FILE - PA Fulton County Courthoise 10-20-2020

The Fulton County Courthouse is seen Oct. 25, 2020, in McConnellsburg, Pennsylvania

(The Center Square) – Pennsylvania's Fulton County hired an election integrity law firm this week after the state decertified its voting machines following a third party audit conducted earlier this year. 

The Amistad Project said affiliated lawyers from Dillon, McCandless, King, Coulter, & Graham LLP will serve as legal counsel for the county’s board of elections as it appeals acting Secretary Veronica Degraffenreid’s decision.

“There was no due process; the secretary just decertified machines," said Tom King, one of the attorneys hired by the county. “There were no rules at the time they did the audit that would have prohibited what they did.”

The Amistad Project joined former President Donald Trump's campaign in filing legal challenges that contested the results of the November 2020 election, including in Pennsylvania, that were eventually tossed for lack of evidence. The organization has since spearheaded lawsuits against private election grants that some critics believe were used to influence results in battleground states.

Phil Kline, the project's director, said Fulton County's decertification leaves him concerned about a “nationally coordinated effort to intimidate” local officials from working with state lawmakers “in understanding what happened.”

“This is particularly remarkable because the legislature, not the executive branch, has the constitutional responsibility and duty to manage elections,” he said.

He added that attorneys will also defend the county against “ancillary issues that have arisen from the dispute.”

The voluntary probe came at the request of Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Gettysburg, who’s currently spearheading a larger effort to audit machines in Tioga, York and Philadelphia counties amid his ongoing campaign to ferret out fraudulent activity during the past two elections.

All three counties have since confirmed they won't comply with Mastriano's request because they can't afford to replace their machines if the state decertifies them for participating, too.

Degraffenreid said of her July 21 decision that she had “no other choice” after Fulton County commissioners confirmed that Wake Technology Services Inc. accessed its Dominion voting machines earlier this year, violating the state's chain of custody provisions and other "strict limitations" designed to prevent tampering.

Degraffenreid said Wake TSI lacks any knowledge or expertise in election technology and was still given access to “key components” of the machine, including the county's election database, its results files and Windows system logs. The company also preserved hard drive images onto USB devices.

“These actions were taken in a manner that was not transparent or bipartisan,” she said. “As a result of the access granted to Wake TSI, Fulton County’s certified system has been compromised and neither Fulton County; the vendor, Dominion Voting Systems; nor the Department of State can verify that the impacted components of Fulton County’s leased voting system are safe to use in future elections.”

Wake TSI served on the audit team involved in Arizona’s recount of more than 2.3 million ballots in Maricopa County. Mastriano and two other Republican lawmakers visited the Phoenix site in early June before meeting with Arizona legislators to discuss the team’s findings.

The company reportedly left the audit team after its contract ended on May 14, according to a report from the Fulton County News.

Fulton County Commissioner Chairman Stuart Ulsh said during a Feb. 9 public meeting that he didn’t know who paid for the audit, but that the board agreed to do it to prove the county “didn’t do anything wrong,” according to a report from the Arizona Mirror.

“One of the central tenets of representative government is transparency,” Kline said. “Fulton County should not be punished for attempting to provide the highest level of transparency possible.”

Mastriano has also claimed that Degraffenreid lacks the authority to decertify counties’ machines. He said the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee, of which he is chairman, “will press forward in the pursuit of a forensic investigation.”

“What we are seeing is a convergence of scare tactics from Wolf Administration and the Attorney General to intimidate county officials and obstruct a forensic investigation,” he said.

Biden won Pennsylvania by about 81,000 votes in November. The Trump campaign fired off a series of lawsuits alleging mail-in voter fraud that were later dismissed for lack of evidence. Several Republican lawmakers supported the effort, Mastriano chief among them.

Soon after, Mastriano faced national scrutiny for chartering buses to the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington D.C. He was photographed near Capitol Hill, but said he left before rioters stormed the building.

He’s since reiterated that millions of residents harbor serious doubts about the accuracy of the results, citing a January poll from Muhlenberg University that showed 40% of respondents “are not confident” that the outcome “accurately reflected how Pennsylvanians voted.” 

Democrats claim Mastriano’s efforts serve only to boost his prospects of earning Trump’s endorsement in the upcoming governor’s race.

Staff Reporter

Christen Smith follows Pennsylvania's General Assembly for The Center Square. She is an award-winning reporter with more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues for niche publications and local newsrooms alike.