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Gilbert adds New Math to the Big Lie

David Colborne
David Colborne

Pairwise Disjoint Sets. Twenty Laws. Forty Isometries. Illegal geometrical formulas. Hijacked vectors. Blimp-shaped elliptical clouds. Illicit mathematics.

Say what you might about Joey Gilbert’s lawsuit alleging his loss is both geometrically and mathematically impossible, it’s certainly a creative pile of postulations. Though it might lack the overly verbose circumambages and periphrases of, say, a Supreme Court of India ruling, it makes up for it by unpacking its adjectives into an inscrutable forest of dense mathematical notation, alleged citations of set theory, and hand-drawn pie charts. 

This means… something important.

Briefly summarized, the lawsuit asserts that if you statistically analyze the results of the most recent gubernatorial primary in Nevada and compare the results of that analysis to what the authors would expect to see in a free and fair election, the real-life results don’t add up. If the results were, ah, “corrected” to better match the mathematical model the authors believe represent a free and fair election, however, Gilbert would be the Republican gubernatorial nominee by a landslide. Therefore, could the Supreme Court of Nevada and related district and appellate courts be so kind as to declare Joey Gilbert to be the rightful Republican nominee for the state office of governor? The plaintiffs did the math, after all.

Besides, Gov. Sisolak and his financial supporters would really appreciate it.

It’s tempting to dig through the substance of the lawsuit and its attached exhibits — to examine each tree in the thick forest of logical elucidations and algebraic deductions in order to pick them apart one by one. For starters, just because Gilbert and his attorneys claim to have a valid mathematical model of a free and fair election — one which assumes mail-in voters are statistically similar to in-person voters and consequently should be expected to provide the same levels of support for candidates — that doesn’t make it so. At no point do they prove their model successfully models any actual free and fair elections conducted in the real world, either in the historical past or even in a controlled classroom setting. 

Instead, rather than proving their model is valid against real world results, they expand the scope of their allegations to include the Republican primary for Senate, as well as the 2020 primary for Vaughn Hartung’s county commissioner seat (that Hartung and Robert Beadles, the primary funder of Gilbert’s lawsuit, aren’t exactly getting along has nothing to do with why statistical anomalies were found in this specific primary, I’m sure). Then, as a coup de grâce, the model claims that more than 55,000 votes were stolen from Gilbert in Clark County alone — a county which, here in the real world, Gilbert secured fewer than 30,000 votes in.

Those are all extraordinary claims — and as the saying goes, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. 

Analyzing each of the arguments — mathematical or otherwise — at face value, however, misses the point and wastes valuable time. The arguments in the lawsuit are a geometric Gish Gallop, a maze of mathematical notation designed to confuse the credulous and innumerate. They exist within the same flat plane in three-dimensional space as multi-level marketing sales pitches, ‘Sovereign Citizen’ legal filings, and the Time Cube, each of which try to take advantage of two unfortunate quirks of human cognition: First, any sufficiently convoluted jargon is indistinguishable from magic to anyone who doesn’t know better. Second, as nobody likes to look ignorant, most people, when confronted with magical jargon, will defer to the judgment of the person casting it since they sound like they know what they’re talking about. Once directly refuted, each argument would either be replaced by another equally fallacious one or simply repeated to a new, fresh audience.

Besides, it should go without saying — though I’ll say it anyway — that, if a Democratic candidate claimed 50,000 votes were algorithmically injected into Nevada’s election infrastructure on behalf of their Republican opponent and the appropriate remedy was to run the real world election totals through a spreadsheet a friend of theirs created that “restored” those “missing” votes, Republicans, including Joey Gilbert, would rightly reject the statistical model in its entirety. They would point out — correctly — that we don’t need a statistical model to confirm, for example, that Mark Amodei received more votes than Patricia Ackerman in 2020 because we have the votes themselves and we can simply count them individually. Given a choice between a Democrat-crafted regression analysis and Republicans counting votes by hand, which result do you think Republicans would actually trust?

