Recently, the current United States President suggested that people in North Carolina vote twice in the upcoming election: once by postal vote and once in person. Apparently there are measures in place to prevent people from voting twice.

Is there any particular significance in picking North Carolina to suggest this to?

I suspect there is some motive behind it (though motives aren't something anyone can answer here so that isn't my question, only whether North Carolina is significant in any way).

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    Downvoted because the question makes the unsupported assumption that he actually HAS a reason. Though it does raise a possibly interesting question: is soliciting voter fraud a crime, and could Trump be arrested for it?
    – jamesqf
    Sep 3, 2020 at 17:04
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    @jamesqf "could Trump be arrested for it" No, he's the President. He'd have to be impeached first.
    – nick012000
    Sep 6, 2020 at 1:56
  • @BobE feel free - the 'known' part was an edit by someone else. Sep 6, 2020 at 6:56
  • @nick012000 They've already tried that. We'll see what happens after either the 2021 or 2025 elections are over.
    – Mast
    Sep 6, 2020 at 13:17
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    @nick012000: I don't think that's the case, though I am not a lawyer. Impeachment is about removing someone from office, and doesn't require a criminal offense. If there is a criminal offense, the person can later be tried for it, whether or not the impeachment succeeds. I don't see any legal bar to a President being arrested for a purely criminal offense, though AFAIK it's never been tested. But suppose a President is charged with say spousal abuse: would that just be ignored?
    – jamesqf
    Sep 6, 2020 at 19:26

6 Answers 6


This is the modern mass-media era. Trump may have been speaking in North Carolina, but he — like any other national level candidate — is aware that he is speaking to the nation as a whole. Note that after he made this statement — as the article points out — he followed it with a tweet on the same subject, explicitly aimed at a national audience.

If I were to read Trump generously, I would point out that the idea of verifying that your mail-in ballot has been received is a good idea. Many states have implemented (or are implementing) web portals where voters can check that their ballots have arrived. North Carolina in particular is currently implementing a portal called 'BallotTrax' (see the notes at the end of the link). In states that have strict deadlines for receiving mail-in ballots, it might be worthwhile checking the portal on election day. If the ballot has not yet been received, you can go to the polling place and ask the workers specifically if you can file a provisional ballot because your mail-in ballot has not been acknowledged. The rules for that will vary from state to state, but poll workers will have been trained for that issue, and if you explicitly ask for a provisional ballot for that reason you can avoid any accusation of fraud.

Everyone should check their own state's voting webpage to locate their state's tracking portal. As of this writing, neither the Federal government nor some zealously political Wikipedia editor has amassed a comprehensive list of this voting resource. The former omission is unfortunately typical, but the latter is (frankly) surprising.

However, Trump being Trump, I find it unlikely that he meant this statement as a Public Service Announcement to aid worried voters. It seems far more likely that this is yet another effort to troll the democratic institution of voting, generating conflict, doubt, and insecurity which delegitimizes the election process. Now that Trump has made this comment — one that he will undoubtable double-down on, as he doubles-down on all of his more outrageous statements — we can safely assume that a significant portion of his most energized base will follow through, leading to hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people attempting to vote twice. There are only three possible outcomes from this, in increasing order of severity:

  1. The vast majority of such attempts will be caught and the doubled-ballots discarded. This will have no effect on the election outcome, but undoubtably the large-scale attempt at fraud (or if you prefer, 'testing') will be reported by the news media. Since the duplicates will be discarded without reading or recording their content, there will be no way to correlate the influx with Trump's base, and so Trump (if he loses) will use the news reports to attack the election and accuse the Democrats of massive fraud. It's worth noting in this regard that Trump's statements might also convince his energized opponents to defensively cast doubled ballots — an extremely bad idea, but partisans are not always the most clear-thinking people — which will further confuse the issue.
  2. A sufficient number of duplicate votes will pass through the system to affect the outcome. If Trump wins he will declare the election valid and fair and block any effort to investigate; if Trump loses he will again accuse the Democrats of fraud, and use his lame-duck period to try to overturn the election results.
  3. Certain districts might independently use the influx of duplicate ballots to create fraud on a massive scale, selectively processing a number of the duplicate ballots on the assumption that no one will look if Trump retakes the oval office.

Any of these outcomes will ultimately benefit Trump, assuming he can leverage the resulting confusion and partisan hostility to his advantage. Trolling the institution of voting in this way has no immediate cost for him and several potential long-term benefits, despite the fact that it damages the institution in question.

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    "Since the duplicates will be discarded without reading or recording their content" Do you know this is the case? People do get caught and charged with double voting, and presumably officials in NC would be more alert to this since they know there is an effort to commit election fraud.
    – divibisan
    Sep 3, 2020 at 17:33
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    Generally speaking, the system of processing ballots is done in isolated steps. Any screening for 'improper' ballots is explicitly done without knowledge of the content of the ballot (in order to preclude someone from, say, deciding that all ballots for Candidate X are somehow 'improper'). People who get caught trying to commit fraud are caught at this stage, so there's no way of knowing who they are trying to commit fraud for (unless the person admits it directly, or is associated with a particular campaign, or some other circumstantial event). Sep 3, 2020 at 17:46
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    Minor quibble. U said: "and if you explicitly ask for a provisional ballot you will absolved of any accusation of fraud". I can't speak for any other jurisdiction, but election officials here in OH have said that the voter who asks for a provisional ballot (in the case of absentee ballots) ** must** sign an affirmative statement that they did not send in a ballot. If a voter were to make that statement and a mailed ballot later appears, then can be charged with election fraud.
    – BobE
    Sep 3, 2020 at 18:19
  • @BobE: That's why I suggested that one explain the situation to the poll worker. If there is a solution the poll worker will have it; if there isn't, the poll worker will advise you against submitting a provisional ballot (and that will be something to take up with your state legislature). By being upfront one can address the problem as best possible without risking fraud (as opposed to Trump's suggestion, which implicitly involves fraud). Sep 3, 2020 at 18:35
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    @EricDuminil: The basic idea is that some election official could intentionally allow masses of duplicate votes to pass through the ballot-checking stage to the ballot-counting stage. That would be a felony, sure, and the official would have to rely on the idea that people upstream will miss or ignore the discrepancies between the submitted vote-count and the size of voter rolls. But such a person wouldn't be the first Trump official to commit fraud, by far, and US politics has its fair share of petty psychopaths who'd risk throwing themselves on their sword for Trump. Sep 5, 2020 at 15:53

As the BBC article explains, Trump frequently makes baseless allegations that the election system is prone to fraud. The only thing unusual about this most recent remark is that he's encouraging his own supporters to commit voter fraud. He happened to be in North Carolina when he made these remarks, and it is relevant to know that Trump and Biden are neck-and-neck in recent North Carolina polls. So the logical interpretation of Trump's motive here is simply that he's encouraging his supporters to do anything and everything they can to help ensure he wins in North Carolina. I can find no reason to think that North Carolina voters are especially likely to succeed if they attempt to vote twice.

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    There is no use of casting doubt on the election result in a state that's projected to be 30/70 or some other clear result. Casting doubt on a close race on the other hand carries potential benefits.
    – Dohn Joe
    Sep 4, 2020 at 7:55
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    Anyway, -1: it makes absolutely zero sense that the guy saying "do the thing my opponents won't crack down on; you won't get caught" is motivated by the thing in question being directly helpful to him. It is obviously instead a swipe at his opponents. That's just how politics works. Sep 4, 2020 at 15:22
  • Comments deleted. This is not a place to debate voter ID laws, public transit infrastructure or any other issue in the United States. Please focus your comments on the purposes which are laid out in the help center article about the commenting privilege.
    – Philipp
    Sep 7, 2020 at 0:49

Other answers about "testing" the system are close to the mark IMO; but based on my previous observation of Trump's MO: this is not about the election; this is about the campaign.

