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Academic feud over noncitizen voters resurfaces with fraud probe
A small research group has entered the debate on voter fraud, siding with academics who estimate that large numbers of noncitizens illegally register and vote in U.S. elections.
Just Facts, founded in New Jersey 20 years ago by a Brown-educated mechanical engineer, released its findings as President Trump was setting up a task force on voter fraud headed by Vice President Mike Pence.
“Contrary to the claims of certain major media outlets and fact checkers, a comprehensive analysis of polling data, election records and government investigations shows that many noncitizens vote illegally in U.S. elections,” Just Facts President James D. Agresti told The Washington Times.
Ever since two professors at Old Dominion University and one at George Mason University collaboratively released a 2014 study saying noncitizens vote illegally in U.S. elections, and they vote mostly for Democrats, the liberal media and academia have tried to crush the findings.
The arenas for this heated battle are dueling analytical papers, pitting professors at elite Northeastern universities against the three political scientists at George Mason and ODU, a public research college in Norfolk, Virginia.
It might have stayed that way — two groups of academics passionately debating statistics and demographics. But then Mr. Trump pulled a stunning election upset. Weeks into the job, he asserted that he would have won the popular vote as well as the Electoral College vote had it not been for millions of illegal voters.
The president’s elevation of voter fraud in daily public debate has the academics again debating the 2014 ODU paper, sometimes passionately.
An Amherst and a Harvard professor, plus a professional pollster, played large roles in conducting the survey from which the ODU researchers extrapolated their findings. After reading the ODU research in 2014, they issued rebuttals.
The professors picked apart their own numbers, deeming them too small a sample to be reliable, and settled on a conclusion that the 20 million adult noncitizens in the U.S. voted at a rate of 0 percent or in numbers too small to register.
The left-leaning media wholeheartedly accepted their attempted discrediting of the work of professor Jesse Richman at ODU and two colleagues and declared it “debunked.”
News stories on Mr. Trump’s assertion that millions of illegal immigrants vote said his charge was utterly unfounded. If the ODU paper was mentioned, there appeared the adjective “debunked.”
ABC News anchor David Muir to Mr. Trump: “What you have presented so far has been debunked. It’s been called false.” The Atlantic magazine asserted in a story that the ODU study “has widely been debunked.”
The three professors stand by their analysis and this month updated a paper defending their statistics.
Now comes a third party in the presence of Just Facts and Mr. Agresti, who has conducted years of research and written op-eds for a variety of news sites.
“I think their numbers are very plausible, but there are legitimate caveats that I point out,” he told The Times. “My key conclusion is that ‘substantial numbers of noncitizens vote illegally in U.S. elections.’ I don’t think the evidence is strong enough to quantify an undoubtable range, but it is certainly not zero, as the critics say, and it may be as high as Trump claims.”
Mr. Agresti’s posted analysis did not discuss just statistics. As background for today’s voting climate, he cited government reports on the huge amount of fake identification papers that circulate among illegal aliens, including Social Security numbers and birth certificates.
Both are gateways to voter registration.
Mr. Agresti, who has written a book arguing factual support for the Bible, said his work is nonpolitical. He is critical of the liberal mainstream media, including The New York Times, asserting that its reporters do not follow the paper’s own written standards. Mr. Agresti writes fact-check columns for the conservative Media Research Center.
The start of polling
Telling this story begins with an obscure but gigantic poll, the Cooperative Congress Election Study. Just Facts refers to the CCES as the “Harvard study” because professors there direct the biennial poll conducted by YouGov and involve other colleges.
Among its many questions is one on citizenship status. After the 2008 presidential election, the Harvard poll of 32,800 respondents found that 339 noncitizens were registered to vote and of those, 38 said they “definitely voted.” Extrapolated to the adult noncitizen population of 19 million at the time (it’s 21 million now), it could mean that 11 percent voted.
Mr. Richman and colleagues took that sample and added other data, such as from Catalist, a politically progressive nonprofit that has complied information on 240 million adult voters.
The ODU study concluded that its best estimate was that 6.4 percent, or 1.2 million, of 19 million noncitizens voted in 2008 and that 81 percent voted for Barack Obama. The study, acknowledging that a firm final count was elusive, concluded that anywhere from 38,000 to 2.8 million noncitizens voted.
Their findings gained prominence in 2014 when published in a Washington Post op-ed. They extrapolated that their findings meant that close elections that Democrats won in Minnesota (a U.S. Senate seat) and North Carolina (Mr. Obama) could have been swayed by illegal votes.
Their study was validated by peers and then appeared in Electoral Studies, sort of the go-to site for academic voting analysis.
Three researchers on the Harvard study — Harvard professor Stephen Ansolabehere, Amherst professor Brian F. Schaffner and YouGov manager Samantha Luks, — responded with derision.
They dismissed the ODU findings in a Washington Post rebuttal and then in their own December 2015 article in Electoral Studies titled “The Perils of Cherry Picking Low Frequency Events in Large Sample Surveys.”
Their main arguments: The respondents who said they definitely voted were myths. Some changed their answers on citizenship when questioned in subsequent polls. Catalist data failed to verify that they voted. The small sample of supposed noncitizens leads to inaccuracies in such a huge sample of 32,800 voters, they said.
The ODU results, they conclude, “are completely accounted for by very low frequency measurement error; further, the likely percent of noncitizen voters in recent U.S. elections is 0.”
