Kari Lake just might be the election-denying gift who keeps on giving. For nearly three months, Lake has spun one wild conspiracy theory after another to explain how and why she lost the Arizona gubernatorial race. Earlier this week, she tweeted out a series of images of voters’ signatures—a “BOMBSHELL DISCOVERY,” the failed candidate announced—claiming that they showed a mismatch between the signatures Arizona has on file and those that ended up on ballots. Lake claimed that 40,000 people had voted illegally, using signatures that didn’t match those on file.
But in Arizona, publishing voters’ signatures, if you’re not the voter or an authorized representative, is a felony offense, as election law experts were quick to point out. In the wake of Lake’s ill-conceived Twitter stunt, newly elected Secretary of State Adrian Fontes referred the matter to newly elected Attorney General Kris Mayes—both of whom had beaten out election deniers in the November election—for potential prosecution.
Fontes wouldn’t comment directly on the case during our conversation, but he did note that The Washington Post had published his letter to Mayes, including the unredacted version of Lake’s tweet, urging that the GOP candidate be investigated for her actions.
Fontes, who defeated election denier Mark Finchem back in November, has no patience for movements that seek to undermine confidence in democratic processes. In his mind, Lake and those who buy into her election denialism are doing “a horrible thing for American democracy.” Yet, he argues, the deniers are a waning force. “I think there are fewer and fewer people who want to bother with this subject matter,” he says. “Generally speaking, I think the tide is turning.”
Opinion polls back this up. In the aftermath of the midterms, a majority of Republican voters reported that they thought the elections were free and fair. And roughly 60 percent of Americans believe that Trump’s campaign to be elected president again come 2024—a campaign largely built on grievances about the 2020 election—is a bad thing. A recent analysis of voting patterns in Maricopa County, home to the huge urban sprawl of Phoenix, concluded that Lake, an election denier who faced a barrage of criticism not only from Democrats but also from Republicans such as Liz Cheney, lost because roughly 33,000 GOP-leaning voters in the county crossed over to support Democrat Katie Hobbs.
During this legislative session, Fontes estimates, there are fewer pieces of legislation with the intent of undermining the state’s voting process being pushed by Arizona legislators than there were last year. It simply isn’t, he says, the issue that is stirring people up in 2023. Instead, Fontes continues, “folks are concerned with water, with education. These are the things Arizonans care about.”
Speaking of water, despite the epic rain and snowstorms out West this past month, the Colorado River is still being strained way beyond its capacity to deliver water to the 40 million Westerners who rely on it to meet their daily needs.
In fact, so serious are the shortfalls, and so at risk are the huge hydroelectric plants and dams that keep water flowing into cities and generate the electric power that keeps the West’s lights on, that the feds have mandated seven Western states to negotiate huge cuts in water usage or else face federally imposed rationing. Given how many mega-cities there are in this part of the country, and given the concentration of agriculture in California’s Central Valley and other parts of the region, this is a vastly difficult task. Think of it as akin to the huge, decades-long effort required to rejuvenate the prairies and farmlands of the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles and neighboring parts of New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas after the overworked topsoil blew off and created the desolation of the 1930s Dust Bowl.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the states are lurching from one failed negotiation to the next as they attempt to square this circle. Most recently, California has played the role of spoiler, standing in the way of a settlement tentatively agreed on by water negotiators from Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming that would have saved upwards of 2 million acre-feet of water per year. California, which, having become a state before the others, boasts seniority in water rights in the region, is holding out, hoping to pass along deeper cuts to other states and to protect its own access to a dwindling water supply.
California’s own proposal for cuts is, reportedly, in the works, but it may be a case of smoke and mirrors. The feds are mandating reductions in water usage to get it down to sustainable levels in the long run. California is proposing using a baseline figure for water availability that ignores the millions of acre-feet lost each year to evaporation and during the process of moving water from one location to another. In other words, it is using an accounting quirk to pretend that the Colorado delivers more usable water than it does. It is then basing its proposed cuts—which, because of the system of priority water rights that govern the West, will fall largely on Arizona and Nevada, leaving California’s water supplies mainly protected—on that notional, unreasonably high, baseline number.
That’s the sort of water-accounting gimmickry that got the West into so much hydrologic trouble to begin with. Just as election denialism undermines confidence in democratic systems, so water shortage denialism in an area prone to drought and with a mushrooming population undermines long-term solutions that could put the water-starved West on a path to long-term sustainability. If the Colorado River system, the dams and power plants strung along it, and the distribution structures that send out water to tens of millions of people fail, the effects will be truly calamitous. Better to work out painful, but viable, cuts now than to watch as the West’s most important water supply is destroyed over the years to come.