By James D. Agresti
A “fact check” by USA Today is defaming a Ph.D.-vetted study by Just Facts that found non-citizens may have cast enough illegal votes for Joe Biden to overturn the lawful election results in some key battleground states. The article, written by USA Today’s Chelsey Cox, contains 10 misrepresentations, unsupported claims, half-truths, and outright falsehoods.
Furthermore, Facebook is using this misinformation to suppress the genuine facts of this issue instead of honoring its policy to “Stop Misinformation and False News.” Compounding this malfeasance, a note at the bottom of Cox’s article states that USA Today’s “fact check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.”
#1 Dr. Glen’s Credentials
Starting with the most simplistic falsehood in Cox’s piece, she impugned the character of Dr. Andrew Glen, a Ph.D. scholar who specializes in data analytics and who examined Just Facts’ study and found that it “provides a credible data analysis that supports a strong hypothesis of non-citizens having a significant effect on this election.”
Cox did this by claiming that “though he is attributed as a professor emeritus at the United States Military Academy, an ‘Andrew Glen’ did not appear in a search result on the website for the United States Military Academy, West Point. Glen attended the school as a student, according to his LinkedIn profile page.”
That statement reveals that Cox and her editor were ignorant of the fact that a professor emeritus is one who has “retired from an office or position.” Thus, Dr. Glen would not appear on the webpage of current faculty to which she linked.
Had Cox conducted a proper search, she would have found that West Point’s website lists Glen among a group of professors who wrote a reference work for its Department of Mathematical Sciences.
Cox could have also found proof of Glen’s professorship at West Point via a peer-reviewed journal, an academic book that he coauthored on the topic of computational probability, or the website of Colorado College, where Glen currently teaches.
After reading what USA Today published about Dr. Glen, current West Point adjunct professor Dr. Joseph P. Damore wrote:
I can personally attest to the fact that Andrew Glen, COL USA, ret. was an Academy Professor at West Point. I know, because I was there with him.
And Ms. Cox, to imply that an Iraq war vet, a graduate of West Point, and a retired Colonel from the U.S. Army is somehow lying about his credentials is so egregiously offensive, that it demands your apology.
Instead of an apology, USA Today altered the article 18 hours after publication to remove this attack on Glen without issuing a correction. This is a breach of journalistic ethics that require reporters and media outlets to “acknowledge mistakes” and explain them “carefully and clearly.”
#2 Dr. Cook’s Credentials
Cox also assails the credibility of Dr. Michael Cook, another scholar who specializes in data analytics and reviewed Just Facts’ study. Cook found that the study is “methodologically sound, and fair in its conclusions,” but Cox dismisses him as a “financial analyst, according to his LinkedIn profile page.”
However, Cook’s LinkedIn profile states that he is an “applied mathematician and strategic thinker with experience on Wall Street, scientific research, statistical modeling.” This experience, coupled with Cook’s Ph.D. in mathematics, make him eminently qualified to assess Just Facts’ data-heavy study.
#3 Cook’s and Glen’s Qualifications
Cox also attempts to discredit both Ph.D. scholars by reporting that they “are not election experts.” Given that Cox gives no credence to their reviews of Just Facts’ study, she is overtly implying that they are unqualified to assess it. After reading this, Dr. Cook wrote:
Though I am not an “election expert,” I have training and experience in statistical modeling, statistical inference, and sampling theory, which is the basis of my comments on Agresti’s methodology and approach.
Agresti, the president of Just Facts, is the author of the study.
Dr. Glen replied similarly while explaining the folly of Cox’s argument:
Once elections happen, they leave the academic realm of sociologists and political scientists, and enter the realm of statisticians, data scientists, and operations research. Analogously, biostatisticians are often not medical doctors and yet are of great necessity in studying the effects of public health, disease spread, and drug efficacy.
That a “fact checker” would be unaware of these types of interdisciplinary interactions that are common in scientific and academic fields displays a significant lack of qualification for the job and reflects poorly on the trustworthiness of USA Today.
#4 Voter Registration by Non-Citizens
Cox also mangles the facts about every major aspect of Just Facts’ study. She mainly does this by treating unsupported claims from progressives as if they were facts, while ignoring or dismissing actual facts.
Cox asserts that “only a handful” of non-citizens ever register to vote, and “that’s not going to change an election.” Those words came from a lawyer named Robert Brandon, founder of the left-leaning Fair Elections Center. In the article from which Cox quotes him, Brandon provides no evidence to support this statement. He simply makes it. Yet, Cox accepts this unsubstantiated claim as a fact.
Meanwhile, Cox disregards these rigorously documented facts that appear in Just Facts’ study:
- In scientific surveys conducted in 2008, 2012, and 2013, 13% to 15% of self-declared non-citizens admitted that they were registered to vote.
