Democrats in the state Senate are looking to the Commonwealth Court for help yet again.
After asking the court last week to block a Republican-led committee’s subpoenas for voter records as part of an investigation into the state’s recent elections, Senate Democrats are now hoping for the court to extend the subpoena deadline and block the GOP-led panel from hiring a third-party vendor to help with the investigation.
In an application for relief filed this week, Senate Democrats argue that the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee, which is leading the investigation, would not be able to conduct a “legitimate legislative investigation” between the Oct. 1 subpoena deadline and the Nov. 2 general election.
The Democrats also allege that allowing a third-party vendor to access voters’ information would violate the privacy rights of Pennsylvanians.
“The ‘investigation’ that a third-party vendor would be retained to conduct would violate voters’ privacy rights and would be unlawful,” the filing reads. Democrats added that an injunction “would prevent the waste of taxpayer resources for an illegitimate aim.”
The Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee voted along party lines on Sept. 15 to issue 17 subpoenas to the Pennsylvania Department of State for a wide range of election information. Among the information requested are the names, dates of birth, addresses, driver’s license numbers and last four digits of the Social Security numbers of all registered voters in the state.
The panel also requested election-related communications between the Department of State and counties, as well as election guidance and directives issued by the department over the last year.
Democrats on the panel – state Sens. Jay Costa, Anthony H. Williams, Vincent Hughes and Steve Santasiero – immediately sued to try and block the subpoenas, calling the election probe a “gross abuse of power.” In their most recent legal filing, the lawmakers ask the court to extend the subpoena deadline and prohibit GOP lawmakers from hiring a third-party vendor until their initial lawsuit is decided on by the court.
“This is a critical step in protecting taxpayer dollars from waste and inappropriate expenditures until the court has an opportunity to consider the legality of the subpoena,” they said in a statement. “Waiting for the courts to review and rule on the subject is warranted due to the sensitive nature of the information being sought, particularly given the very real public concerns that have been raised surrounding privacy concerns.”
Senate GOP leaders have committed to an investigation of the state’s recent election results amid pressure from former President Donald Trump, who has made frequent claims that the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent and stolen. Elections officials and federal judges have refuted those claims, with one federal judge writing that there was “no clear evidence of massive absentee-ballot fraud or forgery” in the state’s presidential election.
Republican leaders, however, say the review is intended not to relitigate the 2020 presidential election, but to look into election irregularities experienced in 2020 and help lawmakers determine how to rewrite the state’s election laws.
After some internal infighting between Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman and former Intergovernmental Operations Committee Chair Doug Mastriano, Corman tapped state Sen. Cris Dush to lead the probe.
Dush said during the committee’s Sept. 15 hearing that his office has had internal discussions about hiring a third-party vendor to assist with the investigation, but refused to reveal any vendors that his office was considering.
To date, the committee has held two meetings as part of the election review.