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“We’re using the tools we have. But as the minority party, we can only do that so long,” said Texas state Rep. Gina Hinojosa, an Austin-based lawmaker who helped lead the weekend walkout. “We need to ultimately flip this House to be able to stop this right-wing agenda and focus on the needs of Texans.”

“Clearly, leadership was emboldened by the fact that Democrats didn’t flip those seats and find their majority in the House,” added state Sen. Beverly Powell, a Fort Worth-area Democrat.

Democrats’ ability to only derail, but not end, the push in Texas left party officials begging congressional Democrats to intervene by passing new federal voting rights legislation.

“These folks at the legislature have demonstrated that they’re willing to do what it takes, but we need backup,” said Lina Hidalgo, the Democratic chief executive of Houston’s Harris County. “For better or worse, that challenge stops at the foot of the U.S. Senate. Really, it’s a plea for help.”

Texas Republicans are expected to take up a version of their bill — which failed to pass Sunday after much of the state House Democratic caucus walked out and broke quorum — in a yet-to-be-called special session. The push to restrict voting rules has become a GOP priority in state governments across the country, as former President Donald Trump continues to lie and spread conspiracy theories about the election results.

GOP Gov. Greg Abbott called “election integrity” a “must-pass emergency” item in a statement.

“I expect legislators to have worked out their differences prior to arriving back at the Capitol so that they can hit the ground running to pass legislation,” Abbott said in his statement. Abbott also said he would veto the part of the budget that funds the legislative branch as retribution, tweeting that there is “no pay for those who abandon their responsibilities.”

An aide to Abbott said a decision on the timing of the special session was not imminent. Texas and other states are already planning special legislative sessions later this year to address redistricting after the Census Bureau releases local-level population data necessary to draw new political maps.

Republicans’ election bill took aim, in particular, at practices put in place by Harris County, the state’s largest county — and an increasing source of strength for Democrats.

The bill would have banned drive-through and 24-hour voting, which Harris County officials piloted during the 2020 election. The bill also added further restrictions to mail voting in Texas, on top of existing eligibility requirements that mean most Texas voters are not eligible to cast ballots that way. And it would have banned election authorities from allowing in-person early voting before 1 p.m. on Sundays, which was seen as an attempt to limit “Souls to the Polls” events popular among Black churches. (State Rep. Travis Clardy, a Republican involved in final negotiations of the bill, told NPR News on Tuesday the reduction of voting hours on Sunday was a “mistake” and wasn’t intended to be in the final bill.)

The legislation also included a provision allowing a court to “declare [an] election void” if it determined the number of “illegally cast” votes was “equal to or greater than the number of votes necessary to change the outcome of an election, without “attempting to determine how individual voters voted.”

Democratic lawmakers pledged to fight again in the special session over similar proposals. “If people want to be pragmatic and roll up sleeves and come up with a proposal, we know how to do that. If people want to fight, we know how to do that,” said state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, who represents a San Antonio-based district. “You tell me what Republicans show up [with] and I’ll tell you what kind of session we’re going to have.”

But Texas Democrats likely won’t be able to run out the clock forever. Instead, some are hoping their extraordinary delay over the weekend will spur Democrats in Washington to make their own voting rights push.

Two pieces of voting legislation are in the works but effectively stalled in the 50-50 Senate right now. One is a sweeping election and campaign finance reform bill, H.R. 1, that would institute federally mandated floors for state election procedures — like requiring no-excuse absentee voting and same-day voter registration. Another bill would require certain states and jurisdictions to have changes to election procedures approved by either the Justice Department or a federal court in Washington, restoring “preclearance” requirements in the 1965 Voting Rights Act that were stripped out by a 2013 Supreme Court decision.

In a statement over the weekend President Joe Biden called the Texas bill “an assault on democracy,” calling for Congress to pass the two proposals. He also tapped Vice President Kamala Harris as his point person on voting rights in a speech in Tulsa, Okla., on Tuesday.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has promised a vote on H.R. 1 during the final week of June. But the final fate of the bill remains uncertain. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) remains the only Senate Democrat who hasn’t signed onto the sweeping package. And Manchin and a handful of other Democratic senators have also resisted calls to scrap or modify the filibuster, which effectively requires 60 votes to move most legislation in the chamber.

The update to the Voting Rights Act has yet to be introduced in Congress.

Martinez Fischer, who also helped lead the weekend walkout, said he hoped their protest would “wake the nation up,” and called on the Senate to move on H.R. 1.

