ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Today President Trump threatened to withhold federal funds from Michigan and Nevada because he doesn't like the way they want to expand absentee voting during the pandemic. He claims without evidence that it would lead to voter fraud. And then he took a step back from that stance. NPR's Pam Fessler, who covers voting issues, joins us now to explain.
PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Give us the backdrop here. What are Michigan and Nevada doing that upset the president?
FESSLER: Well, the president complained in a tweet this morning incorrectly - although, he later corrected it - that Michigan is going to send absentee ballots to every voter this year. They're actually planning to send out absentee ballot applications. He also criticized Nevada for sending mail-in ballots to all its voters for the June 9 primary, which the state is doing. The president said that these moves open the way to, quote, "great voter fraud," although, as you say, there's little evidence of that. Then the president said he would hold up federal funding for these states. Although, late this afternoon, he again changed some of his message and said it might not be necessary to do that. Still, this is a pretty remarkable threat for a president to make when it comes to how states run elections, especially since Republicans have argued vehemently for years against anything that they perceive as federal interference in elections.
SHAPIRO: And so what kind of response did those tweets get?
FESSLER: Well, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who's a Democrat, immediately tweeted that, first, the president was wrong and that she's doing what her Republican colleagues in other states like Georgia, Iowa and West Virginia are also doing, which is sending out absentee ballot applications during the pandemic. Maryland, which has a Republican governor, is also sending out actual ballots like Nevada, but the president has not criticized any of these Republicans. Nevada's Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak said that Trump's threat to withhold federal funding during the pandemic was, quote, "inappropriate and outrageous." And in his state, that mail-in plan actually came from the Republican secretary of state. So it's interesting; even though the president claims that mail-in voting and high turnout hurt Republicans, a lot of Republicans actually like absentee voting and encourage their supporters to use it. Even the president voted absentee earlier this year in the Florida primary.
SHAPIRO: So why do you think he made those threats today?
FESSLER: Well, it's all part of what's turning out to be - it's a major battle between the parties over voting rules, which, if the election is close, could affect the outcome in November. The Democrats have filed dozens of lawsuits trying to get states to expand access to voting during the pandemic. They want absentee ballots or applications sent to every voter, and they want a lot of the restrictions, like witness requirements, eliminated because they see this as an effort to suppress the voter turnout. And Republicans, for their part, say they're worried that the rules will be loosened too much and that it could lead to fraud. And they accuse the Democrats of using the pandemic as an excuse to get rid of a lot of protections in voting laws, so they've launched a $20 million campaign to fight them in court.
SHAPIRO: NPR's Pam Fessler, thanks a lot.
FESSLER: Thanks a lot, Ari.
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