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By Nathan Layne

© Reuters/RACHEL WISNIEWSKI Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Pennsylvania

(Reuters) – A Pennsylvania Republican lawmaker who is an ally of former President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he would try to launch a probe of the 2020 election in the battleground state, although a state agency urged counties not to comply with what it called a “sham review” of the voting process.

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In a move that parallels a contentious audit going on in Arizona, state Senator Doug Mastriano said he sent letters to “several counties” seeking information needed for a “forensic investigation” of the November presidential election and of municipal primaries this past May.

Mastriano, who has repeated Trump’s baseless claims of widespread fraud in the presidential election, said in a statement that the probe was necessary because millions of Pennsylvania residents doubted the veracity of the 2020 results.

Democratic President Joe Biden won the state by about 81,000 votes, four years after Trump’s victory there helped propel the Republican to the presidency.

York County and the state’s most populous county, Philadelphia, confirmed receiving requests for information, but did not say whether they intended to comply. A spokesperson for Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh, said it had not received such a request.

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It was not immediately clear whether Mastriano, who said he was authorized to carry out the probe as chair of the state Senate’s Intergovernmental Operations Committee, had the support of Republican leadership to try to compel counties to turn over information.

In a statement, the Pennsylvania Department of State told counties not to participate and warned that any election machines turned over would need to be replaced with new equipment – a nod to expenses that have arisen out of the Arizona audit.

“The Department of State encourages counties to refuse to participate in any sham review of past elections that would require counties to violate the trust of their voters and ignore their statutory duty to protect the chain of custody of their ballots and voting equipment,” the statement said.

Mastriano, seen as a contender for Pennsylvania governor in 2022, has built a growing base of support among conservatives in part by promoting unfounded claims about the election.

He hosted a hearing on the 2020 election in November in Gettysburg at which Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, made a series of baseless statements about fraud. Mastriano also attended the Jan. 6 Trump rally in Washington that preceded a deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol, although he condemned the violence.

Democrats Jay Costa, the Senate minority leader, and state Senator Anthony Williams, wrote to Republican leaders arguing that oversight of elections was the purview of the State Government Committee, not the committee Mastriano chairs.

They accused Mastriano of “corrupting the committee process and politicizing it for the whims of former President Donald Trump,” and called on Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman and Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward to end the effort.

Corman and Ward could not be reached for comment.

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

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