with Brent D. Griffiths

It's Friday. Shanah Tovah to those celebrating the holiday today and this weekend! And Happy National Cheeseburger Day to those celebrating that, too. Thanks for waking up with us – see you on Monday. 

🚨There's a New York Times/ Siena College poll out this morning: Joe Biden leads President Trump in Maine and Arizona, and the pair are effectively tied in North Carolina. 

  • “Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. led Mr. Trump by wide margins in Arizona, where he was ahead by nine percentage points, and Maine, where he led by 17 points. The race was effectively tied in North Carolina, with Mr. Biden ahead by one point, 45 percent to 44 percent,” per the NYT's Alexander Burns and Matt Stevens. 
  • In all three states, Democratic Senate candidates were leading Republican incumbents by five percentage points or more.” GOP Sens. Martha McSally (Ariz.) trails Mark Kelly (D) by 8 points; Susan Collins (Maine) lags Sara Gideon by 5 points; and Sen. Thom Tillis is behind Cal Cunningham by 5 points, according to the fresh numbers in which voters blame Trump for mishandling the coronavirus pandemic.

The people

CALL WAITING: The Pennsylvania Supreme Court yesterday granted the Democratic Party's request for a three-day extension of the state's deadline to count mail-in ballots that appear to have been mailed by Election Day. It's just one of the recent moves by courts all but ensuring it will be difficult to declare a winner in the presidential contest on Nov. 3 unless either President Trump or Joe Biden notches a big victory.

In fact, in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, the three states that swung the election to Trump in 2016, officials aren't even allowed to begin counting mail-in ballots which are expected to surge because of the coronavirus pandemic until Election Day. That, along with rulings in Georgia, Minnesota and Nevada extending the counting window for mail-in ballots for various periods after the election, all but ensure a lengthy counting process.

So, Trump's incessant tweeting about a result being delayed because of mail-in balloting isn't necessarily a long shot. But if there is no winner on Election Day, it would be a result of these court rulings that legalize such extended counting.

The Pennsylvania decision, prompted by concerns regarding the U.S. Postal Service's mail backlogs, was announced hours before Democrats scored another legal victory: a federal judge in Washington state granted a request from 14 states to temporarily block operational changes within the agency that could interfere with balloting during the coronavirus pandemic.

Referring to Trump and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, Stanley A. Bastian, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington, ruled that “the states have demonstrated that the defendants are involved in a politically motivated attack on the efficiency of the Postal Service. They have also demonstrated that this attack on the Postal Service is likely to irreparably harm the states’ ability to administer the 2020 general election,” he said.

  • “This creates a substantial possibility that many voters will be disenfranchised and the states may not be able to effectively, timely, accurately determine election outcomes,” Bastian said.

The scope and duration of the injunction preventing DeJoy's cost-cutting measures  are unclear, however, and it remains to be seen how it will impact the mail system. 

  • "Enforcing Bastian’s order may be difficult, since some of the policies preceded DeJoy and have been long underway," according to our colleagues Elise Viebeck and Jacob Bogage. 
  • “For example, the Postal Service routinely mothballs sorting machines to cut out excess capacity, USPS officials have said. The agency was set to remove 671 machines this summer, a job that was mostly completed when DeJoy suspended USPS cost-cutting maneuvers Aug. 18.”

The potential for a delay in election results has been anticipated for some time now as states prepare to process a record number of mail-in ballots due to the pandemic. But that has not stopped Trump from continuing to falsely claim that election results will be delayed or “may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED” in states that automatically mail ballots directly to registered voters.  

  • There is no evidence to support the president's assertions: “In the five states that regularly send ballots to all voters, there have been no major cases of fraud or difficulty counting the votes,” the Associated Press's Nick Riccardi reports. “More broadly speaking, voter fraud has proved exceedingly rare. The Brennan Center for Justice in 2017 ranked the risk of ballot fraud at 0.00004% to 0.0009%, based on studies of past elections.”
  • Election officials note that, by registering to vote, people are effectively requesting a ballot, so it makes no sense to call the materials sent to them ‘unsolicited,’” per Riccardi. 
  • Further, out of the nine states (and Washington D.C.) that do automatically mail ballots to registered voters, only one of them is a true battleground state. That means even if there is an unrelated processing delay in one of those states, it's unlikely to affect the determination the presidential election's winner.
  • “The main states that are being contested — Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — only send mail ballots to voters who request them. Trump said Thursday that such ‘solicited’ ballots are absolutely ‘OK,’” Riccardi reports.

