HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A rural Pennsylvania county formally declined to participate in a "forensic investigation" of the state's 2020 presidential election sought by backers of former President Donald Trump, dealing another blow Thursday to prospects for a months-long spectacle of the kind playing out in Arizona.
The three commissioners in Republican-controlled Tioga County had said two weeks ago that they would not allow third-party access to the county's voting machines for fear of seeing them decertified by the state just weeks before preparations must begin for November's election.
In a Thursday letter to Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano, the commissioners declined his request "at this time" because they need new voting machines paid for and delivered within three weeks.
As Mastriano's Saturday deadline for counties to comply approaches, Senate Republican leaders have been silent about whether they support it. It has sowed discord in the Republican caucus, and one publicly blasted it, saying it is only favored by "a handful of my colleagues."
"What message will people take from someone trying to pry open voting machines and rummage through already counted ballots while employing statistical tricks to argue that the 2020 election was a fraud?" state Sen. Dan Laughlin, R-Erie, questioned in an editorial this week.
Mastriano, R-Fulton, has helped spread Trump's baseless falsehoods that the election was rigged against him and has claimed that Trump "asked me" to run for governor.
On July 7, Mastriano sent letters to Philadelphia and York and Tioga counties with a sweeping request for access to documents, information, and equipment, giving them until this Saturday to formulate a plan to comply, under threat of a subpoena.
The state's top elections official, an appointee of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, promptly told counties that the state would decertify any election equipment that is subject to any such third-party access, rendering it useless in an election.
The undertaking envisioned by Mastriano would likely cost millions of dollars, but Tioga County commissioners suggested that he may be unable to make good on financial promises.
They wrote Thursday that they had made clear they would cooperate if new voting machines were paid for and delivered by Aug. 20.
But, they said, "so far, we have received no response to this request, even though prior to receiving your letter it was conveyed to us on your behalf that such funding would be made available to us as part of your inquiry," they wrote.
But, without any help from Mastriano or the Senate to replace the machines, "we are thus unable to grant you access to our machines."
York County's commissioners — two Republican and one Democrat — have raised questions about the legality of Mastriano's demand, the cost to the county, and their lack of staff to complete the project.
In the Democratic bastion of Philadelphia, election commissioners there planned to vote Friday on Mastriano's request on the agenda. They have yet to formally respond, but have said Mastriano is reiterating "claims about the November 2020 election that have been resoundingly rejected by courts."
Courts have repeatedly thrown out Republican claims about fraud or illegalities, and critics say an election audit is duplicative, given the audits already carried out by the county and the state.
In any case, Mastriano's information request does not remotely resemble a post-election audit plan that is recognized by the election administration community, said Edward Perez, global director of technology development at the California-based OSET Institute.
Trump won in Tioga County by three-to-one over Democrat Joe Biden, but Biden won the battleground state by just over 80,000 votes or about 1 percentage point.
That prompted Trump to pressure Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania and other states he lost narrowly to conduct an "audit," as is happening in a widely discredited exercise in Arizona.
Meanwhile, in York County, officials called police after receiving reports about people purporting to be from an "election integrity committee" going to homes and questioning the residents about their vote in the 2020 presidential election, the York Dispatch reported Thursday.
York County's president commissioner, Julie Wheeler, told the Dispatch that she received numerous calls and emails about the activity and referred the matter to the Southern York Regional Police Department.
Chad Baker, the county's Democratic Party chair, said the group appears to be targeting registered Democrats in an attempt to seek out voter fraud.
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