Pennsylvania Senate Republicans voted Wednesday to subpoena vast troves of personal information about millions of voters, including partial Social Security numbers, as they engage with false conspiracies about the 2020 election.
The vote comes as Republicans across the country have pushed for so-called audits of last year’s election, saying they are a necessary response to doubts sowed by former president Donald Trump and Republicans themselves. The most significant of these efforts, so far, is an ongoing audit in Arizona funded and executed by Trump allies and conspiracy theorists with no end in sight.
But Pennsylvania appears to be taking a different approach than Arizona. Rather than requesting ballots and voting machines as Arizona did — and as Trump supporters have been pushing for — Pennsylvania Republicans are beginning their taxpayer-funded “investigation” by seeking voters’ personal information to, as the chair of the committee running the show said Wednesday, determine “whether or not they exist.”
Senators on the Intergovernmental Operations Committee voted along party lines to authorize the subpoenas to the Pennsylvania Department of State, which runs the state’s elections, after a contentious hearing Wednesday morning. Republicans are demanding lists of personal information for all 6.9 million people who voted in Pennsylvania in the November 2020 election, everyone who voted in the state’s May 2021 primary election, and every person who was a registered voter in the state as of May 1. That personal information includes all voters’ names, dates of birth, addresses, driver’s license numbers, the last four digits of their Social Security numbers, and the date of their “last voting activity.”
What happens to that information and whether it is shared with as-yet-unnamed private vendors as part of an Arizona-style “audit,” is up to Republican committee chair Cris Dush and his legal team, he said during Wednesday’s hearing. Senate President Jake Corman tweeted after the hearing that the data Republicans collect "will not be shared publicly or used for any other purpose. Every effort will be made to ensure this information is not compromised."
Democrats on the committee said they plan to file suit later this week to try to stop the subpoenas, and they also called on the Justice Department to investigate. “For the government to have access to your Social Security numbers should be scary to all of us,” Democratic Sen. Anthony Williams said before the vote.
The Department of State, so far, has refused to comply with requests to participate in the Republican investigation, citing ongoing litigation; Fulton County sued after the department decertified its voting machines after the county did its own audit, which found no evidence of fraud. The department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the subpoenas.
Before Wednesday’s vote, Democratic Sen. Steve Santarsiero pressed Dush on why the state Senate would need to verify voters’ identities after state and county audits already verified the election results. In response, Dush raised conspiracy theories. “There have been questions regarding the validity of people who have been— who have voted, whether or not they exist. We’re not responding to proven allegations, we are investigating the allegations to determine whether or not they are factual,” he said.
Whether or not this will be enough for Trump and his supporters is unclear. Republican Sen. Doug Mastriano, a major Trump ally in the state who tried to do his own election audit earlier this year, put out a statement saying the subpoenas didn’t go far enough. But he voted for them anyway, by proxy.
In addition to voters’ personal information, the subpoenas seek wide swaths of documents, including all communications between the Department of State and any elections director or board in the state between May 1, 2020, and May 31, 2021. Another section of the subpoenas requests “A copy of each and every version of all directions, guidance(s), policies or procedures in effect at any time between August 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021 relating to elections, election systems, mail-in ballot applications, ballots, voting, compliance with state or federal election laws, polling places, and/or poll watchers.”
Democrats raised concerns about who will end up going through all of that information. Santarsiero pressed Dush to not hire vendors with ties to any of the 2020 presidential candidates or anyone on the ballot in Pennsylvania last November, but Dush would not commit, saying that would be “difficult.” He did later add, “I’m not going to be hiring political activists.”
After the vote, Santarsiero said what is most concerning to him is who is backing the vendors that will conduct the Republicans’ investigation. Democrats noted, for example, that the Fulton County “audit” was conducted by Wake TSI, which was contracted to a group run by former Trump lawyer Sidney Powell, as the Washington Post reported. Powell was recently ridiculed by a federal judge for what the judge called “historic and profound abuse of the judicial process.”
“This election was on the up and up,” Santarsiero said. "It was the most secure election in history."
This story was updated with a tweeted statement from Pennsylvania Senate President Jake Corman.