Conservative media are reporting on a study claiming that thousands of illegal votes have been cast in Virginia since 1988. However, the study's authors have reportedly used “unreliable methodology” before, its findings go against those of several other studies and experts on voter fraud, and a person inaccurately targeted in it has called it a “gross misrepresentation of the facts.” Additionally, the study was put out by groups known for spreading conspiracy theories and fables about voter fraud and intimidation and which have previously used dubious methodologies in their studies.
Report claims thousands of illegal votes have been cast in Virginia
Report: Thousands of noncitizens cast illegal votes in Virginia. In a report titled “Alien Invasion II,” the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) and Virginia Voters Alliance (VVA) alleged that “large numbers of ineligible aliens are registering to vote and casting ballots” in Virginia. The report claims that over 5,500 noncitizens there were “removed from voter rolls for citizenship problems during the last few election cycles,” adding that “of these illegal registrants, 1,852 cast nearly 7,500 ballots in elections dating back to 1988.” From the May 2017 report (footnotes removed):
In October 2016, looking at data from only eight Virginia counties, we uncovered proof that large numbers of ineligible aliens are registering to vote and casting ballots. Our investigation revealed that in these eight Virginia localities more than 1,000 non-citizens had recently been removed from the voter rolls. In this small sample, nearly 200 verified ballots were cast prior to official removal. Each one of them is likely a felony.
This report details the statewide problem of registered voters with citizenship problems in Virginia.
Despite obstruction from local and state officials, the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) expanded the non-citizen investigation to the entire Commonwealth. As a result, the number of registrants removed from voter rolls for citizenship problems during the last few election cycles grew to over 5,500. Of these illegal registrants, 1,852 cast nearly 7,500 ballots in elections dating back to 1988.
Remember, the 5,500-plus registrants removed for citizenship problems are only those who were caught. They were caught by happenstance, usually by telling the motor vehicle agency they were not a citizen after previously telling the agency they were a citizen. It is not unreasonable to conclude that the full, and unknown, extent of non-citizens registered to vote far exceeds the 5,500-plus who were removed. [Public Interest Legal Foundation and Virginia Voters Alliance, May 2017]
Right-wing media hype report to claim voter fraud
Report was debunked by alleged illegal voter
Woman who was labeled an illegal voter in the report says she is a U.S. citizen and eligible to vote. Maureen Erickson, who was cited as an illegal voter in the report, called out its “gross misrepresentation of the facts.” Erickson was identified as an illegal voter in the report because of her Guatemalan address. But, as Progress VA wrote in a press release, “Erickson is an American citizen living in Guatemala as a missionary. She votes absentee, as she is legally allowed to do.” From the press release:
On Tuesday, The Washington Times published a lengthy article based on information provided by PILF & VVA. The story led with 3 paragraphs alleging Maureen Erickson was illegally allowed to register to vote with an address in Guatemala and subsequently voted in 14 elections. The problem with PILF’s accusations? Erickson is an American citizen living in Guatemala as a missionary. She votes absentee, as she is legally allowed to do.
Erickson took to Facebook to express her surprise and disgust with this gross misrepresentation of the facts.
While The Washington Times has published an “editor’s note” and is ostensibly investigating further, this pattern of reckless accusations clearly discredits PILF & VVA and their report. [Blue Virginia, 6/2/17]
Brennan Center had previously called out the report’s publisher for using “unreliable methodology”
Brennan Center for Justice: PILF uses an “unreliable methodology” to promote “the myth of widespread voter fraud.” In a 2017 report, the Brennan Center for Justice wrote that a 2016 iteration of this study by PILF used an “unreliable methodology” and noted that the organization “promotes the myth of widespread voter fraud.” [Brennan Center for Justice, 2017]
Studies and experts have disputed previous claims of massive illegal voting
Mother Jones: “Sensational-sounding allegations” of extensive noncitizen voting “in virtually every case … dissolved upon investigation.” A 2012 Mother Jones article examined multiple studies that all concluded that “the rate of voter fraud in American elections is close to zero.” The article also evaluated a 2005 report by an activist group called the American Center for Voting Rights, which made “sensational-sounding allegations of … voting by felons and noncitizens,” and found that “in virtually every case they dissolved upon investigation.” From the July 2012 article:
That's not to say that there's none at all. In a country of 300 million you'll find a bit of almost anything. But multiple studies taking different approaches have all come to the same conclusion: The rate of voter fraud in American elections is close to zero.
In her 2010 book, The Myth of Voter Fraud, Lorraine Minnite tracked down every single case brought by the Justice Department between 1996 and 2005 and found that the number of defendants had increased by roughly 1,000 percent under Ashcroft. But that only represents an increase from about six defendants per year to 60, and only a fraction of those were ever convicted of anything. A New York Times investigation in 2007 concluded that only 86 people had been convicted of voter fraud during the previous five years. Many of those appear to have simply made mistakes on registration forms or misunderstood eligibility rules, and more than 30 of the rest were penny-ante vote-buying schemes in local races for judge or sheriff. The investigation found virtually no evidence of any organized efforts to skew elections at the federal level.
Another set of studies has examined the claims of activist groups like Thor Hearne's American Center for Voting Rights, which released a report in 2005 citing more than 100 cases involving nearly 300,000 allegedly fraudulent votes during the 2004 election cycle. The charges involved sensational-sounding allegations of double-voting, fraudulent addresses, and voting by felons and noncitizens. But in virtually every case they dissolved upon investigation. Some of them were just flatly false, and others were the result of clerical errors. Minnite painstakingly investigated each of the center's charges individually and found only 185 votes that were even potentially fraudulent. [Mother Jones, July/August 2012]
Study: Rates of noncitizens voting are low, sometimes occurring when noncitizens “are confused about their eligibility.” A News21 study of “2,068 alleged election-fraud cases” between 200 and 2012 found only “56 cases of noncitizens voting” from 2000 through 2012. Elections expert David Schultz described voter fraud as “an insignificant aspect of American elections.” The investigation of noncitizen and other voting found that “noncitizens sometimes register to vote or cast votes because they are confused about their eligibility.” [News21, 8/12/12]
The report was put out by a discredited right-wing fabulist and a group known for flawed studies
PILF President J. Christian Adams resigned from the Justice Department after it wouldn’t pursue charges against the New Black Panther Party. J. Christian Adams, who serves as PILF’s president, is a long-time right-wing activist and fabulist who resigned from the Justice Department in 2010 after it would not pursue charges against the New Black Panther Party, which he had accused of voter intimidation. Adams repeatedly pushed the phony scandal in a series of Fox News interviews, claiming during one appearance that the Justice Department had “hostility in the voting right section and in the civil rights division to bringing cases on behalf of white victims for the benefit of national racial minorities.” [Media Matters, 10/03/11, 10/18/16]
Virginia Voters Alliance is a Tea Party-backed group who previously released a voter fraud study criticized for its methodology. Virginia Voters Alliance was formed by Tea Party activist Reagan George in 2012 and has put out other studies that have been hyped by right-wing media but criticized for their methodology. Election law professor Justin Levitt wrote in 2014 that a study by the group used an unreliable cross-check method -- which was “based on a comparison of name and birthdate alone” and could “unintentionally sweep up different people with the same name and birthdate” -- to inaccurately claim there are “tens of thousands” of duplicate voters. [NPR, 3/13/12; Media Matters, 9/3/14]
Irissa Cisternino contributed research to this piece.