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VERIFY: How do states prevent people from voting twice?

Elections officials have data that shows when someone has already filled out a ballot.
Credit: VERIFY

WASHINGTON — Several viewers have asked VERIFY the question of how election officials know if a person voting on Election Day hasn’t already mailed-in a ballot?

The question comes following a presidential election with record numbers of people participating through the mail due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. 

THE QUESTION

How do election officials know a person voting on Election Day hasn’t already sent in a ballot through the mail?

THE ANSWER

While each state may do things slightly differently, generally election offices will check data to see if a person submitting a ballot has submitted one already.

Whichever ballot is logged into the system first is the person’s official ballot.

Attempting to vote twice, also called double voting, can come with harsh legal penalties.

WHAT WE FOUND

A National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) blog post talks about double voting -- specifically surrounding the issue of mail-in ballots.

It states, “in general, the reason it is hard to vote twice in the same state for the same election is that states keep a record of who has voted. The first ballot that is recorded from a given voter gets counted and that precludes them from voting again.”

It is standard practice to mark a person’s voter registration file as having voted once their mail-in envelope has been opened and verified or if they have voted at a polling place.

If a person shows up to the polls after their mail-in ballot has been verified, they will be given a provisional ballot if they insist on voting. Their data will be reviewed afterward and their first-recorded ballot will be the one that counts in the results.

If a person shows up to vote in-person and election officials receive a mail-in ballot from the same person later, the mail-in ballot will be rejected. The election office may send a person a letter asking why they cast two ballots, even if they only counted one of them.

Double voting is a felony in many states, but the crime is often difficult to prosecute. Regardless if a person is prosecuted for it or not, it is unlikely they will be able to get away with voting twice.

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