- Database matches with voter registration records in 2008 suggest that the true rate of non-citizen voter registration is almost twice what they reveal in surveys.
- Data from the S. Government Accountability Office, the Social Security Administration, and the New York Times show that the vast bulk of illegal immigrants use false identifications that would allow them to vote.
Without a hint of skepticism, Cox also relies on “a 2007 report by the Brennan Center for Justice, a center-left institute” that allegedly shows “few people purposefully register to vote if they are knowingly ineligible.” Written by Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt, the report provides narrow, weakly sourced evidence that does not come close to supporting Cox’s broad claim.
For example, Levitt’s first piece of evidence that non-citizens rarely register to vote is a Seattle Times editorial chastising a lone person who challenged the citizenship and voting credentials of 1,000+ people “based on the sound of their name.” Levitt gives the false impression that an investigation was conducted, but the editorial says nothing of the sort. Instead it says that “state election officials are not aware” of such illegal voting, but “that is not to say non-citizens did not vote or that non-citizens should vote.”
Levitt provides another fives examples that suffer from similar flaws, including arguments from silence, references to secondary sources, and the use of narrow probes with no capacity to root out voting by illegal immigrants who use false IDs.
All-in all, Cox does not provide a single fact to support her statement that “few noncitizens register to vote in federal elections.” She merely declares this to be a fact based on the allegations of two progressives—who she selects. Then based on this, she claims that Just Facts’ study “is unfounded.”
#5 Results of the Electoral Studies Paper
Furthermore, Cox misrepresents the results of a seminal 2014 paper in the journal Electoral Studies. She does this by quoting it out of context to convey the false impression that only “some noncitizens” vote. She never mentions the study’s striking results, which are as follows:
- “Non-citizen voting likely changed 2008 outcomes including Electoral College votes and the composition of Congress.”
- The “best estimate” for the number of non-citizens who voted illegally in the 2008 presidential election is 1.2 million, with a range “from just over 38,000 at the very minimum to nearly 2.8 million at the maximum.”
- “Non-citizen votes could have given Senate Democrats the pivotal 60th vote needed to overcome filibusters in order to pass” Obamacare.
#6 First Attack on the Integrity of the Electoral Studies Paper
Cox also tarnishes the Electoral Studies paper, and with this, the reputations of the scholars who wrote it. Once again, she does this by treating unsupported and demonstrably false claims as if they were facts.
Citing an article in Wired magazine, Cox writes: “Michael Jones-Correa, a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the study’s critics, told Wired that any responses from noncitizens” in the survey used for the study “were included due to error.”
Neither Cox, nor Wired, nor Jones-Correa present any evidence to support that accusation. Moreover, it is disproven by the fact that the survey posed this question to its respondents: “Which of these statements best describes you? … I am an immigrant to the USA but not a citizen.”
#7 Second Attack on the Integrity of the Electoral Studies Paper
Based on the same Wired article, Cox declares that “Jones-Correa also said the sample size is too small for a representative sample of the noncitizen population.” In reality, Jones-Correa makes a different claim (debunked below), but neither Cox nor the Wired reporter seem to understand the difference between them.
Cox’s argument about sample size is based on a puerile notion debunked by a teaching guide for K–8th grade students, as well as other academic sources. Snopes and PolitiFact previously made the same false argument, and for this reason, Just Facts’ study provides a warning about this “mathematically illiterate” claim and a link to the facts that disprove it. However, Cox completely ignores these facts and reports this untruth instead.
#8 Third Attack on the Integrity of the Electoral Studies Paper
The argument that Jones-Correa actually made in Wired is that the survey sample for the study was unlikely to “accurately represent” non-citizens. This has nothing to do with the sample size and everything to do with the fact that surveys can be highly inaccurate if they don’t use random samples of respondents. As stated in the textbook Mind on Statistics, “Surveys that simply use those who respond voluntarily are sure to be biased in favor of those with strong opinions or with time on their hands.”
However, the Electoral Studies paper directly confronts this issue by “weighting the data” to produce “a non-citizen sample that appears to be a better match with Census estimates of the population.” As explained in the academic book Designing and Conducting Survey Research: A Comprehensive Guide, weighting “is one of the most common approaches” that researchers use to “present results that are representative of the target population….”
The book goes on to explain that weighting is far from foolproof, and both Just Facts and the Electoral Studies paper directly state that. This is one of the reasons why Just Facts refers to its study results as “estimates” five separate times and directs readers to these “possible sources of error, some of which may produce overcounts and some undercounts.”
Nonetheless, weighting is a generally accepted means of making survey data representative, and Cox’s omission of this fact is grossly misleading.