“It’s important for Leader Schumer and leaders in the Senate to understand just where we are — at a crossroads in America,” he said. “I recognize that there are certain senators that believe that eliminating the filibuster is tantamount to destroying our country. And my only response to that is that there are people who want to destroy our country state by state, and we have to recognize that and that there is a greater good.”



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Guinea declares end to latest Ebola outbreak

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“I commend the affected communities, the government and people of Guinea, health workers, partners and everyone else whose dedicated efforts made it possible to contain this Ebola outbreak,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

“Based on the lessons learned from the 2014–16 outbreak and through rapid, coordinated response efforts, community engagement, effective public health measures and the equitable use of vaccines, Guinea managed to control the outbreak and prevent its spread beyond its borders.” The U.N. said it will continue to provide post-illness care.

The CDC welcomed the news in a statement.

“I commend the government and first responders in Guinea for ending the country’s Ebola outbreak,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. “Our heartfelt sympathies are with the people who lost loved ones to this disease. CDC remains committed to supporting survivor programs and helping strengthen global preparedness and response capacities that can prevent or extinguish future Ebola outbreaks.”

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Hard-line judiciary head wins Iran presidency amid low turnout

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In initial results, former Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezaei won 3.3 million votes and moderate Abdolnasser Hemmati got 2.4 million, said Jamal Orf, the head of Iran’s Interior Ministry election headquarters. The race’s fourth candidate, Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, had around 1 million votes, Orf said.

Hemmati offered his congratulations on Instagram to Raisi early Saturday.

“I hope your administration provides causes for pride for the Islamic Republic of Iran, improves the economy and life with comfort and welfare for the great nation of Iran,” he wrote.

On Twitter, Rezaei praised Khamenei and the Iranian people for taking part in the vote.

“God willing, the decisive election of my esteemed brother, Ayatollah Dr. Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi, promises the establishment of a strong and popular government to solve the country’s problems,” Rezaei wrote.

The quick concessions, while not unusual in Iran’s previous elections, signaled what semiofficial news agencies inside Iran had been hinting at for hours: That the carefully controlled vote had been a blowout win for Raisi amid the boycott calls.

As night fell Friday, turnout appeared far lower than in Iran’s last presidential election in 2017. At one polling place inside a mosque in central Tehran, a Shiite cleric played soccer with a young boy as most of its workers napped in a courtyard. At another, officials watched videos on their mobile phones as state television blared beside them, offering only tight shots of locations around the country — as opposed to the long, snaking lines of past elections.

Balloting came to a close at 2.a.m. Saturday, after the government extended voting to accommodate what it called “crowding” at several polling places nationwide. Paper ballots, stuffed into large plastic boxes, were to be counted by hand through the night, and authorities said they expected to have initial results and turnout figures Saturday morning at the earliest.

“My vote will not change anything in this election, the number of people who are voting for Raisi is huge and Hemmati does not have the necessary skills for this,” said Hediyeh, a 25-year-old woman who gave only her first name while hurrying to a taxi in Haft-e Tir Square after avoiding the polls. “I have no candidate here.”

Iranian state television sought to downplay the turnout, pointing to the Gulf Arab sheikhdoms surrounding it ruled by hereditary leaders, and the lower participation in Western democracies. After a day of amplifying officials’ attempts to get out the vote, state TV broadcast scenes of jam-packed voting booths in several provinces overnight, seeking to portray a last-minute rush to the polls.

But since the 1979 revolution overthrew the shah, Iran’s theocracy has cited voter turnout as a sign of its legitimacy, beginning with its first referendum that won 98.2% support that simply asked whether or not people wanted an Islamic Republic.

The disqualifications affected reformists and those backing Rouhani, whose administration both reached the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and saw it disintegrate three years later with then-President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal of America from the accord.

Voter apathy also has been fed by the devastated state of the economy and subdued campaigning amid months of surging coronavirus cases. Poll workers wore gloves and masks, and some wiped down ballot boxes with disinfectants.

If elected, Raisi would be the first serving Iranian president sanctioned by the U.S. government even before entering office over his involvement in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988, as well as his time as the head of Iran’s internationally criticized judiciary — one of the world’s top executioners.

It also would put hard-liners firmly in control across the government as negotiations in Vienna continue to try to save a tattered deal meant to limit Iran’s nuclear program at a time when Tehran is enriching uranium at its highest levels ever, though it still remains short of weapons-grade levels. Tensions remain high with both the U.S. and Israel, which is believed to have carried out a series of attacks targeting Iranian nuclear sites as well as assassinating the scientist who created its military atomic program decades earlier.

