(The Center Square) – A key Pennsylvania Senate committee decided Wednesday it will subpoena the Department of State for access to the personal information of nearly 7 million voters as part of its election integrity investigation.
The development comes after Democrats on the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee opposed what they said was a privacy intrusion and accused Republicans of trying to undermine voting rights.
“This is an attack on our country’s greatest freedom,” said Minority Chairman Sen. Tony Williams, D-Philadelphia. “It’s an attack on our right to vote.”
“[This committee] just took a giant leap from fanning the flames of voter obstruction to taking a blow torch to democracy,” he added.
Majority Chairman Sen. Cris Dush, R-Wellsboro, said the committee needs the information to verify the identity of each and every resident who voted in person and by mail in the November 2020 and May 2021 elections. The personal data requested in the subpoena includes names, addresses, driver’s license numbers and the last four digits of each voter’s Social Security number.
“We’re not responding to proven allegations,” Dush said. “We are investigating the allegations to determine whether or not they are factual.”
The committee also asked for communications, directives and poll worker training sent between the department and the state’s 67 counties in the months and days before each election. The department has until Oct. 1 to respond.
“All’s we’re doing is seeking facts, seeking information, so that we can make better policy,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Bellefonte, as he defended the intent of the investigation. “I want to be clear, the Legislature has no authority to overturn an election … the point is we have a public that is concerned about how the last election was conducted.”
President Joe Biden declared victory in Pennsylvania after securing a lead of more than 80,000 votes in the November election, flipping the state former President Donald Trump won four years earlier by double the margin. The Trump campaign then launched several legal challenges to the results, claiming widespread voter fraud in a number of swing states that tipped the scales in Biden’s favor.
Senate Republicans in Arizona – one of the states Trump targeted for legal action – helped finance their own forensic audit of 2.3 million ballots cast in Maricopa County during the November election. Three of Pennsylvania’s GOP lawmakers, Dush among them, traveled to Phoenix in June to watch the process there unfold.
In the months since, the caucus has struggled to get its own audit off the ground. Internal fighting between Corman and Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Gettysburg, revealed divisions in how lawmakers believed the effort should proceed, with Corman ultimately sidelining Mastriano in his leading role and replacing him as committee chairman with Dush last month.
Dush clarified Wednesday that the subpoena will not require confirmation of a voter’s party affiliation or candidate selection. He also noted that it could have been avoided if only the department agreed to testify at the committee’s inaugural hearing on the election investigation held last week.
“Subpoenas were not our first choice of action, but the refusal of the Wolf administration to work with us in a bipartisan manner left us no other options to get the answers Pennsylvanians deserve,” he said.
Gov. Tom Wolf released a statement immediately following the committee’s 7-4 vote to accuse Republicans of “perpetuating the Big Lie.”
“Election security is not a game and should not be treated with such carelessness,” he said. “Senate Republican should be ashamed of their latest attempt to destabilize our election system through a sham investigation that will unnecessarily cost taxpayers millions of dollars.”
Sen. Steve Santarsiero, D-Lower Makefield, pressed Dush on who would have access to the information gleaned from the subpoena, though the answer wasn’t immediately clear. Dush said his staff and the Senate Republican legal counsel will be involved, but that he’d not yet selected an outside firm to complete the investigation.
“How can we vote on whether we should issue these subpoenas if we don’t know ultimately what’s going to happen to this information and who’s going to have access to it?” Santarsiero said.
It’s also unclear what the probe will cost, though Dush said the funds will come from the Senate’s own reserves.