York County officials still mum, but Tioga commissioners won't cooperate with Mastriano's election 'audit'

MARC LEVY
Associated Press
Mastriano

HARRISBURG — York County officials still won't say how they intend respond to state Sen. Doug Mastriano's demand for cooperation in an Arizona-style “forensic investigation” of the state’s 2020 presidential election sought by former President Donald Trump.

But the three commissioners in rural Tioga County — which the Franklin County Republican targeted along with York County and Philadelphia — say he won't have access to their voting machines.

The GOP-controlled board announced the decision Tuesday, six days after receiving a sweeping, five-page request for access to documents, information and equipment.

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The county's solicitor, Christopher Gabriel, said Wednesday that the thrust of Mastriano's request for cooperation for his undertaking — under the threat of a subpoena — involves access to Tioga County's voting machines.

But, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's top election official, Acting Secretary of State Veronica Degraffenreid, told counties that the state would decertify any election equipment that is subject to any such third-party access, rendering it useless in an election.

The state would not reimburse a county for the cost to replace the equipment, she told counties last week.

“We can’t be in a position where we don’t have the election machines, because we have to run the next election, these are extremely expensive machines, and our position is we need to follow the direction that the secretary has given us,” Gabriel said.

The commissioners' chairman, Roger Bunn, a Republican, said the county had audited the voting machines and systems used in the 2020 presidential election, according to requirements in state law, and had found no significant problems.

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Trump won in Tioga County by three-to-one over Democrat Joe Biden, but Biden won the battleground state by just over 80,000 votes, or about 1 percentage point, prompting a torrent of baseless falsehoods from Trump about massive voter fraud.

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.

Courts have thrown out Republican claims about fraud or illegalities, and critics say an election audit is duplicative, given the audits already carried out by counties and the state.

In any case, Mastriano's information request does not remotely resemble a post-election audit plan that is recognized by the election administration community, said Edward Perez, global director of technology development at the California-based OSET Institute.

Mastriano had yet to comment on Tioga County's decision.

But speaking during an appearance in the studio of WEEO-FM in Chambersburg on Wednesday, Mastriano appeared to blame voting-machine manufacturers for “threatening” counties against letting third parties inspect their machines.

“The bottom line is, we can’t just have voting machines here that only one company that manufactures (them) can have access to," Mastriano said. “They should be able to be opened up and reviewed obviously by companies that the legislative body wants to hire, not that the governor wants to bring in.”

York County's elected officials silent: Two other areas targeted by Mastriano — Republican-controlled York County and the heavily Democratic city of Philadelphia — have declined comment on how they plan to respond to Mastriano or the potential cost to comply with his demands.

York County President Commissioner Julie Wheeler and Commissioner Ron Smith both would only say that they will respond to Mastriano by his deadline later this month.

“When our response is completed and it’s been shared, we’ll certainly be willing to have a discussion,” Wheeler said.

Vice President Commissioner Doug Hoke and Steve Ulrich, director of elections and voter registration, did not respond to requests for comment.

In addition, state Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, declined to comment.

Grove in the past has rejected the idea of conducting an audit despite being at the forefront of Republicans who cast doubt on the legitimacy of the 2020 election.

Mastriano, who has talked of possibly run for governor, has helped spread Trump's conspiracy theories about widespread fraud in the election, and traveled to Arizona in June to see the audit there firsthand.

In his letter last week, Mastriano asks counties to respond by July 31 with a plan to comply with his requests and to propose a timeline “regarding inspection, testing or sampling of items.”

Mastriano also warned that the committee he chairs, the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee, could vote to issue a subpoena if a county does not adhere to his request.

Gabriel said Tioga County had not formally responded to Mastriano but that it would by July 31.

Mastriano's massive undertaking could cost millions of dollars, and major questions are unanswered, such as who will do the work, how will it be funded and where such a vast amount of documents and equipment would be stored.

Senate Republican leaders  have been silent about Mastriano's actions or whether they would contribute money to the effort. The Senate last year reported $66 million in its reserve account.

Private organizations are raising money for an audit, and Mastriano is counting on private funding, at least in part.

Mastriano told WEEO-FM radio  on  Wednesday that he had not decided how to fund the audit but said he is recommending three strategies, all of which involve a blend of public and private financing.

— York Dispatch staff writer Logan Hullinger contributed to this report.