Hans von Spakovsky

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Hans von Spakovsky
Hans von Spakovsky publicity shot.jpg
Born (1959-03-11) March 11, 1959 (age 60)
Alma materMassachusetts Institute of Technology
Vanderbilt University Law School

Hans Anatol von Spakovsky (born March 11, 1959) is an American attorney and a former member of the Federal Election Commission (FEC). He is the manager of the Heritage Foundation's Election Law Reform Initiative and a senior legal fellow in Heritage's Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies.[1] He is an advocate for more restrictive voting laws.[2][3] He has been described as playing an influential role in making alarmism about voter fraud mainstream in the Republican Party, despite no evidence of widespread voter fraud.[4][5]

He was nominated to the FEC by President George W. Bush on December 15, 2005, and was appointed by recess appointment on January 4, 2006.[6] However, von Spakovsky's nomination was opposed by Senate Democrats, who argued that his oversight of voter laws was unacceptably partisan and that he had consistently acted to disenfranchise poor and minority voters.[7][8] Opposition to the nomination was bolstered by objections from career Justice Department staff, who accused von Spakovsky of politicizing his nominally non-partisan office to an unprecedented degree.[9] While von Spakovsky and the Bush Administration denied the accusations of partisanship, the nomination was withdrawn on May 15, 2008.[10] Von Spakovsky subsequently joined the staff of the Heritage Foundation, a politically conservative think tank. On June 29, 2017, President Donald J. Trump named him to be a member of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.[11]

Early life and career[edit]

Von Spakovsky was born in Huntsville, Alabama, where his parents had eventually settled after immigrating to the United States in 1951. His German mother met his Russian father Anatol von Spakovsky, who had settled in Yugoslavia after WWI and then fled to Germany after WWII, in a German refugee camp for displaced persons.[5] Von Spakovsky received a B.S. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1981 and a J.D. from the Vanderbilt University Law School in 1984. Von Spakovsky is a member of the Georgia and Tennessee bars. Before entering politics, he worked as a government affairs consultant, in a corporate legal department, and in private practice.

Von Spakovsky served as Republican Party chairman in Fulton County, Georgia, and as a Republican appointee to the Fulton County Registration and Election Board, where he championed strict voter-identification laws.[12][13] Von Spakovsky became a member of Voting Integrity Project, which investigated alleged voter fraud across the United States,[14] as well as a member of the politically conservative Federalist Society. He worked as a lawyer for George W. Bush's team during the 2000 Florida Presidential election recount.[12] After Bush's election victory, von Spakovsky was appointed to the Civil Rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice.[14]

Voting rights[edit]

Efforts to exclude Democrats and "mainstream Republicans" from "voter fraud" commission[edit]

On February 22, 2017, Von Spakovsky sent an email arguing against the appointment of Democrats and "mainstream Republicans" to the Trump administration's Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.[15] The email was forwarded to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions by an aide.[15] The release of the email led civil rights leaders to call for Von Spakovsky to step down from the commission and for the commission to be disbanded.[16]

Justice Department tenure[edit]

Von Spakovsky was hired to the Justice Department as an expert on elections, and he advocated for what he described as the application of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in a "race-neutral manner."[14] Von Spakovsky was also tasked with guiding the Bush Administration's role in passing legislation that became known as the Help America Vote Act.[14] Von Spakovsky's tenure at the Justice Department was marked by a focus on voter eligibility and voter fraud. In 2005, he led the department's approval of a controversial Georgia law requiring voters to produce photo ID,[17] despite strong objections from Justice Department staff that the law would disproportionately harm and disenfranchise African-American voters.[13] Von Spakovksy subsequently acknowledged that he had written a law review article supporting such photo ID laws under the pseudonym "Publius", prompting concerns that he should have recused himself from the Justice Department decision.[18]

A portion of the law was subsequently overturned by a federal judge, who compared it to a "Jim-Crow era poll tax".[18] However, the voter ID portion was approved and was in effect in the 2008 election.[19][better source needed] Subsequently the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Georgia's voter ID requirement in 2009.[20][21][better source needed] Also see:[22][circular reference]

During von Spakovsky's tenure, more than half of the career Justice Department staff left the voting section in protest.[23] Von Spakovsky argued against the re-authorization of the Voting Rights Act in 2006, but the re-authorization overwhelmingly passed Congress and was signed into law by the Bush Administration.[14]

Von Spakovsky also served on the Board of Advisors of the Election Assistance Commission, a government commission created by the Help America Vote Act of 2002. He clashed with the commission head, Paul DeGregorio. Several individuals with knowledge of the situation, speaking anonymously to McClatchy Newspapers, alleged that DeGregorio had resisted an overtly partisan agenda and his removal was therefore engineered by von Spakovsky.[18]

Federal Election Commission[edit]

Von Spakovsky received his recess appointment by President Bush to the FEC in January 2006. His confirmation hearings were contentious, as Democratic Senators criticized von Spakovsky's Justice Department tenure and accused him of partisanship.[24] A group of career Justice Department staff wrote a letter to the Senate arguing against von Spakovsky's appointment, saying that he "played a major role in the implementation of practices which injected partisan political factors into decision-making on enforcement matters and into the hiring process, and included repeated efforts to intimidate career staff."[25][26][27] In response to questioning from the Senate, von Spakovsky repeatedly asserted that he could not remember or recall his involvement in various controversial Justice Department decisions, drawing comparisons to the testimony of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.[28]

Faced with mounting opposition, von Spakovsky ultimately withdrew from the FEC confirmation process.[10] He subsequently assumed a position with the Heritage Foundation, a politically conservative think tank.

Von Spakovsky has claimed that about 1400 votes, four times the margin of victory, were cast by ineligible prisoners in the 2008 Minnesota race for U.S. Senate, which was won by Al Franken.[29] However, Von Spakovsky's statistics have been labeled "fraudulent" by the Hennepin County Attorney who investigated the matter.[5]

False claims about voter fraud[edit]

According to the New Yorker, von Spakovsky has promoted "the myth that Democratic voter fraud is common, and that it helps Democrats win elections".[5]

Von Spakovsky has supported his claims about the extent of voter fraud by citing a 2000 investigation by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which purported to find 5400 instances of deceased people in Georgia voting in the last two decades.[5] The Journal-Constitution later revised its findings, noting that it had no evidence of a single deceased person voting and that the vast majority of the instances were due to clerical errors.[5]

In an interview with the New Yorker, von Spakovsky cited two scholars who he said could substantiate that voter-impersonation fraud was a significant threat: Robert Pastor of American University and Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia.[5] Von Spakovsky said that Pastor had personally experienced voter impersonation, but Pastor refuted von Spakovsky's claim, saying, "I think they just mistakenly checked my name when my son voted—it was just a mistake. I don't think that voter-impersonation fraud is a serious problem."[5] Both Pastor and Sabato said that they would only support voter ID laws if voter IDs were made free and easily available to all, which is not what Republicans have tried.[5] Sabato, the author of "Dirty Little Secrets," also described voter impersonation as "relatively rare today."[5] In a 2011 article published by the Heritage Foundation, von Spakovsky again referred to Sabato as an authority to establish the existence of common voter fraud, along with "Stealing Elections," a book by John Fund, whose claims of voter fraud have been extensively debunked,[30][31] and whom he neglects to identify as the co-author of a book they jointly wrote. He describes the efforts of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, his colleague both at the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity and Heritage, to expose the alleged existence of extensive voter fraud, as "carefully described research," although Kobach's claims have also been shown to be vastly overstated.[32]

In a court decision, Fish v. Kobach, US District Court Judge Julie A. Robinson ruled that von Spakovsky's claims of widespread voter fraud were not in fact found to be backed up with provable researched cases. Judge Robinson wrote that she gave his testimony little weight because it was "premised on several misleading and unsupported examples of non-citizen voter registration, mostly outside the State of Kansas." She also noted that during the proceedings, Mr. von Spakovsky "could not identify any expert on the subject of non-citizen voter registration." When he tried to use a list of 30 people provided by a Kansas election official as proof of voter fraud in one county, Judge Robinson wrote in her decision: "He later admitted during cross-examination that he had no personal knowledge as to whether or not any of these individuals had in fact falsely asserted U.S. citizenship when they became registered to vote and he did not examine the facts of these individual cases."[33] Judge Robinson found witnesses for the defense were often found to be not credible, finding: "Defendant's expert Hans von Spakovsky is a senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation, 'a think tank whose mission [is to] formulate and promote conservative public policies'." Von Spakovsky "...cited a U.S. GAO study for the proposition that the GAO 'found that up to 3 percent of the 30,000 individuals called for jury duty from voter registration roles over a two-year period in just one U.S. district court were not U.S. citizens'." However, on cross-examination, he admitted he omitted the GAO study contained information on a total of eight district courts; half reported that not one non-citizen had been called for jury duty. The three remaining district courts reported that less than 1% of those called for jury duty from voter rolls were noncitizens. Therefore, his report misleadingly described the single district court with the highest percentage of people reporting that they were noncitizens, while omitting mention of the seven other courts described in the GAO report, including four that had zero incidents of noncitizens on voting rolls. Robinson said, "While von Spakovsky's lack of academic background is not fatal to his credibility ...., his clear agenda and misleading statements ... render his opinions unpersuasive."