This paper became the basis for the liberal media and fact checkers to deem the ODU study “debunked.”
After Mr. Trump’s election and voter fraud charges, Mr. Schaffner proclaimed in Politico in November, “I debunked the study [Mr. Trump] cites as ‘evidence.’”
“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,” Mr. Schaffner proclaimed. “There is no evidence that noncitizens have voted in recent U.S. elections.”
As a side note, the Just Facts paper says Mr. Schaffner contributed $460 to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and $760 to America Coming Together in 2004.
The now-defunct America Coming Together was a progressive political action committee that was financed by George Soros and others to get out the Democratic vote. Mr. Soros, a billionaire foe of Mr. Trump, funds groups that support open borders and oppose voter ID laws. America Coming Together went out of business in 2005 after the Federal Election Commission discovered that it had violated campaign finance laws.
Mr. Schaffner’s voicemail says he is on sabbatical. He did not respond to emails.
After Mr. Schaffner’s attack on their professionalism, Mr. Richman and his colleagues wrote their own rebuttal in October and updated it this month.
In statistical jargon, they wrote, “Despite the potential value of this argument, their effort to apply this caution to dismiss or ‘debunk’ the Richman et. al. (2014) study of noncitizen voting falls short for several reasons. These reasons fall into three broad categories: a lack of statistical power, problems with the assumptions or hypotheses needed to maintain their critique, and problems with the conclusions they draw from the critique itself.”
They added, “Furthermore, even if their arguments about response error are taken at face value, the CCES survey continues to provide substantial evidence that noncitizens participate in U.S. elections that they ignored in their paper.”
Mr. Richman said the Harvard-Amherst-YouGov trio also ignored incidents of noncitizens registering to vote and/or voting — information is that is readily available via a Google search.
Election officials in Virginia and other states have said they cleansed some voter rosters of noncitizens.
“Nonetheless, Schaffner (2016) writes that ‘there is no evidence that noncitizens have voted in recent U.S. elections,’” the Richman paper said.
Just Facts’ Mr. Agresti, acting as a self-appointed referee, examined all the papers and surveys and came down on the side of the ODU professors in an analysis, “Substantial Numbers of Non-Citizens Vote Illegally in U.S. Elections.”
On the Harvard study’s assertion that respondents gave wrong answers on noncitizenship, Mr. Agresti wrote:
“The central argument of their two-page paper is that all of the people in the survey who identified themselves as noncitizen voters either did not vote or were actually citizens. This argument rests on two flawed assumptions. First, the critics assume that people who stated “I definitely voted” and specifically identified a choice of candidate did not vote — unless Catalist verified that they voted. This is illogical, because Catalist is unlikely to verify respondents who use fraudulent identities, and millions of noncitizens use them.”
“Throughout the body of their paper, the critics consider Catalist to be the only valid measure of voting, but when this does not serve their purpose, they dismiss Catalist in a footnote. Such duplicity pervades their analysis. They level the charge of cherry picking even as they engage in it.”
If anything, Mr. Agresti writes, the Harvard study undercounts illegal voting on those particular questions because noncitizen respondents would be admitting to a crime in writing.
He also argues that basic outside societal facts support the assertion that illegal voting is above zero. For one, using fake IDs is a way of life in some illegal immigrant strongholds.
A 2013 Social Security Administration analysis found that 1.8 million illegal immigrants worked in 2010 with Social Security numbers that did not match their real names. Another 700,000 worked with numbers they obtained through fake birth certificates.
Mr. Agresti said the Catalist database supplies proof that some of these people voted. His argument: The names of most noncitizen respondents in the Harvard survey were not found in Catalist.
On the issue of forged IDs, the president pro tempore of the California state Senate, Kevin de Leon, confirmed recently that the Hispanic community was awash in such documents.
Mr. de Leon, a Democrat, said that among undocumented residents, “almost entirely everybody has secured some sort of false identification. That’s what you need to survive, to work.”
His own family violated the law, Mr. de Leon said.
“I can tell you I have family members specifically who came here as undocumented immigrants, and they did the same thing. That’s what you need to do to survive in this economy,” he said.
His official biography reads, “In 2013, de Leon brokered a compromise with Governor Jerry Brown to ensure signage of a law which allowed undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers licenses, gain access to insurance, and step out of the shadow economy.”
Twelve states and the District of Columbia, all Democrat-leaning, issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.
Progressives have anointed illegal immigrants with special status. They live in declared “sanctuary cities” off limits to immigration enforcement. The left has dubbed the children whom illegal immigrants bring into the country as “Dreamers.” Liberal Democrats, joined by some Republicans, push to put most illegal aliens on a track to U.S. citizenship.
The decades-old immigration wave, one of the largest in American history, is helping to turn red states purple or even blue. California and New York, with their large immigrant populations, are Democratic locks for federal office. Virginia, once a reliably Republican state, is now a purple state that leans Democratic.
During Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly’s Super Bowl interview with Mr. Trump, he brought up the case of a five-times-deported illegal alien accused of killing Kate Steinle in San Francisco, a sanctuary city.
Mr. O’Reilly asked the president, “Why do the Democrats oppose that, protecting Americans from violent foreign criminals?”
Mr. Trump answered bluntly: “Because they think that’s their voter.”