Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) called Wednesday’s vote “merely another step to undermine democracy, confidence in our elections and to capitulate to Donald Trump’s conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.”
Wolf added in a statement, “Election security is not a game and should not be treated with such carelessness. Senate Republican[s] should be ashamed of their latest attempt to destabilize our election system through a sham investigation that will unnecessarily cost taxpayers millions of dollars.”
But Sen. Cris Dush, the Republican chairman of the committee that approved the subpoena, argued during the hearing that the information is needed because “there have been questions regarding the validity of people who have voted — whether or not they exist.”
“Again, we are not responding to proven allegations. We are investigating the allegations to determine whether or not they are factual,” he said, adding that the vetting process for outside vendors will be “rigorous.”
Yet in Pennsylvania and other battleground states, Republican legislators have bowed to pressure from Trump and his base to investigate the results, despite a consensus among judges, election officials and experts that there was no widespread fraud in the election.
In Wisconsin, protesters gathered at the state Capitol last week to call for a ballot review like the one conducted in Arizona and push for an examination of voting machines. As of late last month, multiple reviews were ongoing in the state — including one by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau and one led by former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice Michael Gableman, whose approach recently raised fresh concerns with some election clerks.
In Pennsylvania’s state Senate on Wednesday, the Intergovernmental Operations Committee voted 7 to 4 to subpoena Wolf’s administration after a testy debate. In addition to voters’ records, the subpoenas for the Pennsylvania Department of State also request all guidance issued to counties, as well as communications between the Department of State and county election officials, for the period covering the two votes.
Wednesday’s party-line vote advanced the GOP probe, which state Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R) has promised will be a “full forensic investigation” of the 2020 election.
After the vote, Corman sought to allay fears that Pennsylvania voter information could be vulnerable if obtained by the committee.
“Every necessary step will be taken to ensure this information is secure, including making any vendor personnel sign non-disclosure agreements to make sure the data are protected under penalty of law,” he said in a statement.
Republicans also emphasized that the subpoena would not seek information about voters’ party affiliation. But Dush declined to answer further questions from Democrats, including about the outside vendors he is considering to handle the data.
“What you’re now describing sounds very much to me like a partisan investigation,” said state Sen. Steven Santarsiero (D), noting that the subpoenas could cover information for “nearly 7 million Pennsylvanians.”
The hearing was stopped multiple times because of tensions between members. Sen. Vincent J. Hughes (D) called Republicans’ justifications for the subpoenas “absurd.”
“And the majority knows it,” he said. “However, the majority also knows it needs to create a legislative purpose to justify their fishing expedition.”
Dush, though, has said the goal is not to revisit Trump’s loss.
“That horse is out of the barn, as far as this investigation is concerned,” he said last week.
But he and other Republicans used the hearing to insist that their constituents are still asking questions about election conduct and said those questions must be addressed.
That hearing’s only witness — Stuart Ulsh, chairman of the county commission in rural Fulton County where Trump’s margin of victory was larger than anywhere else in the state — testified that people in his community had vowed never to vote again because of what they had heard about the 2020 election.
Neither Ulsh nor the committee’s Republican senators acknowledged that Trump has been responsible for spreading misinformation about the election or that many previous reviews of Pennsylvania’s results have confirmed Biden’s victory.
Ulsh also testified that his county had found last-minute guidance from the secretary of state’s office before the election confusing and hard to implement. But, when pressed by Democrats on the committee, he agreed that the election had gone off without a hitch and acknowledged that a private audit the county had allowed in December — initiated and funded by people hoping to bolster Trump’s claims of election problems — had demonstrated there had been no fraud or wrongdoing.
In an interview, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) called the hearing “a dud.”
“They introduced exactly zero evidence in their attempt to satisfy the people of Pennsylvania whom they’ve been lying to for the last 10 months,” he said.
Shapiro said his office would carefully review any election-related subpoenas issued by the legislature, particularly any that sought tabulating machines or ballots. “I would expect a subpoena like that to face litigation,” he said.
Corman has been trying to assure Trump supporters that he has buy-in from the former president for his approach to investigating the election. But in a stark reminder that Trump’s most loyal supporters demand total capitulation, he has still faced deep suspicion, particularly over a decision to appoint Dush to lead the investigation rather than Sen. Doug Mastriano (R), a close Trump ally who had been threatening to issue subpoenas to several counties.
In a tweet Wednesday, One America News host Christina Bobb — who has emerged as a national advocate for ballot reviews and who The Washington Post has previously reported speaks frequently to Trump — criticized the subpoenas as not going far enough.
“PA Voters want a real audit. What does the PA senate subpoena? Emails. Not the ballots, not the machines, not the poll books. While emails may be helpful, they are not enough. The PA Senate must do better,” she wrote.
Khalif Ali, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, a good-government advocacy group that works on issues related to voter access, called the subpoenas approved Wednesday a “frightening violation of voters’ privacy and an egregious abuse of power.”
“There’s no explanation about what they intend to do with the information, or why they think they need it,” he said in a statement. “They also have not announced any plans for security measures to protect the information from disclosure. … Pennsylvanians deserve to have their private information protected by the people they elected to office, not used as political fodder to appease lies told by a former president.”