I have written this piece for Slate. A snippet:
Another possible defense is that Trump was “joking” or not being serious about his comments and this was typical Trumpian hyperbole. Perhaps so, and I do not expect Trump to be prosecuted, but I think many people may hear his comments and think he is serious. This is particularly true given that he repeated the comments the very next day and his attorney general, William Barr, refused to acknowledge that double voting is illegal.
And this is the much more important point than whether Trump violated North Carolina law with his statement to WECT. Supporters of his, in North Carolina and elsewhere, could follow his advice and try to vote twice. Those people face potential prosecution for a felony, as the North Carolina State Board of Elections made clear in a Thursday statement, and it is awful for the president to be encouraging illegal conduct.
What’s worse, the comments are going to put a strain on an election system stretched to its limits by trying to conduct a presidential election in the midst of a pandemic and with one of the candidates constantly casting doubt on the election’s legitimacy. Again, this is probably Trump’s real intent. North Carolina, like other states, has systems in place to prevent double voting, such as electronic poll books that let poll workers know if someone showing up to vote has already cast an absentee ballot that has been returned. (It is these checks that slow down the processing of absentee ballots and explain why we might not have results on election night in a close election.)
But these systems are designed under the sensible premise that few people are going to risk felonies and vote twice. It’s the same design for police departments, which would look very different if people were trying to rob every 7-Eleven every day.
Lines are already going to be long in some places on Election Day. The pandemic means it is harder to find poll workers and so there will be polling place consolidations and fewer workers, all contributing to a longer queue. Trump’s suggestion for his supporters to go to a polling place to try to vote twice—and via a complex procedure of trying to get a poll worker to confirm that an absentee ballot has been tabulated, which in some cases it will not have been—will add to those long lines. The lines will be even longer if the voter insists on casting a provisional ballot after having voted by mail. (That provisional ballot won’t be counted if the voter has already voted.) Those long lines will do real damage to an Election Day infrastructure that is already looking stretched to the limits—the ensuing chaos will benefit the candidate claiming that the whole process is rigged no matter what the outcome: Donald Trump.
Trump has cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election, claiming that voter fraud is widespread in the United States when it is rare. These new statements seem calculated to create more confusion and chaos at the polls—and possibly more actual fraud. It will also cause more people potentially with COVID to congregate at the polls, exactly the opposite of what we need for a safe and fair election during November.