State seeks sanctions over access to county voting machines

October 21, 2022 GMT

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania’s state elections chief wants legal penalties against two Republican county officials and their lawyer for what she calls in a new court filing their “unprecedented, reckless decision” to give an outside group access to voting machines during pending litigation on that subject.

Lawyers for acting Secretary of State Leigh Chapman earlier this week asked the state Supreme Court to hold in contempt the two Fulton County commissioners and to dismiss the litigation that had been scheduled for oral argument before the justices next week. Chapman was appointed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.

On Friday afternoon, the justices appointed Commonwealth Court Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer as a special master to gather evidence on the contempt request and make a report with recommendations by Nov. 18.

During their long-running dispute with the state, Fulton County GOP Commissioners Stuart Ulsh and Randy Bunch had allowed one group, Wake TSI, access to voting machines as part of the failed effort to locate fraud that might overturn former President Donald Trump’s 2020 election defeat.


That prompted the Department of State to tell counties they “shall not” allow such access to voting machines. Ulsh and Bunch were moments away from permitting a second group, Envoy Sage, to inspect the machines in January when the state Supreme Court put that on hold. The inspection planned in January was to involve computers, electronic poll books, ballot scanners and possibly more.

Litigation over that inspection and the state’s order prohibiting outside access had been scheduled for oral argument at next week’s court session in Pittsburgh, but that was canceled with Cohn Jubelirer’s appointment.

The contempt and sanctions request filed Tuesday was prompted by a disclosure in a breach-of-contract lawsuit filed last month by Fulton County, Ulsh and Bunch against machine manufacturer Dominion Voting Systems Inc. The county disclosed that a third group, Speckin Forensics LLC of Lansing, Michigan, copied hard drives from Fulton County’s Dominion machines in mid-July.

“A more brazen example of litigation misconduct — indeed, outright defiance of this commonwealth’s high court — is difficult to imagine,” the state’s lawyers told the justices.


Chapman seeks contempt orders against Ulsh and Bunch, an order that they and their lawyer, Thomas J. Carroll, pay the state’s costs and legal fees and an order forcing the county to return the rented voting machines to Dominion.

She argues they have spoiled critical evidence and wants the case dismissed.

“In short, petitioners have thoroughly compromised the integrity of this proceeding, to the great prejudice of the secretary, the judiciary, and the public,” Chapman’s lawyers told the justices.

Carroll on Thursday asked the high court for more time to respond, a request the justices promptly denied.

Carroll on Friday called the state’s motion “a stealth pleading that was completely irrelevant and not related to the case at hand,” declining to elaborate. Ulsh declined comment Friday and a message seeking comment from Bunch was not immediately returned.


Rural Fulton County is overwhelmingly Republican, giving Trump more than 85% of the county’s vote in 2020.

Allies of Trump’s efforts to overturn his defeat have sought access to voting machines in other states. Details about access to sensitive voting equipment in Coffee County, Georgia, became public last month. A county election worker in Colorado who is accused of allowing an unauthorized person to break into her county’s election system to help Trump’s effort pleaded not guilty to all charges in the case last month. A related investigation is also underway in Michigan.