Trump blasts mass absentee ballot efforts in Michigan, Nevada

Rebecca Shabad and Mike Memoli and Monica Alba and Shannon Pettypiece

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Wednesday threatened to withhold federal funding for Michigan and Nevada over their pursuit of mass mail-in voting.

The president said, falsely, that Michigan is sending "absentee ballots" to 7.7 million voters, following that with a warning to Nevada if it pursues voting by mail.

Michigan's secretary of state, Jocelyn Benson, said Tuesday that all of those registered voters will be mailed applications for absentee ballots for the state’s elections in August and November — not the absentee ballots themselves.

Trump said the move was done “illegally and without authorization from a rogue secretary of state.”

“I will ask to hold up funding to Michigan if they want to go down this Voter Fraud path!” he tweeted, and then tagged White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, acting Office of Management and Budget Director Russ Vought and the Treasury Department in a follow-up tweet.

The president later corrected his tweet to refer to absentee ballot "applications."

Nevada, meanwhile, is planning an all-mail vote for its state primary in June.

Trump told reporters later in the day that he didn't think it would be necessary to withhold funding from Michigan, while declining to specify what funding he might be referencing. Without citing evidence, he said that there were forgeries of mail-in ballots and that "they send in thousands and thousands of fake ballots."

"Mail-in ballots are very dangerous, there’s tremendous fraud involved and tremendous illegality," he said.

He added that a recent congressional special election won by a Republican that was conducted almost entirely by mail-in ballot was "a positive case."

In her announcement Tuesday to mail out the applications for absentee ballots to all voters, Benson, a Democrat, noted that turnout in a recent local election was up significantly and that most voters cast absentee ballots, according to the Detroit Free Press.

“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.”

Tweeting in response to Trump on Wednesday, Benson pointed out that she had sent applications, not ballots, "like my GOP colleagues in Iowa, Georgia, Nebraska and West Virginia."

Michigan’s former secretary of state, Ruth Johnson, a Republican, suggested in a statement Tuesday that her successor might be overstepping, saying she questioned why she was taking the action right now and that "local clerks are the ones who have always handled these requests, not the secretary of state.”

“Like Gov. (Gretchen Whitmer), SOS (Jocelyn Benson) seems to be taking unilateral actions with no input and questionable motives — and that is very troubling,” the statement said, according to news site MLive.com.

There’s no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the United States, according to numerous investigations and studies.

Trump has been battling Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for weeks over the restrictive stay-at-home order that she instituted to try to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Whitmer is among the Democratic officials former Vice President Joe Biden, the apparent Democratic presidential nominee, is considering as his running mate. Trump won Michigan by less than 1 percent of the vote in 2016.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany referred questions about what law Trump believed was being violated to the president's re-election campaign, which said Michigan's secretary of state was acting beyond her authority.

“President Trump is correct. There is no statutory authority for the secretary of state in Michigan to send absentee ballot applications to all voters," said campaign communications director Tim Tim Murtaugh. "Existing case law in Michigan supports that conclusion as well.”

The RNC has sought to intervene in a lawsuit in Michigan brought by Democratic super PAC Priorities USA challenging state laws that bar transporting physically able voters to the polls or helping with the submission of absentee ballot applications.

“We have been clear that we cannot have rogue state officials or activist courts making unilateral decisions," RNC spokesperson Mandi Merritt said. "We continue to support lawful absentee voting with the proper safeguards in place, safeguards which Democrats are suing to eliminate in states like Michigan.”

A Biden campaign spokesman, T.J. Ducklo, said in a statement that Trump was "once again misleading the American people for his own political gain, this time inaccurately describing responsible moves by states to make mail ballots available to give folks more safe ways to participate in our democracy."

"We know the president is familiar with that process, having voted absentee himself two months ago," Ducklo continued, referring to the president's request for a mail-in ballot so he could vote absentee in Florida. Trump also voted absentee in the 2018 midterms, the White House said at the time.

Ducklo added that the president's tweets "say a lot more about how he views his own political prospects versus Joe Biden in Michigan and other battleground states than it does anything else."

Some Republican officials support voting by mail, and Utah, a solid Republican state, primarily votes by mail.

A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that two-thirds of voters want to vote by mail in November, and a majority of voters — 58 percent — favor changing election rules permanently nationwide to allow all eligible voters to cast their ballots by mail.

Democrats in Congress have been calling for increased federal funding to allow for voting by mail in November because of the threat of the coronavirus. Trump and his Republican allies, however, oppose the idea.