Why January 6th hearings are reviewing Trump administration’s ‘fake elector’ scheme

Explainer: President is not elected by popular vote but by an electoral college

The “fake elector” scheme under investigation by the congressional committee looking into the riot at the US Capitol on January 6th last year was allegedly aimed at manipulating the convoluted process for determining who wins the US presidency.

The committee believes that, if successful, it could have allowed Donald Trump to stay in power even though he lost the 2020 presidential election.

In the American system, the public does not directly elect the president.

Under the US constitution when people go to the polls they vote for a slate of electors who have promised to back a particular candidate for president and vice-president.


This is part of what is known as an electoral college process. Each of the states is ascribed a certain number of “electoral college votes”. A candidate must win at least 270 of the total 538 electoral votes available to secure victory.

In a ceremonial process at a designated date in December following the presidential election, which is held in November every four years, this group of electors meets in the statehouse of their individual states. They sign certificates, officially casting their vote for the individual to take over the White House.

Technically it is the vote of this electoral college that determines who won the presidency rather than the votes of the public in each of the states themselves.

The allegations being investigated by the committee are that Trump allies sought to supplant the authentic electors with “fake” ones in a bid to throw the election in the favour of the former president.

In the final weeks of 2020, after the authorised Democratic electors met at statehouses to vote formally for the Democratic candidate Joe Biden as president, in seven battleground states, illegitimate republican electors arrived too, saying they had come to instead name Mr Trump as president.

The Trump electors were turned away. However, they nonetheless proceeded to sign fake election certificates that declared they were the “duly elected and qualified” electors certifying Mr Trump as the winner of the presidential election in their state.

The convening of the state electors to formally back a particular candidate is then followed about a month later on January 6th when the outcome of this process is sent to the Houses of Congress in Washington. This ceremony officially certifies the winner of the presidential election.

The certification event is chaired by the sitting vice-president.

The congressional committee believes the fake electors’ scheme was conceived in an effort to create “duelling” slates of electors that the vice-president Mike Pence could use to pretend the election was in doubt and refuse to formalise Mr Biden’s win at the congressional certification on January 6th.

The fake electors’ scheme is important because it could be a crime. The justice department is investigating whether the Republicans who signed as electors for Mr Trump could be charged with falsifying voting documents, mail fraud or conspiracy to defraud the US.

If Mr Trump was involved in the scheme, and the justice department pursues a case, then the former US president may also have criminal exposure. — Additional reporting: Guardian