Kari Lake watches a video of former President Donald Trump endorsing her at an Oct. 10, 2023, event launching her 2024 campaign for the U.S. Senate. Photo by Caitlin Sievers | Arizona Mirror
She told you the 2020 election was rigged. She claimed that thousands of “illegal ballots” counted in 2022 meant that your vote didn’t matter.
And now she wants you to vote for her in 2024.
Kari Lake, the leading Republican candidate for U.S. senator from Arizona, spent the last year fighting unsuccessful court battles to overturn her 17,000-vote loss in the 2022 governor’s race to Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs. Lake spent much of that campaign as a leading purveyor of the “Big Lie” that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump, who showered her with praise in 2022 and has now endorsed her Senate bid.
Lake, who has repeatedly claimed that she is the “true governor” of Arizona and has yet to acknowledge the fact that she lost, is one of several Republicans seeking office in 2024 who have spent the past year telling voters — without evidence — that elections in Arizona and other parts of the country are rigged against Republicans and that voting by mail is rife with fraud. Their message has been clear: Elections aren’t fair.
But now, Lake and other Republicans, like failed 2022 attorney general candidate Abe Hamadeh, must convince the electorate to vote for them anyway as they seek new elected offices in 2024.
Lake seems to have already softened her stance on early voting, which she tried to abolish in 2022, telling the crowd gathered for her campaign announcement rally on a warm Oct. 10 evening in Scottsdale to vote early if they wanted to.
The crowd loudly booed the idea, underscoring the challenge she and other Republicans who have peddled baseless election fraud claims face.
“If you choose to vote that way, fine, vote early,” she said. “I’m OK with that. If you want to vote on Election Day, vote that way. Just vote. Don’t sit home because you’re pissed off at the system.”
When Trump appeared on the giant screen behind her to offer his endorsement, he also encouraged the crowd to vote — even as he continued to claim that Democrats “cheat” in elections.
“Republicans must win, and we must win very, very big,” Trump said. “It’s much harder for them to cheat if we do it like we should and we swamp ‘em. If we get enough votes, they can’t cheat, because they can’t cheat that badly.”
But the kind of people who attended Lake’s rally are not the kinds of voters that Lake, Hamadeh and Trump should be worried about, said David Becker, executive director and founder of the Center for Election Innovation & Research, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., that works to restore trust in U.S. elections and ensure election integrity and security.
“She needs a whole lot of Arizonans that aren’t going to rallies to vote for her, and they’re hearing very mixed messages, at best,” he told the Arizona Mirror.
Becker has spent the last 15 years studying the reasons that people across the country decide not to vote. Prior to founding his nonprofit, he directed the elections program at PEW Charitable Trusts, where he looked into the motivations of infrequent voters.
Even in presidential elections, which always have higher turnouts than local and midterm elections, only about 60% of registered voters cast a ballot. That means a huge percentage of infrequent voters need to be persuaded to mail their ballot or come to the polls. And those on the fence about voting can be convinced that it’s not worth it through messaging that comes from across the political spectrum, Becker said.
Becker has found that the two messages most likely to discourage these infrequent voters are that voting is difficult — a message that usually comes from Democrats — and that elections are rigged, messaging that has most recently come from Republicans like Lake and Trump.
“This isn’t speculation,” he said. “Ask Georgia Republicans. The talk of rigging of elections cost them Senate seats. Some Republicans just didn’t show up because of that messaging.”
That’s exactly what the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found in its analysis of voting records from the 2020 presidential election in Georgia and the U.S. Senate runoff election just two months later. The publication found that more than 752,000 voters who cast ballots in the presidential election didn’t vote in the runoffs, with the biggest decline among Republican voters, although some of those voters said they declined to vote in the runoff because of disappointment over Trump’s loss in the presidential election.
A poll conducted on behalf of the Journal-Constitution found that more than 75% of Republican voters in Georgia believed there was widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, compared to just 4% of Democratic voters.
Craig Roland, 61-year-old Georgian, told the Journal-Constitution that he didn’t vote in the runoffs after being discouraged by Trump’s message of rampant fraud that, while unsupported by any evidence, was repeated ad nauseum in the weeks following his loss to Joe Biden.
“What good would it have done to vote? They have votes that got changed,” Roland said. “I don’t know if I’ll ever vote again.”
