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Pennsylvania GOP leaders face growing pressure to pursue an Arizona-style 2020 election ‘audit’

The GOP is divided between those who want to put the presidential race behind them and others eager to curry favor with former President Donald Trump.

Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company Cyber Ninjas at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix last month.
Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company Cyber Ninjas at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix last month.Read moreMatt York / AP

Republican leaders of the Pennsylvania legislature are coming under growing pressure to conduct a new review of the 2020 election, as former President Donald Trump and his supporters continue to make false claims that the vote was rife with widespread fraud.

The push is dividing the party between those who want to put the presidential race behind them five months into the Biden administration, and others eager to curry favor with the GOP’s undisputed leader. The split also illuminates competing visions for how the party can win in next year’s high-stakes elections for governor and U.S. Senate.

Lawmakers in Harrisburg spent months holding hearings about Pennsylvania’s election system, with GOP leaders taking pains to emphasize they want to improve state law — not relitigate the presidential race. Republicans’ point person on election legislation in the state House released a report last month outlining potential changes for a systematic overhaul of the election code, and GOP lawmakers expect to introduce a bill this month.

But this week, three Republican lawmakers traveled to Phoenix to get a firsthand look at a controversial partisan review of last year’s election in Maricopa County, Ariz., which has been underway for months. The lawmakers — including State Sen. Doug Mastriano, a likely candidate for governor — then called for a similar review in Pennsylvania.

» READ MORE: Pennsylvania Republicans make an opening bid for election changes: ‘We have a god-awful’ law

On Friday, Trump himself demanded action, calling on State Senate President Jake Corman (R., Centre) to “fulfill his promise to his constituents to conduct a full Forensic Audit.”

“The people of Pennsylvania and America deserve to know the truth,” Trump said in a statement. “If the Pennsylvania Senate leadership doesn’t act, there is no way they will ever get re-elected!”

Before Trump waded into the debate, State Rep. Seth Grove (R., York), chair of the committee that held 10 hearings on Pennsylvania’s election system, threw cold water on the idea of an audit.

“The PA House of Representatives will not be authorizing any further audits on any previous election,” Grove said Thursday on Twitter. “We are focused on fixing our broken election law to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat.”

But State Sen. Dave Argall, chairman of the Senate State Government Committee, told the Associated Press Thursday that he’s open to some kind of audit. He noted the legislature will consider a bill this month that would require the state auditor general, Republican Tim DeFoor, to audit the 2020 election.

The bill would include “statistically significant samples chosen from each county.” The proposal would need to pass both chambers and be signed by Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat who made clear Friday he would veto it.

“What they’re calling for isn’t an ‘audit.’ It’s a taxpayer-funded disinformation campaign and a disgrace to democracy,” Wolf said on Twitter. “Pennsylvania had a free and secure election. That’s a fact. Pennsylvanians deserve better from their elected officials.”

President Joe Biden won the state by more than 80,000 votes.

Lawmakers may try to commission an audit without passing legislation.

Any such effort would draw comparisons to the widely criticized review underway in Arizona, where the GOP-controlled state Senate authorized subpoenas earlier this year to gain access to all 2.1 million mail ballots in Maricopa County and hundreds of voting machines.

The recount is being run by a Florida-based company called Cyber Ninjas, which has no previous experience auditing elections and whose CEO has amplified false claims of widespread fraud. The Justice Department has raised concerns that election records aren’t being properly safeguarded, possibly violating federal law.

Nevertheless, Republicans in other battleground states Biden won are pursuing similar ideas. In Wisconsin, for example, a top Republican in the legislature last month hired retired police officers to investigate the presidential election.

GOP activists have been pushing lawmakers in Pennsylvania and across the country to tighten election laws. Polls this year have consistently showed that a large majority of Republicans nationwide believe Biden’s election wasn’t legitimate.

Trump wasn’t satisfied with lawmakers’ approach in Pennsylvania, according to Mastriano, who met with the former president in New York last month.

“Obviously No. 1 on his mind was election reform in Pennsylvania,” Mastriano told a radio interviewer at the time. “I have been keeping him up to speed. ... He is not happy with the Pennsylvania General Assembly, at all.”

Mastriano arranged for Fulton County, in south-central Pennsylvania, to perform an election audit earlier this year using a West Chester-based contractor now working on the Arizona recount. It was funded by a nonprofit headed by former Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell, according to the Arizona Mirror.

But the audit ended up costing the county money anyway, because its vendor won’t use the same voting machines going forward. Allowing a third party to access equipment is considered a security risk.

“A county audit like the one authorized by the Arizona State Senate is critically necessary for our Commonwealth,” Mastriano said Friday.

Staff writer Jonathan Lai contributed to this article.