Fri, Jan 14, 2022 6:11 PM
By MARC LEVY and MARK SCOLFORO, Associated Press
McCONNELLSBURG, Pa. (AP) — An inspection of voting machines in a heavily Republican county in Pennsylvania as part of a GOP “investigation” into the 2020 presidential election was moments away from starting Friday until the state Supreme Court put it on hold.
The high court decision came hours after a state judge rejected attempts by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's administration to block the inspection — inspired by former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims about fraud in the 2020 election he lost — without an agreements over procedure in place.
The undertaking comes after Republicans carried out a partisan and widely discredited “audit” in Arizona's most heavily populated county and Trump and his allies have pressured allies in battleground states he lost to seek out fraud to validate their conspiracy theories.
The justices overruled the lower court by granting an emergency request by the governor's lawyers to stop it for now.
The equipment in question — computers, electronic pollbooks, ballot scanners and possibly more — was about to be wheeled in to a special meeting of the Fulton County commissioners just after it started Friday when a lawyer for the county, Tom Breth, said it had to be postponed because the state Supreme Court's filing office had just notified him the temporary stay was granted.
The court said the request was granted on a temporary basis until the full court can consider it, and that no inspection can take place until the justices issue an order.
Sparsely populated Fulton County is cooperating with Republican lawmakers. There, Trump won more than 85% of 2020's vote, according to official returns, and registered Republican voters outnumber Democrats by 7 to 2.
In post-election internal emails released through public records requests, Fulton County’s two Republican commissioners expressed solidarity with Republican senators who later sought to block Pennsylvania’s electoral votes from being cast for Biden.
Dominion Voting Systems, which provided the equipment to Fulton County in 2020′s election, has been at the center of some of the most feverish conspiracy theories about Trump’s loss.
After it found out about the proposed inspection, it demanded the return of the leased equipment from Fulton County and said that any inspection by an entity that is not federally accredited is in breach of their contract.
Wolf administration lawyers lost an initial attempt to block the inspection.
Now they want Fulton County to agree to a set of demands on protocol, including sharing the identity of who will inspect the voting machines, ensuring that information about “critical election infrastructure” will not be disclosed and giving a state-designated voting machine expert the ability to observe and record it.
The state senator in charge of what Republicans call a “forensic investigation” of the 2020 election, state Sen. Cris Dush, R-Jefferson, has advocated for overturning Biden’s victory over Trump in Pennsylvania. Earlier this year, he visited Arizona and said he wanted to bring Republicans' model there to Pennsylvania.
On Dec. 10, Dush sent a letter to Fulton County requesting the “digital data” from the election computers and hardware used in the county's 2020 election. Dush has declined interviews — including a request on Friday — and has not explained why he is seeking the data.
However, a lawyer for Fulton County, Tom King, said Dush told a county official that he wants the Senate Republicans’ contractor to determine whether the equipment used there was the same equipment certified by Pennsylvania for use in 2020's election.
A Republican-controlled Senate committee headed by Dush also has sent a subpoena to state election officials for a wide range of election-related records.
In any case, the taxpayer-cost of the Republicans' election inquiry is growing.
Dush's office has acknowledged that the Fulton County undertaking was not covered under the original $270,000 contract with Envoy Sage, and will require an addendum and an additional cost.
Meanwhile, contract lawyers for Senate Republicans are in court on at least two fronts to defend aspects of the project. Senate Republicans could not provide details about the legal costs Friday.
Scolforo reported from Harrisburg. Follow Marc Levy on Twitter at www.twitter.com/timelywriter.