Wisconsin senator's claim that Dems used alternative slates of electors 'repeatedly' is false'

Three years have passed since a group of Republicans gathered at Wisconsin's state Capitol in Madison, escorted by armed guards, attempting to submit electoral votes for then-President Donald Trump, despite not being the state's official electors and despite Trump's loss.

Despite a court filing from the group acknowledging their actions aimed to overturn the election, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., continues to defend their conduct. During a December 11 interview on CNN, Johnson was asked about Robert Spindell, a member of the Wisconsin Elections Commission and one of the individuals involved in the incident.

Johnson asserted that Spindell should not resign due to an "active court case" and alleged irregularities in Wisconsin's 2020 election. He defended the group's role, stating their actions mirrored those of Democrats in various states and claimed there was nothing illegal or untoward about their actions as they functioned as an alternate slate of electors.

When pressed by Kaitlan Collins from "The Source with Kaitlan Collins" on CNN if he meant they had done nothing wrong, Johnson redirected, emphasizing that Democrats have similarly used alternate elector slates in different states, sidestepping the query.

The debate revolves around Johnson's claim that Democrats have frequently utilized alternate elector slates in multiple states, a statement that has been challenged.

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Johnson’s response

When we reached out to Johnson's office seeking support for the claim that sparked considerable discussion on social media, spokesperson Kiersten Pels stated, "the senator was highlighting the Democrats' history of denying and contesting elections over the years," referencing examples in a tweet response to CNN.

However, this explanation doesn't align with Johnson's actual statement or what viewers heard. At best, it suggests that the senator may have misspoken.

Pels referenced four examples in her response. Analyzing them in relation to Johnson's claim on CNN reveals shortcomings. Notably, only one of the four instances involves a slate of electors, falling short of substantiating the broader assertion made by Johnson during the CNN interview.

1960 election: Hawaii electors

Johnson claimed, "In the 1960 election, Democrats in Hawaii chose an alternative slate of electors, allowing JFK to be certified as the winner."

During the 1960 election, Democrat John F. Kennedy triumphed over Republican Richard Nixon in one of the most closely contested presidential races in U.S. history.

An August 25 Politico article sought to refute a similar comparison made by other Republicans. It explained that in December 1960, Hawaii's election outcome was uncertain, with Nixon leading by 140 votes while a recount was in progress. Concurrently, presidential electors convened to cast their ballots, as required by law. Electors for both Nixon and Kennedy in Hawaii separately voted for their candidates and dispatched the votes to Washington, D.C.

Subsequently, a recount concluded with Kennedy leading by approximately 115 votes, securing the state for him. These results were certified, leading to the signing and transmission of a new set of Electoral College certificates to Washington.

However, it's crucial to note that Hawaii's electors were chosen per the legally stipulated date, while the recount was ongoing and the outcome remained uncertain. In contrast, in Wisconsin, the Republican ersatz electors convened subsequent to an unsuccessful recount supported by Trump. A few days after their assembly, the state's Supreme Court confirmed Joe Biden as the victor in Wisconsin.

Contrary to Johnson's claim, it wasn't the alternative slate of electors that facilitated Kennedy's selection; it was the outcome of the recount. Additionally, Nixon, who was then the vice president, was presented with elector slates from both parties and opted for the Democratic one after the Hawaii recount was finalized and officially certified for Kennedy.

2004 election: Republican George W. Bush and Democrat John Kerry

Johnson claimed: "In 2005, Sen. Barbara Boxer and Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones led a group of 31 representatives in objecting to the certification of Ohio’s electors. Those 31 include Jim Clyburn, Sheila Jackson Lee, Barbara Lee, now-Sen. Ed Markey, Benny Thompson, and Maxine Waters."

While Johnson accurately presented the facts, he misapplied them to bolster his point on CNN. The Democrats' objection in 2005 was directed at duly chosen electors in Ohio. They did not present an alternative slate of electors.

2016 election: "Rogue electors" discuss trying to block Trump

Johnson claimed: "In 2016, Democrat electors from Washington state and Colorado signed onto an attempt to block Trump from winning an Electoral College majority."

Following Trump's victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016, there was widespread discontent among Democrats regarding the election outcome.

After the election, Politico reported in November 2016 that some Democrat electors were attempting to garner support among others to abstain from voting for Trump. This effort was referred to as "rogue electors" at the time. Similarly, there were considerations among some electors not to cast their votes for Clinton in states where she had won.

However, it's important to note that these actions didn't involve the creation of a fake slate of electors.

2016 election: More anti-Trump fallout

Johnson's final assertion stated: "In 2017, Reps. Jamie Raskin, Pramila Jayapal, Barbara Lee, Sheila Jackson Lee, Raúl Grijalva, Maxine Waters, and Jim McGovern, all objected to electoral votes for Trump."

Similar to the scenario in 2005, during the formal certification process in Congress, certain House Democrats voiced objections to the electoral votes cast for Trump.

At that time, Biden, serving as vice president, presided over the joint body and responded to objections. He directed Jayapal, who objected to Georgia’s vote certificate, stating, "it is over."

Once more, this event did not involve the creation of a fraudulent slate of electors.

Furthermore, following the 2020 election, numerous Republicans objected to certifying various electoral votes for Biden. This aligned with a broader strategy aimed at presenting alternative elector slates to then-Vice President Mike Pence for potential acceptance over legitimate ones.

Regarding Johnson's involvement with fake electors, a text exchange revealed by the U.S. House committee investigating the January 6 attack at the Capitol linked him to the issue. On January 6, 2021, Sean Riley, a Johnson aide, communicated with Chris Hodgson, a Pence staff member, mentioning that Johnson "needs to hand something to VPOTUS please advise." The content mentioned an "alternate slate of electors for MI and WI" due to an issue with the archivist not receiving them. Hodgson cautioned against providing that to Pence.

Subsequently, the U.S. Capitol faced an attack by Trump supporters aiming to delay the Electoral College vote count and overturn the election.

Johnson's explanation of his involvement has evolved, initially denying any connection to alternate electors but later acknowledging being informed about "Wisconsin electors" by a Dane County attorney and facilitating a text message introduction between a staff member and the attorney.

To conclude, during a CNN interview, Johnson asserted that Democrats repeatedly utilized alternate slates of electors in different states. However, the evidence he provided failed to support this claim, rendering it false. 

Editor's Note: This fact check has been updated to accurately reflect that the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled for Biden after the alternate electors met.

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