In those runoffs, Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock beat out Republican incumbents David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, giving Democrats the majority in the U.S. Senate. Georgia has historically been a Republican stronghold but has been turning more purple in the past 15 years or so.
Impact on close races
Tyler Montague, a longtime Arizona Republican Party precinct committeeman and activist, also believes election conspiracy theories have the potential to swing elections for Democrats, especially in the kinds of incredibly close races that the state saw in 2022.
“In these super tight races that are won by fractions of a point, absolutely this stuff makes a difference and has cost Republicans elections,” Montague told the Mirror.
When candidates discourage their followers from voting early, a method used by more than 80% of voters in the Grand Canyon State, some people who decide not to vote early but fully intend to cast their ballots in-person on Election Day will end up running low on time or having some sort of emergency and ultimately end up not voting at all.
In each election, a small percentage of voters who planned to vote on Election Day end up not doing so, Montague said, and in very close races that can impact the outcome.
In the 2022 election for Arizona Attorney General, Republican Abe Hamadeh lost to Democrat Kris Mayes by a mere 280 votes.
“He reaped what he sowed,” Montague said. “They had these (polling place) problems day-of, and I absolutely believe that he probably lost that election because a couple hundred people is all it would take to say, ‘I don’t have time, I’ve got to go,’ and leave because the line was too long.”
Montague added that he does not believe that Hamadeh lost because of fraud.
“Ironically, I think he lost over claims of fraud,” he said.
Kathy Petsas, another longtime local GOP precinct committeeman, believes that some Republican voters will have a difficult time trusting candidates who denigrated early voting in 2022 but who in 2024 will likely be encouraging voters to mail in their ballots.
“I think there are going to be challenges in credibility, when you have candidates who have said that early ballots have an element of fraud to them and that you can’t trust early balloting, when they are going to be focusing on returning early ballots,” Petsas told the Mirror. “I think you’ll have some people who will look at it, also, with some irony.”
And at least some Republican candidates will be encouraging voters to mail in their ballots early, not only to ensure that people actually vote, but also to cut down on costs for the GOP.
“Campaigns check in every day to see who has mailed in their ballots, so they can chase in the ballots of the remaining voters,” Montague said.
When a large number of voters mail in their ballots early, campaigns can narrow their focus — and the amount of money they spend on phone calls, door knocking and mailers — to those who haven’t returned their ballots. When the majority of Republicans plan to vote on Election Day, campaigns end up spending more to reach all of those voters who haven’t yet cast a ballot.
“All the methods they use to reach voters are more expensive for Republicans if their voters are not getting the vote in early,” Montague said.
Montague believes that not only do election conspiracy theories end up depressing the vote, but also turn off some more traditional Republicans, who see through the claims of election fraud as obvious lies.
“So, if you believe these election fraud conspiracies, genuinely, despite all of the evidence to the contrary, I don’t think you’re smart enough to be my leader,” he said. “But if you don’t believe them, but you’re cynically putting it out there, I don’t think you’re honest enough to be my leader, either. Either way, you’re a lose-lose for a voter like me.”
Both Petsas and Montague pointed out that, while election deniers who ran in statewide races in 2022 all lost, other Republicans who didn’t run on that platform won by healthy margins, including state Treasurer Kimberly Yee and Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell.
“These are core issues of integrity, character and core institutions of the country that are being attacked,” Montague said. “People like me don’t want to be part of that. That lost them elections. Stupidity will lose you elections.”
Petsas believes that Republicans who ran on a platform of election fraud in the past couple of years will likely shift to a focus on policy instead, concentrating on issues like the economy, education and school choice.
“They’re going to be pointing the finger at anywhere else except the — perhaps — hypocrisy of begging people to get their early ballots in,” she said.
Montague thinks it might be too late for some of the conspiracy theorists to turn things around and ask people to get in their ballots early, but with Lake facing a potential three-way race and the possibility of vote-splitting among her, U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego, he still thinks Lake has a chance to win.
“People who didn’t vote for Lake last time aren’t going to vote for her this time — en masse at least,” he said. “She hasn’t done anything to win anybody over. I think she’s a terrible candidate under normal conditions. But, then again, it’s the Wild West with a three-way race.”
SUPPORT NEWS YOU TRUST.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.