Whoever wins will likely serve two four-year terms and thus could be at the helm at what could be one of the most crucial moments for the country in decades — the death of the 82-year-old Khamenei. Speculation already has begun that Raisi might be a contender for the position, along with Khamenei’s son, Mojtaba.

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Apathy greets Iran presidential vote dominated by hard-liner

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“My vote will not change anything in this election, the number of people who are voting for Raisi is huge and Hemmati does not have the necessary skills for this,” said Hediyeh, a 25-year-old woman who gave only her first name while hurrying to a taxi in Haft-e Tir Square after avoiding the polls. “I have no candidate here.”

Iranian state television sought to downplay the turnout, pointing to the Gulf Arab sheikhdoms surrounding it ruled by hereditary leaders and the lower participation in Western democracies. But since the 1979 revolution overthrew the shah, Iran’s theocracy has cited voter turnout as a sign of its legitimacy, beginning with its first referendum that won 98.2% support that simply asked whether or not people wanted an Islamic Republic.

The disqualifications affected reformists and those backing Rouhani, whose administration both reached the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and saw it disintegrate three years later with then-President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal of America from the accord. Former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, also blocked from running, said on social media he’d boycott the vote.

Voter apathy also has been fed by the devastated state of the economy and subdued campaigning amid months of surging coronavirus cases. Poll workers wore gloves and masks, and some wiped down ballot boxes with disinfectants.

If elected, Raisi would be the first serving Iranian president sanctioned by the U.S. government even before entering office over his involvement in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988, as well as his time as the head of Iran’s internationally criticized judiciary — one of the world’s top executioners.

It also would put hard-liners firmly in control across the government as negotiations in Vienna continue to try to save a tattered deal meant to limit Iran’s nuclear program at a time when Tehran is enriching uranium at its highest levels ever, though it still remains short of weapons-grade levels. Tensions remain high with both the U.S. and Israel, which is believed to have carried out a series of attacks targeting Iranian nuclear sites as well as assassinating the scientist who created its military atomic program decades earlier.

Whoever wins will likely serve two four-year terms and thus could be at the helm at what could be one of the most crucial moments for the country in decades — the death of the 82-year-old Khamenei. Speculation already has begun that Raisi might be a contender for the position, along with Khamenei’s son, Mojtaba.

Khamenei cast the first vote from Tehran, urging the public to “go ahead, choose and vote.”

Raisi, wearing a black turban that identifies him in Shiite tradition as a direct descendant of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, voted from a mosque in southern Tehran. The cleric acknowledged in comments afterward that some may be “so upset that they don’t want to vote.”

“I beg everyone, the lovely youths, and all Iranian men and women speaking in any accent or language from any region and with any political views, to go and vote and cast their ballots,” Raisi said.

But few appeared to heed the call. There are more than 59 million eligible voters in Iran, a nation of over 80 million people. However, the state-linked Iranian Student Polling Agency has estimated a turnout will be just 44%, which would be the lowest since the revolution. Officials gave no turnout figures Friday, though results could come Saturday.

Fears about a low turnout have some warning Iran may be turning away from being an Islamic Republic — a government with elected civilian leadership overseen by a supreme leader from its Shiite clergy — to a country more tightly governed by its supreme leader, who already has final say on all matters of state and oversees its defense and atomic program.

“This is not acceptable,” said former President Mohammad Khatami, a reformist who sought to change the theocracy from the inside during eight years in office. “How would this conform to being a republic or Islamic?”

For his part, Khamenei warned of “foreign plots” seeking to depress turnout in a speech Wednesday. A flyer handed out on the streets of Tehran by hard-liners echoed that and bore the image of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2020. A polling station was set up by Soleimani’s grave on Friday.

Some voters appeared to echo that call.

“We cannot leave our destiny in the hands of foreigners and let them decide for us and create conditions that will be absolutely harmful for us,” said Tehran voter Shahla Pazouki.

Also hurting a moderate like Hemmati is the public anger aimed at Rouhani over the collapse of the deal, despite ongoing talks in Vienna to revive it. Iran’s already-ailing economy has suffered since, with double-digit inflation and mass unemployment.

“It is useless,” said Ali Hosseini, a 36-year-old unemployed resident in southern Tehran, about voting. “Anyone who wins the election after some time says he cannot solve problem of the economy because of intervention by influential people. He then forgets his promises and we poor people again remain disappointed.”

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