Opinion: What 2020’s pro-Trump fake voters mean for 2024

I have spent 20 years studying these little known characters and warned about potential assaults they could cause. Yet even I have been amazed at what has been revealed in the wake of the 2020 election. It has become clear that then-president Donald Trump wanted then-vice president Mike Pence to use extra-constitutional powers to manipulate the lineup of electoral votes to secure another term despite his election defeat.
Part of this scheme was to send fake voters to cast ballot papers in controversial states, which were carried by President Joe Biden. Back then, Trump adviser Stephen Miller listed: “An alternative list of voters in the contested states will vote, and we will send these results up to Congress.”
After hearing Miller’s remarks, I wrote that these votes corresponded to “pretend votes” and would not be counted in Congress because of the existence of Electoral Count Act of 1887 (ECA). The law came into force almost a decade after the controversial election of 1876 – and was intended to provide a means of avoiding constitutional crises in which multiple electoral lists from the same state are sent to be spoken to Congress. Among other things, the ECA requires that if Congress receives two electoral rolls, it must count the sign bearing the signature of the executive branch of state as the legitimate sign.

When all the states concerned were certified as Biden electoral votes by their respective heads of state in 2020, I considered these “alternative” votes to be purely performative, not intended to be material. I was mistaken. It had not occurred to me that the Trump team could try to discard the ECA and trust that Pence would unilaterally accept or reject which electoral lists were legitimate.

An image provided by the National Archives to Robert Alexander as part of a request for the Freedom of Information Act.
It would be akin to a self-coup. Apart from the traditional vision of a coup that requires a military takeover of the government, self-coup occur when governments deviate from typical norms of democracy by changing election laws, questioning election results, or trying to suspend their constitutions in order to stay in power.

I have long been curious as to who actually participated in this plot, so I submitted a request for a law on freedom of information from the National Archives. I received copies of billboards from these fake voters from seven states – Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Given the extra-constitutional nature of the scheme, I expected most would be Trump partisans on the political fringe. Instead, most were elected party officials, political officials, and other key figures in the state’s Republican policy.

The return addresses on the certificates included Arizona Republican Party, Georgia Republican Party, Republican Party of New Mexico, Nevada Republican Party. Michigan’s came from Kathy Berden, who included the title “Chair of the Michigan Republican Electoral College.” Pennsylvania’s was submitted by Bill Bachenberg, who referred to himself as “Chairperson, Electoral College of Pennsylvania.” Wisconsin simply said, “Chairman of the Electoral College of Wisconsin.” When asked of The Detroit News on why she chose to participate in this scheme, Berden said, “I can not comment on such a thing. It was a long time ago.” CNN contacted Bachenberg for a comment, but has not received a response.

It is noteworthy that at least a few high-profile potential voters chose not to participate in the scheme – former US Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia and former Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land are the most prominent among them. In all, 15 out of 84 people in seven states chose not to participate in this effort.

Yet it suggests that a majority were apparently willing to take part in such a dubious plot that undemocratic efforts have been sanctioned by the party’s regulars and are likely to continue if left unchecked.

Of course, these alternative boards were not without some glaring problems. The ECA prescribes that electoral votes must be certified by each state – accompanied by a signature from each state’s executive and delivered under each state’s seal. None of these deputies with electoral votes had a signature of a governor or a foreign minister, nor did they contain an official state seal.

An image provided by the National Archives to Robert Alexander as part of a request for the Freedom of Information Act.
The deputies in Michigan in this scheme were Turned away from entering the State House, where voters are required to gather to cast their vote under state law in Michigan. In addition to claiming they were the “duly elected” voters in Michigan, the certificate they submitted to Pence and the National Archives showed that they signed it inside the State House (which they did not).
Much of the conversation about “alternative voters” now centers on the work done by one of Trump’s lawyers, John Eastman, and his legal note for how to overturn the results of the 2020 election. An important part of the note had Pence introducerer alternative lists of Republican voters in seven states that Trump did not win. Despite ECA, Eastman argued that Pence could unilaterally decide which of the two electoral rolls to count – or potentially discard the votes of these seven states, claim that no candidate reached a majority of the electoral votes and leave the election of the president to the House of Representatives. Contrary to what he wrote in his note, Eastman told National Review in October last year that “anyone who thinks it’s a viable strategy is crazy.”
In the end, Pence did not carry out the plan that Eastman had offered and championed by Trump. In dealing with the dueling of the electoral roll, he happily turned to the Court of Auditors for guidance on his actions. In fact, despite the noise created by the big lie about the 2020 presidential election, each state confirmed its election results, courts dismissed more than 50 election-related lawsuits and federal officials found no evidence of widespread fraud, concluding that the election was the “safest election in American history.”

But given how far rogue voters in seven states went to undermine the election, it is clear that further investigations are needed and reforms are needed. First, the American people must learn who exactly was responsible for coordinating the efforts to undo the elections in 2020. Identifying who organized the efforts is a critical step towards accountability – both politically and legally. This underlines the important work of the committee on 6 January.

Second, the country does not have the luxury of waiting a decade to reform the ECA. Amendments may include raising the standard for objecting to electoral votes, which are now set at only one senator and one Member of Parliament, to a majority in both chambers. Clarifying and limiting the role of the Vice-President in the joint session is another option that should be considered. In particular, a house committee is currently Considering reform.
What is clear is that legislators must act now to prevent a similar incident in the 2024 election. There seems to be bipartisan momentum to do so, and the legitimacy of our presidential election system depends on it.


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