Gov. Joe Lombardo rejected a bill that would have made it a crime to sign fake Electoral College certificates, saying the penalties were too harsh and it wouldn’t uphold election integrity.
Here are things to know about the veto of Senate Bill 133:
Why they passed the bill: On Dec. 14 2020, a group of Republican electors met in front of the legislative building in Carson City to sign Electoral College certificates that declared Donald Trump the winner of the election in Nevada, despite the fact that Joe Biden had won the state by more than 33,500 votes.
The signatories: Nevada Republican Party Chairman Michael McDonald, Republican National Committeeman Jim DeGraffenreid, state party Vice Chairman James Hindle III, Jesse Law (who later was elected chairman of the Clark County GOP), Shawn Meehan and Eileen Rice.
The fake certificates were sent to Washington, D.C., but they lacked the state seal and certification that appeared on the real documents and were not counted. It was later revealed that electors in several states were directed to sign and submit the fake certificates as part of a scheme devised by former law professor John Eastman to help Trump remain in office. McDonald and DeGraffenreid were deposed by staffers for the Jan. 6 committee, and both repeatedly invoked their Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination.
What the bill would have done: The law would have banned creating, serving in or conspiring to create or serve in a false slate of electors. It would have classified the offense as a category B felony, punishable by four to 10 years in state prison, a $5,000 fine and a ban on holding office. In addition, the bill would have prohibited a judge from granting probation to those convicted of fake-elector crimes.
Why they said it was needed: Testifying in favor of the bill on May 11, Attorney General Aaron Ford told lawmakers that there was no law directly on point that would have allowed the state to charge the electors with a crime. “With (the fake electoral certificate matter) on our radar, we ascertained that current state statutes do not directly address the conduct in question,” he said.
Who voted for it: The bill passed on a party-line vote in the Democrat-controlled Assembly in May, and by an 11-10 vote in the state Senate in April, with Las Vegas Democratic Sens. Melanie Scheible and James Ohrenschall joining all the chamber’s Republicans in voting no.
What Lombardo said about it: First, the governor condemned fake electors. “I believe ensuring the sanctity and security of our elections is paramount to maintaining public confidence in both our electoral processes and in elected officials,” he wrote. “There should be strict punishments for those seeking to undermine that confidence, including those engaged in schemes to present slates of fake electors.”
But, the governor added, the punishments in SB 133 were too strict: “That said, it is difficult to fathom how the penalty for being engaged in such a scheme should be harsher — in terms of time served and by requiring a permanent relinquishment of unrelated employment rights — than the penalty for high-level fentanyl traffickers, certain domestic violence perpetrators and even some of the most extreme and violent actors on Jan. 6.”
The comment puts Lombardo — a former two-term Clark County sheriff — on the same page as John Piro, a chief deputy public defender, who advocated in February for an amendment that would make the crime a category D felony, punishable by one to four years in prison and making the offense eligible for probation.
And another thing: Lombardo added that the law criminalizing fake electors would not increase confidence in elections. “Because SB 133 does nothing to ensure the sanctity of our elections, and merely provides disproportionately harsh penalties for an, admittedly, terrible crime, I cannot support it.”
The fake elector plan, however, was designed to erode confidence in the 2020 election, which Trump contended was stolen from him in public statements and lawsuits, which were all rejected as baseless. According to testimony elicited by the Jan. 6 commission, the fraudulent certificates were meant to give former Vice President Mike Pence a basis to declare Trump the real victor, or at least delay certification of the election results for Biden.