Trump has many times in the past tried to sell a narrative of the American left - the Dems themselves, news media that supports them, Twitterati, bloggers, academics, etc. - being hypocritical, insincere or otherwise "phony". What makes the most sense to me is that he wishes to provoke an immediate response from that political direction to the statement, and then criticize that response (or let the analogous people on his side do it for him).

The most likely messaging in response is that Trump is advocating for a specific means of voter fraud. This accomplishes two goals for Trump:

  1. It keeps the topic of voter fraud in the national discussion.

  2. It means that his critics implicitly endorse the notion that the proposed method of voter fraud would actually work.

That is: "if you don't think voter fraud is a real concern; if you don't think that voter fraud could be accomplished by doing X; then what legitimate reason do you have to care about me telling my supporters to do X? The lady doth protest too much, methinks. Since you obviously care, you must think it would work. And that's the real reason you've been so insistent on universal mail-in voting in the first place. J'accuse!" So goes (or would go, I predict) the narrative.

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    Another way of looking at the MO in question: one very common pattern I've seen is that Trump will say something that his opponents interpret in a very predictable way, but which has an innocuous alternate explanation (at varying levels of obviousness). So the point is to be able to claim "I didn't actually advocate voter fraud; after all, according to your logic this wouldn't have any effect. Fake News!" Sep 4, 2020 at 15:06
  • Of course fraud is possible, but more important is that it's rare (by all indications) and illegal (for good reason in a democracy).
    – dandavis
    Sep 7, 2020 at 7:45

I'm not aware that there is any significance to making this suggestion to North Carolina voters. The methods to check for duplicate voting attempts appear to be fairly uniform as it applies to voting twice (once by mail, followed by another attempt in person).

This video of the full exchange between Trump and a local broadcaster Link is useful to consider, while he was asked about North Carolina mail-in-votes, his response could be applied to any other state that has enabled any vote by mail system

If, however, tens of thousands of voters should attempt to "test" the system it will create havoc at the polling place. Ultimately the test of the system would be to have a provisional ballot rejected. That is really what the suggestion sets up.

I would anticipate that the "testing" voter at the polling place would be denied a regular ballot, but would be given the opportunity to cast a provisional ballot. The voter would now have to fill out that paperwork, and cast a provisional ballot. That provisional ballot would then have to be investigated, the only real proof that a mail-in-ballot had been received by the county would be to locate the security or authentication envelope with his signature. At that point the county would be faced with a question of charging the "testing" voter with attempted election fraud.

Unless there is evidence of intentional fraud (voter told neighbors his intent to "test" the system, the case against the voter will not be prosecuted aggresively (particularly if an older voter insists that he just forgot, "memory isn't what it used to be")

The result, IMO, of the suggestion to have voters "test" the system is to create chaos on election day and for days thereafter.

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    At least one state attorney general has stated that such voter fraud will be prosecuted. "Let me be perfectly clear: voting twice is illegal, no matter who tells you do to it. The president's idea is a great one for people looking to go to jail. My office will prosecute to the fullest extend [sic] of the law anyone who intentionally flouts our election laws." (Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, quoted here: cnn.com/2020/09/03/tech/facebook-twitter-label-trump-post/…
    – jamesqf
    Sep 3, 2020 at 23:14
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    @jamesqf - as it should be ! Whether such prosecution is successful may well hinge on the intent of the voter. If a voter is able to convince a magistrate that the transgression was innocent, he may get off with a slap. OTOH, if the voter says that he felt it was his duty to "test" the system or that he was following DJT's instructions, a significant fine and jail time may follow.
    – BobE
    Sep 3, 2020 at 23:53

It could potentially give a line of attack. "Why are Democrats making a big deal of what I said, they said that vote by mail is fine and would detect and fix any problems. They must know how easy fraud can happen!"

