The voter fraud you didn’t hear about: Wisconsin’s Electoral College imposters

Gov. Tony Evers signs the document delivering Wisconsin's 10 Electoral College votes to Joe Biden (photo by Morry Gash, Associated Press)
Gov. Tony Evers signs the document delivering Wisconsin's 10 Electoral College votes to Joe Biden (photo by Morry Gash, Associated Press)

This year, Presidents’ Day feels weightier than usual. We weathered a long presidential campaign, and then an unprecedented post-election crusade by the losing candidate to overturn the will of the people. All of this culminated in a domestic terror attack on the U.S. Capitol at the instigation of a sitting president. 

No one is above the law. That’s why on this Presidents’ Day, Law Forward is requesting an investigation of ten individuals — fraudulent presidential electors — who attempted to hijack the results of our state’s November election. On behalf of the Service Employees International Union’s (SEIU’s) Wisconsin State Council and several individual voters, we ask for accountability, for enforcement of existing law, and for action that will protect future election results.

The peaceful transition of power is a non-partisan value. And while the former president may have escaped Senate conviction, there is still opportunity for accountability here in Wisconsin for others who have endangered our democracy. We must be committed to consequences for those who subvert our election results, no matter their political party.

Wisconsin has seen its fair share of attempts to disenfranchise voters. Draconian voter ID laws, cutbacks in early voting hours and purges of the voter rolls have all made voting less accessible over the last decade.

But this year, 10 individuals took matters into their own hands, attempting to sway the outcome of the presidential election, notwithstanding the will of the voters and the uniform rejection of challenges to Wisconsin’s results. 

These 10 individuals took it upon themselves — without any legal authority — to convene as if they had been chosen the official Wisconsin representatives to the Electoral College. Acting as if they were Wisconsin’s duly chosen electors, they purported to cast Wisconsin’s ten electoral votes, and they prepared, signed and sent official-looking certificates to Congress and other state and federal officials, declaring candidates who lost Wisconsin’s votes to be the winners. 

These 10 individuals knew that they were not Wisconsin’s electors. Before the election, the Republican Party of Wisconsin had named who would serve as its presidential electors, in the event Trump won the vote in Wisconsin. But Biden won Wisconsin, which under federal and state law meant that the electors designated by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin were the ones authorized to cast Wisconsin’s ten electoral votes.

Wisconsin's electors meet in the Capitol on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020 to deliver the state's 10 electoral votes for Joe Biden. (Photo by Morry Gash)
Wisconsin’s Democratic electors meet in the Capitol on Dec. 14, 2020 to deliver the state’s 10 electoral votes for Joe Biden. (Pool photo by Morry Gash)

Gov. Tony Evers had prepared and filed with the National Archives the required “Certificate of Ascertainment,” which lists how many votes each candidate for president received in the state, and the names of the presidential electors elected by the popular vote. 

Accordingly, and as specified by state and federal statute, Wisconsin’s duly authorized Electors gathered in the State Capitol at noon on Dec. 14. Live on Wisconsin Eye, they took the roll, voted, and signed official certificates casting the State of Wisconsin’s ten electoral votes. They then mailed an official Certificate of Vote to the U.S. Senate, to be read and tallied when Congress counted the electoral votes on Jan. 6. 

But at the same time, ten other people who had not been elected as presidential electors (and whose names did not appear on the Certificate of Ascertainment) also met at the Capitol. Not publicly, but secretly; not in front of TV cameras, but in the shadows. And they proceeded to do something big. These fraudulent electors created documents that claimed to cast Wisconsin’s 10 Electoral College votes for a candidate who had lost the statewide vote. 

They lied about which candidate Wisconsinites elected.

This is unlawful. State law clearly prohibits the impersonation of public officials and the creation of fraudulent state documents.

It was also no joke: The fraudulent electors went to great lengths to make their fraudulent documents look like the real ones. They signed their names to certify they were “the duly elected and qualified Electors” from the State of Wisconsin. They declared that they had met “to perform the duties enjoined upon us,” even though state law assigned to others the “duty” of casting those electoral votes. The fraudulent electors then mailed a fake Certificate of the Vote to the U.S. Senate, in the apparent hope that Congress would count that one, instead of the proper one, on Jan. 6. (They also took care to mail copies to all other officials required by law to receive the real certificates).

In short, these fraudulent electors usurped the power of the voters of Wisconsin to choose their candidate. They lost, and then tried to walk away with Wisconsin’s votes in the Electoral College. 

A multitude of restrictions like strict ID laws have all made voting less accessible over the last decade. A lack of action during the COVID-19 pandemic made everything worse, with legislators refusing to facilitate improved absentee-voting options as the U.S. Postal Service nearly collapsed under increased demand. Those who cynically calculated that they would benefit from fewer Wisconsinites showing up at the polls challenged the use of drop boxes, absentee-ballot applications and even grants that paid for hand sanitizer and pens. Many of these voter suppression tactics landed in court as the spring, and then fall, elections approached. 

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Then, even after the November election, Wisconsin saw an unprecedented attempt to use the courts to invalidate thousands of voters’ ballots. In total the losing candidate and his supporters filed a dozen separate lawsuits in state and federal courts to throw out the results of Wisconsin’s free, fair election. Unsurprisingly to anyone familiar with the history and animating purpose of voter suppression, these attempts overwhelmingly targeted minority communities. All of these lawsuits failed; state and federal courts uniformly rejected attempts to undermine Wisconsin’s election.  

The failure of these lawsuits underscored a fundamental principle of our democracy: The will of the people is what ultimately rules, and no one has the right to substitute their own preference for the votes of the people of Wisconsin.

Losing candidates and political parties may wish they could do so, especially when, as is often the case in Wisconsin, election contests are hard fought and narrowly decided. That is why it is essential that we are ruled by laws, not political parties. Democracy works only if the rules apply equally to everyone, every year, in every election.

If we do not address this blatant attempt to hijack Wisconsin’s electoral votes — the votes that actually elect the President — we will find ourselves here again. We cannot write this off as “political grandstanding” or it will become the norm. We must foster respect for the outcomes of free and fair elections. That starts with enforcing the laws meant to protect those outcomes.

For that reason, Law Forward, on behalf of the SEIU Wisconsin State Council and several individual voters, has asked Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm to undertake an investigation of the fraudulent electors’ actions and which laws they likely violated. We’re also filing a complaint with the Wisconsin Elections Commission. We do this not to advance any party or candidate, but to defend our democracy and the rule of law.

Read Law Forward’s letter to Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm.