Replying to Christopher Ingraham’s attacks in the Wash Post on CPRC’s testimony to Commission on Election Integrity

Sep 27, 2017 | Featured

On September 12, 2017, the Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham had an article attacking Dr. John Lott’s testimony before the President’s Advisory Commission on Election Integrity (video is available here and Lott’s op-ed on the testimony is here).  Here is part of Ingraham’s piece:

John Lott, an independent researcher and Fox News commentator, is best known for his book “More Guns, Less Crime,” which argues that increases in gun ownership are associated with drops in crime (most mainstream criminologists reject this view).

But Lott also occasionally branches out into other topics. Back in 2006, he wrote a paper on voter fraud, arguing that “regulations that prevent fraud are shown to actually increase the voter participation rate.” He is not otherwise known for work on elections or voting. Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political scientist, noted in an email that the paper was not published in an academic journal and said that its findings were “not credible.”

Lott has nonetheless been invited to speak at Tuesday’s meeting of President Trump’s commission on voter fraud. There, he’ll argue that elections officials should run prospective voters through the federal background check system, currently used for gun purchases, before allowing them to register to vote. . . .

The idea is “patently absurd,” according to Adam Winkler, a constitutional law specialist at UCLA. “Given the previous criticism of the background check system by John Lott, and the fact that the structure of voting regulation is entirely different than the regulation of guns, it’s hard to believe this is a serious proposal.”

Indeed, Lott has been outspoken on the shortcomings of the background check system for gun purchases. He has repeatedly criticized it as ineffective, arguing, for instance, that it “only makes life easier for criminals” and that the background check databases are “rife with errors.” . . .

Unfortunately, Dr. John Lott’s letter wasn’t published by the Washington Post, but here is the letter that we submitted.

Dear Letters Editor:

Christopher Ingraham doesn’t understand National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) works and he clearly never listened to my testimony to the Election Integrity Commission (“ Trumps voter fraud commission is hearing a proposal to make every voter pass a gun background check,” 9/12).

Ingraham asserts that except for one unpublished paper, I had not done any other research “on elections or voting” and cites one person saying that I am “not credible.” But I have published 19 peer-reviewed, academic articles on the issues of elections, voting, and election law. My most recent is from 2014. I also served as a statistical expert for USA Today on the 2000 presidential election and wrote the Statistical Report on that election for the Minority members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights for that election.

He claims that the NICS system can’t work for voting because the regulations on gun ownership are “entirely different” than on voting. While there are differences, there is also a large overlap for citizenship requirements and for many states regarding felony records, and states can be provided specifically with the information that is only relevant to determining voter eligibility.


John R. Lott, Jr., Ph.D., President, Crime Prevention Research Center

Below are Dr. Lott’s responses to an email that Christopher Ingraham sent him.  Ingraham’s email is in italics.  Lott’s responses are indented.  In many other places, Lott has pointed out how easy it is to fix the NICS system (National Review, January 2016, Fox News, October 2016, and his book the “War on Guns“).  He is asked below by Ingraham about the cost problem that Lott has pointed out before, but Ingraham never asked about the errors issue that he wrote about.  As Lott points out in these writings, these errors are very easily fixable, but Democrats claim that they don’t exist when background checks are used for guns, so it is a little strange that they claim it is a problem for voters.  People can judge for themselves whether Ingraham’s quotes accurate reflected what Lott wrote to him.

Hi John,

I’m writing about your proposal on universal background checks for voters. I will admit this strikes me as a very odd proposal so I’d like to run a few questions by you, if you have a second.

1.  Are you 100% serious about this? Is this really about voting, or are you really making a sly argument about the drawbacks of universal background checks for gun purchases?

Yes, I am serious.  Given all the many hundreds of statements that I sure that you can find by Democrats and gun control advocates that the NICS system checks do not “in any way infringe” on people’s ability to have guns for self-defense and given Republican concerns about vote fraud, it seemed like something that in theory could satisfy both sides for a topic where no common ground otherwise seems possible.  I was honestly hoping that this would provide a solution to what has been an intractable problem.

Do I have problems with the NICS checks?  Yes, though gun control advocates dismiss my concerns (such as the costs to the poor).  However, I will point out that my concerns are very easily fixed, and I have written on that many times.  And, indeed, I have suggested a fix here and I have definitely not suggested that this serve as a poll tax.  Gun control advocates and Democrats will argue that there is nothing to fix, and if they believe it, I am not sure what their objection would be.

2. The cost associated with the proposal seems high, even if it were punted back to the states. Do you think it’s likely that any states would want to take this on?

Are NICS checks costly for the typical gun owner who is trying to transfer guns?  It sure is.  The cost is about $175 in DC where you are located. But that is in part a problem of DC’s other regulations and the fact that you have to evaluate one background check at a time.  With state voter registration, a computer file could be checked all at once rather than doing one check at a time.  From talking off the record to some voter registrars, it seems that the cost for them doing it would be dramatically lower.

I don’t think that anyone thought that checking for vote fraud would be free.

Would it be nice to have a discussion on how NICS checks disarm the poor?  Yes, because Democrats keep pushing for regulations that make it so only the wealthy can have guns.  But the problem goes well beyond the cost of background checks.

3. What would you say to the argument, which I’ve heard from elections experts, that this is just an extreme proposal that the Commission will reject in order to claim they’re being moderate?

That isn’t something that could be true because I haven’t discussed the idea with any members of the commission.  I didn’t get their permission to discuss the idea.  I suspect that many will be surprised by the idea.  So it isn’t possible for this type of strategic discussion to have occurred.

4. Anything else you want to say about the proposal or the Commission?

I have an op-ed that should be online this evening in the Chicago Tribune that may go into more details.  I will be on a plane at 5 PM.  It might be possible to talk more about this.  . . .

However, I have to say that it is a little rich that you have continually over the years refused to respond to my emails or telephone messages, but you somehow expect me to respond to you.  That said, I hope in the future you will at least be courteous enough to respond to my emails or possibly even write me (as many reporters do) before you write your pieces attacking me.

My deadline is tomorrow AM. Thanks!

Chris Ingraham
The Washington Post