Following her recent defeat in the U.S. Senate special and regular primaries, California’s U.S. Rep. Katie Porter, D-Irvine, attributed her losses to a “rigged” election. Yet again, we are struck with another incident of “election denial,” and our country is left weaker for it. It’s time for voters to fight back.

After losing to Rep. Adam Schiff and Los Angeles Dodgers legend Steve Garvey in the Top Two primary, Porter took to Twitter to gripe about “an onslaught of billionaires spending millions to rig this election” and alleged that campaign spending—a form of political speech protected under the First Amendment—manipulated voters into choosing her opponents.

At its core, Porter’s complaint is insulting to the millions of voters who turned out to support Schiff and Garvey. It’s also hypocritical. Porter herself regularly ranks among Congress’s top fundraisers, and while she touts her credentials as an anti-corporate, small-dollar fundraiser, the money still spends the same.

Moreover, whether she intended it or not, her accusation calls into question the validity of every major election across the country. Each campaign cycle, billions of dollars are spent to persuade voters to turn out for a candidate. While it is entirely fair to be concerned about the quality of political advertising, in which misleading statements are commonplace, these kinds of ads have been around since our nation’s founding. What we have learned since then is that a robust representative government relies on voters to hear these messages—and their rebuttals—and decide for themselves how to vote. 

But Porter’s behavior highlights a bigger problem. From Hillary Clinton and Stacey Abrams to Donald Trump and Kari Lake, we have seen a persistent trend by losing candidates denying the reality of their defeat. Granted, after appearing in front of fawning audiences and investing so much time, energy and emotional capital—not to mention money—it can be hard for candidates to accept a loss. But conceding to the winners is fundamental for a functioning democracy, and constant questioning of election legitimacy puts our republic in peril.

Similar to the growth of a riot—where it takes a special person to be the first to hurl at rock at a storefront, but the threshold for the five-hundredth rock-thrower is much lower—each new politician that calls an election rigged makes it easier for the next candidate to do the same. And like a riot, election denialism destroys long-standing institutions, leaving us all worse off.

But there is a way to break the cycle. Voters must be willing to hold politicians from their own side accountable when they refuse to admit defeat. After all, electoral politics is a popularity contest, and if denying the validity of an election was sufficiently unpopular, it would stop.

To their credit, fellow Democrats chastised Porter for her comments, prompting her to clarify that she was not attacking the administration of the election but maintaining that voters were “manipulated” into picking other candidates. While these condemnations are a good start, Porter still holds a favorable reputation among Democrats and appears to be a viable candidate going forward. If she were to win statewide office or be appointed to a presidential cabinet position without acknowledging her mistakes, it would lower the threshold for the next candidate to claim a rigged election.

Ultimately, the restoration of a healthy political culture will come down to the voters saying “enough is enough” and withholding donations and votes from candidates who undermine the legitimacy of our elections.

To be clear, this is an exercise that must be undertaken by voters within their own party. In this era of highly polarized politics and negative partisanship, where opposition drives political action, criticisms from the other side are more likely to push partisans to defend the bad behavior rather than condemn it. As a result, meaningful accountability must come from within. 

When Porter called the recent elections “rigged,” she did more than identify herself as a sore loser. Her statement further corroded trust in our elections and made it easier for future candidates to do the same. Politicians must be held accountable for election denialism. Otherwise, we risk our standing as a “shining city on a hill.”