Former president Donald Trump’s supporters who buy into his lies that the last election was stolen from him were elated Tuesday night with news from the right-wing Gateway Pundit: The Wisconsin legislature had just voted to withdraw the state’s electors for Joe Biden.
The only problem is: That didn’t actually happen. And, also, it’s not possible.
The original story, which has since been updated, claimed that the Wisconsin State Assembly voted “unanimously” Tuesday night to withdraw the state’s 10 electors. But there was no vote. Here’s what actually happened: Republican Rep. Timothy Ramthun, a Trump supporter who has embraced election falsehoods, brought up his bill to withdraw the electors as a privileged resolution, meaning the Assembly had to respond to it. But far from passing it, the Assembly’s presiding officer sent the bill to the Rules Committee. And the bill will die there, as the chair of that committee, Republican Rep. Jim Steineke, made clear Tuesday night. “Not only is it illegal, it’s just plain unconstitutional,” he tweeted. “As chair of the Rules Committee, there is ZERO chance I will advance this illegal resolution. #EndofStory.”
Steineke, who serves as the Assembly majority leader, declined a request for an interview.
Nonetheless, the false story spread across the election conspiracy internet. Kari Lake, the Trump-endorsed candidate for governor in Arizona, shared the news with her nearly 108,000 followers on Twitter, saying, “Arizona should be next!”
Wisconsin state Rep. Mark Spreitzer, a Democrat who sits on both the Rules Committee and Campaigns and Elections Committee, told BuzzFeed News that after the Assembly sent Ramthun’s bill to the Rules Committee, the Republican tried another procedural move to force a vote on his bill. But that, too, failed. Then members returned their attention to the bill they’d previously been working on (a “consensus bill” related to online marketplaces, he said), which passed unanimously by voice vote.
“I think the Ramthun supporters who were watching sort of missed the part where his resolution was already long gone and we were back onto the bill at hand. And they heard everybody say ‘Aye,’ and they're like, ‘Wow, we just passed the resolution,’” Spreitzer said. “But, no, we passed a totally unrelated bill that we started debating before Ramthun did all of this.”
Though the Gateway Pundit story has been updated to say that Ramthun’s bill merely advanced through the legislature and has not yet passed, it still claims falsely that it received a unanimous voice vote, despite video of the session included in the piece clearly showing that members were voting on another bill. But still, the original headline and framing of the piece — “Wisconsin Assembly Votes to Withdraw Its 10 Electors for Joe Biden in 2020 Election” — have continued to spread. Lake’s tweet is still up with more than 17,000 likes, though she’s since posted a follow-up, saying that Steineke “is going to try to stop” the bill from passing. And the original headline is still all over Twitter, Facebook, and right-wing social media platforms like Telegram.
The updated story does not include a correction. Instead, it has a note at the end saying, “This post has been updated as we gathered more information from our many sources.” Jim Hoft, the founder of Gateway Pundit and author of the story, did not respond to a request for comment.
Though Republican leaders in the Assembly were quick to criticize and dismiss Ramthun’s bill, they are currently paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for their own “audit” of the 2020 election and hired a retired justice who has said the election was stolen to run it. Spreitzer said Republican leaders’ response to Ramthun’s bill was hypocritical.
“They don't actually believe that the election was stolen, or that there was widespread fraud, and that's of course why they aren't going to support Ramthun. ... But they're absolutely fueling the very people who are behind Ramthun’s effort by their refusal to just come out and say, ‘We had a free and fair election. Joe Biden won. There was no widespread fraud.’ So they’re trying to have it both ways,” he said.
Although Trump and his most fringe supporters in the Republican Party have repeatedly said that the election should be “decertified” or that the electors should be “recalled,” there is no legal process for doing so. On a more literal level, the electors are just voters who have presumably returned to their states, so there is nothing to recall them from. But more broadly speaking, there is no constitutional method for undoing the 2020 election. Wisconsin’s electors, along with those for all 50 states, cast their votes in the Electoral College and those votes were counted by Congress on Jan. 6 after a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol.
Wisconsin state Sen. Kathy Bernier, a Republican who has made huge waves in her party for asserting that Biden won the election and that Republicans should stop enabling those who say he didn’t, even got the nonpartisan Wisconsin Legislative Council to write a memo explaining that decertifying or recalling electors is not possible. According to the November memo, “There is no mechanism in state or federal law for the Legislature to reverse certified votes cast by the Electoral College and counted by Congress. Instead, except in the case of presidential incapacity, impeachment is the only mechanism for removing a sitting U.S. President.”
Bernier is retiring at the end of this term, as is Steineke. A staff member in her office provided a copy of the memo to BuzzFeed News but said she wasn’t available for an interview about Ramthun’s bill and the “unbelievable wildfire” of disinformation it had set off.
Ramthun requested his own memo from the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau, another nonpartisan research organization, about whether the legislature can recall electors. That memo also concluded, accurately, that the legislature does not have that authority, but Ramthun annotated it with his own views and posted it online.
He has falsely said that Trump won Wisconsin in 2020 and has spent months pushing for a “full forensic audit” — a nonsense term that has become popular among Trump supporters for their partisan, and occasionally ridiculous, investigations into the election. Ramthun also appears to have some ties to the QAnon collective delusion; he posted a video about his audit efforts this summer titled “The Calm Before the Storm,” referencing a common QAnon phrase, and he appeared on a QAnon-associated show to promote his election conspiracies, Media Matters reported.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, a Republican who authorized the audit of the 2020 election, disciplined him last week by taking away his only staff member after Ramthun said the speaker had signed a deal with Hillary Clinton’s lawyers to allow ballot drop boxes in 2020, WisPolitics reported.
Gateway Pundit said Ramthun was brave and “fearless” in bringing up his bill Tuesday night and urged readers to reach out to members of the Rules Committee and “tell them to put the resolution through.” Spreitzer said Wednesday morning he was getting “about an email every minute” about the bill, but he wasn’t aware of any threats contained in those messages.
Spreitzer said it was clear that Ramthun’s supporters “think he did something pretty heroic” and he expects the Republican to try more antics to undermine the 2020 election in the future.
“For those of us who understood what was going on, it was sort of a fairly pathetic gesture,” Spreitzer said, “but I think he managed to pull the wool over the eyes of his fan club, and they think that he really accomplished something.”
Ramthun did not respond to a request for comment.