In setback to Trump ally, Pennsylvania county will not comply with vote probe

FILE PHOTO: Activists rally at the Pennsylvania State Capitol Building to protest attempts to halt the counting of ballots cast in the state for the 2020 presidential election
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By Nathan Layne

(Reuters) - One of the three Pennsylvania counties asked to provide access to voting machines for a Republican lawmaker's probe of the 2020 election has decided it cannot comply due to a directive from the state's top election official, the county's solicitor told Reuters.

Tioga County's three Republican commissioners met on Tuesday and determined that acting Secretary of State Veronica Degraffenreid was within her authority in directing counties not to allow third parties to access their election equipment, according to the solicitor, Chris Gabriel.

The decision poses a potential hurdle for state Senator Doug Mastriano, a staunch ally of former President Donald Trump. The legislator announced his "forensic investigation" into the election last week, starting with Tioga, Philadelphia and York counties. He had no immediate comment on Tuesday.

Democratic President Joe Biden won Pennsylvania by about 81,000 votes, four years after Trump's victory there helped propel the Republican to the presidency. Republicans in Pennsylvania and other battleground states won by Biden have pursued audits of the November election, repeating Trump's baseless claims that widespread fraud cost him a second White House term.

Tioga, a rural county of 40,000 people on the state's northern border with New York, is the first of the three to disclose its stance on Mastriano's probe following Degraffenreid's July 9 directive warning counties that their equipment would be decertified if they complied.

"The secretary of state runs elections and has the responsibility for certifying those machines," Gabriel said, estimating that replacing decertified machines with new ones would cost the county hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"Tioga County will always comply with the law."

While Philadelphia has not said whether it intends to comply, one of its commissioners told Reuters on Monday that replacing decertified equipment could cost its taxpayers $40 million.

York County did not respond to a request for comment.

The potential burden on taxpayers is also an issue in a contentious Republican-led audit of the vote in Arizona, with Maricopa County saying last month it would purchase new machines due to concerns the audit had compromised their security.

Pennsylvania has already conducted a so-called risk-limiting audit of the 2020 election involving the statistical sampling of ballots. All counties also audited a sample of their votes as mandated by law. Neither effort turned up widespread fraud.

Mastriano has nevertheless repeated Trump's stolen-election claims and argued that a more comprehensive probe involving the examination of equipment was needed because a large proportion of voters had doubts the 2020 vote was secure.

He has given the three counties until July 31 to respond and is threatening to issue subpoenas through the Intergovernmental Operations Committee, which he chairs and which is majority Republican.

(Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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