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After his 2020 electoral loss became (crystal) clear, Trump’s political allies began working on a plot to deliver fake electors to the Electoral College. Now those plans could put the individuals who signed on in legal jeopardy as US prosecutors begin investigating the scheme.

The words from key officials are refreshingly unminced. “I believe it’s critical that the federal government fully investigates and prosecutes any unlawful actions in furtherance of any seditious conspiracy,” said Josh Kaul, attorney general of Wisconsin. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel called the scheme “a crime.”

Even as we move toward potential prosecutions, the plan sleeps underground, ready to emerge again like four-year locusts. So it’s worth taking a moment to see who exactly hatched the swarm. 

The fake electors plan was the brainchild of none other than Rudy Giuliani, who served as Trump’s lawyer during the period in question and coordinated the plot with the Trump campaign and other GOP operatives. The fake pro-Trump electors in the scheme attempted to do everything that real electors did. They met at statehouses, they signed certificates proclaiming their votes for Donald Trump and Mike Pence, and some even sent fake certificates to the National Archives. Giuliani’s ultimate goal was to have the former Vice President throw out the legitimate electors on January 6th and replace them with the fake pro-Trump electors, who would have then handed the Presidency to Trump. 

Fiendishly clever, and absolutely illegal.

The conspirators who signed on as fake electors are now facing potential state and federal charges including mail fraud and falsifying voting documents. Some believe the conspirators could even be charged with a conspiracy to defraud the United States. 

This scheme is just the latest in a Republican-led assault on democracy and traditional democratic norms.

This scheme is just the latest in a Republican-led assault on democracy and traditional democratic norms. Trump has been brazen in his attempts to overturn legitimate election results and has pushed a baseless narrative of election fraud since the Presidential election. That narrative has led a slew of Republican states to pass new voting restrictions. It also played a large role in the violent attack on the Capitol on January 6th.

But the fake electors scheme is in a class of its own, showing how serious Republicans were about overturning the 2020 election and installing Trump as President through illicit means.

The plot was ultimately unsuccessful. But if Mike Pence had been convinced to throw out the legitimate electors, he could have called upon the fake pro-Trump electors and set an unprecedented constitutional crisis in motion. 

The threat to democracy doesn’t just come from political violence. It also comes from subterfuge and subversion of the rules. The fake electors scheme didn’t have much success in 2020. But that doesn’t mean that Republicans won’t try again in 2024. It is possible that Republicans will hold both houses of Congress by January of 2025, and might be more willing to indulge a candidate Trump’s push to overturn legitimate results. Prosecutors, state legislatures, and voting rights organizations need to be prepared for the possibility of another round of fake electors in the next Presidential election cycle.

And there is no guarantee it won’t work this time. 

Marcus Johnson

Marcus Johnson is a political commentator and a political science Ph.D. candidate at American University. His primary research focus is the impact of political institutions on the racial wealth gap.