On Sept. 2, Trump spoke in Wilmington, North Carolina, with local television reporter Jon Evans about the upcoming Presidential election. First, he expressed displeasure with the idea that 600,000 North Carolinians might actually vote absentee during a pandemic – an action in itself not lawless but certainly callous, narcissistic and unbefitting a president. Then he urged people who vote by mail to also show up to vote in person on Election Day.
“They’ll go out and they’ll vote, and they’re gonna 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. So, let ‘em send it in, and let ‘em go vote. And if their system’s as good as they say it is, then obviously they won’t be able to vote. If it isn’t tabulated, they’ll be able to vote. So that’s the way it is, and that’s what they should do.”
Trump’s remarks caused North Carolina state officials to quickly issue statements reminding voters that intentionally voting twice in one election is illegal The next day, Karen Brinson Bell, the executive director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections and the state’s top election official, provided guidance to absentee voters. She urged mail-in voters not to come to the polls on Election Day to check their voting status and instead check it safely from home through an online tool called BallotTrax. (Voters can also use a separate state online voter lookup tool or call their local election officials.) Brinson Bell noted that showing up on Election Day for the purported purpose of checking that your mail-in ballot was received will lead to longer lines and potentially increase the spread of COVID-19. Josh Stein, the Attorney General of North Carolina, also weighed in, calling Trump’s statements “deeply troubling” and cautioning voters that “it is against the law to vote or attempt to vote twice.”
Numerous officials from other states decried Trump’s attempts to muddy the waters and cause confusion in an already-difficult election year.
- Douglas A. Kellner, co-chair of the New York State Board of Elections, noted that state officials are already “stretched to the limit” by holding an election during a pandemic.
- Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon stated, “It’s like advising someone to try to rob a bank to see if the security is as good as the bank says it is. Knowingly voting twice is a felony. Period.”
- Dana Nessel, the Attorney General of Michigan, didn’t mince words. She tweeted: “Hey folks. Attorney General Nessel here — top law enforcement official in Michigan, for those keeping track. Don’t try this at home, I will prosecute you.”
Perhaps Trump was ignorant of these state laws. Or perhaps he was trying to be clever by attempting to create the type of mail-in voter fraud that he continually – without evidence – alleges is widespread. Or maybe he just wants to create chaos at the polls on Election Day so that he can argue that the election results are unreliable. The problem is, inducing another voter to commit voter fraud is a Class I felony under North Carolina law.
Despite the fallout from his statements — including Twitter labeling his tweet as violating its policy on civic integrity — Trump doubled down on his comments the next day in a campaign speech in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and at a tele-rally on Friday night. He once again told his supporters to send in their mail-in ballots and then to show up on Election Day and try to vote in person if their absentee ballot had not yet been tabulated.
Elections are run by states, and details of state laws vary when it comes to illegal voting. Since each state has its own interpretation of what it means to try to vote twice as well as its own rules regarding when absentee ballots are tabulated, following Trump’s advice would put voters at risk of violating the law.
North Carolina voters must request an absentee ballot themselves – North Carolina will not be automatically mailing a ballot or a ballot application to every registered voter — but they do not need a specific reason to vote by mail. The State Board of Elections lists five steps to follow:
- Request your ballot
- Submit your completed request
- Complete your ballot when you receive it in the presence of at least one witness
- Complete and sign the absentee ballot return envelope
- Return your ballot to your county board of elections
Voters should allow about a week for their ballot to reach them after the request is received.
North Carolina also allows a form of early voting in which voters return a completed absentee ballot in person to any early voting site in their county. These sites also allow same-day registration and casting of ballot, provided citizens meet certain requirements. Early voting begins Thursday, Oct. 15, and ends Saturday, Oct. 31.
In-person voting on Nov. 3, is, of course, also available to North Carolina voters with enhanced COVID-19 protocols in place.
So, North Carolina voters – make a plan now to vote for Joe Biden, the candidate who cares about you and the law. Remember the crucial down-ballot races, like your next senator, so view your sample ballot ahead of time. Once you’ve chosen the voting method that’s right for you, help your friends and family make their own voting plans. If voting by mail, your plan should include returning your ballot in person or mailing your ballot in early (at least two weeks before Election Day) and if voting in person, make sure you know your polling place. If you vote early, share your positive experience on social media and encourage other voters to do the same!
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