President Donald Trump on Wednesday threatened to withhold federal funds from Michigan as the state prepared for devastating floods after officials sent absentee ballot applications to all registered voters – as the state faced devastating floods.
‘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. I will ask to hold up funding to Michigan if they want to go down this Voter Fraud path!,’ the president tweeted.
The threat came as Michigan is facing rising flood waters that caused two dams to burst, forced the evacuation of 10,000 people and had Governor Gretchen Whitmer warn that one county could be ‘under approximately 9 feet of water’ by Wednesday.
She has declared a state of emergency for Midland County and urged residents threatened by the flooding to evacuate the area. She said shelters have opened across the county and are available to those who need a place to go.
‘This is unlike anything we’ve seen in Midland County,’ she said. ‘If you have a family member or loved one who lives in another part of the state, go there now.’
Whitmer said downtown Midland faced an especially serious flooding threat. ‘In the next 12 to 15 hours, downtown Midland could be under approximately 9 feet of water. We are anticipating an historic high water level.’
Trump’s tweet, meanwhile, was a threat to use his executive power against states that don’t bend to his political will. Trump and other Republicans have argued – without proof – that mail-in voting favors Democrats and concerns about its use as a voting option have ratcheted up during the coronavirus pandemic.
President Donald Trump threatened to with hold federal funds from Michigan in revenge for the state sending absentee ballot applications to all voters
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, then responded: ‘We sent applications, not ballots. Just like my GOP colleagues in Iowa, Georgia, Nebraska and West Virginia
In the series of tweets, the president also called out Nevada for sending out ‘illegal vote by mail ballots’
‘By mailing applications we have ensured that no Michigander has to choose between their health and their right to vote,’ Benson (left) said. Her decision is expected to face legal challenges. Trump’s threat to with hold federal funds comes as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (right) declared a state of emergency in parts of Michigan due to flooding
Trump’s tweet comes at a time when Michigan officials are dealing with two crises: the coronavirus pandemic and severe flooding due to the failure of two dams (Sanford Dam pictured)
Floodwaters are seen along a street in downtown Sanford, Michigan. The National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch for locations along the Tittabawassee River after the breach at the Sanford Dam
Trump was off in his criticism. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said Tuesday all registered voters – there are 7.7 million of them – will receive applications for absentee ballots, meaning voters would still have to request an actual ballot to vote.
‘By mailing applications we have ensured that no Michigander has to choose between their health and their right to vote,’ Benson, a Democrat, said. Her decision is expected to face legal challenges.
And she tweeted a response to President Trump: ‘Hi! I also have a name, it’s Jocelyn Benson. And we sent applications, not ballots. Just like my GOP colleagues in Iowa, Georgia, Nebraska and West Virginia.’
The president later tweeted the same threat but with the correct information about ballot applications: ‘Michigan sends absentee ballot applications 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. I will ask to hold up funding to Michigan if they want to go down this Voter Fraud path!,’ he wrote.
Benson also noted the mail-in vote option is legal in Michigan.
‘Every Michigan citizen has a right to vote by mail. It’s a right that was enshrined in our state constitution by our voters in November of 2018. And so I have a responsibility, as the chief election officer for the state of Michigan, to ensure everyone knows how to exercise their right to vote and all the options available — available to them to ensure that happens,’ she told MSNBC.
Michigan stayed in president’s throughout Wednesday – he visits the state Thursday – as the state popped up repeatedly in his tweet during the day, including a promise from him to help with the flooding.
‘My team is closely monitoring the flooding in Central Michigan – Stay SAFE and listen to local officials. Our brave First Responders are once again stepping up to serve their fellow citizens, THANK YOU!,’ he wrote.
He also argued Gov. Whitmer, a Democrat, should ease up on the state’s coronavirus lock down so people can help with the flooding.
‘We have sent our best Military & @FEMA Teams, already there. Governor must now “set you free” to help. Will be with you soon!,’ Trump added.
Whitmer issued a stay-at-home order for the state until May 28 but she announced this week she will start easing up on it in parts of Michigan on Friday. Protesters have stormed the state capitol in Lansing to protest Whitmer’s stay-at-home order.
President Trump popped back up on Twitter later Wednesday to promise Michigan help with its flooding
Michigan is crucial to the president’s re-election efforts. He won the state by less than one point in 2016.
Trump also threatened to with hold funding from Nevada, ccing the U.S. Treasury Department and acting OMB director Russell Vought in his tweet.
‘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 wrote.
Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske has declared its June 9 primary an all-mail primary, meaning absentee ballots will be mailed to every active voter in the state.
Cegavske is a Republican and Democrats in the state have complained ballots are not being sent to all registered voters in Nevada.
Many other states are sending out absentee ballots for the November election to avoid long lines and crowding at polling places during the pandemic, which has infected more than 1.56 million Americans and killed more than 92,000. California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced all registered voters in his state will receive absentee ballots.
Republicans have long complained about ‘ballot harvesting’ – their term for the process where someone (usually a party volunteer) collects absentee ballots from a group of people and mails them for them. Democrats call it ballot collecting.
Republican Congressman Devin Nunes of California told Fox News this week that Republicans are ‘forced to have to ballot harvest because it’s the only way to win.’
Trump’s criticism comes ahead of his visit to Michigan this week and after Republican Party officials launched a $20 million fund to fight mail-in ballot initiatives, which they complain – without evidence – increases the odds of voter fraud.
Vehicles and signs are seen submerged in floodwaters in downtown Sanford on Tuesday after the dam burst
Residents in one Michigan county were forced to evacuate their homes. The driver of this red pickup truck was rescued in Saginaw County, Michigan on Tuesday
An aerial view of water from a broken Edenville Dam seen flooding the area as it flows towards Wixom Lake in Michigan
The Edenville and Sanford dams burst on Tuesday after heavy rainfall battered the area for several days. A flood warning is in effect throughout Wednesday along the Tittabawassee River in Midland County.
