(Graphic Illustration by Jonathon Sadowski)
(Graphic Illustration by Jonathon Sadowski)

Republicans created fake documents certifying Trump as the winner in 2020. Here’s what you need to know.

In a typical presidential election, the Electoral College serves as little more than a formality as electors from all 50 states cast votes for the candidate who won their state’s popular vote.

But the 2020 presidential election was anything but typical. Republicans in seven states Donald Trump lost, including Wisconsin, convened to fill out official-looking paperwork declaring him—not Joe Biden—the winner. Then, they sent those fake documents to Congress. 

Those Republicans’ actions are now under the scrutiny of federal prosecutors after voting rights advocates and Democrats raised the alarm, and two of Wisconsin’s false electors have been subpoenaed by the US House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.

“These people got together and tried to take the choice for president away from the people of Wisconsin,” said Mel Barnes, staff counsel with progressive legal firm Law Forward, which provided copies of the fake documents to UpNorthNews.

The false electors were: then-Wisconsin GOP Chair Andrew Hitt, Wisconsin Elections Commissioner Bob Spindell, 8th Congressional District GOP Chair Kelly Ruh, 1st Congressional District GOP Vice Chair Carol Brunner, Midwest Region for the Republican National Committee Vice Chair Mary Buestrin, 6th Congressional District GOP Chair Darryl Carlson, La Crosse County GOP Chair Bill Feehan, Dane Party GOP Chair Scott Grabins, 5th Congressional District GOP Chair Kathy Kiernan, and 1st Congressional District GOP Vice Chair Pam Travis.

RELATED: Jan. 6 Committee Subpoenas Wisconsin Republicans Over False Trump Electors

Hitt told the Wisconsin State Journal he would comply with the subpoena and that the fake electoral certificates were filled out according to the “guidance of Wisconsin legal counsel.” Trump and his allies filed multiple lawsuits in their efforts to overturn the election, but the fake electors mailed their paperwork after Trump’s efforts had been defeated and the election had been officially settled.

It is unclear if the would-be Republican electors in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Georgia will face criminal charges. 

Jan. 6 Committee Chair Rep. Bonnie Thompson (D-Mississippi) said the committee hopes to investigate “the planning and coordination efforts” and find out “who was behind that scheme.” In a December 2020 Fox News interview, former Trump Adviser Stephen Miller laid out the fact that it was a coordinated effort and outlined Trump allies’ plans to install “alternate electors.”

‘This Is Not Something That Happens’

“It is bizarre and completely unusual. This is not something that happens after presidential elections in the United States anymore,” Barry Burden, director of UW-Madison’s Elections Research Center, said of the effort to certify Trump as the winner of the election. 

The only other similar occurrence Burden said he is aware of was when Hawaii sent two slates of electors in 1960 during a close recount. Electors initially voted for Richard Nixon before a recount revealed John F. Kennedy was the true winner, causing the then-new state to send a second slate of electors. But the incident in Hawaii was far different; it was not a coordinated effort across seven states to overturn settled election results. 

A bipartisan group of senators is in talks to author legislation that would close loopholes in the current system. Until then, Burden said, there is nothing preventing a losing party from attempting a coordinated alternative slate of electors again because federal election law has essentially left certifying elections to “an honor system for the last 150 years.” 

“There are real opportunities and incentives, I think, for losing parties to try this strategy again, and they might have success because the law is so poorly written. And because Congress is so partisan, they may be willing to override the facts and go with the losing party,” Burden said.

For now, Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul has declined to prosecute the fake electors, but he said he supports federal action.

“I believe it’s critical that the federal government fully investigates and prosecutes any unlawful actions in furtherance of any seditious conspiracy,” Kaul said in a statement to UpNorthNews.

Hitt is now chair of Republican Adam Jarchow’s campaign for Wisconsin attorney general. Jarchow has already said he would not prosecute the fake electors. Spindell continues to serve on the Wisconsin Elections Commission; Law Forward filed a complaint about the electors with the commission, and Barnes said Spindell should recuse himself from considering the complaint.

“So many of our democratic institutions really rely on people doing the right thing, and Wisconsinites trust people to do the right thing, to do their job, to not be sore losers,” Barnes said. “And what we saw is, that didn’t happen here in Wisconsin. Instead, people who lost the election wanted to reach out and take power anyway.”