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Say goodbye to 'Election Night' and hello to 'Election Week'

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: Kyrsten Sinema
Kyrsten Sinema declares victory in the Arizona Senate race in Scottsdale on Nov. 12, 2018.Rick Scuteri / AP file

WASHINGTON — Now less than five months out from the general election, Americans need to brace themselves for the real possibility that the presidential contest won’t be decided on Election Night.

And that’s even if one of the candidates ultimately pulls off a decisive victory.

With more states voting by mail due to the pandemic, and with some states having a history of counting these ballots slowly, we might not know who won a state for a week — if not longer.

Case in point is the 2018 Senate race in Arizona between Republican Martha McSally and Democrat Kyrsten Sinema.

At 6:00 a.m. ET on Wednesday, Nov. 7 — after the NBC News Decision Desk has pulled an all-nighter during our midterm coverage — McSally held a 14,000-vote lead over Sinema from the ballots that had come in, 847,021 to 832,441.

And that would change over the course of a week, with more votes coming in from Maricopa (Phoenix) and Pima (Tucson) counties:

  • End of day on Wednesday, Nov. 7: McSally 856,848; Sinema 839,775 (McSally +24,407)
  • End of day on Thursday, Nov, 8: Sinema 932,870; McSally 923,260 (Sinema +9,610)
  • End of day on Friday, Nov. 9: Sinema 991,433; McSally 971,331 (Sinema +20,102)
  • End of day on Saturday, Nov. 10: Sinema 1,048,655; McSally 1,018,823 (Sinema +29,832)
  • End of day on Sunday, Nov. 11: Sinema 1,071,947; McSally 1,039,778 (Sinema +32,169)

NBC News finally called the race at the end of the day on Monday, Nov. 12, when Sinema’s lead over McSally stood at more than 38,000 votes, 1,097,321 to 1,059,124.

The official result was Sinema beating McSally by nearly 56,000 votes, or more than 2 percentage points, 1,191,100 to 1,135,200 — the kind of margin that used to take until 11:00 p.m. local time or so on Election Day for networks to call.

Now take that experience in battleground Arizona, and multiply that to other battleground states that might have to count their ballots more slowly due to the more votes by mail.

Every single American — from the voters watching election returns, to the journalists covering the race, to the president of the United States — needs to understand that reality.

The 2020 presidential election, most likely, won’t be decided on Election Night.

It will be decided on Election Week — or Election Weeks, plural.

Talking policy with Benjy: Defund the police edition

“Defund the police” has become an activist slogan and a new favorite target in President Trump’s Twitter feed, but so far it looks like national Democrats are steering clear of the concept.

Biden confirmed he did not back the idea on Monday, though he would require police departments to meet minimum standards to receive federal aid. In fact, his campaign’s reform plan calls for $300 million to hire more community police tasked with building trust with specific neighborhoods.

In Washington, Democratic leaders and the Congressional Black Caucus unveiled a package of legislative reforms that would ban chokeholds, certain no-knock warrants, and provide grants for independent state investigations into police misconduct, among other items, but not target funding for police. (More on that below.)

“Defund the police” is not a defined plan and seems to mean different things to different people, which may make it easier for Democrats to sidestep. Minneapolis city council members say they are on board with a plan to “dismantle” the police, for example, but have yet to spell out what the new system will look like.

This ambiguity also creates an opportunity for left-leaning organizations and politicians to steer the “defund” movement towards their vision. The ACLU, for example, is looking into a possible “divestment and reinvestment” plan, according to policing policy advisor Paige Fernandez, which might call for eliminating some police duties, like responding to mental health crises or patrolling schools, and investing in social services to replace them.

“We need to reimagine what policing means and in doing so reduce the role, scale and responsibilities of police across the country,” Fernandez, told NBC News.

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

1,969,919: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 17,485 more than yesterday morning.)

111,754: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 636 more than yesterday morning).

