On Tuesday, House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler has called for the first hearings on House Resolution 1, the sweeping anti-corruption and electoral reform bill that is the first introduced in the 116th Congress. Possibly the most important election legislation introduced since the Voting Rights Act of 1965, HR1 would eliminate barriers to voter registration, expand and improves ballot access, implement new cybersecurity standards for voting systems, require independent redistricting commissions, implement new ethics standards, and set up a robust, innovative public campaign finance system.
The most important voter registration and ballot access components have already received widespread public support, and have been implemented by over a dozen states, through Democratic and Republican leadership. According to recent surveys, more than two-thirds of Americans support automatic voter registration, six in ten support same day registration (including three quarters of young Republicans), and supermajorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents want non-partisan redistricting and the elimination of gerrymandering.
There is solid scientific backing that demonstrates the efficacy of such reforms. Last year the Center for Science and Democracy produced a report, Building a Healthier Democracy, that reviews much of the scientific literature. In that report, we showed that, among a variety of electoral reforms, eliminating voter registration barriers would have the largest impact on increasing voter turnout.
And yet, once again, we see that a small but virulent group of pseudoscientific charlatans, intent on restricting participation in elections, are attempting to stop these reforms. Somehow, someone on the committee has placed the thoroughly discredited Hans von Spakovsky, whom you may know from such previous debacles as President Trump’s defunct voter fraud commission, among the list of those who will testify at the hearing.
It is remarkable that von Spakovsky is testifying before this committee. He has been formally rebuked by a federal judge as a biased and misleading witness, and was caught on tape lying to reporter Jessica Huseman about being the author of a letter to then Attorney General Jeff Sessions, seeking to keep Democrats and moderate Republicans off of the voter fraud commission.
Judiciary Committee members should therefore begin with three simple questions for Mr. Spakovsky, in order to allow them to move on to an adult discussion of the promise and challenges of these electoral reforms.
Question One: Just this week President Trump claimed that voter fraud is rampant in Texas, where he claimed over 50,000 non-citizens have voted, and “especially” in California. What evidence does Mr. Spakovsky believe there is of widespread voter fraud in Texas (which already has a strict voter identification law, by the way) or California?
Correct Answer: None. President Trump had parroted a Fox News segment about a statement from TX Attorney General Paxton that 58,000 non-citizens may have voted since 1996. This claim was immediately verified as false by several Texas newspapers, journalists familiar with Texas voting law, and political scientists, who have repeatedly shown that voter impersonation fraud is nearly non-existent.
Question Two: The last time that von Spakovsky testified before a federal court, how was his testimony regarding claims of voter fraud characterized?
Correct Answer: In a suit that resulted in Trump voter fraud commission chair (and former KS Secretary of State) Kris Kobach being held in contempt, von Spakovsky’s past claims about voter fraud were put under cross examination. The judge cited “myriad misleading statements” from Spakovsky, in addition to a “lack of academic rigor” associated with his analysis, and his repeated admissions that he was “unaware” that previous claims he had made were refuted with actual scientific analysis. The court concluded that the legal record is “replete” with “evidence of Mr. von Spakovsky’s bias.”
Question Three: How much weight have the federal courts given to Mr. von Spakovsky’s previous testimony?
Correct Answer: “The Court gives little weight to Mr. von Spakovsky’s opinion” because it is premised on “several misleading and unsupported examples of non-citizen voter registration.
Electoral reform and voting rights are policies that deserve expert scrutiny and robust scientific analysis, but Hans von Spakovsky and his financial supporters offer only misinformation and deception. It is time to get serious about electoral reform, and there is simply no place for von Spakovsky in a serious conversation.
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