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A former New York City police officer has pleaded guilty to an obstruction charge in a murder-for-hire plot that authorities say sought the death of her husband and her boyfriend’s teenage daughterByThe Associated PressApril 16, 2021, 6:18 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleCENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. — A former New York City police officer pleaded guilty Friday to an obstruction of justice charge in a murder-for-hire plot that authorities say sought the death of her husband and her boyfriend’s teenage daughter.Valerie Cincinelli, 36, entered the plea in Central Islip federal court on Long Island.Cincinelli, of Oceanside in Nassau County, said she was “truly sorry” for impeding a grand jury probe on May 17, 2019, by deleting information on an iPhone with the intention of obstructing a murder-for-hire probe.“I know that what I did was wrong,” she said.She is likely to face a sentence of up to five years in prison at a proceeding scheduled for Oct. 29. Though the charge carries a potential for up to 20 years behind bars, prosecutors as part of a plea deal have said they will not request more than five years.Having already spent over a year and a half locked up, a sobbing Cincinelli immediately sought bail, saying: “For two years, I haven’t seen my son.”U.S. District Judge Joanna Seybert reserved decision, though she sounded sympathetic to arguments that bail under strict conditions including electronic monitoring might be appropriate prior to sentencing, since Cincinelli might face less than two more years in prison.Seybert took over the case after Judge Sandra Feuerstein was hit by a car and killed last week in Boca Raton, Florida.As part of Cincinelli’s plea deal, prosecutors plan to drop two charges accusing Cincinelli of paying her lover to kill her husband. The lover went to authorities, and she was arrested.A criminal complaint had alleged that Cincinelli asked a confidential FBI source to help her hire a hit man to kill the husband and a minor whose identities weren’t made public — for $7,000. Cincinelli allegedly destroyed two cellphones and the records they contained to block the investigation.Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Bagnuola said Friday that had the case reached trial, prosecutors would have played audio and video recordings in which Cincinelli and her then-boyfriend discussed a plot to have a hit man murder her estranged husband and her boyfriend’s teenage daughter.Bagnuola said Cincinelli was heard on the recordings saying she planned to evade any law enforcement probe by offering an alibi and an alternative motive for the killing.He said law enforcement authorities on May 17, 2019, advised Cincinelli falsely that her husband was found dead and that law enforcement was investigating the death.The prosecutor said an FBI agent would have testified that he posed as the hit man and the jury would have seen a video recording of Cincinelli at the moment she saw the photo purported to be her dead husband.

“I will absolutely follow up,” said the BOP director at a Thursday hearing. April 16, 2021, 5:01 PM• 5 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleCongress could soon get answers as to how financier Jeffrey Epstein died by suicide in Bureau of Prisons custody in August 2019, according to testimony given by BOP Director Michael Carvajal at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday.Epstein died while being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, and almost two years after his death, the BOP has not yet provided the customary report about the circumstances surrounding his death.Two Metropolitan Correctional Center officers were charged in November 2019 with destroying evidence in connection with the Epstein suicide. They have both pleaded not guilty.During the hearing, Carvajal told Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., there was no case that represents a “crisis of public trust” more than Epstein’s suicide.Given Epstein’s high-profile for being a well-known fancancier charged with sex trafficking of minors, his suicide led to serious questions over how he could have been allowed to take his life while in BOP custody.The Department of Justice inspector general has been investigating the circumstances surrounding Epstein’s suicide.Carvajal said prior to Thursday’s hearing he had his deputy director call the DOJ inspector general, who said the investigation is “on hold” until the June trial of two corrections officers takes place.Carvajal said it would be “inappropriate” to discuss the circumstances surrounding Epstein’s death before the