Mon. Jul 26th, 2021

Pennsylvania State Senator Doug Mastriano speaks at a protest against the state’s extended stay-at-home order to help slow the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, U.S., April 20, 2020. REUTERS/Rachel Wisniewski

July 7 (Reuters) – A Pennsylvania Republican lawmaker and ally of former President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he would try to launch a probe of the 2020 election in the battleground state, although a state agency urged counties not to comply with what it called a “sham review” of past elections.

In a move that parallels a contentious audit going on in Arizona, state Senator Doug Mastriano said he sent letters to “several counties” seeking information needed for a “forensic investigation” of the November presidential election and of municipal primaries this past May.

Democratic President Joe Biden won the state by about 81,000 votes, four years after Trump’s victory there helped propel the Republican to the presidency. The state legislature remained in Republican hands.

Mastriano, who has repeated Trump’s baseless claims of widespread fraud in November, said in a statement that the probe was necessary because millions of Pennsylvania residents doubted the veracity of the 2020 results.

Heavily Democratic-leaning Philadelphia, the state’s most populous county, and York County confirmed receiving Mastriano’s requests for information, but did not say whether they intended to comply. A spokesperson for Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh, said it had not received such a request.

In a statement, the state agency overseeing elections warned that any election machines turned over would need to be replaced with new equipment – a nod to expenses that have arisen out of the Arizona audit.

“The Department of State encourages counties to refuse to participate in any sham review of past elections,” the statement said. “We will oppose any attempt to disrupt our electoral process and undermine our elections.”

It was not immediately clear whether Mastriano, who said he was authorized to carry out the probe as chair of the state Senate’s Intergovernmental Operations Committee, had the support of Republican leadership to compel counties to turn over information.

Pennsylvania has already conducted a so-called risk-limiting audit of the 2020 election involving the statistical sampling of ballots. The counties also audited a sample of their votes as mandated by law. Neither effort turned up widespread fraud.

Mastriano said the state’s audit involved a small sample of ballots and was not sufficient. In his letter to York County, a copy of which was seen by Reuters, Mastriano requested that various ballot-processing machines and related software be made available for inspection and also asked for forensic images of servers and other election equipment.

Mastriano, seen as a contender for Pennsylvania governor in 2022, hosted a hearing on the 2020 election in November in Gettysburg at which Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, made a series of baseless statements about fraud. Mastriano also attended the Jan. 6 Trump rally in Washington that preceded a deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol, although he condemned the violence.

In June, he led a delegation of lawmakers to Phoenix for a tour of the audit of roughly 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County. County officials said last month that they would replace voting equipment that was turned over for the Republican-commissioned audit, concerned that the process compromised the security of the machines.

Democrats Jay Costa, the Pennsylvania Senate minority leader, and state Senator Anthony Williams, wrote to Republican leaders on Wednesday, accusing Mastriano of “corrupting the committee process and politicizing it for the whims of former President Donald Trump”, arguing that oversight of elections resides with the State Government committee, not the one Mastriano chairs.

Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Soyoung Kim and Peter Cooney

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