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Senate GOP hires firm to review Pennsylvania's 2020 election

MARK SCOLFORO
Associated Press

HARRISBURG — Republicans in the Pennsylvania Senate said Friday they will pay up to $270,000 over the next six months to have an Iowa consulting firm examine the 2020 election with an eye toward developing changes to state election law.

The “forensic investigation" is being launched in response to pressure from Republican supporters of former President Donald Trump upset over his 80,000-vote loss in the state, but is well short of the Arizona-style “audit” that many of them have clamored for.

A related subpoena issued by a GOP-controlled Senate committee, seeking voter data from the executive branch, is currently on hold awaiting a hearing in Commonwealth Court next month.

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The contract was signed by Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, and Envoy Sage, a Dubuque, Iowa-based company. Committee spokesperson Jason Thompson said it will be made public in redacted form in the coming days.

The company will be paid out of a taxpayer-funded leadership account that Ward controls and the agreement can be extended, he said.

Election signage in Spring Garden Township, Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021.  Dawn J. Sagert photo

“The goal is to determine what flaws exist in our election system and to fix them through legislation,” Thompson said Friday.

Envoy Sage president Steve Lahr issued a statement saying company officials have no “pre-conceived notions for what we will or will not find” and that he considers objectivity to be critical.

Thompson initially said Lahr, who did not reply to a message seeking an interview, recalled making only a single political donation, several years ago, to a friend from his time in the military. Later Friday, Thompson said Lahr acknowledged also making donations to the National Republican Congressional Committee and to U.S. Sen. Lindsay Graham, a South Carolina Republican.

“I think that it was an honest mistake on his part,” Thompson said.

Lahr's statement described the process ahead as including document analysis, review of concerns solicited from the public by the Senate and a look at election integrity initiatives in other states.

Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee Chair Cris Dush, R-Jefferson, who is leading the review process, said in a statement that Envoy Sage had handled sensitive documents for other governmental entities.

Democrats in the Senate and on the committee Dush chairs had no role in selecting the consultant, said Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny. Costa noted his Republican colleagues had previously said they would wait until the subpoena litigation had been resolved.

“They agreed to wait, and then went ahead with hiring their own firm to carry out this political, unnecessary and costly witch hunt,” Costa said in a release. He also noted Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, recently announced his entry into the 2022 gubernatorial primary.

Thompson said the firm was hired now in part because, in opposing the subpoena, Democrats had said they did not know who would be given the voter data.

Senate Democrats and state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat who also is in the race for governor, have sought to block the subpoena, calling it an abuse of legislative power and focusing on the demand for information about voters.

“They intend to entrust the personal, private data of 9 million Pennsylvanian voters to a company that has been in existence for barely one year and that has no election experience, other than donating to the Republican Party,” Shapiro's office said in a statement. “We still have no information on how they intend to protect voters’ confidential information and what they plan to use it for.”

The subpoena seeks state elections officials' communications with counties and the names of who voted in last year’s presidential election, including birth dates, addresses, driver’s license numbers and partial Social Security numbers.