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Pa. Senate Democrats sue Republicans to block election review subpoena

Jonathan Lai, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Political News

Republicans say the effort to review the 2020 general and 2021 primary elections is necessary to address the concerns of their constituents and restore public confidence in the electoral system. (Much of the mistrust has been fueled by former President Donald Trump’s lies about voter fraud and stolen elections.)

Democrats say the effort, which officially began this month in the Republican-controlled State Senate, is a nakedly partisan attempt to overturn election results, further undermine confidence in elections, and appease the Trump base.

Trump for months called for an “audit” of election results in Pennsylvania, with supporters rallying behind State Sen. Doug Mastriano, a likely gubernatorial candidate who has spread false claims about the 2020 election and risen to political prominence by promising to investigate the election. Republican legislative leaders sought to resist those calls by emphasizing legislative reform, but the rift between wings of the party grew as pressure mounted.

Mastriano in July sent letters to Philadelphia, Tioga, and York Counties seeking virtually all election materials, equipment, and records, threatening to subpoena the counties if they didn’t comply. Philadelphia elections officials rejected the request, with Tioga and York officials also pushing back and not complying.

Mastriano’s attempt drew praise from supporters of the movement to investigate the election, but angered some Republicans who saw him as engaging in an unnecessary political exercise that would drag them into a protracted political and legal fight. Some Republicans worried that Mastriano’s aggressive rhetoric and actions would bring court scrutiny and that the result, especially if it went to the majority-Democrat state Supreme Court, would be restrictions on legislative subpoena powers.

Those tensions boiled over last month, when Corman brought the feud into public view, lashing out at Mastriano, reassigning his Capitol staff, and removing him as chair of the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee. At the same time, Corman for the first time fully backed a review of the 2020 election, naming Dush as committee chair and assigning him to pursue the review effort.

Dush began with a hearing this month at which he emphasized that “this investigation is not about overturning the results of any election.”

 

On Wednesday, the Republican-controlled committee voted along party lines to subpoena the Pennsylvania Department of State for a variety of records, including communications with county elections officials, copies of election guidance and policies, and election worker training materials. The subpoena also demands information on all registered voters in the 2020 general and 2021 primary elections, including names, dates of birth, driver’s license numbers, last four digits of Social Security numbers, and addresses, as well as the same information broken out by method of voting.

In addition, it requests a complete record of “all changes to voter records made between May 31, 2020 and May 31, 2021,″ a list that can include millions or tens of millions of changes if vote history updates are included alongside changes to the voter roll such as new registrations, updates to existing voters’ addresses, changes in party affiliation, and the removal of dead or inactive voters.

Democrats immediately vowed to challenge the subpoena in court, resulting in the Friday lawsuit.

The subpoena was delivered Wednesday and gives the Department of State 16 days to meet a deadline of 4 p.m. Oct. 1.

(Staff writer Andrew Seidman contributed to this article.)

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