The 2022 midterm elections are over, but they're not "over over" as Republican election deniers plan to flood the zone with recount lawsuits in states like Pennsylvania, and each one that they lose becomes more fodder for "election fraud" as they prepare for 2024.
Doug Mastriano lost by a lot.
But some of his supporters wrongly believe the results are inaccurate, and they think they’ve found a way to do something about it. So now election denial groups are flooding Pennsylvania courts with petitions seeking to force hand recounts under a little-known provision of state election law.
It’s not clear the effort will succeed in requiring counties to retally their votes — some courts have already thrown out the requests — and they certainly won’t give Mastriano, the defeated Republican nominee for governor, the 781,000 votes by which he lost to Democratic Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro. Recounts change election results very little, if at all.
But the baseless efforts threaten to sow confusion about the validity of this month’s election, tie up state courts, and disrupt officials’ ongoing work to audit and certify results by Monday’s deadline. It’s the latest front for an election denial movement that helped lift Mastriano to prominence, and has repeatedly tried to find and exploit vulnerabilities in the state’s election system.
The groups — organizing over social media and some claiming they are working in conjunction with Mastriano’s campaign — filed more than 100 petitions in at least a dozen counties over the last week, according to interviews and court records. Elections officials said they heard of at least 17 more counties where petitions have been filed and records weren’t immediately available.
The petitions largely follow a similar format — and in many cases use the same boilerplate legal document with blank fields for individual filers to complete.
“These orchestrated moves to delay certification of the vote at the county level are a deliberate attempt to flout the will of the people as expressed in the election results,” the Pennsylvania Department of State, which oversees elections, said in a statement.
A precinct’s results can be recounted under state election law if three voters from the precinct pay $50 and file a petition in county court saying they believe “fraud or error” occurred there.
The provision is rarely used. In the past, it has triggered recounts primarily in small, local races, said Democratic elections lawyer Adam Bonin, who has used it in razor-thin races for school board and township commissioner.
“For races that are actually incredibly close — we’re talking about single-digit races for local office — in those circumstances you do want to make sure that every machine’s results were transcribed accurately, that every paper ballot was scanned correctly by the machine, and there were no accidental errors in arithmetic,” Bonin said.
But some elections officials have worried for years that bad-faith actors could attempt to weaponize the law in statewide or national elections. Word started to spread last week among county elections officials that election denial activists were using recount petitions in an organized way for the first time on a large scale.
“It’s their latest bright idea,” one county elections director told The Inquirer, calling it a “merry-go-round of nonsense.”