What prevents double voting?

Photo by Travis Gauthier
Voters showed up in droves on the first day of early voting

COVID-19 didn’t just disrupt our lives, it disrupted our democracy. And the Nov. 3 election is speeding toward us. We’re taking questions from readers to help navigate a historically complicated election.

Send your question to our Election 2020 Dropbox and we’ll get an answer ASAP.

Reader Question: How can we ensure that a person doesn’t vote early or by mail, and then also vote in person at their polling place?

Answer: At face value, double voting seems like it would be pretty easy in an election with unprecedented numbers of mail-in ballots. But it’s really not. The bottom line is every vote is tracked to a single registered voter. And if there’s any doubt, election officials will count whichever vote happens first.

Hypothetically, you could double vote in one of two ways:

1) Vote early and again on Election Day. This is next to impossible. First, election officials will have a record that you voted early. Second, the Louisiana’s statewide voter registration database cross checks every vote with a registered voter. When you show up to vote the second time, you’d be denied. (It’s not unlike what would happen if you tried to vote in two places.) The database goes further than that, ensuring that each vote not only corresponds to a registered voter but an eligible one at that. 

“We do understand elections in Louisiana,” Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court Louis Perret says of the registration system.

Check out Election Guide 2020 for more info and resources.

2) Voting by mail and in person. There is a bit of wrinkle here. Normally, the registrar of voters counts your ballot as cast when you request your ballot. In that case, if you later showed up to vote in person, poll workers wouldn’t let you, according to Registrar of Voters Charlene Meaux-Menard.

In this election, however, poll workers will allow you to vote in person even if you’ve already requested a ballot. 

The thinking here is that concern about election integrity might lead folks to change their minds about voting by mail and instead vote in person after requesting a ballot. If that happens, the voter would be allowed to vote in person and the in-person vote would be the only one that counts.

But what if that person already mailed in their vote!? If the mail-in ballot gets there before you show to vote, you’ve voted. Too bad. If it hasn’t arrived yet, the registrar will count the in-person vote. Again, the registration database will flag both votes, and election officials will toss out the duplicate vote. 

If there’s any question about whether a vote should count, it’s decided by a bipartisan election board. You can read more about the Board of Election Supervisors in this previous explainer.

About the Author

Christiaan Mader founded The Current in 2018, reviving the brand from a short-lived culture magazine he created for Lafayette publisher INDMedia. An award-winning investigative and culture journalist, Christiaan’s work as a writer and reporter has appeared in The New York Times, Vice, Offbeat, Gambit, and The Advocate.

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