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Push to cut 10s of thousands from Allegheny County voter rolls feeds fears

A woman gestures next to a man while they both sit at a table covered with papers.
Stephanie Strasburg
Allegheny County GOP committee members Anthony “Butch” Golembiewski, left, and Charlene Haislip, of North Point Breeze, show paperwork related to the thousands of voter roll challenges their team of volunteers has filed, on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Golembiewski’s Lawrenceville home.

Clara Osburg has lived in Allegheny County since 2011 and is a regular voter — including in last fall’s municipal election. So it came as a surprise when she received a letter in late January from the county: “Your Allegheny County, Pennsylvania voter registration has been challenged on the basis of residence.”

The letter did not say who challenged her registration, why they did it or what would happen as a consequence.

“At first, I thought perhaps I had done something wrong, like misfiled my taxes or something really concerning like that,” Osburg said. She hadn’t.

Osburg didn’t know it, but she was caught up in a push by local Republicans to “clean” the voter rolls of people they think may have moved out of the county.

An informal group of dozens of activists has filed more than 16,000 challenges since the 2022 election, with plans to file another 10,000 by year’s end, even as county officials from both parties say it’s misguided.

“What I’m doing right now is trying to make these public employees do what they’re required to do by their job description under state statute,” said Anthony Golembiewski, a retired PennDOT employee turned GOP committeeman who has led the effort to challenge voters.

A man holds a sign in a room with two other women.
Stephanie Strasburg
Anthony “Butch” Golembiewski, talks about the thousands of Allegheny County voter roll challenges his team of volunteers has filed, on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in his Lawrenceville home. Behind him, his wife of 46 years, Theresa, and Charlene Haislip, of North Point Breeze, a GOP committee member and volunteer for the voter roll cause, listen.

The effort won’t remove any names from the rolls ahead of this year’s presidential election because state law requires that several years pass before inactive voters are removed from the rolls without their consent. But some observers say it could fuel bad-faith election fraud claims during a General Election that’s expected to be rife with misinformation.

“It’s just feeding into this false narrative that there’s something wrong, that Pennsylvania’s not running its elections well,” said Marian Schneider, the senior voting rights policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union Pennsylvania. “I think it’s a much greater risk that voters are illegally removed than they are left on.”

Golembiewski said he began filing challenges and recruiting others to do so in early 2023, after he successfully ran for a seat on the Republican Committee of Allegheny County and became a district chair. He claims the county is neglecting a legal obligation to maintain its voter list, pointing to thousands of names of people who apparently moved away but still appear on the county rolls.

Meanwhile, a presidential election is fast approaching and the wave of challenges here mirrors a similar effort in other states that is fueled by activists closely tied to Donald Trump and the effort to subvert the 2020 election results.

A woman stands by a door where you can see her reflection.
Pamela Smith
Clara Osburg of Downtown stands for a portrait on Friday, March 8, 2024, in Bloomfield. Osburg, an Allegheny County resident for over a decade and regular voter, said she received a letter notifying her that her voting status in the county had been challenged.

‘I fight like a dog.’

Golembiewski said he and another local GOP committee member, Charlene Haislip, compared a list of people who notified the Postal Service that they were moving with the county’s voter list. Some 27,000 names appeared on both, they said, leading them to believe that those people should be removed from the rolls.

Pennsylvania law allows any resident to challenge the voter eligibility of anyone registered in the same municipality. Golembiewski recruited people in various municipalities to sign affidavits, creating what he calls an “assembly line” of paperwork, involving a number of notaries working pro bono and more than 16,000 two-page affidavits seeking the removal of voters.

Each of the affidavits challenges a single voter’s registration. They include the voter’s registered address and their purported new address, attested by the notarized signature of a voter living in the municipality where the challenged voter is registered.

David Voye, the manager of the county’s Division of Elections, said the current number of challenges is unlike anything the county has received in his tenure. Voye has worked in the Elections Division since 1988, and as the manager since 2018.

After receiving the first nine of Golembiewski's affidavits, the county responded by removing four of those challenged voters from the rolls.

Two people stand and hold a large posterboard
Stephanie Strasburg
From left, GOP committee members Charlene Haislip, of North Point Breeze, and Anthony “Butch” Golembiewski, stand for a portrait in Golembiewski’s Lawrenceville living room with a handmade sign noting the voter roll challenges their team of volunteers has filed, on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. Golembiewski and an informal group of dozens of activists have filed more than 16,000 challenges since the 2022 election, with plans to file another 10,000 by year’s end.

Golembiewski said that result spurred him to ramp up his efforts into the thousands of challenges that were eventually filed. After those four were removed, “I thought there that I had stumbled onto something that’s going to lead into a can of worms,” he said.

After thousands more challenges came in, Voye sought guidance from the Pennsylvania Department of State on how to handle them. He eventually reinstated the four voters removed after Golembiewski’s earlier challenges.

Voye said the county sends letters to each challenged voter at both their registered address and the new address included in the affidavit. If a voter responds saying they still live in the county, their registration is unchanged. If they don’t respond, their registration is classified as “inactive.”

