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Divided Pennsylvania House gives approval for audit of 2020 election


Reported by FORD TURNER | Post Gazette | November 20, 2020

HARRISBURG — A deeply divided state House on Thursday voted to approve a Republican-sponsored measure that sets up a near-immediate audit of the 2020 election, citing inconsistencies and confusion in the electorate as evidence the process must be improved for future elections in the state. The chamber voted 112 to 90 for a resolution that told the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee, or a contractor it will hire, to conduct the audit and report back by early February.

Republicans argued they were responding to constituents who were confused by some of the procedures as the state conducted a high-turnout election during a pandemic and under greatly expanded mail-in voting eligibility. Democratic arguments that the measure should be revised or was unconstitutional were defeated by the GOP majority.

“There is no need to fear this audit. I welcome it. We all should welcome it, to find out what went right and what went wrong,” said Bedford County Rep. Jesse Topper, the prime sponsor of the resolution.

The resolution does not require approval by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf or the state Senate. There is no limit on how much the committee can spend on the study. Separately, the Department of State plans another “risk limiting” audit under a pilot program to apply statistical tools that will measure the election’s accuracy and check for possible interference. This second audit is to involve data from every county.

Democrats attacked the proposal, calling it unconstitutional, damaging to democracy and unnecessary.

Mr. Wolf issued a written statement by email during the debate, saying any audit done by this approach would be “incomplete, duplicative and unreliable.”

The committee is expected to generate a report that is to include, for each county and for the state as a whole: For both absentee and mail-in ballots, the number of applications received, the number that were approved by the county board of elections, and the number returned by voters that were subsequently canvassed.

• The number of qualified voters who used provisional ballots.

• The number of applications for absentee ballots from people who were not registered to vote, but subsequently did submit a voter registration application in time for the election — and the same information concerning mail-in ballots.

• For each county, the date and time that the county board of elections began pre-canvassing absentee ballots and mail-in ballots.

Reviews of incidents with voting machines; of “any inconsistent treatment” of mail-in ballots received after 8 p.m. on Election Day; of any inconsistencies in the way counties processed “deficient” ballots; and of access given to poll watchers and “authorized representatives.”

The House vote came the day after its State Government Committee approved the resolution in a party-line vote. Mr. Topper, State Government Committee interim Chairman Seth Grove and other Republicans said the need for the audit was not suspected fraud but a widespread uncertainty that the election had been conducted fairly and in even-handed fashion across the state.

The resolution cites as a reason for the audit a “litany of inconsistencies” in the way the election was carried out and a resulting loss of public confidence. It says “Pennsylvania citizens have questioned the process by which the 2020 general election has been conducted.”

Mr. Topper noted that within his own district, one county allowed certain ballots to be “cured” — or have procedural mistakes corrected — while another did not.

“That’s not fraud, but that’s confusion in the district that I represent,” Mr. Topper said.

 

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