What Happens If Election Deniers Win in Pennsylvania?

Experts warn these candidates, if elected in November, threaten the future of American democracy.
"Voter Fraud" rally marches to Supreme Court in support of Donald Trump, who refused to concede election. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

As Election Day approaches, voting rights and election law experts are sounding the alarm about the potential consequences of having election deniers on the ballot in the 2022 midterm elections. In Pennsylvania, and several other states across the country, many Republican candidates are perpetuating former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent, making election denialism a staple of their campaign platforms. 

Some of the election reforms these candidates have proposed to supposedly bolster election security could have a substantial impact on voting rights and drastically alter the ways in which U.S. democratic elections are run in the foreseeable future. As a result, experts are warning voters of the risk these candidates could pose to the electoral process and American democracy. 

According to Elaine Karmack, a senior fellow in the Governance Studies program and the director of the Center for Effective Public Management at the Brookings Institution, election deniers in states like Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania are advocating for reforms that would ultimately change how votes are cast and counted and modify who has control over the certification of election results. 

“The big change into 2020 was to go to no-excuse absentee voting. Most of them want to get rid of that or tighten that up in some way. They also want to restrict early voting,” Karmack told the Bucks County Beacon. “Those are serious because they would make it harder for people to vote.” They would also affect some people more than others, including those who are elderly or disabled. 

Karmack says that some election deniers also want to pass reforms that would effectively “politicize the certification of the vote” by allowing a partisan legislature to certify the election results instead of the election board, governor, or secretary of state. “That is a really dangerous problem,” she continued. “There’s no reality to any of these being actual problems and the solutions would cause more problems, more inaccuracy than they are alleging.”

According to an analysis from FiveThirtyEight, there are 10 Republican election deniers on the ballot in Pennsylvania this year, including Doug Mastriano, Aaron Bashir, Jim Bognet, Dan Meuser, Scott Perry, Lloyd Smucker, John Joyce, Guy Reschenthaler, Glenn “GT” Thompson, and Mike Kelly. All of these candidates have completely denied the legitimacy of the 2020 election, claiming that the results were somehow rigged or stolen, despite evidence to the contrary. 

Candidates like Mehmet Oz and Guy Louis Ciarrocchi, on the other hand, are not fully fledged election deniers, but have still raised questions around the 2020 election, refusing to say whether or not they believe the results were legitimate. Meanwhile, Brian Fitzpatrick and Christian Nascimento have accepted the results “with reservations.” 

While all of these nominees have cast doubt on the security and legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election and still refuse to accept President Joe Biden as the rightful winner nearly two years later, perhaps the most vocal and aggressive election denier is state Sen. Doug Mastriano, who is running for governor. Throughout his gubernatorial campaign, Mastriano has helped peddle Trump’s election lies and spread disinformation about how votes were cast and counted in 2020, blaming voting machines for Trump’s election loss, among other false claims.

Mastriano’s election denialism is more than just a superficial attempt to appease Trump and prove his loyalty, however. He attended the “Save America” rally in Washington, D.C., just hours before the violent insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021 and even used his own campaign funds to bus people from Pennsylvania to the Capitol building that day. 

Mastriano was also later identified as Trump’s “point person” in the former president’s fake elector scheme to change the outcome of the 2020 election and has been subpoenaed by the House Select Committee for his outsized roled in this scheme and his communication with Trump on the day in question. In addition, he even attempted to audit the state’s election results the following summer. 

Consequently, Mastriano has proposed a number of radical and potentially illegal election reforms that could disenfranchise voters and take a toll on state election officials. Over the past several months, he has vowed to decertify voting machines that he believes were somehow rigged, get rid of no-excuse mail-in voting, adopt strict voter ID laws, and require all voters in Pennsylvania to re-register to vote, which is not only burdensome but could also violate federal law. 

“First of all, think of the burden it would put on registrars all across the state if all of a sudden several million people had to re-register to vote. It’s a massive, massive bureaucratic undertaking,” Karmack said. “When you start messing around with huge systems, like voter registration, for no reason, you’re going to create more problems than you solve.”

Mastriano is also backed by the America First Secretary of State Coalition, which is calling for an “aggressive voter roll clean up,” and has promised to appoint an election denier to the position. Unlike most states, the secretary of state is not an elected office in Pennsylvania. Instead, the chief election official is appointed by the governor. 

“As governor, I get to appoint the secretary of state. And I have a voting reform-minded individual who’s been traveling the nation and knows voting reform extremely well,” Mastriano told former Trump official Steve Bannon during an interview in April. 

If elected, Mastriano would appoint someone as secretary of state who would undoubtedly have both the authority and willingness to decertify voting machines. This means that the machines could no longer be used and would either have to be replaced, which would be quite expensive, or election officials would be forced to go back to hand counting ballots, a practice that is much more prone to error than machine counting and could drag on for weeks or even months. While Mastriano hasn’t publicly confirmed who his secretary of state pick is, Toni Shuppe, the co-founder of Audit the Vote PA, is rumored to be the leading candidate.

According to David Becker, the executive director and founder of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, electing Mastriano and other election denying candidates who want to “reduce the guardrails” around our electoral process, through the appointment of the secretary of state, could pose a great risk to the existence of American democracy.

“If you have a secretary of state who wants to make it harder for some people to vote, who wants to use the right to vote as merely a mechanism by which his political party retains power or gains power … who fails to support the local and county election officials in their state, fails to provide adequate guidance, fails to clear up any vagueness that might exist, that can create a big problem for voters, for election officials going into an election,” Becker told Bucks County Beacon. If they win, they could also use this power to attempt to overturn future election results.

If election deniers lose, however, they could alternatively use fraud allegations to cast doubt on the results of the election and use false rhetoric to incite anger and violence. “I’m very concerned that the losers of some elections may not view the will of the voters and the judgment of the courts as the final say, as anyone should in a democracy, but instead would view the next step to be political violence, as we saw on January 6,” Becker said. 

The 2020 presidential election was the most secure and transparent election in American history, according to federal election infrastructure officials, and experts say there’s no reason to think that the 2022 midterm elections will be any different. “You would need a conspiracy of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people, and have none of them talking” in order to steal an election, Becker said. “It’s just not possible.” 

“If someone’s telling you that the candidate you preferred lost because the election is stolen, they’re probably trying to con you out of your money because they know you’re going to be angry, when the correct response is, ‘Look if your candidate lost, mobilize and fight it out for the next election,’” he continued. “Vigilance is going to have to be really important here.” 

After all, the future of elections is at stake.

Catherine Caruso

Catherine Caruso

Catherine Caruso is a Pennsylvania-based freelance writer with a focus on culture, politics, education, and LGBTQ rights.

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