US President Donald Trump said on Thursday that people who vote early by mail should show up at polling places and vote again if their ballots have not been counted, a walk back from previous comments a day earlier when he suggested residents vote twice to test the mail-in system.
Trump has repeatedly asserted, without evidence, that mail-in voting – expanded by some states because of the coronavirus pandemic – would increase fraud and disrupt the November 3 election, although experts say voter fraud of any kind is extremely rare in the United States.
The president said people could mail in their ballots as early as possible and then follow up with a trip to the polls to see whether their mail-in vote was tabulated.
“If it has you will not be able to Vote & the Mail In System worked properly,” Trump said in a lengthy tweet.
“If it has not been Counted, VOTE (which is a citizen’s right to do).”
…..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 (which is a citizen’s right to do). If your Mail In Ballot arrives….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 3, 2020
If the mail-in ballot gets to election officials after a person votes at the polls, the in-person vote will be ignored, he said.
“YOU ARE NOW ASSURED THAT YOUR PRECIOUS VOTE HAS BEEN COUNTED, it hasn’t been ‘lost, thrown out, or in any way destroyed’.”
Trump first made the suggestion during his trip on Wednesday to Wilmington, North Carolina.
“Let them send it in and let them go vote,” he said in an interview with WECT-TV. “And if the system is as good as they say it is then obviously they won’t be able to vote” in person.
Voting more than once in an election is illegal and in some states, including North Carolina, it is a felony not only to vote more than once but also to induce another to do so.
Ballots are due to be mailed in North Carolina on Friday.
The state’s Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat, wrote on Twitter that Trump, a Republican, had “outrageously encouraged” North Carolinians “to break the law in order to help him sow chaos in our election”.
Stein wrote: “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.”
Today, President Trump outrageously encouraged NCians 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.
— Josh Stein (@JoshStein_) September 2, 2020
Trump’s campaign and the White House also denied that he meant to tell people to vote twice.
“The president is not suggesting anyone do anything unlawful,” White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany told Fox News on Thursday. “What he said very clearly there is make sure your vote is tabulated and if it is not, then vote.”
The Democratic National Committee accused Trump of encouraging voter fraud and said the president was undermining confidence in the fairness of the election.
“Let’s be clear: Voting by mail is a safe and secure way for Americans to participate in our democracy – and Trump should be working to make it easier to vote, not harder,” Reyna Walters-Morgan, the DNC’s director of voter protection, said in a statement.
Patrick Gannon, a spokesman for the North Carolina State Board of Elections, said a person would not be able to cast two ballots, regardless of if they voted by mail or in-person first. The first vote that is received and processed is the one that counts, he said.
“Voting twice in an election is a felony,” Gannon said. “If you put a ballot in the mail, and it hasn’t arrived yet, and then you vote in-person before your absentee ballot has arrived, your in-person vote will count.”
He said if an absentee ballot showed up after a person had voted in-person, it would not be counted.
Many Americans vote by mail because they cannot make it to the polls in person. Nearly one in four voters cast presidential ballots by mail in 2016.
The coronavirus pandemic is expected to result in a record number of mail-in ballots this year as voters seek to avoid the risk of infection. Experts have cautioned the expected surge means a winner may not be clear on election night given the time it will take to count and verify all the ballots.
Trump campaigned on Wednesday in North Carolina, known as a battleground state because its population can swing either to Republicans or Democrats and play a decisive role in presidential elections.
National opinion polls suggest Trump, 74, is trailing his Democratic rival Joe Biden, 77, the vice president under then-President Barack Obama. Democrats accuse Republicans of trying to suppress the vote to help their side.
However, the race is much tighter in battleground states, which are crucial for both candidates.