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Nevada AG Supports Making Fake Elector Schemes a Felony

Proposed legislation would prohibit any person from creating, serving or conspiring to submit a “false slate of presidential electors” and the infraction would be punishable by up to 10 years in prison and fines up to $5,000.

Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford's office spent months investigating a fake elector scheme orchestrated by Nevada Republicans as part of a coordinated effort to keep Donald Trump in power after losing the 2020 presidential election to Joe Biden.

But he is unable to prosecute those who signed fake electoral certificates after the 2020 election declaring Trump the winner in Nevada because no state law exists to make such an exercise illegal, he told lawmakers this week.

Ford told members of the Nevada Assembly committee on Legislative Operations and Elections while testifying in support of Senate Bill 133 that the legislation was necessary to hold accountable those trying to subvert democratic processes for the sake of a "manufactured, propagandistic lie."

If passed, the bill would prohibit any person from creating, serving or conspiring to submit a "false slate of presidential electors," making such an infraction a category B felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and fines up to $5,000.

"I have been silent on Nevada's fake electors except to say it was on our radar," Ford said, noting his office for months wouldn't even confirm the existence of such an investigation. "With it on our radar, we ascertained that current state statutes did not directly address the conduct in question, to the dismay of some, and I'm sure to the delight of others."

Ford added that his office was assisting the U.S. Department of Justice regarding a fake electors probe and would continue to do so.

"In the 2020 election, we saw a concerted effort to undermine the results of our election and democratic processes," Ford said. "Trump did not win this election. And the fake electoral certificates were simply another propagandistic tool used to further this lie."

The proposal has gained bicameral support with 11 Democratic senators sponsoring the bill and 26 Democrats in the Assembly signing on as joint sponsors. The bill narrowly passed 11-10 out of the Senate on April 25, with two Democratic senators, James Ohrenschall and Melanie Scheible breaking ranks and voting no. All eight Republican senators opposed the bill.

The legislation was met with opposition during the hearing's public comment period. John Piro, chief deputy public defender at the Clark County Public Defender's Office, contended that the bill offered no opportunity for parole and took issue with its penalties.

"I just want to say I take any attack on our democracy in our country very seriously," Piro said, adding wouldn't oppose the bill if the penalties were amended. "My issue here is the punishment directly, that it's a category B felony ... the judge is going to have to sentence that person to four to 10 years without even taking into account their mental instability, their cognitive impairment, any disability they may have, anything of that nature."

"That 'QAnon Shaman' that wore the stupid hat and stormed the Capitol, that guy got less time than what this bill is asking for," Piro said.

State Sen. Skip Daly, one of the bill's sponsors, answered that when it comes to the health of American democracy, the punishment should be severe. "I think the penalty is measured," Daly said. "There should be consequences for the acts we're talking about. Protecting the way that we elect a president and making sure that we uphold the democratic principles is important."

On Dec. 14, 2020, more than five weeks after Joe Biden was declared the election winner, a group of six Nevada Republicans signed certificates falsely stating Trump had won the Silver State, and sent the certificate to Congress and the National Archives. Trump, who is the presumed GOP frontrunner for the 2024 presidential nomination, lost to Biden in Nevada by 33,956 votes, or about 3 percent of the vote, according to the Nevada Secretary of State's office.

Those six "electors" were Nevada Republican Party Chairman Michael McDonald; James DeGraffenreid, a Republican national committeeman and a district-level delegate to the 2016 Republican National Convention; Durward James Hindle III, vice chair of the Nevada Republican Committee; Jesse Law, chairman of the Clark County Republican Party; Shawn Meehan, founder of Guard the Constitution Project; and Eileen Rice, a delegate at the Nevada Republican Party.

Alternate electors at the event were Nye County Republican Central Committee Chairman Joe Burdzinski and failed Nevada Secretary of State candidate James Marchant, who has since announced a 2024 bid for U.S. Senate in Nevada.

Trump, in his quest to retain office, used fake electoral certificates from Nevada and six other states to justify delaying or blocking Congress' certification process on Jan. 6, 2021, according to the U.S. House select committee investigating the Trump-inspired insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. In addition to Nevada, fake electors in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin submitted false electoral certificates.

Ford has acknowledged previously the scheme was a sustained effort to invalidate the 2020 election and said his office would not tolerate any effort to subvert the will of Nevada voters. Nevada follows the Uniform Faithful Presidential Electors Act, which requires electors to vote for the presidential candidate who received the highest number of votes.

"We saw and continue to see a contingent of folks willing to undermine our elections and democratic processes," Ford said. "(This bill) would allow our office or the secretary of state's office, as appropriate, to claim the costs of investigation and prosecution of those convicted as decided by a court."

Closed-door testimony released by the House select committee in December showed how the Trump campaign was directly involved in the Nevada Republican Party's elector scheme. The committee's findings included interviews with McDonald and DeGraffenreid, who each invoked their Fifth Amendment protections hundreds of times throughout their interviews with the Jan. 6 panel.

McDonald and DeGraffenreid both refused to answer questions about their involvement and the extent to which Trump's top allies had helped in orchestrating the plot.

On Nov. 4, 2020, for example, the day after the election, McDonald had a conference call with Trump, his then-chief of staff Mark Meadows, attorney Rudy Giuliani and son Eric Trump.

"They want full attack mode," McDonald later wrote in a text message describing that call. "We're gonna have a war room meeting in about an hour."

Both McDonald and DeGraffenreid turned over their communications to the Jan. 6 committee related to the fake elector scheme. The FBI also seized McDonald's cellphone in June 2022 as part of an investigation into the scheme.

Those House committee's documents, detailed at length in the transcripts, included text messages, emails and internal memorandums distributed by the national GOP arm; handwritten charts, templates for press releases and the phony certificate itself; and talking points "explaining the rationale for the electors."

The planning was extensive, the transcripts show, and began as early as four days before the election, when state party officials began discussing whether then- Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, a Republican, would sign off on the alternate slate of electors.

DeGraffenreid, in a text conversation with party officials, said Cegavske "might do a lot of things, but sending a slate of Republican electors without them being clearly the winners of the popular vote is not one of them."

Cegavske ultimately certified Biden's victory in Nevada, defending the results as reliable and accurate despite attacks from Trump and others within her own party, which led the Nevada Republican Party to censure her. She later conducted an investigation that found no credible evidence of widespread voter fraud throughout the state.

Neither McDonald nor the Nevada Republican Party responded to requests for comment.

The Assembly committee took no action on the bill at Thursday's meeting.

(c)2023 the Las Vegas Sun (Las Vegas, Nev.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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