That Lake now faces this typical uncertainty carries with it some irony. Few candidates for office this year have been as energetic as Lake in mirroring and amplifying Trump’s false claims about widespread election fraud and broken electoral systems. Yet here she is, subject to the same normal process that Trump endured in 2020.
The difference, of course, is that Lake took the lead as votes were counted. Trump lost his lead — and his fraud obsession was born.
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Coming into the election, Lake was prepared for the possibility that she might similarly lose because of “fraud,” which is to say that she might similarly lose. She made vague allegations about having detected fraud in the balloting but declined to offer any evidence to support her claim when challenged. It seemed overtly tactical, an effort to till the soil given polling that suggested a close result. But, as with Trump, the practicalities of undermining an election you might lose can overlap with a sincere belief that something sketchy is afoot.
That Lake is still waiting to see if she won and Masters isn’t is in part a function of the field of candidates in each race. Masters benefited from having two strong opponents instead of one. He earned only 39 percent of the vote against his competitors’ 29 percent and 18 percent, but in a first-past-the-post contest, that was enough.
Lake, on the other hand, had only Robson in serious contention with her. So even though she was the choice of more than 46 percent of primary voters — 50,000 more than Masters — Robson was still hanging around at 44 percent.
Both Lake and Masters fared better in precincts with lower densities of college graduates, reflecting a common pattern since 2016 in which Republicans without degrees were more supportive of Trump and his endorsed candidates. To Lake’s likely detriment, though, she saw a bigger drop-off in better-educated precincts than did Masters.
Still, she seems likely to prevail. Part of the reason that the race hasn’t been called for Lake yet is what votes still need to be counted. Frustratingly, it’s not clear which votes are outstanding or how many there are. The state has a page tracking that data as submitted by counties, but it’s woefully incomplete. The two counties that have reported outstanding votes are both ones in which Lake is leading.
The state’s website indicates that three other counties haven’t reported all of their precinct results yet, including the most populous county, Maricopa. It is expected to publish more results on Wednesday evening. So far, Robson has earned more votes there, but only barely: she has a 3,000-vote edge. If there are a) a lot of votes to be counted and b) those are mostly early votes, Maricopa could help eat into Lake’s lead. After all, while Lake got 63 percent of the Election Day vote, Robson got nearly half of the early vote (compared to 40 percent earned by Lake).
Again taking a cue from Trump, Lake’s team declared on Twitter that the result “isn’t a win. It’s a blowout.” It’s a bold statement, particularly for a candidate with less than 50 percent of the vote who leads by less than two percentage points. But it establishes the idea that the race is hers, setting the stage for the candidate and her team to potentially present that any shift in Robson’s favor as illicit or fraudulent. Never mind that they enthusiastically tracked vote-counting as the margin shifted in her favor. Given Lake’s long-standing rhetoric, it’s easy to predict one possible response to such a change: fraud!
We attribute this tactic to Trump, for good reason, but it predates his 2020 candidacy. In 2018, when then-Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) was seeking election to the Senate, he accused heavily Democratic counties that were slowly tallying votes of having been tainted by fraud. Subsequent examinations showed that they hadn’t been (just as reviews of 2020 have repeatedly shown no significant fraud), but a pattern was established: offset shifts in vote-counting by casting them as dubious.
Again, Lake’s lead (unlike Scott’s in 2018 or Trump’s deficit in 2020) is probably large enough that she will be certified as the winner. The only significant role voter fraud will have played in her race will have been to elevate her as a favorite of Trump’s and of Trump’s supporters for obsessing over it. But if new vote counting begins to disadvantage her, we can expect that her response will not be quiet acceptance of the same slow process that currently has her ahead by 11,000 votes.