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Kari Lake reminds us why we can’t fully rejoice in election deniers losing

Trump's 2020 "big lie" has emboldened midterm Republican candidates to use the same tactic in 2022. We need to remain vigilant about the ongoing assault on our democracy.
Kari Lake at a rally in Scottsdale, Ariz. on Nov. 7, 2022.
Kari Lake at a rally Monday in Scottsdale, Ariz.Jon Cherry for NBC News

One day after the 2022 midterms, it’s clear many election-denying Republican candidates have been defeated. It should be a cause for celebration, but we can’t completely rejoice. Doing so would ignore the reality that defeating election deniers at the ballot box isn’t enough to repair the damage they’ve done to the trust in our electoral process or the ongoing assault on our democracy. 

We are already seeing signs of this in Arizona’s gubernatorial race, which NBC News says is too early to call. Republican candidate Kari Lake’s campaign began casting doubts on the election results as her Democratic opponent, Katie Hobbs, took the lead. On Tuesday night, while addressing supporters at her election headquarters, Lake said, “It’s like Groundhog Day” — a reference to the 2020 election. “We need honest elections, and we’re going to bring them to you, Arizona, I assure you of that. The system we have right now does not work,” she continued. In comparison, Hobbs tweeted that she had “every confidence” that Arizona administered a “free and fair election,” signaling that she would accept the results.

With Trump expected to announce his candidacy for 2024 in the coming week, election deniers who lost their races Tuesday will only be given an even larger platform to air their grievances with our democratic process.

Lake is one of more than 370 GOP candidates this midterm cycle who were molded in the image and likeness of former President Donald Trump, questioning the legitimacy of our democracy, peddling the “big lie” and the dangerous idea that candidates have a choice to accept or deny the will of the people. And with Trump expected to announce his candidacy for 2024 in the coming week, election deniers who lost their races Tuesday will only be given an even larger platform to air their grievances with our democratic process.

Furthermore, leading up to the midterms, Steve Bannon said that right-wing activists were mobilizing to “adjudicate every election battle.” This means that through litigation, disruptive behavior and vigilante searches for alleged fraud, they’re prepared to be aggressive in races where their candidates lose.

To borrow Lake’s talking point, it does feel like Groundhog Day. And it’s terrifying. In 2020, we saw Trump call on volunteers to show up at polling locations to monitor the work of election workers, as well as to intimidate fellow voters. The midterms have been no different, with reports of vigilante right-wing voters mobilizing, specifically in swing states like Arizona. It was so bad that a judge issued a restraining order against a group that was seen recording voters at drop boxes in the state.

Additionally, a federal law enforcement assessment found that domestic extremists “pose a heightened threat to the 2022 midterm elections” and may find election officials to be “attractive” targets. We don’t need to imagine how bad this could be in the coming days and weeks as we await results in hotly contested races and the control of Congress hangs in the balance. Following the 2020 presidential election, we saw how the people tasked with helping to make sure all Americans can cast their vote could draw the ire of Trump supporters to the point where it was life-threatening

That’s what we should be focused on since Tuesday’s election didn’t bring about the “red wave” that was predicted and expected by Republicans, especially in gubernatorial races across the country. Notably, GOP candidates such as Pennsylvania’s Doug Mastriano have yet to make concession speeches. After his Democratic opponent, Josh Shapiro, was declared the winner (even by Fox News), Mastriano reportedly said he would “wait patiently” until “every vote is counted,” so the question is whether he and others will concede gracefully and accept the results. Hopefully, they just go away quietly. 

For what it’s worth, election deniers who lost should follow the lead of Michigan Republican gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon who finally conceded to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday morning and even wished her well.

Sadly, Americans who boldly voted in favor of protecting our democracy are anxiously waiting to find out which way it could go. According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll in late October, 67% of registered voters fear that domestic extremists will carry out acts of violence after the election if they are unhappy with the outcome. As voters cast their ballots Tuesday, 43% did so in fear of intimidation or threats of violence at their polling locations. Instead of being excited about casting their votes and exercising their civic duty, Americans are terrified. This shows just how significant of a threat the GOP poses to our electoral process. 

Playing in the background of this fear and degradation of democracy is the assumption that Trump will be running in the 2024 presidential election. “I will very, very, very probably do it again, OK? Very, very, very probably,” he said Thursday night during a rally in Iowa. His presence and influence in the midterms allude to the fact that he’s still the kingmaker in the GOP. But the American experiment is bigger than just one election and one ego. 

Indeed, even more than who makes it to Congress, what should concern us is the fact that election deniers won races for governor, attorney general and secretary of state. These elected officials have a direct role in certifying elections in their respective states. They could very easily inject their views into how their states determine recounts and legitimacies of their elections, especially if they’re emboldened by the candidate at the top of the GOP ticket for president.

In the following days and weeks, we are sure to have a hard-fought battle for our democratic system of government. It’s been made clear that this issue of stolen elections is not going away and will continue to be a defining partisan issue that will mobilize Republican candidates and their base of voters. If you believe, like I do, that democracy is essential to our American way of life, then we can’t let our guard down.

So, what can we do? We can ensure that poll workers are protected and not threatened, we can contact our local legislators and let them know that we believe in safeguards that protect our essential right to vote. Rather than making voting more difficult for people, we should make sure we are working to make voting more accessible for every American. We can donate our time, resources, and voices to the cause — because while your freedoms may be protected today, they may not be tomorrow.

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Our democracy is at a critical point, and it’s clear that authoritarians like Trump will stop at nothing to get their way and thwart the will of the people if given the platform to do so. 

On Jan. 6, 2021, we saw that fellow Americans believe violence is the answer if they disagree with our democratic electoral process. If we want to prevent another violent insurrection from happening, we need to make sure we are doing all we can at not just the federal level, but also in statehouses across the country to prevent any attacks. This is the dire nature of the effect that Trump and the GOP’s election-denying is having on our country, and we must remain vigilant to protect our democracy.