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Trump Threatens to Withhold Funding for States that Allow More Absentee Voting

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Trump Threatens to Withhold Funding for States that Allow More Absentee Voting

2020-05-21 18:20:38

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Donald Trump (Image source: Screenshot)



Donald Trump appears to feel threatened by the thought that voting should be open to as many voters as possible. On Wednesday, less than six months before the presidential election, he came out strong against widely-available absentee voting and threatened to withhold funding from states as a result. 

Trump tweeted that opening absentee balloting to all was "illegal" and also claimed, incorrectly, that Michigan's secretary of state is planning to mail ballots to all voters. However, Michigan is only planning to send mail-in ballot applications to all voters and not the actual ballots.


"This was done illegally and without authorization by a rogue secretary of state," the president tweeted. "I will ask to hold up funding to Michigan if they want to go down this Voter Fraud path!" 

Later Trump corrected his tweet and admitted he would not need to withhold federal money. Yet, he still insisted that both Michigan and Nevada are moving toward encouraging voter fraud. A spokesman for his campaign said the secretary of state didn't have legal authority to send ballot applications.


"I think just common sense would tell you that massive manipulation can take place," he said. "And you do have cases of fraudulent ballots when they actually print them and they give them to people to sign, maybe the same person signs them with different writing, different pens. I don't know. It's a lot of things can happen." 

Democrats and voting rights activists came out strongly against Trump's comments and accused him of intentionally encouraging mistrust in elections.


This was one day after Michigan's secretary of state, Jocelyn Benson, announced a plan to send absentee ballot applications to all voters for the primary election and general election. 

But his claims that it will encourage cheating are at odds with the aggressive operations of state and national Republican leaders who are encouraging voters to vote by mail. Some GOP leaders are also backing plans to expand absentee voting because of the coronavirus pandemic.


Democratic strategists suggested that Trump's tweets that target battleground or Democrat-controlled states show he is trying to come out ahead. They noted he is not targeting the GOP states that are also expanding absentee balloting. 

"They're doing this because they think it gives them some sort of political advantage," said Guy Cecil, a former Hillary Clinton aide who is the head of the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA Action.


"They see what Trump's poll numbers are, and their philosophy is simple: 'If we can't win with the electorate we have, then we try to create an environment that gives us an electorate that we can win with.' " 

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany explained Trump is trying to prevent voter fraud. "The president is right to look at this," she said. "We want a free and fair election, and that's a fair concern."


Trump has often spoken up against mail-in voting with the thought it leads to fraud and has hurt Republicans in the past, but these claims don't have merit. 

Still, he voted by absentee ballot in March in Florida's primary "because I'm allowed to," saying he was at the White House and out of state.


Republicans in office in multiple states that don't have all-mail elections have encouraged voters to use absentee ballots during the pandemic, according to Washington Post research. 

The Trump campaign is even doing so, urging supporters to request absentee ballots. An email sent to voters in Pennsylvania urges them to "request your ballot and cast your vote from your own home."


Spokesman  Tim Murtaugh asserted again that the campaign is against mailing all voters ballots because it could lead to fraud, but also said "it is responsible to advise our voters of what the laws are in their states." 

Despite this, many GOP organizations, including the Republican National Committee, have followed Trump and are accusing Democrats of encouraging fraud and trying to restrict voting by mail. The RNC has invested $20 million to fight lawsuits trying to make voting easier.


It's led to very murky waters in this territory. "We have been clear that we cannot have rogue state officials or activist courts making unilateral decisions," said RNC press secretary Mandi Merritt. "We continue to support lawful absentee voting with the proper safeguards in place, safeguards which Democrats are suing to eliminate in states like Michigan." 

Political advisers to Trump believe he's made it clear he doesn't like voting by mail and doesn't want to expand it. "He's not telling us to reverse current rules," said a senior campaign adviser. "He just doesn't want it expanded or people to use it for other reasons like this. He thinks the more mail voting there is, the more fraud there is."


Many Trump advisers also believe it's not a smart move to attack Michigan since he is trailing there. The RNC chair, former Michigan state party chair Ronna McDaniel, and even Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale, were all caught off guard by Trump's tweet, according to people familiar with their reactions. 

The president's first tweet that misstated that Michigan was sending out ballots to everyone rather than ballot applications was deleted after long internal conversations. It was concluded it was not a good idea, said a person with knowledge of these discussions.


Internal polling has shown Trump trailing former Vice President Joe Biden in Michigan. A Fox News poll in mid-April showed Biden up ahead of Trump 49 to 41 percent in Michigan. 

Benson said in an interview that at least four states have decided to send ballot applications to all voters, the same as she did. This includes Georgia, Iowa, Nebraska, and West Virginia. "It is not a partisan issue to ensure that every citizen can vote," she noted. "Our hope is that the misuse of federal funding that's being threatened is simply that — a threat. It's certainly illegal to predicate federal funding on a political agenda."


Trump mentioned the Treasury Department as well as the acting head of the White House Office of Management and Budget, Russ Vought, in his tweet. Later the president said he didn't discuss withholding federal funds when he spoke with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Williams. "I don't think it's going to be necessary," he added. 

Republican Party leaders are behind him in his concerns with Nevada, expressing concern that mail-in ballots could allow nefarious people to obtain ballots sent to those who have moved or died.


"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." the president said in his second tweet. "They can't! If they do, 'I think' I can hold up funds to the State. Sorry, but you must not cheat in elections." 

However, Nevada's secretary of state, Barbara Cegavske, is a Republican. She decided to mail ballots to all voters in the upcoming primary, and that had the support of a federal judge. Democrats are suing to ensure in-person voting is also available.


She defended her decision on Wednesday, noting that "many safeguards" are in place to prevent fraud. This includes signature requirements and bar-code tracking. 

Nevada's Democratic governor, Steve Sisolak, tweeted, "for the president to threaten federal funding in the midst of a pandemic over a state exercising its authority to run elections in a safe and legal manner is inappropriate and outrageous."

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