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All states have different procedures in place to prevent double voting, and mail-in ballots are verified before they are counted.
Voting or trying to vote twice is illegal. Experts said signing a mail-in ballot and casting an in-person ballot would be a surefire way to get caught committing voter fraud.
Experts advise sending in vote-by-mail ballots early to be sure they are counted.
A widespread Facebook post wrongly claims that a loophole in mail-in voting would let people cast two ballots without election officials catching on to the scheme. The supposed trick: Vote once by mail, and then a second time in person before the mail-in ballot gets counted.
"This is real," says the Aug. 20 post, which has been shared thousands of times on the platform. "If I mail in my ballot on Sunday and show up to the polling station on Tuesday, they won’t know if I’ve already voted or not. That, my friends, is a serious concern for all of us."
The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) Like claims that receiving multiple mail ballot applications means voters can return multiple ballots, it’s inaccurate.
"The entire premise is wrong," said Matthew Weil, director of the Elections Project at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a think tank in Washington.
"All states have controls in place specifically to address this," added Charles Stewart III, a political science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "States handle this differently, but the principle is that you only get to vote once."
Typically, experts said, poll books used for in-person voting will indicate whether you received a vote-by-mail or absentee ballot (there’s no objective difference between the two). What happens when you show up in person depends on the state’s laws and the type of poll book used.
In general, experts described a handful of ways election systems would handle the Facebook post’s hypothetical scenario, assuming you are duly registered to vote in the first place:
You show up to vote on Tuesday. The poll worker notes that you were issued a mail-in ballot. You brought the mail-in ballot with you, so you surrender it and vote in person.
You show up to vote on Tuesday. The poll worker notes that you were issued a mail-in ballot. You don’t have your mail-in ballot with you. The poll worker lets you submit a provisional ballot, which election officials count only if the mail-in ballot doesn't show up.
You show up to vote on Tuesday. The poll worker notes that you were issued a mail-in ballot. The poll book is electronic, so the poll worker lets you vote in person and updates the book, which notifies the election office that you did so. When your mail-in ballot arrives later, election officials reject it and count the in-person ballot instead.
You show up to vote on Tuesday. The poll worker notes that you were issued a mail-in ballot. The poll book indicates that your ballot has already been accepted for counting and removed from its return envelope. You are not allowed to vote in person.
You show up to vote on Tuesday. The poll worker notes that you were issued a mail-in ballot. The poll book indicates that your ballot has already been accepted for counting and removed from its return envelope. You dispute this and submit a provisional ballot, which election officials count only if the record proves to be erroneous.
Some states detail their procedures online. In California, for example, voters who receive vote-by-mail ballots but want to vote in person can hand over their mail-in ballot and vote in person, or fill out a provisional ballot. But in each case, only one vote per person counts.
All mail-in ballots require verification before being counted. Matt Dietrich, a spokesperson for the Illinois State Board of Elections, said mail ballots in Illinois are "extremely carefully tracked and verified," with return envelopes that contain bar codes for the voter’s unique voter ID number.
There are reasons why people who request mail-in ballots might legitimately show up at the polls, said Lorraine Minnite, an associate professor of public policy at Rutgers University, Camden.
"People anticipate needing to vote by mail, and then their plans change and they show up at the polls," Minnite said. "Or sometimes, in the case of people whose memories are failing, they don't remember having voted a month or two before an election and proceed to the polls on Election Day, only to find out that they have already voted."
But as an intentional double-voting scheme, the process described in the Facebook post "is not a viable loophole," Dietrich said. In fact, it’s a surefire way to get caught committing voter fraud.
"This is an easy felony to prove because the voter would be signing his or her name twice — once on the mail ballot and then again at the polling place," Dietrich said.
Weil, the director of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Elections Project, agreed: "It’s one of the most obvious ways to get caught because you’re not actually casting any ballot that they don’t know about ... You’d be giving them all the evidence they need to show that you double voted."
Weil said voters hoping to cast their ballots by mail should send them in early, rather than waiting until the Sunday before Election Day, to ensure that they are received on time and counted.
A Facebook post said, "If I mail in my ballot on Sunday and show up to the polling station on Tuesday, they won’t know if I’ve already voted or not."
That wouldn’t work in practice. All states have procedures in place to prevent double voting, and people who try it are likely to get caught.
We rate this Facebook post False.
Facebook post, Aug. 20, 2020
California Secretary of State, "Voting at a Polling Place after Applying to Vote by Mail," accessed Aug. 28, 2020
Maryland Office of the Attorney General, "Voting FAQ for 2020," accessed Aug. 28, 2020
Florida Division of Elections, "Vote-by-Mail," accessed Aug. 28, 2020
The Associated Press, "States have checks in place to prevent voters from voting twice," Aug. 27, 2020
PolitiFact, "How to make sure your ballot is counted this fall," Aug. 17, 2020
PolitiFact, "No, receiving multiple ballot applications doesn’t let you vote more than once," Aug. 13, 2020
PolitiFact, "Donald Trump draws false distinction between absentee, mail-in voting," July 31, 2020
PolitiFact, "No proof of Trump's conspiracy theory that millions voted many times," April 6, 2018
Phone interview with Matthew Weil, director of the Elections Project at the Bipartisan Policy Center, Aug. 28, 2020
Email interview with Charles Stewart III, professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and co-director of the CalTech/MIT Voting Technology Project, Aug. 28, 2020
Email interview with Lorraine Minnite, associate professor of public policy at Rutgers University, Camden, Aug. 28, 2020
Email interview with Matt Dietrich, public information officer for the Illinois State Board of Elections, Aug. 28, 2020
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