Counties told not to turn over election equipment

Acting Secretary of State Veronica Degraffenreid, above, issued a directive Friday prohibiting third-party access to electronic voting systems.

Two days after state Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin County, announced that he’s requesting that three counties turn over election materials and equipment for a “forensic investigation,” the Department of State on Friday directed counties to refuse any requests for access to voting equipment by third-party groups.

Acting Secretary of State Veronica W. Degraffenreid issued a directive prohibiting third-party access to electronic voting systems, addressing requests that counties allow outside entities not involved with the conduct of elections to review and copy the internal electronic, software, mechanical, logic, and related components of Pennsylvania’s voting systems.

“Such access by third parties undermines chain of custody requirements and strict access limitations necessary to prevent both intentional and inadvertent tampering with electronic voting systems,” Secretary Degraffenreid said. “It also jeopardizes the security and integrity of the systems and will prevent electronic voting system vendors from affirming that the systems continue to meet Commonwealth security standards and U.S. Election Assistance Commission certification,” she said.

Mastriano sent his request to the boards of elections in Philadelphia, Tioga and York counties, directing them to turn over all cast ballots and balloting materials from the November 2020 general election and the May 2021 primary. The request also included unprecedented access to electronic voting equipment.

Mastriano, a staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump who attended the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, was one of three state Republican lawmakers who traveled to Arizona to view the election audit commissioned by the Senate Republicans in that state. The others who made the Arizona trip were state Sen. Cris Dush, R-Indiana County, and state Rep. Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin County.

“A forensic investigation of our election results and processes for the 2020 General Election and the 2021 Primary will go a long way to restore trust in our system,” Mastriano said in a statement released Wednesday morning.

Gov. Tom Wolf on Thursday called Mastriano’s proposed review ‘a disgrace to democracy” and Friday, the Department of State said it would use every available avenue to prevent such disruption of the electoral process. It also reminded counties that the federal government has designated voting equipment as Critical Infrastructure, severely limiting access by outside parties.

The directive states that county boards of elections shall not provide physical, electronic, or internal access to third parties seeking to copy and/or conduct an examination of state-certified electronic voting systems, or any components of such systems. If such access occurs, those pieces of voting equipment will be considered no longer secure or reliable to use in subsequent elections, and the Department of State will withdraw its certification of the equipment.

The directive told counties that allowing third-party access would result in them being required to replace their voting systems, just purchased in all Pennsylvania counties in 2019 or early 2020.

“We have already had two legal audits and dozens of legal opinions all stating the same thing, there was no widespread fraud in Pennsylvania. No counties should comply with these ‘demands,’ and if they do there will be substantial costs to counties and voters, including disclosure of personal data,” said Attorney General Josh Shapiro. “The Department of State’s directive clearly states that turning voting machines over to third parties jeopardizes the security of future elections. Any county that chooses to risk the safety of our elections by complying with the demand letter will not be reimbursed for the cost of replacing voting machines, which would leave taxpayers in these counties on the hook for millions of dollars,” he said.

John Finnerty reports from the Harrisburg Bureau for the New Castle News and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by CNHI. Email him at jfinnerty@cnhi.com and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.

 

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CNHI PA State Reporter

John Finnerty reports from the Harrisburg Bureau for the New Castle News and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by CNHI. Email him at jfinnerty@cnhi.com and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.

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