Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN
The Wall Street Journal opinion page provided a platform for serial misinformers -- citing discredited research -- to falsely suggest that a large number of noncitizens voted in the 2016 election. The evidence used by the authors, who have made careers out of pushing misleading claims to advocate for laws that would result in voter suppression, has been criticized by academics and flies in the face of data showing no evidence that noncitizens have voted in recent U.S. elections in any significant numbers.
In a November 30 op-ed, Hans von Spakovsky, a National Review contributor and a current senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, and John Fund, a columnist for National Review, asserted that “there is a real chance that significant numbers of noncitizens and others are indeed voting illegally, perhaps enough to make up the margin in some elections.” The authors declare that “the honor system doesn’t work” and that “there are people—like those caught voting illegally—who are willing to exploit these weaknesses that damage election integrity.”
The evidence von Spakovsky and Fund cite to back up their claim is seriously misleading, is methodologically flawed, and has been debunked by experts. Von Spakovsky and Fund point to one “2012 study from the Pew Center on the States estimating that one out of every eight voter registrations is inaccurate, out-of-date or duplicate.” But as USA Today pointed out in a write-up of the study, “experts say there's no evidence that the [registration] errors lead to fraud on Election Day.” The article quoted David Becker, the director of Pew’s election initiatives, warning that “‘the perception of the possibility of fraud drives hyper-partisan policymaking.’”
The authors also cited a 2014 study that “used extensive survey data to estimate that 6.4% of the nation’s noncitizens voted in 2008 and that 2.2% voted in 2010.” That study was endlessly hyped by right-wing media, but Brian Schaffner, a political scientist who was “a member of the team that produces the datasets upon which that study was based,” wrote, “I can say unequivocally that this research is not only wrong, it is irresponsible social science and should never have been published in the first place. There is no evidence that non-citizens have voted in recent U.S. elections.” Another expert, Michael Tesler, pointed out that the study had “methodological challenges” that rendered its conclusions "tenuous at best.”
The authors additionally cited a Heritage Foundation report that they call “a list of more than 700 recent convictions for voter fraud” to dispute “academics who claim that voter fraud is vanishingly rare.” However, as FactCheck.org noted, the report found "less than a dozen individual cases of noncitizens convicted of registering or actually voting since 2000," and USA Today found that the report, which is “based largely on news clippings and news releases,” contains “only a handful of allegations of voter impersonation that voter ID could have prevented.”
In fact, a 2014 study conducted by Loyola University law professor Justin Levitt found only 31 credible allegations of in-person voter fraud among the more than 1 billion votes cast in "general, primary, special, and municipal elections from 2000 through 2014."
Von Spakovsky and Fund’s reliance on discredited research is no surprise, given their history of pushing misinformation about voting. Von Spakovsky, who has been featured on Fox News and on National Review for years, has demonstrated an unending willingness to distort the truth in the service of restrictive and discriminatory voter ID laws. Von Spakovsky, in particular, has repeatedly overstated the prevalence of in-person voter fraud and continues to push for voter ID laws that disproportionately affect minority communities and suppress legal voters. At National Review, he also characterized the modern civil rights movement as "indistinguishable" from "segregationists." Even former President Ronald Reagan’s attorney general Dick Thornburgh accused von Spakovsky of being “wrong on both the facts and the law.”