Trump claims ‘tremendous fraud’ in mail-in voting as he doubles down on threats to states
President Trump on Wednesday doubled down on his threat to withhold funding from states over plans to allow more voting to be conducted by mail, claiming that mail-in ballots are riddled with “tremendous fraud.”
“Mail-in ballots are very dangerous. There is tremendous fraud involved and tremendous illegality,” Trump told reporters during a meeting with Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) and Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly (D).
The president earlier Wednesday had threatened to withhold funding from Michigan and Nevada over their election plans, claiming in tweets that the decision by Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) to send applications for absentee ballots to the state’s 7.7 million registered voters was done “illegally” and “without authorization.”
Trump told reporters he had “specific funding” in mind.
“When you send out 7.7 million mail-in ballots, there’s forgeries, there’s frankly duplication where they print ballots on the same kind of paper with the same kind of machinery and you can’t tell the difference and then send in thousands and thousands of fake ballots,” Trump said.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany sidestepped questions during a briefing Wednesday afternoon on what exactly Trump believed was illegal about the states’ actions, saying such questions should be directed to the campaign.
“President Trump is correct. There is no statutory authority for the secretary of state in Michigan to send absentee ballot applications to all voters,” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said in a statement. “Existing case law in Michigan supports that conclusion as well.”
A campaign official pointed to a 2008 case in which a Michigan appeals court ruled that local clerks lacked the authority to mail unsolicited absentee voter ballot applications.
Michigan voters, however, passed a ballot measure in 2018 allowing for no-reason absentee voting, and Benson told The New York Times in an interview Wednesday that the decision was “completely within my authority.”
She said in a statement Tuesday evening she took the step to ensure safe primary and general election voting during the coronavirus pandemic.
The office of Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, a Republican, said conducting the state’s primary election by mail is a “necessary and prudent decision” to ensure the safety of voters and election workers.
“For over a century, Nevadans, including members of the military, citizens residing outside the state, voters in designated mailing precincts, and voters requesting absentee ballots, have been voting by mail with no evidence of election fraud,” Cegavske’s office said in a statement after Trump targeted the state in a tweet.
The statement added that the secretary of state “lawfully declared the 2020 primary election as a mail-in election.”
Experts dispute Trump’s claims of widespread fraud in mail-in voting, saying that while there are higher levels of voter fraud in mail-in voting than with in-person voting, overall cases of voter fraud remain exceedingly rare.
Trump also said Wednesday that he spoke to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) earlier in the day about the coronavirus response and flooding issues in the state, but said the issue of mail-in voting didn’t come up.
“I have very specific funding. I just spoke to the governor. We didn’t discuss that. We really discussed more the topic at hand plus the dams breaking,” Trump said. “You’ll be finding out very soon if it’s necessary. I don’t think it’s going to be necessary because mail-in ballots are a very dangerous thing. They’re subject to massive fraud.”
Trump would face legal hurdles in withholding federal funding from states. Elie Honig, a legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, said the funds must relate “substantively to the state-level policy at issue” and that restrictions could only apply to new sources of funding, not money that is already allocated or flowing to a state.
“Also there’s a question whether the president himself can withhold funds without congressional authorization,” Honig said.
Brett Samuels contributed.