Trump Steps Up Attacks on Mail Vote, Making False Claims About Fraud
President Trump on Wednesday escalated his assault against mail voting, falsely claiming that Michigan and Nevada were engaged in voter fraud and had acted illegally, and threatening to withhold federal funds to those states if they proceed in expanding vote-by-mail efforts.
The president inaccurately accused the two states of sending mail ballots to its residents. In fact, the secretaries of state in Michigan and Nevada sent applications for mail ballots, as election officials have done in other states, including those led by Republicans.
The Twitter posts were the latest in a series of broadsides the president has aimed at a process that has become the primary vehicle for casting ballots in an electoral system transformed by the coronavirus pandemic.
As most states largely abandon in-person voting because of health concerns, Mr. Trump, along with many of his Republican allies, have launched a series of false attacks to demonize mail voting as fraught with fraud and delivering an inherent advantage to Democratic candidates — despite there being scant evidence for either claim.
“Michigan sends absentee ballots to 7.7 million people ahead of Primaries and the General Election,” the president tweeted Wednesday morning. “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!”
An hour later he made a similar threat against Nevada, saying the state had created “a great Voter Fraud scenario” and adding “If they do, ‘I think’ I can hold up funds to the State.”
Mr. Trump’s outbursts come as the White House and his re-election campaign are confronting polls showing the president trailing his Democratic rival, Joseph R. Biden Jr., both nationally and in key swing states.
The White House did not respond to requests for comment or elaboration.Mr. Trump has often made threats about cutting off funding to states but has not always followed through. He has threatened in the past to withhold federal funds to sanctuary cities. Last month, he said he wanted Democratic states to give him “sanctuary-city adjustments” in exchange for federal financial relief. He has not yet followed through on the threat.
Michigan’s secretary of state, Jocelyn Benson, quickly clarified on Wednesday that the state is not mailing ballots to all Michigan voters. On Wednesday she began mailing ballot applications to all registered voters.
“I was notified about the tweet this morning and it caught me off guard because it of course was inaccurate,” Ms. Benson, a Democrat, said in an interview. “It is nothing different from my Republican colleagues in other states are doing. It boggles my mind, that this, which is completely within my authority, would in any way be seen as controversial.”
Ms. Benson said she has already spent $4.5 million in federal CARES Act funding to mail voters ballot applications, which are also available online. She had previously sent absentee ballot applications to all voters for the state’s local elections on May 5.
Michigan voters who apply for absentee ballots for the August statewide primary for House and Senate races may also opt in to receive ballots for the November general election.
The president’s attack on Nevada is particularly confounding, given that the state’s effort to switch to a nearly-all-mail election was made by Secretary of State Barbara K. Cegavske, a Republican. Democrats have sued Ms. Cegavske to block her effort to close nearly all of the state’s in-person polling places for the June 9 primary and mail ballots to all registered voters.
“If it has not become apparent yet, Donald Trump makes stuff up,” said Marc Elias, the Democratic elections lawyer who is suing Ms. Cegavske to require more in-person polling places to remain open. “So I don’t think he has a particular objection other than someone has told him that he is losing in Michigan and in Nevada so today he decided to tweet about Michigan and Nevada.”
Ms. Cegavske’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
The president is scheduled to visit a Ford Motor plant that is manufacturing ventilators in Ypsilanti, Mich., on Thursday. This is his first trip to the state since January, and comes at a time when his campaign advisers are increasingly concerned about his chances there. Mr. Trump’s tweets a day ahead of the trip were seen as unhelpful to boosting his political standing in a critical state, and his political opponents immediately pounced on it.
Georgia’s Republican secretary of state and municipal officials in Milwaukee have also said they will send vote-by-mail applications to registered voters in hopes of easing stress on in-person voting locations. In Wisconsin, the state’s bipartisan election commission is meeting Wednesday to decide whether to mail ballot application forms to all registered voters and more than 200,000 people who are eligible to vote but not registered.
Some state Republican parties have been actively encouraging their supporters to vote by mail. In Pennsylvania, another state that recently passed a law to move to no-excuse vote by mail, the state Republican Party has set up an online portal that helps voters understand the new law.
Many states, including Michigan and Wisconsin, also allow voters to make online requests to have absentee ballots mailed to them.
The president himself, along with the first lady, Melania Trump, voted by mail in Florida’s presidential primary in March.
Mr. Trump has long falsely asserted that absentee voting and vote by mail is rife with fraud, applying that argument into his constant complaints of “rigged elections” when he or his supported candidates are losing.
He has been casting doubts on mail voting since his first run for the presidency in 2016. During a rally in Colorado — one of the five states in the country that votes completely by mail — Mr. Trump implied without evidence that it was easy to vote twice.
Recently, Mr. Trump has been lashing out at both vote by mail and absentee voting, at first raising his allegations in April in a tweet and later decrying a decision in California to mail ballots to every voter for November as a “scam.” But the president has also been inconsistent on the issue: on the same day that he criticized the decision in California, he encouraged voters to mail in their ballots for a local congressional race.
Election experts noted that the process Mr. Trump criticized was actually a protective measure against voter fraud.
“A ballot application is returned to state officials who ensure that the information on it is accurate and the person applying for a ballot is entitled to get it,” said Richard L. Hasen, a professor at University of California, Irvine, who specializes in election law. “So it’s a safeguard.”
Mr. Hasen said that the broadsides from Mr. Trump follow a pattern of lashing out against expanding access to voting, even as there remains no evidence to support his claims.
“Trump seems to think that anything that makes it easier for people to vote is going to hurt him,” Mr. Hasen said, “and he’s consistently expressed the view that anything that makes it easier to vote leads to voter fraud when there is absolutely no evidence to support that claim.”
Though Mr. Trump did not specify which funds he was threatening to withhold from states during a pandemic, election officials and Democrats in Congress have been clamoring for more money to help hold the November elections safely.
But the money that has already been appropriated through the Help America Vote Act and the CARES Act is already “out the door” and on the way to states, according to election officials; there is no way for Mr. Trump or his administration to hold up those funds.
Mr. Elias, the elections lawyer, said Mr. Trump could seek to withhold other funds but predicted such a move would be invalidated by the courts.
“The president does not have authority to withhold funding to a state based on the idea that people in the state may vote,” he said.
Mr. Trump’s attacks on mail voting have come largely in states with little history of large numbers of people casting absentee ballots, like Wisconsin. But he has not addressed mail voting in states where it has long been popular, such as Florida and Arizona, and often used to great success by Republican campaigns. Nor has Mr. Trump denigrated mail voting in the five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington — that conduct elections entirely by mail.