Trump may have "committed a felony" by telling supporters to commit voter fraud: "Do NOT vote twice"

AG Bill Barr defended the comments and claimed he did not know whether voting twice — a felony — is illegal

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published September 3, 2020 10:00AM (EDT)

Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Attorney General Bill Barr defended President Donald Trump urging supporters to illegally vote twice in North Carolina even as a top Democratic lawyer argued that his comments constituted a "felony."

Trump traveled to North Carolina on Wednesday, where he told supporters to test the voting system by casting a mail ballot and then voting in person on Election Day, which The New York Times noted is an "act that constitutes the kind of voter fraud the president has railed against."

"They are going to have to check their vote by going to the poll and voting that way because if it tabulates, then they won't be able to do that," Trump said. "So let them send it in, and let them go vote. And if their system is as good as they say it is, then obviously they won't be able to vote. If it isn't tabulated, they will be able to vote. So that's the way it is, and that's what they should do."

Trump said he was "not happy" about the expansion of mail-in voting amid the coronavirus pandemic despite copious evidence that it is secure.

"At the same time, we're in court with a lot of it. We're going to see if it can be stopped," he said. "But send your ballots, send them in strong, whether it's solicited or unsolicited. The absentees are fine. But go to vote and if they haven't counted it, you can vote. That's the way I view it."

Trump has repeatedly claimed without evidence that increased mail voting would lead to rampant fraud even though mail ballot fraud is virtually nonexistent and some states have had all-mail elections for years.

Marc Elias, a top Democratic Party lawyer who frequently argues high-profile elections cases in court, said that "the president just committed a felony" by telling people to violate election laws.

North Carolina election law says that it is illegal 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 president is urging you to commit a felony—one for which you, though not he, could actually get prosecuted," warned attorney Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "Be careful whom you listen to for advice about how to conduct yourself during this election."

Barr tried to defend Trump's comments in an interview with CNN minutes later.

"Well, I don't know exactly what he was saying," Barr said. "But it seems to me what he's saying is he's trying to make the point that the ability to monitor this system is not good and if it was so good, if you tried to vote a second time, you would be caught if you voted in-person."

"That would be illegal if somebody mailed in a ballot and then actually showed up to vote in person. That would be illegal," anchor Wolf Blitzer replied.

"I don't know what the law in the particular state says," Barr claimed.

"Is there any state that says you can vote twice?" Blitzer pressed.

"There are some that maybe you can change your vote up to a particular term," Barr replied. "Why are you asking me what he's saying?"

"Wait, the AG isn't sure that voting twice is illegal?" Elias questioned. "That he needs to check state law?"

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein warned voters that trying to cast two ballots is absolutely illegal.

"Today, President Trump outrageously encouraged NCians to break the law in order to help him sow chaos in our election," Stein tweeted. "Make sure you vote, but do NOT vote twice!"

Patrick Gannon, a spokesman for the North Carolina Board of Elections, told the Times that the system would prevent a person from voting twice because only their first vote would be recorded while the second vote would be thrown out.

"Intentional willful double voting is a felony," he added.

Trump and Barr also repeated baseless conspiracy theories about mail voting in their remarks.

Barr claimed that mail voting "is very open to fraud and coercion, is reckless and dangerous, and people are playing with fire."

Pressed on his claims by Blitzer, Barr acknowledged he was basing his claim on "logic" but not "evidence."

"I don't have any information because this is the first time we've tried such a thing," Barr said.

"I will point out there are five states that only have mail-in voting including Utah and Colorado, Washington state," Blitzer replied.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, has dismissed the Trump administration's claims as a "political calculation," arguing that mail voting is "more secure" than in-person electronic voting.

"I don't know of any evidence that voting by mail would increase voter fraud," he said, adding that nearly every voter in his state casts ballots by mail.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden accused Trump of "trying to delegitimize" the election results by sowing doubt in mail voting.

"The way to overcome this is to vote. Vote, vote, vote. And there's not a shred of evidence, not a shred of evidence that mail-in voting is fraudulent," Biden said on Wednesday. "Not a shred."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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Aggregate Bill Barr Donald Trump Election 2020 Joe Biden Josh Stein Marc Elias Politics