Trump assails state efforts to ease voting because of coronavirus

Calling into question the legitimacy of elections sets the stage for legal battles before and after the November vote.

    "I Voted" stickers on the table for voters after voting at a church in Evanston, Illinois during that state''s primary election in March [File: Nam Y Huh/AP Photo]
    "I Voted" stickers on the table for voters after voting at a church in Evanston, Illinois during that state''s primary election in March [File: Nam Y Huh/AP Photo]

    President Donald Trump on Wednesday stepped up his campaign against absentee voting in the United States by threatening to withhold unspecified federal funding from two states that recently moved to make the practice easier because of the coronavirus pandemic.

    In a pair of tweets, the president attacked officials in both Michigan and Nevada for their plans to expand mail-in voting in upcoming primaries in those states and the general election in November. Trump, without citing a specific law, called the moves "illegal".

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    "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!" Trump wrote, copying Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, his chief of staff, and the acting US budget director.

    Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson on Tuesday said all 7.7 million Michigan voters would receive absentee ballot applications - not the ballots themselves, as Trump alleged - before the state's August 4 primary and the November 3 general election, so that no one "has to choose between their health and their right to vote".

    Benson said the money to help speed the process along came from $11.2m it received from the federal government for elections.

    Trump has been very vocal about his opposition to voting by mail, claiming the practice is ripe for fraud although there is scant evidence of widespread wrongdoing with mail-in voting. Trump himself requested a mail ballot for Florida's GOP primary last month, and he has voted absentee in previous elections.

    By calling into question the legitimacy of the elections before they occur, Trump is setting the stage for what is expected to be a prolonged battle between Republicans and Democrats before the November election. Lawyers on both sides are lined up to raise legal challenges to mail-in voting if the results are even remotely close, and if Trump does fail in his re-election effort he can blame "voter fraud" for the outcome.

    It was not immediately clear what steps Trump could take to delay any funding, coronavirus relief or any other kind, to the states he attacked in Wednesday's tweets.

    Residents in Nevada began voting last week in that state's first all-mail primary election, which was rescheduled to June. The election is for statewide offices only; Nevada voters caucused in February to select candidates in the presidential primaries.

    Michigan, a so-called "swing state", does not reliably line up with one political party during election cycles. Trump narrowly won the state in 2016, but in 2012 it went to former President Barack Obama, a Democrat. The Democratic governor there, Gretchen Whitmer, is one of several women under consideration to be Democrat Joe Biden's running mate in November and has clashed frequently with the president over federal assistance during the crisis.

    Trump tweeted as Michigan grapples with a new challenge - severe flooding in one central Michigan county after two dams failed. He is scheduled to visit a Ford manufacturing plant in the state on Thursday to highlight the company's work producing ventilators to help combat the coronavirus pandemic.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies