- Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano is promoting an “Audit the Vote” campaign.
- The campaign’s founders have promoted conspiracy theories about QAnon, “PizzaGate”, and the 2020 election.
- In a statement, the group’s founders distanced themselves from QAnon and recognized Biden is president.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
A Pennsylvania Republican — and a rising star among supporters of former President Donald Trump — is endorsing a campaign to “audit the vote” in the commonwealth. Its founders assert that the Chinese government hacked the state’s voting machines to elect President Joe Biden, a wild claim that federal and state elections officials say has no connection to reality.
In a June 2 interview with Steve Bannon, state Sen. Doug Mastriano, a prospective candidate for governor who claims Trump’s backing, described the partisan audit taking place in Maricopa County, Arizona, as “the model” for future post-election vote counts.
Mastriano and three other Pennsylvania Republicans had just visited Arizona to tour the site of the audit, which is being conducted by a private firm, Cyber Ninjas, on behalf of the state’s Republican-controlled Senate. That audit, opposed by Maricopa County’s Republican-led Board of Supervisors, which certified Biden’s victory last November, has seen far-right volunteers scanning ballots for signs of “bamboo” in an apparent effort to prove they were manufactured in China.
During his appearance, Mastriano said similar audits would only occur if the conservative “grassroots” demanded lawmakers conduct one.
“We have a grassroots movement coming out of Pittsburgh,” he said. “Three young ladies are frustrated by the lack of action and so they have an Audit The Vote PA. And they have 60,000 signatures already, and they’re going to hit 100,000 pretty quick.”
A review by Insider shows at least two of the women behind the effort have promoted QAnon-linked conspiracy theories, including the bizarre and baseless claim that online furniture retailer Wayfair was selling trafficked children on its website.
The author of the petition itself, Toni Schuppe, has used the QAnon hashtag “WWG1WGA” and promoted “PizzaGate,” the unfounded conspiracy theory that John Podesta and other prominent Democrats were involved in a pedophile ring.
Another founder of the group, Jamie Sheffield, has shared a viral meme suggesting that President Joe Biden was not actually inaugurated on January 20, claiming to have personally confirmed six of the nine claims. As USA Today noted, however, none of the claims were in fact true.
State Sen. Mastriano did not respond to Insider’s request for comment. But Audit the Vote PA, asked if it had been in “direct contact” with the senator, provided a statement attributed to its three founders asserting that “we are in contact with Senator Mastriano and many other legislators.”
The statement added that the founders all now believe “Joe Biden was inaugurated on January 20th” and that their goal is not to return Trump to office.
“We have no idea what the future holds in terms of re-instating President Trump, and that is not our goal,” it said. “Our goal is to expose the fraud that occurred in Pennsylvania in the 2020 election so that we can re-establish confidence in our election system moving forward.”
The group also said none of the organizers “consider themselves followers of QAnon,” saying they are “aware of it, but not affiliated.”
“If there was some master plan in place to save the world like QAnon followers say, then we wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing now,” the statement said.
But the group’s petition is riddled with claims that have been shown to be false
Among other things, the group’s petition states that Dominion voting machines were shown to be “connected to WiFi and an individual was able to hack into the machines through his phone giving him direct access to the votes in real time.”
That is a reference to a claim from J. Hutton Pulitzer. Before promoting conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, Pulitzer was best known as the inventor of a cat-shaped personal barcode reader called the “CueCat,” described by Time magazine as “a massively expensive failure” and one of the worst inventions of all time.
At a hearing in Georgia earlier this year, Pulitzer — the apparent originator of the claim that ballots containing bamboo were imported from China, and currently involved in Arizona’s controversial audit — alleged that he had hacked into the state’s Dominion election system. Specifically, he claimed to have been able to access a PollPad, a tablet device that allows poll workers to check voter rolls.
But that device is not connected to the internet on Election Day, nor is it capable of connecting to any voting or ballot-counting equipment.
“The assertions made about unauthorized access to our systems are patently false,” the producer of the PollPad, a company called KnowInk, said in a statement. “The man claiming that someone ‘got into’ our systems did not happen, according to our forensic analysis.”
The office of Georgia Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger likewise described Pulitzer as a “failed inventor” pushing “fake news.”
The Pennsylvania petition also asserts it is now “well outlined” that “the voting machines in Pennsylvania were in fact tampered with by foreign adversaries, namely China” — a plainly false statement. That claim is attributed to a video from Mike Lindell, the CEO of MyPillow, who is the subject of a $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit from Dominion over his promotion of 2020 election conspiracy theories.
There is no evidence that any foreign government changed votes in the last election. According to a joint statement from federal and state election security officials, the 2020 vote was “the most secure in American history.”
On its website, Audit the Vote PA also claims that only 1.8 million mail-in ballots were sent out ahead of the November election but that more than 2.5 million were sent back. That claim first went viral in November 2020 when Mastriano promoted it on Twitter; it was also cited by Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.
“From where did the extra 2,589,242 – 1,462,302 = 1,126,940 votes come?” the image shared by Mastriano asked. The answer, per the Associated Press, is that more than 3 million mail ballots were requested for the general election, with 2.6 million returned — the statistic cited by those claiming election fraud was the number of ballots requested ahead of a June 2020 primary election, not the general.
While such false claims have been used to push for an Arizona-style audit in Pennsylvania, not all Republicans are on board. State Rep. Seth Grove, chair of the committee that oversees elections, said this week that the GOP-led legislature “will not be authorizing any further audits on any previous election.”