Trump Makes False Attacks On Vote By Mail And Threatens To Withhold Funding From Two States

The president himself has voted by mail, but he doesn’t want other Americans to have that option.

President Trump speaks during a press conference following the Senate Republicans policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on May 19, 2020. (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
President Trump speaks during a press conference following the Senate Republicans policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on May 19, 2020. (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

President Trump on Wednesday morning attacked the states of Michigan and Nevada for daring to send their residents vote-by-mail documents, falsely claiming that this represented voter fraud and was being done illegally.

Many election officials nationwide, including Republicans, have sent similar applications for people to vote by mail given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Yet Trump’s tweets are an escalation of his attacks on the concept of voting by mail in general, which he has been seeking to “demonize” as “fraught with fraud and delivering an inherent advantage to Democratic candidates—despite there being scant evidence for either claim,” the New York Times reported.

Trump himself voted by mail in the March Florida primary. He’s also done so in previous elections.

In addition to the false claim, the president took the extraordinary step of threatening to withhold federal funding to Michigan and Nevada because of their attempts to make voting during a pandemic easier. 

Michigan's state government sent applications for people to vote by absentee ballot, so they could have the option to vote by mail. Nevada switched its upcoming June primary to vote-by-mail and mailed ballots to all active registered voters.

Trump has previously attempted extortion to swing elections in his favor. He was impeached in February 2020 for a scheme in which he threatened to withhold crucial military aid from the country of Ukraine unless prosecutors there fabricated investigations into the family of his 2020 opponent, former VP Joe Biden. Trump’s entire presidency has been riddled with inquiries into Russia’s influence on the 2016 election.

Later on Wednesday afternoon, Trump deleted his original tweet about Michigan, but tweeted a new one that still had a false claim and a threat to withhold funding.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who is responsible for overseeing the state's elections, responded to the false accusation, along with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Election experts and political journalists also weighed in:

Trump and the Republican National Committee (RNC) are “exploiting coronavirus to double down on making it harder for people to vote and, if that fails, they’ll use it as an excuse to challenge validity of election,” wrote Ari Berman on Twitter. Berman is a journalist who tracks voter suppression in the U.S. and the author of the book, “Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America.”

NPR cited research that concluded “there’s no evidence that expanding absentee voting benefits one party over the other. Likewise, extensive research suggests voter fraud is uncommon for mail-in voting.” The outlet added: “Still, Trump and some of his Republican allies have concluded that it helps Democrats and are trying to restrict its expansion amid the pandemic.”

Michigan Gov. Whitmer (D) responded to Trump’s threat to pull funding and said, “We've got to 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.”

As the coronavirus spread throughout the U.S. during the presidential primary season, health and safety concerns grew for those who went out to polling locations in states like Wisconsin. Several primary elections have already been postponed, and state officials in many states are gearing up to expand access to vote-by-mail for the general election in November.

California Gov. Gavin Newson (D) signed an executive order on May 8 requiring election officials to send mail-in ballots to all registered voters for the election on November 3, making it the first state to do so in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Citing health concerns, Newsom signed the executive order to ensure that “Californians can exercise their right to vote in a safe and accessible manner,” according to his statement. However, in-person voting sites will remain open and accessible to those who need them, including people experiencing homelessness.

In 2016, Trump made baseless claims, which have been fact-checked and deemed incorrect, about voter fraud. He said frequently and falsely that “millions” of people voted who shouldn’t have been able to, including undocumented immigrants or people who were deceased.

Michigan was crucial to Trump's 2016 electoral college win. He beat Hillary Clinton by just 10,704 votes there, but won all of the state's electoral votes under the current system. He lost Nevada by a similarly narrow margin, with Clinton earning 27,202 more votes. Both states will likely play important roles in the November 2020 election, and election observers worry that the president will continue to make baseless fraud claims, giving him a fallback if he loses.

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