February 13, 2017
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 non-citizens vote illegally in U.S. elections,” Just Facts President James 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 non-citizens 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 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 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 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 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.”
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.
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. 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 non-citizens were registered to vote and of those, 38 said they “definitely voted.” Extrapolated to the adult non-citizen population of 19 million at the time (it’s 21 million now), it could mean that 11 percent voted.
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.”