On Jan. 6, 2021, as former President Donald Trump rallied his supporters, he used a statistic that, though false, was making the rounds: “In Pennsylvania, you had 205,000 more votes than you had voters,” he screamed, throwing his arms wide open in front of thousands of angry followers. “This is a mathematical impossibility unless you want to say it’s a total fraud.”
The number appears to be the work of Heather Honey, a Pennsylvania-based “election integrity” investigator whose research has achieved a remarkable level of national salience among the far right, despite being replete with errors. The 205,000 figure, for example, is “false” according to the Department of Justice, and was based on incomplete data the state says can’t be used for this type of analysis. Honey herself has revised the discrepancy downward. While Honey’s current estimate is almost half of what it once was, it’s still inaccurate and the original number is also still routinely cited as fact.
“There were 202,377 MORE ‘votes’ cast, than actual REAL VOTERS THAT VOTED,” reads a November 2023 post on X from a popular rightwing account. It was reposted more than 13,000 times.
Honey has been among the most effective advocates for right-wing election talking points. Time after time, her research has fed into viral allegations about election integrity, fueling conservative pressure campaigns, forcing fact-checkers and public officials to attempt to piece together a more accurate picture and undermining confidence in long-trusted election practices. Often, her conclusions are misleading or based on incomplete information.
In the past year, working with a network of election integrity groups organized by conservative lawyer Cleta Mitchell, Honey has had perhaps the most success with her latest research: A 29-page report on the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC, sent to Republican secretaries of state and legislators. Her information appears to have influenced the decision of several member states to withdraw from ERIC, an interstate program that election officials widely regard as the nation’s best tool to keep voter rolls up-to-date and free of bloat.
An analysis by Votebeat and Spotlight PA found the report’s conclusions are false, often based on out-of-context examples, and that her sweeping generalizations are frequently not backed by the data she presents. Presented with Votebeat’s and Spotlight PA’s findings — the product of redoing her many calculations and fact-checking the analysis she has offered to public officials — Honey defended her work.
Despite how widespread her research has become, Honey described herself in emails to Votebeat and Spotlight PA as “an ordinary citizen working hard to do what I can to restore confidence in elections.”
When asked for a final comment, she accused Votebeat of “slander” and personal attacks. “Who is pressuring you to write this hit piece? What is your goal?”
The way that Honey relies on real-but-incomplete data is a hallmark of those who spread misinformation, experts say.