Contributing factors to anticipated delays include lengthier processing times because of unprecedented absentee ballot volume; the extension of deadlines for receipt of absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day — like the 3-day extension just granted in Pennsylvania. In tight races in some places, that could mean waiting 10 days after Nov. 3 — or more — to count ballots. 

Just look at the 2020 primaries for precedent: 

  • Through March 17, 24 states held primaries,” our colleagues Ashlyn Still and Kevin Schaul report.Five of those states heavily used vote-by-mail, as they had in previous elections. They reported their results in an average of 6.4 days.”
  • “The real problems began after March 17, when the coronavirus became widespread. There were primaries in 23 more states, which took an average of 4 days to report nearly complete results. Nearly all of these states had traditionally relied on in-person voting.
  • See New York: “New York processed 94 percent of its votes within a few hours of polls closing. But counting the final six percent of votes took more than 10 days. Multiple races were so close that the winners remained unknown a month after the election.”
  • And Wisconsin: “In Wisconsin, a federal judge ordered that no results could be released until nearly six days after polls closed. A similar request for November is before the same judge.”
  • Notable: Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Georgia three decisive battleground states “were among the slowest to release nearly complete results,” our colleagues found. 

And it's not just those three battlegrounds poised to spoil the pre-pandemic timeline as legal battles continue ahead of November.

While Ohio and Florida allow election officials to start processing mail ballots in advance of Election Day, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan “are among the states where local election officials are not allowed to start processing mail ballots until Election Day, according to a Politico review of election rules in 13 key states,” per Politico's Zach Montellaro. 

  • In Iowa, which also currently has limited early vote processing, absentee ballots are accepted so long as they are “postmarked by the Monday before the election and received before noon the following Monday,” per Montellaro. 
  • In Michigan, the Senate green lit a bill this week to allow “clerks to begin processing absentee ballots earlier, likely cutting down on the amount of time needed to provide a final vote tally after the general election in November, according to the Detroit Free Press's Dave Boucher. “The bill still needs to be passed by the state House and be signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to become law.”
  • In Ohio, “ballots must be returned to local boards of elections by 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 3 or postmarked by Nov. 2 and received no later than 10 days after the election to count,” according to Montellaro.
  • In Minnesota, mail ballot processing can start two weeks before Election Day and absentee ballots postmarked by then can be counted up until Nov. 10 a week after Election Day. 
  • In Nevada, early processing begins 15 days before Election Day and ballots postmarked by Nov. 3 and received within a week from that date can still be counted. 
  • In Georgia, “absentee ballots would be counted if they’re postmarked by Election Day and received at county election offices within three days afterward, according to a judge’s ruling,” according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution's Mark Niesse. “However, the secretary of state’s office is appealing that decision and seeking to reinstate a state law that sets the deadline at 7 p.m. on Election Day.” 
  • We should note: December 8th is the "safe harbor deadline" for all states to resolve election disputes, though it is not required by federal law. And by December 23, if Congress has not yet received a state's certificate of electoral votes, the president of the Senate must request it from the secretary of state, according to the National Task Force on Election Crises.

Publicly available data indicates that in most swing states, more Democrats are requesting mail-in ballots than Republicans — and in some of those places, the number of requests in the state have already surpassed the total requests made in 2016. NBC News's Lauren Egan reported last week that in North Carolina, Florida, and Pennsylvania, “of the mail ballots requested so far, significantly more requests have been made by registered Democrats than Republicans.” 

  • “An estimate of party registration in Ohio by the political data firm TargetSmart shows similar results, while Democrats and Republicans are neck-and-neck in Wisconsin. The only battleground state where the GOP had more ballot requests was Michigan,” per Egan. 