trial and while the inspector general has paused the investigation.”Here’s what I will commit to: that after that investigation is over, and all of these things have been appropriately done I will absolutely follow up with you on anything regarding what we could do better or different,” he said. “I don’t think it’d be appropriate for me to get into any of that right now. So, it’s under litigation, I’ve been advised not to speak about it.”Michael Carvajal, Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, testifies during the Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing of the Federal Bureau of Prisons on April 15, 2021 in Washington, D.C.Sasse also asked about Epstein associate Ghislaine Maxwell’s safety in federal prison.Maxwell was arrested by federal authorities last year in New Hampshire and is facing a six-count federal indictment alleging that she conspired with Epstein in a multi-state sex trafficking scheme involving three unnamed minor victims between 1994 and 1997. Prosecutors contend Maxwell not only “befriended” and later “enticed and groomed multiple minor girls to engage in sex acts with Epstein, through a variety of means and methods,” but that she was also, at times, “present for and involved” in the abuse herself.Carvajal did not discuss her circumstances in prison but said her relationship to the case has no bearing on the BOP’s duty to keep her safe.”We are going to apply the appropriate security that we think we need to do to protect that individual, protect the staff, protect everyone. And we do that individually assessing these cases,” he said.Maxwell was given paper clothes upon checking into the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn last year over fears that she might take her own life, two federal law enforcement sources confirmed to ABC News.Carvajal said that the BOP has learned from the Epstein incident.”The answer is we learned lessons from that and we have made adjustments, it’s just not appropriate for me to discuss them,” Carvajal said.

Facing pressure to do more on gun control, he said Congress must move next.April 16, 2021, 4:49 PM• 5 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articlePresident Joe Biden, faced with yet another mass shooting on his watch, said Friday that the news of at least eight Americans killed in Indianapolis on Thursday night has “become too normal.””Too many Americans are dying every single day from gun violence,” Biden said in a written statement. “It stains our character and pierces the very soul of our nation.”President Joe Biden delivers a speech, March 31, 2021, at Carpenters Pittsburgh Training Center in Pittsburgh.Biden said that he had been briefed on the shooting at the FedEx facility in Indianapolis, and ordered the flags lowered to half-staff in honor of those who died “just two weeks after I gave the last such order.””Last night and into the morning in Indianapolis, yet again families had to wait to hear word about the fate of their loved ones,” Biden said. “What a cruel wait and fate that has become too normal and happens every day somewhere in our nation. Gun violence is an epidemic in America. But we should not accept it. We must act.”Just last week, in the wake of mass shootings in Boulder and Atlanta, Biden announced actions to reduce gun violence including directing the Department of Justice to regulate the sale of ghost guns, but there are only limited actions a president can take without Congress passing legislation.Biden, who has faced pressure to call more forcefully for gun control measures, said in his Friday statement that it’s up to Congress act next, including on some gun control legislation that has already been passed by the House.President Joe Biden delivers remarks on Russia in the East Room at the White House, April 15, 2021.”I also urged Congress to hear the call of the American people – including the vast majority of gun owners – to enact commonsense gun violence prevention legislation, like universal background checks and a ban of weapons of war and high-capacity magazines,” Biden said.Biden was pressed on what he was going to do to tackle gun control in late March during his first formal press conference. Biden sidestepped the question, saying while he would pursue the issue, infrastructure was his next major policy goal.”Successful presidents — better than me — have been successful, in large part, because they know how to time what they’re doing — order it, decide and prioritize what needs to be done,” Biden said.Biden said that gun control was a “long-term problem.””And what we’re going to be able to do, God willing, is now begin, one at a time, to focus on those as well,” Biden said.

A heavy metal guitarist has become the first defendant to plead guilty to federal charges in connection with the insurrection at the U.S. CapitolBy MICHAEL BALSAMO and ALANNA DURKIN RICHER Associated PressApril 16, 2021, 4:54 PM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleWASHINGTON — A heavy metal guitarist on Friday became the first defendant to plead guilty to federal charges in connection with the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.Jon Ryan Schaffer, the frontman of the band Iced Earth, has agreed to cooperate with investigators in hopes of getting a lighter sentence, and the Justice Department will consider putting Schaffer in the federal witness security program, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta said.This signals that federal prosecutors see him as a valuable cooperator as they continue to investigate the militia groups and other extremists involved in the insurrection on Jan. 6 as Congress was meeting to certify President Joe Biden’s electoral win.Schaffer, a supporter of former President Donald Trump, was accused of storming the Capitol and spraying police officers with bear spray. He pleaded guilty in a deal with prosecutors in federal court in Washington to two counts: obstruction of an official proceeding, and entering and remaining in a restricted building with a dangerous or deadly weapon.An email seeking comment was sent to an attorney for Schaffer.Schaffer is among more than 370 people facing federal charges in the deadly insurrection, which sent lawmakers into hiding and delayed the certification of Biden’s win. The Justice Department has indicated it is in separate plea negotiations with other defendants.Authorities say Schaffer was caught on camera holding bear spray and engaging in verbal altercations with officers in the Capitol. Schaffer was wearing a baseball hat that read “Oath Keepers Lifetime Member” on Jan. 6, but was not charged in the large case involving members and associates of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group, who are accused of conspiring with one another to block the certification of the vote.Schaffer has voiced various conspiracy theories, once telling a German news station that a shadowy criminal enterprise is trying to run the world under a communist agenda and that he and others are prepared to fight, with violence.In court documents, the FBI said Schaffer “has long held far-right extremist views” and that he had previously “referred to the federal government as a ‘criminal enterprise.’”He turned himself in to the FBI a few weeks after the riot, after his photograph was featured on an FBI poster seeking the public’s help in identifying rioters.

Liberty University has filed a civil lawsuit against its former leader, Jerry Falwell Jr., seeking millions in damages after the two parted ways acrimoniously last yearBy SARAH RANKIN Associated PressApril 16, 2021, 4:44 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleRICHMOND, Va. — Liberty University has filed a civil lawsuit against its former leader, Jerry Falwell Jr., seeking millions in damages after the two parted ways acrimoniously last year.The complaint, filed Thursday in Lynchburg Circuit Court, alleges Falwell crafted a “well-resourced exit strategy” from his role as president and chancellor in the form of a 2019 employment agreement while withholding from the school key details about a personal scandal that exploded into public view last year.“Despite his clear duties as an executive and officer at Liberty, Falwell Jr. chose personal protection,” the lawsuit says.It also alleges that Falwell failed to disclose and address “the issue of his personal impairment by alcohol” and has refused to fully return Liberty’s confidential information and other personal property.Falwell responded to a phone call from The Associated Press on Friday with a text saying he was not available to talk.It wasn’t immediately clear if he has an attorney representing him in the matter. The AP left a message seeking comment with an attorney who has represented him previously.Falwell’s departure from the Virginia university in August 2020 came soon after Giancarlo Granda, a younger business partner of the Falwell family, said he had a yearslong sexual relationship with Falwell’s wife, Becki Falwell, and that Jerry Falwell participated in some of the liaisons as a voyeur.Although the Falwells acknowledged that Granda and Becki Falwell had an affair, Jerry Falwell denied any participation. The couple alleged that Granda sought to extort them by threatening to reveal the relationship.The lawsuit says that Falwell had a “fiduciary duty to disclose Granda’s extortive actions, and to disclose the potential for serious harm to Liberty.”Instead, Falwell “furthered the conspiracy of silence and negotiated a 2019 Employment Agreement that contained a higher salary from Liberty,” the suit said.A Liberty spokesman didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry about whether the school had additional comment.Before the Granda scandal exploded, Falwell had already been on leave after he posted a photo on social media that sparked an uproar. It showed Falwell on a yacht with a drink in his hand and his arm around a young woman who was not his wife, their pants unzipped and his underwear exposed.The lawsuit, which alleges three counts – breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and statutory conspiracy – is seeking more than $10 million in damages.Falwell, an attorney and real estate developer, had led the evangelical school since the 2007 death of his father, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who also founded the Moral Majority, the political organization that made evangelical Christians a key force in the Republican party.In early 2016, Falwell become one of the first conservative Christians to endorse Donald Trump for the presidency, and defended him after Trump’s lewd remarks about women and sexual assault, captured in a 2005 “Access Hollywood” recording, became public late in the campaign.Falwell went on to court controversy and stay in the news, vigorously criticizing Democrats online.

