A proposed Legislative Budget and Finance Committee audit report on the 2020 election will likely not be done until after the presidential inauguration, and, Republican lawmakers in the state House insist, will have no impact on the certification of the results of the election.
A resolution that would authorize the audit passed out of the state government committee on Wednesday and is slated for a vote by the full House Thursday. It is focused on identifying issues that need to be corrected before the April primary, said state Rep. Jesse Topper, R-Bedford County, the prime sponsor of the resolution.
“I’m not asking for any outcomes of the election to be reversed,” Topper said. “This is about our process moving forward.”
The resolution gives counties 45 days to provide the auditors with information about mail-in ballots, the way they were handled and any problems that occurred during the ballot-counting process. It also requires that the report be completed within 60 days of the election, but the auditors are allowed to ask for an extra 30 days to wrap up their work if they need it.
Either way, the report won’t be completed until 2021.
Even so, Democrats blasted the resolution as an attempt by Republicans at the state Capitol to echo fierce criticism of the state’s handling of mail-in voting from President Donald Trump, his campaign and allies.
“We should not be spending God-knows-how-much money on a fishing expedition,” said state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Philadelphia. “The 2020 election happened. It’s over. This is a waste of time.”
The resolution comes a week after Republicans in the state House had said they wanted to launch a review of the election before the state certifies the election results in the presidential election.
Lyndsay Kensinger, a spokeswoman for Gov. Tom Wolf, said that the Department of State has been planning to do its own audit of the election.
"That progress continues and in fact, at least 26 counties have already completed the first phase of the pilot, by submitting 'ballot manifests,” which are spreadsheets identifying the organization of and numbers of cast ballots in each county," she said.
The Department of State's audit will involve consulting with national experts on these type of risk-limiting audits, including staff from groups like VotingWorks, Verified Voting and the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, she said.
"Much of the benefit of the audit comes from the involvement of experienced professionals at the Department of State and county offices," Kensinger said. The Legislative Budget and Finance Committee has no expertise or role in election administration, and it is inappropriate to pretend it does."
Topper said he was inspired to author the resolution after he learned that two counties in his legislative district had used different interpretations of state guidance on whether to contact voters about problems with their mail-in ballots. One county contacted voters and the other didn’t.
“That’s not fraud, but there was confusion. Not every ballot was handled in the same manner,” he said.
State Rep. Seth Grove, R-Lancaster County, had announced last week that the state government would hold hearings examining the state’s handling of the election. Wednesday, after the vote on HR 1100, Grove said there was really not enough time for lawmakers to act before the end of their fall legislative session.
Lawmakers plan to finish the state’s budget this week. The legislative session formally ends Nov. 30, meaning there won’t be an opportunity to hold hearings before January when the new legislative session begins.
Grove said that voting to have the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee, which is a standalone committee, means that the audit can get underway during the interim between the end of the November session and the beginning of the new legislative session in January.
The Legislative Budget and Finance Committee conducts financial reviews of state operations at the request of the General Assembly. The committee has produced seven reports this year including two released last month a fiscal analysis of the state of the Pennsylvania Game Commission and an examination of how many customer service hotlines are operated by state social service agencies and how much they cost. Both of those reports were authorized by the General Assembly in 2019.