Pennsylvania Senate leaders question 'aggressive' decertification of voting machines

Democratic Secretary of State's move is "a coercive act to strong-arm county election practices in an attempt to take voting oversight away from County Election Boards," said state Senate GOP leaders.

Updated: July 26, 2021 - 10:53pm

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Pennsylvania Republican Senate leaders said last week the Department of State's "aggressive move" to decertify Fulton County's voting machines sows deeper distrust among skeptical residents.

President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R-Bellefonte) and Majority Leader Kim Ward (R-Greensburg) made the joint statement Thursday after acting Secretary of State Veronica Degraffenreid said she "had not other choice" after Fulton County commissioners gave Wake Technology Services Inc. access to the machines earlier this year.

"The acting Secretary's decision is a coercive act to strong-arm county election practices in an attempt to take voting oversight away from County Election Boards, a move not based in fact or in law," Ward and Corman said. "This antagonistic act can't help but to leave all Pennsylvanians questioning if their voting rights are being violated regardless of party by creating roadblocks that generate mistrust in our Commonwealth's election process."

Degraffenreid argued that participating in the third-party audit violates the state's chain of custody provisions and other "strict limitations" designed to prevent tampering. She said Wake TSI lacks any knowledge or expertise in election technology and yet was still given access to "key components" of the machine, including the county's election database, its results files and Windows system logs. The company also preserved hard drive images onto USB devices.

"These actions were taken in a manner that was not transparent or bipartisan," she said. "As a result of the access granted to Wake TSI, Fulton County's certified system has been compromised and neither Fulton County; the vendor, Dominion Voting Systems; nor the Department of State can verify that the impacted components of Fulton County's leased voting system are safe to use in future elections."

The county's voluntary probe came at the request of Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Gettysburg), who's currently spearheading a larger effort to audit machines in Tioga, York and Philadelphia counties amid his ongoing campaign to ferret out fraudulent activity during the past two elections.

At least two of the counties confirmed they wouldn't comply with Mastriano's request because they can't afford to replace their machines if the state decertifies them for participating, too.

Wake TSI served on the audit team involved in Arizona's recount of more than 2.3 million ballots in Maricopa County. Mastriano and two other Republican lawmakers visited the Phoenix site last month before meeting with Arizona legislators to discuss the team's findings.

The company reportedly left the audit team after its contract ended on May 14, according to a report from the Fulton County News.

Fulton County Commissioner Chairman Stuart Ulsh said during a Feb. 9 public meeting that he didn't know who paid for the audit, but that the board agreed to do it to prove the county "didn't do anything wrong," according to a report from the Arizona Mirror.

Mastriano said in a July 16 news release that Degraffenreid lacked the authority to decertify counties' machines. He said the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee, of which he is chairman, "will press forward in the pursuit of a forensic investigation."

"What we are seeing is a convergence of scare tactics from [the] Wolf Administration and the Attorney General to intimidate county officials and obstruct a forensic investigation," he said.

But Thursday's statement is the first from GOP leaders in the Senate that addresses Mastriano's efforts at all. The Center Square questioned a Ward staffer about where the leader stands on the investigation, but did not receive an immediate response.

In the statement, the leaders went on to criticize the department for its "we know better approach to managing the election process."

"It demonstrates a continued pattern of rogue decisions by the Department of State to erode — not protect — individual voting rights and undermines the role of counties in our elections," the leaders said.