“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!..”
“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. @RussVought45 @USTreasury”
— President Donald Trump, in May 20 tweets
Wednesday morning, Trump claimed two states are breaking the law by allowing voters to mail in their ballots for upcoming elections, disregarding that Americans have been voting by mail for more than a century and that it’s risky to vote in person during the coronavirus pandemic.
Michigan and Nevada are battlegrounds in the November elections, but they’re not the only states planning to use absentee or mail-in ballots to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Trump did not tweet similar threats to Georgia, Iowa, Nebraska or West Virginia, several states doing the same thing as Michigan (but where his reelection prospects are better).
States and local governments are in charge of running U.S. elections. Each jurisdiction has its own set of rules, but all states offer accommodations for voters who cannot make it to the polls. “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.
Michigan modified its rules two years ago and now lets registered voters cast absentee ballots for any reason, “a change which helped increase absentee voting in the March 10 presidential primary from 18% four years ago to 38% this year,” according to the Detroit Free-Press.
In response to COVID-19, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, D, announced this week that all 7.7 million registered voters in the state would receive applications for absentee ballots — not the ballots themselves, as Trump claimed — for elections in August and November. (More than six hours after his tweet, Trump deleted it and replaced it with one that said “absentee ballot applications.”)
“No voter should have to choose between their health & their vote,” Benson tweeted. “And every Michigan citizen has a right under our state constitution to vote by mail. With funding from the federal CARES act, I am ensuring every registered voter has the tools to conveniently exercise that right.”
Documented instances of voter fraud are exceedingly rare in the United States. And the same is true with absentee voting, according to Richard Hasen, an elections expert at the University of California at Irvine. “Absentee ballot fraud is very rare — there were 491 prosecutions related to absentee ballots in all elections nationwide between 2000 and 2012, out of literally billions of ballots cast,” Hasen wrote in an essay for The Washington Post.
Michigan is not alone, though the Free-Press reported that Benson’s move might be challenged in court. Georgia, Iowa, Nebraska and West Virginia, where Republicans are in charge of elections, also are mailing absentee ballot applications to all registered voters.
“Personally, I don’t really have an issue with absentee ballot request forms being sent out to voters as much as ballots being sent directly to voters,” Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel told reporters Monday. “We are really against, when people talk about mail-in voting, the ballots being sent directly to people who may or may not want them or sent to all the registered voters even when their voter rolls have not been cleaned up.”
Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, R, has announced an all-mail election for the state’s June 9 primary, but has not indicated similar plans for November. State law allows absentee voting for any reason.
Trump’s tweets included a vague threat to pull funding from Michigan and Nevada. We asked the White House what legal authority he could use but received no response.
Michigan and Nevada already have received most of their funding under the CARES Act relief legislation. According to Treasury Department data, Michigan has been paid $3 billion of its $3.8 billion allocation, and Nevada has been paid $836 million from a $1.25 billion allocation.
It’s not clear that more absentee voting in those states would hurt Trump’s chances. Dave Wasserman, an elections analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, tweeted that Michigan’s move “quite possibly would *aid* his prospects by turning out more low-education whites.” [Asterisks shown as they appeared in tweet.]
The Pinocchio test
In summary, add this one to the vast collection of Trump’s phony claims about voter fraud and rigged elections. He once again gets a maximum Four Pinocchios.
Michigan isn’t sending absentee ballots to all of its registered voters, as Trump claimed. The state is sending out applications for absentee ballots — the same as Georgia, Iowa, Nebraska and West Virginia — in a move that the RNC says is kosher.
Trump added the word “application” to a subsequent tweet, but it didn’t salvage his claim.
Michigan and Nevada have laws in place to allow absentee voting. Neither Trump nor the White House could say which laws the states supposedly broke by mailing ballot applications or choosing to hold an all-mail primary.
Trump threatened to pull funding from the two states, but it’s not clear that he has a legal avenue to do so and the White House didn’t offer any explanation. Most of the Cares Act funding allocated to Michigan and Nevada is out the door already.