Politics

Trump threatens to hold up funding to Michigan and Nevada for expanding vote-by-mail access

Key Points
  • President Trump threatened to withhold funding from Michigan for expanding its mail-in voting services in an effort to avoid crowded polling centers during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson on Tuesday said that all registered voters in the state will receive an application for an absentee ballot in the mail ahead of the general election. 
  • The pandemic has upended 2020 elections, forcing officials in more than a dozen states to seek safer or alternate ways for Americans to cast their votes.
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic response during a Cabinet meeting in the East Room at the White House in Washington, May 19, 2020.
Leah Millis | Reuters

President Donald Trump threatened on Wednesday to withhold funding from Michigan and Nevada for expanding their mail-in voting services in an effort to avoid crowded polling centers during the coronavirus pandemic.

"Breaking: Michigan sends absentee ballots to 7.7 million people ahead of Primaries and the General Election. This was done illegally and without authorization by a rogue Secretary of State," Trump tweeted. "I will ask to hold up funding to Michigan if they want to go down this Voter Fraud path!"

Trump's tweet incorrectly said voters in Michigan, a crucial swing state, will receive an absentee ballot in the mail.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, quickly corrected the president with her own tartly worded tweet.

"We sent applications, not ballots. Just like my GOP colleagues in Iowa, Georgia, Nebraska and West Virginia," Benson said.

Benson's office did not immediately return a request for comment.

Hours later Trump revised his tweet, adding "applications." 

It's unclear what "funding" Trump is referring to. The White House declined to comment. 

A senior administrative official at the Office of Management and Budget, which develops and executes the budget across the Executive Branch, told CNBC in a statement that "no decisions have been made at this time" regarding Trump's threat to withhold funding and that "discussions are on-going."

And it is unclear whether Republicans in the state will challenge the move. 

Shortly after that tweet, Trump unloaded on Nevada for expanding mail-in voting to carry out the state's congressional primaries on June 9.

"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. They can't! If they do, 'I think' I can hold up funds to the State. Sorry, but you must not cheat in elections," he tweeted. 

Republicans vying in the primary for Nevada's 4th Congressional District are itching to win that seat held by Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford.

Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, a Republican, introduced the vote-by-mail initiative in March in response to the coronavirus outbreak, Nevada TV station KSNV reported. 

Trump has been a staunch critic of vote-by-mail expansion. In April, he said mail-in voting "doesn't work out well for Republicans," suggesting that easier access to absentee ballots could determine whether the Republicans retain control over the Senate or win the House. It may also affect Trump's own fortunes in his reelection bid this year, especially in swing states where margins could be razor thin. 

He has claimed that voting by mail leads to voter fraud, but there is no evidence that this is true. Earlier this year, Trump submitted an absentee ballot to vote for himself in Florida's presidential primary. 

Michigan is among several states to take action to limit in-person voting due to the fear of spreading the coronavirus.

The pandemic has upended 2020 elections, forcing officials to seek safer or alternatives for Americans to cast their votes.

In the last two months, multiple states and territories either delayed or adjusted their presidential primaries due to a fear of spreading the virus among large groups. 

Already, more than a dozen states have begun to prepare for the November election, with the anticipation that more voters will choose mail-in ballots over in-person voting. California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order on May 8 allowing all registered voters in the state to receive a mail-in ballot for the November election.

The issue has attracted the attention of several heavyweight Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. 

On Tuesday, Warren urged the Senate to include $4 billion in the next coronavirus relief package to allow states to expand their vote-by-mail services for the general election.

The outbreak has spread to dozens of countries, with more than 4.9 million confirmed cases worldwide and over 323,653 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. There are at least 1.5 million cases in the United States and at least 91,938 deaths, according to the latest tallies.

Correction: An earlier version misstated the day of Trump's threats.