Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Pennsylvania Republican blasts election audit, rebukes fraud claims

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By Nathan Layne

(Reuters) -A Republican lawmaker in Pennsylvania has come out against his colleagues’ “forensic” audit of the 2020 election, becoming the party’s first statewide official to publicly call for an end to the effort and warn of electoral consequences.

In an op-ed on Thursday, state Senator Dan Laughlin says that moves to investigate Donald Trump’s loss to President Joe Biden in the state are being made “absent credible evidence of fraud” and won’t change the outcome, as some voters hope.

“The current attempt to discredit the 2020 election results runs headlong into an unmistakable truth,” wrote Laughlin, a centre-right Republican from Erie County. “Donald Trump lost Pennsylvania because Donald Trump received fewer votes.”

His comments mark a rare public rebuke of Republican state Senator Doug Mastriano from within his own party. Mastriano has been arguing for a comprehensive “forensic” investigation involving the inspection of voting equipment, modeled on a contentious partisan probe ongoing in Maricopa County, Arizona.

Mastriano, who has promoted Trump’s baseless stolen-election claims, launched the investigation earlier this month with requests to Tioga, Philadelphia and York counties for access to their voting machines. Mastriano has said he would subpoena the counties if they did not comply by July 31.

Tioga and York have indicated they would not comply after the state’s top election official said she would decertify their voting equipment if they were handed over to a third party, triggering large costs for taxpayers. Philadelphia is also expected to reject Mastriano’s request after debating the issue at a commissioner’s meeting on Friday.

On Thursday, Tioga sent a letter to Mastriano saying it remained open to cooperating if he could arrange for funding to cover the $1 million it needed to buy new machines after the state’s expected decertification. The rural county of about 40,000 people said it must have new equipment in place by Aug. 20 to be ready for elections later this year.

So far a prior assurance that funding could be arranged had not materialized, said Chris Gabriel, the county’s solicitor.

“We have a responsibility to ensure that our voters can vote in the Fall,” Gabriel wrote in the letter. “We therefore decline your request at this time.”

Pennsylvania has already conducted a so-called risk-limiting audit of the 2020 election, and all counties audited a sample of their votes. Neither effort turned up widespread fraud to put in question Trump’s loss to Biden in the state by 81,000 votes.

Mastriano, who is seen as a potential contender for governor in 2022, has said he would issue subpoenas to the counties, a move they will likely challenge in court. Mastriano did not respond to a request for comment.

Laughlin, who is also eyeing a run for governor, said an effort to “rummage through already counted ballots while employing statistical tricks” in search of fraud would only help Democrats raise money and harm his party in upcoming elections.

Laughlin noted that Republicans generally did well in Pennsylvania in 2020, capturing the posts of state treasurer and auditor general for the first time in decades.

“That’s not a sign of a stolen election,” he wrote, urging his fellow lawmakers to focus instead on issues such as lower taxes and economic growth.

(Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Michael Perry and Richard Pullin)

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