Hans von Spakovsky speaks at the LBJ Presidential Library on November 20, 2014. (Lauren Gerson/LBJ Library via Flickr)
By Miranda Blue / 09.11.2017
On Thursday night, Kris Kobach, the vice chair of President Trump’s “Commission on Election Integrity” published a stunningly dishonest and easily debunked Breitbart column in which he claimed that fraudulent voting swung the results of New Hampshire’s tight 2016 Senate race. It didn’t take voting-rights experts to disprove Kobach’s claim; as we noted, “any lay person with a tiny bit of analytical thinking and ten minutes of research” could poke holes in his “proof” of widespread voter fraud.
But Kobach isn’t the only member of Trump’s commission who is lying with statistics to promote bogus claims about widespread voter fraud. Hans von Spakovsky, a longtime foe of voting rights who is currently a fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, has been peddling a Heritage report that claims to have found more than 1,000 “instances of voter fraud”; von Spakovsky distributed a copy of the report at the commission’s first meeting in July. At the commission’s second meeting, in New Hampshire on Tuesday, von Spakovsky is planning to speak about Heritage’s database.
Heritage’s report took a little more work to unravel than Kobach’s blatantly false claim about New Hampshire, but luckily the Brennan Center for Justice has done that work. In an analysis released on Friday, Brennan Center found that Heritage’s report confirms exactly the opposite of what it is trying to show: that voter fraud “is vanishingly rare, and impersonating a voter at the polls is less common a phenomenon than being struck by lightning.”
The Brennan Center analyzed the cases in Heritage’s database and found that they spanned a period of nearly 70 years (they include a case from 1948) in which billions of votes have been cast. Among those billions of votes, Heritage has found just 10 cases of in-person voter fraud—what voter ID laws are supposed to prevent—and “41 cases involving non-citizens registering, voting, or attempting to vote,” the type of conduct that Trump blames for his popular-vote loss.
The analysis found that at “at least a quarter of the cases in the database do not even involve ineligible people voting or attempting to vote” but instead are other election violations such as misconduct by election officials that are unrelated to the kind of voter fraud that Trump’s commission claims to be addressing. Only 105 of the cases that Heritage found came from the last five years.
The 41 cases that Heritage identified of noncitizens registering, voting, or attempting to vote occurred “over a time span of more than four decades.” Instances of undocumented immigrants voting, which Trump has claimed is happening “all over the country,” are even more rare—while the immigration status of many of the individuals in Heritage’s database is unclear, when we went back and checked the 41 noncitizen voting cases that Brennan Center found in Heritage’s report, only seven were clearly identified as undocumented immigrants. Only one of these cases had occurred in the past five years.
In an analysis of decades of elections, Heritage has only managed to find a handful of cases of the kinds of in-person voter fraud that they claim are rampant. This, however, is unlikely to deter members of Trump’s commission from using these cases to justify advocating for laws that make it harder for millions of Americans to vote.