President Trump threatened to withhold federal funds two states with Democratic governors that are expanding mail-in-voting access in an effort to avoid crowded polling centers amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In a tweet Wednesday morning, the President claimed that Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat is sending “absentee ballots to 7.7 million people ahead of Primaries and the General Election” and that the step was done “illegally by a rogue Secretary of State.” The president threatened to withhold funding if the state did not reverse course, suggesting its move would encourage voter fraud.
“Breaking: Michigan sends absentee ballots to 7.7 million people ahead of Primaries and the General Election,” Trump tweeted. “This was done illegally and without authorization by a rogue Secretary of State. I will ask to hold up funding to Michigan if they want to go down this Voter Fraud path!”
Trump later corrected the error in a new tweet hours later, saying that Michigan is sending “absentee ballot applications” ahead of the primary and general election and maintaining that the decision was done “illegally and without authorization.”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 20, 2020
Benson responded to Trump’s tweet, saying that the state “sent applications, not ballots” and pointed out that Republican-led secretaries of state are taking similar measures.
“Hi! I also have a name, it’s Jocelyn Benson. And we sent applications, not ballots. Just like my colleagues in Iowa, Georgia, Nebraska, and West Virginia,” Michigan Secretary of State said in a tweet.
Wisconsin newly elected Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer also responded to Trump’s tweet, calling his remarks “disheartening.”
“To see Twitter this morning and to see rhetoric like that is disheartening because I think it first shows you that there maybe was a lack of understanding of what the secretary of state was doing,” Whitmer said. “She said we’re going to mail applications, not mail ballots, mail applications. And I would appreciate any federal partnership that wants to stay focused on solving problems and not get into politics. We got to take politics out of this crisis moment.”
Trump also singled out Nevada in a second tweet with a similar threat to “hold up funds,” which is holding its June 9 primary elections entirely by mail. The state is set to hold a mail-in primary election, which Trump alleged would create “a great Voter Fraud scenario for the State and the U.S.”
State of Nevada “thinks” that they can send out illegal vote by mail ballots, creating a great Voter Fraud scenario for the State and the U.S. They can’t! If they do, “I think” I can hold up funds to the State. Sorry, but you must not cheat in elections. @RussVought45 @USTreasury
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 20, 2020
The state Republican Party has criticized Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, a Republican for deciding to mail ballots, not just ballot applications, to all active and inactive voters. They argued, despite a federal judge upholding Cegavske decision to mail ballots to all voters in Nevada’s upcoming primary following a lawsuit, saying that expanding access would allow bad actors to obtain ballots sent to voters who have moved or died.
Cegavske’s office issue a statement Wednesday defending her decision, noting that “many safeguards” will be put in place to prevent fraud, including signature requirements and bar code tracking.
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat responded on Twitter to Trump’s threat.
“For the President to threaten federal funding in the midst of a pandemic over a state exercising its authority to run elections in a safe and legal manner is inappropriate and outrageous” Sisolak tweeted.
Speaking to reporters during a White House meeting with Governors of Arkansas and Kansas, Trump said that mail-in-ballots leads to “forgeries” and called the option “dangerous.”
“Mail-in ballots are very dangerous, there’s tremendous fraud involved and tremendous illegality,” he said. “I mean when you get thousands of ballots, and then put them in a bag and they just bring them in, who knows where they came from? I think just common sense would tell you that massive manipulation can take place and you do have cases of fraudulent ballots where they actually print them and they give them to people to sign, maybe the same person signs them with different writing, different pens. I don’t know. It’s a lot of things can happen.”
He also softened his threat to withhold funds, saying he doesn’t “think it’s going to be necessary.”
The pandemic has upended 2020 elections, forcing officials to seek safer or alternatives for Americans to cast their votes. Both states are using the funds provided by the CARES Act stimulus relief package to pay for the election changes. The $2 trillion bipartisan relief package includes $400 million for states to prepare for upcoming primaries and the November general election during the coronavirus outbreak.