Pa. GOP lawmaker — and Trump ally — Mastriano initiates ‘forensic investigation’ into state elections

By: , and - July 7, 2021 11:04 am

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Adams.

(*This story was updated at 11:26 a.m., 11:50 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 1 p.m., 2:11 p.m., 2:37 p.m., 3:48 p.m., and 4:25 p.m. on Wednesday, 7/7/21 to include the text of the letter that Sen. Doug Mastriano sent to county officials, updating who had received the letter, adding information from a letter from Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa and Sen. Anthony Williams, including comment from Tioga County Solicitor Christopher P. Gabriel, comment from Attorney General Josh Shapiro, comment from state Sen. Doug Mastriano, and the Department of State.)

A Republican state senator close to former President Donald Trump has announced he will pursue a legislative audit of the 2020 election in Pennsylvania.

Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, sent letters to at least three counties across the commonwealth requesting ballots, vote counting machines, voter rollers, mail-in ballot envelopes, as well as software and hardware used throughout the voting process.

“This investigation is not about overturning the results of either election,” he wrote in an opinion piece sent to Pennsylvania news outlets. “The goals are to restore faith in the integrity of our system, confirm the effectiveness of existing legislation on the governance of elections, and identify areas for legislative reform.”

Mastriano, who has promoted false claims of a stolen election, did not respond to a request for comment.

In the op-Ed, the central Pennsylvania lawmaker did not specify which counties he had requested information from. The counties also represent “different geographical regions” and “differing political makeups,” Mastriano said in the opinion piece. He added that it will be a “balanced investigation.”

*Three counties have confirmed they received a letter from Mastriano: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s largest city and a Democratic stronghold, York County, a large, reliably Republican county in south-central Pennsylvania, and Tioga County, a rural Republican county in north central Pennsylvania.

Christopher P. Gabriel, legal counsel for Tioga County, told the Capital-Star that county commissioners received the letter Wednesday afternoon.

“Yeah, we did get it and certainly we are looking into it,” Gabriel said. 

Speaking on a conservative talk show Wednesday morning, Mastriano said the three selected counties might just be the start of the effort.

“This is round one,” Mastriano said. “I have other counties that want to be looked at as well, so we might do another round two.”

He added suspected he’d need the subpoenas to recieve the requested data.

Mastriano’s letter to the counties states that legislative changes to the election code, the COVID-19 pandemic, state Supreme Court rulings and actions by former Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar “presented unprecedented challenges” and “combined to cause a great burden on counties and county officials during the general election cycle.” 

The letter requests that counties turnover potentially hundreds of thousands of items, including all ballots cast in the 2020 election, voter rolls, ballot paper samples, cybersecurity protocols, software used through the election process, and the machines used to tabulate results, among others.

He also set a July 31 deadline for the counties to respond with a plan to comply. A subpoena may be issued if a plan to comply with the documents request is not returned by the deadline, the letter says. Mastriano said  he expected he’d need to issue subpoenas.

A spokesperson for York County declined further comment besides confirming they had received the letter.

Mastriano is the chairman of the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee, a seldom-used committee that typically does not handle election issues. It had only met once this year before Mastriano’s announcement. 

Mastriano also chaired the committee during the 2019-20 session, and the committee met just three times, holding votes on regulatory issues. Though unmentioned in Mastriano’s release, all Senate committees have subpoena power. A subpoena would require a committee vote.

In a statement Wednesday, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, advised counties to not comply with Mastriano’s requests. Answering them, he said, could lead to the decertification of voting machines, costing counties millions to replace them.

In Arizona, where a similar legislative review of the 2020 election is wrapping up, Maricopa County officials had to end a $6.1 million lease of their voting machines early due to the audit. It is unclear if the leases’ premature end will cost taxpayers, and if so, who will pay for the costs.

If subpoenas are issued, Shapiro added, “you can expect our office to do everything to protect the Commonwealth, its voters and the free, fair election that was held in Pennsylvania.”

In a statement, the Department of State, which oversees voting in Pennsylvania, agreed that providing Mastriano with access to voting and tabulation machines and software would likely breach the machines’ integrity.

“When the [Secretary of State] certifies voting systems, she certifies that they can be secured from outside intrusion,” the department said. “Such a ‘forensic’ exercise as that described by the senator would nullify that assurance.”

The audit comes after a months-long campaign by Trump, who amped up baseless claims of voter fraud after his loss in the 2020 election. Trump has pushed for similar audits to be conducted in swing states across the country.

In May, Mastriano joined by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin, and Sen. Cris Dush, R-Jefferson, toured the Arizona facility where the GOP-backed audit was being conducted.

After colleagues visit Arizona, top Pa. Senate Republican weighs election audit; House GOP says no

“The damage to our election process will not be undone with the passing of time. 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,” Mastriano said.

He added: “The people of our commonwealth should have confidence that their vote counts. It takes accountability and transparency to ensure that our elections are free and fair.”

First elected in a 2019 special election, Mastriano has built a reputation as a popular grassroots conservative for his vocal opposition to Gov. Tom Wolf during the COVID-19 pandemic. He also was among Trump’s loudest supporters as the former president cast doubt in the 2020 election. 

Mastriano was photographed outside the U.S. Capitol on the day of the Jan. 6 insurrection, but has said that he did not participate.

Mastriano requested a taxpayer-funded hearing on election fraud in Gettysburg last November that featured Trump attorney Rudy Guiliani. He also attended the Jan. 6 rally that ended with the storming of the U.S. Capitol, although Mastriano said he did not enter the building.

Mastriano has also taken steps to run for governor, including holding small, grassroots events across the state. He’s also claimed Trump has encouraged him to run, a claim Trump’s own advisers have pushed back on.

*In a letter sent Wednesday to Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, and Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, and Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia, asked the GOP lawmakers to “end this misguided and political farce immediately.”

Costa and Williams questioned the Intergovernmental Operations Committee’s authority to conduct an investigation, saying that the Senate State Government Committee has oversight over elections and the Department of State. They also said Mastriano has compromised the investigation by “politicizing it for the whims” of Trump and said another review of election results would be a “waste of taxpayer dollars.”

“Should you allow this to continue, Sen. Mastriano will have built a Frankenstein creation of a committee with limitless power, frighteningly controlled by a senator intent on tainting every level of our government,” they wrote.

Costa and Williams added: “It’s time for us to look forward and restore faith in our processes — faith that has been damaged by the behavior of your own party, without merit or fact. We can work together again, but we must start now.”

Read the letter that York County received from Mastriano’s office:

York RFI and Exhibit a Letter by jmicek on Scribd

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Marley Parish

Marley Parish covered the Senate for the Capital-Star.

Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is a former senior reporter with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Before working with the Capital-Star he covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.

Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller was the associate editor at the Capital-Star.