Election logo 2020

HARRISBURG – The state’s Legislative Budget and Finance Committee has declined to audit the November election after a 2-1 vote of the committee’s officers Monday morning.

Two Democrats voted against the audit, saying it would duplicate the Department of State’s own audit of the election and consume resources that could be used on other projects. The committee consists of two Republicans and two Democrats. One of the Republicans wasn’t at Monday’s hearing, but officials said that a tie vote wouldn’t have changed the outcome

The vote came as counties across the state finalized their certification of the Nov. 3 election results. As of Monday morning, preliminary results showed former Vice President Joe Biden with 81,205 more votes than President Donald Trump.

Once the counties certify their results, the state will certify the statewide total which would clear the path for the state’s 20 electoral votes to go to Biden as the winner of the popular vote.

Wanda Murren, a Department of State spokeswoman, declined to say when Pennsylvania will certify the statewide total.

“The Department of State continues to work closely with and support all 67 counties as they work to complete the election certification process. Certification is not usually a public event, but if that changes, we will notify you,” she said.

The certification of the election results come as the Trump campaign and other Republicans have filed multiple lawsuits seeking to get the election count stopped. U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Brann on Saturday refused to stop the election certification.

After Brann released his decision, Republican U.S. Sen Pat Toomey announced that Trump should concede, saying that Trump had “exhausted all plausible legal options to challenge the result of the presidential race in Pennsylvania.”

The Trump campaign on Sunday appealed that decision to the 3rd District Court of Appeals, which granted the campaign’s request for expedited review.

At the state level, lawmakers have insisted they have focused their efforts on reforming the election process before the primary rather than trying to undo the results of the November election. Even so, Democrats blasted the proposed audit as another attempt to undermine public confidence in the election.

Before Monday’s vote, Gov. Tom Wolf had said the idea of having the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee audit the election “creates chaos and confusion and should be rejected.”

Democrats, state Rep. Jake Wheatley and state Sen. James Brewster, voted against having the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee conduct the audit. Brewster is vice-chairman of the committee and Wheatley is treasurer.

“It seems like an effort that is not necessary,” Brewster said.

State Sen. Robert Mensch, R-Montgomery, the chairman of the committee, said that when the committee was established, it was designed so that there had to be bipartisan support to proceed and avoid “overtly partisan” work.

Mensch was the only yes vote.

Before their vote, the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee’s executive director, Patricia Berger, said that committee staff had contacted experts to help complete the audit, but all of the experts approached by the committee declined to commit to providing full-time assistance.

One of the experts contacted by the committee said that it sounded like the work would duplicate efforts undertaken by the Department of State, she said.

Republicans who championed the idea of having the legislative committee conduct the audit expressed disappointment in the committee’s move to decline to get involved.

State Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, said lawmakers saw the audit as an opportunity to provide needed oversight so that when lawmakers return to session in January they will be better prepared to deal with election issues before the April primary.

The General Assembly’s two-year legislative session ends Nov. 30, meaning lawmakers won’t be able to hold hearings or take other action after that until 2021, he said.

“The rejection of this request strikes a blow to transparency in our electoral process,” said state Rep. Jesse Topper, R-Bedford, who proposed the resolution that called for the LBFC audit.

John Finnerty is based in Harrisburg and covers state government and politics. Follow him on Twitter @CNHIPA.

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