Is Trump Setting the Stage to Dismiss the 2020 Election Results?

In the midst of a pandemic, Donald Trump on Wednesday threatened to withhold federal funding from Michigan and Nevada, lying that the states—each of which is governed by a Democrat — are allowing illegal voting. Falsely claiming that Michigan, whose governor has become a frequent target of Trump’s ire, sent absentee ballots to 7.7 million residents, the president said he would block federal money to the state “if they want to go down this Voter Fraud path!” In a tweet shortly afterward, he attacked Nevada, baselessly accusing it of attempting to “cheat in elections.” “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!” Trump tweeted. “If they do, ‘I think’ I can hold up funds to the State.”

The blackmail threats came as states across the country continue to fend for themselves against the coronavirus crisis, which has killed nearly 100,000 Americans as of Wednesday morning, and represented a significant escalation in his crusade against vote-by-mail—a measure several states, including ones led by Republican allies of the president, have looked to in the interest of ensuring voters’ safety amid the pandemic.

States are expecting a major surge in mail-in ballots for November’s election, as the country suffers through its worst public health crisis in a century. But, as my colleague Ken Stern has reported, most states are ill-equipped to meet this increased demand. Officials in several states are attempting to increase their preparedness for more vote-by-mail, but Trump has voiced strong opposition to the measures; he’s couched his objections in his fairytales about widespread voter fraud, which he’s been promoting since the 2016 election, but got candid about his real concerns last month. “They had things, levels of voting that if you’d ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again,” he said of proposals to safeguard November’s election.

Indeed, Trump and his allies have expressed fears that increased voter turnout would spell their doom at the ballot box—even though measures like vote-by-mail have not been shown to favor one party over another, and are not, as the president claims, inherently prone to fraud. Trump himself cast a mail-in ballot in Florida’s election in March. “I can vote by mail,” Trump said in April, when pressed by a reporter to reconcile why it’s alright for him to cast a mail-in ballot but “horrible” when others do. “Because I’m allowed to.”

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