Pennsylvania prosecutor sues to block GOP election subpoena

The lawsuit from state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, is the second thus far targeting a subpoena approved last week by the Republican-controlled Senate committee.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro speaks at a press conference.

File photo: Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro speaks at a press conference. (Office of the Attorney General)

Story updated 6:20 p.m.

Pennsylvania’s attorney general sued Thursday to block a Republican-approved subpoena to state election officials in what Republicans call a “forensic investigation” of last year’s presidential election, spurred on by former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims that he was cheated out of victory.

The lawsuit from state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, is the second thus far targeting a subpoena approved last week by the Republican-controlled Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee. Both were filed in the state’s Commonwealth Court.

Shapiro’s office broadly asked the court to block the subpoena because, it said, it serves no legitimate legislative purpose and stems from Trump’s efforts to undermine trust in the results of the 2020 presidential election.

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At points, the 76-page lawsuit targets certain information requests in the subpoena as illegal or unconstitutional, and unenforceable.

For instance, granting the subpoena’s request for voter information — including names, dates of birth, driver’s license numbers, and partial Social Security numbers — would violate a person’s constitutional privacy protections, particularly because the subpoena isn’t based on proof of wrongdoing.

It also would expose voters to the risk of publicly disclosing their personal information, thus violating the constitutional right to vote, it said.

At another point, the lawsuit seeks to block the Republicans’ request for copies of reports from audits and reviews of the state’s voter registration system going back to 2018.

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That information is deemed to be “critical infrastructure information” submitted to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and is barred from public disclosure by federal law, Shapiro’s office wrote.

Republicans did not immediately comment on the lawsuit.

The subpoena was emailed to senior election officials in Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration last week. Democrats in the state Senate also sued to block the subpoena and to put a stop to the Republicans’ “forensic investigation.”

The subpoena seeks detailed state election records, including communication with counties and the names of who voted in last year’s presidential election, their birth date, address, driver’s license number, and the last four digits of their Social Security number.

It is an outgrowth of Trump’s baseless claims about election fraud, and ongoing pressure by Trump and his allies for battleground states where he lost to investigate ballots, voting machines, and voter rolls for fraud. Democrats say it is part of a national campaign to take away voting rights and undermine both democracy and elections.

Democrat Joe Biden beat Trump in Pennsylvania by more than 80,000 votes, according to certified results.

The subpoena stops short of requesting ballots and voting machines, as was done in Arizona’s widely discredited and partisan “audit,” and the majority of the information being requested is already available to the public, Shapiro has said.

But Pennsylvania law prohibits the public release of a voter’s driver’s license number and Social Security number. That information on Maricopa County voters was given to the lead contractor in the Arizona Senate GOP’s review of its election results.

Republicans have maintained that they are exercising appropriate legislative authority to oversee executive branch functions, and they insist what they call an “investigation” has nothing to do with Trump or overturning the election.

Rather, they say, they are aiming to fix problems discovered in last year’s election and improve confidence in elections.

The committee’s chairman, Sen. Cris Dush, R-Jefferson, has said the detailed voter information is necessary to investigate unproven allegations that voters were registered as living at a condemned building. Dush could give no other details.

Dush has suggested that the information will be given to a yet-to-be hired auditing firm.

It’s not clear whether Wolf’s administration will provide the information or can be forced to produce it, and Wolf’s administration has previously refused to comply with a subpoena.

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