Election 2020: No mute button, but mics will be muted at debate

This is designed to prevent the kind of serial interruptions seen in Cleveland.

Last Updated: October 19, 2020, 10:10 PM EDT

With 15 days to go until Election Day, and President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden racing toward Nov. 3, voters are turning out in record numbers to cast their ballots early, with long lines forming across Florida Monday as voting kicks off in that battleground state.

Roughly 28 million Americans have already voted in the 2020 election, reflecting an extraordinary level of participation and interest despite unprecedented barriers brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

In the final weeks of campaigning, the president remains on defense as his approval rating drags. He's hosting rallies this week mostly in states he won in 2016 including Arizona, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Georgia.

Biden, maintaining a nationwide lead in polls -- his largest lead of the election, according to FiveThirtyEight's average -- has no public events on his schedule this week so far ahead of Thursday's final presidential debate with Trump.

Polls indicate a huge pre-Election-Day edge for Biden and a sizable Trump advantage among those who plan to vote on Nov. 3 itself. Trump has sowed doubt in the mail-in ballot process -- and imminent election results -- for months.

The rhetoric between candidates is expected to heat up ahead of their second and final showdown in Nashville.

All 50 states plus Washington, D.C., currently have some form of early voting underway. Check out FiveThirtyEight’s guide to voting during the COVID-19 pandemic here.

Oct 19, 2020, 10:10 PM EDT

Supreme Court rejects GOP request in Pa. to intervene in mail ballot dispute 

The Supreme Court Monday night -- in a closely watched election case -- rejected a request by Pennsylvania Republicans to block a state court order that now allows mail ballots arriving up to three days after Nov. 3 to be counted. 

Chief Justice John Roberts appears to have joined the three liberal justices in agreeing to reject the GOP request. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh all said they would have granted an emergency stay of the state court order.

The split decision by the court is a major victory for Democrats who had argued that the state’s statutory requirement that mail-in ballots must be received by Election Day violates the state constitution. They said the pandemic, coupled with documented postal service delays, would have led to potential widespread disenfranchisement. 

Republicans, who have been defending state law and wanted to preserve the Election Day deadline, argued the extension was an “open invitation to cast ballots after Election Day” and create “chaos” and fraud.

Legal experts have considered this case a major bellwether for a raft of other ballot related cases percolating on the court’s docket.

A view of the U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 2, 2020, in Washington, D.C.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Nancy Patton Mills, chairwoman of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, said it was a "significant victory" for voters and that the "Supreme Court was right to throw out (Harrisburg Republicans) latest bad faith effort to muddy this election."

However, Pennsylvania GOP Chairman Lawrence Tabas said Republicans disagree with the decision and said the fact that it was a 4-4 decision "only underscores the importance of having a full Supreme Court as soon as possible."

“To be clear, the Supreme Court decided not to grant a stay -- which does not mean the actions of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court would withstand a legal challenge to their Judicial overreach should the Court hear the case,” Tabas continued.

Also weighing in were parties on either side of the Supreme Court confirmation fight.

"It is disturbing that 4 justices would have granted the stay sought by the Republican party. This underscores why Judge Amy Coney Barrett should not be confirmed to the Supreme Court at this moment because there is a good chance that she would be casting the deciding vote on matters related to the 2020 election," Kristen Clarke, president and executive director at the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights Under Law said in a statement.

The Honest Elections Project’s executive director, Jason Snead, cited in a statement other cases moving through the courts and said, "It will certainly make headlines, but it is neither a license for other courts to modify election deadlines, nor a resolution of this crucial issue. There are clearly sufficient votes on the Court to hear this case should a cert petition be filed."

-ABC News Senior Washington Reporter Devin Dwyer and Benjamin Siegel

Oct 19, 2020, 8:58 PM EDT

No mute button, but mics will be muted at debate

The Commission on Presidential Debates just announced its changes

During the two minutes that a candidate has to answer a question, the other candidate's microphone will be turned off. This is designed to prevent the kind of serial interruptions seen from the president in Cleveland at the first debate.

During the follow-up discussions, however, both mics will be on and there will be no mute button. The moderator will attempt, as always, to keep equal time.

The Trump campaign responded to the announcement in a statement that said the president "is committed to debating Joe Biden regardless of last-minute rule changes," but continued to attack the commission for "their latest attempt to provide advantage to their favored candidate."

A Trump campaign official told ABC News that they first learned of the change through media reports.

-ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl and Will Steakin

Democratic Presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden (R) speaks during the first presidential debate against US President Donald Trump at Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Sept. 29, 2020.
Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Oct 19, 2020, 7:58 PM EDT

Trump, RNC announce $55 million ad buy in Sun Belt, Rust Belt states

As concerns about Trump's campaign cash crunch mount with just two weeks to go until Election Day, the campaign announced a $55 million ad blitz in several battleground states for the two final weeks of the presidential contest.

The ads, funded by the campaign and the Republican National Committee, will target a string of key states along the Sun Belt and the Rust Belt, including Arizona, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Florida, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Nevada and Wisconsin, as well as in Iowa and Ohio, campaign manager Bill Stepien said on a call with reporters on Monday.

President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Greenville, N.C., Oct. 15, 2020.
Karl Deblaker/AP

The new ad spending comes on the heels of a growing uneasiness within the president's reelection campaign as it continues to implement belt-tightening measures including cutting back on television ad spending in the final stretch of the campaign.

The new ads will zero in on appealing to older voters, RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said on the call, including one ad that would focus on "Medicare savings" achieved under the Trump administration, which she described as "truly phenomenal."

Recent polls have shown older voters moving toward Biden.

Democratic Presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden participates in an ABC News town hall event at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Oct. 15, 2020.
ABC News

The campaign described the new ad blitz as a 40% increase in Trump's team's ad spending, though it's not yet clear what the new spending will bring the total amount for the final two weeks to. It's also not clear how much of the new spending will be allocated to each state.

Ad research firm Kantar/CMAG was still aggregating new ad placements that were coming in throughout the day on Monday, but earlier, CMAG's analyst Mitchell West told ABC News that the firm's researchers had spotted some cancelations from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio and some additional placements in Florida, Arizona and Georgia.

As of Monday morning -- without the new spending included -- the Trump campaign had a total of $45 million worth of airtime reserved for the two final weeks, including $12 million in Florida, $5.6 million in North Carolina, $5.3 million in Ohio and $4.3 million in Minnesota, according to CMAG's data.

-ABC News' Will Steakin and Soorin Kim

Oct 19, 2020, 5:37 PM EDT

Trump attacks Biden: 'He wants to listen to Dr. Fauci'

At a campaign rally in Prescott, Arizona, Trump fired off attacks on Biden, Harris, the Obamas, the Cuomos and Democratic Senate candidate Mark Kelly, among others, and continued his public critique of the nation’s top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci.

"Biden wants to lock it down. He wants to listen to Dr. Fauci," Trump said, insisting people are "getting tired of the pandemic." He repeated his earlier criticism that Fauci made bad calls about wearing masks and shutting off travel from China, adding that Fauci is a "wonderful guy" but "he just happens to have a very bad arm."

President Donald Trump walks over to talk to reporters at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Oct. 19, 2020, in Phoenix, with Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey.
Alex Brandon/AP

Moments before Trump took the stage, he slammed the task force doctor on Twitter, sarcastically comparing his TV stardom to the legendary Bob Hope and mocking Fauci's Washington Nationals face mask because of his famously bad first pitch at Nationals Park.