ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia's top elections official said Tuesday that his office has identified about 1,000 cases of “potential double voting” in the June primary election -- a felony he's determined to see prosecuted.
These voters submitted absentee ballots but also voted in person, a problem that happened across 100 Georgia counties, and election officials didn't catch them in time to keep the second votes from being tallied, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said.
“No one gets to vote twice. Everyone gets one vote,” Raffensperger said.
It was not immediately clear whether the outcome of any races may have been affected.
The revelation follows a suggestion last week by President Donald Trump that people who vote early by mail should show up at their local polling places on Election Day and vote again if their ballots haven’t been counted.
The president said in a series of tweets Thursday that voters who submitted absentee ballots should go to their polling site to “see whether or not your Mail In Vote has been Tabulated (Counted). If it has you will not be able to Vote & the Mail In System worked properly.”
Election officials were quick to warn that this could cause further disruption and long lines on an Election Day already made more complicated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Raffensperger said his office's investigators will hand the findings over to the state attorney general and local district attorneys for possible prosecution. Double voting is a felony that is punishable by one to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000, Raffensperger said.
“A double voter knows exactly what they are doing, diluting the votes of each and every voter that follows the law," Raffensperger said.
He said repeatedly during a news conference that those 1,000 voters intentionally cast two ballots, knowing they had submitted an absentee ballot but still showing up to vote. But when he was pressed on that point, Raffensperger didn't provide any evidence of voter intent to game the system, other than mentioning one voter in Long County who he said bragged about voting twice.
Raffensperger had encouraged voters to use absentee ballots for the June primary to avoid potential exposure to the coronavirus and to reduce the number of people voting on Election Day. Election officials received a record 1.6 million absentee ballot requests, overwhelming some county election offices and leading to delays in some ballots being sent out.
About 150,000 of the Georgia voters who requested absentee ballots for the June primary later showed up to vote in person, Raffensperger said. One thousand of them ended up casting a second ballot, and his office intends to investigate every case thoroughly, he said.
Raffensperger said his office is working with county election officials to ensure that no double voting happens in the November general election.
The system is designed to prevent double-voting, but it depends on humans, he said.
If voters request an absentee ballot but then show up to vote in person on Election Day, the election system flags them as having requested an absentee ballot. The poll worker is then supposed to call the county election office to see if the absentee ballot has been received for that voter.
If the county election office says an absentee ballot has been received, the person should not be allowed to vote in person. If there's no record of an absentee ballot having been received, the voter is allowed to cast a ballot in person and the county election office is supposed to cancel the absentee ballot request so that the absentee ballot won't be counted if it comes in.
If the poll worker fails to call the county election office, or can't get through to anyone, or if the county election office fails to cancel the absentee ballot request, that could allow double voting.
Statistics show that double voting is rare, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
An Iowa woman pleaded guilty to election misconduct in July 2017 after trying to vote twice in the 2016 election. She told police she believed Trump's assertions that the election was rigged and feared her first ballot would be changed to a vote for Hillary Clinton.
Authorities in New Hampshire last week arrested a man accused of voting twice in the 2016 election using two different names, his own and a woman's, local news outlets reported. Authorities said he also used the woman's name to sign up as a 2020 election inspector for the state Democratic Party.
Studies have shown voter impersonation to be quite rare. In one study, a Loyola Law School professor found 31 instances involving allegations of voter impersonation out of 1 billion votes cast in U.S. elections between 2000 and 2014. Another study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School found many reports of people voting twice or ballots being cast on behalf of dead people were largely the result of clerical errors that suggested wrongdoing when none had occurred.
Georgia Democratic Party executive director Scott Hogan accused the secretary of state of playing politics.
“Voter fraud continues to be extremely rare in Georgia, and any implication otherwise undermines our elections," Hogan said in an emailed statement. “It is clear that rather than do his job of promoting the safety and security of our voting process, the Secretary of State is instead pushing the GOP’s voting conspiracy theories and disinformation, as he fights in court to make voting by mail less accessible to voters.”
Raffensperger's office on Friday appealed a federal judge's order that extended the absentee ballot deadline in Georgia for the November election. U.S. District Judge Eleanor Ross ordered the state to count any absentee ballots that are postmarked by Election Day and received by 7 p.m. three days later, instead of only counting ballots received by the close of polls.
Associated Press writer Christina A. Cassidy contributed reporting.