In early January 2022, news stories and social media posts focused on “fake electors” and “fake elector letters,” an aspect of highly weaponized post-election stunts in 2020 and early 2021 that were possibly overlooked at the time parts were initially reported:
The Reddit r/politics submission linked to a January 11 2022 MSNBC video segment, “Republicans in at least three states filed forged elector letters; possible pattern seen.” A description referenced a contemporaneous report:
Rachel Maddow shares reporting from Politico of Republicans in Michigan and Arizona creating fake elector letters pretending to certify Donald Trump and Mike Pence the winners of their states even though Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won them both, with the Michigan letter markedly similar to a previously reported forged Wisconsin letter.
Although a transcript had not yet been made available, what appeared to be a companion piece was published to MSNBC’s Maddow Blog on January 12 2022, describing the scope and novel elements of the previous day’s segment:
Originally, the list [of forged election material] was limited to one state. In December 2020, Wisconsin electors met for an official ceremony in which the state formally assigned its participants in the electoral college. But as we’ve discussed, while the actual electors were being assigned inside the state capitol in Madison, a group of Wisconsin Republicans quietly held a separate, fake ceremony — in the same capitol, at the same time — to cast electoral votes for Donald Trump, despite his defeat in the state.
They then proceeded to forge the official paperwork and sent it to, among others, the U.S. Senate and the U.S. Archivist, as if the materials were legitimate. They were not.
That was bizarre, but as it turns out, it was not unique.
This week [beginning Monday January 10 2022], the list went from one to three, as Politico reported that the National Archives also received forged certificates of ascertainment from Republicans in Michigan and Arizona — two battleground states where President Joe Biden narrowly prevailed, but where groups of Republicans nevertheless created and submitted fraudulent election materials … As Rachel explained on last night’s show:
“It’s not like they created these documents to hold close to their chest and fantasize that this had been the real outcome. It’s not like they created these documents just to keep themselves as a keepsake. They sent them in to the government as if they were real documents. And it’s not like they sent them in saying, ‘We know they’re not the real electors, because Biden won here, but here’s our names for posterity. Here’s our names for your records.’ No, they actually created these fake documents purporting to be the real certifications of them as electors.”
Maddow referenced a detailed January 10 2022 Politico article about broader investigations into the events leading up to January 6 2021, through which the “fake electors” thread re-emerged, in a story headlined, “Jan. 6 panel ramps up investigation into Trump’s state-level pressure.” One section was titled “Forged election documents in Michigan and Arizona,” and it reported:
As Trump’s team pushed its discredited voter fraud narrative, the National Archives received forged certificates of ascertainment declaring him and then-Vice President Mike Pence the winners of both Michigan and Arizona and their electors after the 2020 election. Public records requests show the secretaries of state for those states sent those certificates to the Jan. 6 panel, along with correspondence between the National Archives and state officials about the documents.
The National Archives sent emails to the Arizona secretary of state on Dec. 11, 2020, passing along the forged certificates “for your awareness” and informing the state officials the Archives would not accept them.
Arizona then took legal action against at least one of the groups who sent in the fake documents, sending a cease and desist letter to a pro-Trump “sovereign citizen” group telling them to stop using the state seal and referring the matter to the state attorney general.
“By affixing the state seal to documents containing false and misleading information about the results of Arizona’s November 3, 2020 General Election, you undermine the confidence in our democratic institutions,” [Arizona Secretary of State Katie] Hobbs wrote to one of the pro-Trump groups.
That group’s leader, Lori Osiecki, had told the Arizona Republic in December 2020 that she decided to send in the certificates after taking part in post-election rallies and after attending a daylong meeting in Phoenix that had included Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.
The group that forged the Michigan certification had not used the state seal, and it appears state officials there took no further action after the Archives rejected it.
In a vacuum, the seating of “fake electors” and what appeared to be a coordinated campaign of forged documents across battleground states would likely be a major story. But in the massive amounts of firehosing of disinformation that marked the post–election period in 2020 and early 2021, this bizarre story went remarkably unnoticed.
However, that is not to say that the “fake electors” went entirely unnoticed in the aftermath of the 2020 general election. On December 14 2020, the newspaper Arizona Republic published “Fake electors try to deliver Arizona’s 11 votes for Trump,” including stunningly candid commentary from those involved in the effort:
In another sign of the lingering unrest over President Donald Trump’s election loss, an Arizona group sent the National Archives in Washington, D.C., notarized documents [in December 2020] intended to deliver, wrongly, the state’s 11 electoral votes for him.
Copies of the documents obtained by The Arizona Republic show a group that claimed to represent the “sovereign citizens of the Great State of Arizona” submitted signed papers casting votes for what they want: a second term for Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
Mesa resident Lori Osiecki, 62, helped created a facsimile of the “certificate of ascertainment” that is submitted to formally cast each state’s electoral votes as part of an effort to prevent what she views as the fraudulent theft of the election.
