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 remained on the committee and in the Senate’s investigation. In 2022, Mastriano unsuccessfully ran as the Republican nominee for governor of Pennsylvania.
In August 2021, 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 2021 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. The statewide investigation largely stalled after the Senate’s subpoena faced challenges in court. In December 2022, Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration moved to dismiss the subpoena.
While the state Senate’s efforts were mostly fruitless, counties across Pennsylvania have seen attempts to cast doubt on elections processes at the local level, from hand recounts to certification delays following the 2022 midterms.
American Oversight has filed numerous public records requests to uncover details about election denial efforts across the state, 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.
In January 2022, American Oversight filed a lawsuit against Fulton County to compel the release of multiple categories of additional records that had been requested but had not yet been produced by the county. In April 2023, we added Wake TSI as a defendant in the lawsuit after sending a letter asking the company to preserve any and all records related to the election analysis they conducted.