The 2020 election was unprecedented, what with the COVID-19 pandemic and controversy over expanded early and mail-in voting.
“There were more lawsuits filed last year before the election trying to change the laws and the rules governing the election process than in any year in our entire history,” Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow and election expert at The Heritage Foundation, says.
The political left used the pandemic to try to undo requirements for voter ID and for witness signatures on absentee ballots, von Spakovsky, who oversees Heritage's Election Law Reform Initiative, says. (The Daily Signal is Heritage's multimedia news organization.)
The question now is: How do we ensure clean and honest elections across America? In his new book with former Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund, “Our Broken Elections: How the Left Changed the Way You Vote,” von Spakovsky addresses the election issues of 2020 and provides solutions with which lawmakers can prevent voter fraud.
Von Spakovsky joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss his new book and why Americans should support safeguarding our elections through measures such as voter ID.
We also cover these stories:
- Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin is poised to be the next governor of Virginia.
- Democrat and former New York City Police Captain Eric Adams wins the city’s mayoral election, beating out Republican candidate Curtis Sliwa.
- A proposal to replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a new Department of Public Safety fails.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
Virginia Allen: I am so pleased to welcome back to the podcast Heritage Foundation election expert and senior legal fellow Hans von Spakovsky. Hans, welcome back.
Hans von Spakovsky: Well, thanks for having me.
Allen: You have just written a book. Congratulations.
Von Spakovsky: Thank you.
Allen: Excited to talk about it today. You're very familiar with elections.
Von Spakovsky: Right.
Allen: You run our voter fraud database here at The Heritage Foundation. You have been in the weeds of election integrity for years. So, your new book is “Our Broken Elections: How the Left Changed the Way You Vote.” Hans, did you write this book in response to the 2020 election?
Von Spakovsky: Well, my co-author John Fund and I, we first wrote a book on elections and election fraud back in 2012. And we realized we needed an update, but we also needed to cover last year's election, because last year's election really in many ways was kind of unprecedented in American history.
For example, there were more lawsuits filed last year before the election trying to change the laws and the rules governing the election process than in any year in our entire history. And that's why we came up with that title, “How the Left Changed the Way You Vote,” because almost all these lawsuits were filed by organizations on the left side of the political aisle, and … they were trying to use COVID as an excuse and justification for doing things like getting rid of state voter ID laws.
They filed lawsuits saying, “Oh, well, because of COVID, if you're a state that requires a witness signature on an absentee ballot, you should not be able to enforce that.” It was just one thing after another like that, and we really wanted to cover it because while they use COVID as an excuse, these are changes they've been trying to make for a long time. And almost all of them are bad changes that endangered the security and integrity of the election process.
Allen: Those changes that were made for the 2020 election, did they affect the outcome of the election? In other words, was there voter fraud?
Von Spakovsky: Well, there certainly was fraud. What we don't know is the extent of it. And we certainly don't know if it really affected the outcome of the election.
The reason we don't know is that, as folks will recall, look, there were a lot of lawsuits filed after the election. We had lawsuits filed in Arizona, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and other states. And in those lawsuits, a lot of claims were made, a lot of witnesses, everyone from voters to others saying that they saw certain things happening that shouldn't have been happening, but none of those cases ever got to the point where that evidence was actually examined.
Judges use procedural reasons to dismiss almost all the lawsuits, often saying that the people bringing them up didn't have standing to bring the lawsuit. So we never got to the point where a judge, for example, in Georgia held a full hearing, examined the evidence. It could be that the judge would've said, “Well, these claims aren't credible.” On the other hand, he might have said they were credible, but we won't know because all these claims basically were never fully investigated and we never held hearings that fully looked at them either.
Allen: And you, in fact, have a whole chapter in the book, Chapter 10, dedicated to Georgia. What exactly happened?
Von Spakovsky: That's right, because Georgia, the results surprised a lot out of people. Georgia has for a long time been a very red state, yet Joe Biden won by only about 10,000 votes. … Yes, it's certainly possible that that happened, but there were also a lot of claims being made by witnesses and others about, for example, people from out of state coming in to vote. We just don't know.
And again, the lawsuits that were filed were basically dismissed often by local judges on procedural grounds without ever getting in and actually investigating the claims that had been made.
Allen: Are there any other states apart from Georgia that you really looked at and examined in the book or that you personally have concerns over after the 2020 election?
Von Spakovsky: Well, look, one thing that wasn't available when we were writing the book were the results of the audit in Arizona. … We actually have a whole chapter talking about the media and how the mainstream media covers election issues and how they refuse to talk about or investigate issues like election fraud. And you kind of saw that with the Arizona audit.
