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Thursday, September 3, 2020
Don’t Vote Twice
President Trump offered some atypically bad advice to North Carolinians yesterday. The president has previously offered so much bad advice that his listeners should know to be wary of following his recommendations without getting second opinions. Unfortunately, many seem to take Mr. Trump’s word as gospel. Doing so this time could land them in jail.
Speaking to a local reporter in North Carolina, President Trump told the crowd, “If you get the unsolicited ballots, send it in and then go make sure it’s counted and if it doesn’t tabulate, you vote. You just vote.”
“And then, if they tabulate it very late, which they shouldn’t be doing, they’ll see you’ve voting and so it won’t count,” the president continued.
“So, send it early and then go and vote, and if it’s not tabulated, you vote and the vote is going to count,” Trump added. “You can’t let them take your vote away.”
There is a lot of wrongness to unpack there.
First, it is against both state and federal law to vote more than once. Under a section of federal law titled “Voting more than once,” the US Code says, “Whoever votes more than once in an election… shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.”
Second, only five states typically mail out “unsolicited” ballots to all voters. Axios reports that as many as ten states and the District of Columbia are planning to do so this year due to the pandemic. North Carolina is not one of them.
The full list of universal mail voting states is California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana (where Ryan Watson reports the Trump Administration has filed suit to stop the changes), Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Vermont. Far from being a blue-state policy, universal mail-in ballots have long been offered by both Democrat and Republican states. Before the pandemic, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington offered universal vote by mail.
Despite Trump’s claim that “every place where they have” used universal mail-in ballots “has been a mess,” incidences of voter fraud in universal vote-by-mail states have been very low. The FBI says that influencing an election using mail-in ballot fraud would be nearly impossible.
“While certain pockets of the country have seen their share of absentee-ballot scandals, problems are extremely rare in the five states that rely primarily on vote-by-mail, including the heavily Republican state of Utah,” Richard L. Hasen, an elections expert at the University of California, Irvine, School of Law, said in the Associated Press.
With respect to the president’s admonition to making sure your absentee and/or mail-in ballot is counted, Newsweek reports that 39 states and the District of Columbia have the capability to track mail-in ballots. This does not mean that there is a record of who you voted for, but there is a record that you voted. If your mail-in ballot gets lost or is slow to reach state officials, the proper response is to contact your local elections officials, not to vote a second time. Depending on the state, you may be offered a provisional ballot, but “You just vote” again is not the way to handle the problem.
Given that the Post Office and state election officials will be seeing an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots this year, the best advice is to vote in person if you feel that it is safe to do so. My personal preference is to vote early in person. If your state allows early voting, you can avoid crowds by casting your ballot before Election Day. In past years, I’ve often been the only person at the poll when I voted early. Reserve mail-in ballots for those who are truly at-risk or who cannot visit their polling place in person, but Coronavirus should be a valid reason for voting absentee.
President Trump has given bad advice before, such as when he suggested the “injection” of “disinfectants” to combat Coronavirus. His suggestion to vote twice is more insidious because it sounds reasonable where injecting disinfectants sounds crazy to anyone of even moderate intelligence. The problem is that following this reasonable-sounding advice is a felony.
What’s more, federal law also prohibits inducing others to commit voter fraud. By instructing people to vote twice, there is a valid argument that President Trump himself committed a crime. Of course, a Justice Department that argues that a president cannot be indicted can be trusted not to prosecute. In fact, Attorney General Barr is already on record that, “I don’t know what the law is.”
President Trump’s advice to vote more than once is bad advice that can get voters into serious legal trouble and threatens to undermine the integrity of the election. Of course, what else should we expect from a chief executive whose tenure has been filled with both lack of respect for and ignorance of the law?
Update: The North Carolina State Board of Elections tweeted to remind voters that following President Trump’s advice would result in the voter committing a Class I felony. The tweet notes that soliciting a vote to vote twice is also illegal.