Nov 11, 2021
(The Center Square) – Pennsylvania Republicans want to create a new Bureau of Election Audits to conduct result-confirming audits of every election, as well as performance audits of elections operations, systems and processes at least every five years.
House Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, laid out the legislation during a hearing in the General Assembly’s State Government Committee this week, arguing the current system of allowing county election offices to audit themselves is not sufficient.
Local election officials “must be held to a standard of accountability,” Cutler said.
“It’s not just how did you spend the money,” he said. “We should not allow individuals in government to self-audit.”
Pennsylvania law requires counties to review a random sample of at least 2% of ballots or 2,000 ballots, whichever is fewer, to ensure accurate vote counts. Following the 2020 presidential election, the vast majority of Pennsylvania counties also undertook “risk-limiting” audits that hand recount a random sample of ballots and compare the totals to vote counts recorded by machines.
In addition to that pilot program, Senate Republicans launched a forensic investigation into the 2020 election in September 2021 that’s currently underway.
“This legislation is forward looking and sets in place the data collection permanently,” Cutler testified. “It simply asks the data points we all found valuable be available for every election.”
House Bill 1482 would establish the Bureau of Election Audits under the Office of the Auditor General. The legislation would require the auditor general to appoint an independent special auditor when the auditor general position is on the ballot.
“The Auditor General shall conduct independent election audits in accordance with Generally Accepted Governmental Audit Standards and shall ensure that the audit methodology will verify the accuracy of the election and the accuracy of all election equipment used,” according to the bill.
State Rep. Frank Ryan, R-Lebanon, said it makes sense to employ consistent auditing standards for elections, rather than relying on counties to develop their own process for reviewing ballots.
Ryan, a certified public accountant, believes the bill “should become a model” for improving the integrity of elections.
“We would be negligent not to approve this bill,” he said. “This is a responsibility we have in government, to be good stewards of the [tax dollars] we have.”
Rep. Brett Miller, R-East Hempfield Township, noted “this bill does not take away the auditing responsibility of the counties, it just adds another layer of oversight.”
Dover Republican Seth Grove, chairman of the House State Government Committee, said there is currently “no uniformity” in how county election offices conduct election audits.
“In election audits, it’s the only government function that allow a self-auditing process. That’s why we’re moving to an independent process,” he said. “I think it’s something that’s drastically needed.”
Rep. Dawn Keefer, R-Dillsburg, agrees. Each of the state’s 67 counties use different interpretations of the current audit requirements, producing 67 different processes, she said.
“Right now we lack voter confidence and this bill would put some checks and balances back in place,” Keefer said.
Democrats on the House State Government Committee pushed back on the need for the new department, alleging the motivation behind the bill is tied to disproven claims of fraud in the 2020 election.
“There is no justification for us constructing an entirely new auditing process when there was no issue in our last elections,” said Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Philadelphia.
Kenyatta and Rep. Maureen Madden, D-Tobyhanna, also questioned the cost of creating the new department, which Cutler said the auditor general estimated at $3.1 million.
“Three point one million is not just a drop in the bucket,” Kenyatta said.
“We already have multiple risk-limiting audits … that confirm the results of the elections,” he said, alleging the new process would “further degrade trust” in the election process. “There will be no trust until members … start telling the truth, and that’s the last election was held fairly and it’s time to move on.”
Committee members approved HB-1482 on a vote of 15 to 9, with only one Democrat, Regina Young of Philadelphia, voting in favor.