
In the letter, counties are asked to respond by July 31 with a plan to comply and to propose a timeline “regarding inspection, testing or sampling of items.”
The sweeping, five-page information request lists 45 categories, with some similarities to the subpoena issued in Arizona to Maricopa County in January by that state's Senate Republican majority.
It includes all ballots attempted to have been cast in the November election, logs from all computers and servers used to run the election, timelines of who accessed election equipment and “a complete end-to-end election setup for use in a laboratory.”
Mastriano also warned that the committee he chairs, the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee, could vote to issue a subpoena if a county does not comply with his request.
Chad Baker, chairman of the Democratic Party of York County, urged county commissioners to deny Mastriano's request in a Wednesday statement.
"Senator Mastriano is wasting the time, money and additional resources of the State Senate and the various counties in which he has requested materials," Baker said. "He is diverting focus from issues such as job creation, COVID relief and other incredibly more important issues. This entire process is a disgrace to the Pennsylvania State Senate and to the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”
Jeff Piccola, chairman of the York County Republican Committee, did not respond to requests for comment.
Anticipating pushback from Philadelphia, Mastriano told Bannon, “The only reason why anyone should be opposed to this is they have something to hide.”
Tioga County Commissioner Roger C. Bunn, a Republican, said he had just received an email with Mastriano’s requests and planned to get input from the board’s lawyer and the elections director before he and the other two commissioners decide how to respond.
“I certainly want our elections to be fair and honest,” Bunn said. “So we’ll see what they’re requesting and what we can do.”
A spokesperson for the York County Board of Commissioners declined comment. Philadelphia election officials said they were discussing a response with agency lawyers, although a spokesperson said Mastriano’s letter “reiterates claims about the November 2020 election that have been resoundingly rejected by courts.”
Mastriano does not suggest in the letter that his aim is to overturn Biden's victory in the 2020 election, but rather to restore trust in elections and “adequately consider future legislation” on election law.
But he does not back off suggestions that fraud occurred, and in his letter he distorts the actions of state judges and election officials in the run-up to the election.
In Arizona, the Republican-controlled state Senate used its subpoena power to take possession of more than 2 million ballots and the machines that counted them, along with computer data.
Mastriano has said he is considering running for governor and has claimed that Trump “asked me” to run.
Mastriano, an enthusiastic Trump backer during last year’s election, has on several occasions leveraged his elected position in the cause of Trump’s efforts to reverse his re-election loss.
Mastriano led a Senate Republican Policy Committee hearing in Gettysburg in November to which Trump called in, and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani was the featured speaker. There, they aired baseless conspiracy theories about election fraud.
In December, he signed a statement with 63 other Republican state lawmakers urging members of Congress to block Pennsylvania’s electoral votes from being cast for Biden.
— York Dispatch reporter Logan Hullinger contributed to this report.