Thursday September 29th, 2022 6:10AM

EXPLAINER: Can Pa. GOP candidate make voters re-register?

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Doug Mastriano, Pennsylvania's Republican candidate for governor, is perhaps the state's most prominent peddler of former President Donald Trump's lie that widespread fraud cost him the 2020 election.

A state senator and retired U.S. Army colonel, Mastriano says he wants to make everyone re-register if they want to vote again. The concept flatly violates federal law, legal scholars say, and may conflict with state law, not to mention constitutional protections. It is also a throwback to laws designed by white people in past eras to keep Black people or newer European immigrants from voting.

But Mastriano, who was present at the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection and was endorsed by Trump, is undeterred, discussing his plan for re-registration both before and after winning the Republican nomination for governor on May 17.

Pennsylvania is one of the few states where governors appoint a secretary of state who oversees elections. That means a Mastriano victory in November could make Pennsylvania — a premier presidential battleground state — a test case of whether laws meant to protect voter access to the polls can be undermined.


It’s unclear where Mastriano got the idea, and he has not responded to repeated interview requests on this or any other topic. But he has pitched re-registration as a necessary step to scrub the voter rolls of dead voters and ghost voters — voters registered to nonexistent addresses — in time for the 2024 presidential election.

In a gubernatorial primary debate in April, Mastriano said that, if elected, he would require voters to “re-register. We’re going to start all over again.”

In an interview on the conservative broadcaster Newsmax three days after the primary election, Mastriano suggested that it is a step that his appointed secretary of state can take without approval by the Legislature.

“We might have to reset, as far as registration, start that whole process over here,” Mastriano said. “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.”

If he is elected, he said, taking that and other steps is of the utmost urgency: “So we’re going to take that very seriously and move really hard. Basically we have about a year to get that right before the 2024 presidential election.”


Scholars who specialize in election law said they had never heard of a state doing anything similar recently — probably because there are laws designed to prevent it.

It is certainly barred by the National Voter Registration Act, at least for federal elections, and likely runs into significant protections under the federal — and possibly the state — constitution and laws, constitutional law scholars say.

“No, a state couldn’t just unilaterally require everyone to re-register for federal elections,” said Edward Foley, a law professor at The Ohio State University who directs the school's election law program.

Federal law aside, Pennsylvania law says no registered voter can be required to register again while they live at the same address.

The National Voter Registration Act allows states to remove voters from rolls at a person's request and requires states to make a “reasonable” effort to keep voter registration lists free of people who died or moved away.

But it also restricts the power of states to unilaterally purge voter rolls.

Under Pennsylvania law, that means someone who has not voted for five years cannot simply be removed without an effort to contact them — by mail — followed by a grace period of two more federal elections.


Legal issues aside, making voters re-register would be an administrative nightmare, putting an immense strain on local election offices, said Edgardo Cortes, an election security consultant and Virginia's election commissioner under former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat.

“It’s just a bad idea all the way around,” Cortes said.

In any case, it probably solves nothing: Forcing everyone to re-register would not stop voters from dying or moving away, Cortes said.

“The minute you re-register everyone, you run into these things again," Cortes said.


Southern states, following Reconstruction, imposed annual re-registration requirements, with some of those laws lasting until at least 1971. The laws were regarded as one of the mechanisms used by those states to try to keep Black people from voting.

“So it definitely does not have a favorable history,” said Michael Morley, a Florida State University law professor who specializes in constitutional and election law.

Northern states did, too, imposing it in the early 20th century on big cities such as Philadelphia and New York City, where there were higher populations of newer immigrants from Europe, researchers say.

Perhaps its most modern comparison is to a law in Texas, enacted in 1966 soon after the 24th Amendment outlawed poll taxes. The Texas law limited voting to people who re-registered annually, setting aside a four-month time frame within which to register.

A three-judge federal court panel struck that down in 1971, calling it a “direct descendant of the poll tax."


U.S. District Judge John V. Singleton wrote in the 1971 opinion that it is “beyond doubt” that the requirement disenfranchised “multitudes of Texas citizens otherwise qualified to vote" and cited research by a University of Texas professor who found that registration and turnout were much lower in states with annual registration laws.

Separate research cited by Singleton — by a Washington University professor — found that such laws also had a strong class bias and effectively suppressed the vote of working- and middle-class residents, in addition to minorities.

Political scientists said they knew of no modern day research on such a law.

But Christopher Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, said purging the voter rolls and requiring voters to re-register would “mirror” the inequities inherent in the current system.

“Over time, the people most likely to get registered are often the most educated, most wealthy, older individuals,” Borick said. "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.”


Voters sometimes die between the time they mail in a ballot and when it is counted. Pennsylvania counties are supposed to be notified of deaths twice a month by the state so that they can remove those names from voters rolls.

Meanwhile, a handful of people were caught voting in the name of a dead relative in Pennsylvania’s 2020 presidential election — nowhere near the numbers necessary to have an impact on any election outcome.


If there are ghost voters on Pennsylvania's rolls, it's unclear who or where they are.

Someone who registers to vote must swear that they are a U.S. citizen and are asked to provide either a driver’s license number or a Social Security number. Someone who cannot provide either one must still show a form of identification that meets Pennsylvania law the first time they vote.

One of Mastriano's colleagues, Republican state Sen. Cris Dush, cited ghost voters to issue a subpoena to state election officials last year requesting detailed voter registration records.

Dush has yet to issue a report or cite any evidence of ghost voters.


Follow Marc Levy on Twitter at


Follow AP for full coverage of the midterms at and on Twitter at

  • Associated Categories: U.S. News, Associated Press (AP), AP National News, Top U.S. News short headlines, AP Online Headlines - Washington, AP Online Congress News, AP Elections, General Election News, General Presidential Election News
© Copyright 2022
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Gunman kills 4 in mass shooting at Tulsa medical building
Authorities say a gunman carrying a rifle and handgun killed four people at a Tulsa medical building on a hospital campus
10:12AM ( 5 minutes ago )
EXPLAINER: Can Pa. GOP candidate make voters re-register?
If Republican Doug Mastriano is elected governor of Pennsylvania, the state could become a test case for his idea to wipe its voter rolls clean and make everyone re-register if they want to vote again
10:07AM ( 11 minutes ago )
Ohio governor to sign bill allowing armed school employees
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has announced he'll sign a bill that permits school districts to arm employees
10:05AM ( 12 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Depp and Heard face uncertain career prospects after trial
A jury’s verdict that both Johnny Depp and Amber Heard were defamed in their long-running public dispute over their brief marriage raises questions about whether they can overcome tarnished reputations
9:06AM ( 1 hour ago )
UN says Yemen’s warring parties agree to renew truce
The United Nations says that Yemen’s warring parties have agreed to renew a nationwide truce for another two months
9:03AM ( 1 hour ago )
Speller reinstated into National Spelling Bee after appeal
A speller has been reinstated into the Scripps National Spelling Bee field after successfully appealing that he was denied relevant root information about a word
8:54AM ( 1 hour ago )
AP National News
4 killed in shooting at Tulsa medical building, shooter dead
Police officials say four people have been killed in a shooting at a Tulsa medical building on a hospital campus
5:58AM ( 4 hours ago )
Janitor corrals curious cougar in empty California classroom
Authorities say a quick-thinking custodian safely confined a mountain lion in an empty classroom after it entered a Northern California high school
11:01PM ( 11 hours ago )
Jury sides with Johnny Depp in libel case, awards him $10M
A jury sided with Johnny Depp in his libel lawsuit against ex-wife Amber Heard
9:42PM ( 12 hours ago )
Top U.S. News short headlines
Live updates | Ukraine seeks more weapons, Russia sanctions
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says if Russia prevails in its war in Ukraine “then the dark times will come for everyone” in Europe
9:24AM ( 54 minutes ago )
Hinckley, who shot Reagan, says thanks after winning freedom
The man who shot President Ronald Reagan in 1981 is saying thank you to the people who helped him win freedom from court oversight
7:52AM ( 2 hours ago )
Former Corinthian students get federal student debt erased
The Biden administration says it will forgive all remaining federal student debt for former students of the for-profit Corinthian Colleges chain
5:47AM ( 4 hours ago )
AP Online Headlines - Washington
Lawyer: Cosby used safe spaces to sexually abuse teen girl
An attorney for a woman suing Bill Cosby said during his opening statement that Cosby used friendly spaces like a public park and a game room to give her a sense of safety before sexually abusing her
5:14PM ( 17 hours ago )
Lawmakers ask governor to testify in Ronald Greene probe
Louisiana lawmakers are asking Gov. John Bel Edwards and his top attorneys to testify before a bipartisan committee investigating allegations of a cover-up in the deadly 2019 arrest of Ronald Greene
4:41PM ( 17 hours ago )
France's interior minister admits mistakes at CL final
France’s interior minister has defended the use of tear gas to disperse fans amid disorder and chaos at the Champions League final in Paris, saying the move was crucial to prevent supporters getting killed
3:23PM ( 18 hours ago )
AP Online Congress News
Clinton 2016 campaign lawyer acquitted of lying to the FBI
A lawyer for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign has been acquitted of lying to the FBI when he pushed information meant to cast suspicions on Donald Trump and Russia in the run-up to the 2016 election
8:39PM ( 1 day ago )
Supreme Court order could affect Pennsylvania Senate count
The Supreme Court is temporarily blocking the counting of some mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania
4:54PM ( 1 day ago )
Ex-Trump adviser Peter Navarro subpoenaed in DOJ's 1/6 probe
Former Trump adviser Peter Navarro has revealed in a court filing that he has been subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury this week as part of the Justice Department’s probe into the deadly U.S. Capitol insurrection
3:16PM ( 1 day ago )
AP Elections
Oregon ballot fiasco highlights 'invisible' election chiefs
Voters in an Oregon county where a ballot-printing error delayed primary results for nearly two weeks have elected the same county clerk five times in the past 20 years despite missteps that impacted two previous elections and cost taxpayers $100,000
3:59PM ( 5 days ago )
Many back strict gun laws, but opposition tends to be louder
Polling shows majorities of Americans think mass shootings would occur less often if guns were harder to get
1:29PM ( 5 days ago )
Oregon ballot fiasco spotlights clerk's troubled 20-year run
Voters in an Oregon county where a ballot-printing error has delayed primary results for nearly two weeks have elected the same county clerk five times in the past 20 years despite missteps that impacted two previous elections and cost taxpayers $100,000
12:26AM ( 6 days ago )
General Election News
Colombia president race heads to runoff; leftist vs populist
Colombians will make a choice for president between a leftist former rebel and a populist businessman in a June runoff after none of the six candidates in Sunday’s first round got 50% of the votes
6:47PM ( 3 days ago )
Colombia presidential contest likely headed to June runoff
The early vote count in the six-way presidential election in Colombia points toward a runoff in June, with leftist former rebel Gustavo Petro leading in a ballot held amid growing discontent over increasing inequality and inflation
6:28PM ( 3 days ago )
Colombians choose a new president amid general discontent
Colombians are emerging from the pandemic to find increasing inequality, inflation and violence
4:42PM ( 3 days ago )
General Presidential Election News
Gunman kills 4 in mass shooting at Tulsa medical building
Authorities say a gunman carrying a rifle and handgun killed four people at a Tulsa medical building on a hospital campus
10:12AM ( 5 minutes ago )
Ohio governor to sign bill allowing armed school employees
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has announced he'll sign a bill that permits school districts to arm employees
10:05AM ( 13 minutes ago )
Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee kicks off with pomp
Four days of celebrations honoring Queen Elizabeth II’s 70 years on the throne have kicked off with formal celebrations for the queen's Platinum Jubilee
10:01AM ( 17 minutes ago )
Russia warns West of weapons repercussions, pounds Ukraine
Britain says it is sending sophisticated medium-range rocket systems to Ukraine
9:59AM ( 19 minutes ago )
Ex-Detroit top cop loses bid to get on ballot for governor
A judge has declined to put a former Detroit police chief on the Republican ballot for Michigan governor
9:55AM ( 22 minutes ago )