By James D. Agresti
June 23, 2017
Just Facts recently published a study on election fraud that found 594,000 to 5.7 million non-citizens voted illegally in the 2008 U.S. presidential election. Like other studies on this issue, this one involves uncertainties that warrant consideration.
The study is relevant to Donald Trump’s claim that he would have won the popular vote “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” Hence, conservative publications have widely reported on it, while some liberal ones have attacked it.
PolitiFact, an organization that professes to “help you find the truth in politics,” jumped into this debate and declared that the results of Just Facts’ study are “false.” To support this conclusion, the author, Amy Sherman, misinforms her readers through a combination of omissions and outright falsehoods.
The Label Game
Sherman begins and ends her analysis by calling Just Facts a “conservative/libertarian” think tank. That is untrue. Just Facts is an independent think tank that has been widely cited by a diverse array of scholarly publications. In the spirit of transparency, Just Facts states that its staff and board members are generally conservative/libertarian, but it emphasizes that “we do not favor facts that support our viewpoints.” Indeed, Just Facts has published hundreds of facts that are indifferent or challenging to conservative and libertarian views.
In stark contrast to her mislabeling of Just Facts, Sherman summons the following individuals to refute Just Facts without providing a hint about their political views:
- “Brian Schaffner, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst”
- “Stephen Ansolabehere, a Harvard political scientist”
- “Samantha Luks, a statistician at YouGov”
- “Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine”
- “Lorraine Minnite, political science professor at Rutgers University”
- “Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles”
Inconsistently, Sherman fails to reveal that:
- Brian Schaffner donated to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and also to America Coming Together, a liberal organization “heavily funded by billionaire George Soros.”
- Samantha Luks donated to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
- Rick Hasen wrote an op-ed warning Millennials not to vote for third-party candidates, because this may help Donald Trump win the election.
- Lorraine Minnite donated to Barack Obama.
- Justin Levitt donated to Barack Obama.
None of these facts prove that anyone is right or wrong, but Sherman’s erroneous and hypocritical handling of labels leads readers to believe that one side is politically motivated while the other is unbiased. In reality, one side is honest enough to be transparent, while Sherman perpetrates an illusion of neutrality for the other side.
Sherman cannot use ignorance as an excuse. Before she published her piece, she reached out to Just Facts President James D. Agresti, who directed her to an article documenting the donations of Schaffner and Luks.
Indoctrination Instead of Fact Checking
In her analysis, Sherman devotes 300+ words to the views of those who contest Just Facts’ study and the data on which is it based. Just Facts mainly drew this data from a 2014 paper in the journal Electoral Studies, which was authored by two professors and a researcher from Old Dominion University.
Given its implications, scholars have debated this data at length. Yet, she allocates a mere 35 words to state that the Old Dominion University scholars responded to the criticisms “in a working paper in February“ and stand by their research.
Then, without any critical assessment of the competing viewpoints, Sherman declares the study is false. That’s not fact-checking. It’s emphasizing the opinions of people in a political camp, otherwise known as indoctrination.
True fact-checking entails learning and critically considering the full range facts on an issue. Just Facts did exactly that in a previous article on this topic and also in this new study. Agresti gave this information to Sherman as she asked questions about this issue, but her analysis provides no evidence that she considered these facts. Likewise, Sherman’s piece is devoid of any indication that she read the research of Old Dominion University scholars.
The Bogus Enforcement Argument
Beyond the survey data, Sherman argues that “actual evidence has shown” that only “small numbers” of non-citizens have voted. She bases this claim on convictions and government audits, which are unreliable indicators of vote fraud, especially when laws are not enforced and there is no reliable mechanism to detect this activity. As the Old Dominion University professors have explained:
Estimates of illegal behavior based upon survey data are frequently higher than estimates based upon detection rates. For example, survey-based estimates indicate that more than six percent of the U.S. population over age 12 uses marijuana on at least a monthly basis—a rate more than 15 times the annual arrest rate.
Moreover, just before the 2016 election, Barack Obama stated in an interview with actress Gina Rodriguez that voting records are not cross-checked against immigration databases and “there is not a situation where the voting rolls somehow are transferred over and people start investigating, etcetera.”
In addition, the federal voter registration form does not require people to prove they are U.S. citizens, and when Kansas, Alabama, and Georgia tried to enact his requirement in 2016, the Obama administration supported a court injunction to stop them.
In most states, all that is needed to register to vote is some form of identification, and as California Senate Leader and Democrat Kevin De Leon recently admitted, “anyone who has family members who are undocumented knows that almost entirely everybody has secured some sort of false identification.”
In sum, Sherman’s presentation of enforcement data does not provide any objective indication of how many non-citizens vote.
Just Facts has documented a litany of cases in which PolitiFact has misled its readers on issues such as immigration and crime, child hunger, tax rates on the wealthy, middle-class income growth, income taxes paid by illegal immigrants, Obamacare, and whether Obama or Bush was responsible for withdrawing all U.S. troops from Iraq and allowing ISIS to come to power.
In all of these cases, PolitiFact’s misinformation served a left-leaning narrative. In most of these cases, Just Facts notified PolitiFact of the errors, but PolitiFact has not corrected them.
Revision (6/28/17): The original version of this article stated that “Sherman herself donated to the DNC Services Corp, a Democratic Party political action committee.” PolitiFact’s editor sent an email to Just Facts denying this, but she has not replied to a request to provide Sherman’s full name. Without this, Just Facts cannot verify her claim.