Pa. judge grants request to join lawsuit against Senate GOP subpoena, election investigation

‘The voters we represent have a direct interest in this case because it’s their information that will be disclosed if the subpoena stands,’ Reggie Shuford of the PA-ACLU said

By: - October 27, 2021 10:00 am

The Pennsylvania Judicial Center in Harrisburg. (Capital-Star file)

The group of challengers who are suing to block subpoenas of voters’ personal information in a Republican-spearheaded investigation of Pennsylvania’s elections has gotten bigger. 

Commonwealth Court President Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt granted the request from a trio of good government groups to join the lawsuit against Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, Sen. Cris Dush, R-Jefferson, and the 11-member Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee on Tuesday.

The state chapters of Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, Make the Road, eight voters, and their attorneys will participate in legal proceedings, along with Attorney General Josh Shapiro and Senate Democrats. The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania filed the application to intervene in the case on behalf of the group earlier this month, arguing that the potential release of identifying voter information will affect advocates’ work and voter privacy.

“The law is clear that Pennsylvanians have a right to privacy that goes well beyond the structure of a person’s home. It encompasses their private personal information, including data that the senators are trying to obtain,” Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said after oral arguments last week. “The voters we represent have a direct interest in this case because it’s their information that will be disclosed if the subpoena stands.”

As part of an investigation of the already-certified 2020 general and 2021 primary elections, the Senate committee voted along party lines in September to subpoena voter records from the Department of State. The legal request included voters’ names, addresses, birth dates, driver’s licenses numbers, and partial social security numbers.

Senate Democrats, Shapiro, along with Sen. Art Haywood, D-Philadelphia, and his wife, Julie, also have filed separate challenges to the subpoena. 

Five witnesses testified last week, asking the court to grant the group’s application to join the now-consolidated lawsuit. Representatives from the government groups and two voters argued that the legislative subpoena poses security risks for voters and could deter Pennsylvanians from registering to vote.

“While the commonwealth is making a good faith effort to stop the subpoena, its interests are not the same as those of our clients,” Shuford said. “Our clients are the ones who will be harmed unless the courts block the release of the data.”

Efforts to review previous elections come after a month-long campaign from former President Donald Trump, who made unsubstantiated claims that fraud resulted in his loss to now-President Joe Biden, who won in Pennsylvania by 80,555 votes.

Trump allies, including some in Harrisburg, used the baseless allegations to fuel calls for a review.

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.

Though delayed in court, Corman and Dush remain determined to move ahead with the review. Negotiations with potential third-party vendors that will help conduct the investigation are ongoing; however, conversations and the vetting process are private.

Dush, one of 21 lawmakers who signed a letter asking Congress to delay certification of Pennsylvania’s Electoral College results after the 2020 election, said the identifying information would help verify a person voted. Corman, who also signed the letter, has argued there are “irregularities” worth investigating.

The taxpayer-funded probe will not reinstate Trump to office, Dush said before the first hearing as part of the investigation. It’s also not a recount, Corman said in August.

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