Everyone in Pennsylvania needs to re-register to vote, according to Doug Mastriano, the Republican candidate for governor, in a proposal that legal scholars point out violates federal and potentially state laws, as well as voter safeguards in the constitution.
Mastriano’s proposal harkens back to a century of laws and practices designed to disenfranchise Black voters and other diverse communities from accessing polls and voting, an issue which continues today in many parts of the country.
If Mastriano wins in November, it could turn Pennsylvania into one of the most contentious purple states when the time comes for the presidential election, especially as the state is one of the few in the country where the secretary of state, who administers elections, is appointed by the governor.
Mastriano has defended his proposal, arguing that re-registering voters would wipe away errors in the voting system that would otherwise account for alleged ghost voters, false addresses, and dead residents. He stressed that this was an important step to take, especially for the 2024 presidential elections, though it remains unclear what re-registration is exactly supposed to do for solving this problem.
Experts note that there is not only no modern precedent for his proposal, but according to Edgardo Cortes, Virginia’s election commissioner who focuses on voting security issues, it also wouldn’t fix anything.
“The minute you re-register everyone, you run into these things again,” noted Cortes, who points out that beyond the administrative costs and logistical nightmare of re-registering every resident in the state, the entire process would do effectively nothing, as voters will continue to die and move away from addresses during re-registration.
“It’s just a bad idea all the way around,” said Cortes.
The closest contemporary law to what Mastriano is proposing passed in Texas in 1966 that limited voting to annually re-registered voters only. A federal court shot down the law in 1971, citing it as another form of poll taxes outlawed by the 24th Amendment.
Mastriano has noted that this is something that can be achieved by the secretary of state without legislative approval.
“There’s still a lot of dead on the rolls, and what have you, and there’s ghost phantom voters that we found, as well, at various address[es],” said Mastriano in a television interview.
The National Voter Registration Act prevents voter re-registration for federal elections, while Mastriano is likely to run into a litany of protections within state laws and the constitution, according to law scholars.
Edward Foley, a law professor at Ohio State University noted that a state “couldn’t just unilaterally require everyone to re-register for federal elections.”
At the same time, state laws in Pennsylvania note that registered voters are not required to re-register if they still reside at the same address.
According to the Associated Press, it’s estimated that the number of dead or ghost voters in Pennsylvania is not high enough to warrant Mastriano’s proposal, with the chances of a voter dying after casting their ballot being low.
Still, the proposal has raised concerns, especially for those who are familiar with the political mechanism of voter re-registration.
“Over time, the people most likely to get registered are often the most educated, most wealthy, older individuals,” noted Christopher Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
“They will most likely be the first to re-register if required. People that will be least likely are the ones who are harder to get to register and maybe … over time took an incredible effort and even years to bring them into the system,” he noted.
Mastriano, who is backed by Trump, has been one of the most prominent supporters of the former president’s false accusation that widespread voter fraud lost him the 2020 election. He is also one of the many candidates running for office who was present in the U.S. Capitol Insurrection on January 6.