The Lead

Pa. court declines request to quash Senate GOP election investigation subpoena, needs more time for review

By: - January 10, 2022 4:43 pm

State Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia, speaks at a Sept. 15, 2021 Senate hearing to approve subpoenas for a legislative investigation of the 2020 election as panel chair Sen. Cris Dush, R-Jefferson, listens (Capital-Star photo).

The legislative subpoena issued as part of the taxpayer-funded election investigation is on hold, following a Monday Commonwealth Court decision to take more time to evaluate a Senate panel’s request for millions of voters’ driver’s license numbers and partial Social Security numbers.

That means the legal request, issued by the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee in a September vote along party lines, is delayed as the case enters into a fact-finding hearing with discovery and witness testimony.

The unsigned, 7-page order comes nearly a month after a panel of five judges heard arguments in the case brought by legislative Democrats and Attorney General Josh Shapiro to challenge the review of the 2020 general and 2021 primary elections. They have also raised concerns that Envoy Sage, LLC, an Iowa-based company selected for the investigation, has not outlined specific security measures and has no direct election-related experience.

The Commonwealth Court said that it could not conclude that challengers affirmed “a clear, legal right to quash the subpoena” by arguing that the seldom-used Senate panel does not have the legislative power to request voters’ identifying information. 

The court also wrote that there is “substantial factual question surrounding the federal protection requirements and the capability of the Senate committee’s contracted vendor, Envoy Sage, LLC, to protect the infrastructure information.”

Most of the requested information is publicly available. State law, however, prohibits the public release of someone’s driver’s license number and Social Security number.

The Department of State, which has election oversight, has partially complied with the subpoena, but not its request for voter information.

Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, and Sen. Cris Dush, R-Jefferson, who is leading the review as Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee chairman, said the information, specifically driver’s license and partial Social Security numbers, could help confirm voter identities.

Attorneys for the Senate Republicans argued that the Department of State previously shared the same information with third parties, citing a 2012 case brought by the League of Women Voters and past auditor general reviews. They also said disclosure would be nothing more than intra-governmental information sharing — one branch of government sharing data with another.

Now-President Joe Biden won the election in the commonwealth by 80,555 votes. Efforts to review the 2020 election come after a months-long campaign by former President Donald Trump, who made unsubstantiated claims that voter fraud and misconduct resulted in his loss. Legal challenges to the results failed in court, and two post-election audits carried out in Pennsylvania after the presidential election found no evidence of fraud.

Two post-election audits — a statistical sampling required by law and a risk-limiting audit — were conducted after the 2020 election in Pennsylvania. Sixty-three out of the commonwealth’s 67 counties participated in the risk-limiting audit pilot, and neither assessment found evidence of fraud. Federal judges dismissed challenges to the election in court. Trump’s attorney general and local election officials also debunked the former president’s claims.

Pa. Commonwealth Court Memorandum and Order by jmicek on Scribd

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