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The 2020 election could hinge on these current fights over ballot access

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: An Ohio voter drops off her ballot at the Board of Elections in Dayton, Ohio on April 28, 2020.
An Ohio voter drops off her ballot at the Board of Elections in Dayton, Ohio on April 28, 2020.Megan Jelinger / AFP - Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — It’s not a stretch to think the outcome of the 2020 presidential election could hinge on court rulings that decide who gets to vote in November.

Especially if the contest is close. And especially amid a pandemic that’s now killed nearly 100,000 Americans in just three months.

Over the Memorial Day weekend, the Republican National Committee and other GOP groups filed a lawsuit to block California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive order to send vote-by-mail ballots to all of the state’s registered voters due to the coronavirus pandemic. (That lawsuit comes just weeks after the GOP won a special congressional election in the state conducted almost all by mail.)

In nearby Nevada, a federal judge ruled in April against a conservative group’s effort to block the secretary of state, a Republican, from conducting its primary next month by mail.

In Florida, another federal judge ruled over the weekend that the state’s law requiring felons to pay fines and court fees before they’re allowed to vote is unconstitutional.

And it all comes as President Trump — who’s up for re-election in November — has uttered falsehood after falsehood in railing against Americans being able to vote by mail during this pandemic, even though he casts absentee ballots as a Florida voter.

“When you do all mail-in voting ballots, you are asking for fraud,” Trump said yesterday. “In California, the governor is sending millions of ballots all over the state — millions — to anybody. People that aren’t citizens. Illegals. Anybody that walks in California is going to get a ballot."

In fact, California is sending ballots only to the state’s registered voters. Also in fact, the states that conduct their contests entirely by mail-in ballots have experienced little to no voter fraud.

Now there’s a legitimate debate over whether Americans should get vote-by-mail applications versus actual ballots; over whether they should be sent to just active voters or also inactive ones; and over the legal practice of ballot harvesting in some states — where others are allowed to return a voter’s signed and sealed ballot.

But that isn’t the message the president is trying to get across in his statements.

He doesn’t want Americans to be able to vote by mail during this pandemic.

“There is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Mail-In Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent. Mail boxes will be robbed, ballots will be forged & even illegally printed out & fraudulently signed. The Governor of California is sending Ballots to millions of people, anyone.....” Trump tweeted yesterday.

And that’s the looming political and legal battle over the next five months.

The Twitter police

Speaking of that Trump tweet above on mail-in ballots, Twitter slapped a fact-check on it — but not on his baseless character assassination of our colleague Joe Scarborough.

And that’s a slippery slope for the social media platform: It’s policing factually-problematic political rhetoric, but not factually-problematic attacks on individuals.

But there’s an even bigger problem here: Why are critics demanding that Twitter — and not Republican elected officials — police the president’s attacks?

Is the real problem Twitter? Or a GOP that’s looked the other way when the president falsely accuses anyone of murder?

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

1,693,526: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 18,205 more than yesterday morning.)

99,706: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 733 more than yesterday morning).

14.90 million: The number of coronavirus tests that have been administered in the United States so far, according to researchers at The COVID Tracking Project.

A third: The share of Americans showing signs of clinical depression or anxiety, according to new Census Bureau data.

41 out of 44: The number of congressional districts hardest hit by coronavirus that are represented by Democrats, according to a new Pew Research Center study.

More than 62,000: The number of Covid-19 cases among health care workers, according to the CDC.

125,000: How high Brazil’s coronavirus death toll could reach by August, according to one new projection.

$1.5 billion: How much Amtrak says it needs in bailout funds to stay afloat.

Only 11 percent: The share of Americans who say they would be likely to take hydroxychloroquine themselves, per a POLITICO/Morning Consult poll.

2020 Vision: Fly, you fool

In his first in-person, sit-down interview since mid-March, Joe Biden called President Trump a “fool” for mocking those who wear masks during the coronavirus pandemic, per NBC’s Marianna Sotomayor.

Biden told CNN: “He's a fool, an absolute fool to talk that way. Every leading doc in the world is saying you should wear a mask when you're in a crowd, and especially when you know you're going to be in a position where you're going to inadvertently get closer than 12 feet to somebody. I know we're 12 feet apart, I get that. But it's just absolutely — this macho stuff, for a guy — I shouldn't get going, it’s just, it's cost people lives.”

Tweet of the day

Ad Watch from Ben Kamisar

Today’s Ad Watch centers on what GOP Sen. Tom Tillis’ Senate campaign wants you to think of him after watching its first general election ad.

In it, Tillis recounts his childhood bouncing between seven homes before he turned 16, arguing that he’s taken “humility back to the U.S. Senate” and that he will help “build this economy back” and “remember those who need it most.”

North Carolina is already shaping up to be one of the most expensive elections in the country, with Democrat Cal Cunningham looking to deprive Tillis of a second term.

There’s already been more spent on the TV and radio waves, $20.8 million according to Advertising Analytics, than in any Senate race in the country outside of Maine. And the DSCC, NRSCC, SMP and SLF (the latter two the super PACs affiliated with the Democrats and Republicans respectively) announced more than $66 million in initial advertising time for the state.

DOJ drops probes of three senators — but one probe remains

The Department of Justice decided to drop its insider-trading probes into Sens. Dianne Feinstein, Kelly Loeffler and Jim Inhofe, NBC’s Capitol Hill team reports.

A quick refresher: The three senators sold off stocks after early briefings on the coronavirus – they all denied any wrongdoing and pointed to independent financial investment groups and public information as the reason for their stock sales. However, the same good news did not come to North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr.

Burr, who has admitted to directing his own trades, remains under investigation and temporarily stepped aside as chair of the Senate’s Intelligence Committee while the investigation continues. You can read more about these updates here.

The Lid: Country mouse, city mouse

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at how coronavirus might change the political divide between urban and rural dwellers.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

President Trump says he wants to know “within a week” whether or not North Carolina can guarantee that the RNC can hold a traditional, in-person convention.

The Biden campaign is expanding and becoming more diverse, modeling the structure of Barack Obama’s reelection strategy.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is facing blowback for her husband’s name-dropping over the weekend at a northern Michigan boat dock.

Elizabeth Warren and Rep Deb Haaland write in the Washington Post about the toll Covid-19 has had on Native American communities.

POLITICO writes that Trump’s outside allies and donors are alarmed that his campaign isn’t doing more to blunt Biden’s strength in the polls.

Could Steve King lose next week?