At the White House

EX-PENCE AIDE SLAMS TRUMP'S COVID RESPONSE: “The president's response to the pandemic showed a ‘flat-out disregard for human life’ because his ‘main concern was the economy and his reelection,’ according to a senior adviser on the White House coronavirus task force who left the White House in August,” Josh Dawsey scooped.

Olivia Troye also endorsed Biden: “Troye, who worked as homeland security, counterterrorism and coronavirus adviser to Vice President Pence for two years, said that the administration’s response cost lives and that she will vote for Biden this fall because of her experience in the Trump White House,” our colleague writes.

  • Key quote: "“The president’s rhetoric and his own attacks against people in his administration trying to do the work, as well as the promulgation of false narratives and incorrect information of the virus have made this ongoing response a failure,” she told our colleague in an interview.

The White House called her a ‘disgruntled’ former employee: “Ms. Troye is a former detailee and a career Department of Homeland Security staff member, who is disgruntled that her detail was cut short because she was no longer capable of keeping up with her day-to-day duties,” retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, Pence’s national security adviser, said in a statement. Kellogg said Troye reported to him.

  • An ex-aide to DeVos also joined the Never Trumpers: “Josh Venable, the former chief of staff to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, has joined another former Trump administration official's group opposing the president,” Politico's Daniel Lippman and Michael Stratford report. “Venable is lending his name as an adviser to the Republican Political Alliance for Integrity and Reform, a group former Department of Homeland Security official Miles Taylor launched on Thursday of current and former Trump administration officials and other Republican leaders who want to see [Trump] defeated in November.”

The campaign

BLINKING RED: “FBI Director Christopher A. Wray told Congress on that Russia is still working to influence the U.S. presidential election, and hoping to ‘denigrate’ Biden because it sees the Democratic nominee as part of an American policy establishment antagonistic toward Moscow’s interests,” Devlin Barrett reports.

Trump fumed that Wray didn't highlight China's role: “Trump and several other top administration officials have recently attempted to play up the theory that China is meddling to get Biden elected,” CNN's Zachary Cohen, Geneva Sands and Alex Marquard report. The president also repeated his misleading claims  ballots mailed directly to voters will allow China and Russia to interfere in the race.

  • Reality check: “While the intelligence community has assessed that China and Iran prefer Trump to lose in November, officials have offered no indication, to date, that either country is acting on that preference in the same way as Russia, according to public statements issued by the intelligence community and sources familiar with the underlying evidence,” CNN reports.
FBI Director Christopher A. Wray told the House Homeland Security committee that Russia is still aiming to influence the U.S. election and denigrate Joe Biden. (Reuters)

Wray said there is one notable difference in Russian activity this time: Unlike in 2016, when the most serious interference efforts involved hacking Democrats’ emails and state election systems, the director said Russian activity so far this year seems more limited to misinformation campaigns,” our colleague writes.

  • But such efforts are still concerning, he cautioned: “In many ways, what concerns me most is the steady drumbeat and misinformation” that could lead to “a lack of confidence of American voters and citizens in the validity of their vote,” Wray said.

The policies

TRUMP ATTACKS PUBLIC SCHOOLS: “Trump pressed his case Thursday that U.S. schools are indoctrinating children with a left-wing agenda hostile to the nation’s Founding Fathers, describing efforts to educate students about racism and slavery as an insult to the country’s lofty founding principles,” Moriah Balingit and Laura Meckler report.

The federal government has no power over the curriculum taught in local schools: “Nonetheless, Trump said he would create a national commission to promote a ‘pro-American curriculum that celebrates the truth about our nation’s great history,’ which he said would encourage educators to teach students about the ‘miracle of American history,’” our colleagues write.

  • Why this is happening now: “Trump is calling the panel the ‘1776 Commission,' in what appeared to be a barb at the New York Times’s 1619 Project. The project, whose creator won a Pulitzer Prize for its lead essay, is a collection of articles and essays that argue that the nation’s true founding year is 1619, the year enslaved Africans were brought to the shores of what would become the United States. Trump said the 1619 Project wrongly teaches that the United States was founded on principles of ‘oppression, not freedom.’”

