Pennsylvania Forensic Election Audit

Republicans who control the Pennsylvania Senate began in September 2021 what they’re calling a “forensic investigation” of the 2020 election more than 10 months later.

The partisan effort was controversial even before it began, following months of former President Donald Trump’s lies about a stolen election and calls to investigate the results. The Senate Republican leader has described the review as a top priority, and in September a GOP-led panel voted to subpoena millions of voters’ personal information and records from Gov.

Tom Wolf’s administration. The Senate is planning to hire a contractor, and the review could last for months. Joe Biden won Pennsylvania by more than 80,000 votes, almost double the margin by which Trump carried the state in 2016. Extensive litigation and post-election audits turned up no evidence of widespread fraud, a finding affirmed by Trump’s own attorney general.

Lots of questions about how the investigation will work remain unanswered. Here’s what we know — and don’t know — about it. We’ll continue to update this guide as we learn more.

Have a question we haven’t answered, spot an inaccuracy or out-of-date information, or just want to get in touch? You can reach us at [email protected] (for Andrew Seidman) and [email protected] (for Jonathan Lai). Elections are complex and never perfect, and audits are one way officials verify the legitimacy of the results, identify issues, and improve the electoral system.

Generally speaking, election audits focus on one of two things: checking the results to confirm whether votes were tallied accurately, or reviewing how the election was run, including what policies and procedures were followed.

Audits can help identify issues with or weaknesses in the system, with the goal of determining whether things were run well enough that the election was free and fair — and the votes accurately tallied so the winner was certified correctly. A recount, for example, can be considered a type of audit, checking the accuracy of the vote count. “The reason why you perform an audit in the first place is you want to have confidence in the outcome,” said Trey Grayson, a Republican and Kentucky’s former top elections official.

» READ MORE: Pa. Senate Democrats sue Republicans to block election review subpoena. Professional election experts sometimes conduct such reviews to make sure voting systems work as they should. For example, shortly after the 2020 election, a county board of supervisors in Arizona hired auditors to ensure voting machines weren’t infected with malicious software and that tabulators weren’t connected to the internet.

But the phrase “forensic audit” really took off after the Arizona Senate launched yet another probe in late 2020 and hired a contractor with no previous experience auditing elections to review all 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County and inspect machines. That review was widely discredited by professionals, but it became a rallying cry for Trump supporters.

Pennsylvania Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R., Centre) says he’s not an expert on what constitutes a “forensic” review. “That’s somehow become a political term. I’m not sure what forensic — I’m not an expert,” he said in September.

“What we’re going to do is an investigation, right? Perception is reality. … You know, there are hundreds of thousands if not millions of Pennsylvanians that have had concerns about the way the last election went.”. We don’t know yet. It’s not clear what, exactly, the review will entail or how it will work. We know there will be hearings, and Republicans issued a subpoena (see below).

There are various methods of reviewing elections, but there are also best practices for things like preserving the chain of custody of sensitive materials.

Best practices for post-election audits include that they are routine and happen shortly after elections, using specified procedures, said Mark Lindeman, a director at Verified Voting, a nonprofit that focuses on the role of technology in election administration.

“What’s extraordinary about what’s increasingly happening around the country — and the sort of bandwagon that Pennsylvania seems to be climbing on — is it’s not routine, there are no defined procedures, and even the objectives, beyond airing grievances and paranoid fantasies about the 2020 election, are radically unclear,” he said.

» READ MORE: Pa. Republicans vote to subpoena voter records and personal information in 2020 election probe. State law requires Pennsylvania counties to review a random sample of at least 2% of all ballots or 2,000 ballots, whichever is fewer, to check whether they were tallied correctly.

Those audits were completed last year before the Pennsylvania secretary of state certified Joe Biden’s victory, and they were accessible to the public. In addition, 63 of the state’s 67 counties participated in what’s known as a “risk-limiting” audit, a gold-standard method in which election workers hand recount a random sample of ballots and compare the tabulations to the overall vote count recorded by machines.

The audit of more than 45,000 randomly selected ballots was completed in February. The sample matched the certified results within a fraction of 1 percentage point, further confirming the election’s accuracy.

“If people are concerned about machines, there’s no better way to address those concerns than to look at actual ballots, which is exactly what the risk-limiting audit pilot did,” Lindeman said. “And it confirmed the substantial accuracy of the machines.”. Grayson said it’s too late to conduct a new audit. “One of the most important things is to do it at the right time,” he said.

“The election has been certified. There’s really nothing that can be done right now.”.

They say their constituents have concerns about the election. Trump and his supporters have also publicly pressured GOP leaders to undertake an Arizona-style “forensic investigation.”.

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