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Pennsylvania Attorney General On His Fight To Protect Voters' Private Information


Republicans in swing states continue to fight a battle over last year's presidential election. Donald Trump's false claims of voter fraud have inspired lawmakers in Arizona, Wisconsin and Georgia, among others, to pass new laws and pursue investigations. In Pennsylvania, the state Senate just approved subpoenas seeking the personal information of millions of voters. Pennsylvania's attorney general is a Democrat who has vowed to fight the subpoenas and protect voter information.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro - no relation - welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

JOSH SHAPIRO: Good to be with you.

A SHAPIRO: What are the stakes here?

J SHAPIRO: I think our democracy is on the line. It's been on the line in the courtroom, where we have pushed back efforts to disenfranchise voters every single time. It's been on the line in state capitols, where laws are being pushed to make it harder for people to access the ballot box. All of those items are interconnected, and they all are based upon the big lie. And so we are pushing back in court, and we are pushing back in the court of public opinion. And we are winning to protect the good people of Pennsylvania.

A SHAPIRO: Well, I want to talk about that broader issue and the question of whether Democrats are winning. But first, to get specific with these subpoenas, a lot of the information being sought is already public. So what are you afraid is going to happen if Republicans get the information that they're seeking?

J SHAPIRO: Well, the subpoenas only highlight how the Republican leaders in Pennsylvania continue to really try and manufacture controversy out of nothing. As you correctly noted, they already have the vast majority of this data. Anyone can have it. It's publicly available. But they're also seeking the private, personal information of 7 million voters - things like driver's license numbers and Social Security numbers. And they have absolutely no business prying into this personal data, and they do not...

A SHAPIRO: And what are you afraid will happen if they get that information?

J SHAPIRO: We have laws in this commonwealth and statutory interpretation - constitutional interpretation, pardon me - by our state Supreme Court that places a premium on personal privacy in Pennsylvania. And so they can't simply take this private data and give it to a third party and follow the law.

A SHAPIRO: What makes you believe they're going to give that to a third party? I mean, would there be anything wrong with lawmakers getting that data and keeping it for their own investigation?

J SHAPIRO: They've already indicated that they're going to give it to a third party, and I believe that violates the law in Pennsylvania.

A SHAPIRO: If the alternative is for Republican lawmakers to write new election rules without going through this process first, without a thorough investigation, wouldn't you rather policymakers actually have access to the data before writing new rules?

J SHAPIRO: If lawmakers were honestly and forthrightly trying to examine all of the different aspects of the election and listen to the local clerks who, by the way, have told them what reforms would be necessary, like early canvassing of mail-in ballots, I would applaud them for that. But that's not what this is. Understand that before they launched this sham audit, the only person they checked in with to make sure he was comfortable was Donald Trump. Furthermore, we have had two legal audits in Pennsylvania that have confirmed the results of the election - that at the presidential level, Joe Biden won by just over 80,000 votes.

A SHAPIRO: Democrats in the state Senate are in the minority in Pennsylvania, and they filed a lawsuit trying to block the subpoenas. What other options are available to you?

J SHAPIRO: Well, I'm happy to see that the Pennsylvania Senate Democrats filed their own litigation. As for my office, we have a lot of legal options at our disposal. We have a very strong winning record when it comes to protecting the will of the people and protecting the sanctity of the vote.

A SHAPIRO: You said at the beginning of this conversation that Democrats are winning this fight. To many people, that's not how it looks. I mean, what makes you say that? I look at the number of states where partisan audits are going forward, where legislation is passing - it doesn't necessarily look like Democrats are winning this fight

J SHAPIRO: Because we have a safe and secure, free and fair election that's been audited twice, the attempts to try and roll back our laws and make it harder for people to vote have not gone through - again, thanks to the veto pen of our governor.

A SHAPIRO: So you mean in Pennsylvania specifically, not necessarily across the country.

J SHAPIRO: That's correct, Ari. And here, this sham audit is not going to be successful. I want to be very clear; for anyone fearful that their privacy is going to be compromised because of this stunt, I got you. You simply can't take the personal data of 7 million Pennsylvanians, hand it over to some unknown third party in service to the former president. That will not happen here.

A SHAPIRO: So Pennsylvania has a Democratic governor who's committed to vetoing this kind of legislation. But when you look across the country, what do you think your party needs to do to win this broader fight over voter access?

J SHAPIRO: I don't think it's about my party winning the fight, respectfully, Ari - I'll just push back on you - I think it's about all Americans coming together to win this fight. I think it happens by speaking truth. I think it happens by voting out of office the people who are willing to put themselves and the big lie before our Constitution. We have real challenges in this country. We should have spirited debates over health care policy and tax policy and infrastructure policy, yet we can't do that. We can't address the real issues facing the good people of the United States of America until we get past this. And that's going to require speaking truth, and it's going to require voting these people out who further the big lie.

A SHAPIRO: That's Pennsylvania's attorney general, Josh Shapiro, a Democrat.

Thank you for talking with us today.

J SHAPIRO: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.