As Trump lashes out at push to expand voting by mail, Democrats fire back

With his November reelection less than six months out and recent polling indicating flagging support, President Trump on Wednesday turned up the volume in his full-court press against the moves by some states to make voting by mail easier due to serious health concerns with in-person voting amid the coronavirus pandemic.

But the president’s attacks on Twitter against two crucial general election battleground states saw return fire as top Democrats hit back against Trump’s repeated claims the past couple of months that an increase in balloting by mail will lead to a spike in voter fraud.

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“Mr. President: Oregon has been voting by mail for 22 years. We just had a great election yesterday. It was safe, secure, accessible. And we protected public health. What more do you need to know to be convinced, @realDonaldTrump?” Democratic Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon tweeted the day after her state held its vote-by-mail primary.

The war of words was ignited early in the day as the president lashed out, tweeting, "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!"

But Trump mischaracterized the move made a day earlier – when Michigan’s secretary of state announced that absentee ballot applications would be sent to all of the state’s registered voters.

Hours later the president’s original tweet was deleted and replaced by a new tweet that said “absentee ballot applications” without mentioning his earlier mistake.

Michigan’s secretary of state – Democrat Jocelyn Benson – quickly fired back. “Hi! I also have a name, it’s Jocelyn Benson,” she tweeted.

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And Benson explained,  “We sent applications, not ballots. Just like my GOP colleagues in Iowa, Georgia, Nebraska and West Virginia.”

Michigan is one of three so-called "Rust Belt" states – along with Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – that the Democrats had carried in presidential elections for a quarter-century until Trump narrowly flipped from blue to red in 2016, helping him upset Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton to win the White House. Recent polling in the state – including a Fox News survey – indicate presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden with the advantage over Trump.

Michigan changed its rules two years ago to allow anyone to vote by absentee ballot without an excuse, which helped boost absentee balloting in the March presidential primary from 18 percent four years ago to 38 percent this year. The state holds its non-presidential primary on Aug. 4, and then votes again for the general election in November.

Sending applications for an absentee ballot is different than sending ballots directly to all registered voters. Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, speaking to reporters on Monday, said that “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. I think the request form is one mechanism of ensuring that that voter is who they are.”

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Nevada’s going a step further than Michigan by directly sending ballots to all active voters in the state ahead of its June non-presidential primary. And election officials in Clark County – the state’s most populous county and home to Las Vegas – are also mailing ballots to voters listed as inactive. The move came after a lawsuit backed by national Democrats – which was opposed by the Republican National Committee and the Trump reelection campaign.

Soon after his initial tweet slamming Michigan, Trump targeted Nevada, tweeting, “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.”

Nevada secretary of state – Republican Barbara Cegavske -- announced March that the state’s primary would be conducted mostly by mail due to the coronavirus. Election officials in counties across the state started sending absentee ballots to all active registered voters earlier this month.

Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak fired back at Trump, tweeting: “For the President to threaten federal funding in the midst of a pandemic over a state exercising its authority to run elections in a safe and legal manner is inappropriate and outrageous.”

It was unclear from the president’s ultimatums what specific funding he would attempt to block. Both Michigan and Nevada have requested emergency aid from the Election Assistance Commission to help to make voting during a pandemic safer. The money could come from the CARES Act, the coronavirus relief measure passed by overwhelming bipartisan support and signed into law by the president. The law includes $400 million for states to beef up election security.

It was also unclear from his tweet regarding Michigan which authorization the state would need regarding sending absentee ballot applications. Congressional Republicans have long pushed back against federal efforts to increase oversight in how states handle their elections.

But Republicans – and the president – have also railed against recent attempts by Democrats to increase voting by mail, arguing that it increases voter fraud.

Trump tweeted early last month that "Republicans should fight very hard when it comes to state wide mail-in voting. Democrats are clamoring for it. Tremendous potential for voter fraud, and for whatever reason, [it] doesn’t work out well for

Democrats – pushing back on such arguments – say that cases of actual voter fraud are limited and claim that Republicans are trying to suppress voter turnout to improve their chances of winning elections.

Biden deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield, taking aim at the president in an interview Wednesday on MSNBC, warned that “I think that what Donald Trump and the Republicans are going to find in November is that they are absolutely right - when more people come out to vote, they do lose.”

The president’s tweets came a day after a federal judge in Texas ruled that all voters in the state could request an absentee ballot due to fears of contracting the coronavirus by going to a polling station in person. Republicans fought against the push by Democrats and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton immediately announced his office is appealing the ruling to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Fox News’ Ronn Blitzer contributed to this report.