President Trump on Wednesday threatened to halt federal funding to Michigan and Nevada over the distribution of absentee ballots in those states amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak that has left more than 90,000 Americans dead.
“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!”
Both Michigan and Nevada are considered potential swing states in the November election.
The president followed up with a tweet tagging Russ Vought, the acting director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget; Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows; and the U.S. Treasury Department.
Trump’s threat to halt funding was issued hours after floods forced the evacuation of about 10,000 people in central Michigan. He didn’t specify what kinds of federal aid he would stop, or cite a legal basis for the action.
The president is scheduled to visit a Ford ventilator-assembly plant in Ypsilanti, Mich., on Thursday.
On Tuesday, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announced a plan to send applications for absentee ballots to all registered voters in the state ahead of its elections in August and November.
There have been more than 50,000 confirmed coronavirus cases reported in Michigan to date, and more than 5,000 deaths.
“By mailing applications, we have ensured that no Michigander has to choose between their health and their right to vote,” Benson said in a statement. “Voting by mail is easy, convenient, safe and secure, and every voter in Michigan has the right to do it.”
Under normal circumstances, it is up to voters to request an absentee ballot, which are restricted to those voters who are traveling or temporarily residing away from their usual residence. About a third of the states require a specific reason to vote by mail. More than half allow voters to request mail-in ballots without one.
Benson quickly responded to Trump on Twitter.
The president made the same threat against Nevada, again raising without evidence the specter of voter fraud.
“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.,” Trump tweeted. “They can’t! If they do, ‘I think’ I can hold up funds to the State. Sorry, but you must not cheat in elections.”
Nevada has made its June 9 state primaries an all-mail election, sending absentee ballots to registered voters. According to Reuters, the state official responsible for elections is a Republican.
There is no evidence that voting by absentee ballot leads to more voter fraud. Trump himself voted by absentee ballot in the Florida primary in March. Yet he continues to rail against the practice.
During a coronavirus briefing at the White House last month, Trump said he was opposed to mail-in ballots because “people cheat.”
“No, mail ballots, they cheat,” he said. “OK, people cheat. Mail ballots are a very dangerous thing for this country because they are cheaters.”
At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was asked about Trump’s tweeted threat against the state’s contingency plans.
“For 10 weeks we have been in the midst of battling COVID-19,” Whitmer said. “The people of this great state have done their part and we have seen our numbers flatten. We're not out of the woods yet. But it's taken a lot of sacrifice and it has not been easy.
“On top of this 100-year event, we have a 500-year event in a flood that has absolutely devastated a lot of families, a lot of communities,” she continued. “To see Twitter this morning, 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. She said we're going to mail applications, not ballots.”
Shortly after Whitmer spoke, Trump issued another tweet that corrected the erroneous one, but reiterated the threat to halt federal funds.
Whitmer added: “We gotta take politics out of this crisis moment and remember we're all Americans. We are all fighting for our lives here and for our economy. And we all got to get this right.”
Yahoo News Correspondent Jon Ward contributed reporting
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