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Push to audit Pa. election seems to have hit a wall

Similar efforts elsewhere shed supporters, raise concerns over inspection

A push to audit Pennsylvania’s 2020 election results seems to have hit a wall, while similar efforts elsewhere shed supporters and raise concerns.

Last week Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Adams, attacked state officials who decertified voting machines in tiny Fulton County — a county where Mastriano’s allies had launched a hoped-for election audit.

Department of State officials warned counties that cooperation with unvetted, freelance auditors could lead to their election machines’ decertification, forcing cash-strapped county governments to buy expensive new equipment.

“All we have to do is open up the books, and if you’re afraid of transparency, you’re part of the problem,” Mastriano said at the Fulton County Courthouse.

Mastriano has fought publicly to audit the results since former president Donald Trump called on supporters to reveal evidence of fraud. While few elected Republicans in the state have openly said they believe the fraud claims — for which no evidence has been publicly revealed — many have broadly cited voters’ concerns about election integrity.

Mastriano was joined last week by Sen. Judy Ward, R-Blair, and Rep. Jesse Topper, R-Bedford, both of whom represent Fulton County in Harrisburg. Ward decried the state’s “strong-arm” tactics in decertifying the Fulton machines.

“This aggressive move is just another example of why we need meaningful election reform,” she said last week.

Top-ranking Republican lawmakers joined in criticizing the Department of State, even as they’ve stopped short of endorsing the audit scheme itself.

The Fulton County fiasco has put a roadblock in front of Mastriano’s audit plan. No other counties have publicly expressed interest in cooperating, and at least two have refused.

On Thursday, Mastriano and Ward’s colleague Sen. Dan Laughlin, R-Erie, dismissed the plan entirely, arguing in an op-ed that it would create a “paranoid” atmosphere.

“What message will people take from someone trying to pry open voting machines and rummage through already counted ballots while employing statistical tricks to argue that the 2020 election was a fraud?” Laughlin wrote.

Despite the setbacks, Mastriano has not suggested he will scale back or change the plan.

The first 2020 election audit, in Arizona’s most populous county, is still underway. The Arizona search, carried out by some of the same contractors involved in the Fulton County affair, has been marred by infighting and public resignations.

This week, the GOP liaison to the audit announced his plans to resign, saying he won’t be a “rubber stamp” for the process. GOP lawmakers in Arizona have criticized the “botched” process there.

Nevertheless, some representatives in other states appear eager to replicate the effort. This week, a lawmaker in Wisconsin promised a “comprehensive, forensic investigation” into the 2020 results.

Senators divided on infrastructure vote

Pennsylvania’s senators were split on a key vote for a bipartisan infrastructure deal that would cover years’ worth of federal projects.

The Senate voted 67-32 on a major procedural vote for the bill, which still had several steps before final passage as of Thursday. The approximately $1.2 trillion bill came after weeks of negotiation among Senate leaders.

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., backed the motion, while Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., joined many of his Republican colleagues in opposing it. The bill would spend billions on transit projects, road construction and electrical infrastructure.

In addition to the bipartisan bill, Senate Democrats are working on a much larger bill that would fund a wide range of programs backed by President Joe Biden. That bill, which has no Republican support, faces a tough path through a handful of skeptical Democrats.

Pa. reps join cigar rule rollback

Several Pennsylvania congressional representatives are joining a little-discussed effort to carve out special Food and Drug Administration exemptions for hand-rolled cigars.

Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-14th District, Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-15th District, Rep. Mike Kelly, R-16th District, and Rep. Dan Meuser, R-9th District, signed on this month as co-sponsors of H.R. 3982, which would exempt certain cigar types from tobacco regulations.

While other cosponsors are from states one might expect — including Florida, Virginia and Kentucky — Pennsylvania’s GOP representatives have long pushed for the exemption as well. Several prominent cigar retailers are based in the state.

The state’s nine GOP House representatives signed a letter last year to then-president Trump, urging him to reverse the regulations. Premium cigars don’t need to be covered under rules that combat underage consumption, the legislators argued, because they’re marketed only to adults who use them in moderation.

“The premium cigar industry has a rich history in Pennsylvania, and the state is home to the entire industry supply chain,” they wrote, “including small business retail stores, tobacco farmers and numerous mail-order businesses employing thousands of Pennsylvanians.”

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Ryan Brown covers statewide politics for Ogden Newspapers. He can be reached at rbrown@altoonamirror.com.

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