British actress Helen McCrory, who starred in the television show “Peaky Blinders” and the “Harry Potter” movies, has diedByThe Associated PressApril 16, 2021, 4:38 PM• 1 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleBritish actress Helen McCrory, who starred in the television show “Peaky Blinders” and the “Harry Potter” movies, has died, her husband said Friday. She was 52 and had been suffering from cancer.Her husband, actor Damian Lewis, said McCrory died “peacefully at home” after a “heroic battle with cancer.”“She died as she lived. Fearlessly,” Lewis wrote on Twitter. “God we love her and know how lucky we are to have had her in our lives. She blazed so brightly. Go now, Little One, into the air, and thank you.”McCrory played the matriarch of a crime family on ”Peaky Blinders” and the scheming Narcissa Malfoy in the “Harry Potter” movies.

The United Auto Workers union is calling on General Motors to pay full union wages at electric vehicle battery factories, thrusting what was a festering conflict into the spotlight because automakers want to pay lessBy TOM KRISHER and KIMBERLEE KRUESI Associated PressApril 16, 2021, 4:34 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleNASHVILLE, Tenn. — The United Auto Workers union is calling on General Motors to pay full union wages at electric vehicle battery factories, thrusting what a festering conflict into the spotlight.The union, in a statement reacting to GM’s announcement Friday that it would build a second U.S. battery plant, said the company and its joint venture partner have a “moral obligation” to pay the higher wages at battery factories.Automakers want to pay less than the wages paid after contract negotiations.GM and LG Energy Solutions, its partner on the new plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee, and another under construction in Lordstown, Ohio, near Cleveland, should work with the UAW “to make sure these are good-paying union jobs like those of their brothers and sisters who make internal combustion engines,” the union statement said.The statement sets the tone for the next round of contract talks in 2023 between GM, Ford and Stellantis (formerly Fiat Chrysler), all of which have plans to make significant numbers of battery-powered vehicles by then as they invest billions to transition from internal combustion engines.It also could draw President Joe Biden into the fray, because he is pushing the transition to EVs, which he says will create “good-paying, union jobs of the future.”Currently top-scale union production workers at internal combustion engine and transmission plants run by GM, Ford and Stellantis (formerly Fiat Chrysler) make more than $31 per hour. But when the Lordstown plant was announced in 2019, GM CEO Mary Barra said its worker pay would follow GM’s component manufacturing strategy, where workers are paid less than top union wages. She said the plant would have to be cost-competitive.At a GM plant assembling batteries in Brownstown Township, Michigan, the union agreed in 2009 to $15 to $17 per hour wages to assemble battery cells into packs for the now-canceled Chevrolet Volt hybrid gas-electric vehicle. That’s a little more than what Amazon pays at distribution centers and just above a proposed $15 per hour new federal minimum wage. GM also pays about $22.50 per hour at union-represented parts manufacturing plants.GM said wages at the new plants would be determined by Ultium Cells LLC, the joint venture with LG Energy that’s running the battery plants.The union statement came just after GM announced plans to more than $2.3 billion to build the second U.S. electric vehicle battery factory in Spring Hill, Tennessee.The 2.8-million-square-foot plant is expected to create 1,300 manufacturing jobs in Maury County when it opens in 2023.The joint venture already is building the Ohio plant, which will employ about 1,100 people.“We are taking bold steps necessary to accelerate toward an all-electric future and to support our vision of zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion,” said GM CEO Mary Barra at a news conference in Nashville.GM has previously announced that the Cadillac Lyriq electric SUV will be built at the Spring Hill complex. The SUV, due in showrooms during the first half of 2022, will go an estimated 300 miles (482 kilometers) per charge.GM is likely to need far more battery capacity if it’s able to deliver on a goal of converting all of its new passenger vehicles from internal combustion engines to electricity by 2035.Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee declared the new battery plant project “the largest single investment of economic activity in the state’s history” while praising the project.Lee, a Republican, and his top economic development chief declined to detail how much the state had provided in incentives but said that information would come out soon.“We will accommodate the companies as they determine what strategies they’re going to take for manufacturing,” Lee told reporters. “The demand for their products is enormous, we think this is a very wise investment.”Industry analysts have said automakers face a global shortage of batteries as the industry moves away from gasoline powered vehicles. Most of the world’s batteries are built in China and other countries.————Krisher reported from Detroit.

Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has described threats to end his hunger strike by force-feeding him using a “straitjacket and other pleasures.”By DARIA LITVINOVA Associated PressApril 16, 2021, 4:24 PM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleMOSCOW — Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who has been on hunger strike since March 31, on Friday described threats to force-feed him, using “straitjacket and other pleasures.”In an Instagram post, Navalny said an official told him that a blood test indicated his health was deteriorating and threatened to force-feed him if he continues to refuse to eat.“And then she detailed the joys of force-feeding to me. Straitjacket and other pleasures,” the politician said, adding that he urged the officials not to do it, “pointing to a clause in the law.”Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s most vociferous critic, is demanding a visit from his physician after developing severe back pain and numbness in his legs in prison.The 44-year-old opposition leader was arrested in January upon his return from Germany, where he had spent five months recovering from a nerve agent poisoning he blames on the Kremlin — accusations Russian officials have rejected. Navalny’s arrest triggered a massive wave of protests all across Russia, the biggest show of defiance in recent years.Soon after the arrest, a court ordered Navalny to serve 2 1/2 years in prison on a 2014 embezzlement conviction he said was fabricated and the European Court of Human Rights deemed to be “arbitrary and manifestly unreasonable.” Last month, the politician was transferred to a penal colony east of Moscow, notorious for its harsh conditions.Navalny has complained about back pain and said he was losing sensation in his legs. His demands for a doctor’s visit were rebuffed by prison officials, with Russia’s state prison service saying he was getting all the medical help he needed. In response, Navalny went on hunger strike.The opposition leader charged Friday that prison officials refused to let his physician in because “they fear it’ll transpire that the loss of sensation in the limbs may be connected to the poisoning,” and reiterated he had “an absolutely guaranteed right: to be examined by an independent civilian doctor.”Describing his state after more than two weeks of a hunger strike, Navalny said his head was “spinning a lot,” but that he was “still walking.”Navalny’s wife, Yulia, who visited him in prison earlier this week, said the politician was “cheerful” but had trouble talking and lost a lot of weight.

