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Pennsylvania Republicans launch new election audit but don’t say how it will work

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After months of demands from former President Donald Trump, Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania on Thursday launched what they call a forensic investigation into the 2020 election, but they did not detail how it actually works. exam.

State Senator Cris Dush (R., Jefferson), chairman of the review committee, said his goal is to determine whether Pennsylvania’s election law can be improved.

This investigation is not intended to overturn the results of an election, as some suggest, he said in remarks that opened a hearing of nearly two hours. This horse is out of the stable, as far as this investigation is concerned.

But Dushs said the target closely resembles the rationale given by GOP lawmakers for previous inquiries, including one led by a special panel formed by the Senate’s top Republican specifically to review the elections and recommend changes to the state law.

For months, State Senator Doug Mastriano (R., Franklin), a pro-Trump and possibly gubernatorial candidate, led the campaign for an inquiry. But until the end of August, it was not clear whether GOP leaders would champion Trump’s cause. It was then that Pro Tempore Senate Speaker Jake Corman (R., Center) came out in favor of a review and ousted Mastriano from overseeing the investigation.

Corman faced public pressure from Trump and Republicans in his district to conduct an investigation modeled on the Partisan One-Month Review in Arizona. Election experts, including current and former GOP officials, said the Arizona review failed to follow best practices, chased conspiracy theories and made inaccurate conclusions that were quickly debunked.

READ MORE: Pennsylvania Senate leader resisted his pro-Trump wing for months. Now he wants a MAGA makeover.

Republicans said, including in Thursday’s hearing, that their constituents were concerned about the integrity of the election in general and the 2020 election in particular. But those concerns were largely driven by Trump’s lies about voter fraud and election rigging, echoed by Republicans in Pennsylvania.

There is no evidence to back up Trump’s baseless claims of widespread fraud. Joe Biden won Pennsylvania by more than 80,000 votes, several lawsuits challenging the election made no specific allegations of fraud and were either dismissed or failed, and audits of county and state results found no problem with them.

Dush did not qualify the investigation as an audit on Thursday, but Corman told pro-Trump interviewers that he was committed to performing a full forensic audit.

The scope of the investigation remained unclear on Thursday. Corman said he wanted to obtain voting records, machines and other documents, in part to determine whether ballots were cast on behalf of deceased people.

Dush gave little guidance on what his committee would actually do in the weeks and months ahead, or what would distinguish this review from investigations conducted earlier this year by three other legislative committees.

The then Secretary of State, Kathy Boockvar, had already testified for three hours in January before the House State Government Committee on the same subject.

Jason Thompson, spokesperson for Corman, said the investigation would be taxpayer funded, at least for now.

I wouldn’t be able to talk about what might happen in a few months, depending on what we need to look at, what we need to do, he said.

The other three committees, including two in the Senate, have already held months of hearings on the 2020 election. The GOP-led legislature subsequently passed legislation that would have overhauled the electoral system. It was opposed by Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat.

Nonetheless, Dush said his Intergovernmental Operations Committee, which traditionally does not deal with electoral matters, is authorized to conduct its own review under the Pennsylvania Constitution and Senate rules.

State Senator Anthony Williams, the committee’s top Democrat, said the mock review was part of an ongoing national attack on our electoral system.

It is an attack on one of our greatest freedoms. It’s an attack on our franchise, said Williams, of Philadelphia. This whole tragic masquerade has been going on for 10 months now.

READ MORE: She lost big in the suburb of Philly. She went on the hunt for electoral fraud. Now Kathy Barnette is a rising star of the GOP.

Last week, Dush invited residents of Pennsylvania to complete an online form to share any potential violation of election law or voting irregularities they have personally witnessed, provided they are willing to sign an affidavit and possibly to testify under oath at a Senate hearing.

The committee heard testimony Thursday from Stuart Ulsh, chairman of the Fulton Rural County Board of Commissioners.

Ulsh recounted receiving phone calls from Boockvar, then the state’s top election official, on election day and around last November, including one in which she asked about the presidential vote count. It was not known when this call took place and lawmakers did not ask him to clarify. Ulsh also said Boockvar asked if Fulton County needed help.

For me it was just another day, he said. Election day was just another day for me.

Earlier this year, the county authorized a contractor to inspect its voting machines at the request of two GOP state senators. The move was funded by a nonprofit led by former Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell, which aired election conspiracy theories, the Arizona Mirror reported. The contractor, Wake TSI, then worked on the Arizona review.

READ MORE: Pennsylvania election integrity law shows how Trump’s lies can hijack local politics and government

Asked by Democrats on Thursday, Ulsh said he couldn’t remember who paid for Wake TSI, other than it wasn’t the county.

Acting Secretary of State Veronica Degraffenreid withdrew certification from Fulton County voting machines in July, saying the third-party review violated state law and compromised the voting system. Neither the county nor the state can verify that Fultons voting machines can be used safely in future elections, she wrote to the board in a letter. Allowing third-party access to voting equipment is generally considered a major security breach.

Fulton County filed a lawsuit against the state last month and asked a court to overturn the secretary’s decision. The trial is ongoing. The county claims to have followed the proper procedures.

Degraffenreid declined Dush’s invitation to appear on Thursday, citing the lawsuit.

The hearing came weeks after Corman removed Matriano as chairman of the review committee. Mastriano previously sent letters to three counties, including Philadelphia, demanding that they essentially turn over all election-related equipment and materials.

The counties refused to cooperate and Matriano said he planned to issue subpoenas to compel the documents. Mastriano accused Corman of hushing up his investigation, a charge Corman denies and the Senate leader has asked Dush, among the more conservative members of legislatures, to take over.

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