Election 2021 Pennsylvania Primary

A voter steps from the voting booth after casting a ballot in the Pennsylvania primary in Philadelphia, Tuesday, May 18, 2021.

(The Center Square) – At least two counties in Pennsylvania tapped for an Arizona-style forensic election audit said this week they won’t comply with the request from Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Gettysburg.

Mastriano, a gubernatorial hopeful, asked officials in Philadelphia, Tioga and York counties last week for information and materials related to both the 2020 general election and the 2021 primary election completed in May. 

He said the effort is “necessary” because 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.” 

“Discounting or mocking their concerns is neither an answer nor proper in this constitutional republic,” he said.

But top state officials, including Gov. Tom Wolf and Attorney General Josh Shapiro, warned the counties to ignore this “fishing expedition” and said it serves as little more than “a continued effort to pay homage to former President [Donald] Trump and further spread misinformation about our elections.”

Tioga County Solicitor Chris Gabriel told The Center Square on Friday that both a vendor contract and a directive from acting Secretary of State Veronica Degraffenreid stipulate that providing third-party access to its voting machines will lead to decertification, “rendering them useless.”

“This is not a political issue for us,” Gabriel said Friday. “This is a nuts and bolts local government issue. We just want to be able to run our elections.”

The Center Square reached out to the Department of State for comment, but did not receive an immediate response.

Gabriel said replacing the machines would cost nearly $1.1 million and leave the county with less than a month to do so in order to begin printing and sending ballots to overseas military members in time for the November election.

“We are therefore following the Secretary's directive because we have a responsibility to ensure that our citizens can vote in the next election,” he said. “That is not political, it is simply our job.”

In a letter to Mastriano, York County commissioners expressed similar concerns, noting that replacement for their machines would cost more than $2.7 million. They also asked whether the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee, on which Mastriano serves as majority chairman, would be footing the bill for staffing costs associated with the investigation.

The commissioners said they turned down a similar request from Mastriano in December when he asked the county to submit to a voluntary review conducted by Wake Technology Services – the same firm assisting in Arizona’s ongoing forensic audit.

Officials in Fulton County submitted to the voluntary audit last year at Mastriano’s request, violating their licensing agreement with Dominion Voting Systems and leading to the “decertification of most of their equipment,” the commissioners said.

“We recognize the need for significant election law reform and have been vocal with our state and federal representatives regarding our specific needs,” the commissioners concluded in their letter. “Until our requests for reform are acted upon, we will continue to work within the guidelines and constraints of the current election code with an emphasis on transparency and accuracy as we have throughout these election cycles.”

Philadelphia city commissioners continue reviewing Mastriano's letter and offer no comment at this time, said Nick Custodio, deputy commissioner for Chairwoman Lisa Deeley, in an email to The Center Square on Friday.

"We do want to be clear, however, that Senator Mastriano’s letter reiterates claims about the November 2020 election that have been resoundingly rejected by courts," he said. "The repetition of baseless claims by elected officials poses a real challenge to our democratic processes. We are committed to continuing the hard work of ensuring that Philadelphians are able to exercise their right to vote."

Mastriano said in a news release Thursday that Degraffenreid lacks the authority to decertify counties’ machines. He said his committee “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.

“Governor Wolf and AG Shapiro are standing in the way of the constitutional authority of the General Assembly,” he added. “For people who once lectured the state about transparency and accountability, we all ask, what do they have to hide?”

Democrats say they have “nothing to hide” and view the audit as just the latest in a string of stunts from Mastriano to curry favor with former President Donald Trump and earn his endorsement in a potential gubernatorial run next year.

“Continuing to indulge Donald Trump's #BigLie could lead to more activity like what we saw on January 6th,” Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Pittsburgh, said on Twitter. “It betrays trust in our electoral system without cause and can reduce participation in that important process.”

Mastriano’s request comes after he and two other Republican lawmakers visited the forensic audit site in Phoenix where an audit team continues a review of more than 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County last year. President Joe Biden clenched the state by roughly 10,000 votes – the first time a Democratic candidate carried Arizona since 1996. 

Trump called the three men “great patriots” in a statement released that same week that urged both Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Bellefonte, and State Government Committee Chairman Dave Argall, R-Pottsville, to use their “full powers” to do the same in Pennsylvania.

Argall later signaled support for an audit, but it's unclear if Corman or other Senate leaders stand behind Mastriano’s requests.

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.

But it was Gov. Tom Wolf’s decision to veto House Bill 1300 – an election reform proposal that tightened voter I.D. rules and signature verification for mail-in ballots and placed population limits on drop boxes – that drove Mastriano to initiate the audit, he said. 

“The damage to our election process will not be undone with the passing of time,” he said. “I believe the only way to restore confidence in our Commonwealth’s election process is to undertake a forensic investigation. By doing this, faith in our election system will be restored.”

The administration points to two state-conducted audits that showed no widespread voter fraud or other anomalies as more proof of Mastriano’s true intentions.

Wolf even slammed Arizona’s audit as a “sham” organized by fringe politicians bent on perpetuating skepticism about the outcome of last year's presidential race – and he vowed to discourage “the same chaos and dysfunction” from occurring in Pennsylvania.

It's unclear if the Senate will subpoena the counties for access to their voting machines. Shapiro said should the upper chamber invoke this power, his office will "do everything to protect the Commonwealth, its voters and the free, fair election that was held in Pennsylvania.”

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.