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Senate committee hears proposal to make fake electoral certificates a felony

Nevada Democratic Sen. Skip Daly of Sparks wants people who submit fake Electoral College certificates to be convicted of a felony and sentenced up to 10 years in prison.

Some public defenders, however, say that penalty may be too harsh.

Daly’s proposed legislation, Senate Bill 133, which the Senate Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections heard on Tuesday but took no action on, would make submitting false electoral certificates a felony. If the person is found guilty of conspiring to create or serve in a false slate of presidential electors, they also would not be able to run for or be appointed to a state office in the future, Daly said.

If convicted, the person could be sentenced to a minimum of four years and a maximum term of 10 years in state prison. It also prohibits a court from granting probation to a person who was convicted of the offense, according to the bill’s language.

In Nevada in the wake of the 2020 election, Republican electors met in Carson City and held a ceremony in front of the legislative building in which they signed certificates falsely claiming former President Donald Trump won the election, and sent those documents to Washington as part of a scheme to keep Trump in power. The plan has been the subject of investigations by the Justice Department and the Jan. 6 committee in Congress.

Nevada Republican Party Chairman Michael McDonald, questioned by the Jan. 6 committee about the fake certificates, asserted his Fifth Amendment privilege more than 275 times in a sworn deposition.

Representatives from Washoe and Clark county public defenders offices spoke in opposition of the bill Tuesday, taking issue with the length of sentencing and proposing an amendment.

“Justice means nothing if it’s not proportional, meaning the punishment must fit the crime,” said John Piro, deputy public defender with the Clark County public defender’s office. “And in this bill as drafted, this punishment is not proportional.”

The people who stormed the Capitol and broke into former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office would get a lesser sentence than the one proposed in this bill, Piro said. If Sen. Heidi Seevers Gansert, R-Reno, was to stab Daly, for instance, she would get a lesser sentence than the fake elector penalty, Piro said.

“If you want to criminalize it, so be it … but let’s do it in a proportional way,” Piro said. “Let’s do it so that we’re not using the criminal justice system as a hammer to hammer people who genuinely made a mistake, to hammer our political rivals.”

“It was deliberate. It was on purpose. It was not a mistake,” Daly said, adding he thinks the penalties are not strong enough.

Janine Hansen, state chairman of of the Independent American Party, argued the legislation was not necessary with the federal passage of the Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act of 2022, which changes the process of casting and counting electoral votes for presidential elections and clarifies the vice president’s role during the congressional session that certifies the electoral votes of the president.

Democratic Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar spoke in support of the bill, as did representatives of the Culinary Union and Battle Born Progress, a progressive strategic communications organization.

“We saw the embarrassing role that Nevada played in that (2020) election,” said Annette Magnus, executive director of Battle Born Progress. “We must do better. This is a step to protect our democracy.”

Contact Jessica Hill at jehill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @jess_hillyeah on Twitter.

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