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Stateside Podcast: 16 charged in 'false elector' scheme

The state Capitol building in the winter.
Lester Graham
Michigan Radio

Last week, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel charged 16 Michigan residents for an alleged false electors scheme following the 2020 presidential election. If convicted, they could face up to 80 years in prison.

According to the charges against this group, these individuals convened on December 14, 2020 — the day that Congress required electors in each state to meet and vote — and signed a letter stating that they were the “duly elected electors” and would be convening in the Capitol at 2 p.m. to officially certify the election for then-President Donald Trump. They were later turned away at the doors of the state Capitol by Michigan State police troopers.

This investigation has been lengthy. In January 2022, Nessel turned the investigation over to the federal government. With no progress made public on the federal investigation, she reopened the case at the state level a year later. This group’s attempt to gain entry into the state Capitol was also of interest to congressional investigators who were looking into the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Many of the individuals who have been charged are prominent figures in the Michigan Republican Party. They include Meshawn Maddock, former co-chair of the Michigan Republican Party and wife of current Michigan State Representative Matt Maddock; Marian Sheridan, grassroots vice-chair of the Michigan Republican Party; and Kent Vanderwood, mayor of Wyoming, Michigan.

As there are forgery charges involved, much of the legal decision calculus will depend on whether or not there was “intent to defraud,” according to Simon Schuster, political reporter at MLive.

“If their defense can prove to an extent that there was a sincere belief that they should have been the true electors, and that they thought that … they were going to actually become the true electors once the election was overturned as a result of any of these lawsuits, then they might have some trouble pulling that,” Schuster said.

When Schuster spoke with Ken Thompson, one of the 16 individuals who have been charged, Thompson asserted that the charges will be dropped. According to Schuster, he referred to Nessel “as a propagandist and a fool for leveling these [charges].”

In Schuster's analysis, throughout her tenure, Nessel has had to balance pulling herself out of fights that would place her in legal jeopardy against also standing up for larger cases that she believes pose a real threat to democratic institutions. These charges are the latter, Schulster said.

Schuster noted that there are several historical examples of dueling slates of electors. However, he also acknowledged what's distinct about these circumstances: There is no evidence that the fairness of the 2020 presidential election was in dispute.

According to the press release from Nessel’s office, the 16 charged defendants will next appear in 54-A District Court in Ingham County for individual arraignments. As of now, the court has not set dates for subsequent hearings.

To learn more about these charges and their implications, listen to the Stateside Podcast.

[Get Stateside on your phone: subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify today.]

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Olivia Mouradian recently graduated from the University of Michigan and joined the Stateside team as an intern in May 2023.
Rachel Ishikawa joined Michigan Public in 2020 as a podcast producer. She produced Kids These Days, a limited-run series that launched in the summer of 2020.