As Pennsylvania Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee Majority Chair Cris Dush (R-Wellsboro) investigates recent elections, Democratic lawmakers against tightening election security must contend with a withering 2019 audit of Pennsylvania’s voter registry.
At his investigation’s initial hearing last Thursday, Dush announced his intention to hold the Department of State (DOS) accountable for the mismanagement identified in the audit by calling the department to testify at the committee’s next hearing to be scheduled soon.
“I would request that [Commonwealth Secretary Veronica Degraffenreid] be prepared to testify on that audit report and to have answers to the findings that were in that report,” Dush said, noting the document’s “scathing” content.
In December 2019, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, a liberal Democratic former state legislator, reported that his staff identified 13,913 possibly duplicate voter records and 2,991 records of potentially deceased voters that hadn’t been deleted from the Statewide Uniform Registry of Electors (SURE).
DePasquale indicated that his staff was being “conservative” in calling the questionable voter records they discovered “potential” errors and asserted that most of the glitches they observed were actual inaccuracies. He attested in his report to DOS having posed “difficult impediments throughout the audit” and to the department reacting hostilely to many of the findings it contains.
“We are very discouraged by management’s response to our draft findings,” DePasquale wrote on behalf of his office in a letter to Gov. Tom Wolf (D) accompanying the audit. “We were quite surprised that DOS’ response indicates that it strongly disagrees with many of our findings and mischaracterizes information that was provided, or not provided to us in many instances, during the course of our audit…. We are concerned that DOS, and therefore the counties, will not utilize the information provided to them in the audit because it is assuming that the data in the SURE system is accurate. Our data analysis strongly suggests otherwise.”
The auditor general issued numerous recommendations he believed DOS should undertake to correct erroneous voter files. His advice included working with counties to investigate multiple voter records containing the same drivers’ license numbers and performing regular data analysis to guarantee that duplicate voter rolls are discovered and promptly deleted.
He also recommended checking all voter documents of those who appear to be at least 100 years old to ensure the indicated date of birth is correct and the individual isn’t deceased. (In 2021, at least one Pennsylvanian has been prosecuted for voting illegally using the identity of a dead relative.)
Pennsylvania’s then Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar (D) called the audit “flawed and misleading.”
Dush’s reference to a Democrat’s report on voter-roll mismanagement belies an argument made by his committee’s Minority Chair Anthony H. Williams (D-Philadelphia), that the investigation underway simply impugns the 2020 election results and endangers voting-rights.
“This exercise is one part of the ongoing, nationally orchestrated attack on our electoral system,” Williams told attendees at Thursday’s hearing. “This is an attack on one of our greatest freedoms. It’s an attack on our right to vote.”
Boockvar had been appointed secretary of the commonwealth by Wolf in January 2019 to replace then acting Secretary Robert Torres (now Pennsylvania Secretary of Aging). Boockvar resigned this February, having botched administration of a ballot question concerning the statute of limitations for sexual abuse. In her stead, Wolf appointed Degraffenreid, who has since drawn controversy for decertifying Fulton County’s voting machines in response to the county conducting an audit of its 2020 elections.
Degraffenreid has already declined Dush’s first invitation to testify before his committee last week about election procedures in 2020, citing pending election-related litigation: Fulton County is taking DOS to court to reclaim the right to use its voting machines and several Republican lawmakers are suing the department to nullify Act 77, which created no-excuse mail-in voting in Pennsylvania.
“The 2020 general election in Pennsylvania was free, fair, and accurate,” Degraffenreid told Dush and Williams in a September 9 letter. “The votes were counted in public and in front of observers from both major parties.”
The Senate Intergovernmental Operation’s committee is scheduled to meet today to consider a motion to issue subpoenas for its investigation. The date of the hearing on the SURE system has not yet been announced.
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Bradley Vasoli is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and The Star News Network. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].