Even by Donald Trump standards, his comments on voter fraud yesterday were extraordinary. The president appeared to tell his supporters in North Carolina to effectively vote twice -- once by mail, and then again in person -- as a way to test the integrity of the state's electoral system.
CNN's Wolf Blitzer told Attorney General Bill Barr soon after, "It sounds like he's encouraging people to break the law and try to vote twice.... That would be illegal if they did that.... You can't vote twice." Nevertheless, the nation's chief law enforcement official dodged questions on the matter, pleading ignorance about the felony Trump encouraged people to commit.
This morning, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany turned to Fox News to make the case that this is all just a big misunderstanding.
“The president is not suggesting anyone do anything unlawful,” McEnany said during an appearance on Fox News. “What he said very clearly there is make sure your [mail-in] vote is tabulated, and if it is not, then vote.”
As the presidential spokesperson argued, Trump simply "wants verification." McEnany added, "What this president is saying is verify your vote."
In other words, according to the White House, Trump envisions a system in which Americans get a mail-in ballot and send it in. At that point, they should then show up at their local precinct, determine whether their mail-in ballot was counted, and vote in person if it wasn't.
According to McEnany, Trump said all of this "very clearly."
He really didn't. Asked yesterday about the reliability of North Carolina's mail-in-voting system, what the Republican actually said was, "So let them send it in and let them go vote, and if their system's as good as they say it is, then obviously they won't be able to vote. If it isn't tabulated, they'll be able to vote."
Trump added, "If it's as good as they say it is, then obviously they won't be able to vote. If it isn't tabulated, they'll be able to vote. So that's the way it is. And that's what they should do."
The idea that he was merely describing a "verification" method is difficult to take seriously.
But just as importantly, let's not overlook the substantive reality: while systems vary by state, there's no reason to think millions of voters who've already voted by mail should show up at their local precincts just to be sure everything worked out as intended. Most states have online systems in place to check on the receipt of mail-in ballots, and alternatively, in many areas, voters can simply check with local election clerks.
All of which is to say, no one should take Trump's advice seriously.
Update: Karen Bell, the executive director for North Carolina's board of elections, said in a statement this morning, "The State Board office strongly discourages people from showing up at the polls on Election Day to check whether their absentee ballot was counted. That is not necessary, and it would lead to longer lines and the possibility of spreading COVID-19."