President Trump threatened Wednesday to “hold up” federal funding to Michigan and Nevada after those states announced plans to expand mail-in voting options in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump has vigorously opposed expanded voting by mail and in a series of tweets Wednesday he again, without evidence, tied such ballots to voter fraud and election cheating. He also incorrectly claimed that Michigan had illegally sent absentee ballots to 7.7 million people.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson responded by noting that the state had sent applications, not ballots, just as Republicans had done in a number of states. “By mailing applications, we have ensured that no Michigander has to choose between their health and their right to vote,” Benson said Tuesday in announcing the move. (Axios notes that a new study found that Wisconsin counties that saw more in-person voters per location during its primary this year had higher rates of positive Covid-19 tests two to three weeks later compared to counties with fewer in-person voters.)
Trump did not specify what kind of funding he might withhold, and he has not always acted on such threats. The president would surely face legal challenges if he sought to follow through in this case.
Elie Honig, a legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, told The Hill that Trump may be able to withhold federal funding, but the money “must relate substantively to the state-level policy at issue" and that any new restrictions would only apply to new funding, not money that is already flowing to states. It’s also unclear if the president has the power to withhold funds without congressional approval.
Trump himself reportedly voted by mail earlier this year and in 2018.