Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announced on Tuesday that every registered voter in the state would be receiving an application in the mail allowing them to register to become an absentee voter for this year’s remaining elections — a move that brought about sharp criticism and threats from President Donald Trump the following day.
Benson’s plan would send an absentee ballot application to every resident who is registered to vote — about 7.7 million Michiganders in total, although 1.3 million are already on the state’s permanent absentee ballot voter list. The move would be incredibly helpful to citizens who are concerned about possibly contracting coronavirus if they were otherwise forced to vote in-person this year.
As of Tuesday, Michigan has seen more than 52,000 cases of coronavirus, with 5,017 of its residents having died as a result of the disease.
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“By mailing applications, we have ensured that no Michigander has to choose between their health and their right to vote,” Benson, a Democrat, said on Tuesday. “Voting by mail is easy, convenient, safe, and secure, and every voter in Michigan has the right to do it.”
Trump on Wednesday morning blasted the move, errantly suggesting that voting by mail would increase the potential for fraud.
“Breaking: Michigan sends absentee ballots to 7.7 million people ahead of Primaries and the General Election,” Trump wrote in a tweet. “This was done illegally and without authorization by a rogue Secretary of State.”
Trump also made a direct threat to the state if it decided to go through with the mailings. “I will ask to hold up funding to Michigan if they want to go down this Voter Fraud path!” he said.
Responding to Trump’s tweet, Benson reminded the president in a tweet of her own that she “also [has] a name,” and that she did not send absentee ballots, but rather the applications for residents to apply for them.
“Just like my GOP colleagues in Iowa, Georgia, Nebraska and West Virginia,” Benson added.
Michigan’s moves toward allowing all of its voters the opportunity to apply to vote absentee comes as the state has been hit especially hard by the coronavirus pandemic. The state has the fourth-highest number of deaths recorded in the country, and the seventh-highest number of cases overall.
In addition to the coronavirus crisis, Michigan is also facing devastating flooding in central parts of the state. Two dams in Midland County were breached earlier this week, and on Tuesday Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency, as 10,000 residents were forced to evacuate — a situation that will undoubtedly result in citizens being unable to respect social distancing rules, potentially spreading the disease further.
Trump’s tweet on Wednesday contained two bits of false information: first, Benson is sending out absentee ballot applications, not the absentee ballots themselves; and second, there is no proof that voting by mail results in fraudulent outcomes. Five states already have mail-in voting as their primary method of casting ballots.
Trump has voiced sharp criticism against voting by mail in the past, even during the coronavirus pandemic, although he himself has engaged in the practice.
“People cheat,” Trump said in April. “Mail ballots are a very dangerous thing for this country because they are cheaters.”
But after he made those comments, reporters asked why should he get to use mail-in voting while others do not? Trump explained it was because he is a resident of Florida who works in Washington D.C.
“Because I’m allowed to. Well, that’s called out of state — you know why I voted? Because I happened to be in the White House and I won’t be able to go to Florida and vote,” he said at the time.
Florida, however, is a “no-excuse” absentee ballot state, which means residents don’t have to provide a reason for why they want to vote by mail. In other words, Trump (or any other resident of the state, for that matter) didn’t have to give any reason for why he voted absentee.
Other states appear to be moving toward allowing residents to vote by mail if they want to during this present crisis. A Texas judge decided earlier this week that any resident that wants to vote by mail should be able to do so, as they have a right, according to his ruling, to take part in democracy and do so in a way that’s not harmful to their health.
Texas is not a no-excuse absentee ballot state, and the state’s attorney general plans to appeal the judge’s ruling.
Giving voters the right to vote by mail is especially important right now during the COVID pandemic. Earlier this year, many Wisconsin voters were forced to vote in person during that state’s spring elections.
At least 71 individuals who voted or worked at polling places that day have since contracted COVID-19. Research has further demonstrated that counties in Wisconsin that had higher rates of in-person voting in the spring election also saw higher instances of the disease two to three weeks later versus counties that had higher rates of voters utilizing absentee ballots.