The logo symbolizes an effort to promote healing on campus, but also is a reminder of the inescapable challenges that LSU faces for the foreseeable future. It is unclear what impact investigations by the U.S. Department of Education and a state senate select committee into how the university has handled sexual misconduct allegations, as well as a $50 million civil lawsuit in federal court, will have on LSU’s athletics programs.But regardless of the outcomes, it will likely take time to remove the stain from LSU’s tarnished brand.“LSU’s like my children. I’m always going to love it but I want it to do better,” said political pundit James Carville, an LSU graduate who teaches at the university, has one child enrolled there and another who graduated from there. “Right now. It’s not doing better.”Miles, who won a national title while coaching at LSU from 2005 to 2016, lost his job at Kansas.Oregon State fired President F. King Alexander, who held a similar post at LSU when allegations that Miles made improper sexual advances toward female students working in the football office were kept private by the university and its law firm in 2013 – despite a recommendation by then-athletic director Joe Alleva that Miles be fired.There does not appear to be any imminent threat to the job of current LSU football coach Ed Orgeron. But he is choosing his words carefully, partly because of the federal lawsuit filed by current LSU associate athletic director Sharon Lewis. Her lawsuit alleges that certain current or former members of LSU’s athletic administration and football staff conspired to retaliate against her when she tried to report Miles’ alleged advances toward female students, which would violate federal Title IX laws banning gender-based discrimination, harassment or violence.Orgeron declined this week to go into detail about what he tells current and prospective athletes, and their families, if they express concern about the potential upheaval at LSU because of pending investigations or the lawsuit.“We discuss that internally,” Orgeron said this week. “We have a plan. We have a lot of people that have a lot of talks and stuff like that, but I’m going to leave it at that.”Orgeron stated in a letter to the state Senate Select Committee on Women and Children that he supports work lawmakers and others are doing to try to protect women at LSU.Meanwhile, the football program has hosted speakers from advocacy groups such as Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response (STAR). Other speakers have included LSU Title IX investigator Jeff Scott and LSU general counsel Winston DeCuir. And there are more scheduled.However, some view these as reactionary and token gestures which do not hold accountable those at LSU who for years did not aggressively push to have sexual misconduct allegations investigated.“LSU is still not taking Title IX seriously,” said Tammye Brown, an attorney for Lewis, who remains employed by LSU as her lawsuit against the school goes forward.She cited LSU’s decision to bar employees from appearing at a hearing last week held by the state senate committee that is following up on a review by the Husch Blackwell law firm that scrutinized LSU’s handling of sexual misconduct complaints.The 148-page review was campus wide, also looking, for example, at cases against fraternity members. But some of the higher-profile cases involved football players including former running back Derrius Guice, who last year was cut by the NFL’s Washington Football Team following a domestic violence arrest.Husch Blackwell concluded that LSU had come up woefully short in committing needed resources to Title IX compliance and instead tended to offer more resistance than help to alleged victims.Lewis attorneys Tammye and Bridgett Brown wanted their client to be permitted to assist the state senate committee. Instead, DeCuir was the sole person to speak on behalf of the university and that LSU’s general counsel “used his time to attack my client,” Tammye Brown said, portraying her as an opportunist out for personal financial gain.Lewis’ lawsuit does not name Orgeron among the defendants; it does list 10 unnamed men and 10 unnamed women among the defendants.Orgeron took over for Miles on a permanent basis in 2017 and coached LSU to an unbeaten record and national championship in the 2019 season. Allegations of sexual misconduct or physical abuse have been filed against at least nine former players who played for Orgeron, according to an investigation by USA Today.Some were punished and ultimately left LSU, but others, like Guice, left school in good standing and were selected in the NFL draft.The recent Hush Blackwell review aimed criticism more at LSU’s administration than Orgeron, saying coaches generally lack the expertise to handle sexual misconduct complaints and should refer them to Title IX compliance officials.Last week, the U.S. Department of Education announced that, in part because of the Husch Blackwell report and related media coverage, its Office for Civil Rights would investigate possible Title IX violations by LSU. Institutions found in violation can lose federal funding.So far, the most severe punishment handed down to current LSU employees were suspensions of about a month to deputy athletic director Verge Ausberry and senior associate athletic director Miriam Segar, who were found to have mishandled multiple sexual misconduct complaints.State law makers have stated that they see LSU’s disciplinary action as insufficient.Students agree. Last month, some held a sit-in at LSU’s football operations building.Bridgett and Tammye Brown said they expect Lewis’ lawsuit to not only provide compensation to their client, but also to cause changes at LSU and any other institution that has previously failed to dedicate proper attention to Title IX compliance.“Sharon Lewis has made an impact not just for Sharon Lewis, but she’s a whistle-blower,” Bridgett Brown asserted.” She’s blown the whistle and people are forced to stop and look at what’s in front of them. Will it change things in Louisiana? We’re about to see.”

