Gov. Tom Wolf's administration and a voting-system manufacturer are trying to prevent Republican lawmakers from expanding what they call a “forensic investigation” of Pennsylvania's 2020 election to a new front: inspecting voting machines.
It is another step driven by former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims about election fraud.
Lawyers for Wolf's top election official, Veronica DeGraffenreid, asked a court late Friday afternoon to stop a digital data exchange scheduled for next Wednesday in southern Pennsylvania's sparsely populated Fulton County.
The election equipment used in last year's presidential election in the heavily Republican county has already been decertified by the state after Fulton County let a software company inspect the equipment. The firm — West Chester-based software company Wake TSI — was not federally accredited to inspect voting machines, and it later played a role in Republicans’ widely discredited partisan "audit" in Arizona.
Allowing a similarly unaccredited and inexperienced contractor hired by Pennsylvania's Senate Republicans to obtain digital data from the equipment will spoil evidence in Fulton County's lawsuit challenging the state's decertification, lawyers for DeGraffenreid wrote in a court filing.
On Dec. 10, the investigating committee chair, Sen. Cris Dush, R-Jefferson, sent a letter requesting the “digital data” from the election computers and hardware used in the 2020 election by Fulton County.
Denver-based Dominion Voting Systems warned Fulton County that granting the Senate Republicans' contractor access to its equipment to get the digital data violates their contract.
But Dominion — whose voting equipment has been at the center of some of the most feverish conspiracy theories about last year's presidential election — said Fulton County has a backup copy of the data that it could simply provide without granting access to Dominion's equipment.
However, a lawyer representing Fulton County, Tom King, said in an interview Saturday that digital election data is not only what Dush wants.
Rather, Dush wants the Senate Republicans’ contractor, Envoy Sage, to conduct a “forensic investigation” to determine if Dominion’s equipment used there was the same equipment as was certified by the state of Pennsylvania for use in last year’s election, King said.
“I think people simply want to know whether what was used in Fulton County was in fact the equipment that was certified for Dominion to supply in Pennsylvania or whether it wasn’t," King said. “Whether it was or wasn’t is not clear to us at this point.”
King said a county commissioner who spoke with Dush told him that the thrust of the inquiry was about the Dominion equipment. Wake TSI's inspection did not cover that, King said.
Voting systems that pass anti-tampering tests are certified by states. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission accredits labs to test voting machines and provides guidance to states on how to maintain a chain of custody over voting systems.
King said granting the request is allowed under the contract and that he views Envoy Sage as “highly qualified” to do the work. Separately, King also said that the exercise will not affect the court case or the state’s rights in court.
Court arguments were scheduled for Tuesday.
Trump and his allies have applied ongoing pressure in those battleground states where he lost to Democrat Joe Biden — including in Pennsylvania — for his allies to investigate ballots, voting machines and voter rolls for evidence to support their baseless claims about election fraud.
Dush — who has advocated for overturning Biden’s victory over Trump in Pennsylvania — did not say why he is seeking the access, or whether he is seeking similar access in other counties.
He did not return a message about it.
Dush has insisted the undertaking has nothing to do with Trump or trying to overturn last year’s presidential election, but rather is about fixing problems in the state’s elections.
In any case, analyzing voting machine data is not specifically outlined in the Senate Republicans' $270,000 contract with Envoy Sage, raising the question of whether Trump-aligned groups are footing part of the bill, as they did in the Arizona undertaking.
Dush has said he wanted to bring the Arizona-style election “audit” to Pennsylvania.
Unlike in Arizona, a subpoena approved by Dush's Republican-controlled state Senate committee to Pennsylvania election officials stopped short of demanding ballots and voting machines, and other counties have rebuffed less formal requests.
But in Fulton County, Dush has found a willing partner.
There, Trump won more than 85% of last year’s vote, according to official returns, and registered Republican voters outnumber Democrats by 7 to 2.
In post-election internal emails released through public records requests, Fulton County’s two Republican commissioners expressed solidarity with Republican senators who later sought to blockPennsylvania’s electoral votes from being cast for Biden. One wrote, “We can’t let this election get stolen.”
No prosecutor, judge or election board in Pennsylvania has raised a concern about widespread fraud in 2020’s election, and courts at all levels have rejected claims about fraud, irregularities and violations.