Pa. GOP lawmaker Mastriano doubles down on election audit, requests meeting with President Biden

By: - July 13, 2021 10:13 am

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, addresses a crowd of Trump supporters at the Pennsylvania state Capitol on Saturday, Nov. 7, the day the presidential race was called for Democrat Joe Biden (Capital-Star photo).

(*This story was updated at 3:40 p.m. on Tuesday, 7/13/21 to include comment from Gov. Tom Wolf, House Republican  spokesperson Jason Gottesman, and remarks from President Joe Biden’s speech on voting rights in Philadelphia.)

Despite state Democrats’ attempt to dissuade efforts to investigate the state’s two most recent elections, the GOP lawmaker who’s leading the proposed review isn’t giving up. He’s doubling down.

“A full forensic investigation is necessary for the sake of transparency and accountability,” Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, wrote in a letter he said was sent Tuesday to President Joe Biden. “Those who have concerns about the integrity of the election will have those concerns investigated and hopefully addressed. Those who think that there was zero voter fraud, no irregularities and that the elections were conducted perfectly will have the chance to be vindicated.”

Mastriano, who shared the letter online Monday evening, also requested a meeting with Biden, who delivered a speech on voting rights in Philadelphia on Tuesday.

The request follows a months-long campaign led by former President Donald Trump and his supporters to propagate unsubstantiated claims of a stolen election. And it comes nearly a week after Mastriano requested election materials from York, Tioga, and Philadelphia counties for the proposed investigation.

Mastriano has not responded to requests for comment but has touted his plans for an investigation in a string of interviews with right-wing media outlets.

Following the request to counties, Acting Secretary of State Veronica Degraffenreid issued an indefinite directive that prohibits third-party access to voting systems. Attorney General Josh Shapiro said his office would “do everything to protect the commonwealth, its voters, and the free, fair election that was held in Pennsylvania.” Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has dismissed the proposal to investigate, calling it “a profound waste of time and taxpayer money.” 

Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, and Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia, also asked Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, and Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, to “end this misguided and political farce immediately.”

Corman and Ward have not said whether they support the proposed investigation. But over the weekend, Corman called the directive from the Department of State “an attack on the General Assembly’s power to review, investigate, and legislate” within its authority.

In a Monday statement, Mastriano described actions made by the Wolf administration and state Democrats as “scare tactics” meant to “intimidate county officials and obstruct a forensic investigation.”

Mastriano asked: “For people who once lectured the state about transparency and accountability, we all ask, what do they have to hide?”

Mastriano has said that he did not participate in the Capitol riot; however, he did request a taxpayer-funded hearing on election fraud in Gettysburg last November. The hearing featured Trump attorney Rudy Guiliani, who recently had his law license suspended for making “demonstrably false and misleading statements” while challenging the 2020 election results on behalf of the Trump campaign.

As required by law, county election offices conducted a statistical sampling of ballots cast in the 2020 general election; 63 counties in Pennsylvania also conducted “risk-limiting” audits. Neither post-election review found evidence of fraud or misconduct, according to the Department of State.

Biden, who won the 2020 presidential election in Pennsylvania with 3.46 million votes, has not publicly acknowledged the letter or announced plans to meet with Mastriano. 

But during his Tuesday speech at the National Constitution Center, Biden dismissed claims of a stolen election.

“The ‘Big Lie’ is just that — a big lie,” he told the crowd. 

Biden’s visit to Philadelphia comes as Republicans in Pennsylvania and other politically contested states across the country push for new voting restrictions in response to baseless claims of voter fraud by Trump and his GOP allies.

The details differ from state to state, but at least 17 states have passed more restrictive voting laws, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. These laws often target voters’ ability to request and return mail-in ballots.

Biden described these efforts as an “attack” on democracy.

In Pennsylvania — a swing state with split control of state government — Wolf recently vetoed a GOP bill that would have increased voter verification requirements, including expanding when voters have to show identification, and mandating signature verification for mail-in ballots.

Pa. Republicans eyeing tighter voter ID requirements to meet wall of Wolf veto

The bill also would have moved back the deadline to request a mail-in ballot by eight days, restricted ballot drop-off boxes, and given counties time to process mailed ballots before election day.

Republicans, many of whom signed the December letter to Congress objecting to Pennsylvania’s electoral college results, said the bill would have increased faith in state election results.

Research on voter ID laws, however, hasn’t found that such statutes increase voters’ trust in elections. 

“Because public attitudes on voter fraud are unaffected by the stringency of a voter ID law, such laws cannot be justified on that basis,” a 2016 Stanford University study concluded.

House GOP spokesperson Jason Gottesman said the chamber’s Republican caucus has “led the charge to protect and expand voting rights through accessibility, modernization, and security,” in a statement. Gottesman added that Wolf has only engaged with lawmakers on election reform “to play partisan politics with his veto pen.”

Wolf, who was in Philadelphia with Biden on Tuesday, said he will continue to “push for changes to take down the barriers to voting that still exist.” Saying that there are “bad actors” in Pennsylvania who are further promoting false claims of election fraud, the governor said he vetoed the GOP rewrite of state election law because it was “disguised as reform but was really about creating barriers to voting.”

Capital-Star Staff Reporter Stephen Caruso contributed to this story.

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