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Trump Encouraged NC Voters to Cast 2 Ballots; Here’s What He Got Wrong

September 4, 2020by Brian Murphy and Will Doran, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) (TNS)
President Donald Trump speaks to a small crowd outside the USS North Carolina on Sept. 2, 2020 in Wilmington, North Carolina. President Donald Trump visited the port city for a brief ceremony designating Wilmington as the nation's first WWII Heritage City. The title is in honor of the area's efforts during WWII.(Photo by Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images/TNS)

RALEIGH, N.C. — President Donald Trump encouraged North Carolina voters Wednesday to mail in their ballots and then — if their vote hasn’t been counted yet — go to the polls to vote, which is in violation of state election law.

Trump made his comments in Wilmington, where he was commemorating the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II.

North Carolina has received more than 618,000 absentee by-mail requests already for the 2020 election — a far higher figure than the nearly 200,000 people who voted absentee by mail in the 2016 presidential election. North Carolina voters can request an absentee by mail ballot on the state board’s website.

Question: What did Trump say?

Answer: Trump seemed to conflate separate issues during his statements in Wilmington.

“On your ballots, if you get the unsolicited ballots, send it in and then go make sure it counted and if it doesn’t tabulate, you vote. Just vote. And then if they calculate it very late, which they shouldn’t be doing, they’ll see you voted and so it won’t count,” said Trump, a Republican.

“Send it in early and then go and vote and if it’s not tabulated, you vote. And the vote is going to count.”

Trump has requested an absentee ballot from Florida, which is now his home state. He has been outspoken in his criticism of mail-in balloting.

“You can’t let them take your vote away. These people are playing dirty politics, dirty politics,” Trump continued on the tarmac in Wilmington where he spoke to a crowd of supporters.

“So if you have an absentee ballot, or as I call it a solicited ballot, you send it in. But I would check it in any event. I would go follow it and go vote. Everybody here wants to vote.”

He made separate, but similar comments at a later point where he seemed to question the state’s system for allowing one vote per person.

“So let them send it in and let them go vote, and if their system’s as good as they say it is, then obviously they won’t be able to vote,” Trump said, according to NBC News.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Thursday that Trump “does not condone unlawful voting.”

“A lot of states have what are called electronic poll books. And what this means is that in real time, this is updated. So if your vote is counted, they check the electronic poll book, and you will not be able to vote in person because your vote has been counted,” McEnany said Thursday during her briefing.

“Every state in the country, you can cast a provisional ballot, and that is a ballot that is there, and if your vote that you have mailed in is not counted, they will then count the provisional ballot. And that is exactly what the president is referring to.”

North Carolina has electronic poll books and provisional ballots.

She said that Trump understands that mail-in voting is “is subject to fraud, every vote should count, and every American should verify that their vote was counted by going to their voting location.”

In North Carolina, voters can track their mail-in ballots online.

Q: Is Trump’s suggestion against the law?

A: Karen Brinson Bell, the executive director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, said that it is a Class I felony for a voter “with intent to commit fraud to register or vote at more than one precinct or more than one time … in the same primary or election.”

She said attempting to vote twice in an election or soliciting someone to do so is also a violation of North Carolina law.

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat, said Trump was trying to “sow chaos in our election.”

“President Trump outrageously encouraged (North Carolinians) to break the law in order to help him sow chaos in our election. Make sure you vote, but do NOT vote twice! I will do everything in my power to make sure the will of the people is upheld in November,” Stein wrote on Twitter.

On Wednesday, 19 people in North Carolina were charged with federal voter fraud crimes for voting despite not being citizens.

Q: What kind of punishment do people face for voting twice?

A: If convicted of voting more than once, you will be facing a Class I felony. In addition to losing your future voting rights because of a felony record, you could also face up to a year in prison.

Q: Can you “test the system”?

A: According to the state board: “If someone has voted an absentee ballot and then shows up to vote in person, the check-in system will alert the poll worker that the person has already voted.”

Brinson Bell said “there are numerous checks in place in North Carolina that prevent people from double voting.” She said electronic poll books with information about who has already voted are used at every early voting site and, on Election Day, voters who have voted absentee are removed from the poll book.

Q: Does North Carolina send “unsolicited” ballots?

A: North Carolina does not send “unsolicited” ballots to voters who do not request them, despite Trump’s comments here. It would be a crime for any election official to do so.

But some states do send mail-in ballots to every registered voter, which might be what Trump was referring to. Regardless, it is a crime in every state to vote twice.

Q: What happens if the state rejects my mail-in ballot? Do I get a second chance?

A: Officials might not accept your ballot if you don’t do it right. In a change from past rules, a new court order says North Carolina must give voters “due process” to fix problems with their mail-in ballot this year. Not all problems will be fixable, however, so it’s important to carefully follow the rules to make sure your vote does get counted.

Q: What if I request an absentee ballot but later change my mind and want to vote in person?

A: As long as you don’t vote twice — that’s a crime — you can vote however you want. Simply getting a mail-in ballot doesn’t mean you have to use that ballot. Just like anyone can request a mail-in ballot, anyone who gets one can decide not to use it, and go vote in person instead. You just can’t do both.

Q: What if I do mail in my ballot but later want to cancel it and vote in-person instead?

A: That’s too bad. Once you mail your ballot in, you can’t cancel it. And if you go vote in person as Trump suggested, you will likely be turned away before getting the chance to cast a second ballot. But if you do end up voting twice, you could be charged with a crime.

Q: Did Trump break the law?

A: That’s up to prosecutors to decide, and it’s unlikely that the president would be charged with any crime.

But it is technically a Class I felony in North Carolina “to induce another” to “vote at more than one precinct or more than one time.”

“Double-voting or ‘inducing’ someone to double vote is a felony in North Carolina. Period,” tweeted political scientist Michael Bitzer, a professor at Catawba College, who closely tracks the state’s absentee by-mail requests.

Gerry Cohen, a member of the Wake County Board of Elections and former lawyer for the state Legislature, tweeted that he is currently putting together a syllabus for a graduate-level class on election law at Duke University and didn’t think he’d have to include such basic facts.

”I apparently will need to have a unit on how many times you can vote and who you should accept election law advice from,” he said.

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©2020 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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