As Donald Trump attempted to overturn the 2020 election results, few officials were more willing to help than Doug Mastriano, then little-known Pennsylvania state senator.
Mastriano, a retired colonel first elected in 2019, communicated regularly with Trump in the weeks following the election. He helped organize a pseudo-hearing weeks after Election Day in which the Trump campaign presented baseless allegations of fraud. Mastriano helped facilitate a plan to name a fake set of voters in Pennsylvania for Trump after Joe Biden won the state by more than 80,000 votes. He kissed and promoted a fringe, undemocratic legal theory that state legislatures can overrule election results and appoint their own voters. He was also at the United States Capitol on January 6 and helped bus supporters there. He pushed an unofficial review of election materials that prompted the state to decertify election machines in one county. He was subpoenaed by the January 6 committee. He supported efforts to decertify the election, which is legally impossible.
This week, Republican voters in Pennsylvania nominated Mastriano as governor.
If elected this fall, there is no doubt that Mastriano would be willing to use his power to overturn the results of free and fair elections in Pennsylvania, a key US presidential battleground state. As governor, he would be responsible for certifying the election and could refuse to sign off on an outcome he disagrees with. He would also be responsible for appointing a secretary of state, responsible for overseeing elections in the state and signing off on the results. (Pennsylvania is one of three states where the Secretary of State is appointed, not elected).
“We really need voters to pay attention to how dangerous it is to have someone in a position like the governor who doesn’t believe in elections or our system, who cast so much doubt on the 2020 election and would be in a great position of power,” said Lizzie Ulmer, senior vice president of communications at States United Action, which tracks election deniers in the United States. “It’s really important not to fall into this trap of thinking, ‘OK, these are really extreme candidates.’ Because they’re not fringe candidates, they’re fundraising. They campaign on these issues.
David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, said: “If a governor does not certify an election in which his candidate lost, which has been confirmed by the courts and election officials across the State, it’s incredibly dangerous – period. It’s incredibly dangerous in a state where this governor can appoint the chief election officer, who might share similar inclinations.
While Becker said the courts would eventually thwart any effort to block certification of a legal election, Becker said he was concerned about the confusion that would arise from a governor refusing to accept the election results .
“I am very concerned about what is happening in the meantime. And what messages are used to inflame the base of the losing party to act in an undemocratic and possibly violent way,” he said. Mastriano is one of many candidates refusing to accept the 2020 election results and seeking elective positions in which they would play a key role in overseeing the 2024 election. The Michigan and Minnesota candidates have already secured their party’s nomination and there is a closely guarded primary for Georgia’s top electoral office on Tuesday.
“What we have seen is that there are a number of elected officials within the Republican caucus who still defend or support this idea that the 2020 presidential elections were stolen,” said Khalif Ali, director executive of the Pennsylvania Chapter of Common Cause. . “We’re not just talking about a gubernatorial race, we’re talking about the very essence of democracy in this state and in this country.”
Mastriano embraced the possibility of nullifying an election, saying he had already chosen a secretary of state (he declined to say who). “I can appoint the Secretary of State, to whom I delegate the power to make the corrections to the elections, the voting logs and everything. I could decertify all state machinery with the stroke of a pen,” he said in a radio interview in March.
“He says that part out loud,” Ulmer said. “It shows how the far right and the big lie people have created this problem. It’s so crazy to think about it. They are really campaigning, fundraising and generating a lot of interest and support by pushing this project forward.
Mastriano also said he could “reset” voter registration in Pennsylvania and “start all over again,” which would likely violate federal law. He has pledged to eliminate the state’s contract with “compromised voting machine companies,” even though there’s no evidence machines were compromised in 2020. He wants to end voting by No Excuse Correspondence, which was passed by the state legislature with Republican support.
Mastriano, who grew up in New Jersey, joined the military in 1986 and was deployed to the West German border of Czechoslovakia before being sent to Iraq, according to a New Yorker profile of him last year. A few years ago, he began attending events organized by the New Apostolic Reformation, a group whose goal is “to return the United States to an idealized Christian past,” according to the New Yorker. He is often described as a Christian nationalist, embracing the belief that America should be a Christian nation.
Beyond the elections, Mastriano adopted other extreme policies. He showed his support for a complete ban on abortion, with no exceptions for rape or incest. He spoke out against Covid-19 restrictions, at one point erroneously wondering if mRNA vaccines were really vaccines. He supported legislation that would require Bible teaching in public schools, according to The New Yorker, and allow adoption agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples. If elected, Mastriano has pledged to be more conservative than some of the country’s most conservative governors.
“You think Ron DeSantis is good? Amateur,” Mastriano cracked, adding, “We love you, Ron, but this is Pennsylvania. This is where the light of freedom was lit in 1776, where this nation was born,” he said earlier this month, according to NBC News.
He has promoted the QAnon conspiracy theory and spoke at a conference in April organized by far-right activists who have promoted the movement.
Ulmer of the United States and Ali of Common Cause both said it would be a mistake to dismiss Mastriano as too extreme to win a statewide election.
“I take seriously every candidate who has won their party’s nomination,” Ali said. “He made a number of inflammatory statements, and I think we absolutely have to believe him and take him seriously as a Republican candidate.”