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

14 states and Puerto Rico: The number of U.S. states and territories where Covid-19 infections have hit a peak 14-day average since the start of June.

$1.25 million: The bail set for Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who faces charges of second-degree and third-degree murder as well as manslaughter in the death of George Floyd.

69 percent: The share of Americans in a Washington Post-Schar poll who say that George Floyd’s killing is indicative of a larger problem in law enforcement rather than an isolated incident.

Tweet of the day

2020 Vision: Previewing today’s primaries

The top primary contest we’re watching today is in Georgia, where several Democrats are running for the right to challenge Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., in November. The favorite in this Democratic Senate primary is 2017 congressional nominee Jon Ossoff, and his top challengers are former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and businesswoman Sarah Riggs Amico. The Cook Political Report lists the seat as “Lean Republican” for November.

If none of the candidates break 50 percent, the Top 2 will advance to an Aug. 11 runoff.

(The free-for-all jungle primary for the Georgia Senate seat held by appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., takes place on Election Day 2020.)

In South Carolina today, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Dem Jaime Harrison receive nominal primary opposition ahead of their November showdown.

Also today, Republicans will pick their nominee in Nevada to face Democratic Congresswoman Susie Lee, D-Nev., in the competitive NV-3 district.

In NV-4, incumbent Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., who recently admitted to having an affair, is receiving a primary challenge from multiple Democrats, as well as Republicans who are trying to reclaim the seat.

And a reminder about Nevada: Its Republican secretary of state, Barbara Cegavske, has sent mail-in ballots to all of the state’s registered voters.

Ad Watch from Ben Kamisar: McSally’s double play

Today’s Ad Watch is about trying to play double-duty.

Much of Martha McSally’s new spot isn’t surprising — she’s attacking her likely Democratic Senate opponent, Mark Kelly, and she’s doing it by evoking China, an increasingly-common message among GOP candidates this cycle in the age of coronavirus.

But the spot also criticizes Joe Biden too, arguing that he and Kelly won’t be able to hold China accountable.

McSally was down big in Fox News’ recent poll of the Senate race (trailing Kelly 50 to 37 among registered voters). And Biden led Trump by 4 points in that same poll of the state that Trump won by 3.5 points in 2016.

While that Biden lead is within the margin of error, there are signs that Trump is lagging his 2016 numbers in the state. That would be bad news for McSally, who would worry about a down-ticket drag.

So amid that backdrop, McSally is looking to tie those two Democrats together.

Here’s what’s in the Dem police reform bill

Congressional Democrats laid out their new police reform bill on Monday, and here are its basic principles, according to NBC’s Capitol Hill team:

  • Ban chokeholds, including the one that killed George Floyd;
  • End no-knock warrants in drug cases, which led to the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor;
  • Require local police departments to send data on the use of force to the federal government;
  • Create a grant program that would allow state attorneys general to establish independent processes to investigate misconduct;
  • Make it easier for people to recover damages when police departments violate their civil rights;
  • Make lynching a federal hate crime.

South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the only African-American Republican senator, is also expected to lay out a police reform bill. According to our Hill team, his bill will include his George Floyd and Walter Scott Notification Act, an expansion of previous legislation he introduced in 2015, that would requires states that receive federal police funding report incidents when police shoot someone, including names, race and a description of the event.

The Lid: New abnormal

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at how American voters are feeling about resuming life as we knew It before coronavirus.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Tonight’s primaries could be a preview of the mail-in ballot pileup officials expect in November.

Here’s how Democratic leaders are dealing with activists’ calls to defund the police.

AG Bill Barr says defunding police would lead to ‘vigilantism’ in major cities.

And Barr’s account of the president’s visit to a White House bunker directly contradicts Trump’s “inspection” tale.

President Trump aims to restart his major rallies in the coming weeks.

It’s official: The U.S. is in a recession.

Joe Biden has announced his LGBTQ steering committee.

Georgia Democrats are feeling bullish about 2020.