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CNN  — 

President Donald Trump on Tuesday expanded his mail-in voting message, encouraging North Carolina supporters to vote absentee even as he continued to assail vote-by-mail.

“We’re going on to win a tremendous election in November, to be exact November 3 in North Carolina,” Trump told supporters who’d dialed into a telephone rally. “You can request absentee ballots right now. Absentee ballots are great.”

In recent months, Trump has increasingly tried to discredit mail-in voting. He falsely tweeted in July: “Mail-In Voting is already proving to be a catastrophic. The Dems talk of foreign influence in voting, but they know that Mail-In Voting is an easy way for foreign countries to enter the race.”

Election experts have told CNN there is no real difference between absentee voting and no-excuse mail voting and the two are “essentially the same thing.”

During Tuesday’s telerally, Trump encouraged supporters to “watch that other people aren’t cheating, because that’s what they’re looking to do.”

At the same time, he told his audience: “Absentee voting is a secure process. It’s initiated by the voter – you request it – and every voter is verified. Every vote is verified. It’s the exact opposite of Democrats’ voter fraud scheme. They want to mail ballots to every eligible voter all over the state.”

North Carolina marks the third battleground state where Trump has signaled supporters to cast their votes by mail; he has made similar comments to supporters in Arizona and Florida. On Monday, campaign surrogate and Trump son Eric Trump encouraged supporters to vote absentee as well, telling them at a bus tour stop, “In Florida you have an honest system, so vote absentee. Your vote will be counted; it’s real.”

Calls for supporters to vote absentee may belie a larger concern amongst Republicans – that they trail, significantly, in absentee ballot requests. Per data compiled by North Carolina, as of August 12, a total of 88,212 registered Democrats had requested absentee ballots, compared with just 33,546 registered Republican voters there. In North Carolina, any registered voter can request a mail-in absentee ballot, and no excuse is required to vote absentee by mail. Ballots requests must be received by the board of elections the Tuesday before Election Day. The ballots then must be returned by 5 p.m. on Election Day. If the ballots arrive after Election Day, in order to be counted, they must have been postmarked on or before Election Day and arrive up to three days later.

The North Carolina Democratic Party fired back in a statement Wednesday.

“Donald Trump’s botched response to this pandemic is the reason so many North Carolinians are choosing to vote by absentee ballot this year in the first place,” communications director Austin Cook told CNN. “Voting by mail in our state – that is, voting by absentee ballot – is safe, secure and reliable, and that’s why Trump, his family and advisers have all voted by mail in the past. While the NCDP is hard at work engaging voters and encouraging them to vote in the safest and most convenient way for them, the Trump campaign’s incoherent message on voting by mail is only hurting our democracy and his own party.”

But even as Trump encouraged supporters to vote absentee, he couldn’t resist casting doubt on the process, warning, “We’re stopping really some very important items that they want. They want to do things that are very unfair with mail-in ballots, and they want to make sure that they’re covered because it just is going to create a rigged election, in my opinion.”

“President Trump has consistently and rightly said that where a voter cannot make it to the polls, they should request an absentee ballot,” Thea McDonald, the Trump campaign’s deputy press secretary, told CNN on Wednesday. “The President has also correctly distinguished between chaos-ridden universal mail-in voting systems, which led to New York’s and California’s train wreck primaries, and traditional absentee mail voting systems, like the tried and true system in North Carolina – a distinction Democrats and many in the mainstream media purposely ignore to sow confusion.”

The most notable recent case of alleged ballot fraud occurred during the 2018 midterm elections, when North Carolina Republican operative Leslie McCrae Dowless was accused of falsifying ballots on behalf of GOP congressional candidate Mark Harris, a candidate Trump supported.

CORRECTION: This story has been corrected to reflect when ballots must be received by the North Carolina board of elections in order to be counted.