Audit push by Pennsylvania GOP lawmaker hits roadblock as counties decline to hand over election materials


Earlier this month, Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano asked Philadelphia County, Tioga County and York County to voluntarily turn over materials ranging from router logs to voter rolls to ballot production and tabulation equipment. He set a July 31 deadline for their responses. On Friday, the Philadelphia City Commissioners voted to send a letter to Mastriano declining to participate in his forensic investigation. Both York and Tioga counties also declined to provide the requested materials, citing a variety of concerns.
"The board cannot agree to the undertaking of your proposed review of the county's election equipment," Lisa Deeley, chairwoman of the City Commissioner's Office, wrote in the letter the commissioners voted to send to Mastriano. "Among other things, there is no claim that Philadelphia County's election systems or processes were compromised nor is there any basis to jeopardize the constitutionally mandated secrecy of the votes cast by City of Philadelphia residents, to expose the taxpayers of the city to tens of millions of dollars in additional and unanticipated expenses, or to risk the very ability of Philadelphians to cast ballots in future elections if Philadelphia's system was decertified."
Mastriano's audit push comes as Republicans across the country have cast doubt on President Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 election and made unfounded claims that election fraud may have impacted the election results.
"The only logistical explanation is he's focused on trying to overturn the results of 2020," said state Sen. Sharif Street, a Democrat. "There are just real issues we should be talking about and whether or not Joe Biden is president isn't one of them."
Regardless of whether a ballot review moves forward, it won't upend the results showing Biden won Pennsylvania by more than 80,000 votes in November, which have long been certified.
Still, Mastriano has options for pursuing his audit despite the early pushback from counties. He has said in media interviews that he is inclined to seek subpoenas for election materials if counties declined to hand them over voluntarily. To do so, he'll need support from other Republicans on his committee when the state Senate convenes in the fall.
Mastriano did not respond to a request for comment.
One of the most pressing concerns counties cited in their refusal to participate was the cost they could potentially incur.
The Pennsylvania Department of State instructed counties earlier this month not to hand over their voting machines, warning the machines would be decertified and counties would have to replace them at their own expense. The acting secretary of state already decertified the voting system in Pennsylvania's Fulton County "because it was subjected to a post-election review by a third party in violation of Pennsylvania's Election Code."
The letter from Philadelphia commissioners notes that replacing their voting equipment alone would cost more than $35 million and well over a year to implement. Deeley wrote that cooperating with Mastriano's request would "render it impossible for Philadelphia to conduct the November 2021 General Election as well as the May 2022 Primary Election."
The Tioga County Commissioners raised similar concerns, saying they can't cooperate unless the state Senate provides funds for new election machines.
"We are thus unable to grant you access to our machines without any help from you or the Senate to replace them," according to a letter from Christopher Gabriel, the county's attorney, to Mastriano.
Gabriel told CNN it would cost more than $1 million to replace the county's voting machines.
"We're responsible for having the things in place that are needed for our voters to be able to vote in the fall," Gabriel told CNN. "That's our concern, and again, no one's helping us with our concern.
He, too, said it would take months for new machines to be properly set up.
"You can't just buy a new election machine a week before the election and have it ready to go," Gabriel said.
The York County Board of Commissioners, in its refusal to provide election materials, said it spent nearly $2.7 million on voting equipment. In addition to citing cost concerns, the commissioners raised questions about the companies that might conduct the ballot review and other chain of custody issues. They also questioned whether Mastriano had the authority to make such a request since he is the chair of the state Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee, not the State Government Committee which would normally have jurisdiction over such issues.
It's a concern shared by some Democratic members of the state Senate.
"He doesn't have the authority," said Street, the minority chair of the State Government Committee. "This is completely inconsistent with both the rules of the senate, Pennsylvania law and just basic decency."