Acting Secretary of State Veronica Degraffenreid speaks with members of the media during a news conference at the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg on May 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke) Veronica Degraffenreid
Acting Secretary of State Veronica Degraffenreid speaks with members of the media during a news conference at the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg on May 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Fulton County will have to buy or lease new voting machines before the next election if county officials want residents’ votes to count.

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s top election official has decertified the voting machines of a small southern county that disclosed that it had agreed to requests by local Republican lawmakers and allowed a software firm to inspect the machines as part of an “audit” after the 2020 election.

The action by Acting Secretary of State Veronica Degraffenreid almost certainly means that Fulton County will have to buy or lease new voting machines.

The lawmakers’ request for the “audit” came amid former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims that the 2020 election was rigged against him in Pennsylvania and other battleground states.

Degraffenreid notified Fulton County officials in a letter Tuesday that the inspection violated state law. It was done in a manner that “was not transparent or bipartisan” and the firm had “no knowledge or expertise in election technology,” Degraffenreid wrote.

“I have no other choice but to decertify the use of Fulton County’s leased Dominion Democracy Suite 5.5A voting system last used in the November 2020 election,” Degraffenreid wrote.

Pennsylvania’s election law gives counties the duty to “maintain proper chain of custody” of ballots and voting systems, requirements that ensure that any election is conducted transparently and that does not compromise voting systems, Degraffenreid wrote.

Voting systems that pass anti-tampering tests are certified by states. The US Election Assistance commission accredits labs to test voting machines and provides guidance to states on how to maintain a chain of custody over voting systems.

Degraffenreid made the decision as several counties in Pennsylvania are pushing back against pressure from some Republican state lawmakers and their allies to provide access to their voting systems for a “forensic investigation.”

In May, Fulton County wrote to Degraffenreid to say that, under the supervision of the county’s information technology director, employees of the West Chester-based software company Wake TSI took backups of data on computers used in ballot-counting, “complete hard drive images” of the computers and ”complete images” of two thumb drives that had been used on election night to transfer results files.

As a result of that access, neither Fulton County nor the vendor, Dominion Voting Systems, nor the Department of State “can verify that the impacted components of Fulton County’s leased voting system are safe to use in future elections,” Degraffenreid wrote.

Fewer than 8,000 people in Fulton County voted in the 2020 election, backing Trump by almost seven-to-one over Democrat Joe Biden. Biden went on to win Pennsylvania by more than 80,000 votes.

Fulton County officials did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment. One of the Republican lawmakers who represents part of Fulton County, state Sen. Judy Ward (R-Blair) declined comment Wednesday.

Wake TSI went on to work briefly on a partisan “audit” in Arizona after the state’s Senate Republicans used their subpoena power to take control of Maricopa County’s voting machines, a review fueled by Trump’s baseless claims.

Maricopa County last week approved nearly $3 million for new vote-counting machines, saying the machines were compromised because they were in the control of firms not accredited to handle election equipment.

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, had said she would seek to decertify the machines if the county planned to use them again.