From the creator of the 1619 Project:

The investigations

HOW A CAREER FBI INVESTIGATOR SPARKED THE COMEY LETTER: “After six years working organized and white collar crime, John Robertson had switched over to the FBI New York office’s C-20 unit, investigating sex crimes against children … Working out of his cubicle in an office building in Lower Manhattan, Robertson was pursuing allegations in September 2016 that Anthony Weiner had sent sexually explicit messages to a teenage girl in another state,” Devlin Barrett writes in “October Surprise: How the FBI Tried to Save Itself and Crashed an Election,” which will be published Sept. 22 by PublicAffairs. You can read the full excerpt here.

There was a problem: “Hundreds of thousands of Huma Abedin’s emails, including many that were to or from Hillary Clinton, that Robertson had found on Weiner’s laptop in late September, when he had gotten a search warrant to look for possible images of sex crimes involving children,” Devlin writes.

  • But after telling his superiors at the end of September, Robertson heard nothing: “'The crickets I was hearing was really making me uncomfortable because something was going to come down,” he later told internal investigators.

He tried reaching out to prosecutors on Weiner's case: The pair of prosecutors thought Robertson was getting paranoid and warned he could be prosecuted if he told outsiders about the emails. The next day, they passed along the information that wended its way up the chain of command. Still, no action was taken.

  • Robertson was losing his patience. He then sat down and wrote an email to himself, never seen publicly until now, titled “Letter to Self.”: “If I say or do nothing more, I am falling short ethically and morally. And later, I may be accused of being a Hillary Clinton hack because of the timing of all this,” he wrote in part. “Nothing could be further from the truth. I am apolitical. But if I say something (ie, whistleblow), I will lose my reputation, my career, and risk prosecution I will also be accused of being a Donald Trump hack. Again, nothing could be further from the truth.”

“Despite Robertson’s doubts, or perhaps because of them,” Devlin writes, the logjam began to break: At FBI headquarters, senior officials, having been told a month ago about the emails on the Weiner laptop and done little or nothing, scheduled a briefing for [FBI Director James] Comey for Thursday, Oct. 27.” Comey and the rest of his aides discussed the issue over the course of consecutive days.

And then history happened: “That Friday, Comey sent a short letter to Congressional leaders announcing the FBI ‘has learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation,' Devlin writes, Pandora’s box had been opened.” 

In the media

WHAT ELSE YOU NEED TO KNOW:

All eyes on Nancy Pelosi for relief talks: “The California Democrat faces a crucial decision: Does she try to negotiate an agreement with a White House that suddenly seems ready to deal or continue to hold her ground and make Trump, facing his own election woes, swallow the sweeping $2.2 trillion bill she has long demanded?” Rachael Bade and Erica Werner report.

Former model accuses Trump of assault during 1990s tennis tournament: “Amy Dorris told the Guardian that Trump groped and kissed her against her will outside a bathroom at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in 1997,” Rosalind S. Helderman reports.

  • “Dorris, who was 24 at the time of the alleged incident, told the Guardian that her encounter with Trump left her feeling ‘sick’ and ‘violated’ and that she has struggled for years with whether she should speak publicly, including before the 2016 election.” A legal adviser to the Trump campaign denied the allegations and said it was a “pathetic attempt to attack President Trump right before the election.”

Biden tears into Trump at drive-in town hall: “In what at times seemed to be a test run for the first presidential debate in a week and a half, Biden leaned heavily on his middle-class roots as he touted policies that would help frontline workers, took pride in not having an Ivy League degree, and argued for fracking to continue,” Colby Itkowitz, Annie Linskey, Matt Viser, Michael Scherer, Felicia Sonmez and John Wagner report.

Who needs Sam when you can drink like a president?: Mary Beth Albright's latest installment of presidential drinks comes from the Adams family. This week's cocktail hour comes courtesy of “His Mightiness” President John Adams and his Independence Day bash. Maybe serve it on July 2 next year? He would have liked that

Recreate John Adams's Independence Punch with Food Host Mary Beth Albright in this episode of All the Presidents' Drinks. (The Washington Post)