Pennsylvania’s top elections official has decertified a rural county’s election machines because the county allowed a company with no elections experience to access the machines as part of an early politicized audit.
As State Sen. Doug Mastriano (R) pushes for new audits of three more counties in Pennsylvania, the decertification of the machines from the old audit underlined the risk counties face in allowing outsiders access to their machines. Pennsylvania’s Department of State said earlier this month that counties that handed over their machines to the senator’s probe “should be prepared to replace that brand-new, expensive equipment before any future elections.”
“Please know that I did not arrive at this decision lightly,” Acting Secretary of the Commonwealth Veronica Degraffenreid wrote in a letter to Fulton County officials.
Degraffenreid said she was decertifying the county’s leased Dominion machines because the county allowed the contractor Wake TSI to access them — even though Wake TSI had “no knowledge or expertise in election technology access,” the acting secretary wrote — and take digital images of the machines’ hard drives.
“These actions were taken in a manner that was not transparent or bipartisan,” Degraffenreid said. “As a result of the access granted to Wake TSI, Fulton County’s certified system has been compromised and neither Fulton County; the vendor, Dominion Voting Systems; nor the Department of State can verify that the impacted components of Fulton County’s leased voting system are safe to use in future elections.”
The news recalled the situation in Arizona, where a sham “audit” of Maricopa County’s 2020 election results has gone months over schedule and now serves as a platform for contractors and politicians to dish out misinformation about the 2020 elections. That county’s board of supervisors recently authorized spending nearly $3 million on replacing leased voting machines due to concerns that the integrity of the machines had been compromised.
Wake TSI was one of the firms initially contracted to perform the Arizona audit in March, though it dropped out of the project in May. Senate President Karen Fann (R), who authorized that audit, cited the company’s work in Fulton County when she announced they were being hired for the Arizona project.
But the Fulton County project bore some suspicious markers from the start: A contracting document first reported by the Arizona Mirror included the hand-written note, “Senator Mastriano set this review of Fulton Counties [sic] voter system and mail-in ballots. Wake TSI is contracted to Defending the Republic a 501(c)4.”
Sidney Powell, the pro-Trump lawyer who pursued multiple spurious lawsuits seeking to overturn the 2020 election, advertised Defending the Republic as a fundraising vehicle for her work.
Fulton Couny’s director of elections, Patti Hess, declined TPM’s request for comment.
Mastriano is now pursuing even more audits in Pennsylvania, though election officials and experts have stressed that there’s little justification — outside of politics — for doing so.
Earlier this month, the senator sent a letter to three counties — Philadelphia, Tioga and York — demanding access to a 45-point list of materials including “all ballot production, processing, and tabulation equipment from satellite election offices and any other location used to count votes.”
Mastriano demanded the counties establish a plan to provide him the requested materials by July 31, threatening subpoenas otherwise.
The Department of State, which Degraffenreid is leading on an acting basis, quickly warned that cooperating with the Mastriano audit could result in county’s machines being decertified.
“The Department of State encourages counties to refuse to participate in any sham review of past elections that would require counties to violate the trust of their voters and ignore their statutory duty to protect the chain of custody of their ballots and voting equipment,” the department said in its statement on July 7.
“Further, we will direct the counties that, if they turn over voting machines or scanners, they should be prepared to replace that brand-new, expensive equipment before any future Elections,” the statement added. “When the Secretary certifies voting systems, she certifies that they can be secured from outside intrusion. Such a ‘forensic’ exercise as that described by the senator would nullify that assurance.”
York County’s commissioners haven’t yet decided on their response to Mastriano’s request, but the commission wrote to Mastriano recently with a series of concerns about participating in the audit, including the prospect of their machines being decertified by the state.
Philadelphia hasn’t formally responded to Mastriano’s request yet. But Tioga County — whose residents voted for Donald Trump by a 50-point margin in 2020 — rejected Mastriano’s audit last week.
“We can’t be in a position where we don’t have the election machines, because we have to run the next election, these are extremely expensive machines and our position is we need to follow the direction that (Acting Secretary of State Veronica Degraffenreid) has given us,” Tioga County Solicitor Christopher Gabriel said.