The polls have closed on yet another election in Pennsylvania but a panel of Republican state senators continue their pursuit of a taxpayer-funded investigation into the 2020 and 2021 elections.
The initial no-bid contract with Envoy Sage, an Iowa-based consulting firm, hired to assist a Senate committee expired on Wednesday.
Senate Republicans say the firm’s expertise is still needed to aid the Intergovernmental Operations Committee as it explores concerns raised about earlier elections and to identify changes needed to restore voter confidence in the election system.
Democrats on the committee, however, consider the probe a waste of time and taxpayers’ money. Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia, called the inquiry a form of campaigning the taxpayer’s dime.
“They’re going to campaign on smaller government, cutting taxes yet they’re awarding a contract that has no transparency is a story that their constituencies will begin to react to,” Williams said. “I think that’s a huge miscalculation related to their base. “Their base isn’t interested in wasting money.”
The Republicans, though, credit Envoy Sage with helping to identify issues that led to last month’s Senate passage of legislation to ban ballot drop boxes and private funding of election operations.
“We have discovered violations of commonwealth election law and opened lines of investigative inquiry into several areas of concern,” said Sen. Cris Dush, R-Jefferson County, who chairs the committee. “Based on our work, I strongly believe that we need to continue our efforts to root out problems in our election system.”
Dush said the investigation has no set end date.
“The whole point of this is to get us to where the people of Pennsylvania can have a high degree of confidence that one, only qualified electors are able to get their ballots into the system. [and] two, each qualified elector has each of their choices accurately tabulated and reported, ”he said.
The contract extension has no dollar figure attached to it, said committee spokesman Jason Thompson.
Senate Republicans have entered into two contracts with Envoy Sage – the original one for 270,000 and another for 187,000 related to attempts to collect election data from Fulton County that was blocked by the courts.
Any additional payments beyond the amounts of those contracts will be determined based on future investigative work the committee needs done, Thompson said. He also noted the firm’s invoices to date have not reached the full contracted amounts but was unable to say how much remains.
A call to Envoy Sage was not returned on Thursday.
The violations that Dush alluded to that were the focus of a March 31 hearing included an authenticated video of a man depositing several papers into a ballot drop box at Lehigh County’s government center as well as unsworn testimony from Jessica Morgan, a Luzerne County judge of elections. , about witnessing a woman trying to drop off a stack of ballots into a drop box in the county elections office until she stopped her.
The Senate committee launched its investigation last summer in the wake of unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud in Pennsylvania and former President Donald Trump’s unproven claim that Democrats stole the 2020 presidential election. While its initial focus is on the 2020 and 2021 elections, Thompson said, “there’s nothing that says we can’t broaden the scope.”
The committee hired Envoy Sage after issuing a subpoena to the Department of State requesting 17 categories of records, many of them already public but also sought voters’ partial Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers and details about election security systems.
That subpoena spawned several still unresolved court cases filed by Democrats that prevented Envoy Sage from performing some of the work it was hired to do. Thompson blamed those roadblocks by the department and Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration as part of the reason why Envoy Sage’s contract needs to be extended.
Beyond that, Thompson also pointed out the firm helped identify and vet people who presented testimony about ballot harvesting and the lack of drop box security at that March hearing that “nobody tried to refute.”
“It was information that helped us move forward on our legislation to eliminate drop boxes,” Thompson said.
Democrats walked out of that hearing with Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa of Allegheny County calling it “another partisan hack job to perpetuate the Big Lie.” They also protested Dush’s refusal to swear in testifiers at that hearing.
Williams said on Thursday the only incidents relating to drop boxes or voter fraud in Pennsylvania that have been prosecuted involved Republicans who got caught. So this investigation “hasn’t revealed anything. Stop trying to create something out of nothing, ”Williams said. “They just don’t accept that they keep telling lies until it becomes the truth. That’s what’s going on. “
Jan Murphy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at anJanMurphy.
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