President Trump’s “election integrity” commission is scheduled to hold its second public meeting on Tuesday when a series of alleged experts will present questionable data and debunked studies in order to argue that voter fraud is pervasive and warrants more restrictive voting measures.
According to the public agenda, the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity will meet in New Hampshire to discuss voter turnout, how election integrity issues affect public confidence in elections, and electronic voting, among other issues.
The meeting comes amid renewed criticism from Democrats and voting experts who claim the panel is spreading false information in order to make it harder for people to vote. In August, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) linked the kind of disenfranchisement for which the commission will advocate to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. that left one woman dead, calling for Trump to shutter the panel. Then Vice-Chair Kris Kobach also falsely claimed that massive illegal voting swung New Hampshire’s Senate election in 2016, and voting groups called for commission member and meeting host Bill Gardner, New Hampshire’s secretary of state, to resign.
Neither occurred. Gardner will host the commission’s second meeting, which will include three panels of elections professionals on Tuesday who will present a series of sham statistics and questionable studies to draw false conclusions about the integrity of U.S. elections. Max Hailperin, a computer science professor at Gustavus Adolphus College who has advised lawmakers on election-related technology and legislation, said he’s concerned the panel will rely on the misleading data without considering its accuracy.
In an effort to appear bipartisan, the commission will hear from a few experts who are “appreciative of the nuances and complexities” in data, Hailperin told ThinkProgress. But a majority of testimony will come from individuals with strong points of view who “are willing to overlook weaknesses in the statistical evidence that they’re using in order to make their claims.”
“They may not have the background knowledge to be able to carefully sort out where they’re using statistics and where they’re abusing statistics,” continued Hailperin, who reviewed all of the materials released in advance of Tuesday’s meeting. “I don’t know how a bunch of commissioners who are not themselves experts on statistics or experts on social science research methodology or experts on technology or any of these things presented by this cacophony of voices is supposed to sort through that and come to rational conclusions.”
Here are five such misleading arguments that experts will present to the commission:
The claim that 8,471 people cast more than one ballot in the 2016 election
Ken Block, president of Simpatico Software Systems, will present to the panel data published in a July report by the conservative Government Accountability Institute (a group founded by former White House strategist Steve Bannon) which found that it’s “highly likely” 8,471 duplicate votes were cast in the 2016 election across 21 states. Block and his fellow researchers did not have access to data from all 50 states, and instead relied on commercial data sources to draw their conclusion.
Commission Vice-Chair Kris Kobach frequently cites the report to corroborate his false claims about double voting, and Commissioner Hans Von Spakovsky called the study a “bombshell” in a report for the Heritage Foundation’s news site.
But Hailperin said that Block’s study and the conclusions he draws are highly problematic. “I think it would be irresponsible for the commission to place any reliance on it,” he said.
After elections, states also run checks to look for potential double-voting using private voter lists that contain far more information than the public lists on which Block relied. Therefore, Block’s study is just a weaker version of the system states are already using that is also prone to false matches.
“A lot of the people who are initially flagged as matches turn out to be false matches,” Hailperin said about data run through the Electronic Registration Information Center or the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, two systems used by states to check voter rolls. “The states have to do quite a bit of checking before they go out and do anything like file a charge against someone for duplicate voting. The vast majority of the initially-flagged people turn out not to be problems after all.”
Because his study relied on even less data, Block’s report likely has even more false matches. But there’s no way of knowing just how inaccurate his statistics are because he has not released his methodology, making the use of the data by the White House commission especially problematic.
“The likelihood is that his number is greatly inflated, but whether that’s by a factor of 100 or a factor of 1,000, whether there’s any duplicate vote at all, we just don’t know that,” Hailperin said. “He doesn’t give us enough information to be able to figure that out.”
An unpublished study finding that voter ID doesn’t affect turnout
Despite what the Republicans on the panel may claim, study after study — including examinations by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office — have found that voter ID decreases voter turnout among non-white voters, who tend to vote for Democrats.
But the only voter ID-related study the commission will consider on Tuesday is an unpublished 2006 report by Dr. John Lott, a Fox News columnist and the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center. As a researcher, Lott has a questionable background — he claims to be an expert on gun violence, but he has been caught pushing studies with severe statistical errors, has allegedly fabricated a survey on defensive gun use, and has pretended to be his own student to give himself glowing reviews.
