The state Senate’s latest election probe got off to a contentious start. Subpoenas could be coming soon

Written by on September 10, 2021

The state Senate’s latest election probe got off to a contentious start. Subpoenas could be coming soon

By Sam Dunklau / WITF

September 10, 2021

Sen. Cris Dush (R-Cameron), second from left, responds to questions raised by Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Delaware), right, during a state Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee hearing on investigating the 2020 and 2021 elections on Sept. 9, 2021. Photo |  Sam Dunklau / WITF

State senators have begun hearing testimony in that chamber’s latest round of election investigation hearings.

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Thursday’s hearing had a decidedly 2020 focus that explored the origins of a third-party audit of last fall’s contest in south-central Fulton County.

Sen. Dave Argall (R-Berks) said overall, he believes the hearing was productive because it helped lawmakers take yet another look at what he called “problems” in the 2020 general election and 2021 primary.

Multiple court rulingstwo state-mandated audits of nearly every Pennsylvania county, and election experts and officials of both parties all concluded the results of the 2020 election were accurate. Acting Secretary of State Veronica Degraffenreid has said a number of minor technical glitches occurred during the May primary, but nearly all were resolved on Election Day and there is no evidence any of them affected the outcome.

A special Senate committee already investigated the 2020 election last spring. After months of work, that body released a report suggesting a litany of election code changes that ultimately were vetoed by Governor Tom Wolf in June.

The Department of State was scheduled to testify about “last minute” election guidance that it sent out to counties last fall. But it backed out, citing an ongoing legal battle with Fulton County. One of the county’s Republican commissioners, Stuart Ulsh, testified instead.

He was questioned about how and why the county asked a tech company with no election experience, Wake TSI, to audit its 2020 election procedure this spring. The firm was also contracted to help conduct the Arizona Senate’s widely-criticized recount of its 2020 election results, but it backed out from that effort in mid-May after its contract expired.

That county had its voting machines decertified by Pennsylvania’s Department of State over the issue and is now suing the agency.

By the end, Ulsh admitted the audit did not find any fraud in last fall’s contest, which left Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Delaware) puzzled.

“The goal [of this hearing] is simply to stoke distrust and division,” he said. “The most exasperating part of it all is that everyone on this panel knows that. We know this, and you know this. And yet here we sit.”

Williams and Sen. Steve Santarsiero (D-Bucks) repeatedly questioned Ulsh about why Fulton County contracted Wake TSI and who paid for the company to review its 2020 election procedure. The commissioner said that information was available in the company’s report on the county’s website. When asked, he was unable to produce that info himself.

The Penn Capital-Star and investigative journalism outlet OpenSecrets.org both reported earlier this year the Wake TSI probe was paid for by Defending the Republic, a 501(c)(4) group run by lawyer Sydney Powell.

Powell is facing a defamation lawsuit from Dominion Voting Systems for claims she made about the company after the 2020 election, and has been sanctioned for her legal challenges to the election in Michigan by a federal judge there.

Facing further questions from lawmakers, Fulton County commissioner Ulsh could not recall any specific instances of suspicious behavior on the part of county election workers.

“As far as what everyone was doing [sic], everybody did their job,” Ulsh said.

The chair of the committee that’s hosting the hearings, Sen. Cris Dush (R-Cameron), refused to take questions Thursday, suggesting reporters schedule a later appointment with his staff. Before leaving, Dush said the next hearing will focus on the state’s SURE voter database.

On Friday, Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R-Centre) called on Dush’s panel, the Intergovernmental Operations committee, to meet as early as Monday to vote on subpoenaing the Department of State to both testify and provide information about that database.

Dush, for his part, led off Thursday’s hearing by saying his committee would be careful in using its subpoena power.

“We must ensure sound legal footing before we proceed down that path,” he said. “In addition, we must be ready, willing and able to actually review and utilize meaningfully any information that we receive in response to our subpoenas.”

But Corman appeared adamant that the committee should extract what information it can “to begin a full forensic audit of the 2020 General Election.”

“Senator Dush’s office will have my full cooperation in achieving these goals,” Corman said in a statement.

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