Guest: 30-year former Leon County, FL elections chief, Ion Sancho; Also: L.A. County records zero COVID deaths two days in row while California infection, hospitalization, death rates fall dramatically...
By Brad Friedman on 5/4/2021, 6:21pm PT  

On today's BradCast, we're happy to begin with just about the best news we could expect to stumble across these days. Happily, not everything goes down hill from there. [Audio link to full show is posted below summary.]

There has been a stunning drop in COVID infections, hospitalization and death numbers in California. Just 15 deaths were reported on Monday across the entire state of 40 million people. Perhaps even more incredibly, ZERO deaths were reported in all of Los Angeles County --- the most populous in the nation, with 10 million people --- on either Sunday or Monday. We have not had two straight days here without COVID deaths in this County since the pandemic began in mid-March of 2020. Officials caution, however, that some of the drop in numbers could be due to slow reporting over the weekend.

Still, the Golden State is certainly doing something right, as both the state and L.A. County also clock in with among the lowest test positivity rates in the nation. Moreover, Governor Gavin Newsom announced on Monday that COVID-related hospitalizations are at their lowest, by far, since the pandemic began. (And, keep in mind that state Republicans are citing his handling of the pandemic as reason he should be recalled from office.)

But while California also has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, like the rest of the nation, the number of shots being administered has fallen off sharply of late. Today, President Biden announced a plan to increase vaccine numbers, targeting adults who need more convincing; those who have struggled with availability; and, after expected FDA approval next week, adolescents aged 12 to 15. His new goal is deliver at least one dose to 70% of American adults by July 4th.

At the same time, the American Rescue Plan (adopted by Democrats in Congress without one single vote from any Republican) will now cover paid days off to get shots, as well as for the number of days needed to recover from them. The ARP has also dramatically lowered monthly health care premiums for those receiving federal subsidies under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). With, so far, wildly successful programs like the $1.9 trillion ARP, and hoped for passage of massive jobs and care bills like the proposed $2.25 trillion American Jobs Plan and $1.8 trillion American Families Plan, which Repubs have vowed to obstruct as well, is it any wonder they hope to simply block grateful voters from being able to cast a vote at all in next year's elections?

Last week, on the heels of similar measures in states like Georgia and Iowa, GOP state lawmakers in Florida adopted yet another sweeping voter restriction bill, even after claiming a wildly successful and secure election in 2020, when Donald Trump won the state by 3 points. The new bill --- passed in the Senate last week on Florida's Confederate Memorial Day --- is expected to target new voters, younger voters and, specifically, African American voters. It restricts mail-in voting after GOP lawmakers had spent decades expanded it in Florida. To their chagrin, apparently, after years of no-excuse absentee voting being predominantly used by Republicans (including Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis last year), more Democrats than GOPers took advantage of the option during the 2020 election. Therefore, it must be cut back. With the Sunshine State's traditionally close statewide elections, GOP lawmakers went to work. Senate Bill 90 now requires long-time mail-in voters request such ballots every single election cycle. It mandates new ID requirements for even requesting such ballots, severely restricts the use of absentee drop-boxes, and adds many other restrictive measures, such as a provision to prevent the distribution of food or water to voters waiting in long lines in the hot Florida sun.

While some Republicans are now reportedly concerned that the measure may prevent many of their own voters from casting a vote, our guest today has an additional serious concern with SB90. We're joined again today by former 30-year Leon County (Tallahassee) elections chief, ION SANCHO, who cites the way this bill --- and others being adopted by GOPers around the country --- specifically targets elections officials with threats of job loss and fines. The Florida bill, in fact, authorizes a personal, $25,000 fine against County Supervisors of Elections (who are elected in the Sunshine State) for failing, in any way, to follow every provision of the state's ever-changing elections code, even in cases of emergencies that otherwise might prevent voters from being able to cast their ballots.

"The larger, unstated thing here that, quite frankly, bothers me the most --- not only about Florida, Georgia, Iowa or Arkansas, you name it, it's happening in Republican-dominated legislatures --- is the fact that this is an attack on non-partisan, professional elections administration, all across the country," Sancho tells me. "It didn't begin in 2020, but 2020 has clearly lit the fuse."

In addition to noting that SB 90 has "made it more difficult for ALL citizens to request a vote-by-mail ballot," Sancho observes that all of the new, unnecessary measures are "providing more hoops to jump through for citizens." But, in particular, he cites, "best practices for elections are being thrown out by Republican legislatures, who are now inserting themselves much more directly into the elections process --- a reversal of the trend that we saw in the latter half of the 20th century when citizens demanded fairer elections. The trend to try to professionalize and get a higher class of election officials that act on a fair and non-partisan basis, that's what's being attacked in all of this legislation. That's what's got me concerned."

All of it, he opines, is part of "The Big Lie" (Trump's unsubstantiated claims of massive fraud in the 2020 election he lost) now being used as cover to pass these new restrictions. "In fact, it is Gov. DeSantis, not the ex-President, who is pushing for these changes in Florida. He's on the ballot [in 2022], and the fact that a million and a half more citizens have registered to vote by mail as Democrats than Republicans has caused this attack on vote-by-mail balloting. Gov. DeSantis is, I will tell you, far sharper than our ex-President.  In my opinion, more vile, because he understands what he's doing. I'm not sure the ex-President did."

Sancho --- who was so well respected by his peers in Florida that he was selected by them to oversee Florida's eventually aborted statewide Presidential recount in 2000 --- also confirms that in that same year, Republicans sent absentee ballot applications to every single Republican in the state. Now, they are trying to shut down much of the entire process that made voting easier there, even for many of their own voters. "This continual erosion is, in my view, disgraceful, disgusting, and un-American. But it's happened, and we have to deal with this."

We have much to discuss on that front on today's program.

Finally, we're joined by Desi Doyen with our latest Green News Report, which, much as our program began, finishes things off with quite a bit of surprisingly very good news, this time for climate hawks...

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