Mike Gibbons, left, and Josh Mandel exchange heated arguments at the FreedomWorks Forum for Ohio's Republican Senate Candidates on March 18, 2022 in Columbus, Ohio.
'You're dealing with the wrong dude!': Republican candidates get heated at debate
02:14 - Source: CNN
Washington CNN  — 

Businessman Mike Gibbons has gained ground in Ohio’s competitive Republican primary for the state’s open US Senate seat. And like some of his rivals, Gibbons has been making wildly inaccurate claims about the 2020 election.

At a debate on March 18, Gibbons said, “I know this: Five million more people voted than were registered to vote. There’s something wrong.”

At a debate on March 21, Gibbons repeated his claim about five million more people voting than were registered to vote, and he added that his numbers came “from the US Census Bureau.” He reiterated this claim at another debate, on Monday: “Five million more people voted than were registered to vote, and that’s according to the US Census Bureau. There’s a problem. We need to investigate it. The January 6 commission should be investigating that instead of some false accusation of some kind of insurrection.”

Facts First: It’s not even close to true that five million more people voted in the 2020 election than were registered to vote, and the Census Bureau never said such a thing. There were actually about 48 million fewer voters in the 2020 election than there were active registered voters, according to the official post-election report of the US Election Assistance Commission, a federal entity that collects election data from states. In other words, per the commission’s findings, Gibbons’ claim was off by about 53 million.

The Election Assistance Commission wrote in the report that “more than 209 million people were active registered voters for the 2020 general election, which represents an all-time high, and more than 161 million voters cast ballots that were counted for this election.”

Census Bureau data also contradicts Gibbons’ claim. The bureau’s election figures are imprecise estimates since they are derived from a survey of a sample of the US population rather than from official election records. But they still don’t show what Gibbons says they show. The Census Bureau reported that significantly more people were registered to vote in 2020 (an estimated 168.3 million) than actually voted (an estimated 154.6 million).

Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political science professor who studies elections, said Tuesday: “It is absolutely ludicrous to say that more people voted than there are registered voters.” He described Gibbons’ comments as “wild claims to appease people who want to believe that somehow there was fraud that denied (former President Donald Trump) the election.”

Similar false claims about there being more votes cast than registered voters in the 2020 election have circulated online since late 2020. A Gibbons campaign spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday and Wednesday.

For this election-focused fact check, we’ll leave aside Gibbons’ assertion that it’s incorrect to say there was “some kind of insurrection” at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.

A false Gibbons claim about Wisconsin

At the debates on March 18 and Monday, Gibbons followed up his false claim about registration numbers in 2020 with a false claim about what happened in 2020 in the swing state of Wisconsin, which was won by now-President Joe Biden.

He said on March 18: “I don’t know if you just saw the Wisconsin evidence, but apparently there are a number of nursing homes where 103% of the nursing home occupants voted – and they all voted for Joe Biden.”

He said on Monday: “Recently, there was a Wisconsin special counsel that discovered that a great – good – number of nursing homes in Wisconsin voted at 103% of their occupancy. And they all voted for Joe Biden.”

Facts First: The Wisconsin special counsel report Gibbons was referring to – a Republican-initiated partisan review conducted by Michael Gableman, a conservative former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice – did not say that all of the residents at any Wisconsin nursing home voted for Biden. The special counsel did not even look into the question of which candidates Wisconsin nursing home residents selected, a spokesperson for Gableman’s office, Zakory Niemierowicz, told CNN on Tuesday.

“We did not do anything with who the residents voted for,” Niemierowicz said.

Gableman’s report features a strong suggestion that Wisconsin could lawfully decertify the 2020 election, which, in reality, is impossible – as his own attorney told legislators.

The report’s section on nursing homes is also dubious. It alleges that there was a “100% voting rate” at dozens of nursing homes supposedly “vetted” by Gableman’s team. But this claim has been called inaccurate by local elections officials and by journalists who looked into the numbers.

To take just one example, Gableman’s report claimed that 100% of registered voters cast ballots at 24 “vetted” nursing homes in Dane County. But Wisconsin State Journal reporter Chris Rickert found that records showed there was only one nursing home in the county – a facility with 12 registered voters – where every registered voter had a ballot counted in the 2020 election. Turnout at every other nursing home in the county “ranged from 42% to 91%,” Rickert wrote – and those, he said, are the inflated percentages you get if you compare actual voters to registered voters, as Gableman claimed to be doing, rather than comparing actual voters to voting-age residents, as is standard in turnout calculations.

Niemierowicz said Tuesday that the special counsel’s office stands by the nursing home numbers in the report. But Niemierowicz gave CNN a different explanation of its nursing home calculations than the explanation that appears in the report.

He said the special counsel was comparing the number of voters at nursing homes to the number of total beds these nursing homes said they had, not to the number of “registered voters” in those nursing homes – though the report says “registered voters.”

“We should’ve probably had different headers on that table,” Niemierowicz said.

But changing the table headings wouldn’t have solved the puzzle of Gableman’s nursing home numbers. When CNN compared voters to beds using Milwaukee County figures Niemierowicz provided on Tuesday, the result was about 43%, not 100%.

“None of this surprises me,” Claire Woodall-Vogg, executive director of the City of Milwaukee Election Commission, said in an email Tuesday. “Little of the investigation that has been presented so far has been supported by facts.”

Other candidates made false claims too

Gibbons was far from the only candidate at the debate on Monday to make a false claim about the 2020 election.

With the exception of state Sen. Matt Dolan, who correctly says Biden was legitimately elected, candidates in the Republican primary have competed for months over who can sound the most aggressive in challenging the legitimacy of Biden’s victory and in demanding “election integrity.”

On Monday, former Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel repeated his usual false claim that the election was “stolen from Donald J. Trump,” baselessly casting aspersions on the results in some heavily Democratic cities. Businessman Mark Pukita and author J.D. Vance also proclaimed the election stolen from Trump. Businessman Neil Patel made a vague false claim about tens of thousands of invalid ballots in Georgia.

Former Ohio Republican Party chair Jane Timken did not say the election was stolen but said, “There’s no doubt in my mind there were irregularities and fraud in the 2020 election.”