HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — The promise of a “free” election audit has turned out to be quite costly for Fulton County, which allowed a third-party vendor to examine its voting machines in December of 2020. Election officials were encouraged by Republican lawmakers who disputed Joe Biden’s victory, to let the outside firm in.

Fulton is a curious choice for such an “audit.” It is arguably Pennsylvania’s reddest county, as Donald Trump captured 85% of the vote in 2020. Fulton can now add another distinction. Its voting machines have been decertified.

“I had no choice,” Pa.’s Acting Secretary of State, Veronica Degraffenreid said. “We absolutely had to decertify,” Degraffenreid said that since Fulton County allowed a third-party company to examine its equipment after the 2020 election, anything that company touched must now be tossed.

“We don’t allow a third party to come in and look around or to have access to perhaps install some type of software. It violates the integrity of the process,” Degraffenreid said.

But Republican Senator Judy Ward, who represents Fulton and encouraged its election officials to allow the audit, called decertification “troubling” and “aggressive” and “a strong-arm move designed to intimidate other counties and keep them from demonstrating to their residents that their elections were fair and accurate.”

But fellow Representative Seth Grove (R-York) disagrees, calling it a costly mistake. “Fulton County will have to buy new machines at the expense of Fulton County taxpayers,” Grove said.

Grove chairs the House State Government Committee, which conducted ten hearings on elections at the beginning of this year. He says while counties conduct elections, the state has complete control over machine certification. He offers this advice to any official before pushing for outside audits.

“You should do your homework. You should have conversations with individuals before you launch something to the extent of what was launched in Fulton County,” Grove said.

But Degraffenreid refuses to call what happened in Fulton County an audit. She insists it was improper access. “It was done in a manner that was not transparent or even bipartisan so that’s not an audit. That’s not an audit,” Degraffenreid said.

The state says that the machines in question were sidelined after the 2020 general election and not used in the 2021 primary election. Despite numerous opportunities, Fulton County has refused to comment.