No, the point of the lawsuit isn’t to demonstrate the statistical and analytical acumen of Gilbert and his associates. The point of the lawsuit is to spread enough fear, uncertainty and doubt surrounding Nevada’s elections so they can overturn any result Gilbert and his supporters don’t like — and not necessarily in court.

For a number of reasons, Nevadans are lucky Gilbert failed to win his primary. If he actually had won in June and instead lost the general election, he still would have likely challenged those results afterwards — but that challenge wouldn’t have been settled in the courts like his real world primary election challenge. Instead, per the process for gubernatorial general election challenges defined in NRS 293.430, NRS 293.433, and NRS 293.435, such challenges are decided by a joint session of the state Senate and Assembly, which would decide by majority vote whether the challenge had sufficient merit to overturn the election.

Now imagine for a moment if a “Red Wave” election occurred and Republicans somehow won majorities in both houses of the Legislature. Do you sincerely believe the new Republican majority, when faced with Gilbert’s general election challenge, would solemnly consider the statistical, mathematical, geometrical, and algebraic arguments presented in Gilbert’s lawsuit, one by one, and accept or refute each argument on its merits? Or do you think a Republican legislative majority, emboldened by several new members who believe in the ‘Big Lie,’ would take the opportunity presented by the challenge to remove a recurring source of vetoes from the Governor’s Mansion?

Even without Gilbert on our general election ballots, however, there are still plenty of opportunities for this scenario to assert itself — the same process defined in NRS 293.430 also applies to challenges of the results of elections for lieutenant governors and justices of both the state Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals. If Stavros Anthony, Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, doesn’t like how his election turns out in November, his challenge would be processed in a legislative joint session as well — which might help explain why one of the exhibits included in Gilbert’s filing includes a few pages describing how Anthony’s narrowly lost election for Clark County Commissioner could also be “restored” using the same statistical “methods” used to add 50,000 votes to Gilbert’s real world election results. 

In fact, the complainant doesn’t even need to be Republican. There’s nothing stopping the Independent American or Libertarian gubernatorial candidates from contesting the results of the general election, after all — the law doesn’t say the candidate contesting the general election has to be the one who would win were the challenge upheld. Given a sufficiently generous contribution to their party, they’d likely go along with it — speaking from experience, $10,000 is a lot of money for a minor party, much less an individual candidate.

Republicans, to be clear, aren’t likely to secure a majority of both houses. According to the Political History of Nevada and Party Affiliations in the State Legislatures, A Year by Year Summary, 1796-2006, Republicans only secured a majority of the Assembly seven times since 1922 (1922, 1924, 1928, 1968, 1970, 1984, and 2014, with evenly split houses in 1926 and 1994). Even with President Biden’s plummeting approval ratings, neither Cnalysis nor Sabato’s Crystal Ball expect 2022 to be added to that list. That said, their chance of securing a majority of at least one house of the Legislature isn’t zero.

But a Republican legislative minority could still easily turn a legislatively considered general election challenge into a rabid goat circus. All it would take is for someone to be a sore loser this November and bring Gilbert’s arguments — perhaps with Gilbert himself, for a modest retainer — to the Legislative Building for our state to add yet another chapter to the ‘Big Lie’ narrative Republicans in this state have pushed since the 2020 election. For an added layer of symmetry, Republican legislators could even ask Jim Marchant, secretary of the state of QAnon, to deliver a certificate of election to Gov. Joe Lombardo on their behalf — a request which would become even more absurd if Marchant, who even denies his own election at this point, lost the general election for secretary of state.

Would any of this succeed at overturning our state’s election results? If you asked me to put money on it today and gave me even odds, I’d bet no. Even so, to borrow a line uttered from a very different sort of Republicans, Gilbert and his supporters only have to be lucky once. The rest of us have to be lucky every time.

David Colborne ran for office twice and served on the executive committees for his state and county Libertarian Party chapters. He is now an IT manager, a registered nonpartisan voter, the father of two sons, and a weekly opinion columnist for The Nevada Independent. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidColborne or email him at [email protected]


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