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Recount observers check ballots on Nov. 20, 2020, during a Milwaukee hand-recount of presidential votes. A narrowly divided Wisconsin Supreme Court later rejected Donald Trump's lawsuit attempting to overturn his loss to Democrat Joe Biden about an hour before the Electoral College was to meet to cast the state's 10 votes for Biden. (Photo: Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press)
The fake Donald Trump electors who signed official documents falsely claiming that their candidate had won Wisconsin in 2020 and whose actions are already under review by federal prosecutors are now facing a state lawsuit that could cost each of them $200,000 in damages.
The suit, prepared by the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection in Washington, D.C., and the Law Forward pro-democracy group in Wisconsin, was filed on behalf of two electors who cast their ballots for the state’s actual winner, Democrat Joe Biden, as well as a Wisconsin voter not involved in the Electoral College vote but who argues that the fraud adversely affected her as well.
“The scheme to overturn the election nevertheless caused permanent and irreparable damage to the country’s political institutions generally, and to representative government in Wisconsin specifically,” the complaint states. “Defendants not only helped lay the groundwork for the events of January 6, 2021, but also inflicted lasting damage on Wisconsin’s civic fabric.”
It was filed Tuesday in Dane County, Wisconsin, home of the state Capitol, where the false documents were signed on Dec. 14, 2020, the same day the real electors certified Biden’s narrow win in that state in the Nov. 3 election. It accuses the fake electors of engaging in fraud and conspiracy and asks the court to declare such conduct illegal and award punitive damages to the plaintiffs.
“Without some accountability, there could be a repeat of this in the future,” said Mary McCord, a former top official at the Justice Department and now the director of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown University’s law school.
The 10 fraudulent Trump electors and two lawyers who worked for the former president’s efforts could not immediately be reached for comment.
“The fraudulent electors tried to contradict the will of Wisconsin’s voters, and that’s dangerous for our democracy,”Khary Pennebaker, one of the two legitimate Wisconsin electors among the plaintiffs in the suit, said in a statement. “There must be consequences for their behavior and this suit gives our court system the chance to prevent this from happening again.”
After losing his reelection bid, Trump launched a weeks-long battle to reverse the results through dozens of lawsuits in the six states where he had expected to win but lost. He lost every single suit.
He and his campaign, however, then pushed ahead with a different strategy: having his supporters in those states meet as if they constituted the “duly elected” slates of Electoral College electors and cast “ballots” for Trump. The plan was for then-Vice President Mike Pence, seeing “competing” slates of electors from these states, to either choose the Trump slates or drop those contested states from the count entirely, leaving Trump with a majority when Pence presided over the congressional vote certification ceremony on Jan. 6, 2021.
“It really was because Pence refused to capitulate that the scheme failed,” McCord said. “Even though it didn’t work, it came perilously close.”
In addition to Wisconsin, the Trump campaign organized fake elector slates in Michigan, Georgia, Arizona and Nevada. They also pushed for them in Pennsylvania and New Mexico, but Trump “electors” in those states insisted on inserting language into their paperwork acknowledging that their attestations were only valid if a court or other legal proceeding ruled that Trump, and not Biden, had, in fact, won that state.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel in January referred the fake elector activity in her state to the U.S. Department of Justice. Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul issued a concurring statement, and Deputy U.S. Attorney General Lisa Monaco confirmed in late January that the department was looking into the matter.
Since that time, however, there have been no additional statements from the Justice Department regarding the status of the fake elector probe, and Trump supporters in several states, including Wisconsin, continue to push to “decertify” the 2020 election results ― even though there is no constitutional process for such an effort.
And that is the reason, McCord said, that having a judge rule that what Trump supporters did in Wisconsin broke both state and federal criminal laws is important for future elections.
If nothing else, the prospect of facing court-ordered punitive damages, which under Wisconsin law can be as much as $200,000 for each defendant, could dissuade those inclined to try the fake elector scheme again.
“That could be a pretty heavy financial hit,” she said.
Trump, despite losing the election by 7 million votes nationally and by 306 to 232 in the Electoral College, became the first president in more than two centuries of elections to refuse to hand over power peacefully. His incitement of the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol ― his last-ditch attempt to remain in office ― led to the deaths of five people, including one police officer, and the injuries of an additional140 officers and four police suicides.
Nevertheless, Trump remains the dominant figure in the Republican Party and is openly speaking about running for the presidency again in 2024.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.