State Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin (R) and former state Rep. Rick Saccone at the U.S. Capitol on 1/6/21 (Facebook photo)
By Jeff Haste
Sometimes the guy who calls the fire department is the one who started the fire.
This is certainly the case for Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano, who recently has fashioned himself into a loud and proud crusader for election integrity.
The problem for Mastriano, R-Franklin, is that he voted for Act 77, the notorious 2019 legislation that caused most of the 2020 election dysfunction in Pennsylvania and tilted the playing field against President Donald Trump in the Commonwealth.
To be sure, most Republicans in the Pennsylvania General Assembly supported the bill. But only Mastriano has turned the 2020 election fiasco into the entire justification for his quest for higher office. Now widely expected to be a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor in 2022, Mastriano has been front and center, screaming about the events of last year, which he helped set in motion himself.
Republicans rightly believed that the longstanding practice of straight-ticket voting disadvantaged their down-ballot candidates because Democrats hold a voter registration advantage in Pennsylvania.
To get rid of this problem, the GOP agreed to a compromise which legalized no-excuse mail-in voting. The last trade this bad was when the Boston Red Sox swapped a young pitcher named George Herman “Babe” Ruth to the New York Yankees in exchange for financing for a Broadway musical.
The timing of the new law was problematic from the beginning. Most states which have gone to massive mail-in voting regimes have needed years to implement and smooth out the process. Pennsylvania did it leading into a presidential election year when voter interest was guaranteed to be extraordinary.
Thanks to Act 77, more than 2.6 million mail and absentee ballots were cast in the 2020 general election in Pennsylvania, obliterating the total from 2016 when fewer than 300,000 votes were sent by mail.
With the wide-open invitation to vote by mail, the inevitable and predictable happened, as Act 77 injected chaos into the election.
In Pennsylvania, the bar for ballot integrity is now higher for people who choose to vote in person. First-time voters must show identification at the polls, and even long-time voters must present themselves, sign a book, and interact with local precinct workers who may know them by sight. People who vote by mail receive no such scrutiny.
To make matters worse, the ideologues on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and the partisan Secretary of State were able to interpret the law to benefit Democrats, moving back the deadline for ballot acceptance in violation of the statute.
All of this was made possible by Act 77, which, again, Doug Mastriano supported.
Perhaps sensing what he had done, Mastriano surveyed what was happening during the April 2020 primary elections and told a reporter, “I feel a bit dubious about this.” He was right to be concerned, but it was too late.
All of this brings us to today, where Mastriano has morphed into a defender of secure elections, a self-proclaimed watchdog for ballot integrity. He proposes now to repeal no-excuse mail-in voting, ostensibly to fix the mess he helped make, while owning no responsibility for his role.
Indeed, in an opinion column he penned, Mastriano railed against Gov. Tom Wolf and Democrats generally, blaming others for the conditions he assisted in creating.
One begins to suspect that Mastriano is making such a fuss these days because he hopes to draw Trump’s attention to his likely run for governor.
In that regard, Mastriano seems to be a bit over his skis, strongly implying – without evidence – that he has already secured the former president’s coveted endorsement in the Republican primary and a promise of campaigning together.
As has happened with a few other candidates who got ahead of themselves, Mastriano’s claim was met with a clear response from a top Trump aide that the former president “has not made any endorsement or commitments yet in this race.” Asked by one newspaper for an answer to this rebuke, Mastriano, for once, remained silent.
Pennsylvania has been witness to countless politicians who aspired to an office for which they were unqualified. Less common is a candidate like Doug Mastriano, whose central argument for running is to let him put out the fire he started himself.
Jeff Haste, a Republican, is a former member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, and former Dauphin County Commissioner in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania.
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