New Mexico Democrats push to criminalize fake electors before presidential vote

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico Democrats who control the Legislature want to make it a crime to pose as a fake presidential elector in one of the few states where Republicans signed certificates in 2020 falsely declaring Donald Trump the winner.

Legislators advanced a bill Friday on a party-line committee vote that would make it a felony starting in the 2024 presidential election to submit a fake elector certificate “knowingly or recklessly." The Legislature's Republican minority would need Democratic support to vote down the legislation, which carries criminal penalties like those being considered in a handful of other states.

Republican electors signed certificates in seven states — mostly with battleground contests — indicating falsely that Trump had won the 2020 election, a strategy at the center of criminal charges against Trump and his associates.

In New Mexico, President Joe Biden won by 11 percentage points, or about 100,000 votes — the largest margin among the states where so-called fake electors have been implicated.

Last year, Nevada Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo vetoed a bill that would have made it a crime to sign certificates falsely stating that a losing political candidate has won, with penalties of between four and 10 years in prison. In Colorado, where there were no false elector certificates in 2020, the Democratic-led Legislature is considering a bill that would make participating in a fake elector scheme a crime and ban people who do from office.

New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez, a Democrat, in January announced his decision not to prosecute local Republicans who signed the elector certificates — while urging lawmakers to provide legal authority for prosecuting similar conduct in the future and enhance the security of the state’s electoral process.

“We should recognize the seriousness of this conduct,” he told a state Senate panel in January.

On Friday in Santa Fe, Republican state Rep. Bill Rehm of Albuquerque said the legislation is “politically motivated against a different party." He voted against it, noting that felony provisions are especially stiff. Violations would be punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. Fake electors didn't change Biden's win in 2020, he said.

“I do not think there was any intent in New Mexico to change the outcome,” he said. “I think that if we could remove the politics that is the undertone of this, it would be a different situation.”

In New Mexico and Pennsylvania, fake electors added a caveat saying the certificate was submitted in case they were later recognized as duly elected, qualified electors. That would only have been possible if Trump had won any of several dozen legal battles he waged against states in the weeks after the election.

Democratic officials have launched separate investigations in some states, resulting in indictments against GOP electors.

In December, a Nevada grand jury indicted six Republicans with felony charges in connection with false election certificates. They have pleaded not guilty.

Michigan’s Attorney General filed felony charges in July 2023 against 16 Republican fake electors, including forgery and conspiracy to commit election forgery. For one of them, charges were dropped after reaching a cooperation deal. The top charge carried a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison.

Three fake electors also have been charged in Georgia alongside Trump and others in a sweeping indictment accusing them of participating in a wide-ranging scheme to illegally overturn the results of the presidential election. They have pleaded not guilty.

The New Mexico bill, from Democrats including Majority House Floor Leader Gail Chasey of Albuquerque, also would establish felony penalties for disrupting election results — defined as knowingly or recklessly suppressing, defacing, altering, forging or otherwise falsifying election documents, or preparing or submitting false election documents.

Republican Party of New Mexico Chairman Steve Pearce has accused the state attorney general of trying to criminalize a process “used by both Democrats and Republicans,” referring to the 1960 presidential election. Democratic electors in Hawaii cast votes for John F. Kennedy despite that state initially being called for Republican Richard Nixon.

But the outcome of the Hawaii election was unclear, requiring a recount, and Nixon would end up losing the state. After the 2020 election, every court challenge the Trump campaign and its allies filed to contest his loss has failed.