MASTRIANO OP-ED: The Integrity of the Election Process Lies at the Heart of Any Republic

The integrity of the election process lies at the heart of any republic.”

Those words are found within a Third Circuit Court of Appeals opinion, regarding one of the most corrupt and unabashed election scandals in Pennsylvania history.

It was in the Marks vs Stinson case from March 16, 1994. 

The opinion further states: “The people, the ultimate source of governmental power, delegate to their elected representatives the authority to take measures which affect their welfare in a multitude of important ways. When a representative exercises that authority under circumstances where the electors have no assurance that he or she was the choice of the plurality of the electors, the legitimacy of the governmental actions taken is suspect.”

Does this case sound familiar considering the recent election?

Recently, I demanded the resignation of Commonwealth Secretary Kathy Boockvar over her inept execution of this measurably historic process.

My demand comes after pleading with the Secretary on four separate occasions to secure the November election, as well as future statewide votes. She changed the rules the night before the election. As a member of the Senate State Government Committee that oversees elections in our state, the Secretary never brought this proposal before the panel – this is unacceptable.

Secretary Boockvar’s resignation is necessary, but it will not heal the wounds inflicted on the conscience and confidence of Pennsylvania voters.

We must have a thorough, transparent, and independent audit of the Pennsylvania general election to prevent further damage to the integrity of our election.

Similarly, we must investigate every allegation of election fraud – the denial of poll watchers, missing voter registrations, covering of windows so the vote was counted in secret, backdating of mail-in ballots, deceased persons voting, etc.

The goal of an election audit and investigation is perfectly stated in the Third Circuit Court opinion from 1994: “Our primary concern here is not to punish any individual candidate or party, but to promote the public’s interest in having legislative power exercised only by those to whom it has been legally delegated.”

Sadly, the calls and emails that I have received over the past week reminded me of the Marks vs. Stinson case. At the heart of the matter was a Pennsylvania Senate seat to be filled via a special election in  the fall of 1993.

The seat in question would tip the balance of power in the Pennsylvania Senate to whichever party won – the stakes were never higher.

The Philadelphia board of elections was comprised of the county Commissioners: two Democrats and one Republican. The Democrat board members were caught conspiring with the Stinson campaign on an absentee ballot harvesting operation, where they concealed their tactics from the Republican board member.

The court opinion details the illicit activity: “To conceal the fact that many of these improper absentee ballot applications were solicited several months before election day, Stinson campaign workers told canvassers not to fill in the true date on the application…”

“According to the testimony of one campaign worker, Stinson was aware of the improper conduct regarding the absentee ballots, yet he permitted the conduct to continue and even admonished campaign workers who questioned its legality.”

“In numerous instances, Stinson workers executed applications, ballots, and declarations without the voter understanding the nature of the document. In other instances, Stinson workers instructed the voter to check certain places on the ballot, or filled out and forged the ballot. Voters were also assisted in completing applications and declaration packages after the statutory deadline for receipt by the Board had passed, and such ballots were counted by the Board.”

“{The Commissioners} and Board employees working with them were aware of the absentee ballot campaign of Stinson and his workers and assisted that campaign by delivering hundreds of absentee ballot packages directly to Stinson workers, rather than mailing or delivering them to the electors whose names and addresses appeared on the applications. This assistance was designed to aid the Stinson campaign in obtaining more votes through personal contact between the electors and the Stinson campaign workers. No such assistance was provided to Marks or the Marks campaign.”

Marks, the Republican candidate, challenged the absentee ballots.  Unsurprisingly, the elections board rejected the claims and hastily certified Stinson as the winner, days before certifying other races on the same ballot. Stinson was seated in the Pennsylvania Senate, himself casting the tie-breaking vote to affirm that he was properly elected and entitled to vote on behalf of the electorate.

The case landed before a federal district judge who found that, due to widespread fraud and conspiracy between the elections board and the Democratic candidate, none of the absentee ballots could be counted. Instead, court-ordered machine tabulated votes would be used to assess the will of the people. The federal judge ordered Stinson to be removed from office, and Marks certified as the duly elected Senator.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals concurred with the lower court’s ruling and stated there were only narrow instances where federal courts could decide state elections – exceptions include the equal protections clause in the fourteenth amendment, the right to due process, or the Voting Rights Act. The Third Circuit Court also wrote that irreparable injury could happen, not just to the Senate district in question but the entire state.

We must regain public confidence so those who wield the powers of our nation are duly elected by the people.

A thorough audit of the November 3rd election is necessary.

Senator Mastriano represents the 33rd District in the Pennsylvania Senate. The District includes Adams County and parts of Franklin, Cumberland and York counties.