How Do Poll Workers Spot Someone Trying To Vote Twice?

Oct 16, 2020
Originally published on October 16, 2020 7:10 pm

In preparation for next month’s election, ideastream is answering your questions about voting. A listener in Yellow Springs asked how election officials can spot double voting and what the penalties are for trying to vote twice.

Poll workers have electronic poll books that list who’s voted and who’s applied for an absentee ballot.

A voter’s name will have a note by it if they’ve requested an absentee ballot. If that voter comes to vote in person on or before Election Day, they will be given a provisional ballot. After polls close, officials will check to see if that person already voted by mail.

“If they’ve already cast a ballot, then the provisional ballot will not count,” said Portage County Board of Elections Deputy Director Terry Nielsen. “If we don’t show that they actually cast a ballot, then we will count the provisional, so that’s how we essentially prevent people from voting twice.”

Any double voting would go to the local board of elections for potential referral to prosecutors.

“I’m not sure exactly how that would work, but we do have a mechanism where we could have them come in, give testimony about why they’ve completed two ballots here,” Nielsen said.

It’s a fourth degree felony in Ohio to vote twice, with a penalty of up to 18 months in prison. Under federal law, double voting carries a fine of up to $10,000 and up to five years in prison.

But double voting is rare. In 2018, Ohio’s Secretary of State flagged just 10 cases in which someone was believed to have voted twice, with the second ballot case in Ohio.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly urged voters to vote twice in response to fears that mail-in ballots may get lost in the mail, though Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine – who was the state’s attorney general for eight years before becoming governor – has been clear that doing so would be illegal.

According to a database maintained by the conservative Heritage Foundation, the last criminal conviction for double voting in Ohio was in 2013. Nationwide, Heritage found a total of 1,121 convictions for election fraud of any kind nationwide, going all the way back to 1979.

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