I could imagine that "I was just cleaning the gun and it went off" might be an acceptable defence against killing someone, but, in a comment to a question on our Politics site about trump inciting voters to to vote twice, someone said

Whether such prosecution is successful may well hinge on the intent of the voter. If a voter is able to convince a magistrate that the transgression was innocent, he may get off with a slap. OTOH, if the voter says that he felt it was his duty to "test" the system or that he was following DJT's instructions, a significant fine and jail time may follow.

Is there any way that "intent" would make a difference in such a case?

  • 2
    "Killing someone" isn't a crime. Murder is a crime. Manslaughter is a crime. Negligent homicide is a crime. "I was just cleaning the gun and it went off" may be a successful defense against some of these crimes, but not against all of them.
    – phoog
    Sep 5 '20 at 18:29

It would depends on the laws of the particular state, since each state has its own laws pertaining to voting. The law in North Carolina, N.C. Gen. Stat. §163-275(7), says that it is unlawful

For any person with intent to commit a fraud to register or vote at more than one precinct or more than one time, or to induce another to do so, in the same primary or election, or to vote illegally at any primary or election

The corresponding jury instruction says what it means to have an intent to commit a fraud:

Intent is a mental attitude seldom provable by direct evidence. It must ordinarily be proved by circumstances from which it may be inferred. You arrive at the intent of a person by such just and reasonable deductions from the circumstances proven as a reasonably prudent person would ordinarily draw therefrom. Specific intent is a mental purpose, aim or design to accomplish a specific harm or result.

If you find from the evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that on or about the alleged date the defendant voted more than one time in the same election event, the (name election event or contest),and that defendant did so with the intent to commit a fraud, then it would be your duty to return a verdict of guilty. If you do not so find, or if you have a reasonable doubt as to one or more of these things, then it would be your duty to return a verdict of not guilty

The prosecution would presumably construct an argument that the defendant intended that is vote be counted twice, and if they can prove that intent, then the jury should convict. Defense could argue that the intent was based on a reasonable belief that their absentee ballot was not counted thus disenfranchising defendant, and defendant acted with the lawful intent that their vote be counted, once. Because NC law contains procedural provisions to filter out double-voting, defendant can reasonably have a non-criminal intent, even if they are mistaken about the efficacy of those safeguards.

However, the Ohio law does not carry an intent element:

(A) No person shall do any of the following: ...

(2) Vote or attempt to vote more than once at the same election by any means, including voting or attempting to vote both by absent voter's ballots under division (G) of section 3503.16 of the Revised Code and by regular ballot at the polls at the same election, or voting or attempting to vote both by absent voter's ballots under division (G) of section 3503.16 of the Revised Code and by absent voter's ballots under Chapter 3509. or armed service absent voter's ballots under Chapter 3511. of the Revised Code at the same election;

This doesn't even require that you know that you are voting twice. So it depends on the particular law of the state.


A basic element in most crimes is "mens rea"; the intent to break the law. In the case of cleaning a gun that goes off there is no intent to kill or injure, just negligence, so once the facts are established it would be sentenced as such.

In the case of vote fraud, the crime is voting twice and its not something you do by accident. If the crime is detected after the fact then there is no excuse. If the defendant was detected before casting the second ballot then they might be able to claim that they were only "testing" the system and were not in fact going to vote a second time. However AIUI this is not actually a crime; they will just be told they can't vote.

If a person does vote twice then they are guilty and will be sentenced accordingly; their motive for committing the crime is not relevant.

  • "If the crime is detected after the fact then there is no excuse" ? Sep 5 '20 at 13:10
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    @MawgsaysreinstateMonica Legally no. You might be able to plead some kind of extenuating circumstance, but its pretty hard to see what short of being under some kind of threat. Either way you are guilty. The OP talks about "[convincing] a magistrate that the transgression was innocent", but walking in to a polling station with intent to vote a second time is not innocent by definition. Sep 5 '20 at 16:49
  • If they forgot that they voted by mail there might be no intent to break the law. Sep 5 '20 at 17:59

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