An Insider's View of Pennsylvania and the Battle for Our Republic

On December 28, 2020, a group of state lawmakers, having performed an extensive analysis of election data, revealed troubling discrepancies between the numbers of total votes counted and total number of voters who voted in the 2020 general election.  These findings were in addition to prior concerns regarding actions by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, the secretary of state, and others impacting the conduct of the election.

A comparison of official county election results to the total number of voters who voted on November 3, 2020, as recorded by the Department of State (DoS), shows that 6,962,607 total ballots were reported as being cast, while the DoS's Statewide Uniform Registry of Electors (SURE) system records indicate that just 6,760,230 total voters actually voted.  Among the 6,962,607 total ballots cast, 6,931,060 total votes were counted in the presidential race, including all three candidates on the ballot and write-in candidates.

The difference of 202,377 more votes cast than voters voting, together with the 31,547 over- and under-votes in the presidential race, adds up to an alarming discrepancy of 170,830 votes, which is more than twice the reported statewide difference between the two major candidates for president of the United States.  On November 24, 2020, Secretary Boockvar certified election results, and Governor Wolf issued a certificate of ascertainment of presidential electors, certifying that Vice President Joe Biden received 80,555 more votes than President Donald Trump.

The Department of State's response and rebuttal were swift and condescending toward the 17 legislators issuing the press release.  The Department of State acknowledged the disparity in its published data, explaining that the SURE system is not the source of the information utilized to certify the election.

While we appreciate the secretary's attempt to explain the discrepancy, the reality is that this discrepancy is yet another example of the failings of Pennsylvania's November 3 election.  Our focus remains on ensuring the sanctity of the election process in the commonwealth.  We would have expected the secretary to align with our focus and respond in full transparency instead of responding with contempt, as has been the pattern with the secretary and her agency to questioning of their systems.

Unfortunately, the courts have yet to address any of the process control concerns we have presented.  Specifically, our press release pointed out issues at the strategic process control level and at the operational level to include the following.

Strategic level:

We were already concerned with the actions of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, the Executive branch, and election officials in certain counties compromising and undermining Pennsylvania Election laws by eliminating signature verification, postmarks, and due dates while allowing the proliferation of unsecured drop boxes and the unauthorized fixing, (curing,) of ballots, as well as the questionable treatment of poll watchers, all of which created wholesale opportunities for irregularities in the 2020 presidential election.

Operational level:

However, we are now seeing discrepancies on the retail level raising even more troubling questions regarding irregularities in the election returns. These findings call into question the accuracy of the state's SURE system, consistency in the application of the Pennsylvania Election Code from county to county, and the competency of those charged with oversight of elections in our Commonwealth.

"These numbers just don't add up, and the alleged certification of Pennsylvania's presidential election results was absolutely premature, unconfirmed, and in error.

The DoS asserts that the SURE system is not the basis for confirming an election, but in the press release refuting the significance of the voter deficit, the DoS indicated, "But the only way to determine the number of voters who voted in November from the SURE system is through the vote histories.  At this time, there are still a few counties that have not completed uploading their vote histories to the SURE system." 

This statement confirms our concern about the data and the process controls.  Any reasonable person would suspect that 6–8 weeks would be sufficient to upload such data.  Further, the absence of such critical data brings into question how any official results could have been certified.

It is important to point out that many of our concerns over the years relating to the DoS's election system have been resisted and dismissed in virtually every respect by the agency.  This history is important to understand, as the most recent Department of the Auditor General (DAG) performance audit of the SURE system reinforces our reasons for our initial review and our conclusions.  Had the DoS cooperated with process reform efforts, perhaps the quandary the Commonwealth is currently in would have been avoided.

According to the DAG report, "DOS' denial of access to critical documents and excessive redaction of documentation resulted in DAG being unable to fully achieve three of the eight audit objectives. ... This sustained refusal to cooperate with our information requests was done without DOS providing any plausible justification for their noncooperation.  Accordingly, DAG was unable to establish with any degree of reasonable assurance that the SURE system is secure and that Pennsylvania voter registration records are complete, accurate, and in compliance with applicable laws, regulations, and related guidelines."

Additionally, the report indicated:

[W]hile DOS requested this audit, management does not seem to grasp that we cannot properly conclude and satisfy the audit objectives in accordance with generally accepted Government Auditing Standards without obtaining sufficient appropriate evidence, which they refused to provide to us.

(Source: Pages 2–4, Executive Summary, Performance Audit Report of the Department of State, Statewide Uniform Registry of Electors [SURE], prepared by the Department of the Auditor General, dated December 13, 2019.)

The detailed reasons above and our findings, however limited by access denials, are intended to shed light on these troubling findings as well as our own concerns identified in our report.

Just as the DoS refuted and ignored deficiencies reported by the auditor general, the department is again dismissing issues and inconsistencies identified by members of the General Assembly, without providing access to any substantiating information.  Pennsylvanians deserve better.  Our nation deserves better.  The challenges we submitted were the result of findings from the DoS's publicly provided data.  The DoS explanation that the data they provide to the public are not the same data used to certify the elections demonstrates yet another process failure and roadblock for transparency.

Our sole purpose in attempting to resolve these audit findings, and our own conclusions, is to publicly demonstrate that a lawful election should have been conducted such that we would be able to assure every voter in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that his vote counted.  In our attempt to provide a comprehensive understanding of exactly how elections were facilitated throughout the commonwealth, and answer constituent questions, we identified a plethora of process control flaws, internal control weaknesses, and a battery of inconsistencies.  In light of these findings, it is incumbent upon Pennsylvania's secretary of state to explain why the voters should trust the election process that unfolded in Pennsylvania.  If voters are to trust election results, they must trust the election process.  The process was clearly compromised, and the voters deserve an explanation and remedy. 

Col. Frank Ryan, CPA, USMCR (ret.) represents the 101st District in the PA House of Representatives, and Rep. Dawn Keefer represents the 92nd District in the PA House of Representatives.

Image: Rlibrandi via Wikimedia Commons (cropped), CC BY-SA 3.0.