White House says Trump wasn’t suggesting ’anything unlawful’ after he encouraged voters to illegally vote twice

White House says Trump wasn’t suggesting ’anything unlawful’ after he encouraged voters to illegally vote twice
President Donald Trump arrives at Wilmington International Airport, Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020, in Wilmington, N.C. (Evan Vucci/AP, File)

White House officials said Thursday that President Donald Trump was not encouraging “anything unlawful” after he told supporters in North Carolina that they should vote by mail and in person in the 2020 presidential election.

On Wednesday, the president told supporters gathered at the Wilmington airport that, “If you get the unsolicited ballots, send it in and then go -- make sure it counted,” according to NPR.

“If it doesn’t tabulate, you vote. You just vote. And then if they tabulate it very late, which they shouldn’t be doing, they’ll see you voted, and so it won’t count,” Trump said. “So, send it in early, and then go and vote.”

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On Thursday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said that Trump was not suggesting that people illegally vote twice in the upcoming election.

“The president is not suggesting anyone do anything unlawful,” she said during an interview with Fox News. “What he said very clearly there is make sure your vote is tabulated and if it is not then vote.”

In a statement issued Thursday, Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, warned that voting twice in an election is a felony in the state.

“The State Board has a dedicated investigations team that investigates allegations of double voting, which are referred to prosecutors when warranted,” she said.

In a series of tweets posted Thursday, Trump emphasized that voters should “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,” the president wrote. “If it has not been Counted, VOTE (which is a citizen’s right to do).”

Bell said Thursday that such measures were unnecessary. She pointed to several tools in place in North Carolina, including an online voter search tool, which allow residents to check if their ballots have been accepted.

“The State Board office strongly discourages people from showing up at the polls on Election Day to check whether their absentee ballot was counted,” Bell said. “That is not necessary, and it would lead to longer lines and the possibility of spreading COVID-19.”

Trump has repeatedly criticized mail-in or absentee voting, which he has claimed would present ample opportunity for fraud. Experts, however, say examples of ballot fraud have been overstated. In 2017, the Brennan Center for Justice ranked the risk of ballot fraud at 0.00004% to 0.0009%, based on studies of past elections.

The five states that relied on mail-in ballots even before the coronavirus pandemic — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah — have said they have necessary safeguards in place to ensure against fraud and to prevent hostile foreign intruders from trying to influence the vote. More states intend to rely more heavily on mail-in voting this fall because of the coronavirus pandemic.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr cited a report from more than a decade ago from a commission led by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker that said vote-by-mail was vulnerable to fraud. But the commission pointed out in a statement in May that it had found little evidence of fraud in states such as Oregon that had sufficient safeguards.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.