Democratic attorneys general across the U.S. overnight and into Thursday were forced to implore residents of their states to not attempt to vote twice in the November election—and inform them that anyone who tries will face prosecution—after President Donald Trump openly encouraged North Carolinians to cast a ballot both by mail and in person, a violation of state and federal law.
"The Department of Justice needs to make absolutely clear to the public that what the president is encouraging his supporters to do is to commit a felony punishable by jail time."
—Karen Hobert Flynn, Common Cause
Shortly after U.S. Attorney General William Barr repeatedly claimed he didn't know whether it is unlawful to vote twice in North Carolina, the state's Democratic AG Josh Stein made clear on Twitter that casting two ballots in the same contest is illegal and condemned Trump for openly encouraging people to "break the law in order to help him sow chaos in our election."
"Make sure you vote, but do not vote twice!" added Stein. "I will do everything in my power to make sure the will of the people is upheld in November."
Other state AGs followed Stein in rebuking Trump and emphasized that anyone who follows the president's advice will be prosecuted, regardless of who they vote for.
"Please, folks, don't follow Trump's advice," said Maryland AG Brian Frosh. "It's a crime, and we will prosecute anyone who tries it."
The AGs of Massachusetts, Michigan, and Nevada echoed that message:
It is illegal to vote twice. It is also easy to get caught. That’s like paying your taxes with Monopoly money. Do not pass go. https://t.co/3ypYaZYRuA
— Maura Healey (@MassAGO) September 3, 2020
Hey folks. Attorney General Nessel here-top law enforcement official in Michigan, for those keeping track. Don’t try this at home. I will prosecute you.
Also, this might be a good time to remind people not to drink bleach. https://t.co/B7pgZVDi2R
— Dana Nessel (@dananessel) September 3, 2020
— Aaron D. Ford (@AaronDFordNV) September 3, 2020
Speaking to a local reporter in North Carolina on Wednesday, Trump urged state residents to both "send your ballots" by mail and vote in person on Election Day to test whether the ballot-counting system is working properly. If the mail-in ballot wasn't counted, Trump said, "they will be able to vote" in person on Election Day.
"That's the way it is," the president added, "and that's what they should do."
Asked about Trump's advice to voters during a CNN appearance Wednesday night, Barr tried to explain away the president's comments as a mere attempt to "make the point that the ability to monitor this system is not good."
"If it was so good," Barr continued, "if you tried to vote a second time you would be caught."
After CNN host Wolf Blitzer explained to the nation's top law enforcement official that it would in fact "be illegal if they did that," Barr responded, "I don't know what the law in the particular state says."
Under North Carolina law, 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."
Karen Hobert Flynn, president of watchdog group Common Cause, said in a statement Thursday that both the act of voting twice and Trump's effort to urge people to do so are crimes that the Justice Department must condemn.
"The Department of Justice needs to make absolutely clear to the public that what the president is encouraging his supporters to do is to commit a felony punishable by jail time," said Flynn. "This cannot be the cable news fumbling of Attorney General William Barr trying to not to offend the president by excusing his urging of Americans to commit crimes."
"What President Trump is suggesting his supporters do is not only nonsense, but it is also a felony meant to undermine the integrity of our elections," Flynn added. "You cannot test election integrity rules by breaking them any more than you can rob a bank to make sure your money is safe."