In recent years, false claims of widespread voter fraud have been given unearned amplification not just by the president, but by right-wing groups working on the ground in various states to convert those false claims into voting restrictions and overzealous voter-roll purges.
American Oversight has been investigating the extent of these activists’ influence, using public records requests to unearth numerous examples of organizations including True the Vote, the Heritage Foundation, and the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) attempting to convince or compel state and local governments to investigate purported voter-roll irregularities and allegations of voter fraud.
True the Vote and PILF appear to conduct their own audits of voter files in an effort to identify abnormalities, which they ultimately compile and report to state and local entities. In at least one case, PILF sent local elections officials in Florida a referral concerning allegations of a single case of possible double voting, relying on findings published by the frequently discredited Project Veritas. PILF also sent Palm Beach County officials a list of instances in which ballots were supposedly cast in the names of deceased voters; the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal looked into that list, which was obtained by American Oversight, and could verify no such instances.
Other right-wing groups, such as Judicial Watch, use similar strategies to bolster debunked claims of widespread voter fraud and to push for laws and policies that generally restrict access to voting. Below, we have compiled a list of communications between elections officials and voting-restriction activists that we have uncovered through public records requests and litigation.
Florida and Texas
On July 6, 2016, True the Vote sent a letter to Miami-Dade County Supervisor of Elections Christina White identifying “potential registration irregularities.” The letter also included a request for numerous related records.
Officials in Texas’ Office of the Attorney General met with True the Vote’s Catherine Engelbrecht on March 13, 2017, to discuss SB-5, a state voter-ID bill. Officials Jeff Mateer (assistant attorney general), Brantley Starr (deputy first assistant attorney general), and Steve Pier (director of intergovernmental relations and strategic initiatives) attended the meeting. About a year later, Mateer participated in a conference call with Engelbrecht on March 5, 2018.
On April 25, 2017, True the Vote sought Dallas County records concerning mail-in ballots. Engelbrecht filed a National Voter Registration Act request for ballot-by-mail applications, complaints, and data regarding counted and mail-in ballots “surrendered” by voters who hadn’t requested them.
On Aug. 24, 2017, the Heritage Foundation’s Jason Snead asked Florida’s then-Secretary of State Ken Detzner for assistance in adding to the organization’s database of purportedly “proven examples of voter fraud.”
Snead’s colleague Hans von Spakovsky made a similar request of Texas’ then-Secretary of State Rolando Pablos on June 27, 2018. He sent the same message to Detzner that day as well.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger attended the Heritage Foundation’s all-day briefing for secretaries of state on Feb. 1, 2019, meeting separately with von Spakovsky. The previous day, he had met with Susan Carleson of the American Constitutional Rights Union (formerly the American Civil Rights Union), a legal organization founded “to counter the anti-freedom agenda of the American Civil Liberties Union.”
Raffensperger also attended a meeting with von Spakovsky and Georgia state legislators on Aug. 27, 2019. This meeting had been previously reported, but not the participation of State Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick and State Rep. Barry Fleming. According to the records, State Sen. William Ligon was invited but could not attend.
Following the controversial Nov. 6, 2018, election in Florida, Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes resigned effective Jan. 4 amid fierce criticism from Republicans. After then-Gov. Rick Scott suspended her at the end of November, Snipes attempted to rescind her resignation. Ron DeSantis, who became governor in January 2019, voided Scott’s suspension on Jan. 18 and accepted her original resignation.
On Jan. 9, 2019, the day after DeSantis was sworn in, PILF President J. Christian Adams claimed that he could offer the governor’s office “uncontroverted evidence of incompetence” on the part of Snipes related to the 2018 election.
Earlier that afternoon, in an email chain about an upcoming Florida Federalist Society Conference panel discussion on election law, Adams indicated that he wanted to discuss “Broward County/Brenda Snipes office administration issues and Snipes trial recap,” as well as “findings in Florida relating to data mining of county election offices and administration vulnerabilities.”
On March 22, 2019, PILF Research Director Logan Churchwell sent Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark a letter outlining a single case of alleged double voting, based on a Project Veritas video.
Adams requested a meeting with DeSantis’ general counsel, Joe Jacquot, on March 26, 2019, to discuss the implementation of Florida’s SB 7066 and to offer legal assistance should the state face related lawsuits. “[T]here is a fair chance that the state will face litigation regardless of what the legislature does,” Adams wrote. “We are able to help in that regard.” Less than two weeks later, DeSantis’ staff had a call with PILF.
In June 2019, PILF Legal Counsel Sue Becker arranged a meeting with Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Wendy Sartory Link regarding allegations of fraud. Becker followed up the meeting by sending a spreadsheet, claiming that PILF had found hundreds of instances of deceased voters having cast ballots, as well as instances of voters using UPS or similar business addresses on the registrations. Palm Beach County Director of Elections Sean Williams indicated that he would review their data. An investigation by Reveal found no instances in which deceased people identified by PILF had cast ballots in the county.
On Feb. 11, 2020, Becker sent a letter to DeSantis highlighting the group’s discovery of purported evidence of election and voter registration fraud. The letter also included a list of 10 steps that PILF recommended Florida take to “safeguard the 2020 election”; among them are resisting efforts to reform the Electoral College, making changes to “the ballot harvesting law,” and requesting access to federal records on noncitizens.
As part of its effort to compel county-level voter-roll maintenance activity, PILF sent letters on Sept. 15, 2017, to Roberts and Kent counties in Texas, threatening lawsuits over the counties’ maintenance of voter-registration records and requesting the disclosure of voter-roll maintenance records. Reports have indicated that PILF sent similar letters to nearly 250 counties across the country.
According to Texas Elections Director Keith Ingram’s calendars, on Jan. 23, 2020, Ingram attended a Texas Public Policy Foundation panel discussion that included Adams.
On July 9, 2020, PILF held a call with officials from the Georgia secretary of state’s office to discuss “concerns with Voter List Maintenance.” After the call, PILF’s Logan Churchwell indicated he had sent an attachment “as promised,” but the email provides no indication of the contents of that attachment.
PILF Records Requests
In addition to sharing allegations of voter fraud with state and local officials, PILF has also solicited records related to voter-roll maintenance, voter eligibility, and voting rights from various state and local government offices in Florida, Texas, and Georgia.
In Florida, PILF sent requests on May 10, 2017; May 17 and Nov. 15, 2018; July 18 and Oct. 4, 2019; and Jan. 7 and Feb. 5, 2020. On April 29, 2019, the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections sent PILF records of voters “removed from the voter file due to being non citizens.”
In Texas, PILF sent requests on May 12, Dec. 1 and 19, 2017; and Jan. 28 and Feb. 4, 2019. On Dec. 20, 2017, PILF threatened federal litigation should the Bexar County Elections Administrator “continue to deny access to requested records in their possession.”
Part of Investigation: