HARRISBURG, PA (WSKG) — The top Republican in Pennsylvania’s Senate said Monday that hearings will begin this week as he committed to carrying out a “full forensic investigation” of the state’s 2020 presidential election.
Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R-Centre) said he has communicated with former President Donald Trump, whose baseless claims about election fraud have propelled loyalists to pursue audits, reviews or other examinations of ballots and voting machines in battleground states where Democrat Joe Biden defeated him.
“I think he’s comfortable with where we’re heading and so we’re going to continue that work,” Corman said on the conservative Wendy Bell Radio program streamed online Monday.
Amid clashes over how to conduct it and how to pay for it, Corman on Friday removed the rank-and-file state senator, Doug Mastriano (R-Franklin), who had been the figurehead in the push for an Arizona-style audit of Pennsylvania’s 2020 presidential election. He then tapped Sen. Cris Dush (R-Cameron) to not only replace Mastriano, but to take his place as chair of the obscure Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee.
Sen. Cris Dush, tapped to replace Sen. Doug Mastriano, will begin holding hearings this week, Corman said. Dush and Mastriano both traveled to Phoenix in June to see the audit there up close.
Corman maintains the Senate’s aim is not to turn Trump’s defeat into victory, but to “getting to the bottom of everything that went on” and to “find any flaws in the system that could have been exploited.”
“We as the oversight body of elections have to ensure that people feel confident that elections were done fairly,” Corman said on the radio program. “I don’t think, I know they don’t feel confident in that now, and we need to provide that stability moving forward and if our work leads to someone else taking that work into a court of law, and changing those results, then so be it.”
A special Senate committee already investigated the 2020 election. That effort focused on future contests and did not attempt to prove baseless allegations of voter fraud. After months of work, that body released a report suggesting a litany of election code changes that ultimately were vetoed by Governor Tom Wolf.
Penn State Harrisburg Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Administration Dan Mallinson said the GOP is using support for new election investigations as a tool to attract Trump supporters.
“I think Republicans are trying to figure out how to keep these voters engaged and keep them coming back,” Mallinson said. “And so in the short term, the anger about losing the 2020 Election seems like something that may motivate those folks to come out.”
That strategy, he said, is worrying not only because it might be unsustainable for Republicans in the long term, but because of how it can undermine the country’s democratic underpinnings.
“If that’s what you’re going to continue to leverage, then you have to continue to leverage grievance and I feel like that just leads to a very dark place,” Mallinson continued. “You’re no longer debating real policy, but you’re trying to fire people up with grievance.”
In recent days and months, Trump allies have held up Corman as an obstacle, even drawing Trump’s wrath on Twitter in June, saying Corman “is fighting as though he were a Radical Left Democrat.” Democrats, meanwhile, say Corman is too cowardly to stand up to right-wing conspiracy theories about the election.
One question Corman’s office has been unable to answer is how to pay for an Arizona-style audit without private donations.
Senate GOP officials are concerned about the legality of funding the undertaking with private money, Corman’s office said.
But in Arizona, Trump backers reported raising more than $5.7 million for the widely discredited and partisan election audit sponsored by Senate Republicans there.
If Pennsylvania’s Senate Republicans need money, they may already have it sitting around: the Republican-controlled Legislature has long sat on reserves of more than $100 million, and the Senate alone last year reported $66 million in its reserve account.
Another question is how an Arizona-style audit will stand up to legal challenges like the one hinted at by Attorney General Josh Shapiro and places like Philadelphia County. Corman seemed to acknowledge them in explaining how the Senate GOP might approach the effort.
“We have to make sure legally we’re on the right spot to make sure we can absorb a challenge, which we will get,” Corman said.
While Corman and some other Republican senators might avoid repeating Trump’s baseless election claims, they continue to perpetuate the idea that Democrats cheated and blame Democrats — not Trump — for sowing doubt in the election.
They routinely distorted the actions of state judges and officials as “unconstitutional” or “illegal” in settling legal disputes and questions over Pennsylvania’s fledgling mail-in voting law in the weeks before November’s election.
On Monday, Corman repeatedly singled out Gov. Tom Wolf’s former top elections official, at one point saying she “didn’t allow” observers to see the counting of absentee ballots in Philadelphia.
However, the Trump campaign’s own court complaint, witnesses and lawyers acknowledged that its watchers were able to see the processing of mail-in ballots in Philadelphia, which was also livestreamed on video.
The Trump campaign’s complaint was that Philadelphia election officials did not allow their watchers close enough to election workers to see writing on the ballot envelopes. There is, however, no such requirement in state law, courts found.
Still, Corman seemed to acknowledge some criticism of how Arizona Senate Republicans had selected contractors.
They selected a cybersecurity firm that had no prior experience in elections, never submitted a formal bid for the work and had an owner who had tweeted support for conspiracy theories claiming Biden’s victory was illegitimate.
“We want credibility to what we are doing, and I think it’s important that we get people involved that don’t have ties to anybody, right? That are professional, that will do the job so that we can stand behind the results,” Corman said.