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What Happened in the Fake Elector Scheme?

The fake elector scheme was an illegal plan to disregard the results of the 2020 presidential election in seven states, and to prevent Congress from certifying the actual results of the election.

After losing every lawsuit they filed, the Trump campaign’s fight to contest the results of the election shifted from a “legal strategy” to a “corrupt plan” involving fraudulent or “fake” electors. Many of Trump’s lawyers and senior advisors, including his White House Counsel, opposed the fake elector scheme. Only a few of the lawyers working for Trump ultimately chose to pursue this strategy, writing increasingly "crazy" legal memos to back up this attempt to overturn the election.

In all, there were 84 individuals – in AZ, GA, MI, PA, WI, NM, and NV – who fraudulently signed official-looking documents presenting themselves as electors for Trump whose votes should be cast in the electoral college and certified by Congress, even though Joe Biden had won the presidential election and offered his own slate of electors in each of those states. All 84 of the fake electors knowingly signed and submitted fake Electoral College certificates to the National Archives declaring Trump the winner.

It was these fake certificates that formed the basis of the pressure campaign on Vice President Pence to use his role as President of the Senate to invalidate the results of the election on January 6. Numerous prominent conservative legal scholars convinced Pence he did not have that power, and Pence ultimately declined to act in accordance with the scheme.

Fake Electors
In this Dec. 14, 2020, file photo, an alternate slate of electors nominated by the Republican Party of Georgia cast their own electoral votes for President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta. PC: Ben Gray/AP, FILE

If the fake elector scheme had been successful, the will of the voters in seven states would have been overturned, creating a constitutional crisis and an existential threat to our democracy.

The scheme failed, but it caused great harm to our nation. Donald Trump and some of his allies in Congress manufactured the illusion that there was a legal basis to overturn the results of the election when Congress met on January 6. They convinced Trump’s followers the election was being stolen, and when their plan to use the electors to pressure Pence failed, a mob stormed the Capitol.

Kenneth Chesebro’s role

Kenneth Chesebro is considered the “architect” of the fake electors scheme, which sought to invalidate the results of the 2020 election in seven states. Chesebro is one of 19 people, including Donald Trump, who have been indicted by a grand jury in Fulton County, GA. On October 20, 2023, he pled guilty to one felony charge of conspiring to commit filing false documents based on these allegations just as his trial in Georgia was beginning. The felony charge alleges that he and others were plotting to unlawfully utilize fake electoral certificates filled out by the Georgia fake electors to overturn the will of Georgia voters.

In an email that Chesebro sought but failed to exclude from the Fulton trial, he states plainly that the fake elector scheme was a “political” ploy, not a legal one.

Chesebro also has been identified as unindicted “Co-Conspirator 5” in the federal indictment brought by Justice Department Special Counsel Jack Smith, for his role in the conspiracy to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Fake Electors Face Justice

So far, two states have charged fake electors with commiting crimes: Georgia and Michigan. Other states may follow. Federal prosecutors may also pursue charges.

In Georgia, three of the 16 fake electors have been indicted in Fani Willis’ election interference case:

  • David Shafer, previous chair of the GA Republican Party, and “chairperson” of the GA fake electors

  • Cathy Latham, former chairwoman of the Coffee County, Georgia Republican Party and a member of the Georgia Republican Party's executive committee

  • Sean Still, finance chair of the GA Republican Party

In Michigan, all 16 fake electors have been charged with criminal felonies by Attorney General Dana Nessel. One of the fake electors there recently entered a cooperation deal with the Attorney General’s office.

In Arizona, Attorney General Kris Mayes is also investigating the actions of fake electors in that state.

Who Are Presidential Electors?

As laid out by the U.S. Constitution, it is presidential electors, designated by each state, who ultimately vote to determine who becomes president. There are 538 total electoral college votes, and the candidate who gets 270 or more of those votes wins. Each state gets a number of electors equal to the number of senators it has (two in all states) plus the number of U.S. representatives it has in the House (varies).

Before the presidential election is conducted, each political party (Republicans and Democrats) in a state nominates a slate of electors to. States have various qualification requirements for who can be an elector. After the result of the popular vote is tabulated and certified, the party whose candidate won the popular vote (except in Maine and Nebraska, where there is proportional electoral representation and, in some instances, depending on the vote, both parties get to submit some of the state’s electors) then gets to put forward their slate of electors.

The selected slate of electors then meets on the first Tuesday after the second Wednesday in December after the general election. At that meeting, they cast their ballots for their preferred presidential and vice presidential candidates. Their votes are recorded by the state, and sent on to the National Archives.

Congress then meets on January 6th of the year after the presidential election to count the electoral college votes, and certify a winner. The winner of 270 or more electoral college votes is elected President.


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