According to Professor Richard L. Hasen, an election-law expert at the University of California at Irvine, "there are a number of people who have been active in promoting false and exaggerated claims of voter fraud and using that as a pretext to argue for stricter voting and registration rules. And von Spakovsky's at the top of the list."[4] Hasen said that Spakovsky's appointment to Donald Trump's Commission on Election Integrity was a "a big middle finger" from Trump to people "serious about fixing problems with our elections."[4]

Political views[edit]

Climate change[edit]

Von Spakovsky rejects the scientific consensus on climate change, calling climate change "a contentious and unproven scientific theory."[34][35][36][37]


Von Spakovsky praised the Supreme Court's decision to partially allow President Trump's executive order banning travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries to go into effect pending Supreme Court review of the case. Von Spakovsky termed the decision a big victory for the administration. According to the Washington Post, von Spakovsky's support for the Muslim ban "appeared to be a departure from von Spakovsky's earlier beliefs that America has a role in the world to accept refugees, like his parents."[4]

Von Spakovsky has said that sanctuary policies contribute to crime.[38][39]

Von Spakovsky said in July 2015 that the Obama administration had released "134,000 (criminal) aliens... in just the past two years."[40] PolitiFact found that the statement was half-true and had several flaws: "About half of von Spakovsky's total, 66,000, involved convicted criminals who had completed their sentences but remained in custody pending deportation. For some large fraction of that group, perhaps as high as 45 percent, it was a court ruling that drove the release, not a decision by the administration. Regarding the other half of von Spakovsky's total, 68,000, it is likely that in most cases ICE decided not to pursue deportation. However, some portion of that group might not have been deportable, and some portion might have continued to serve out a locally imposed sentence and not been released."[40]

Fairfax County[edit]

Von Spakovsky was vice-chairman of the Fairfax County board of elections in 2012.[41]


