Sixteen Republicans who falsely claimed to be Michigan’s presidential electors in 2020 are facing felony charges for their blatant attempt to subvert democracy. Here’s how their scheme was foiled.
LANSING—About three weeks before a violent mob of armed insurrectionists stormed the US Capitol over a so-called “stolen” election, Republicans in Michigan were allegedly back home cooking up their own scheme to subvert democracy and keep then-President Donald Trump in office.
Two and a half years later, 16 of those Michigan Republicans are now facing felony charges filed this week by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. If convicted, the accused could spend more than a decade in prison for their alleged misdeeds.
Here’s the Deal:
On Dec. 14, 2020, a group of 16 Michigan Republicans allegedly had a secret meeting in the basement of the Michigan Republican Party headquarters in Lansing, where they signed their names to multiple certificates falsely stating they were the state’s “duly elected and qualified electors for for the president and vice president of the United States,” according to Nessel.
There’s only two problems: Trump did not win the election, and these were not the real electors.
Michigan’s presidential electors—who were constitutionally obligated to cast their votes for Joe Biden because he won the election by 7 million votes nationwide, including a clear popular vote majority in Michigan—had met that same afternoon inside the state Capitol to fulfill their duty to voters.
But by then, the scheme from the fake Republican electors was already in motion.
Prosecutors said their false documents were sent on to the US Senate and the National Archives in what Nessel’s office described as a “coordinated effort to award the state’s electoral votes to the candidate of their choosing, in place of the candidates actually elected by the people.”
The “desperate plan,” as Nessel called it in a statement this week, failed—miserably.
Biden was sworn in as president a month later, and every serious challenge to the 2020 election since has been denied, dismissed, or otherwise rejected as a conspiracy theory or outright lie.
And now the Republicans who allegedly orchestrated the plan could face steep consequences.
In all, Nessel filed 128 separate criminal charges—including forgery and conspiracy to commit election forgery—against 16 people. The charges could send each of the defendants to prison for up to 14 years.
“The evidence will demonstrate there was no legal authority for the false electors to purport to act as ‘duly elected presidential electors’ and execute the false electoral documents,” Nessel said in a statement announcing the criminal charges on Tuesday afternoon. “There was no legitimate legal avenue or plausible use of such a document or an alternative slate of electors.”
Who are the Fake Electors?
The group of Republicans who falsely posed as presidential electors includes the head of the Republican National Committee’s chapter in Michigan, Kathy Berden; Wyoming Mayor Kent Vanderwood; Shelby Township Clerk Stan Grot, as well as the former co-chair of the Michigan Republican Party, Meshawn Maddock, the wife of state Rep. Matt Maddock (R-Milford).
Maddock, 55, helped organize buses to travel to DC on the day of the insurrection, and has repeatedly referred to her work with election and campaign volunteers as “training an army.” She and her husband also reportedly told the armed insurrectionists: “We never stop fighting.”
Former Michigan GOP Chair Laura Cox has said that Maddock wanted to bring along a camera crew for the signing “ceremony” of the fake electors. Cox opposed the idea because she didn’t want the document viewed as a legitimate attempt to overturn Michigan’s electoral votes.
Many of the other fake electors charged this week have also maintained relatively prominent roles in Michigan politics, both within and outside of the state Republican Party, including:
Marian Sheridan, 69, was recently re-elected by delegates as grassroots vice chair of the state Republican Party. Michele Lundgren, 73, lost her state House campaign last year against state Rep. Abraham Aiyash (D-Hamtramck). Amy Facchinello, 55, is a school board member in Grand Blanc. Hank Choate, 72, is a Cement City farmer who’s well-known in agricultural circles, and was awarded as the Michigan Farm Bureau’s volunteer of the year last year.
Mayra Rodriguez, 64, was the secretary for state’s GOP electors and the only attorney among the 16 people who signed the fraudulent certificate, reports the Detroit News. Both Rodriguez and Berden, 70, also refused to cooperate with a committee that investigated the insurrection.
Clifford Frost, 75, ran unsuccessfully for state House in 2020 and works as a real estate agent. John Haggard, 82, is the owner of Haggard’s Plumbing and Heating in Charlevoix. Mari-Ann Henry, 65, is the treasurer for the 7th Congressional District GOP Committee. Timothy King, 56, along with Haggard and Sheridan, was a plaintiff in a failed lawsuit to overturn the election.
James Renner, 76, and Ken Thompson, 68, were reportedly acting as substitutes for those who missed the meeting where the false documents were signed. Rose Rook, 81, a retired real estate agent, is on the executive committee of the Van Buren County Republican Party.
Four of the defendants—Lundgren, Maddock, Sheridan, and Thompson—also reportedly appeared at the state Capitol to cast their fraudulent votes but were turned away by the State Police. The average age of the defendants is about 69.
What are the Charges?
Election experts say extremists who dispute the results of a valid election in which there has been no evidence of fraud or manipulation of voting systems pose a danger of interfering in future elections. They warn it could trigger chaos if they refuse to accept results they don’t like.
And that’s the reason why Nessel is throwing the book at these 16 Republicans this week. Just because the plan failed and democracy prevailed, it “does not erase the crimes,” she explained.
“The false electors’ actions undermined the public’s faith in the integrity of our elections and, we believe, also plainly violated the laws by which we administer our elections in Michigan,” Nessel said in a statement this week. “My department has prosecuted numerous cases of election law violations throughout my tenure, and it would be malfeasance of the greatest magnitude if my department failed to act here in the face of overwhelming evidence of an organized effort to circumvent the lawfully cast ballots of millions of Michigan voters in a presidential election.”
The 16 Republicans each face two charges of forgery, and one charge of uttering and publishing, conspiracy to commit forgery, and conspiracy to commit uttering and publishing. Those four felony charges each carry a maximum sentence of up to 14 years in prison. They also each face two counts of election law forgery and one count of conspiracy to commit election law forgery—a combination of felonies punishable by up to five years in prison.
In 2021, Nessel referred the issue to federal prosecutors, but it didn’t result in any criminal charges. In January, Nessel announced she had reopened her own investigation at the state level—telling CNN that there was an “overwhelming” amount of evidence to warrant charges against the 16 Republicans who had pretended to be Michigan’s electoral college delegates.
“Obviously this is part of a much bigger conspiracy,” she said at the time.
What Happens Now?
All 16 defendants are set to appear for arraignment hearings in Ingham County at a date provided to each by the court, according to Nessel’s office. Phone and email messages seeking comment from several of those charged were not immediately returned to the Associated Press.
Some of them—like Maddock and Haggard—have told other outlets that they didn’t believe they did anything wrong, labeling the recent criminal charges as a “personal vendetta” against them.
In six other battleground states, Trump supporters also signed certificates that falsely stated he won instead of Biden. The fake certificates were ignored, but the attempt has been subject to several investigations—including the House committee that investigated the insurrection.
Investigations are underway in some other states that submitted fake electors, but not all.
A Georgia prosecutor investigating possible illegal meddling in the 2020 election has agreed to immunity deals with at least eight fake electors. Arizona’s Democratic attorney general is in the very early stages of a probe. Nevada’s attorney general has said he won’t bring charges, while Wisconsin has no active investigation and the attorney general has deferred to the US Justice Department. There is no apparent investigation into the fake electors from Pennsylvania.
A group of other Trump allies in Michigan—including former GOP attorney general candidate Matthew DePerno—are also facing potential criminal charges related to attempts to bust open sensitive voting equipment after the 2020 election. A grand jury was convened in March at the request of a special prosecutor to consider indictments, according to court records.
The Associated Press contributed to this coverage.
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