It’s a Bad Idea to Vote Twice

Attempting to vote once by mail and once in person probably won’t work, and it’s a crime.

When I was a student, I was always a little paranoid when taking standardized tests. I worried that some of my answers wouldn’t be recorded because I hadn’t adequately filled in the ovals with my No. 2 pencil. I carry that fear with me every time I vote because we use the same system in my assigned precinct. I’m obsessive about not leaving even a hint of white. No one wants to vote and not have it recorded.

But one thing I know about multiple-choice tests is that you can’t give two answers or they’ll cancel each other out. You’ll get no credit for either one. Inevitably, some people make this mistake in elections. They’ll vote for both Al Gore and Pat Buchanan because of a confusing butterfly ballot, for example, and wind up being recorded as having voted for no one. This is how America ended up occupying Iraq.

Likewise, I know that I can’t vote once for Joe Biden by absentee ballot and then vote for him again on Election Day at my polling place. If I attempt this on November 3, I should discover that I’m in the system as having already voted. In other words, the poll workers probably won’t give me a second ballot on Election Day. They might let me cast a provisional ballot if I insist that their records are wrong and that I haven’t voted absentee. In that case, my provisional ballot will be held, eventually examined, and ultimately discarded.

It’s obviously illegal to vote twice, and people are prosecuted for this offense. But voters are also genuinely forgetful. If you’re not sure if you’ve already voted, many states will let you check online to be sure your vote was counted. I don’t know if there is a consistent legal standard for casting a provisional ballot “just to make sure,” but it’s not a good idea. You don’t want to break the law, and you should not rely on the competence of poll workers to prevent you from committing a crime. Casting two regular ballots intentionally is definitely a crime, everywhere, and always.

President Trump caused a spike in accidental poisonings when he suggested that ingesting disinfectants might cure COVID-19. We should expect his calls for double voting to lead to a spike in attempted voter fraud.

By asking his supporters to vote both absentee and in person, the president is trying to prove that it’s possible to get away with it. He might be right in certain states or precincts with lax record-keeping. But in most cases, the error will be detected and the voter prosecuted. Unlike with the SATs, however, the first of their answers will still count.

President Trump’s encouragement of fraud might lead to voters trying to cast two ballots even after this fall. We might have to change the law so that casting two ballots results in neither vote being recorded.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at