Cox, Wired, and Jones-Correa are not the only ones to spread this half-truth. PolitiFact and Brian Schaffner of UMass Amherst have done the same—despite the fact that the Electoral Studies paper addressed this issue right from the start. This shows that each of these people and organizations either did not read the full paper, did not understand it, or are deliberately trying to slander it.
#9 Pathways to Illegal Voting
Cox writes that “registrants voting in a federal election supply evidence of their residence,” but “Agresti argues some noncitizens manage to vote in federal elections despite preventive measures.” This mischaracterizes the facts on two levels.
First, proof of residency is not proof of citizenship. And as Agresti pointed out in his study and in an email to Cox, “all 50 states require people to be U.S. citizens in order to register to vote in federal elections.”
Second, Agresti does not merely argue that “some noncitizens manage to vote in federal elections despite preventive measures.” He provides reams of facts from primary sources showing that:
- no state requires anyone to provide documentary proof of citizenship in order to register to vote because federal courts have stopped them from enacting this requirement.
- the vast bulk of illegal immigrants use false identifications that would allow them to vote.
- three scientific surveys and database matches with voter registration records show that millions of non-citizens are registered to vote.
- Barack Obama stated that there is no effective way to enforce the law that prohibits non-citizens from voting.
The sources cited by Agresti to prove these facts include:
- a Supreme Court ruling.
- a federal appeals court ruling.
- an Obama administration Department of Justice legal brief.
- the U.S. Election Assistance Commission’s voter registration guide.
- a scientific bilingual survey of Hispanic adults in the U.S.
- the 2014 Electoral Studies paper and a follow-up working paper by the same scholars.
- a U.S. Government Accountability Office investigation.
- a study by the chief actuary of the Social Security Administration.
- a video of California Senate Leader and Democrat Kevin De Leon stating that “anyone who has family members who are undocumented knows that almost entirely everybody has secured some sort of false identification.”
- a video of Obama stating that non-citizens would not be deported if they voted because “there is not a situation where the voting rolls somehow are transferred over, and people start investigating, etcetera.”
Yet, Cox describes this stunning array of documented facts with the phrase “Agresti argues” and then rejects all of them in favor of an unsubstantiated claim from a progressive lawyer. That’s not fact checking but propagandizing.
#10 Confirming Fraud
Finally, Cox contests the reality that states have withheld public voter roll data from the Trump administration that could be used to prove how many illegal votes are cast by non-citizens. She does this by linking to a summary of state policies on public access to voter lists. She then points out that “voter information is publicly available” in the battleground states.
This is one of the rare cases where Cox actually presents facts to support her case, but she misinterprets them. She does this by failing to account for the differences between:
- a policy summary versus its practical application.
- limited public data versus detailed public data provided in a format that can be analyzed to root out illegal votes.
Once again, all of the facts needed to understand these points are documented in Just Facts’ study with links to credible primary sources, including the Federal Judicial Center and a statement from California’s Secretary of State.
Though California is not a battleground state, it provides a crystal clear example of the distinctions that Cox fails to recognize. According to the link she provided, California’s voter rolls are available to “candidates, parties, ballot measure committees, and to any person for election, scholarly, journalistic, or political purposes, or for governmental purposes, as determined by the Secretary of State.” Yet, when Trump’s Commission on Election Integrity requested the data, California’s Secretary of State vowed that he would not provide it and promised lawsuits and “opposition at every step of the way” to keep the data from the Commission.
A “fact check” by USA Today contains 10 demonstrably false claims that smear a range of scholars and denigrate a rigorously documented study as “unfounded.”
Facebook partly funded this defamatory work and then notified Just Facts that Facebook is:
- placing a label on Just Facts Facebook post for the study that states: “Independent fact-checkers say this information is missing context and could mislead people.”
- reducing the reach of the post.
- counting this post as a “Page Quality Violation” against Just Facts.
Just Facts posed these three questions to Facebook about its so-called “independent third-party fact-checking organizations” and is awaiting a reply:
- Given that Facebook has hand-selected these organizations to be the judges of truth on your platform, do you hold them to actionable standards and count quality violations against them?
- If so, what exactly are these standards and the repercussions for violating them?
- If not, why are you vesting certain people with unchecked authority to use Facebook to censor others, sow misinformation, and slander the reputations of scholars?
James D. Agresti is the president of Just Facts, a think tank dedicated to publishing rigorously documented facts about public policy issues.
Just Facts is a non-profit institute dedicated to publishing comprehensive, straightforward, and rigorously documented facts about public policy issues. To accomplish this with objectivity and excellence, we use exacting Standards of Credibility to determine what constitutes a fact and what does not. The vision of Just Facts is to equip people with facts that empower them to make truly informed decisions about important matters. This requires proven facts that accurately and fully convey reality—not pseudo-facts, half-truths, or talking points.