At this point in the race, there is every indication that Biden is significantly ahead and likely to win absent any changes. He is trying the same formula that beat Hillary: cause as much chaos and hope that it shakes out in his favor.

With that being said, he also tried to sow doubt about election results in 16. Many sources make the claim that he thought he was going to lose and was looking forward to jump starting a media network. If true putting that election results in question would be very useful, even if only his hardcore fans believe it. This year there is an added twist: the time difference between when in person and mail on votes get counted. Having a good lead from the initial votes has obvious benefits for Trump (with respect to sowing election discord) if the final vote goes against him.

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    The problem is that detecting and fixing any problems related to vote-by-mail fraud is that it involves criminal charges, so suggesting that his supporters should try it is likely to get his own voter base arrested
    – Kevin
    Sep 4, 2020 at 18:50
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    if it works he can pardon them, if it doesn't he's got bigger problems.
    – Jasen
    Sep 5, 2020 at 10:21
  • Re "At this point in the race, there is every indication that Biden is significantly ahead and likely to win absent any changes. He is trying the same formula...": it's unclear here whether the pronoun "he" refers to Biden or Trump. Please replace it with a proper noun.
    – agc
    Sep 5, 2020 at 13:13
  • Why would he bother pardoning them? It's not like he can run again in 2024. Sep 6, 2020 at 18:59

Trump desires to ensure ballot integrity in a key electoral state.

North Carolina is a swing state, so where majors parties win by thin margins, and a few uncounted votes can mean victory or defeat.

Another interpretation of Trump's comment is to not actually vote twice, but to verify the vote was cast by trying to vote and being rejected to test the system. Kind of like making two reservations for the exact same thing on a website: if the second attempt fails, good, if it succeeds, not good.

According to that interpretation, he would not actually be encouraging voter fraud. He's telling people to verify their vote was counted.

Next question to wonder is: Is this a good method? No. Trump's error here is assuming votes are tabulated quickly enough (put in some kind of central database) for people to be prevented to vote twice, but apparently it's not the case, so even if one voted with no problem, they'd be allowed to vote a second time. And like for a website's purchase, they are possibly better options: calling officials to check the vote was cast correctly, checking on an official website.

More on this interpretation of Trump's reasoning: it's possible Trump assumed voting in North Carolina was based on a system where you must first confirm you're eligible to vote before doing it, whereas the system is more like an honor-based system.

For example, in most places, you must have a valid ticket to take public transit, or any similar controlled area where only some authorized people are allowed in. However, it's not enforced the same way everywhere. In some places, you must first scan your ticket to ensure its validity (possibly similar to what Trump thought), and you are rejected if it's not, whereas in other places, you're allowed in, trusting you have a valid one, and if you get caught, you get a fine (more like reality in the case of voting). As a comment seems to suggest, it's possible in North Carolina, merely trying can get you arrested. In other places, you'd just be required to confirm you're allowed to vote before moving further.

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    -1, this is like arguing that you have done nothing wrong by "trying" to steal an item from a shop to "test" if you will get caught or not. The fact is you commit a crime regardless, unless you have been explicitly hired as a penetration tester. If the "test" works then you have attempted voter fraud and if it fails and your 2nd vote goes through, then you have committed voter fraud. Regardless of how you choose to interpret his words, the effect of those words is to encourage voter fraud. Your analogy of making reservations on a website is not helpful here, because that is not illegal.
    – JBentley
    Sep 4, 2020 at 15:00
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    I updated answers to clarify the content. Note that I'm providing a different explanation as to why Trump said what he said, not trying to argue for its validity. And I'm sure there are countless examples that can agree or disagree with my analogies. The main point could be summarized as that Trump could have merely thought something erroneous in good faith.
    – user
    Sep 4, 2020 at 20:29

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