Doug Mastriano’s Election-Takeover Plan
By now, political junkies are familiar with the rucksack of election-denying baggage that Pennsylvania GOP gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano schleps around: He organized a faux post-election legal hearing for Rudy Giuliani in Gettysburg; he asked Congress to deny Pennsylvania’s electors; he spent thousands of campaign funds busing people to the Capitol on Jan. 6th; he was filmed crossing police barricades; some of his supporters were arrested for their activities that day, and he visited Arizona to observe its disastrous Cyber Ninjas audit in hopes of replicating it in Pennsylvania.
Those are only the highlights of what Mastriano has done in the past. But what about the future? People like Mastriano are never going to let Donald Trump’s 2020 election loss go. If anything, Trump’s “Stop the Steal” lies provide a pretext for actions intended to ensure MAGA types win in future elections.
How will they do it? Well, Mastriano has some ideas. (Well above and beyond hiring Trump’s throne-sniffing flack Jenna Ellis as his legal adviser.)
Although Mastriano evades scrutiny by blockading typical media interviews, with some help from his insurrection-friendly friends, he doesn’t hesitate to talk about his plans when he feels comfortable. Put those snippets together, and it shows Mastriano has a pretty well-thought-out election takeover plan in mind.
His platform includes the following:
- loosening restrictions on poll watchers to make it easier to challenge votes;
- repealing vote-by-mail laws;
- appointing a fellow 2020 election-denier to be secretary of state who could enable him to decertify every voting machine “with a stroke of a pen”;
- forcing all Pennsylvania voters to re-register; and
- defunding the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Let’s take them one by one.
Last month, Mastriano’s legislation to loosen restrictions on poll watchers passed both houses of the General Assembly. Its passage on party-line votes by the GOP-controlled legislature is not surprising, since one of the problems that frustrated Trump supporters in 2020 is that they could not recruit in-county residents in blue areas, such as Philadelphia, to serve as poll workers and make challenges to votes. Mastriano’s bill changes that.
If the bill were signed into law—which Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has said he will not do—it would increase the number of poll watchers permitted by candidates from two to three, kill in-county residency requirements for poll watchers, and give poll watchers a “clear line of sight to view and hear” election workers and voters “at a distance of six feet or less.”
What could these poll watchers do with this increased capacity? Per Pennsylvania state guidance, poll watchers are empowered to “make good faith challenges to an elector’s identity, continued residence in the election district, or qualifications as an eligible voter.” Such challenges are directed to the judge of elections, who “has the obligation to determine if the challenge is based on actual evidence and whether there is a good faith basis to believe that the person is not or may not be a qualified elector.” Democratic critics of the bill object that the close proximity of poll watchers brought in from out of the county raises the likelihood of voter intimidation.
In a statement, Trump encouraged Pennsylvania Republicans to tie passage of this bill and other election-related restrictions to the state budget:
We will secure elections in Pennsylvania! Thank you for supporting our legislation, President Trump. pic.twitter.com/LUcAk1pyBj
— Doug Mastriano (@dougmastriano) June 29, 2022
Just as Trump called for, Mastriano has also promoted legislation to ban dropboxes and private funding for elections, as well as to eliminate “no excuse” mail-in voting and the permanent absentee voter list.
But Mastriano’s potential powers as governor far exceed that of a state senator when it comes to controlling Pennsylvania’s elections.
Unlike many other states where the secretary of state is an elected position, in Pennsylvania, the governor gets to make an appointment for the position. Mastriano already has his pick in mind and, although he hasn’t provided a name, he has teased that with this appointment and his powers, he could “decertify every machine in the state with a stroke of a pen via the secretary of state.” He said, as captured via audio, here:
I’m Doug Mastriano, and I get to appoint the secretary of state, who’s delegated from me the power to make the corrections to elections, the voting logs, and everything. I could decertify every machine in the state with the, you know, with the stroke of a pen via my secretary of state. I already have the secretary of state picked out. It’s a world-class person that knows voting integrity better than anyone else in the nation, I think, and I already have a team that’s gonna be built around that individual.
This is why Mastriano probably feels like he has a sporting chance to reset the voter rolls and force all of Pennsylvania’s 9 million voters to submit new voter applications to re-register to vote.
Federal voting laws prohibit such a practice, but that doesn’t deter Mastriano from campaigning on it and may not prevent Governor Mastriano from trying it—and creating a massive tangle of legal problems in the face of looming election deadlines.
Where would those legal challenges be decided? Most likely, in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. And for that, Mastriano has another idea in mind in case things don’t go his way.
If the state’s highest court doesn’t do as he pleases, he thinks it should be defunded, which is something he’s called for after the 2020 election. Here he is on a podcast* in November 2020:
I wish the General Assembly, we would do our darn job here, and make them feel some pain. We could, we could, rein in elements. Even, we even, budget and fund the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. If we are so, we’re out there as you know, shouting outrage about how they’re rewriting law, then, okay, maybe we should defund them. And let them figure out how they’re going to run a business without a budget.
Democrats have long believed that their own party’s gubernatorial nominee, Josh Shapiro, would easily beat Mastriano in a general election. Recent polling, however, shows the race within the margin of error.
And Mastriano has been underestimated before.
Only a few months ago, Mastriano was considered a long shot to win the nomination, but under the radar, he cultivated a devoted grassroots following, largely propelled by social media, and overtook his opponents in the primary by an overwhelming margin.
Mastriano did it all by riding on Trump’s lies about the 2020 election. Why? Because he sees a path for Republicans like him to win, no matter what, up ahead.
Don’t be surprised if he ends up doing exactly what he said. He’s not hiding his plan, after all. He’s campaigning on it!
* Note that the podcast Mastriano appeared on in Nov. 2020 is called “Up Front in the Prophetic.” It bills itself as “supernatural, informative & prophetic.” This is the sort of media appearance that has contributed to Mastriano “com[ing] across as a cult guy.”