About 3,500 homes and 10,000 people have been affected by the flooding. No deaths or injuries have been reported.
Whitmer said Wednesday: ‘To go through this in the midst of a global pandemic is almost unthinkable. But we are here, and to the best of our ability we are going to navigate this together.’
The governor encouraged residents to wear face coverings while at shelters and if they go to stay with relatives.
Many states, Michigan included, are feeling a budget crunch after the coronavirus shuttered businesses – causing a decline in state revenue while more money was needed to fight the disease.
Trump and Whitmer, a Democrat, have already feuded over the virus. Whitmer accused his administration of not doing enough to send medical supplies and protective equipment to states in need.
President Trump will be in the Detroit area on Thursday to visit a Ford Motor factory.
He’ll tour the Rawsonville Components Plant in Ypsilanti, which is making ventilators that can be used to treat COVID-19 patients. The company plans to produce 100,000 ventilators by July 4, working with GE Healthcare on the project.
Trump, meanwhile, has taken up the drumbeat against mail-in voting, complaining it hurts Republican candidates. He railed against a California special election using the method last week. The Republican candidate won that race.
One recent case of voter fraud – and it was committed by a Republican
In North Carolina, one political operative has been indicted for voting fraud: a Republican.
Political operative Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr. and four others who worked for him were indicted over illegal ballot ‘harvesting’ in regards to a 2018 congressional election that was ultimately rerun last September.
Witnesses told state officials that Dowless gathered hundreds of absentee ballots from voters with the help of his assistants.
Those assistants testified they were directed to collect blank or incomplete ballots, forge signatures on them and even fill in votes when Dowless worked for Republican candidate Mark Harris in the 2018 congressional election.
Harris appeared to get the most votes in the November 2018 race, but the State Board of Elections ordered a new election. Harris didn’t run that special election, which ultimately was won by the GOP nominee, Dan Bishop.
He wrote on Twitter on April 8, ahead of the California contest, that: ‘Republicans should fight very hard when it comes to state wide mail-in voting. Democrats are clamoring for it. Tremendous potential for voter fraud, and for whatever reason, (it) doesn’t work out well for Republicans.’
Many governors have announced their states will increase the use of mail-in voting this year to avoid long lines at polling places while the coronavirus remains a threat.
Republicans argue it increases chances for voter fraud.
‘If voters want to vote by mail, absentee ballots should be requested by the voter and not automatically sent by the state to every voter on the registration rolls,’ Republican Party Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said on a call with reporters on Monday.
She argued the lists used could be out of date, meaning ballots could be mailed to addresses where no registered voter lives.
Five states conduct all their voting by mail: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah.
Republicans in Michigan could sue there to counter the ballot applications being sent out. Lawsuits are already underway in California against Newsom’s decision.
Multiple studies have shown there is little voter fraud in American elections. Democrats have argued Republicans oppose mail-in voting as it makes it easier for Democratic supporters – such as blue-collar workers who would have a tougher time taking off work to get a polling place – to vote.
President Trump has voted absentee both when he lived in New York and when he switched his residency to Florida.
Voters have indicated they support voting by mail, particularly this year.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll in late April found that around two-thirds of registered voters supported voting by mail in this year’s election.
In two-thirds of the states, any qualified voter may vote absentee without offering an excuse, and in one-third of the states, an excuse is required, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But many states – including West Virginia and Virginia – are adding fear of the coronavirus as a valid excuse to request an absentee ballot.
House Democrats included $3.6 billion in election funding as part of the $3 trillion coronavirus relief package they unveiled last week. The money is intended to help states with programs like mail-in voting.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi called voting by mail a ‘health issue.’
‘We cannot have people going to places that are predictably dangerous to their health,’ she said Wednesday during her weekly press conference on Capitol Hill.
Complications from the coronavirus has sparked fears, particularly among Democrats, that President Trump could use the coronavirus to delay or delegitimize November’s contest.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democrats’ presumptive 2020 nominee, warned about the threat of a delayed election at a fundraiser last month.
‘Mark my words, I think he is going to try to kick back the election somehow — come up with some rationale why it can’t be held,’ he said of Trump.
The coronavirus pandemic – which led to the cancellation of schools, delayed sporting events, closed churches and put an end to any large scale gatherings like the annual SXSW conference – has already affected the Democratic primary process.
President Trump also has complained about mail-in voting, which could be used more because of the coronavirus, claiming it helps Democrats even as Republicans won last week’s special election in California; above, voters line up to vote in that California race
Voters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, line up to vote during the April 7 primary
New York canceled its June primary because of the disease and 15 other states moved back or extended mail-in voting for their primaries.
Such moves have been controversial and lawsuits have been filed with the argument people have the right to vote.
New York’s case illustrates that. Former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang sued the state over the move. And the judicial branch showed its strong commitment to protecting the right to vote, ordering the election to go forward. State officials have appealed.
Additionally, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers lost his bid last month to delay his state’s primary until June. The court ordered it to go forward amid criticism that in-person voting could contribute to the spread of the coronavirus. Voters queued to vote on April 7 in long lines – many of them wearing face masks and practicing social distancing – due to the limited number of polling places open because of a shortage of workers to staff them.
The Wisconsin Department of Health traced 19 cases of the coronavirus to that election.
Trump has long sounded the voter fraud drum beat.
After the 2016 election, he launched a voting integrity commission, led by then-Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to investigate Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that between 3 million and 5 million ballots were illegally cast.
The commission found no evidence of wrong doing. Trump disbanded it in 2018.