So, the president of the United States went to Wilmington last week and encouraged North Carolina voters to commit a felony by voting twice, once by mail and once in person.

People are already worried enough about the coming election. They don’t need this sort of reckless comment from someone who’s supposed to be a leader.

Trump’s ill-advised suggestion came in response to a reporter’s question about the president’s faith in North Carolina’s system of voting by mail. Trump presented it as a way to test that system: If people mail in a ballot and then show up to vote in person, they’ll either get turned away because the system is working, or they’ll get to vote twice.

“That’s what they should do,” he said.

Only, of course, it’s not. Voting twice in the same election is illegal.

The following day, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told Fox News, “The president is not suggesting anyone do anything unlawful. What he said very clearly there is make sure your vote is tabulated and if it is not then vote.”

But that’s not what he said, nor is it the first time that Trump’s staff has had to “clarify” a confused statement from the president.

What he said about voting would be a bad idea at any time, but it was especially irresponsible now. People are already worried about voting safely while the COVID-19 pandemic still rages. They are worried about foreign interference in the electoral process and the possibility of voter fraud.

People are worried that they can’t trust our electoral system — the heart of our democratic system. And rather than doing all he can to help states ensure that voting proceeds safely and every legitimate vote is counted, Trump has been stirring doubt.

Repeatedly, he’s made claims about rampant fraud and problems with mail-in voting, without any evidence. Then his new postmaster general, Greensboro’s Louis DeJoy, started dismantling postal equipment and slowing service, making people even warier.

Meanwhile, Trump keeps throwing out tales about thugs in planes and other imaginary threats designed to ramp up uncertainty, fear, and even violence.

Apparently, Trump’s idea about voting twice is an attempt to fix a problem he’s created. His base includes many older voters and others who might prefer to mail their ballots in this year, maybe for the first time. Raising doubts about voting by mail could cost him votes.

He’s also been spreading misleading information about the process of mail-in voting, which varies by state. He’s been insisting that there’s a big difference between absentee voting (OK) and other mailed ballots (somehow not).

For the record, in North Carolina, there is no difference. We already have no-excuse mail-in absentee voting.

Voters can request and receive absentee ballots without having to prove a need. Voting by mail is essential for many members of the military, for people who are traveling at election time and for those with certain disabilities.

Mail-in voting also can be convenient for people for any number of reasons, and that’s fine.

In the midst of a pandemic, voting by mail can make sense for older people and others with health risks. Those who want to vote by mail should carefully follow procedures at their local elections boards and get the ballots in as early as possible. Another good alternative to being in crowds on Election Day is to take advantage of early in-person voting.

Also for the record, North Carolina for decades has had a system designed to make sure that if you vote by mail and then in person, your vote will not be counted twice.

The bottom line? Vote by mail if you choose. But vote only once. If for no other reason, elections officials don’t need extra work or headaches. And voting twice could bring a felony charge.

It’s also simply wrong. No matter what Trump might say.

Today’s editorial is from The Winston-Salem Journal. The views expressed are not necessarily those of this newspaper.