US president Donald Trump claimed that plans by states to expand postal voting ahead of November's election would lead to "total election fraud", as he visited the key battleground state of Michigan on Thursday.
Speaking to reporters as he departed Washington, Mr Trump said that vote-by-mail should only be used by people who couldn’t vote in person. “We don’t want them to do mail-in ballots because it’s going to lead to total election fraud,” he said.
"If there's a reason for it, that's okay. We don't want to take any chances with fraud in our elections," he added, noting that he had voted by mail in Florida where he is registered because he was living in the White House.
He was responding to a move by Michigan’s secretary of state to send applications for absentee ballots to eligible voters in the state this week – the latest effort by officials across the country to expand postal voting ahead of November’s election amid health concerns about coronavirus.
Mr Trump has erroneously claimed that vote-by-mail leads to election fraud, reflecting long-held suspicion by many on the Republican side that the system benefits Democrats.
The issue is a politically sensitive one in states such as Michigan, which Mr Trump won by a razor-thin majority in 2016, and which is expected to be a closely fought swing state in November.
The president's comments came a day after he threatened Michigan and Nevada with the withdrawal of federal funding, warning that states "must not cheat in elections".
Mr Trump has clashed in particular with Michigan's Democratic governor Gretchen Whitmer, who has imposed strict lockdown measures in the state which was disproportionately hit by Covid-19 in the early days of the pandemic.
Mr Trump’s visit to Michigan – the latest trip by the president to electorally significant states – came as new jobless figures showed that an extra 2.4 million sought unemployment benefits last week. Close to 39 million people in the US have now lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic, the figures from the department of labour suggest.
Asked about the figures, Mr Trump said he expected the “transition period” for the US economy to take place in June or July.
“I think you’re going to see some very good numbers coming out. Next year is going to be one of the best economic years for our country.”
Mr Trump has been urging states to reopen as the US reels from the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression.
Speaking on Thursday, New York governor Andrew Cuomo said the daily death rate from Covid-19 in New York state had fallen to 105, from highs of more than 700 last month.
However, the state is investigating 157 cases of coronavirus-related illnesses in children. Beaches in New York state will open this weekend with capacity limited to 50 per cent. However, New York City beaches will remain closed.
Meanwhile, a study from Columbia University researchers in New York found that 36,000 fewer people would have died if the United States had begun imposing social distancing measures one week earlier than it did in March.
Mr Trump dismissed the findings by the epidemiologists, claiming the study was a “political hit job” by a “very liberal institution”.
As coronavirus continued to curtail regular daily life in the US, Mr Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, became the latest high-profile figure to leave prison early due to fears about the spread of coronavirus.
Mr Cohen was released from federal prison in New York on Thursday and will serve the rest of his three-year sentence in home confinement.
Paul Manafort, Mr Trump's former presidential campaign manager, was also released from prison earlier this month and returned home. He was convicted on several financial fraud charges, which shone a light on his dealings with Ukraine.