Politics / December 8, 2023

Why Is One of Trump’s Fake Electors Still Overseeing Voting in Wisconsin?

Ten GOP election deniers have been banned from serving as electors if Trump is on the 2024 ballot. But one of them is still on the statewide election commission.

John Nichols
Donald Trump at a rally in Waukesha, Wisconsin, on August 5, 2022.

Donald Trump at a rally in Waukesha, Wis., on August 5, 2022.

(Morry Gash / AP)

The Wisconsin Republican insiders who, in their guise as so-called “fake electors,” collaborated in former president Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, have finally admitted that Joe Biden won the battleground state.

It took the better part of three years, but on Wednesday the 10 Republicans who set themselves up as fake electors for Trump—and then filed paperwork that falsely claimed the former president won Wisconsin’s electoral votes—formally acknowledged the reality that their candidate had been defeated by the Democrat.

The fake electors, waited for 35 months to do the right thing. And then only under the looming threat of a civil trial that was unlikely to go well for them.

The Republicans abandoned the “big lie” as part of an agreement to settle the suit, which was brought by Democratic voters and electors who accused them of participating in a multistate attempt by Trump and his partisan allies to reject the 2020 election results. They could have been liable for as much as $2.4 million in damages if they had lost at trial. To see off that threat, they accepted an agreement that required them to recognize that Biden won Wisconsin and to withdraw their false filings with public officials that received the Electoral College votes.

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“The duly elected presidential electors for the State of Wisconsin for the 2020 presidential election were: [Democratic Biden electors] Meg Andrietsch, Shelia Stubbs, Ronald Martin, Mandela Barnes, Khary Penebaker, Mary Arnold, Patty Schachtner, Shannon Holsey, Tony Evers, and Benjamin Wikler,” read the statement the Republicans agreed to. “We hereby reaffirm that Joseph R. Biden, Jr. won the 2020 presidential election and that we were not the duly elected presidential electors for the State of Wisconsin for the 2020 presidential election.”

The fake electors also agreed to file a statement with the public officials who received their documents, in which they admitted to having been “part of an attempt to improperly overturn the 2020 presidential election results.”

Perhaps most notably, the Republicans—including a former state party chair and many longtime party leaders—agreed that they would not attempt to serve as electors, fake or otherwise, in 2024 or any other future election in which Trump is running for president.

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“Wisconsin voters have been awaiting accountability for three years, and it is beyond time to hold those who perpetrated this scheme responsible for their actions,” explained Jeff Mandell, an attorney for the Law Forward firm that brought the suit. “This settlement agreement provides one piece of that accountability and helps ensure that a similar effort to subvert our democracy will never happen again.”

But just one piece. The threat these people pose to fair elections has not gone away.

For instance, one of the fake electors, Milwaukee County Republican activist Robert Spindell, still serves on the Wisconsin Election Commission, thanks to an appointment by Wisconsin State Senate majority leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg). This means he helps administer elections in a state whose last presidential election he deliberately tried to sabotage.

That never made sense, and good government groups such as the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign and Common Cause Wisconsin have, for many months and many reasons, been calling on LeMahieu to rescind the appointment. Instead, the Senate leader has endorsed Spindell for a new term on the commission that will extend through the 2024 election.

So Spindell could very well end up as one of the commissioners overseeing the 2024 presidential election in the state, even if Trump is on the ballot.

That means that a Republican who is legally barred from serving as an elector for Trump could be making decisions about voter registration, voting, and vote counts in an election where Trump is likely to be the GOP nominee.

Mike Browne, of the advocacy group A Better Wisconsin Together, says, “It is unacceptable and it’s inappropriate for someone who admitted they tried to improperly overturn a presidential election to have any role of public trust administering elections in the state of Wisconsin going forward.”

Unacceptable. Inappropriate. And absurd, says Democratic Party of Wisconsin chair Ben Wikler. Of course, Wikler’s a partisan who served as a legitimate elector—for Biden—in 2020. On the other hand, he’s never tried to overturn a free and fair election, and he’s got a point that goes beyond partisanship.

“No matter your party or who you voted for, honoring the outcome of a free and fair election is core to American democracy. As these 10 fake electors now admit, their actions violated this bedrock principle of our democracy in an attempt to overturn an election that Donald Trump plainly lost. It is now time for the next step in accountability,” says Wikler, who argues, “LeMahieu must remove Robert Spindell from the Wisconsin Election Commission. Leader LeMahieu must make clear that there is no place in our system of election administration for an individual who now admits to conspiring to overturn an election.”

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John Nichols

John Nichols is a national affairs correspondent for The Nation. He has written, cowritten, or edited over a dozen books on topics ranging from histories of American socialism and the Democratic Party to analyses of US and global media systems. His latest, cowritten with Senator Bernie Sanders, is the New York Times bestseller It's OK to Be Angry About Capitalism.

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