  1. ^ "Hans A. von Spakovsky". The Heritage Foundation. Retrieved June 30, 2017.
  2. ^ "Why Republicans Can't Find the Big Voter Fraud Conspiracy". POLITICO Magazine. Retrieved 2017-07-26.
  3. ^ "Trump stokes voter fraud fears as commission convenes". POLITICO. Retrieved 2017-07-26.
  4. ^ a b c d "Trump's pick to investigate voter fraud is freaking out voting rights activists". Washington Post. Retrieved 2017-07-26.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Jane Mayer,"The Voter Fraud Myth". The New Yorker. October 25, 2012. Retrieved January 15, 2017.
  6. ^ Edsall, Thomas (January 5, 2006). "Bush Appointments Avert Senate Battles". Washington Post. Retrieved July 22, 2011.
  7. ^ Kane, Paul (May 17, 2008). "Contested Nominee To FEC Drops Out". Washington Post. Retrieved July 22, 2011.
  8. ^ Evans, Ben (June 13, 2007). "Democrats criticize Bush's FEC nominee". USA Today. Retrieved July 22, 2011.
  9. ^ Crabtree, Susan (June 19, 2007). "Opposition against von Spakovsky's is firming". The Hill. Retrieved July 22, 2011.
  10. ^ a b "Nominee for F.E.C. Withdraws". New York Times. May 17, 2008. Retrieved July 22, 2011.
  11. ^ Bowden, John (June 30, 2017). "Trump names former FEC member to voter fraud probe". The Hill. Retrieved June 30, 2017.
  12. ^ a b Toobin, Jeffrey (September 20, 2004). "Poll Position". The New Yorker. Retrieved July 22, 2011.
  13. ^ a b Eggen, Dan (April 13, 2006). "Official's Article on Voting Law Spurs Outcry". Washington Post. Retrieved July 22, 2011.
  14. ^ a b c d e Rutenberg, Jim (29 July 2015). "A Dream Undone". New York Times. Retrieved 29 July 2015.
  15. ^ a b Wagner, John (2017-09-16). "Trump's voter fraud commission proves a magnet for controversy". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2017-09-16.
  16. ^ Berman, Ari (September 13, 2017). "Trump Election Commissioner Sought to Exclude Democrats and "Mainstream Republicans"". Mother Jones. Retrieved September 13, 2017.
  17. ^ Eggen, Dan (January 23, 2006). "Politics Alleged In Voting Cases". Washington Post. Retrieved July 22, 2011.
  18. ^ a b c Gordon, Greg (May 20, 2007). "Efforts to stop 'voter fraud' may have curbed legitimate voting". McClatchy Newspapers. Retrieved July 22, 2011.
  19. ^ https://www.ajc.com/news/despite-voter-law-minority-turnout-georgia/3wOfD2SkXmTgRwbySd2ZiK/
  20. ^ http://media.ca11.uscourts.gov/opinions/pub/files/200714664.pdf
  21. ^ https://www.jurist.org/news/2009/01/eleventh-circuit-upholds-georgia-voter/
  22. ^ Voter ID laws in the United States#State-by-state requirements
  23. ^ Goldfarb, Zachary (June 8, 2007). "Hearing on FEC Pick Could Add Fuel to Debate Over Justice Dept". Washington Post. Retrieved July 22, 2011.
  24. ^ Stump, M. K. (June 13, 2007). "The grilling of von Spakovsky". Salon.com. Retrieved July 22, 2011.
  25. ^ Bolton, Alexander (June 14, 2007). "Feinstein warns FEC member of rough confirmation process". The Hill. Capitol Hill Publishing. Retrieved 2007-06-14.
  26. ^ Rich, Joseph; Robert A. Kengle; Jon Greenbaum; David J. Becker; Bruce Adelson; Toby Moore (June 12, 2007). "Letter to Reject Hans von Spakovsky". (via Talking Points Memo Document Collection). Retrieved 2007-06-14.
  27. ^ Rich, Joseph; Robert A. Kengle; Stephen B. Pershing; Jon Greenbaum; David J. Becker; Bruce Adelson; Toby Moore (June 19, 2007). "Letter to Reject Hans von Spakovsky". (via Talking Points Memo Document Collection). Archived from the original on June 25, 2007. Retrieved 2007-06-20.
  28. ^ Gordon, Greg (June 13, 2007). "Lawyer can't recall his role in controversial policies". McClatchy Newspapers. Retrieved July 22, 2011.
  29. ^ Tom Troy, "Lecturer: Photo ID laws needed"
  30. ^ Fund's book on voter fraud, is a fraud, Media Matters for America, Nicole Casta, October 31, 2004. Retrieved September 13, 2017.
  31. ^ Counting on the Indian Vote, Rapid City Journal, Denise Ross, May 25, 2005. Retrieved September 13, 2017.
  32. ^ New Myths on Voter ID, Heritage Foundation, Hans von Spakovsky, October 13, 2011. Retrieved September 13, 2017.
  33. ^ "Claims By Top Voting Fraud Alarmists Dismantled By Judge In Kobach Case". Talking Points Memo. Retrieved 2018-06-19.
  34. ^ "The dismantling of Obama's climate legacy by a President Donald Trump". ThinkProgress. 2016-10-19. Retrieved 2017-07-26.
  35. ^ "The Left's Climate Inquisition's New Target". The Daily Signal. 2016-04-08. Retrieved 2017-07-26.
  36. ^ "The real victim in the ExxonMobil lawsuit is the First Amendment". The Washington Post. 2016-06-29. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2017-07-26.
  37. ^ Spakovsky, Hans von. "Shutting down debate on climate change". The Heritage Foundation. Retrieved 2017-07-26.
  38. ^ "Sanctuary Policies Have Led to Thousands of Crimes". The Daily Signal. 2015-07-09. Retrieved 2017-07-26.
  39. ^ "Santa Fe mayor defies Trump's crackdown on immigrant 'sanctuary cities'". CBC Radio. Retrieved 2017-07-26.
  40. ^ a b "Heritage analyst: Obama administration released 134,000 criminal aliens". @politifact. Retrieved 2017-07-26.
  41. ^ Reilly, Corinne (November 1, 2012). "Fairfax County Democrats sue over rules for observers at polling places". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2012-11-05.

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