The report comes out and the media focuses on just one little part of the report. … And almost immediately the press said, “Oh, well, the hand recount of ballots in Arizona matched the machine recount from last November, so that's it. There's no more to say here.” Well, all that meant was that the ballot counting machines were working properly. That doesn't tell you whether the ballots that were cast were actually cast, for example, by eligible voters.
The best example I can use of this is, if I pay somebody $1,000 and $500 of the bills are counterfeit money, if the person recounts it, it's still going to come up to $1,000, but it's not going to tell you whether the votes were valid. And if you look at the rest of the audit, they raise all kinds of issues. One of the most obvious ones is they list, I think, over 5,000 individual voters who they say may have been registered in more than one county and voted twice. What should have happened with that audit, rather than it being the end of the story, it should have been the beginning of the story.
And what ought to be happening is election officials in Arizona and law enforcement ought to be investigating those possible problems. They should be pulling the files, for example, of every single registered voter that they say might have been registered twice to investigate it and see, is that true?
Allen: And why aren't they?
Von Spakovsky: Well, election officials in Maricopa County basically resisted and did everything they could to fight this audit. And they apparently don't want to do anything further. I don't know why, I suspect it's because they don't want to be embarrassed if it turns out that the findings are correct, because that would show that they did a very sloppy job of running the election and they haven't done a very good job of maintaining the accuracy of their voter registration role.
Allen: So when we think about elections and how they can be done well, what's changed? You kind of encompass this concept in the title of the book, “How the Left Changed the Way You Vote.” So to me that says maybe we used to have a pretty good system. Things have shifted and changed. What has changed? What do we need to get back to? What do we need to remove? What are the core issues here?
Von Spakovsky: Well, we have the whole chapter in the book about the changes that folks on the liberal left have been pushing for years. They want to put in things like same-day voter registration, automatic voter registration. All of which are very problematic because they can cause all kinds of problems.
What we wrote in our final chapter was actually our list of recommended solutions. And these are all remedies that we think state legislatures ought to put in, not the federal government. Federal government needs to stay out of running elections, but state governments need to put in, probably, the most obvious one is, which is just common sense, is you ought to have to show an ID when you vote, whether it's in person or through the absentee balloting process. Some states have already got that, Georgia and Texas, for example. Voters have had no problems meeting that requirement.
States need to do a better job of cleaning up their voter list. In other words, they need to do a better job of taking people off who have died or people who have moved away and they need to get into a situation where they can compare their voter list with those of other states to find individuals who potentially are registered in more than one state and are illegally voting in more than one state.
Folks who think that doesn't affect elections, one of the incidents we talk about in the book is, just not that long ago, 2012, a Democratic congressional candidate in Maryland, she won the primary, she was going to be in the general election until someone discovered that she was registered to vote in both Maryland and Florida and had voted in both states in multiple elections.
She pled guilty to voter fraud. She was forced out of the race, but she'd gotten away with this for years without getting caught by election officials in either Maryland or Florida. And that tells you part of the problems that we have.
Allen: Yeah. And you mentioned states like Texas and Georgia, the voting laws that they have, they require you to show an ID. But we have heard this narrative from the left, as these states have passed voter integrity laws, we've heard that these are racist laws, that they're trying to discriminate against folks. What is the reality of these voter integrity laws?
Von Spakovsky: That is just completely false. And we know that's completely false because we now have the experience of years of elections to prove that it's false.
Take Georgia voter ID. That law was first effective in the 2008 election. That's a long time ago. And that means that we have more than a decade's worth of turnout data to show, well, what happened after the ID law was in place.
Instead of the turnout, for example, of black Georgians going down, as was claimed in this false voter suppression meme, they had record increases in turnout after the ID law went in place. And in fact, Georgia, with what the left likes to call a strict voter ID law, has had record voter registration and record turnout in their election since their ID law went in place.
Look, not only that, but the American people don't agree with that. If you look at the polling on this, the polling is remarkably consistent. Americans overwhelmingly say, “Well, of course you should show an ID to vote.” And that's a majority of Republicans, Democrats, and independents, and a majority of white voters, Hispanic voters, Asian voters, black voters. To the average person, they say, “Well, yeah, this is common sense. I have to show an ID all the time, every day.” It's only these elites in the media and elsewhere that say, “Oh, this is problematic.”
And I hate to say this, but that displays what I think is a remarkably, patronizingly racist attitude toward Americans who happen to be minorities. Because what they're saying is, “Well, minorities just can't cope with, for example, getting a free ID to vote,” which is, like I said, I can't think of anything more patronizingly racist than that. And I have a lot more faith in the American people than these elitists do.
Allen: Yeah. What's the driving force behind that narrative? Why are there claims when the data doesn't show that something as simple as showing an ID drives down voter turnout?
Von Spakovsky: I think there's actually two things going on. One, the groups that are making these claims—and it's all these so-called civil rights organizations like the Mexican American Legal Defense [and Educational] Fund and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights—I think it helps them raise money, because they scare voters into thinking there's this big movement out there to suppress their votes and it helps them raise money.
I think there are, unfortunately, political consultants who push this idea because if an ID law was in place, it might make it tougher for them to actually cheat in elections. And again, anybody who doubts that, there's a political consultant in Pennsylvania right now under federal indictment because he was bribing election officials in Philadelphia to submit fraudulent ballots in multiple elections for multiple candidates. And one of the ways they did it was submitting fraudulent ballots for voters who were on the registration list, but didn't show up at their polling place.
Allen: Wow. How many states did move ahead, even despite lots of controversy, did move ahead with implementing more secure election integrity laws after the 2020 election?
Von Spakovsky: Look, one of the good things that came out of last year's election was that I think a lot of state legislators finally realized, “We really need to fix some of these problems.” And I mean, The Heritage Foundation, we've been talking about this for a number of years, but they finally acted. Florida, Georgia, Texas, Arizona, Iowa, and a number of other states, actually, their state legislatures, when they met at the beginning of this year, passed some good reforms. …
Georgia, for example, they extended their voter ID law from in-person voting to absentee balloting. Texas did a similar thing. Texas also strengthened the law protecting the right of poll watchers to be in any location where voting or vote counting is going on. …
Remember what happened last year when poll observers were thrown out in places like Detroit and Philadelphia for no reason? And you have to wonder, what were election officials trying to hide? Why were they throwing these observers out? Texas has strengthened its law to prevent that from happening.
And a number of states, including those, have now banned private grants being given to election officials and election offices. That was actually a big factor in last year's election. We wrote a chapter about this.
Remember Mark Zuckerberg, the multi, multibillionaire, gave hundreds of billions of dollars in grants to election officials, which brought up all kinds of ethics problems and conflicts of interest. No local election official should be receiving private money from any group. I don't care which side of the political aisle they're on.
Allen: And these don't sound like controversial issues. These sound like things that, whether you're on the left or the right, we should all be able to get behind.
Von Spakovsky: You would think so. And it's really odd. If you go back 20 years, election integrity used to be a bipartisan issue. Everyone pretty much agreed on it. But for some reason, it has really divided during that time so that now it almost seems like a partisan issue. It shouldn't be, but that's what's happened.
Allen: Yeah. I live in the state of Virginia. We just had an election there on Tuesday. There's a few other elections happening in different states across the country and in different cities. Can we trust, Hans, the outcome of that election or any other election moving forward?
Von Spakovsky: Yeah, I don't want people to get the wrong idea. Everyone should go out and vote. Don't stay home because you don't trust the election process. We have a pretty good election process. We do have problems that need to be fixed. And yeah, occasionally, particularly in races where the margin is pretty small, fraud can make a difference.
Look, it was just three years ago, in 2018, that we had a congressional race overturned in North Carolina because of absentee ballot fraud. Now, that didn't happen in all the other congressional races across the country, but it did happen in that one race and that's why we need to fix it.
I think as long as people comply with the laws, particularly election officials, we can probably pretty much trust the outcome of the elections that we're having in places like Virginia. But that doesn't mean that improvements can't be made.
Allen: And what are those improvements? What are the solutions that we need to pursue in order to really weed out any form of voter fraud?
Von Spakovsky: Well, for example, Virginia used to have a good voter ID law and it got rid of it. We had another problem in that election. Virginia actually has a good rule saying that when you request an absentee ballot, on the form you fill out, in addition to your name and your registered address, you're supposed to put the last four digits of your Social Security number. That's one of the only ways you can really ensure that it's the voter requesting the form and not somebody else who just has their name and address.
And yet there was a lawsuit filed in Virginia about a week or so before the election, because the county registrar in Fairfax County, which is the largest county in the state, was alleged to have told all the people working for him, “Don't bother complying with that provision of Virginia law. If a voter doesn't put in, or whoever sent in the absentee ballot, if they don't put in the last four digits of their Social Security number, it doesn't matter, send them an absentee ballot anyway.”
Election officials don't have the ability to simply say, “We're not going to abide by a state law.” And that's something that needs to be stopped in every state across the country. I don't care whether it's a blue state or a red state.
Allen: And are we seeing positive movement among lawmakers to implement some of these changes and reforms and make our elections more secure?
Von Spakovsky: Yes. In fact, The Heritage Foundation, I should mention, in February this year, actually put out a paper that had a list of recommended best practices for states all over the country. Many of those same recommendations are in our book and many states have been apparently following those recommendations, have been putting them in.
Allen: Excellent. Well, the book is “Our Broken Elections: How the Left Changed the Way You Vote.” It's out. You can get it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble. Pick up a copy. Hans, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.
Von Spakovsky: Sure. Well, thanks for having me.
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