American Oversight Obtains Records from Post-2020 Election Review of Fulton County, Pa.

On Thursday, American Oversight obtained records related to a problematic “audit” of votes cast in Pennsylvania’s Fulton County.

The communications, which were released after the state open records office ordered the county to do so following requests from American Oversight, indicate that state Sen. Doug Mastriano — a proponent of former President Trump’s baseless claims of a “stolen” election — may have asked that Fulton County election officials voluntarily cooperate or face a subpoena.

The Fulton County review was first reported in the spring, at a time when the Arizona Senate’s partisan election review of Maricopa County ballots was underway. The Fulton County audit, which took place at the end of last year, was conducted by Wake Technology Services Inc., a firm that was also involved in the Arizona Senate’s sham election review and is not accredited by the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission.

According to earlier reporting from the Washington Post, the Fulton County review took place on Dec. 31 without the knowledge or attendance of the county’s Democratic commissioner, Paula Shives. The documents obtained by American Oversight on Thursday contain text messages exchanged later that day by Shives and the county’s other commissioners and the county’s elections director, in which Shives expressed frustration at having been shut out from the review.

In one message, Patti Hess, the elections director, said that Mastriano had told “all counties … to do this or be subpoena[ed] to prove votes.”

A later message from Commission Chair Stuart Ulsh said, “It was happening this way or in a subpoena.” 

In the months since, Trump allies in the Pennsylvania legislature, including Mastriano, have pushed for a “forensic investigation” of the state’s 2020 election results. Over the summer, Mastriano wrote letters to York, Tioga, and Philadelphia counties demanding that they turn over voting machines and other election materials, but his plans to subpoena the counties were upended when the Senate’s leader, Jake Corman, replaced Mastriano with state Sen. Cris Dush as leader of the election review.

During a September hearing on “election integrity” in the state Senate, Ulsh, who was the only witness, testified that no issues or fraud had been uncovered by the December Fulton County audit, despite a February report that had been revised to imply there were election vulnerabilities. Following the hearing, Republican lawmakers voted to approve subpoenas for personal information on 2020 voters.

The records obtained by American Oversight on Thursday also include emails exchanged by county officials in the weeks and months following the election.

On Nov. 12, 2020, Commissioner Randy Bunch, a vocal Trump supporter, emailed state Sen. Judy Ward, who had reportedly been working with Mastriano in December. In the email, Bunch wrote: “Sending this email to see what’s going on with this rigged election. … We can’t let this election get stolen if there is anything I can do please let me know.”

In February, following the Fulton audit, Wake TSI’s Co-Founder Gene Kern emailed Bunch and Ulsh (not Shives), asking that they share with him their personal email addresses.

Kern and Ulsh exchanged emails in April as well, when Kern forwarded an Arizona Mirror article about the hiring of the firm Cyber Ninjas, whose CEO Doug Logan was a supporter of the “Stop the Steal” movement, to lead the partisan Arizona “audit.”

In July, Pennsylvania’s acting secretary of state decertified Fulton County’s voting machines after concluding that Wake TSI’s examination of the machines violated the state’s election code. American Oversight sent public records requests to Fulton County seeking documents related to the process, including communications of the county’s technology director regarding the inspection of election equipment. 

Initially, Fulton County denied American Oversight’s requests and argued that the records were exempt from release. After an administrative appeal, the state open records office ruled in the watchdog group’s favor and ordered Fulton County to release responsive records within 30 days. This is the first set of records released in response to the group’s requests.