By LIBBY CATHEY, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — With 12 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 as the candidates head to Nashville for a final showdown.
Roughly 42 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.
The candidates will face off in the final presidential debate of the 2020 election cycle from Belmont University in Nashville this evening — their last chance to pitch themselves to tens of millions of voters in primetime before Nov. 3.
In the final weeks of campaigning, the president remains on defense as polls shows him trailing nationally and in several battleground states key to his reelection hopes.
Biden, maintaining a lead in national polls — his largest of the election, according to FiveThirtyEight’s average — stayed off the trail this week ahead of the debate, a pattern for the former vice president. The debate offers Biden a platform to solidify his lead so long as he avoids any major mistakes in the homestretch.
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.
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.
Here’s how the news is developing Thursday. All times Eastern:
Oct 22, 12:52 pm
Biden plans to focus on at-home viewers during debate
Former Vice President Joe Biden’s team has remained tight-lipped about preparation for the final debate, but allies and advisers to Biden said they aren’t expecting much of a change from either candidate ahead of tonight’s crucial matchup.
“I think Joe Biden is prepared for a completely unconventional debate in which the President of the United States does not act presidential [for] one minute. And the challenge is to not be distracted by the Trump show, and to make sure that Joe effectively puts out his positive vision,” Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., told ABC News.
An aide to Biden said the former vice president plans to again focus on his message to viewers at home, but would not be shy about standing up to Trump’s interjections when necessary, especially given reports of the president’s planned personal attacks on Biden and his family.
-ABC News’ Molly Nagle
Oct 22, 12:07 pm
Biden tests negative for COVID-19 for 13th time since last debate
Campaign officials said Joe Biden tested negative for COVID-19 ahead of his final debate with President Donald Trump tonight.
“Vice President Biden underwent PCR testing for COVID-19 today and COVID-19 was not detected,” the campaign said in a statement.
It was his thirteenth negative test since the campaign began disclosing test results in the aftermath of the last debate, the campaign said.
-ABC News’ Molly Nagle
Oct 22, 11:28 am
Election officials urge voters to cast mail-in ballots now
With an estimated 55 million requested absentee ballots not yet turned in, top election officials and voter advocates are urging voters to send in their ballots before it’s too late.
Earlier this week, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said the recommended mail-by date for ballots in her state has already passed and encouraged voters “to return them as soon as possible” by hand delivering them to a local clerk’s office or a ballot drop box.
Officials in 29 states, including Michigan, say absentee ballots must be received by the end of Election Day in order to count. Twenty-one states say absentee ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 3 and can still count if they arrive in a limited window after.
“If you are using the mail, you want to get it in as early as possible — like now,” League of Women Voters CEO Virgnia Kase said in an interview with ABC News Thursday. “Otherwise, dropping it off at one of those secure ballot drop boxes really is probably the safest and easiest way to make sure that your ballot is counted in on time.”
-ABC News’ Devin Dwyer
Oct 22, 10:53 am
Biden plans commission to reform ‘out of whack’ court system
In a new clip of his “60 Minutes” interview taped earlier this week in Wilmington, Delaware, former Vice President Joe Biden announced he would put together a bipartisan commission to look into the possible options for reforming an “out of whack” court system, again declining to say specifically if he would expand the court at this point.
“If elected, what I will do is I’ll put together a national commission of — bipartisan commission of scholars, constitutional scholars, Democrats, Republicans, liberal/conservative. And I will — ask them to over 180 days come back to me with recommendations as to how to reform the court system because it’s getting out of whack — the way in which it’s being handled and it’s not about court-packing. There’s a number of other things that our constitutional scholars have debated and I’ve looked to see what recommendations that commission might make,” Biden said.
When pressed on if the study would center solely on the issue of packing the court, Biden pushed back, saying there are “a number of alternatives that are — go well beyond packing.”
Biden said discussions on how to deal with the court is very much a “live ball,” and warned he didn’t want to politicize the institution from president to president.
-ABC News’ Molly Nagle
Oct 22, 10:44 am
Plexiglass partitions erected for presidential debate
Plexiglas partitions were placed on the debate stage next to each candidates’ lectern as a precaution for the second and final presidential debate in Nashville on Thursday.
Plexiglass became an issue prior to the vice-presidential debate when the two campaigns squabbled over whether to have physical barriers separate the two candidates.
The insistence on barriers was initially met with resistance by Vice President Mike Pence’s team, but they were ultimately used.
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