Sixteen Michigan residents who allegedly tried to falsely submit themselves as electors for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election are now facing state felony charges, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced Tuesday.
The charges mark the first indictments for participants in what Nessel has called a “coordinated effort” by Republican parties in seven swing states to sway the election in Trump’s favour by submitting fake election documents.
The 16 defendants include Meshawn Maddock, the former co-chair of the Michigan Republican Party, and Kathy Berden, who currently serves as the Republican National Committeewoman for the state. Other defendants have a history of campaigning for the GOP and running in state elections.
Each defendant faces eight charges, including forgery and election law forgery, and could spend up to 85 years in prison if convicted on every count.
“(The defendants) carried out these actions with the hope and belief that the electoral votes of Michigan’s 2020 election would be awarded to the candidate of their choosing, instead of the candidate that Michigan voters actually chose,” Nessel said in a video address announcing the charges.
In December 2020, Michigan’s electors cast their 16 Electoral College votes for U.S. President Joe Biden, following his 154,000-vote victory in the state over Trump. But a separate group tried to enter the state Capitol with Trump’s Electoral College candidates, only to be stopped by police.
Under the rules of the Electoral College, electors are appointed to represent the candidate who wins the popular vote in a state, and are later certified by the state government and submitted to Congress. Michigan’s 16 electors helped Biden clinch his victory over Trump in the 2020 election, as presidential contests are decided by who wins more electors rather than the overall popular vote share.
The federal government notified the state that it had received unofficial signed certificates from GOP electors, including Maddock and Berden. Invalid certificates also were mailed to the U.S. Senate, the Michigan secretary of state and a federal court in western Michigan.
Last year, Nessel referred the matter to federal prosecutors, but no public action was taken, prompting her office to open its own investigation.
“As part of this orchestrated plan, we allege that (the defendants) met covertly in the basement of Michigan GOP headquarters and knowingly, and of their own volition, signed their names to multiple certificates stating that they were ‘the duly elected and qualified electors for President and Vice President of the United States of America for the State of Michigan,'” Nessel said Tuesday.
“That was a lie. They weren’t the duly elected and qualified electors, and each of the defendants knew it.”
Michigan was one of seven closely contested states that ultimately voted for Biden in 2020, which were then targeted by the Trump campaign. Dozens of lawsuits were filed seeking to overturn Trump’s loss in each of those states, all of which failed.
In March 2021, the watchdog group American Oversight obtained certificates submitted by Republicans in those same seven states: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. New Mexico and Pennsylvania Republicans added a caveat saying it was done in case they were later recognized as duly elected, qualified electors.
Those cases have also been referred to federal prosecutors, and investigations are underway by the Arizona attorney general’s office and the Fulton County district attorney in Georgia into the respective schemes in those states.
It remains to be seen if charges emerge from those or other states, whose governments and attorneys general vary between Democrat and Republican. And state Republican parties may still try similar schemes in the future, political experts say, depending on the leadership in their respective states.
“I’m pretty skeptical that Republicans in Georgia or in whatever state would think, ‘Oh, in Michigan, somebody got trouble for doing this. We better not do it,'” said Matthew Lebo, a political science professor at Western University.
The plot is also part of federal special counsel Jack Smith’s investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, which includes the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol to disrupt the certification of the Electoral College votes.
The Michigan charges were announced hours after Trump claimed he had received a letter from Smith’s prosecutorial team informing him he was a target of their investigation, indicating he may face criminal charges himself.
Nessel, the Michigan attorney general, noted in her announcement Tuesday that her office “has not ruled out potential charges against additional defendants” as the investigation continues.
The Democrat also preemptively dismissed accusations her office’s indictment was politically motivated. The state Republican party has yet to respond publicly to the charges.
“Undoubtedly, there will be those who will claim these charges are political in nature,” she said in her video address.
“But where there is overwhelming evidence of guilt in respect to multiple crimes, the most political act I could engage in as a prosecutor would be to take no action at all.”
— with files from The Associated Press