The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Group that can’t find systemic voter fraud eager to help combat systemic voter fraud

An election worker sorts vote-by-mail ballots on Oct. 26 at the Miami-Dade County Board of Elections in Doral, Fla. (Lynne Sladky/AP)

Mother Jones magazine published video on Thursday obtained by the group Documented and depicting a donor meeting in Arizona last month hosted by the advocacy group Heritage Action. You’re likely familiar with the nonprofit conservative think tank Heritage Foundation; Heritage Action is its sibling that raises often-anonymous money to focus on political advocacy.

In the video from the meeting in Tucson, the organization’s executive director, Jessica Anderson, boasts about the group’s efforts to influence legislation aimed at restricting voting in states.

“We’re working with these state legislators to make sure they have all of the information they need to draft the bills,” Anderson says at one point. “In some cases we actually draft them for them.” She also tells the donors, according to Mother Jones’s Ari Berman and Nick Surgey, that the organization has also “hired state lobbyists to make sure that in these targeted states we’re meeting with the right people” to advance the proposals.

At another point, she and her colleague Hans von Spakovsky discuss a call with a number of secretaries of state a few weeks prior. They brag that they’d managed to share information with “the best conservative secretaries of state” without a single leak to their political opponents. This sort of privacy is a focal point; Anderson also crows about the work the organization did in Iowa that “honestly? Nobody noticed.”

Both Anderson and von Spakovsky have ties to the Trump administration. Anderson worked in the Office of Management and Budget as an associate director. Thanks to his years of focus on the issue, von Spakovsky was an instrumental part of former president Donald Trump’s ill-fated voter-fraud commission that collapsed early in his term. Given that shared background, it’s not surprising that Anderson articulated Heritage Action’s goal as being to “take the fierce fire that is in every single one of our bellies to right the wrongs of November.”

There’s no mistaking her view on alleged voter fraud. In an appearance on Fox News’s “Ingraham Angle” in December, Anderson was explicit. Host Laura Ingraham pointed to a statistic noting that tens of thousands of Georgians had requested mail ballots for a January Senate runoff though they hadn’t voted in the presidential contest.

“This is exactly the type of fraud that we have been raising the red flag for for months now,” Anderson said. “We know that the fraud is real. We know that it can be proven.”

The whole Mother Jones report provides an interesting insight into how outside groups can (and often have) pushed legislation that they themselves have helped draft behind closed doors. But here we’ll diverge to make another point.

That is this: Anderson and von Spakovsky are making claims about demonstrated fraud that a database operated by the Heritage Foundation itself can’t back up.

I make this point with some regularity because the Heritage Foundation’s database of fraud cases is often cited as evidence of the rampant scale of fraud. You can find it online; it claims to have demonstrated 1,322 “proven instances of voter fraud.” But when you look at what’s presented, you see all of the caveats that aren’t mentioned. Like that the database goes back to the mid-1980s. Or that it includes a number of cases of fraudulent voter registration by third parties, which is not generally included in assessments of “voter fraud.”

In fact, as I’ve pointed out before, the database includes only one example of a fraudulently cast ballot from the 2020 general election. That’s not the only such case, mind you. Local news reports indicated 16 such incidents when I looked for examples earlier this month. If that were every demonstrated case and each of those votes was counted (which they weren’t), that would amount to one instance of voter fraud for every 10 million votes tallied in 2020. Being struck by lightning is four times as common.

In other words, Anderson is going on cable television and driving an effort to pass new voting restrictions by asserting that fraud is a real threat demanding of legislative response — when even the tally compiled by her parent organization makes obvious that it isn’t.

“A lot of bad things happened in 2020,” a senior adviser told the audience at the meeting in Arizona, according to Berman and Surgey. “But you should know a lot of good things are beginning to happen now in 2021. You’re seeing it in Georgia. You’re seeing in the state of Arizona. You’re beginning to see it in Texas and so many more.”

Notice that the “bad things,” unlike the “good things,” are left unenumerated. There’s an obvious reason for that.

This article was updated to clarify the provenance of the video.