Doug Mastriano, the GOP candidate for Pennsylvania governor, has a history of peddling the “stolen election” conspiracy theory popularized by former President Donald Trump, which he says justifies his planned legislation.
Mastriano, a Pennsylvania state Senator, just last month introduced legislation that loosened regulations on poll watchers, which passed in both houses of the General Assembly. The bill increases the number of poll watchers permitted by candidates from two to three, allow out-of-county residents to become poll watchers, and give them a “clear line of sight to view and hear” election workers and voters “at a distance of six feet or less.”
Opponents of the bill object that the close proximity of out-of-county poll watchers will likely increase the risk of voter intimidation. The bill has currently hit a dead end as term-limited Governor, Tom Wolf, has refused to sign the bill. Wolf cited the possibility of “bad faith partisan operatives” being given the opportunity to target, and disrupt the counting of ballots in specific neighborhoods, which would only slow down the election process.
Parroting Trump’s rhetoric, Mastriano has also promoted legislation to ban dropboxes and private funding for elections, in addition to eliminating “no excuse” mail-in voting and the permanent absentee voter list.
Mastriano feels emboldened enough to campaign on the idea of making Pennsylvania’s 9 million voters submit new voter applications and re-register to vote, a practice forbidden by federal voting law. Legal or not, Mastriano may yet try, which would create a tumultuous tangle of legal problems during election season.
Moreover, the governor of Pennsylvania has the unique privilege of appointing a secretary of state instead of one being elected. Mastriano has already made clear his intent on the Bombeck Show, where on March 30th, he said if elected governor he “could decertify every [voting] machine in the state… with the stroke of a pen via my secretary of state.” Mastriano has already teased that he has a candidate picked and “a team that’s going to be built around that individual.”
Clifford Levine, a Democratic election lawyer in Pennsylvania, has weighed in on this potential threat. “The biggest risk is a secretary of state just saying, ‘I’m not going to certify the election, despite what the court says and despite what the evidence shows, because I’m concerned about suspicions,’” said Levine. “You would start to have a breakdown in the legal system and the whole process.”
Mastriano has been campaigning on reforming the election process, but his insurrection-friendly sentiments and connections are disconcerting. Mastriano paid $3,000 in campaign funds to bus protestors to the January 6th riots, and photo and video evidence of the event shows the gubernatorial candidate and one of his aides among the crowd outside the Capitol.
Mastriano coordinated with Rudy Giuliani in Gettysburg to contest the election results and observed the Arizona audit in hopes of replicating it in Pennsylvania. Among his other connections are Jenna Ellis (part of Giuliani’s legal team and currently the candidate’s legal advisor), John Eastman of the Federalist Society, Ali Alexander (a speaker at January 6th), and Sam Lazar, who just a year ago was arrested on charges of civil disorder and assaulting cops at the insurrection.
The Mastriano campaign has recently employed the strategy of radicalizing voters on Gab.com, a hotbed of white supremacists and unregulated hate speech, paying $5,000 for campaign consulting on the website, according to his campaign’s finance report in May.
University of Michigan professor Libby Hemphill, who studies political communication and social media, commented on this frightening development. “When a mainstream politician says I want to reach hate groups where they meet, that’s scary to us,” she said. Regardless of if the strategy works, Hemphill notes that “if it moves the window of what is acceptable to include engaging with white supremacists, that is a significant push for the Republican party.”
“As a scholar of democracy,” said Jennifer Stromer-Galley, a professor of communications at Syracuse University who studies online political communication, “I do worry what it means for our society when mainstream Republicans are actively courting advocates of right-wing extremism.”