Trump threatens to withhold Michigan, Nevada funding over mail-in voting
President Trump on Wednesday threatened to withhold federal funding to Michigan after its secretary of state, Jocelyn Benson (D), announced all of the state’s registered voters would receive applications for absentee ballots in the mail this year.
Trump falsely claimed that Benson sent ballots, and not ballot applications, to the state’s registered voters and alleged that the step was done “illegally.” The president threatened to withhold funding if the state did not reverse course, suggesting its move would encourage voter fraud. Trump later threatened to suspend federal funding to Nevada, which is holding a mail-in primary election, claiming the state was creating a “great Voter Fraud scenario” and allow people to “cheat in elections.”
“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!”
Breaking: Michigan sends absentee ballots to 7.7 million people ahead of Primaries and the General Election. 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!..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 20, 2020
Trump copied Acting Office of Management and Budget Director Russ Vought, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and the Treasury Department on his tweet about Michigan and also copied Vought and the Treasury Department on the post about Nevada.
Benson responded to Trump’s tweet, correcting him by saying that the state “sent applications, not ballots” and pointing out that Republican secretaries of state have done the same.
Trump issued a new tweet hours later correctly 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.”
Hi! I also have a name, it’s Jocelyn Benson. And we sent applications, not ballots. Just like my GOP colleagues in Iowa, Georgia, Nebraska and West Virginia. https://t.co/kBsu4nHvOy
— Jocelyn Benson (@JocelynBenson) May 20, 2020
Trump has frequently voiced his opposition to expanding mail-in voting, leveling unsubstantiated and exaggerated claims that mail-in ballots are riddled with fraud and are “corrupt.”
While voting experts say there are higher levels of voter fraud in mail-in voting than in-person voting, they agree that overall cases of voter fraud are rare.
“Republicans should fight very hard when it comes to statewide mail-in voting. Democrats are clamoring for it,” Trump tweeted last month. “Tremendous potential for voter fraud, and for whatever reason, doesn’t work out well for Republicans.”
Trump can withhold federal funding from states, but would face legal hurdles in trying to do so, said Elie Honig, a legal analyst and former federal prosecutor.
“First, the federal funds must relate substantively to the state-level policy at issue,” said Honig. “Second, funding restrictions can only apply to new sources of funding. The federal government can’t interrupt or impose new conditions on money that already has been allocated or is already flowing.”
“Also there’s a question whether the president himself can withhold funds without congressional authorization,” Honig continued.
Democrats have supported mail-in voting during the coronavirus pandemic as a way to ensure that ballots can be cast safely in the 2020 elections without risking exposure to the virus.
The $2 trillion bipartisan relief package that Trump signed into law in late March provides $400 million for states to prepare for upcoming primaries and the November general election during the coronavirus outbreak.
Benson said in a statement on Tuesday that sending mail-in applications to Michigan’s 7.7 million registered voters would ensure their safety.
“By mailing applications, we have ensured that no Michigander has to choose between their health and their right to vote,” Benson said. “Voting by mail is easy, convenient, safe, and secure, and every voter in Michigan has the right to do it.”
Trump’s tweet comes just a day before the president’s scheduled trip to a Ford manufacturing plant in Ypsilanti, Mich., to highlight the company’s work producing ventilators to help combat the coronavirus pandemic.
Updated at 2:46 p.m.