During a Wednesday rally in Wilmington, North Carolina, President Donald Trump encouraged his supporters to vote twice—once by mail, then a second time in person—in order to ensure their ballots were counted.
This approach to voting would be a felony under North Carolina law. Subsequently, Trump claimed that officials will just throw out duplicate ballots. No harm, no foul. In North Carolina, there are a number of checks in place to make sure no one votes twice, including electronic poll books and post-election audits. Results of such checks are referred to local prosecutors who then decide how to move forward.
And, considering the overzealous nature of some district attorneys in North Carolina when it comes to voting, Trump is potentially doing his supporters a disservice—or at least ignoring recent history—by suggesting they can cast an unlawful ballot in the state without consequence.
In 2016, Keith Sellars, Whitney Brown, and 10 others who became known as the Alamance 12 weren’t aware that they couldn’t legally cast ballots in that year’s election. The members of the Alamance 12, most of whom are Black, were on parole or probation for felony charges and said that they were not informed by their probation officers or the elections board that it is illegal to vote before the full completion of a criminal sentence in the state. State voter rolls were of no help in checking their status; they were not struck from the rolls until after the election.
A similar experience befell Lanisha Bratcher, who is being charged for voting illegally in the last presidential election—despite state documents obtained by the Guardian indicating that her illegal ballot was most likely unintentional and a report indicating that the state’s system for informing the formerly incarcerated that they cannot vote was deeply flawed.
The evidence indicating that these were misunderstandings didn’t stop their respective county prosecutors from going after them anyway. These violations of voting law are exceedingly rare instances, but ones taken very seriously by officials, explained Dustin Chicurel-Bayard, a spokesperson for the state’s ACLU chapter.
Such gusto is a direct extension of historical efforts to prevent Black Americans from casting ballots; the law under which Bratcher is being prosecuted dates to the Jim Crow era.
“Since Reconstruction, voter suppression throughout the South—and especially here in North Carolina—has taken the form of overt and subtle forms of intimidation,” said Chicurel-Bayard. “And casting doubt on the legitimacy of the election is another form of that.”
Felony charges were dropped against a majority of the Alamance 12 in 2018 after the group pleaded down to misdemeanor obstruction of justice. Charges against Bratcher have been doubled. So it was a peculiar choice for Trump to try to animate his supporters to purposely do what other people have been prosecuted for mistakenly doing.
“There are serious concerns about comments that would encourage voters to commit a felony by voting twice,” Chicurel-Bayard said. “And ultimately such comments aim to cast doubt about the legitimacy of the election, and that is dangerous for our democracy.”