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Pa. Republicans are set to subpoena documents and hire a contractor for their 2020 election review

The developments underscore how the new taxpayer-funded partisan investigation has become a top priority for the GOP-controlled legislature.

Pennsylvania Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R., Centre).
Pennsylvania Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R., Centre).Read moreMatt Rourke / AP

Pennsylvania Republican lawmakers are set to vote Wednesday to subpoena Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration for voter records, communication between state and county elections officials, and other documents as they investigate the 2020 presidential election 10 months after Joe Biden’s victory.

The vote comes as the Senate has been interviewing vendors to assist in the review, Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R., Centre) said in an interview Tuesday. “I hope to have someone under contract in the very near future,” he said.

Taken together, the developments underscore how the new taxpayer-funded partisan investigation has become a top priority for the GOP-controlled legislature.

Wednesday’s meeting of the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee marks the legislature’s second hearing since Corman last month committed to conducting a “full forensic investigation” of the election.

Former President Donald Trump has been demanding such an inquiry for months as he continues to falsely claim the election was stolen, and his supporters have taken inspiration from a months-long partisan review in Arizona that was widely criticized by elections experts for failing to follow best practices.

» READ MORE: The Pa. Senate leader resisted his pro-Trump wing for months. Now he wants a MAGA makeover.

Other swing states Biden won last year, including Wisconsin, have also launched election probes.

“I’m not looking to Arizona. If we learn some things after they’re completed, that might be helpful, we’ll certainly find out,” Corman said. “This is Pennsylvania-specific. And whether what we’re doing actually meets the legal term of ‘forensic’ or not, I’m not sure. But what we’re gonna do is do a thorough investigation, and go with credibility, so that people can have [faith] in the results.”

Republicans have said their constituents are concerned about election integrity generally and the 2020 election in particular. But those concerns have been largely driven by Trump’s lies about voter fraud and election rigging, which Republicans across Pennsylvania have echoed.

There is no evidence to support Trump’s baseless claims of widespread fraud. Biden won Pennsylvania by more than 80,000 votes, multiple lawsuits challenging the election made no specific claims of fraud and were thrown out or otherwise failed, and county and state audits of the results found no issue with them.

Pennsylvania Republicans are beginning their review with the Department of State, which oversees elections. Corman has previously said he wants to obtain voting machines and ballots, too, which are administered by counties.

Corman said the subpoena is necessary because acting Secretary of State Veronica Degraffenreid declined the committee’s request to testify at a hearing last week.

Wolf this week withdrew his nomination of Degraffenreid to be secretary of state, saying Republicans would use confirmation hearings to sow further doubt about the electoral process.

“Unfortunately, for a year we’ve seen lies and misinformation coming from Republicans in the legislature escalate,” Wolf said. “There were no irregularities, no conspiracies, and no fraud that occurred.”

Why we’re not calling it an audit
The Inquirer is not currently referring to attempts by Pennsylvania Republicans to investigate the 2020 presidential election as an audit because there's no indication it would follow the best practices or the common understanding of an audit among nonpartisan experts. When asked by The Inquirer, lawmakers leading the effort have not explained how it would actually be run, including whether best practices would be followed; who would be involved, including what role partisan politicians would play; how the review would be documented; how election equipment and ballots would be secured; and what the scope of any review would be. Joe Biden won Pennsylvania by more than 80,000 votes. State and county audits affirmed the outcome, and there is no evidence of any significant fraud.

The subpoena seeks lists of all registered Pennsylvania voters and nonpublic personal identification information like the last four digits of their Social Security and driver’s license numbers, according to a copy of the document obtained by The Inquirer.

It also seeks a breakdown of the manner in which each voter cast ballots last fall and in the May 2021 primary election.

“That’s where you get to the bottom of whether there was any fraud: Who showed up to vote, and were they properly registered to vote?” Corman said.

“You get a lot of allegations, and the only way you sort of find that out is if you actually look at it,” he added. “The governor made us spend tens of millions if not hundreds of millions on these new voting machines. They all have a paper trail. Well, what’s that paper trail for other than to review the last election, or the election process?”

Every vote cast in Pennsylvania has a paper record, which can be used to audit or even fully recount election results. But because ballots are secret, they are not identifiable by individual voters and can’t be used to determine other questions, such as ones about voter eligibility.

The subpoena also demands documents from the Department of State regarding its preelection guidance to counties, as well as training materials for county election workers.

Corman said the Senate plans to hire a contractor with “investigative abilities” to review the materials it gets. Asked whether he intends to hire a contractor with prior experience auditing elections, Corman suggested that wasn’t a determining factor.

“I don’t know how much experience is out there for auditing elections, right?” he said. “I don’t know there’s a lot that has been done over time.” Corman added that staff have asked vendors about their understanding of the election process, “and clearly, that will be a key component of who we hire.”

» READ MORE: She lost big in the Philly suburbs. She went hunting for voter fraud. Now Kathy Barnette is a rising GOP star.

It remains to be seen how sensitive election materials would be stored securely. Corman said he’s committed to making that happen, noting that security failures could result in decertification of voting machines and force taxpayers to pay for new ones.

“We want to be very careful about this process so that we don’t cause any undue consequences,” he said.

Corman, asked whether he trusts the results of the presidential election and recognizes Biden as the legitimate winner in Pennsylvania, said: “I have a lot of concerns about the performance of the Department of State during the election.

“I think they weaponized the Department of State and it was the most partisan performance that I’ve ever seen. … Whether you can quantify that into 80,000 votes, I have no knowledge of that, and nor do I claim that,” he said. “What I do claim is: The Department of State acted inappropriately, and we’re going to continue to work to make sure that never happens again.”

Rumors have been swirling in political circles that Corman might run for governor next year. He laughed at that suggestion Tuesday.

“Obviously, this is the most important thing in front of us,” he said. “We’ve got a legislative session in front of us. So I’m not planning that at this time.”

Staff writer Jonathan Lai contributed to this article.