Pennsylvania Sec. of State: Don’t Comply with GOP State Senator’s Election Audit Request

An election worker puts mail in ballots through a counting machine at the Salt Lake County election office in Salt Lake City, Utah on October 29, 2020. (Photo by GEORGE FREY / AFP) (Photo by GEORGE FREY/AFP via Getty Images)
GEORGE FREY/AFP via Getty Images

Pennsylvania’s Acting Secretary of State Veronica Degraffenreid told all 67 counties in the state on Thursday not to comply with a request for “information and materials needed to conduct a forensic audit of the 2020 General Election,” made Wednesday by State Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Franklin), who chairs the Intergovernmental Operations Committee.

Mastriano’s initial request was sent to only three counties–Philadelphia (population 1.5 million), Tioga (population 40,000), and York (population 451,000). The population of the state is 12.8 million.

“Today, as Chair of the Intergovernmental Operations Committee, I issued letters to several counties requesting information and materials needed to conduct a forensic investigation of the 2020 General Election and the 2021 Primary,” Mastriano wrote in an op-ed published on Wednesday:

We have asked these counties to respond by July 31st with a plan to comply. The counties represent different geographical regions of Pennsylvania and differing political makeups. Some are Republican while others are Democrat, which means that this will be a balanced investigation.

The Intergovernmental Operations Committee is a standing committee of the Pennsylvania State Senate with oversight and investigatory responsibilities regarding activities relating to or conducted between two or more governments or levels of government, including the administration of elections across the Commonwealth. As set forth in Pennsylvania Senate Rule 14 (d), each standing committee is empowered with the authority to inspect and investigate the books, records, papers, documents, data, operation, and physical plant of any public agency in this Commonwealth, including county boards of elections.

This is necessary as millions of Pennsylvanians have serious doubts about the accuracy of the 2020 General Election. A January poll from Muhlenberg University showed that 40% of Pennsylvania voters are not confident that the results of the 2020 Election accurately reflected how Pennsylvanians voted. Discounting or mocking their concerns is neither an answer nor proper in this constitutional republic.

On Thursday, the following day, Acting Secretary of State Degraffenreid issued a directive to County Boards of Elections in all 67 counties of Pennsylvania.

The Secretary of State’s office said in Directive 1 of 2021, issued on July 8:

County Boards of Elections shall not provide physical, electronic, or internal access to third parties seeking to copy and/or conduct an examination of state-certified electronic voting systems, or any components of such systems, including but not limited to: election management software and systems, tabulators, scanners, counters, automatic tabulating equipment, voting devices, servers, ballot marking devices, paper ballot or ballot card printers, portable memory media devices (thumb drives, flash drives and the like), and any other hardware, software or devices being used as part of the election management system.

Mastriano said in a statement released by his office Monday:

On Friday, the Acting Secretary of State issued a veiled threat disguised as a “directive” to all 67 counties in Pennsylvania. This threat implied that any county who participates in a forensic investigation and allows access of electronic voting systems to “third party entities not directly involved in the conduct of elections” will have their machines automatically decertified and retired before the next election.

Even worse, the directive stated that counties would be forced to pay for new voting system equipment and prevented from seeking reimbursement from the State Department.

The General Assembly is in fact directly involved in the manner and conduct of elections across the Commonwealth as it is responsible for reforming and amending all election laws.

Nowhere in statute is the Secretary of State mandated to make a predictive finding, automatically retire voting systems after third party access, and force counties to pay for that decision.

The authority of such a directive from the “Acting” Secretary is also in question as she has yet to go before the Senate to be officially confirmed.  The inclination of the Acting Secretary to act outside of the scope of her constitutional powers is deeply concerning and will certainly be considered during her confirmation process.

The directive cited the secretary’s authority “contained at Section 1105-A(a) of the Pennsylvania Election Code, 25 P.S. 3031.5(a).”

The statute cited by the Secretary of State’s office, however, does not appear to be exactly on point for the authority claimed by the acting secretary in the directive. (Note: In Pennsylvania, the Secretary of State is also referred to as the Secretary of the Commonwealth.) It states:

(a) Any person or corporation owning, manufacturing or selling, or being interested in the manufacture or sale of, any electronic voting system, may request the Secretary of the Commonwealth to examine such system if the voting system has been examined and approved by a federally recognized independent testing authority and if it meets any voting system performance and test standards established by the Federal Government.  The costs of the examination shall be paid by the person requesting the examination in an amount set by the Secretary of the Commonwealth.

Any ten or more persons, being qualified registered electors of this Commonwealth, may, at any time, request the Secretary of the Commonwealth to reexamine any electronic voting system theretofore examined and approved by him.  Before any reexamination, the person, persons, or corporation, requesting such reexamination, shall pay to the Treasurer of the Commonwealth a reexamination fee of four hundred fifty dollars ($450).

The Secretary of the Commonwealth may, at any time, in his discretion, reexamine any such system therefore examined and approved by him.  The Secretary of the Commonwealth may issue directives or instructions for implementation of electronic voting procedures and for the operation of electronic voting systems.

In a statement released on Friday, the Secretary of State’s office elaborated on the directive:

Acting Secretary of State Veronica W. Degraffenreid has issued a directive prohibiting third-party access to electronic voting systems, addressing requests that counties allow outside entities not involved with the conduct of elections to review and copy the internal electronic, software, mechanical, logic, and related components of Pennsylvania’s voting systems.

“Such access by third parties undermines chain of custody requirements and strict access limitations necessary to prevent both intentional and inadvertent tampering with electronic voting systems,” Secretary Degraffenreid said. “It also jeopardizes the security and integrity of the systems and will prevent electronic voting system vendors from affirming that the systems continue to meet Commonwealth security standards and U.S. Election Assistance Commission certification.”

Earlier this week, a request was sent to the boards of elections in Philadelphia, Tioga and York counties, directing them to turn over all cast ballots and balloting materials from the November 2020 general election and the May 2021 primary. The request also included unprecedented and intrusive access to electronic voting equipment.

In response, the Department said it would use every available avenue to prevent such disruption of the electoral process. It also reminded counties that the federal government has designated voting equipment as Critical Infrastructure, severely limiting access by outside parties.

As Breitbart News reported, the Arizona State Senate is in the process of completing a forensic audit of the 2020 General Election results in Maricopa County. Pennsylvania is one of several states where efforts to conduct similar forensic audits are ongoing.

Degraffenreid was named Acting Secretary of State on February 1 of this year by Gov. Tom Wolf (D-PA) to replace Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, who resigned when her position became untenable after she failed to follow the state constitution and advertise a constitutional amendment. The amendment, as Ballotpedia reported, “would have created a two-year period in which persons can file civil suits arising from childhood sexual abuse that would otherwise be considered outside the statute of limitations.” Due to this procedural error, the constitutional amendment did not appear on the 2020 ballot.

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