Efforts to Audit and Undermine the 2020 Election in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania has joined the growing number of states where partisan actors have launched baseless election investigations, with Republican lawmakers initiating in September 2021 a “forensic investigation” into the state’s 2020 election results.

In September 2021, Republican legislators in Pennsylvania launched a “forensic investigation” of the state’s 2020 election results, yet another attempt to sow doubt about the integrity of the election. The review was announced many months after the election had been certified by then-Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, and fits into the disturbing pattern of similar investigations in states across the country — including Texas, Wisconsin, and Arizona — that elevate false claims of widespread voter fraud and undermine faith in democracy. 

Supporters of former President Trump’s baseless claims of fraud had been laying the groundwork for months. In late December 2020, state Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman created a “Special Committee on Election Integrity and Reform.” And in January, Republicans in the state House of Representatives kicked off a series of hearings about the election process and filed H.B. 1300, a comprehensive voting-restrictions bill that was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf. They have also attempted twice to push through legislation that would establish a state Bureau of Election Audits — the first effort was vetoed over the summer by Gov. Wolf. A pilot audit in 63 out of the state’s 67 counties, completed in February, reviewed more than 45,000 ballots and confirmed Biden’s victory, but did little to alter the course of these anti-democratic efforts. 

One key player leading the push to “audit” Pennsylvania’s election was state Sen. Doug Mastriano, a vocal Trump ally who attended — and organized buses to — the rally that preceded the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. In the spring, reporting on the Arizona Senate’s partisan election review revealed that one of the review’s participating firms, Wake Technology Services Inc., had in late 2020 contracted with a group led by former Trump lawyer Sidney Powell to conduct a review of ballots cast in Pennsylvania’s Fulton County, which had been set up by Mastriano.

Mastriano visited the Arizona Senate’s sham election “audit” in June 2021 and was inspired to implement a similar effort in his home state. Over the summer, he sent letters to York, Tioga, and Philadelphia counties demanding that they turn over election equipment and voting machines. However, in August, Corman pushed Mastriano out of his chairmanship of the Intergovernmental Operations Committee and replaced him with Sen. Cris Dush, thwarting Mastriano’s plans to subpoena the counties. While no longer the chair, Mastriano is still on the committee and thus remained in the Senate’s investigation.

In August, American Oversight obtained records from the Dec. 31 audit in Fulton County, which suggested that Mastriano may have threatened election officials with subpoenas unless they voluntarily cooperated in an audit. In one text message, the county 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.” The records obtained by American Oversight also confirmed that the review in Fulton County had taken place without the knowledge of the county’s Democratic commissioner, Paula Shives. In the text messages, exchanged by Shives, the other commissioners, and the elections director on the day of the audit, Shives expressed frustration at having been shut out from the review and at its lack of formal approval

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 Fulton County audit, despite a February report from Wake TSI that had been revised before being made public to imply that there were election vulnerabilities. During his testimony, Ulsh also denied being aware of Mastriano’s involvement in the audit and said that all three commissioners had agreed to it. In early December, American Oversight sent a letter to the Senate highlighting these inconsistencies. 

Following the hearing, the Republican-controlled Senate voted to issue subpoenas that would compel Wolf’s administration to release records containing personal information of every voter in the state, as well as records of communication between state and local election officials. 

American Oversight has filed numerous public records requests to uncover details about the election audit, including requests to counties and government offices for documents, including communications with people pushing the stolen election lie. American Oversight obtained the documents from Fulton County after our administrative appeal was granted by the state’s Office of Open Records.

Updates

News Roundup: A Coordinated Coup Attempt

January 14, 2022
We’ve written a lot about the Big Lie’s evolution — from fear-mongering about voter fraud to the attempts to subvert the 2020 election, to the ongoing partisan election reviews — and the network of activists who have been keeping this anti-democratic movement alive.

American Oversight Sues Pennsylvania’s Fulton County for Key Audit Records

January 13, 2022
The lawsuit follows requests made by American Oversight under Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law for documents from the review conducted by Fulton County in December 2020 and February 2021.

Fake Electoral Certificates Obtained by American Oversight Draw Renewed Scrutiny

January 12, 2022
The phony documents were submitted to Congress by Republicans in several states who sought to overturn Biden’s 2020 election victory by casting the state’s electoral votes for Trump instead.

Discrepancies in Fulton County Commissioner’s Testimony to Pennsylvania Senate

December 2, 2021
American Oversight sent a letter to the Pennsylvania Senate highlighting significant inconsistencies in testimony regarding a December 2020 audit of Fulton County election materials.

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

October 21, 2021
The records include text messages and other communications, indicating that state Sen. Doug Mastriano appears to have threatened the county with a subpoena unless they voluntarily undertook the audit.
Show all updates

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Records Request to Pennsylvania Senate Seeking Expense Records for Election Investigation

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Complaint: American Oversight v. Fulton County, Pa. — Election Officials’ Communications

Pennsylvania - Fulton County
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Pennsylvania - Fulton County
Agency Record
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American Oversight Letter to Pennsylvania Senate — Testimony of Fulton County Commissioner Ulsh Before the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee

Pennsylvania Senate
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July 26, 2021

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July 26, 2021

Records Request to York County, Pa., Elections Director Seeking Communications Regarding Proposed Election Investigations

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July 2, 2021

Records Request to Fulton County, Pa., Seeking Board of Commissioners’ Communications with External Entities

Pennsylvania - Fulton County
FOIA Request
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Records Request to Fulton County, Pa., Director of Elections and Voting Registration Seeking Communications with External Entities

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Records Request to Fulton County, Pa., Technology Director Seeking Communications Regarding Inspection of Election Equipment

Pennsylvania - Fulton County
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November 24, 2020

Records Request to Luzerne County, Pa., Seeking Emails with External Entities

Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania - Luzerne County
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October 28, 2020

Records Request to Pennsylvania Rep. Everett for Communications with External Entities Regarding Election Administration

Pennsylvania House of Representatives
FOIA Request
October 28, 2020

Records Request to Pennsylvania Rep. Everett for Communications Regarding Election Administration

Pennsylvania House of Representatives
FOIA Request
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Records Request to Pennsylvania Rep. Metcalfe for Communications Containing Key Terms Regarding the Electoral College

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