‘Audit’ choice: Good money after bad idea

York Dispatch editorial board
State Sen. Cris Dush, R-Jefferson, chairperson of the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee, speaks during a hearing in Harrisburg.

Where there’s smoke, goes the old adage, there’s fire.

There’s no smoke in Pennsylvania but that hasn’t stopped state Republicans from calling in the fire department.

Determined to drag out the narrative that the 2020 presidential election was somehow flawed, Senate Republicans are throwing more than a quarter of a million taxpayer dollars at a 4-month-old company to “investigate” a non-existent problem.

Iowa-based Envoy Sage will be paid $270,000 (more, if the no-bid contract is extended) to conduct a so-called “forensic audit” of the 2020 election. This despite the fact that the company has no experience in examining elections, that there have been no credible allegations of fraud or irregularities in the voting, that the victory for President Joe Biden was a decisive 80,000 votes and that the election is now more than a year old.

No matter.

More:What we know about the firm hired by the GOP to review Pennsylvania’s 2020 election

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The GOP-controlled Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee, chairman Cris Dush, and the rest of the state’s democracy-deserting Republicans are bowing to the will of former President Donald Trump and his supporters, who insist that the real world adhere to the fictional version they’ve concocted in their conservative media echo chamber.

In that far-right fantasy land, Trump (who has never won a popular vote) was cheated out of reelection by ill-defined electoral chicanery. State-level Republican officials in Pennsylvania and elsewhere must now ferret out that misdealing or (since it doesn’t exist) make a big show of trying — all to show their loyalty to the base.

Enter Envoy Sage.

“The goal is to determine what flaws exist in our election system and to fix them through legislation,” said Intergovernmental Operations Committee spokesperson Jason Thompson.

It would be easier to take Thompson at his word if Trump’s legal team hadn’t already challenged that election system in the weeks following the vote. As in dozens of similar legal cases brought throughout the county, Pennsylvania’s judges — in some cases Republican and/or Trump-appointed judges — found absolutely no evidence of fraud or abuse.

It would also be easier to believe Thompson if there were bipartisan agreement about the need for elections reforms. There is not. As with more than 250 new nationwide laws to enact voting restrictions, the decision to hire Envoy Sage was a GOP-only affair.

Concerns that Envoy Sage will lay a partisan thumb on the “forensic” scale are hardly assuaged by word that company President Steve Lahr has made financial donations to the National Republican Congressional Committee and to GOP Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina — donations he initially did not recall.

Lahr was likewise hazy about the company’s plans for its review, telling reporters his team would analyze previous audit-related materials and review submissions to the Senate GOP’s online appeal for claims of election improprieties. So, basically: adapting other people’s work and group-sourcing leads. Not very promising.

Another infamous GOP-led “forensic audit,” conducted in Maricopa County, Arizona, by a similarly inexperienced firm, was widely discredited for its amateurish conduct and ultimately proved an embarrassment to the party when it found Biden won by an even wider margin than first reported.

Pennsylvania’s Republicans may be setting themselves up for similar ridicule. There’s certainly little reason to believe there are any substantive issues waiting to be uncovered.

What there is reason to believe is that, given committee chairman Dush’s position that the election “was a scam,” that Envoy Sage has no track record in election audits, and that there are no legitimate allegations to investigate, this costly exercise is intended to do little more than satisfy Trump and his loyalists while laying the groundwork for future voter-suppression efforts.

Wasting taxpayer funds on an inexperienced company exacerbates an already indefensible decision while further undermining any claims to legitimacy Republicans seek to make for their “audit” charade.