A day after President Donald Trump encouraged North Carolinians to try to vote twice in November, he made a convoluted appeal that they both mail in ballots and appear at polling places in person on Election Day, even as local election officials warned of potential illegality.
Trump has frequently criticized mail-in voting as rife with fraud, an argument that not only lacks evidence but also is at odds with his campaign's attempt to get his supporters to cast their ballots by mail. Democrats have been pushing to expand access to mail-in voting in response to the coronavirus pandemic, which they say is necessary to ensure safety.
In a series of posts Thursday on Twitter, Trump appeared to encourage all of his supporters to test the system by mailing in ballots and then visiting polling places.
Trump called on supporters to return their ballots "as EARLY as possible."
Then, he said, "on Election Day, or Early Voting, go to your Polling Place to see whether or not your Mail In Vote has been Tabulated (Counted)."
He said that if voters are told that their ballots had already been tabulated, "you will not be able to Vote & the Mail In System worked properly."
But if voters are told that their ballots had not been counted, they should vote in person at their polling places, he said. Trump argued that if voters cast two ballots, election officials will not count the mailed-in ballots.
"YOU ARE NOW ASSURED THAT YOUR PRECIOUS VOTE HAS BEEN COUNTED, it hasn't been 'lost, thrown out, or in any way destroyed,'" he wrote on Twitter.
Trump's statements appear to ignore the complexity of the laws governing the voting process. Each state has its own laws dictating how elections should be conducted, when absentee votes are tabulated and how officials verify that someone is not trying to vote twice.
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In a number of states, officials do not begin to count mail-in ballots until Election Day or in the days that immediately precede it, although lawmakers in some states are trying to adjust those timelines. In some states, officials would not be able to verify whether mail-in ballots had been tabulated. Many states offer voters the ability to track their mail-in-ballots online.
Both Twitter and Facebook slapped warning labels on the posts, which were cross-posted to each platform, Thursday afternoon.
On Wednesday, Trump suggested that his North Carolina supporters should test the security of the state's system by mailing ballots and then trying to vote in person on Election Day.
The White House later tried to walk back Trump's comments, saying he was encouraging his supporters to verify that their mail-in ballots had been counted, not to try to cast duplicate ballots.
"The president does not condone unlawful voting, and the president has been very clear about this," press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Thursday, adding: "What Democrats want you to do is say: 'Trust us but don't verify. Don't verify that your vote's been counted. This president's trying to enfranchise Americans.'"
Democrats have said Trump is trying to sow doubt about the voting process because he is afraid he will lose this fall.
"Trump yesterday encouraged his supporters to commit voter fraud," Reyna Walters-Morgan, the Democratic National Committee's director of voter protection and civic engagement, told NBC News in a statement. "Let's be clear: Voting by mail is a safe and secure way for Americans to participate in our democracy — and Trump should be working to make it easier to vote, not harder.
"We know Trump will attempt to spread misinformation with the goal of weakening trust in our democracy because what he fears most in November are millions of Americans at the ballot box holding him accountable," she continued.
For months, Trump has questioned the legitimacy of mail-in-voting, and he has already claimed that the prevalence of mail-in-balloting will lead to a election "rigged" against him and to benefit Democrats. There is no clear evidence showing that either party gains an edge with mail-in voting, although recent polling has shown that a higher proportion of Democrats plan to cast ballots by mail than Republicans this fall.
Voting twice in North Carolina is a Class 1 felony, Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the State Board of Elections, said in a statement. Voters who have cast absentee ballots and then try to vote at their polling places will be given provisional ballots, she said. If officials determine that the absentee ballots have not been tabulated, the provisional ballots will be counted.
"It is illegal to vote twice in an election," Brinson Bell said. "If a voter tries to check in who has already voted, they will be prevented from voting a regular ballot."
Brinson Bell said that if people request absentee ballots but decide they would rather vote in person, they can. But they should discard the absentee ballots.
Trump and first lady Melania Trump have both requested to vote by mail in their home state, Florida, this year.
The president made similar claims about mail-in-balloting and fraud during his 2016 campaign.
In Iowa, a woman was charged in early 2017 with having voted twice. The woman, a Trump supporter, told police that she believed his claims about a rigged election and thought her initial ballot would be changed to a vote for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.