early and often

How Mastriano’s Primary Victory Threatens the 2024 Election

This is one 2022 race with big implications for 2024. Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Getty Images

Pennsylvania’s Republican gubernatorial nominee, Doug Mastriano, a big-time MAGA enthusiast who was endorsed by Donald Trump himself, has made no bones about his belief that Democrats stole the 2020 presidential election in the Keystone State and nationally. His efforts to convince Pennsylvania legislators to usurp 2020 voters in choosing presidential electors were so conspicuous that he has been subpoenaed by the congressional committee investigating the January 6 insurrection. (Mastriano was in D.C. on that day for Trump’s protest but claims he did not enter the Capitol).

This is not, unfortunately, just ancient history. If Mastriano is elected governor, he will exercise near-total power over election administration in his state. The governor appoints the secretary of state, who is in charge of the election machinery. And Mastriano is already eyeing this role with bad intent, as the Washington Post reports:

“As far as cleaning up the election, I mean, I’m in a good position as governor,” he said in the April 23 appearance on [Steve] Bannon’s “War Room” podcast. “I have a voting-reform-minded individual who’s been traveling the nation and knows voting reform extremely well. That individual has agreed to be my secretary of state.”

He added that he planned to decertify voting machines in several Pennsylvania counties, a power given under state law to the secretary of state. “It’s going to be a top issue for me,” he said.

You can only imagine what Mastriano and Bannon might consider a “voting-reform-minded individual.” According to Ballotpedia, there are “no specific qualifications” in Pennsylvania state law to be secretary of state, so Mastriano could pick whomever he wants. Kris Kobach is currently running for attorney general in Kansas, but Rudy Giuliani may be available.

I’m joking (sort of), but Mastriano’s hostile attitude toward normal election administration is no laughing matter. Aside from the risk of the state interfering with local governments trying to hold elections and count votes, you could have the sort of open defiance of federal and state election laws that Mastriano himself exhibited in 2020, as the Post notes:

“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 Clifford Levine, a Democratic election lawyer in Pennsylvania. “You would start to have a breakdown in the legal system and the whole process.”

Perhaps a more immediate problem could be hostility to the legitimacy of voting by mail, which Trump rearticulated when the Pennsylvania GOP Senate primary failed to produce a clear winner on Election Night this week. Trump suggested that supporters of Dave McCormick might count out his candidate, Mehmet Oz, by inventing some late-arriving mail ballots (a suspicion for which there is zero substantiation). As a legislator, Mastriano voted for the 2019 law that allowed no-excuse voting by mail in Pennsylvania (this was before Trump began his relentless crusade against voting by mail, which concluded with his premature victory claim on Election Night 2020). But Mastriano has complained about how incumbent Democratic governor Tom Wolf has administered the law and has surely noticed that his supporters clearly oppose voting by mail, as NBC Philadelphia has observed:

Republican voters who chose Mastriano in the May 17 primary almost all showed up in person to cast their ballots. Just 13,383 votes out of 380,798 who cast ballots for Mastriano used mail-in ballots. That’s 3 out of 100.

Meanwhile, 386,314‬ of 788,288 Democratic voters who cast a ballot for [Democratic gubernatorial nominee Josh] Shapiro used mail-in ballots. That’s nearly a 50-50 split between mail-in and in-person. Those results were as of 10:45 p.m. on Election Night.

The one thing we can certainly say is that if Mastriano is elected governor, there will be a fox in the henhouse of democracy going into what may be a tense and very high-stakes 2024 presidential election. Earlier speculation about a “rogue governor” scenario in 2024 (in which a governor certifies results contrary to the actual popular vote or refuses to make a certification in order to let state legislators choose electors) focused on Trump-backed gubernatorial candidates like David Perdue in Georgia (who’s likely to lose next week’s primary) and Kari Lake in Arizona (who’s still very much a threat). Now those worrying about a 2024 election coup need to add Mastriano to that list.

That’s certainly the view of Maine senator Angus King, who cited Mastriano’s primary win as a fresh reason to pass legislation reforming the Electoral Count Act of 1887 in a CNN interview:

It is one of the reasons we have to fix and shore up something called the Electoral Count Act that defines how this process is supposed to work so a rogue governor or rogue legislature can’t overcome the will of the people and there is some recourse to the courts if that is attempted … It is not so much what [Mastriano] thinks happened in 2020, it is what he might do in 2024 that I think should be of concern to all of us including the people of Pennsylvania.

Said people of Pennsylvania can take care of the problem by refusing to put Mastriano in the governor’s office, or at least by insisting that if he is there, he must obey the laws of the land.

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How Mastriano’s Primary Victory Threatens the 2024 Election