President turns mass mail-in voting into a wedge issue as his poll numbers stagnate
Donald Trump suggested on Tuesday that people should attempt to vote twice to test the electoral system’s integrity, enraging observers already disturbed by his repeated attacks on the legitimacy of the upcoming election.
The same anger greeted attorney general Bill Barr later in the day when he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that he was unaware if what Trump was suggesting was illegal.
Mr Trump made his comments at a campaign stop in North Carolina as part of a rambling answer about mail-in balloting, which he has been railing against for months despite voting by mail himself.
“So let them send it in, and let them go vote,” he said. “And if the system is as good as they say it is, then they obviously won’t be able to vote. If it isn’t tabulated, they’ll be able to vote. So that’s the way it is.”
The implication of his instructions – that if someone who has voted by mail presents themselves at a polling station and is not stopped from voting should do so – was immediately seized upon by critics who pointed out that for voters to use their vote twice would be a crime.
Brookings Institution fellow Benjamin Wittes addressed voters directly: “The president is urging you to commit a felony—one for which you, though not he, could actually get prosecuted. Be careful whom you listen to for advice about how to conduct yourself during this election.”
Legal scholar Rick Hasen pointed out that Mr Trump’s direction to voters may have been criminal in itself. Writing on the Election Law Blog, he cited a North Carolina law holding that it is a crime “for any person with intent to commit a fraud to register or vote at more than one precinct or more than one time, or to induce another to do so, in the same primary or election, or to vote illegally at any primary or election.”
The Lincoln Project’s Ryan Wiggins put it more pithily: “Another day, another felony for our Conman in Chief.”
The furore was well underway by the time Mr Trump’s attorney general, Bill Barr, was interviewed that evening by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. Mr Barr declined to be drawn on the detail of Mr Trump’s advice to voters, instead paraphrasing it based on his own interpretation – and claiming not to know whether attempting to vote twice is illegal in North Carolina.✕
Like Mr Trump, he was immediately slated for his remarks. “Barr claims not to know it’s illegal to vote twice. Who’s he think he’s fooling?” wrote Harvard Law School’s Lawrence Tribe.
Democratic congressman Ted Lieu pointed out a major flaw in the administration’s logic. “Dear anyone at @TheJusticeDept: Can you please educate Bill Barr that it is illegal to vote twice. And it’s really, really easy to get caught since you are giving the evidence directly to the state.”
After the president gave his advice, the Trump campaign put out a statement to try and narrow the implications of what he said. “The president is now drawing attention to the reckless election law tampering Democrats are doing in states across the country, creating the very real opportunity for people to vote twice,
“President Trump encourages supporters to vote absentee-by-mail early, and then show up in person at the polls or local registrar to verify their vote has already been counted.
“It’s amazing that the media can go from insisting that voter fraud doesn’t exist to screaming about it when president Trump points out the giant holes in the Democrats’ voting schemes.”