Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach listens as US President Donald Trump speaks during the first meeting of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House in Washington, DC, July 19, 2017.
Washington CNN  — 

Kris Kobach, the former vice-chair of President Donald Trump’s now-disbanded commission on election integrity, and Maine’s Democratic Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap have engaged in a public back and forth over the issue of voter fraud, with Kobach accusing Dunlap, a former member of the commission, of being “willfully blind to the voter fraud in front of his nose,” and Dunlap claiming that the commission failed to find evidence of widespread fraud.

But election experts say that Kobach’s claims are misleading and obscure the reality that voter fraud is rare in the context of the more than 1 billion votes cast since 2000.

In a statement sent to CNN on Saturday claiming that Dunlap is “willfully blind,” Kobach, who serves as Kansas’ Republican secretary of state, said that the commission “was presented with more than 1,000 convictions for voter fraud since the year 2000.” Kobach further claimed that this finding was only a fraction of the total and said that the “commission was also presented approximately 8,400 instances of double voting in the 2016 election looking only at 20 states.”

The statement did not cite sources for the numbers and Kobach’s office did not respond to a CNN request asking what evidence the information was based on.

Three election experts interviewed by CNN, however, cast doubt on the claims made by Kobach, a noted proponent of voter fraud theories and related policies. For example, in 2016, Kobach supported Trump’s false claim that “millions of people” voted illegally for Hillary Clinton in that year’s presidential election.

Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles; Lorraine Minnite, a professor at Rutgers University-Camden; and Charles Stewart, a professor at MIT, all pointed out that while there have been isolated instances of voter fraud, there is no substantial evidence to indicate that it is a widespread problem in US elections and any assertions to the contrary are inaccurate.

“There isn’t any reliable evidence that voter fraud is the kind of problem that Kris Kobach says it is,” Minnite said. “I would never say that voter fraud never happens. But with respect to fraud committed by voters, there is very little evidence that this is any kind of a problem in American elections and Kobach needs to stop putting out information to the public that is misleading in suggesting that there is a problem.”

Stewart said that it’s important to “balance out” Kobach’s assertion that the commission was presented with over 1,000 convictions, “with the number of votes cast since 2000, which is over a billion.” He added, “on the face of what Kobach presents, it would be hard to argue that there is any large-scale issue.”

Levitt, who has conducted extensive research on voter fraud allegations, said it appears Kobach may be basing the claim that the commission was presented with “approximately 8,400 instances of double voting in the 2016 election” on a report from the conservative nonprofit Government Accountability Institute. But if that’s the case, Levitt said that Kobach inaccurately represented the information in the report.

“The report itself does not say that there were about 8,400 instances of double voting in the 2016 election,” said Levitt, who also served as national voter protection counsel for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008.

Instead, the report identified 8,471 instances of what it described as “highly likely” cases of duplicate voting, according to the researchers’ criteria, that the report recommended be further investigated.

Minnite and Levitt said that Kobach’s claim that the commission was presented with more than 1,000 convictions for voter fraud since 2000 may be based on data compiled by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. But both said there are key caveats that need to be taken into consideration.

“That report includes misconduct by election officials and other insiders that can’t be attributed to voters, so that’s important to note,” Levitt said. “But even just including incidents back to 2000, that’s over a time frame that includes well over a billion votes cast. So it’s important to consider the context and the bigger picture so as not to distort the reality of the situation.”

Kobach’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.