“We seated before the legislators here. We already turned it in. We beat them to the game,” she said.
In that article, Osiecki was quoted as saying she was “was shocked we didn’t have any other marching orders” as part of a broader effort to disrupt a peaceful transfer of power. Moreover, a Wisconsin Examiner’s February 16 2021 editorial, “The voter fraud you didn’t hear about: Wisconsin’s Electoral College imposters,” described a similar and shockingly transparent effort to disrupt the election in that state:
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 … [in 2020], 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 … 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 … at 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.
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).
Maddow’s segment focused on three specific states in which there were documented attempts to seat “fake electors” — Arizona, Wisconsin, and Michigan. As with Arizona and Wisconsin, a Michigan news site also covered the efforts on December 15 2020 (“Michigan Republicans who cast electoral votes for Trump have no chance of changing Electoral College result”):
Attorney Ian Northon, special counsel for The Amistad Project of the conservative Thomas More Society, was with a group of Republican state lawmakers that failed to escort 16 GOP electors into the Michigan Capitol building Monday [December 14 2020]. … Northon said Republican electors sent alternative documents to Congress in case the state Legislature decides to replace Democratic electors. House Speaker Lee Chatfiled, R-Levering, and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, said they have no interest in replacing electors after facing pressure from Trump supporters during the last month.
Michigan law requires electors to cast their vote for the candidate who received the largest number of votes. Electors from the losing parties have no reason to cast a ballot for their candidate, a spokesperson for the Michigan Secretary of State said.
Richard Friedman, a professor at the University of Michigan and constitutional law expert, called the attempt to cast electoral votes for Trump a political “stunt.” The Republican elector votes have no legal authority, he said.
“There’s nothing preventing any group of 16 people from getting together and saying ‘we’re electors,’ but it doesn’t have any legal force,” Friedman said. “My guess is that whatever mail 16 people choose to send in will not even see the light of day. But if it does, it would not have the same standing as the certificates of the governor.”
Republicans organized similar elector votes in several battleground states Biden won, including Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania. Each of the states sent votes cast by Democrat electors to Congress on Monday [December 14 2020].
On December 14 2020, BuzzFeed News published “Pro-Trump Republicans Are Holding Fake Electoral College Votes While The Real Electoral College Meets To Formalize Biden’s Win,” describing similar efforts in several states.
On December 15 2020, the New York Times published a fact-check with the headline, “No, there aren’t ‘alternate electors’ who can vote for President Trump.” It identified efforts in several states — including Arizona and Wisconsin — to legitimize the concept of “alternate electors” in the Electoral College:
Once the Electoral College has met and every state’s election has been certified, there is no constitutional provision for an “alternate slate” of electors. A group of people who gather in a room and claim they are electors, as state-party-backed Republicans did in a few states on Monday, have no more authority than if the people reading this article decided that they, too, wanted to be members of the Electoral College.
So while Republicans in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Nevada and Michigan followed the White House’s lead, making or discussing moves to form their own competing slates of pro-Trump electors, it was a theatrical effort with no legal pathway. Electoral College slates are tied to the winner of the popular vote in each state, and all five of those states have certified their results in favor of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.
The most the Republicans could do was claim a symbolic moment, saying that the people who showed up would have been the slates of electors had Mr. Trump won those states. But since he lost them, and numerous state and federal courts have rejected his and his allies’ baseless claims of voting fraud, these groups have no actual significance.
Mr. Trump’s supporters have also seized upon some superficial murkiness in the Constitution and federal law as to whether a state legislature could appoint its own slate of electors.
That coverage represented a snapshot of a fraught transition period, cataloguing a rift in the Republican party:
While some Trump loyalists in the House, like Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama, have claimed that they will try to challenge the results, many Republican senators conceded on [December 14 2020] that Mr. Biden had been affirmed as the president-elect. Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, appeared to close off any possibility that he would give much berth to a challenge when he congratulated Mr. Biden from the floor of the Senate on [December 15 2020].
In short, Maddow’s coverage of “fake electors” in three states (Arizona, Michigan, and Wisconsin) renewed interest in what was at the time one of many unprecedented efforts to disrupt or overturn the election, and prevent a peaceful transfer of power. Politico’s publication of some of the documents further amplified interest in the multi-state effort to seat “alternate electors” in November and December 2020. Details of the letters prompted significant discussion in January 2022, but local news outlets covered the efforts at a state level in mid-December 2020. Confirmation from representatives for the National Archives in the course of the January 6th commission further corroborated a coordinated campaign to seat “fake electors” as a strategy by the Trump administration.