Some of the 16,000 people whose registrations were challenged still live in Allegheny County. At least 18 told the county that, according to records provided by Voye. The actual number is almost certainly higher; most people did not respond to correspondence from the county, according to records the division provided to PublicSource and WESA.

Osburg, who received a letter from the county in January, guessed that she was flagged for a challenge because she went to Michigan for a three-month internship in 2021 — though she never registered to vote there and eventually filed a change of address notice for her move back to Pittsburgh.

Voters characterized as inactive can still vote, though they have to sign an attestation at the polling place, affirming they still live in the county.

Golembiewski said his project was motivated by his desire for the Elections Division “to do what they’re required to do by their job description” under state law. He became only more determined as his thousands of challenges yielded no further removals.

“I grew up on the streets of Lawrenceville,” Golembiewski said. “When you get me in a fight, I fight like a dog.”

Voye said the county already sends letters to voters who show up in the Postal Service’s change of address database, asking them if they have moved or still live in the county. The county transfers those who don’t respond to the inactive list.

A view of a computer from over the shoulder of a woman who is working on it.
Pamela Smith
Clara Osburg, of Downtown, shows a draft of her letter reiterating her Allegheny County residency to the county’s Election Division on Friday, March 8, 2024, in Bloomfield.

County officials, Republican Party leaders and election lawyers agreed that Allegheny County’s voter roll maintenance practices are compliant with Pennsylvania and federal statutes.

The law does not instruct the county to remove a person from the voter rolls after they file a change of address form with the post office.

A voter can be removed from the voter rolls only if:

  • The voter dies
  • The voter personally tells the county to remove their registration
  • A voter fails to vote or contact the Elections Division for five years, plus two additional federal General Elections.

Maintaining voter rolls to reflect those changes is “a never-ending job,” said Allegheny County Councilor Bethany Hallam, a member of the Board of Elections. She added that the county Elections Division is “following the provisions of federal law that tell us when we can remove folks, when we can't, and if we remove them, how we go about doing it.”
Golembiewski said that if the county is complying with the law, it should have told him that earlier.

“Nobody from the Board of Elections told me that they sent those people letters” when address changes are filed, he said. “Shouldn’t they have called us all together and explained this to us? It never happened, so we just kept rolling with it.

“If it comes out that they’ve been doing their job, then I’ll be at peace with it.”

The shadow of 2020

During a lengthy interview in Golembiewski’s Lawrenceville home, he and Haislip said they are motivated to prevent anyone who doesn’t live in the county from voting in county elections, but they aren't accusing anyone of voter fraud.

Golembiewski noted that “the race for county executive is won by 10,000 votes, and I’ve already delivered 16,342 affidavits of people who shouldn’t be on the voter rolls. … This process has only led to more questions.”

Asked if he thinks there was voter fraud in 2023, when Democrat Sara Innamorato beat Republican Joe Rockey in the race for county executive by less than 3 percentage points, Golembiewski said on multiple occasions, “I’m not going to use the word fraud,” and “I’m not going to step in anything I can’t wipe off my boots.”

Sam DeMarco, a member of the Board of Elections and the chairman of the Republican Committee of Allegheny County, said in an interview that Golembiewski and other activists working on voter challenges are people who “believe that Trump won [in 2020] and the election was stolen. And so they’re just looking for anything they can do.”

“I appreciate what many of these folks have done with their project,” DeMarco said. “I would have preferred if the focus had been … to get out votes for Joe Rockey as opposed to this.”

DeMarco said Golembiewski’s claim that the Elections Division is neglecting its responsibilities under the law is false, but that it fits in with a continued barrage of misinformation about elections coming from a segment of his party in Allegheny County and beyond.

“I can’t tell you how many hours of my life I’ve wasted trying to debunk these stories,” DeMarco said. “I deal with these amateurs, these folks from across the state that wake up one day over the Cheerios, they believe that they just discovered this incredible fraud.”

Asked for his response to DeMarco’s comments, Golembiewski said, “I accepted the 2020 election and I moved on.”

DeMarco voted against certifying Allegheny County’s election results in 2020, citing state-level decisions about the handling of mail-in ballots, but has said the county itself runs elections securely.

“There are people out there that anything they see that they don’t understand automatically becomes a case of fraud,” DeMarco said. “I can only tell the truth. I can’t make you believe it.”

A man holds a piece of paper.
Stephanie Strasburg
Anthony “Butch” Golembiewski, looks at a list of “affidavits in the pipeline” for the thousands of Allegheny County voter roll challenges his team of volunteers has filed, on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in his Lawrenceville home. Golembiewski became aware of the outdated voter rolls while going door to door in his neighborhood while running for a seat on the Republican Committee of Allegheny County.

Local effort resembles Trump-aligned effort elsewhere

The voter registration challenges unfolding here mirror an effort playing out in other states, which the New York Times reported is led by “a network of right-wing activists and allies of Donald J. Trump.” Conservative activists in Michigan, Nevada and Georgia are pressing election officials to “drop voters from the rolls en masse,” the Times reported, relying on little-used laws.

Golembiewski said there is no tie between the groups working in other states and the one in Allegheny County. But the strategy is similar. Golembiewski's use of Postal Service records cross-checked with voter lists is a home-spun version of EagleAI, a new software being used by conservative groups in other states to efficiently identify voters for removal from the rolls.

Numerous studies have found voter fraud is exceedingly uncommon in the United States — especially on a scale big enough to tip an election result. The 2020 election was perhaps the most litigated election in modern history, with dozens of lawsuits claiming fraud but falling flat due to a lack of credible evidence.

Vic Walczak, legal director of ACLU-PA, said “the system works quite well” at preventing voter fraud. One of the biggest safeguards is the penalty: “If you [vote illegally], you’re looking at potentially 10 years in jail. Talk about a disincentive.”

DeMarco said when he’s asked members of his party for compelling evidence of systemic voter fraud in the county, they’ve given him none.

“With all these affidavits, they’ve yet to show anybody that was on there that voted that shouldn’t have,” DeMarco said. “The fact that someone’s on the voter roll doesn’t mean that there was any type of fraud or anything that was illegal or wrong occurred.”

Two women sit at a table while wearing masks.
Jay Manning
People sit with a ballot drop box during June 2020 elections in downtown Pittsburgh.

Feeding an echo chamber

The thousands of challenges filed against Allegheny County voters are not likely to directly disenfranchise anyone. But regardless of the filers’ intent, they could act as fuel for disinformation and conspiracy theories later this year, according to the ACLU.

Walczak said the 2020 election heralded a new playbook on the right, when Trump and his allies falsely claimed that the system was rigged against them. Mundane election processes like voter roll maintenance could feed into an “echo chamber” of unfounded allegations of voter fraud this November.

“Some of these efforts, potentially [the Allegheny County] effort included, are not really designed to be effective in terms of removing voters from the rolls,” Walczak said. “It’s more performative, and it’s something I’m sure they will point to after the election and say ‘You can’t trust these results, look at these 17,000 people who shouldn’t have been allowed to vote.’”

Innamorato, who sits on the Board of Elections, wrote in an email to PublicSource and WESA that, “It is a shame that partisan groups spend so much time and effort trying to disenfranchise eligible voters and creating conspiracies about non-existent problems.”

Philip Hensley-Robin, the director of the watchdog group Common Cause of Pennsylvania, said the legal campaign could become part of a “broader narrative that tries to discredit our elections.”

He said attempts in 2020 to overturn election results in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, culminating in violence in Congress on Jan. 6, 2021, were premised on similar falsehoods about election administration and fraud.

“Seeing these kinds of claims pop up again is enormously concerning because it could be part of a campaign to undermine the right to vote and ultimately undermine the results of the election.”

Some impacted voters are already voicing decreased trust in election systems.

When Louise Byer and her husband received letters challenging their Allegheny County voter registration following a move within the county, she suspected it was part of a bad-faith effort to purge voter rolls.

“And we were fairly certain that we weren't the only people who were getting a letter like this,” Byer said.

As lawyers, Byer and her husband had the knowledge and resources to contact the Elections Division to alert them to the mistake.

“This is coming from an official of the county on letterhead from the County of Allegheny,” she said. “And I think a lot of people would just say, ‘I don't know what to do, and maybe I just shouldn't vote because I'm going to get in some sort of trouble.”

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Jamie Lawrence suspected partisan motives after a challenge letter was delivered to the Allegheny County address where he and his wife have lived for four years. Lawrence, a Republican, suspected mischief on the part of Democrats — in part because his wife, a Democrat, did not receive a challenge.

“I was stunned,” he said. “I don't want to make any assumptions, but I know that they had a new county [executive] elected, and I know she's not of the same party I am.”

“It doesn't really seem like this was done in the interest of cleaning up the voter registration [rolls],” said Kelly Hayes, another county resident whose voter registration was challenged.

When she called the Elections Division in January, she said administrators seemed unprepared to answer her questions about the challenge.

“I got transferred to, like, three different people. They just kept bouncing me around because nobody really seemed to know what to do,” Hayes said.

Hayes said she ultimately sent the Elections Division copies of her lease to prove residency.

“Like, I had to go buy envelopes,” she said. “I'm a millennial – I don’t have envelopes in the house. It's not my normal thing. I had to go figure out how to get things printed.

“This just feels like they're trying to get people who are not going to go through all the steps of this and just kind of clean out some people from the voter registration [rolls], which sounds a little conspiratorial almost.”

Charlie Wolfson is PublicSource’s local government reporter and a Report for America corps member. He can be reached at

Julia Zenkevich is a county government reporter for 90.5 WESA. She can be reached at

This story was fact-checked by Miranda Jeyaretnam.

Corrected: March 18, 2024 at 12:07 PM EDT
Correction: Sara Innamorato won election as Allegheny County executive by 2.5 percentage points. An earlier version of the story included an incorrect margin.
Julia Zenkevich reports on Allegheny County government for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at