Pennsylvania Legislative Committee Rejects Call for Election-Related Risk-Limiting Audit

November 24, 2020 Updated: November 24, 2020

In an unusual move, a Pennsylvania legislative committee on Nov. 23 rejected a request from the state House of Representatives to conduct a risk-limiting audit on the 2020 election, with Senate Democrats saying the panel found that such an audit would be “incomplete, duplicative, and unreliable.”

The Legislative Budget and Finance Committee (LBFC) voted 2–1 along partisan lines against the audit, which was requested by House Resolution 1100 that passed last week in a bipartisan vote. Speaker of the House Bryan Cutler, a Republican, in a Nov. 19 statement called the risk-limiting audit a “requirement of open and transparent government.”

“Elections are the bedrock of American democracy. Every voter, candidate, and resident of our commonwealth deserves to know every vote was counted accurately, treated fairly, and the electoral process is secure,” he said at the time.

The resolution allowed the LBFC to contract an outside agency to conduct the risk-limiting audit, which is a broader effort based on much larger samples of votes than the regular audit carried out by the Pennsylvania Department of State that is mandated by law.

Two Democrats on the committee voted against, with one Republican voting in favor and another absent, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Rep. Jake Wheatley, a Democrat and the committee treasurer, said in a statement: “After substantial discussion, the committee felt that staff would be unable to conduct such an audit and were also unable to find a consultant who could conduct it, given the 60-day to 90-day time frame.”

He also claimed that conducting such an audit “would truly be an exercise in futility” given the actions already being taken by the Pennsylvania Department of State to certify election results.

“We currently have processes in place to validate our election results to ensure the process, from beginning to end, was fair,” he argued.

PENNSYLVANIA
Election workers count ballots in Philadelphia, Penn., on Nov. 4, 2020. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Cutler said in a Nov. 23 statement that he was “disappointed the LBFC would choose to block such an important process in an open and transparent democracy,” and expressed surprise that the committee didn’t raise objections to conducting such an audit when requested during the primaries.

“Pennsylvania’s 2020 election will be remembered for two things,” Cutler said. “Historic voter participation, both in person and by mail, and extraordinary and conflicting interventions into the election process by state courts and the secretary of state before election day.”

“It is in the best interest of every resident, voter, candidate, and future Pennsylvanian to study all the impacts of these events, and a thorough audit is the best way to do that,” Cutler said, adding that he and his Republican colleagues would continue to push for policies that promote election integrity.

Pennsylvania Sen. Jim Brewster, a Democrat who sits on the committee and was one of those to vote against the audit, was cited by the Post-Gazette as saying, “I’m at a loss as to what the purpose of the resolution is and why it’s even necessary if the work is going to be done” by counties and the state department.

In arguing for a broader, risk-limiting audit, state Republicans said their constituents are concerned about election integrity.

“The legislature, the governor and the courts made monumental changes to our election laws leading up to this election,” Cutler said. “An audit to ensure the intended processes operated correctly is not a political statement, but a requirement of open and transparent government.”

On Nov. 24, Pennsylvania’s Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf wrote in a tweet that the Pennsylvania State Department has “certified the results of the Nov. 3 election in Pennsylvania for president and vice president of the United States.”

“As required by federal law, I’ve signed the Certificate of Ascertainment for the slate of electors for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.”

The Trump campaign’s senior legal adviser, Jenna Ellis, said in a statement: “Certification by state officials is simply a procedural step. We are going to continue combating election fraud around the country as we fight to count all the legal votes. Americans must be assured that the final results are fair and legitimate.”

It comes after President Donald Trump’s legal team appealed a federal judge’s dismissal of the campaign’s efforts to block the certification.

Commenting on the ruling, the Trump campaign said in a statement: “There is so much evidence that in Pennsylvania, Democrats eliminated our opportunity to present 50 witnesses and other evidence that election officials blatantly ignored Pennsylvania’s law denying independent review. This resulted in 682,777 ballots being cast illegally, wittingly or unwittingly.”

Follow Tom on Twitter: @OZImekTOM