President Donald Trump has introduced more confusion into what already stands to be America's most difficult presidential election in modern times by suggesting — and then partly backing away from — a legally dubious scheme in which his supporters would try to vote twice in order to test voting safeguards.
“Let them send it in and let them go vote,” Trump said in an interview on Wednesday with WECT-TV in Wilmington, North Carolina. “And if the system is as good as they say it is, then obviously they won’t be able to vote” in person.
On Thursday in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, Trump seemingly amended his remarks to say his followers should only vote a second time if their first vote was not counted.
“Sign your mail-in ballot … and send it in,” Trump told a crowd of invited supporters in a Latrobe airport hangar. “And then you have to follow it. And if on Election Day or early voting, that if it is not tabulated or counted, you go vote.”
The president added, “You have to make sure your vote counts.”
State election officials are preparing for a record number of mailed-in ballots in the November 3 election because of the coronavirus pandemic. The president has repeatedly claimed, without evidence, the opposition Democrats will “harvest” tens of millions of mailed ballots in order to attempt “the greatest scam in the history of politics.”
On Wednesday in North Carolina, Trump first urged his supporters to vote twice to ensure their votes are counted, comments that have sown confusion over his intended message and caused Facebook to label his claims as misleading and Twitter to slap a warning on a pair of his Thursday tweets.
“This video violates our policies prohibiting voter fraud and we will remove it unless it is shared to correct the record,” Facebook said in a statement about his North Carolina recorded comments.
In tweets earlier Thursday, the president amended the message.
“On Election Day, or Early Voting, 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),” said Trump on his personal (@realDonaldTrump) Twitter account.
Twitter deemed the Trump tweets a violation of its rules about civic integrity and elections.
“The laws regarding the invalidation of mail-in ballots when individuals choose to vote in person are complex and vary significantly by state. Our goal is to prevent people from sharing advice about voting twice, which may be illegal,” Twitter said in a tweet.
“The president does not condone unlawful voting,” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany replied repeatedly when pressed at a briefing Thursday on whether she would acknowledge it is illegal in the United States to vote twice in the same election.
The press secretary accused the media of taking out of context Trump’s comments.
“The president wants enfranchisement, not disenfranchisement,” McEnany added.
“It is illegal in all 50 states and under federal law to vote twice,” Ellen Weintraub, a commissioner and former chair of the Federal Election Commission, said.
Weintraub, a Democratic Party appointee, also said on Twitter “there’s still no basis for the conspiracy theory” that postal balloting will lead to a rigged election, as Trump has repeatedly asserted.
North Carolina’s election board also responded swiftly in a statement posted to Twitter.
“It is illegal to vote twice in an election,” the board’s executive director, Karen Brinson Bell, said. “There are numerous checks in place in North Carolina that prevent people from double voting.”
Bell’s statement explains that election pollbooks at every early voting site contain information about who has already voted. On Election Day, voters who have cast absentee ballots are removed from the pollbooks, which are updated before actual in-person voting begins.
“Because absentee ballots and early ballots are retrievable, if someone tries to get around the system, their ballots can be retrieved and not counted, so it will not affect the outcome of an election,” Bell added.
Michigan officials, Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, both Democrats, issued a reminder to voters in that state Thursday that “intentionally voting twice is illegal and will be prosecuted.”
The Democratic Party nominee, Joe Biden, challenging Trump in November’s election, accuses the incumbent of “trying to delegitimize” the process.
“The way to overcome this is to vote. Vote, vote, vote,” the former vice president told Atlanta’s WSB-TV in an interview Wednesday. “And there’s not a shred of evidence, not a shred of evidence that mail-in voting is fraudulent.”
National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this story.