HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Nearly 10 months after last year's election, Pennsylvania's state lawmakers can seemingly no longer avoid pressure to mount an Arizona-style “audit” of the 2020 election, stoked by former President Donald Trump's persistent and baseless claims that the election was rigged against him.
The Senate's top Republican, President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, came out in recent days and threw his support behind a “full forensic investigation,” after weeks of silence about it and discord among Senate Republicans over efforts by one senator to drag the state into one.
At the same time, Corman and that senator, Doug Mastriano, a Trump loyalist, took to the livestreams of right-wing broadcasters to accuse each other of being the true obstacle to an audit, and claim the mantle of being the true champion for an audit.
Corman had previously been dismissive of it, saying in June that “we don’t need to relitigate 2020,” even as Trump bashed Corman as fighting an audit “as though he were a Radical Left Democrat.”
Corman and many other Republican state lawmakers had avoided the subject by pointing to hearings they held, reports they produced and legislation they drafted to, in their view, fix Pennsylvania’s election law.
But it had not satisfied enough Republican voters, apparently.
In any case, Arizona's “audit” does not even remotely resemble any kind of audit that is accepted by the election administration community.
The Associated Press takes a closer look at what is going on:
WHY DO REPUBLICANS WANT AN AUDIT?
The driving force behind the movement is to investigate claims by Trump and others that the election was stolen, with backers saying many people don't trust that the election was fair. Indeed, polls have shown a majority of Republicans don't trust the election result.
Democrats say an audit is simply a stunt to erode the legitimacy of President Joe Biden's victory — he won Pennsylvania by more than 80,000 votes, according to certified results — and they blame Trump and Republicans for spreading lies about the election that have sown distrust among voters.
The state’s attorney general, Democrat Josh Shapiro, called it a “partisan fishing expedition" and has vowed to fight it, while Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s top elections official threatened to decertify any state-certified election equipment that gets examined by third parties.
The state Republican Party is trying to fundraise off an audit — questioning what Democrats have to hide — while the state Democratic Party accuses Republicans of wasting time and money “appeasing far-right insurrectionists.”
Most Republican senators generally avoid repeating Trump’s baseless election claims.
But they nevertheless perpetuate the idea that Democrats cheated by distorting the actions of Democratic state judges and officials leading up to last year’s election as “unconstitutional” or “illegal."
Still, critics inside the Senate Republican caucus suggest that people who want the audit are only interested in seeing Trump reinstated. Election administrators say an audit is duplicative, given the required audits already carried out by county and the state.
Meanwhile, Trump’s false claims of a stolen election have been debunked by the courts, his own Justice Department and numerous recounts, and no prosecutor, judge or election official in Pennsylvania has raised a concern about widespread fraud.
WHAT WILL AN AUDIT LOOK LIKE?
The blueprint for Trump allies is the widely discredited and partisan “audit” mounted by the Senate Republicans in Arizona, where they subpoenaed voting machines and ballots in heavily populated Maricopa County.
On July 7, Mastriano threatened to subpoena Philadelphia — a Democratic bastion that has been the target of Republican claims about voting fraud — and York and Tioga counties for similar access to voting machines, ballots, computers, documents and more.
However, Corman said Mastriano issued those demands without approval from the Senate Republican caucus and, in recent days, stripped Mastriano of his authority and handed it off to a different caucus member.
On Monday, Corman told a pro-Trump show host that the Senate “can bring people in, we can put them under oath, right? We can subpoena records and that’s what we need to do, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
He also has said Senate Republicans want access to voting machines, and they will go to court to help secure that access.
Corman also suggested that ballots would be compared to lists of who voted, while seemingly giving credence to right-wing conspiracy theories that dead people voted.
“We need to get the voter rolls, we need to get the ballots, things of that nature, so we can match them up to see who voted, where were they living, were they alive, all those sort of things," Corman said on the pro-Trump Wendy Bell Radio program.
WHEN WILL IT START?
Corman had said hearings would begin this past week.
That didn't happen. Meanwhile, many questions remain unanswered about who will do the work, how will it be funded and where such a vast amount of documents and equipment would be stored.
Corman seems determined to avoid the pitfalls of Arizona’s Senate Republicans, namely funding it with more than $5.7 million in private donations raised by Trump allies and hiring a cybersecurity firm with no election experience and led by a Trump supporter who has questioned the legitimacy of Biden's victory.
Senate Republican officials say they want credible auditors — such as an international firm with experience in elections — and believe funding it with private money is legally questionable.
The only money they may be able to find is cash from a massive reserve Pennsylvania’s Legislature has maintained for years, managed in secret, with no rules over how it can be used.
The Senate alone last year reported $66 million in its reserve account.
HOW IS THIS BEING RECEIVED?
Some hard-core supporters of an audit are unhappy over Mastriano’s ouster and remain unconvinced by Corman's conversion, labeling him “Jake the Snake” while rooting for a primary challenger to beat him next May.
Others seem comfortable with the anointing of a new leader of the effort, Sen. Cris Dush, who has said he has doubts about the election result and embraced Arizona's audit in June when he visited to see it up close.
Corman said he has been in touch with Trump and that Trump seems to be “comfortable with where we’re heading."
Perhaps the most important audience is Trump himself, and he has been officially silent about it.
COULD THE ELECTION IN PENNSYLVANIA BE OVERTURNED?
Corman maintains that the aim of the audit is to find out the truth about last year's election and use it to ensure future elections are fair.
The Senate, he said, has no authority to overturn an election, but “if our work leads to someone else taking that work into a court of law, and changing those results, then so be it.”
Even if Pennsylvania's electors were somehow switched to Trump, Biden would still have enough electoral votes from other states to have prevailed in last year's election.
In any case, numerous federal and state courts have already thrown out lawsuits filed by the Trump campaign and his allies, while most people are not aware of the safety procedures around casting a ballot in Pennsylvania, said Larry Otter, a lawyer who specializes in election law.
“The possibility of finding a mammoth fraud on a statewide basis is zero,” Otter said. “This is a colossal waste of taxpayer money.”
Follow Marc Levy on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/timelywriter.