Pennsylvania Senate Committee Spars Over Advancing Election Investigation

By Beth Brelje
Beth Brelje
Beth Brelje
Reporter
Beth Brelje is an investigative journalist covering Pennsylvania politics, courts, and the commonwealth’s most interesting and sometimes hidden news. Send her your story ideas:
September 15, 2021 Updated: September 15, 2021

Pennsylvania’s Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee voted along party lines on Sept. 15, following a heated debate, to issue subpoenas to Acting Secretary of State Veronica Degraffenreid, requiring her office to provide extensive information about the 2020 general and 2021 primary elections.

Democrats hope to block the subpoenas in court.

“It has been made plain that the Department of State and acting Secretary of State Degraffenreid are not willing to participate in this investigation into the 2020 general election and the 2021 primary election, and how the election code is working after the sweeping changes of act 77 of 2020,” Committee majority Chair Cris Dush, a Republican, said in the opening comments of the meeting.

Act 77, signed by Gov. Tom Wolf in 2019, created a new option to vote by mail without providing a reason, which had previously been required for voters using absentee ballots. It also allowed for a 50-day mail-in voting period, the longest vote-by-mail period in the country; extended the deadline to register to vote to 30 days from 15 days before an election; and extended mail-in and absentee submission deadlines from the Friday before an election, to 8 p.m. on Election Day.

The Sept. 15 subpoenas call for the Department of State to provide the following information to the Senate Republican Caucus by Oct. 1:

All communications between the Department of State and any county election director and other election officials; a copy of every version of directives, guidance, policies, and procedures in effect during specified dates, relating to elections, election systems, mail-in ballot applications, ballots, polling places, or poll watchers; and all training material used to train election workers.

The subpoenas also seek a list of all changes made to voter records; a copy of the certified results for every race or ballot question for both elections; a copy of all audits or reviews of the voting system; and a copy of annual reports submitted to the Department of State in 2021.

Also requested by subpoena are detailed voter lists, including name, date of birth, driver’s license number, last four digits of Social Security number, address, and, in some cases, date of last voting activity. This information was requested for lists of all registered voters, those who voted in the 2020 general election or the May 2021 primary, in-person, by mail-in, absentee, or provisional ballot.

Democratic Opposition

Democratic committee members took issue with the request for driver’s licenses and partial Social Security numbers.

“You’re asking for a lot of information … for nearly 7 million people,” Democratic state Sen. Steven Santarsiero said. “What do you hope to do with that information?”

Dush said the documents are part of any audit that the auditor general would conduct, or anybody who is looking to verify the identity of individuals, their place of residence, and their eligibility to vote.

“There have been questions regarding the validity of people who voted—whether or not they exist. We’re not responding to proven allegations,” Dush said. “We’re investigating the allegations to determine whether or not they are factual.”

If there are problems, Dush said, the legislature has a responsibility to create legislation that will prevent problems in future elections.

Santarsiero grilled Dush on the cost and the name of the vendor that would handle the investigation.

“We are still looking at vendors who will handle the information,” Dush said. “I’m not going to be hiring political activists to do the investigation.”

Democrats protested the subpoenas so vigorously that three times, Dush stopped the meeting as it was broadcast across Pennsylvania.

“This meeting is at ease! Cut the feed,” Dush said, when Democratic state Sen. Vincent Hughes complained about members of the Senate who were “involved in the insurrection” having access to investigation information.

He was referring to Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano, who has said he attended the Jan. 6 rally and march for President Donald Trump in Washington, and that he followed the law while there.

“We have a public that is concerned about how the last election was conducted,” Republican state Sen. Jake Corman said. “Credibility is important to all of us. When we look at the results of this investigation, one of two things will happen. Either it will give us action items to better our laws, or it will dispel the concerns that people have.”

Ultimately, the committee voted 7–4 to issue the subpoenas.

“I thought it was totally inappropriate,” Minority Chair Anthony Williams, a Democrat, told The Epoch Times. “I felt frustrated by the manner in which this was done and the substance. We don’t know the cost, we don’t know who the vendors will be, we don’t know what they will do with the information.”

The Senate’s Democratic Caucus was expected to file papers in the Commonwealth Court, seeking an injunction to stop the subpoenas, Williams said.

Beth Brelje
Beth Brelje
Reporter
Beth Brelje is an investigative journalist covering Pennsylvania politics, courts, and the commonwealth’s most interesting and sometimes hidden news. Send her your story ideas: