So, why the fake electors?
To some, it seems like an odd entry point for the Justice Department to take into President Trump’s attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Groups of state-level GOP officials lying about who won their state in an effort to proclaim that Trump was the “real” victor.
It’s been presented as simple: a set of state-level GOP officials, lobbyists, and fundraisers who masqueraded as the real choice of voters in states that Biden won.
Of all the places to focus in the wide-ranging scheme to overturn the election, why that one?
The answer may be that that’s an overly narrow way to think about it.
The fake electors are the entry point to Trump’s various efforts to pressure state officials into throwing out Biden’s win and to turn the Jan. 6 joint session of Congress into the denial – and not the certification – of Biden’s win.
It’s not about the electors themselves. In reality, it’s about the reason that they posed as electors in the first place: to support Trump’s effort to steal the election. That’s the real meaning of the fake electors – it’s a story about a tool that served Trump in his bid to overturn the results of the 2020 election, one that hacked open a pathway to contest the election results even after his court challenges had failed.
Take a look at what the purpose of the fake electors was.
The fake electors cast their ballots on Dec. 14 – the day that the Trump campaign lost its option to contest the election in court, days after the Dec. 8 “safe harbor” deadline by which states had to certify their results.
Some states – like Wisconsin, for example – had outstanding court challenges from Trump’s legal team. Wisconsin’s Supreme Court ruled against Trump on Dec. 14 – the same day that state’s fake and real electors voted.
In the imagination of Trumpworld, the fake electors were “preserving” their votes. That is, they were simply creating certificates of their votes so that states could – at some point on or before Jan. 6 – discard the Biden electors’ votes and choose the Trump ones.
The creation of the fake elector slates was the final organizing principle after the Trump campaign had been shut out on the dozens of legal challenges that it and its allies had filed. With the fake electors, however, they wouldn’t need the courts: all they would need were the states and Congress.
It was the final tool they opted for after others failed, in pursuit of the same goal as all the others: to keep Trump in power after losing the election.
Trump attorney Kenneth Chesebro argued in memos justifying the creation of the slates that there were, in fact, two deadlines for the state certification of the election results. There was the deadline by which electors had to cast their votes – Dec. 14 – but that there was no deadline by which states had to pick which electors they were sending to Congress. The only endpoint there was the joint session on Jan. 6, where the people’s choice was to be formalized.
The fake electors, then, served as an entry point for much of the plotting on how to use the Jan. 6 certification session to throw the election to Trump.
Take Peter Navarro’s so-called “Green Bay Sweep,” for example.
In that plan, Jan. 6 would see repeated objections by GOP members of Congress to different state electoral votes. That would lead to free, televised press for Trump’s election conspiracy allegations, giving time for state legislatures in swing states that Biden won to “de-certify” the results. The fake pro-Trump GOP electors could then step in as the newly certified, supposedly rightful electors
Alternatively, look at the planning for Vice President Mike Pence.
Trump and his acolytes applied intense pressure on Pence to discard the real, Biden electors and, possibly, replace them with the fake Trump electors. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) even tried to pass a list of Wisconsin’s fake slate to Pence.
Pence, then, would be able to singlehandedly invalidate Biden’s win, either by refusing to count his votes, or by subbing in the fake pro-Trump slates.
In that regard, the fake electors’ purpose was clear: open the way to transforming Jan. 6 from the mere formalization of Biden’s win to its theft.
So, why does this matter for how we see the electors themselves?
The people who posed the real choice of their respective states are, by and large, officials from the local Republican establishments. They’re selected before the election itself takes place. In a typical year, they only cast their votes once state officials have certified the election for the candidate to whom they are pledged.
There’s an obvious question here: What – or who – made them act differently in 2020?
The fake certificates that the electors used bear strong similarities across the seven false slates that were submitted. Typically, the certificates vary widely in their language, with each state getting to decide how to submit them to Congress.
That’s led some investigators to suggest a high level of coordination in the slates’ creation, something that may have come from above.
Federal prosecutors have reportedly been investigating the fake elector scheme since autumn 2021. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco publicly confirmed the investigation in January, noting that several state attorney generals had referred the matter to the DOJ.
Since then, conflicting reports have emerged about what questions prosecutors have asked senior Trump administration officials about the scheme.
The Washington Post reported last week that prosecutors asked “about conversations with Trump, his lawyers, and others in his inner circle” involved in the plot, and about the former President’s efforts to pressure Pence in the run-up to Jan. 6.
Subpoenas to potential electors who declined to participate in the scheme reflect the same: a request for communications, yes, with the other fake electors but, more importantly, with senior members of the Trump campaign, and the Trump White House.
The fake electors scheme, TPM reported last month, sets up a very straightforward potential fraud charge for prosecutors to pursue. The electors claimed – both on paper and to the federal government – that they were the chosen representatives of their states when, in fact, they were not.
The nature of the scheme – and the DOJ’s investigation – suggests that it’s one part of a bigger fraud.