Trump encouraged his supporters to commit voter fraud, but too much of the media responded with a shrug
Encouraging people to commit felonies should probably make the front page
It’s entirely possible that President Donald Trump committed a felony on Wednesday when he instructed his supporters in North Carolina to vote twice as a way to test anti-fraud systems. This might come as a surprise to many voters, as the story was largely downplayed by many major media outlets; Trump’s comments didn’t even make it on the front pages of the Thursday editions of The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, or Chicago Tribune.
Speaking in Wilmington, North Carolina, Trump advised supporters to vote -- twice if necessary, once by mail and once in person.
“And then if they tabulate it very late, which they shouldn’t be doing, they’ll see you voted and so it won’t count,” he said. “So send it in early, and then go and vote. And if it’s not tabulated, you vote, and the vote is going to count.”
During the same trip, in an interview with local news station WECT, Trump said something similar, adding that “if the system is as good as they say it is, then they obviously won’t be able to vote [in person]. If it isn’t tabulated, they will be able to vote. So that’s the way it is, and that’s what they should do.”
Knowingly trying to cast a ballot twice is voter fraud, a felony and something Trump has repeatedly and baselessly claimed to be a widespread problem. Additionally, inducing others to commit voter fraud -- which a number of legal experts have argued Trump was doing with his suggestions -- is itself a Class I felony in North Carolina.
Not only was this story absent from the front pages of major newspapers, but online headlines left a lot to be desired.
News outlets such as NBC, CNN, Reuters, NPR, and USA Today ran headlines on Trump’s comments that made no mention of the legality of what he suggested, though they all noted in the stories themselves that it’s illegal to vote more than once.
The Washington Post’s initial story online mentioned that this would be illegal if it was “done intentionally,” something that comes off as needless hedging -- anyone who follows the president’s advice by showing up to a polling place to cast a second ballot will have acted with intention.
CNN’s headline both omitted mention of the clear illegality of voting twice and also softened language by saying that Trump “appears to encourage North Carolinians to vote twice,” something that, objectively speaking, he did.
Incidentally, if anyone follows Trump’s advice, they will not be the first supporter of his to try to cast a second ballot as a way to test whether systems will catch them. In 2016, a Trump supporter in Texas claimed that he was just “testing the system” by trying to vote a second time. He was arrested. Similarly in 2016, an Iowa Trump supporter was arrested after trying to vote a second time because she was convinced that her first vote would be flipped to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. The system works!
It’s hard to believe that the press would respond with such a shrug if Democratic nominee Joe Biden had urged his supporters to cast more than one vote.
Think about it. Imagine Biden urging his supporters to test the system by casting a second ballot. How would that have been covered? There would almost certainly be a smattering of coverage claiming that this somehow vindicated Trump’s false claims about voter fraud. Because it’s Trump, however, and because he gets held to a completely different standard than other politicians, his outrageous antics are just a blip on the radar.
This applies to a wide range of topics where the two candidates are being held to different standards by mainstream media. While Trump tweets approvingly about caravans of armed supporters descending on American cities and as he refuses to condemn his 17-year-old supporter who allegedly shot and killed two people in Kenosha, Wisconsin, there are journalists who question why Biden hasn’t more forcefully condemned rioters -- something Biden has repeatedly done in recent months. The two candidates are not being judged on the same scale, and it’s time for media organizations to snap out of it before it’s too late.
However routine Trump’s outrageous actions have become, journalists cannot treat them as background noise.
Trump’s comments on Wednesday prompted the North Carolina State Board of Elections to release a statement to ensure voters know not to follow Trump’s advice on this issue. “Attempting to vote twice in an election or soliciting someone to do so also is a violation of North Carolina law,” wrote NCSBE Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell.
On Twitter, Trump tried to walk back his statement a bit, though he still didn’t account for the fact that mail-in ballots may arrive up to three days after the election in North Carolina, and will be counted so long as they were postmarked by November 3. This means that showing up to vote in person, even if your vote hasn’t been tabulated yet, is still illegal so long as your ballot has been mailed. Twitter applied a label to his tweets, noting that they ran afoul of the company’s election misinformation policy. But it’s not as though this is just ignorance on Trump’s part. In fact, he’s previously acknowledged that he knows that it’s illegal to vote twice.
In a May interview with Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo, Trump said, “The level of dishonesty with Democrat voting is unbelievable. If you told a Republican to vote twice, they'd get sick at even the thought of it.”
Well, that’s exactly what Trump did on Wednesday, and many in media instead responded with a shrug.