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Trump threatens funding after Michigan absentee ballot move

In this May 11, 2020 photo, President Donald Trump points to a question as he speaks about the coronavirus during a press briefing in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. Trump has many targets in his war against the media but perhaps none more surprising than the Voice of America, the venerable U.S.-government funded institution created during WWII and expanded during the Cold War to broadcast independent news and promote democracy and American values to the world. In a series of attacks, Trump and his supporters have accused the outlet of “disgraceful” reporting. They're now pushing hard to install their choice to run the agency that oversees VOA and its affiliates. That battle is about to hit Congress, where partisan lines have already been drawn over fears the administration wants to turn them into Trump propaganda machines. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump threatened Wednesday to hold up coronavirus relief money for Michigan after he said — erroneously — that the state had sent absentee ballots to millions of voters. It’s not clear that he can do so.

Michigan mailed applications for the absentee ballots, not the ballots themselves.

“Michigan sends absentee ballots to 7.7 million people ahead of Primaries and the General Election,” Trump tweeted Wednesday. “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!”

It was not immediately clear what steps Trump could take to delay the funds, which come from coronavirus relief spending measures he has signed into law. Trump tagged his acting budget director, his chief of staff and the Treasury Department on the tweet.

Trump has been very vocal about his opposition to voting by mail, claiming the practice is ripe for fraud although there is scant evidence of widespread wrongdoing with mail-in voting. Trump himself requested a mail ballot for Florida’s GOP primary last month and he has voted absentee in previous elections.

Trump says people should have to show up at polling stations and present ID to vote. But the coronavirus pandemic has upended that long-standing practice, with many voters fearful of waiting in line at polling stations and voting on machines that have been touched others.

Michigan spent $4.5 million in federal funds to mail absentee ballot applications to all 7.7 million registered voters for the August primary and November general election. Michigan is a crucial presidential battleground state that Trump, a Republican, narrowly won in 2016.

Michigan is among states hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, and Trump and the state’s Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, occasionally have clashed over federal assistance during the crisis. Trump tweeted as the state grapples with its latest challenge, severe flooding in one county after two dams failed.

Michigan’s Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, announced the mailing Tuesday as part of the state’s efforts to confront voters’ concerns about the pandemic. Benson says the money came from $11.2 million it received from the federal government for elections.

Republicans in the state’s GOP-led Legislature criticized the mailing Tuesday, saying local clerks traditionally have handled absentee ballot requests.

Normally in Michigan, it is up to voters to ask their local clerk for an absentee ballot.

The March presidential primary was the first major election in Michigan in which people could vote absentee without needing an excuse following the approval of a 2018 ballot initiative.