Almost 10 months after the presidential election, the Pennsylvania Senate will open hearings this week as it launches a “forensic investigation,” the top Republican senator said Monday.
Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R., Centre) said lawmakers will seek voting records, ballots, and machines — and suggested the Senate will use subpoenas to get them.
“We can bring people in. We can put them under oath. We can subpoena records, and that’s what we need to do,” he said in an interview with the pro-Trump radio personality Wendy Bell. “That’s what we’re going to do.”
Corman said he has spoken with former President Donald Trump about the issue: “I think he’s comfortable where we’re heading.”
The development came days after Corman ousted fellow GOP Sen. Doug Mastriano (R., Franklin) as the leader in Harrisburg of the push for an Arizona-style “audit” of the 2020 election, saying Mastriano was more interested in “grandstanding” than in getting results. Corman installed Sen. Cris Dush (R., Jefferson) as the new chairman of the committee that will lead the review.
Corman, who was first elected to the Senate in 1998, has long been seen as a steady hand and protector of the legislative institution. In a matter of days, he has gone from mostly keeping quiet about Trump supporters’ demands for an Arizona-style “forensic investigation” into President Joe Biden’s victory to plunging full steam ahead into baseless election fraud claims.
Corman is up for reelection next year, and perceived disloyalty to Trump could invite a primary challenge. In late 2020, Corman announced he was forming a Special Committee on Election Integrity and Reform. It held hearings this year and recommended changes to state law. Two other committees in the legislature also reviewed Pennsylvania’s election system this year.
That hasn’t stopped Trump and some of his most vocal supporters — including Mastriano, a likely candidate for governor next year — from demanding an “audit.”
It’s not clear how the Senate’s new review would actually work, including how it would be funded, how and where sensitive election equipment and materials would be securely stored, who would conduct it and what training they would have, what standards and processes would be followed, what documentation would be required, and what the end product would be.
Each Pennsylvania county already conducted an audit of the election results before they were certified last year, as required by law. All but four of 67 also participated in a “risk-limiting” audit, a gold-standard method of confirming the reported results against a random sample of ballots.
The renewed push for an investigation comes as officials in Arizona are bracing for the release of a report that’s expected to detail the findings of a monthslong partisan inquiry into the election in that state.
The Arizona “forensic investigation” was led by a contractor with no previous experience auditing elections, funded by Trump allies who promoted the false notion that the election was stolen, and widely denounced by professional election administrators and security experts for failing to follow best practices. It also became a hub for the QAnon conspiracy theory, which centers on the baseless idea that prominent Democrats and other elites run a child sex-trafficking ring and worship Satan.
With the Arizona review wrapping up, Pennsylvania may now become ground zero for the election denial movement. Corman said he hopes the Arizona findings “will be a springboard for us” and “make it harder for courts to shoot us down.”
“We are committed to going wherever this takes us,” he said. “There’s no ceiling on this.”
He said he’s spoken with the Republican leaders of the Arizona Senate. Asked by Bell, the radio host, what he learned from those conversations, Corman said: “It’s important we get people involved that don’t have ties to anybody, that are professional, that will do the job, so that we can stand behind the results.”
Corman said Monday a review was necessary here because many constituents don’t trust Pennsylvania’s elections. He also reiterated criticism of then-Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar’s guidance to county elections officials.
“I don’t necessarily have faith in the results,” Corman said in the interview. “I think there were many problems in our election that we need to get to the bottom of.”
He said he’s “heard stories” about fraud such as dead people voting — a baseless conspiracy theory — which he cited as supporting the need for a review of the election.
“We need to get the voter rolls, we need to get the ballots — things of that nature — so we can match them up to see: who voted, where were they living, were they alive?”
He said the Senate is joining a lawsuit filed by Fulton County against the Wolf administration, challenging the secretary of state’s decision to decertify its voting machines. The administration took that step after the county allowed a third-party vendor to access the machines earlier this year as part of an “audit.”
“We are joining that suit so we can fight this out first, to make sure we can get access to those machines,” Corman said.
Not everyone in the Senate GOP is on board. State Sen. Gene Yaw (R., Lycoming) said the underlying rationale for many who support an “audit” is that they believe Trump “will somehow be reinstated as President.”
“Unless there is a coup, which is not going to happen in the United States, the 2020 election is over,” Yaw wrote on his website last week. “Biden is the President. An audit is not going to change that fact irrespective of the outcome.”
And Sen. Dan Laughlin (R., Erie), a moderate who’s considering running for governor, said last month that the spectacle of an audit “will only further the paranoid atmospherics” over the 2020 election.
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the number of counties that participated in a post-election “risk-limiting” audit.