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State legislator living in alternate universe

Some of you may have heard of State Sen. Doug Mastriano, a Republican whose 33rd District includes all of Adams County, most of Franklin and parts of Cumberland and York counties.

Although he has been a senator for a little more than two years, he has caught the eye of former President Donald Trump and, by extension, conservatives across the country.

After the November election, Mastriano unsuccessfully tried to convince lawmakers to overturn President Joe Biden’s victory. Biden captured Pennsylvania’s 20 Electoral College votes by winning the state by about 80,000 votes.

Mastriano also made headlines for spending thousands in campaign funds to bus protesters to the Stop the Steal event that led to the Jan. 6 riot and insurrection at the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Now Mastriano is flexing his muscle as a committee chair to push for the largely discredited Arizona-style “forensic audit” of election procedures in Pennsylvania counties.

Trump never conceded defeat, and to this day, more than seven months later, continues to claim without proof that the election was stolen from him. Many of his ardent followers - Mastriano among them - continue to propagate the lie, not just in words but in deeds.

After returning from Arizona, Mastriano said he wants a similar audit in Pennsylvania “to restore people’s confidence in the vote,” he said.

Mind you, there have been two audits already, along with unsuccessful judicial challenges by GOP partisans that have concluded that the results were largely accurate and no widespread fraud was found.

Mastriano and several other Republican legislators who were along on the Arizona trip believe such an audit in our state will result in more transparency. This is crazy, because every county in Pennsylvania, which includes Republican and Democratic election officials, has concluded that the 2020 general election was one of the most secure ever held in the commonwealth.

The firms hired by Arizona Senate President Karen Fann, particularly Cyber Ninjas, have been criticized as biased and inexperienced. Attorneys for Cyber Ninjas previously argued in court filings that documents related to the election review should be kept confidential because the company “expects to have similar business opportunities to undertake such work for other governments around the country.

Obviously, this flies in the face of Mastriano’s declaration that the process is all about transparency. Other states in addition to Pennsylvania should be concerned over this initiative.

Mastriano and other Republican state senators of the same mindset are looking into the legality of starting a privately funded audit. According to The Associated Press, the law firm from which an opinion was solicited responded that state law does not prohibit lawmakers from accepting or receiving private funds for such an investigation.

Mastriano is chair of the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee and is frequently mentioned as a gubernatorial candidate in 2022. Last week, it was disclosed that he had sent on committee letterhead a letter to at least three counties - Philadelphia, York and Tioga - asking for “information and materials” needed to conduct the audit and a “plan to comply” by the end of July. The letter said “a subpoena may be issued” if the requests are not fulfilled.

The Democrats on the committee objected, saying that this type of inquiry is not part of this committee’s jurisdiction and urged the counties not to comply.

Mastriano, who met with Trump, has actively pushed conspiratorial theories about the 2020 election results. Trump has publicly pressured the state Senate’s GOP leadership to launch an audit, and several other state senators have signaled their openness to follow.

Among them is Sen. David Argall, R-Schuylkill, who came out in favor of an Arizona-style audit in an interview with Spotlight PA last month. Was it coincidental that Argall’s support came after Trump called out him and Senate Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, for dragging their feet. Trump asked whether they were “stupid, corrupt or naïve.”

In the Spotlight interview, Argall was asked whether he thought the election was fair and secure. He dodged the question several times. “Can’t we do the audit, and answer that so that we all have a final answer?” Argall responded. “So is that a yes or a no?” the interviewer asked. “That’s: Let’s do the audit and find out,” Argall said.

Argall also said that he has received many comments from constituents in his heavily Republican district who he said believe there were issues with the election results. “I’m an agent of public opinion,” Argall said. Maybe so, but a legislator must also be a leader not just a follower of what the public wants, especially if it flies in the face of reality.

Fortunately, not all Republicans are on board with this other-world scheme. Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, who chairs the House committee overseeing elections, said the House “will not be authorizing any further audits on any previous election.” Republican Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt called Mastriano’s plan “reckless.”

One result of this “recklessness” in Arizona is the decision by Maricopa County officials not to reuse most of its voting equipment after it has been compromised by the Arizona Senate contractors for the audit. The potential cost to taxpayers has not been determined, but it is expected to be considerable. It’s unclear whether the county will have to pick up the tab or whether the Republican-controlled Senate will be expected to pay.

Calling Mastriano’s plan “disgraceful,” Gov. Tom Wolf warned counties that they risk decertifying their voting machines that will cost their taxpayers millions of dollars.

Let’s hope we here in Pennsylvania don’t try to climb down this ill-advised slippery slope.

By Bruce Frassinelli | tneditor@tnonline.com

The foregoing opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editorial Board or Times News LLC.