House Republicans are making another attempt at establishing an office dedicated exclusively to conducting post-election audits after a previous effort was vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf.
On Monday, the House State Government approved legislation that would create a Bureau of Election Audits within the Pennsylvania Auditor General’s office, tasked with conducting “result-confirming” audits of every election in the state.
“This will continue on our efforts that we've made for the past several years to ensure that our processes are consistent, and every legal vote is counted, and every voter can have faith in our election processes,” said House Speaker Bryan Cutler, the prime sponsor of House Bill 1482.
This is Cutler’s second attempt to advance similar legislation. The 2021 state budget proposal sent to Gov. Wolf included a $3.1 million appropriation for Auditor General Timothy DeFoor to fund election audits, though the budget did not include any statutory language creating the bureau. Wolf ultimately vetoed the $3.1 million line-item.
Democrats on the House State Government Committee had reservations about the bill, with state Rep. Scott Conklin, the minority chairman on the committee, worried about having a partisan elected official – like the state auditor general – oversee election audits.
“At the end of the day, do we want an elected official overseeing the election process who's elected as a partisan individual in a primary with unlimited amounts of money going to them?” Conklin asked.
Beth Rementer, a spokesperson for Wolf, said the governor opposes the bill as it is currently written. “We already have transparent and bipartisan processes in place to ensure elections are conducted appropriately,” Rementer wrote in an email. “Republicans should focus on supporting Pennsylvania workers instead of wasting time trying to continue false narratives about the 2020 election and its results.”
Democrats, including Wolf, have accused Republican lawmakers of crafting election-related legislation centered around “conspiracy theories” about the 2020 general election, pointing to efforts from Republicans asking Congress to reject the state’s electoral votes, which came as former President Donald Trump claimed – without evidence – that the presidential election was stolen through widespread voter fraud.
Cutler’s legislation would require the new election audit bureau to complete “result-confirming” audits of every election in the state by the third Friday after the election. The bureau would be tasked with conducting risk-limiting audits of each uncontested election, as well as audits of election machine logs and of returned mail-in and absentee ballots in each county.
The proposal would also require the Bureau of Election Audits to conduct performance audits of election machines and processes – including reviews of county election offices, the state’s voter registration system and the Department of State’s certification process for election machines – once every five years.
The new bureau would also be authorized to conduct “any other audit deemed necessary … to ensure the public trust” in both elections and election administration, according to the legislation.
The state will require counties to perform risk-limiting audits for their respective elections beginning in November 2022 as part of a settlement agreement between the state and former Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein.
A statewide risk-limiting audit of the 2020 presidential election results confirmed that the state’s initial count was accurate, though Cutler maintains that an independent entity – such as the auditor general – should be tasked with auditing elections, rather than the Department of State, given its role in administering elections.
“We should not allow individual entities in government to self-audit. I know for certain that the IRS would never let any taxpayers self-audit,” Cutler said. “That's why they send auditors out to look at the process.”
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