Published 1:31 PM EDT Sep 3, 2020
A day after President Donald Trump appeared to encourage supporters in North Carolina to both mail in ballots and vote in person, the state’s Board of Elections issued a statement Thursday telling voters it is illegal to vote in an election twice.
“It is illegal to vote twice in an election,” said Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections. Bell said state law made it a “Class I felony” for a voter, “with intent to commit a fraud to register or vote at more than one precinct or more than one time … in the same primary or election.”
“Attempting to vote twice in an election or soliciting someone to do so also is a violation of North Carolina law,” Brinson Bell added.
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein also chimed in, advising residents “vote, but do not vote twice.”
After arriving in Wilmington, North Carolina, on Wednesday, Trump told local station WECT that voters in the state should test their state’s election system by voting once by mail, then trying to vote a second time in person.
“Let them send it in and let them go vote, and if the system is as good as they say it is, then obviously they won’t be able to vote,” Trump said.
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Trump has repeatedly said an increase in mailed-in ballots due to COVID-19 concerns could lead to widespread fraud. But most experts say incidents of such fraud are rare and unlikely to be successful on a statistically significant scale.
Brinson Bell said there are “numerous checks in place in North Carolina that prevent people from double voting,” including pollbooks at every early voting site that says who has already cast their ballots. If a voter tries to check in at a polling site and it indicates they have already voted, they will be given a provisional ballot instead of a regular one, she said.
The provisional ballot will then “be researched after Election Day to determine whether it should be counted,” Brinson Bell said.
“On Election Day, voters who have voted absentee are removed from the pollbook, which is updated before voting starts at 6:30 a.m. Absentee ballots that are received on Election Day are not counted until after the election, and this prevents double voting,” she added.
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In addition, the board conducts audits after each election that “check voter history against ballots cast and would detect if someone tries to vote more than once in an election.”
Brinson Bell said “if someone tries to get around the system” their mailed-in ballot “can be retrieved and not counted, so it will not affect the outcome of an election.” An Elections Board investigations team looks into alleged incidents of double voting and can refer cases to prosecutors if they think further action is warranted.
Brinson Bell said if voters request to vote by mail but change their mind, they should discard the absentee ballot, not mail it in, and vote in person instead. She concluded by giving voters instructions on how they can check the status of a mailed-in ballot.
At least four other Democratic attorneys general joined Stein Thursday in telling their state’s residents not to double-vote, including Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.
“Please, folks, don’t follow Trump’s advice. It’s a crime, and we will prosecute anyone who tries – whomever they vote for,” said Frosh,
“Don’t try this at home. I will prosecute you,” said Nessel.
Some critics said Trump’s comments broke the law by encouraging voters to break the law.
“In no uncertain terms, we condemn President Trump’s statements encouraging voters to break the law and vote twice in North Carolina this election season,” said Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, in a statement. “President Trump’s statements may also be illegal to the extent that he is literally encouraging voters to commit intentional voter fraud, regardless of whether those attempts prove unsuccessful.”
“President Trump’s repeated requests to his followers to commit felonies are felony crimes themselves because he is inciting the commission of those crimes,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of the election watchdog organization Common Cause. “You cannot test election integrity rules by breaking them any more than you can rob a bank to make sure your money is safe.”
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters Thursday, “The president does not condone unlawful voting.” She said the president was simply encouraging voters to ensure their votes are counted.
Contributing: Jeanine Santucci
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