PA Senate remote voting

Pennsylvania Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, (left) and then Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, talk May 25, 2020, during the first remote voting session in the chamber's history. 

(The Center Square) – Pennsylvania Senate Democrats filed a legal challenge in Commonwealth Court against what they call an “overreaching” subpoena of election records containing personal information for nearly 7 million voters.

The lawsuit filed late Friday alleges Republican members of the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee – including Chairman Cris Dush, R-Wellsboro and President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Bellefonte – broke the law when they issued a subpoena against the Department of State seeking the name, address, date of birth, driver’s license number and partial social security number of each and every resident that voted by mail or in person during the last two elections.

In a joint statement, the Democratic members of the committee – including Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Pittsburgh; Minority Chairman Tony Williams, D-Philadelphia; Sen. Vince Hughes, D-Philadelphia; and Sen. Steve Santarsiero, D-Lower Makefield – said the consequences of the subpoena “are dire” and leave the personal information of residents in the hands of an “undisclosed third party vendor with no prescribed limits or protection."

“The unprecedented maneuver of collecting the sensitive personal information of millions of voters without their consent, including Social Security information and driver’s license, for political purposes is unjustifiable and a gross misuse of taxpayer resources,” the senators said. “The fact that they will not share how that personal information will be stored, used or who will have access to it is astonishing.”

The lawsuit may come as little surprise to GOP committee members, who say they need the information to verify the identity of each and every resident who voted during the November 2020 general election and the May primary election.

“We’re not responding to proven allegations,” Dush said during the committee’s Sept. 15 hearing. “We are investigating the allegations to determine whether or not they are factual.”

The committee also asked for communications, directives and poll worker training sent between the department and the state’s 67 counties in the months and days before each election. The department was given until Oct. 1 to respond.

“All we’re doing is seeking facts, seeking information, so that we can make better policy,” Corman said during the meeting. “I want to be clear, the Legislature has no authority to overturn an election … the point is we have a public that is concerned about how the last election was conducted.”

President Joe Biden declared victory in Pennsylvania after securing a lead of more than 80,000 votes in the November election, flipping the state former President Donald Trump won four years earlier by double the margin. The Trump campaign then launched several legal challenges to the results, claiming widespread voter fraud in a number of swing states that tipped the scales in Biden’s favor.

Senate Republicans in Arizona – one of the states Trump targeted for legal action – helped finance their own forensic audit of 2.3 million ballots cast in Maricopa County during the November election. Three of Pennsylvania’s GOP lawmakers, Dush among them, traveled to Phoenix in June to watch the process unfold.

In the months since, the caucus has struggled to get its own audit off the ground. Internal fighting between Corman and Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Gettysburg, revealed divisions in how lawmakers believed the effort should proceed, with Corman ultimately sidelining Mastriano in his leading role and replacing him as committee chairman with Dush last month.

Dush clarified last week that the subpoena will not require confirmation of a voter’s party affiliation or candidate selection. He also noted that it could have been avoided if only the department agreed to testify at the committee’s inaugural hearing on the election investigation held earlier this month.

“Subpoenas were not our first choice of action, but the refusal of the Wolf administration to work with us in a bipartisan manner left us no other options to get the answers Pennsylvanians deserve,” he said.

In the lawsuit, Senate Democrats ask the court to halt the subpoena and declare Republican members’ actions unconstitutional and a violation of the audit provision of the state’s Election Code.

“This is nothing more than an inexcusable attempt to erode public trust in our electoral process,” the senators said. “We must not sacrifice the most fundamental principal of our democracy so that some may pursue political gain by perpetuating the Big Lie that this election was somehow stolen.”

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.