Philadelphia sees $40 mln in possible costs from Trump ally's election probe

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Angel Rivera, a 20-year-old bartender, holds a Black Voters Matter sign during a 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, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania November 4, 2020. REUTERS/Nathan Layne/File Photo

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July 12 (Reuters) - Philadelphia could face $40 million in costs to replace voting machines if forced to comply with a "forensic investigation" into the 2020 election launched by a Republican state lawmaker and ally of former President Donald Trump, a city commissioner told Reuters.

The estimate by Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt, a Republican, highlights the potential burden on taxpayers from state Senator Doug Mastriano's attempt to gain access to election equipment from Philadelphia and at least two other counties for inspections, similar to costs that have arisen out of a contentious Republican-led audit of the vote in Arizona.

After Mastriano announced his probe last week, the Pennsylvania Department of State issued a directive to the state's 67 counties warning it would decertify any equipment handed over to third parties because the chain of custody would be broken. read more

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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 swing 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.

Schmidt, who has repeatedly defended the integrity of the vote count in heavily Democratic-leaning Philadelphia, said Mastriano's request for a wide array of equipment could force the city to replace some $30 million worth of voting machines and an additional $10 million in central programming and tabulation equipment.

"We just got all our new voting equipment in 2019, so replacing it would be very expensive for taxpayers," Schmidt said on Monday.

His estimate is higher than one by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who has said Mastriano's investigation could cost the three targeted counties - Philadelphia, York and Tioga - $30 million.

Mastriano, who has increased his profile among conservative voters in part by touting Trump's stolen-election claims, did not respond to a request for comment on the cost estimate for Philadelphia.

He said in a statement earlier on Monday that the secretary of state did not have the legal authority to retire election machines after third-party access or to force counties to pay for new equipment.

Mastriano 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. In addition to 2020, he also wants to investigate municipal elections this past May.

Jay Costa, the Pennsylvania Senate minority leader, said Democrats would likely take legal action to try to stop the subpoenas. "There could be a significant amount of state and local dollars being spent for this unnecessary sham of an audit."

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

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Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Soyoung Kim and Peter Cooney

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