Lott’s 2006 study on voter fraud is no exception to his track record of shoddy work. The report relies on “sloppy methodology,” Hailperin said, using a small number of data points with multiple variables to claim that there is no causation between voter ID laws and turnout.
“To find no connection is actually fairly easy if you’ve got big messy data with lots of confounding factors, lots of things that cause variation other than what you’re looking at,” Hailperin said. “For me to talk about what all is wrong with the statistical methodology is really tough.”
But you don’t have to take Hailperin’s word for it. “The fact that this is something he wrote more than a decade ago and has not been able to get any kind of peer-reviewed publication for should be a red flag,” Hailperin said.
An argument that the gun background check system should be used to verify voters
Lott will also include in his testimony a proposition that the U.S. government check voter rolls with the same system used for gun buyers, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). As his reasoning goes, any system that Democrats think has a low enough burden to not infringe on people’s gun rights should be low enough to not infringe on people’s right to vote.
“Democrats have long lauded background checks on gun purchases as simple, accurate, and in complete harmony with the second amendment right to own guns,” Lott’s slides for his presentation read. “Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has bragged that the checks ‘make our communities and neighborhoods safer without in any way abridging rights or threatening a legitimate part of the American heritage.’ If NICS doesn’t interfere ‘in any way’ with people’s constitutional right to self defense, doesn’t it follow that it would work for the right to vote?”
Leaving aside the faulty logic, Lott’s argument is problematic because he doesn’t believe it himself. A staunch gun rights advocate, Lott does not believe that the NICS has a low burden, and therefore is presenting the comparison in order to advocate for relaxing gun laws. But as Hailperin notes, “[i]f this is his point, he is wasting the commissioners’ time; they have no mandate to make recommendations about gun laws.”
The claim that the number of registered voters in a jurisdiction can’t exceed the voting age population
Robert Popper, director of the Election Integrity Project at the conservative Judicial Watch, will testify that states are not maintaining their voter lists sufficiently because there is evidence that in some jurisdictions, the total number of registered voters exceeds the number of voting age citizens.
There are a number of legitimate reasons why these numbers may differ. For one, the number of voting-age citizens residing in a jurisdiction at any time is an estimate. Small counties are more likely to have inaccurate estimates, and many U.S. counties are small.
Jurisdictions are also likely to have “deadwood” — people on their rolls who may have moved out of the area or died, but because they have not updated their registration or because of bureaucratic lag, may still appear on the rolls. Voter rolls may also be inflated because they include military and overseas citizens or 16 and 17-year-olds who have legally pre-registered to vote before they can cast a ballot.
Kimball Brace, president of Election Data Services, will warn the commission Tuesday of the complexities of drawing conclusions from these numbers, but Popper will jump to those conclusions anyway.
The claim is also misleading because being registered to vote in multiple jurisdictions is not illegal, despite what Kobach and Trump himself may claim. In fact, as reporters noted last year, a number of people in Trump’s inner circle, including Steve Bannon, Tiffany Trump, Sean Spicer, and Jared Kushner, were registered in multiple states themselves in 2016.
If the commission does decide that having double-registrants is a problem they wish to fix, there are things they could do to address the issue. But Hailperin said that based on the public testimony, the commission doesn’t seem interested in those fixes.
Voter fraud occurred in New Hampshire in 2016 because voters used out-of-state drivers’ licenses.
Kobach’s false claim—that voter fraud occurred in 2016 in New Hampshire, potentially tipping both the close Senate race and presidential election to Democrats, a claim which he wrote about in a column for Breitbart last week—has been thoroughly debunked and rightfully ridiculed. Kobach claims that the speaker of the New Hampshire House provided the commission with data showing that 6,540 people registered to vote in the state on Election Day using an out-of-state ID, and over 5,500 of those people did not change their ID during the following 60 day period the state allows, meaning they are not New Hampshire residents and voted illegally.
But that conclusion is highly flawed. New Hampshire does not require people to be “residents” to register and vote, so temporary New Hampshire dwellers like college students can legally use their current domicile in order to cast a ballot. The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel spoke to a number of students who cast a ballot in New Hampshire using a different state ID.
Voting experts and others have claimed that someone who is stoking fears and spreading lies like Kobach has no business leading the commission.
“I think that’s absolutely irresponsible,” Hailperin said, adding that Kobach should resign. “He has no business trying to vice chair a commission on integrity while making low-integrity comments that are detrimental to public confidence.”