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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

One of the ways to gauge the severity of a COVID-19 surge in a particular state or city is how busy funeral homes become — and in Florida, according to CBS News, employees of funeral homes are absolutely swamped.

In July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that one in five new COVID-19 cases in the United States was occurring in Florida. Ron DeSantis, Florida's far-right Republican governor, has been receiving a great deal of criticism for his response to the COVID-19 surge; DeSantis has opposed social distancing measures, forbidden public schools from having mask mandates, and tried to score cheap political points with his MAGA base by railing against expert immunologist Dr. Anthony Fauci.

CBS News' Khristopher J. Brooks explains, "In the last week of August, Florida hospitals averaged 279 deaths per day — up from 52 in July, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The spike in fatalities, although not yet definitively linked to the coronavirus, is strongly suspected to stem from the ongoing surge in cases caused by the Delta variant. Overall, the state has reported a total over 44,000 coronavirus deaths over the course of the pandemic, according to a New York Times tracker. COVID-19 has claimed so many lives in Florida that funeral directors said there aren't enough hours in the day to schedule all the services, a local TV station reported."

The local television station that Brooks is referring to is WFLA Channel 8, the NBC affiliate in Tampa. WFLA's Melanie Mitchell, on August 25, reported that funeral directors in Tampa are "working around the clock, seven days a week."

One of the funeral directors CBS News interviewed was 48-year-old Richard Prindiville, director of the Highland Funeral Home in Apopka, Florida. Prindiville told CBS News, "There's been days I've come home, and I'm exhausted — and I'm talking to my daughter, and I'm falling asleep as I'm talking to her. Every day is funerals and funerals and funerals."

According to Brooks, Prindiville "routinely works 14-hour days booking funerals, meeting with grieving families, transporting bodies and overseeing services." John Ricco, executive director of the Florida Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association, told CBS News that in recent weeks, funeral workers in Florida have been as busy as they were during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Some funeral homes in Florida, Brooks reports, are running out of space for bodies of people who have died from COVID-19. And funeral homes have so many burials to arrange that they are having to ask the families of the dead to please be patient.

Prindiville told CBS News, "What makes it difficult for us nowadays is just explaining to family members that we cannot have — and we'll have to hold off having — a funeral. In an hour, I could have six death calls, and I'm back to figuring out how to piece stuff together."

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Eric Holder

The failure of major federal voting rights legislation in the Senate has left civil rights advocates saying they are determined to keep fighting—including by suing in battleground states. But the little bipartisan consensus that exists on election reform would, at best, lead to much narrower legislation that is unlikely to address state-level GOP efforts now targeting Democratic blocs.

“This is the loss of a battle, but it is not necessarily the loss of a war, and this war will go on,” Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general and Democrat, told MSNBC, saying that he and the Democratic Party will be suing in states where state constitutions protect voting rights. “This fight for voting rights and voter protection and for our democracy will continue.”

“The stakes are too important to give up now,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has operated an Election Day hotline to help people vote. “Our country cannot claim to be free while allowing states to legislate away that freedom at will.”

In recent weeks, as it became clear that the Senate was not going to change its rules to allow the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to pass with a simple majority, there have been efforts by some lawmakers, election policy experts, and civil rights advocates to identify what election reforms could pass the Senate.

“There are several areas… where I think there could be bipartisan consensus,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, in a briefing on January 20. “These areas are all around those guardrails of democracy. They are all about ensuring that however the voters speak that their voice is heard… and cannot be subverted by anyone in the post-election process.”

Becker cited updating the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which addressed the process where state-based slates of presidential electors are accepted by Congress. (In recent weeks, new evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump’s supporters tried to present Congress with forged certificates as part of an effort to disrupt ratifying the results on January 6, 2021.) Updating that law could also include clarifying which state officials have final authority in elections and setting out clear timetables for challenging election results in federal court after Election Day.

Five centrist Washington-based think tanks issued a report on January 20, Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform, which suggested federal legislation could codify practices now used by nearly three-quarters of the states. Those include requiring voters to present ID, offering at least a week of early voting, allowing all voters to request a mailed-out ballot, and allowing states to start processing returned absentee ballots a week before Election Day.

But the report, which heavily drew on a task force of 29 state and local election officials from 20 states convened by Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center, was notable in what it did not include, such as restoring the major enforcement section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was removed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. It did not mention the Electoral Count Act nor growing threats to election officials from Trump supporters.

“This won’t satisfy all supporters of the Freedom to Vote Act, but this is a plausible & serious package of reforms to make elections more accessible and secure that could attract bipartisan support,” tweeted Charles Stewart III, a political scientist and director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. “A good starting point.”

The reason the centrist recommendations won’t satisfy civil rights advocates is that many of the most troubling developments since the 2020 election would likely remain.

Targeting Battleground States

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Former president Donald Trump

By Rami Ayyub and Alexandra Ulmer

(Reuters) -The prosecutor for Georgia's biggest county on Thursday requested a special grand jury with subpoena power to aid her investigation into then-President Donald Trump's efforts to influence the U.S. state's 2020 election results.

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