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GOP officials decry order to yank vote machines over ‘audit’

July 23, 2021 GMT

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Republican elected officials from a small, rural Pennsylvania county urged state officials Friday to reconsider a decision to require new voting machines because a software firm was allowed to inspect the equipment after the election.

Stuart Ulsh, chairman of the Fulton County Board of Commissioners, argued that the machines were not tampered with or compromised so should be safe for use in November.

“The taxpayers of Fulton County don’t deserve to be on the hook for what appears to be a partisan attack from the Department of State on a local Republican government,” Ulsh said in a news conference in front of the county courthouse in McConnellsburg.

Acting Secretary of State Veronica Degraffenreid decertified the machines after Fulton County disclosed it had agreed to requests by local Republican lawmakers to permit the unofficial election audit, described by Ulsh as “a post-election analysis.”

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Degraffenreid’s agency late Friday released a statement that said she “took the only safe action” and that if Fulton County officials had contacted the state agency ahead of time, they would have been warned “about the serious risk” of decertification.

Fulton officials did not meet their obligation to retain chain-of-custody control over all voting materials and equipment, and cyber security consultants say there’s no way to ensure tampering did not occur, the State Department said.

“In allowing a third party near-unlimited access to the equipment during an informal review, they have created a situation where neither the county, nor the voting-system vendor, nor the Department of State can say with certainty that the system has not been compromised,” the statement read.

Rep. Jesse Topper, R-Fulton, said Friday he hopes Degraffenreid will reconsider and allow county officials to make their case that the voting machines can be used again. He called decertifying the machines unnecessary and costly.

“The county commissioners here in Fulton County undertook what they thought was best for this area, for their county, as they could see what they needed to do in future elections to continue the great job they’ve been doing,” Topper said.

Topper said county officials had been unaware that the Department of State had a list of vendors who are certified to test voting machines, and that the department should have made that information known to counties. The software firm that conducted the assessment was not among those vendors.

Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, said Degraffenreid and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf were acting to prevent Fulton and other counties from pursing the type of audit he wants.

Mastriano has been a leading advocate of former President Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn his election loss, and has both praised the ongoing Arizona audit and toured the site of that project. Mastriano, who has generally avoided speaking with reporters outside conservative outlets, did not take questions.

“A governor and his acting secretary of state are trying to threaten and bully your county and other counties,” Mastriano said at the press conference. “I don’t know how any honest American can stand for that. That’s the bully tactics of thugs in faraway countries.”

Edward Perez, global director of technology development at the California-based OSET Institute, which is devoted to research on election infrastructure and administration, has said it is not normal to hand election equipment to “inexperienced, third-party auditors who are not experienced with election administration practices or with voting system technology.”

County officials have maintained they did nothing wrong.

In a joint statement, Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, and Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, said Degraffenreid’s action was “antagonistic” and serves to erode voting rights and undermine the role of counties in elections.

The lawmakers’ request for the audit came amid Trump’s baseless claims that the 2020 election was rigged against him in Pennsylvania and other battleground states.

Degraffenreid, an appointee of Wolf’s, notified Fulton County officials in a letter Tuesday that the inspection violated state law. It was done in a manner that “was not transparent or bipartisan” and by a that firm had “no knowledge or expertise in election technology,” Degraffenreid wrote.

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission accredits labs to test voting machines. Pennsylvania law requires that voting-machine testing be done by a federally accredited lab.