A week after President Trump suggested that voters in North Carolina should cast two ballots — one by mail and another at the polls — the authorities in Georgia are threatening criminal action against 1,000 Georgia voters who did just that.
Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state, announced at a news conference on Tuesday that investigations were underway in 100 of the state’s 159 counties after the discovery of 1,000 instances of double voting in the state’s June primary and August runoff elections.
“We will prosecute,” said Mr. Raffensperger, a Republican, noting that double voting in Georgia, considered a serious felony, carries a penalty of one to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000. While calling attention to the double votes could add fuel to Mr. Trump’s unfounded claim that mail voting opens the door to fraud, Mr. Raffensperger noted that double voting hadn’t changed the outcome of any races.
The scenario Mr. Raffensperger described appeared to be identical to the one suggested by Mr. Trump last Wednesday, when he told reporters in Wilmington, N.C., that voters should test the integrity of the state’s election system by voting by mail and then subsequently appearing at the polls in person.
Mr. Trump, who has repeatedly criticized the nation’s voting system by claiming it is insecure and riddled with fraud — contentions that experts reject — endorsed Mr. Raffensperger in the 2018 election for Georgia secretary of state. There is little evidence supporting the president’s contention that mail-in voting is prone to voter fraud — in fact, a number of studies have concluded that in the United States, all types of voter fraud are rare. Elections officials nationwide have said that Mr. Trump’s encouragement to voters to check the integrity of the system by voting twice created confusion in an already stressful election year. It was the most recent of many statements he has made suggesting that the integrity of the country’s elections is threatened by voter fraud, accelerated by mail voting during the pandemic.
One organization, Common Cause Georgia, expressed concern about Mr. Raffensperger’s announcement. The group issued a statement accusing him of fanning fears about election integrity by “looking for reasons to cast doubt on Georgia’s mail-in ballot system.”
“We wholeheartedly agree that people who intentionally vote twice should be subject to the usual criminal penalties for election law violations,” said the statement by Aunna Dennis, the organization’s executive director. “But we are concerned that voters who were simply trying to vote may get caught up in the dragnet.”
It was not clear how many of the 1,000 instances of double voting under investigation in Georgia involved intentional efforts to vote twice, or whether those cases involved people who, unsure of whether their absentee ballot had been counted, voted again.
Mr. Raffensperger said that was part of the ongoing investigation, but added that proving “intentionality” is not required under the state law.
“At the end of the day, the voter was responsible and the voters know what they were doing,” Mr. Raffensperger said. “A double voter knows exactly what they were doing, diluting the votes of each and every voter that follows the law.”
Mr. Raffensperger said he knew of one voter, in rural Long County, Ga., who had been “bragging” about having voted twice. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution had reported multiple irregularities there.
Elections officials in Georgia and elsewhere say there are systems in place to prevent a second vote, with votes immediately recorded in poll books and voters flagged if they have already cast a ballot.
Mr. Raffensperger said that, despite safeguards, 1,000 voters slipped through the cracks in an election that was plagued by a shortage of poll workers, long lines and problems with adjusting to new machines.
Mr. Raffensperger insisted Tuesday that the “system worked.” He did not explain exactly how the double voters managed to slip through but blamed “the human element” and said he would work to improve training of poll workers.
Mr. Raffensperger is also fighting efforts by public interest organizations to extend the deadline for delivery of mail ballots to county elections officials, saying an extension would make it impossible to certify the election by the Nov. 20 deadline.