If you’ve been paying attention to the race for governor in Pennsylvania, you’ve probably heard — in the words of the Democratic candidate, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, and echoed by many political pundits — that “democracy is on the ballot this November.”

Their case against the GOP’s far-right, antiestablishment nominee, state Sen. Doug Mastriano, hinges largely on the Republican’s past history with efforts to undo President Biden’s 2020 election win in the state and fears that if he’s elected — with the ability to hand-pick a secretary of state to oversee elections — he will disregard the results to make sure Donald Trump or some other GOP nominees get those 19 Electoral College votes in 2024.

But voters need to understand: Mastriano’s plans are much, much crazier than that.

Mastriano is closely aligned with a national network of election-denying activists who continue to believe that state legislators can still somehow “decertify” electors from that 2020 election, which would initiate a process that would magically restore Donald Trump to the White House long before Biden’s current term expires. It’s not implausible that a Mastriano win in November could make revisiting the 2020 vote the biggest issue in Harrisburg in 2023, even as state residents struggle with real-time issues like inflation and high gas prices.

Close ally Ivan Raiklin — a Virginia lawyer and former military intelligence officer who was by Mastriano’s side as the 58-year-old retired colonel celebrated his landslide primary win last month — made clear in a May podcast interview that he and the loose alliance of prominent 2020 election deniers who’ve endorsed Mastriano still see their main goal as “decertifying” Biden and proving Trump’s Big Lie about 2020 election fraud.

“At the very latest, in January 2023, we’re going to have Georgia, Wisconsin, Arizona, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, at a minimum, which is going to have a new legislature that is going to exercise that Article 2, Section 1-clause authority coupled with the 10th Amendment,” Raiklin told the extremist Colorado podcaster Joe Oltmann in early May, citing what he — but no respected scholar — believes is constitutional authority to undo an election result. “The constitution doesn’t set a limit on if and when a state can transmit or reclaim its electors, so then they do it,” Raiklin insisted.

The Mastriano supporter also called for public protests every Saturday during the warm weather months until lawmakers declare a special session to throw out Biden’s victory. And he continues to post on right-wing social media under the hashtag: #DecertificationIsInevitable.

Reality check: There is no process, either in the U.S. Constitution or under any established law, to “reclaim” presidential electors or “decertify” the Biden victory that was famously ratified by Congress in the wake of a failed insurrection on January 6, 2021. And neither Trump — whose lawyers famously lost more than 50 legal challenges to the 2020 results — nor Raiklin and his allies have produced any evidence of 2020 voter fraud, in an election in which Biden won the Electoral College (306-232), and by roughly 7 million popular votes.

Mastriano, who campaigned this year at events where attendees signed a petition to “decertify” Biden’s 2020 victory, hasn’t specifically said he’d push as governor for such an outcome, but he has made it clear he believes that Pennsylvania’s governor and the secretary of state, whom he would appoint, have sweeping and arguably authoritarian powers over the voting process. That includes, he claimed this year, the power to make “corrections.”

On March 30, Mastriano told WPIC’s Eric Bomback radio show that “I get to appoint the secretary of state who’s delegated from me the power to make the corrections to elections, the voting logs and everything. I could decertify every machine in the state with the stroke of a pen via the secretary of state.”

Some political observers worry that the typical Pennsylvania voter doesn’t realize the threat that Mastriano poses to free and fair elections, or that his allies are still obsessed with tilting at the windmills of the bygone 2020 election.

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Alexandra De Luca of the left-leaning group American Bridge, which has been extensively tracking Mastriano’s statements on voting and election integrity, told me this week the prospect of his election — in a year when national trends favor Republicans, aided by Biden’s current low approval ratings — is “incredibly dire” for democracy. She added: “It’s insane to think that a governor of the state where democracy in America was founded would want to overturn that democracy — that is, indeed, an extreme position.”

Mastriano has also made it clear that appointing a like-minded secretary of state is an important issue for him. “I already had the secretary of state picked out,” the candidate said in his March 30 radio interview. “It’s a world-class person that knows voting integrity better than anyone else in the nation, I think, and I already have a team that’s gonna be built around that individual.”

It’s hard not to wonder where Raiklin — who filmed a Primary Night video with Mastriano in which he claimed the candidate’s success would mean “20 electoral votes!” — fits into that picture. A lawyer and a retired colonel in the Army Reserve, Raiklin is part of a network of ex-military men who’ve supported Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election and has close ties with another Mastriano ally — former general and disgraced Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, whom Raiklin has reportedly known since 2014.

Like Mastriano himself, Raiklin was captured on camera on the Capitol grounds, although not inside the building, during the January 6 insurrection. Days before that event, the lawyer promoted his theory on what he called the “Pence card,” that then-vice president Mike Pence had the legal authority to cast aside Biden electors. What’s more important for the current moment is that Raiklin has never given up on the Lost Cause of Trump’s falsely claimed victory.

In March, Raiklin travelled to Wisconsin, where he pushed decertification in a meeting with that state’s Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who seemed to agree with the specious claims of widespread 2020 election fraud, although he was dubious the outcome could be overturned now.

In addition to Raiklin, key supporters of the ongoing 2020 decertification drive who issued endorsements of Mastriano include Flynn and the pillow executive Mike Lindell. The GOP gubernatorial candidate has also forged close ties with Trump Big Lie supporter Toni Shuppe, who heads the group Audit the Vote PA. Shuppe has also signed social media posts with the abbreviation for the motto of the QAnon conspiracy theory — “Where We Go One, We Go All” — and even promoted the false theory that furniture site Wayfair sold trafficked children.

Shuppe resurfaced in the news this week when the New York Times reported that she’s now working closely with the Republican National Committee and training with a key lawyer behind Trump’s effort to undo the 2020 result, Cleta Mitchell, to create an army of activists — some 200 and counting — to monitor voting and other election-related activities in Pennsylvania. The effort has sparked concerns about harassment and disruption at polling places, as well as GOP efforts to gin up evidence with the goal of overriding future election outcomes.

And, to be clear, the wacky promises to “decertify” Biden’s presidency and magically launch a second Trump term — which presumably wouldn’t last 30 seconds inside any honest courtroom — aren’t as real a threat as new voter suppression laws that Mastriano could enact with Republican lawmakers, or the candidate’s bizarre and probably-not-constitutional vow to require every single Pennsylvania voter to re-register.

Still, it’s mind-boggling to consider all the actual problems that Pennsylvanians are facing right now — soaring rents, crumbling schools without air conditioning, a state university system hanging by a thread — and think that our state government might spend 2023 chasing down a rabbit hole of bamboo-laced ballots from China or some of the other crazy conspiracy theories that animate Trump World. That’s why Pennsylvanians should “decertify” Mastriano the old-fashioned way — legally, at the ballot box, on November 8.

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