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Pa. Republican asks counties to hand over ballots in effort to start Arizona-style review

State Sen. Doug Mastriano has requested election materials from three counties, but no subpoena has been issued.
Pennsylvania State Senator Doug Mastriano Speaks at ReOpen Rally in Harrisburg, Pa., on June 5th, 2021.
Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano speaks at a ReOpen Rally in Harrisburg, Pa., on June 5th, 2021.Zach D Roberts / NurPhoto via Getty Images

A Republican state senator in Pennsylvania announced Wednesday that he is seeking ballots and other related materials in an attempt to launch an Arizona-style partisan review of the 2020 election results in his state.

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, a close Trump ally who visited the Phoenix site of the still-ongoing review of Maricopa County ballots last month, said he sent letters to election officials in three Pennsylvania counties — Philadelphia, York and Tioga.

Mastriano, in his capacity as chair of the state Senate's Intergovernmental Operations Committee, is requesting a long list of items — including election equipment, software, copies of hard drives and phone SIM cards, wireless router logs and more, according to a copy of the letter he sent to York County published by the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. He also asked for samples of the paper used to create ballots. NBC News subsequently confirmed the authenticity of the letter with York County's election board.

An aide to the Philadelphia City Commissioners confirmed to NBC News the city received the letter, while a representative from Tioga County's election board did not return a request for comment.

President Joe Biden won Philadelphia County with more than 81 percent of the vote, while then-President Donald Trump won York with almost 62 percent and Tioga with almost 75 percent. In a lengthy statement posted on his official website, Mastriano said he asked the counties to respond by July 31 "with a plan to comply."

Mastriano's letter is not a subpoena, and his success in getting a partisan audit off the ground is far from guaranteed. In Arizona, the Republican-controlled state Senate issued a subpoena to gain access to Maricopa County’s more than 2 million ballots and voting machines. The county was ultimately ordered to comply by a judge. In an interview with the conservative radio host John Fredericks on Wednesday, Mastriano threatened to subpoena counties if they don't comply with his request, arguing that he can do so if his committee authorizes it.

Republicans have a majority in both the Pennsylvania state House and Senate. But Democrats contend it's a different state Senate committee, State Government, that has jurisdiction over elections.

Mastriano, who participated in pro-Trump events in Washington, D.C., before the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, has been one of the biggest purveyors of the false claim that there was widespread fraud in last fall’s election. His efforts have boosted his profile and standing in Trump’s orbit.

During the interview with Fredericks, Mastriano outlined his goals for a ballot review in Pennsylvania pointing to the GOP-led process in Arizona as the model. Arizona's audit will not change the results of the election in the state, which Biden won; such a review in Pennsylvania will also have no impact.

"My goal is to do, similar to what we saw in Arizona, every ballot is photographed and magnified, and we can determine what ballots were filled in by a human,” he said.

Voter fraud in U.S. elections is exceedingly rare. Trump's top cybersecurity official, Christopher Krebs, said the election last year was "the most secure in American history," while then-Attorney General William Barr said the Department of Justice found no evidence of widespread malfeasance.

"These counties should refuse to participate in this partisan fishing expedition," Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, tweeted. "This 'audit' could risk decertifying the counties’ voting machines, costing county taxpayers’ millions of dollars."

The Pennsylvania Department of State also told counties not to comply with "any sham review of past elections that would require counties to violate the trust of their voters," and that it would use "every legal avenue available" to "oppose any attempt to disrupt our electoral process and undermine our elections."

Pennsylvania conducted two post-election audits that confirmed the accuracy of the count, and the results were certified. But Mastriano said that review did not go far enough to ease his and others' concerns.

"This investigation is not about overturning the results of either election," he said, echoing other Republicans who’ve pushed for such ballot reviews. "The goals are to restore faith in the integrity of our system, confirm the effectiveness of existing legislation on the governance of elections, and identify areas for legislative reform."

Last month, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, vetoed a broad, Republican-backed elections bill.

With the Arizona review garnering widespread attention, particularly in some conservative media circles, pro-Trump Republicans have pushed for similar reviews in states across the country, even though the results and Biden’s victory have been affirmed again and again and courts have overwhelmingly rejected legal efforts to overturn the vote.

State Senate Democrats blasted the request in a statement from their leadership, arguing that Mastriano’s committee does not have jurisdiction over elections and that he is "corrupting the committee process and politicizing it for the whims of former President Donald Trump."

"Should you allow this to continue, Senator Mastriano will have built a Frankenstein creation of a committee with limitless power, frighteningly controlled by a Senator intent on tainting every level of our government. It is your duty as officers of this body to put a stop to this," Democratic state Sens. Jay Costa and Anthony Williams wrote to the Senate Republican leadership.

"This is nothing more than an attempt to appease the disgruntled supporters of former President Donald Trump and serve as a campaign vehicle for Senator Mastriano to advance his run for Governor."

Pennsylvania State Senator Doug Mastriano Speaks at ReOpen Rally in Harrisburg, Pa., on June 5th, 2021.
Pennsylvania State Senator Doug Mastriano Speaks at ReOpen Rally in Harrisburg, Pa., on June 5th, 2021.Zach D Roberts / NurPhoto via Getty Images

Last week, Mastriano held a private briefing for state Republican senators on his audit plan, The Associated Press reported. Earlier in June, Mastriano along with state Sen. Cris Dush and state Rep. Rob Kauffman toured the Arizona audit site.

Soon after, Trump called on the Pennsylvania state Senate to "conduct a full forensic audit" of the 2020 vote or "there is no way" GOP state Senate leaders "will ever get re-elected!" He mentioned GOP state Sen. Dave Argall, chair of the State Government committee, by name.

After Trump's statement, Argall said he was in favor of a ballot review.

A key Pennsylvania House Republican said last month the chamber wouldn't initiate a new audit, saying Republicans there, as in legislatures across the country, are focused on altering election laws, instead.

"The PA House of Representatives will not be authorizing any further audits on any previous election," Rep. Seth Grove, chair of his chamber's State Government committee, tweeted. "We are focused on fixing our broken election law to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat."