President Donald Trump suggested to his supporters on Friday night that if they vote by mail they should also attempt to vote in person as a way to check that their vote is counted, which risks causing chaos at the polls and undermining confidence in the election.
In a North Carolina “telerally” Friday night, which was later posted on Facebook, Trump spent the first few minutes of the call explaining in detail how he wanted his voters to vote. If they vote by mail, they should go to their polling place anyway to “see whether or not your mail-in vote has been tabulated or counted,” Trump said, noting that if it’s been counted, they won’t be able to vote.
It’s a federal crime to vote twice in the same election, and it’s also a felony in almost every state, including North Carolina.
Trump also addressed the possibility that a voter’s mail-in ballot would be tabulated after they had voted in person.
“If it has not been counted, vote – which is every citizen’s right to do – you go and vote. You press the lever and vote. So if it hasn’t been counted, if it doesn’t show up, go and vote, and then, if your mail-in ballot arrives after you vote, which it shouldn’t but possibly it could perhaps, that ballot will not be used or counted in that your vote has already been cast and tabulated, so this way you’re guaranteed to have your vote count,” Trump said. “So send it in. And then see and then vote and let’s see what happens. You’re now assured, though, that your very precious and important vote has been counted.”
The call ratchets up Trump’s previous insinuations that voters should cast ballots twice, which would be illegal. Such attempts would almost certainly be unsuccessful but could serve to further sow confusion about the election, which has already been upended by the coronavirus pandemic and unprecedented demand for mail-in voting.
In a sign of how widely the President’s message was sent, at least one voter in North Carolina heard the telerally after picking up an unsolicited phone call from an unknown number with a 704 area code.
The resident, who had been a registered Republican for more than two decades until they switched to unaffiliated last year, told CNN they were surprised to hear Trump’s voice when they picked up their landline phone just before 7 p.m. ET Friday.
The person, who didn’t want to be identified, said they had not been expecting the call or for it to be more than half an hour long. The person said that when the President began talking about absentee ballots, they thought maybe he was going to walk back his earlier comments, but that was not the case.
CNN has reached out to the Trump campaign and the North Carolina State Board of Elections about the President’s latest remarks.
On Wednesday, Trump first suggested in North Carolina that voters cast their ballots twice to purportedly double-check that their initial votes were counted.
“Well, they’ll go out and they’ll go vote, and they’re going to have to go and check their vote by going to the poll and voting that way, because if it tabulates then they won’t be able to do that,” Trump said. “So 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. If it isn’t tabulated they won’t be able to vote, so that’s the way it is. And that’s what they should do.”
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In a series of cleanup tweets on Thursday, Trump said Americans should “…go to your Polling Place to see whether or not your Mail In Vote has been Tabulated (Counted). If it has, you will not be able to Vote & the Mail In System worked properly. If it has not been Counted, VOTE. …”
Trump’s Twitter commentary is legally sound, but doesn’t make much sense and is an ineffective way for voters to track their ballots, experts have told CNN. But his remarks contained so much misleading information about election procedures that they were quickly censored by Twitter, and prompted election officials from Michigan and North Carolina, among others, to remind citizens Thursday that voting twice is illegal and they could be prosecuted.
The White House has tried to defend the President’s comments suggesting that Americans vote twice, saying Trump “wants enfranchisement” and is simply trying to get Americans to “verify your vote.”
“The President does not condone unlawful voting,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters on Thursday. “The President’s been very clear about this.”
She claimed the media is “taking the President out of context.”
Attorney General William Barr didn’t object to Trump’s initial implication when asked by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer if Trump was encouraging people to commit a crime by voting twice.
“I don’t know exactly what he was saying, but it seems to me what he’s saying is he’s trying to make the point that the ability to monitor this system is not good,” Barr said Wednesday. “And if it was so good, if you tried to vote a second time you would be caught if you voted in person.”
When Blitzer stated that voting twice that way would be illegal, Barr said he didn’t know particular state laws.
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Trump has frequently and baselessly assailed mail-in voting as prone to fraud. Several states have expanded their mail-in voting options this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, but the Trump campaign and the Republican Party are fighting several of them in court.
Following Trump’s and Barr’s comments on Wednesday, Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold warned voters against attempting to vote twice.
“Correcting misinformation about our elections is an important part of the job that I was elected to do by Coloradans,” Griswold said in a statement. “2020 has been unprecedented in so many ways, but I never imagined that as Secretary of State I would have to inform both the President and the US Attorney General that it is illegal to vote twice.”
CNN’s Marshall Cohen, Katelyn Polantz, Nikki Carvajal, Sam Fossum, Maegan Vazquez, and Chandelis Duster contributed to this report.