President Donald Trump on Tuesday launched a new baseless accusation on how he believes Democrats will attempt to commit fraud during the presidential election, this time telling North Carolina rallygoers to act as poll watchers to prevent fraud at voting locations.
The President has frequently made unproven claims that American elections are rife with voter fraud and has said he lost the popular vote in the 2016 election due to fraudulent ballots being cast. Trump lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes. Voter fraud is extremely rare in the United States and there was no evidence that there was mass fraud in the 2016 race.
“Gotta be careful with those ballots. Watch those ballots. I don’t like it. You know, you have a Democrat governor, you have all these Democrats watching that stuff. I don’t like it,” Trump said at a rally in Winston-Salem Tuesday evening.
“Watch it,” he continued. “Be poll watchers when you go there. Watch all the thieving and stealing and robbing they do. Because this is important. We win North Carolina, we win.”
The incendiary rhetoric and encouragement of his supporters to confront Democrats on Election Day comes at a time of increased political violence with clashes between Trump supporters and leftist protesters in Oregon and Wisconsin resulting in arrests, assaults and multiple deaths in recent weeks.
Official poll watchers exist in every state but are usually formally appointed by party groups to monitor how elections are conducted and keep track of voter turnout for their parties, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Each state has its own rules for how someone qualifies to become a poll watcher and those observers are not supposed to interfere in the voting process aside from reporting issues to officials from their respective parties or to government authorities, according to the conference.
The Trump campaign has come up with an aggressive plan for poll-monitoring during November’s election, and that has sparked charges from Democrats and voting-rights groups that Republicans are gearing up to suppress voting in key states. Republicans say their new push will allow them to protect election integrity and better coordinate their get-out-vote operations.
At the North Carolina rally on Tuesday – his third visit to state in as many weeks – the President also instructed the crowd of thousands, “Make sure you send the ballot and then go to your polling place and make sure it counts. Make sure it counts, because the only way they can win is by doing very bad things, that’s the only way.”
Trump also attempted to draw a line between solicited and unsolicited mail-in ballots, suggesting that solicited ballots are more secure. But a distinction does not exist, except in the means by which one acquires the ballot itself.
Over the last week, the President has repeatedly expressed distrust in North Carolina’s elections system – by first insinuating that residents should vote twice to make sure their counted and now, appearing to tell voters he expects fraud to occur at polling places.
Last week, Trump first suggested in North Carolina that voters cast their ballots twice to purportedly double-check that their initial votes were counted.
“Well, they’ll go out and they’ll go vote, and they’re going to have to go and check their vote by going to the poll and voting that way, because if it tabulates then they won’t be able to do that,” Trump told a local North Carolina news station on Wednesday. “So let them send it in, and let them go vote, and if the system is as good as they say it is, then obviously they won’t be able to vote. If it isn’t tabulated they won’t be able to vote, so that’s the way it is. And that’s what they should do.”
It’s a federal crime to vote twice in the same election, and it’s also a felony in almost every state, including North Carolina.
But in a series of tweets on Thursday, the President tried to clarify his comments, urging supporters to mail in their ballots as early as possible and check whether their ballots have been counted.
And in a North Carolina “telerally” Friday night, Trump spent the first few minutes of the call telling supporters that if they vote by mail, they should go to their polling place to “see whether or not your mail-in vote has been tabulated or counted,” noting that if it’s been counted, they won’t be able to vote.
Trump also addressed the possibility that a voter’s mail-in ballot would be tabulated after they had voted in person.
Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh told CNN in a statement on Friday, “President Trump encourages supporters to vote absentee-by-mail early, and then show up in person at the polls or the local registrar to verify that their vote has already been counted.”
CNN’s DJ Judd, Dianne Gallagher, Caroline Kelly, Marshall Cohen and Brian Rokus contributed to this report.