Officials also made it clear double ballots “will not be counted” and said in-person efforts to check the status of mail ballots will “make lines longer” and could further spread the Covid-19.
Trump has promoted outlandish lies and conspiracy theories about elections for years. But his comments this week significantly escalated the situation by urging his supporters to break election laws, while simultaneously accusing Democrats of perpetrating massive voter fraud.
It is illegal to vote twice
“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,” Trump told local station WECT on Wednesday, suggesting that people who sent in absentee ballots should also vote in-person to stress-test the system.
His first comment encourages illegal activity. His second comment is legally sound, but doesn’t make much sense and is an ineffective way for voters to track their ballots, experts said.
“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,” said Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, a Democrat. “Knowingly voting twice is a felony. Period. Doing it creates a mess for the voter and the election administrators alike.”
Federal law makes it a crime to vote twice in the same election, and it’s also a felony in almost every state, according to David Becker, a former Justice Department trial attorney who handled voting rights cases, and now runs the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation and Research.
“It is illegal to vote twice in an election,” Karen Brinson Bell, the top election official in North Carolina, said in a statement. “The State Board office strongly discourages people from showing up at the polls on Election Day to check whether their absentee ballot was counted. That is not necessary, and it would lead to longer lines and the possibility of spreading Covid-19.”
Checking your mail ballot
Even though Trump clearly encouraged double voting, he walked back part of his comments on Thursday and suggested that people should merely go to their polling places to inquire about the status of their absentee ballots. This is legal, but generally speaking, it’s not a good idea.
Election officials across the country stressed on Thursday that there are plenty of reliable options for voters to track the progress of their absentee ballots from home — without going to a physical polling place, which could create longer lines and waste critical time for poll workers.
Bell, the top election official in North Carolina, said she “strongly discourages people from showing up at the polls on Election Day to check whether their absentee ballot was counted.”
All 88 counties in Ohio have tracking systems where voters can follow the status of their absentee applications and ballots, according to Maggie Sheehan, a spokeswoman for the Ohio secretary of state.
CNN’s Ethan Cohen and Caroline Kenny contributed to this report.