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Analysis: Heritage Foundation’s Database Undermines Claims of Recent Voter Fraud

Brennan Center findings dismantle a key resource that Trump’s “Election Integrity” Commission relies on to justify baseless claims — by President Trump and some of the panel’s members — of rampant voter fraud.

September 8, 2017

New York, N.Y. –  The Pres­id­en­tial Advis­ory Commis­sion on Elec­tion Integ­rity relies on a data­base produced by the Herit­age Found­a­tion to justify base­less claims — by Pres­id­ent Trump and some of the panel’s members — of rampant voter fraud. But accord­ing to an analysis of the data­base by the Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, the numbers in the data­base reveal exactly the oppos­ite.
Claims that the data­base contains almost 1,100 proven instances of voter fraud are grossly exag­ger­ated and devoid of context, accord­ing to Herit­age Fraud Data­base: An Assess­ment. It confirms what numer­ous stud­ies have consist­ently shown: Voter fraud is vanish­ingly rare, and imper­son­at­ing a voter at the polls is less common a phenomenon than being struck by light­ning.
“The data­base includes an assort­ment of cases, many unre­lated or tangen­tially related, going back decades, with only a hand­ful pertain­ing to non-citizens voting or imper­son­a­tion at the polls,” writes the author. “They add up to a molecu­lar frac­tion of the total votes cast nation­wide. Inad­vert­ently, the Herit­age Found­a­tion’s data­base under­mines its claim of wide­spread voter fraud.

A closer exam­in­a­tion of the data­base shows:

  • Among the examples in the Herit­age docu­ment are a case from 1948 (when Harry S. Truman beat Thomas Dewey) and a case from 1972 (when Richard Nixon defeated George McGov­ern). Only 105 of its 749 cases came from within the past five years.
  • In review­ing billions of votes cast, the Herit­age Found­a­tion iden­ti­fied just 10 cases involving in-person imper­son­a­tion fraud at the polls (fewer than the number of members on the pres­id­ent’s Commis­sion).
  • The data­base includes only 41 cases involving non-citizens regis­ter­ing, voting, or attempt­ing to vote over five decades, high­light­ing the absurdity of Pres­id­ent Trump’s claim that millions of non-citizens voted in the 2016 elec­tion alone.
  • A vast major­ity of fraud “examples” cited by the Herit­age Found­a­tion would not be addressed by the voter suppres­sion laws its staff supports, includ­ing “Elec­tion Integ­rity” Commis­sion member Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at Herit­age. Von Spakovsky distrib­uted copies of the data­base at the panel’s first meet­ing in July.
  • Many cases high­lighted in the data­base show that exist­ing laws and safe­guards are already prevent­ing voter fraud — the ineligible voters or indi­vidu­als enga­ging in miscon­duct were discovered and preven­ted from cast­ing a ballot.

“It’s been clear for months that this Commis­sion is premised on the lie that wide­spread voter fraud exists in Amer­ica. This data­base is the latest attempt by some of the Commis­sion’s members to propag­ate that lie,” said Rudy Mehrb­ani, Spitzer fellow and senior coun­sel in the Bren­nan Center’s Demo­cracy Program and lead author of the analysis. “A quick dive into Herit­age’s data­base reveals a completely differ­ent picture than the top-line talk­ing point suggests, and the consequences to voters could be severe.”    
“It is distress­ing that a Commis­sion whose work could affect Amer­ic­ans’ most funda­mental rights is promot­ing and rely­ing on spin rather than legit­im­ate, accep­ted, and profes­sion­ally-reviewed research,” said Wendy Weiser, director of the Bren­nan Center’s Demo­cracy Program. “It could­n’t be clearer that the Commis­sion is not approach­ing its charge with an open mind. The primary sources of alleged evid­ence of wide­spread fraud are the commis­sion­ers them­selves.”
“This ‘data­base’ does not come close to being an actual study of elec­tion miscon­duct on which national policy should be based,” said Michael Wald­man, pres­id­ent of the Bren­nan Center. “It is a grab-bag of cases, few of them recent, many irrel­ev­ant to the panel’s work. Waving around a stack of paper does not make it real evid­ence.”
For more on the pres­id­ent’s “Elec­tion Integ­rity” Commis­sion, visit the Bren­nan Center’s one-stop-shop resource page here.
For more on the Center’s work on voting rights and elec­tions, click here.

To sched­ule an inter­view or connect with a Bren­nan Center expert, contact Rebecca Autrey at or 646–292–8316.