Nearly seven of every 10 voters cast their ballots before Election Day in 2020. Republicans are moving to make it harder for that to happen again, potentially affecting the voting preferences of millions of Americans.The GOP’s campaign to place new restrictions on mail-in and early voting in certain states will force voters to contend with new rules on what have quickly become popular and proven methods of casting ballots.Though it is difficult to forecast how exactly the changes will affect voter turnout in the years ahead, critics argue that the proposals target a voting method that has had growing appeal for both Democrats and Republicans, and will add additional and needless bureaucratic hurdles to casting ballots before Election Day.In just Georgia and Iowa, states where early voting rollbacks already have been signed into law, more than 5 million voters used absentee or early in-person voting last fall. Restrictive early voting bills also are advancing in other politically important states where Republicans are in control, including Arizona, Florida and Texas. Altogether, nearly 27 million voters in those five states cast ballots in advance of the 2020 presidential election.“They’re trying to make it a hassle to vote,” said Dixie Davis, a 33-year-old seamstress in Fort Worth, Texas, who voted early in the last election. “I feel like voting should be convenient — it’s like the most basic service a government should provide in a democratic society.”The explosion of both early and mail voting in the 2020 election came after state officials across the country relaxed rules around who could cast ballots before Election Day in a one-time effort to avoid coronavirus spread at crowded polling places. Officials and experts have said the result was one of the smoothest elections in recent memory, without any of the widespread fraud alleged by former President Donald Trump and his allies.In response, Republican lawmakers in a number of states have opted against making those changes permanent or expanding advance voting options. They instead have introduced a wave of new restrictions, arguing that they are trying to prevent fraudulent voting and restore public confidence in elections.The Brennan Center for Justice, a policy group that advocates for increased voting access, has tallied more than 350 pieces of restrictive legislation this year, many aimed at shortening early voting periods and imposing new requirements for mail-in voting. In addition to the new laws in Georgia and Iowa, at least 28 bills to restrict mail and absentee voting are moving in 18 states, according to the Brennan Center.“The efforts to restrict voting access are not based on the policies that voters actually want,” said Eliza Sweren-Becker, voting rights and elections counsel at the Brennan Center. “Voters like mail voting, voters like convenience, voters like early voting, so lawmakers are not delivering on requests for these restrictions.”The massive early voting surge in 2020, when 111.5 million voters cast ballots in advance, can’t be compared to previous elections because of the changes to procedures in many states prompted by the pandemic. Those states expanded early voting but did not make the changes permanent.But even before last year, absentee and early in-person voting had been growing for both Democrats and Republicans. In fact, it’s been increasing every year since 2008, in both midterm and general elections, according to Associated Press election research. During the 2016 presidential contest, nearly 59 million people voted before Election Day. (Last year’s turnout data includes unofficial results from New York, Montana and Michigan).In Georgia, the new law reduces the amount of time voters can request absentee ballots from 180 days before an election to 78 days; requires an ID number to vote absentee; prohibits local election officials from sending voters absentee ballot applications unless requested and limits the number of ballot drop boxes a county can have.It does mandate two Saturdays of early voting ahead of general elections, when only one had been mandatory, and leaves two Sundays as optional. Republicans at one time had proposed limiting early voting on Sundays, which critics argued was an attack on a get-out-the-vote initiative organized by Black churches called “Souls to the Polls.”In 2020, about 1.3 million Georgia voters cast mail ballots and around 2.7 million voted early in-person. President Joe Biden narrowly won the state by 12,000 votes, with the heavily populated and Democratic-leaning counties in the Atlanta area casting many votes before Election Day. In 2016, when Trump took the state, roughly 2.4 million voters cast ballots ahead of Election Day.“I know that it is going to obstruct the voting patterns of many people, especially seniors, because people were relying on voting absentee and now they’re making it more difficult,” said Georgia state Sen. Donzella James, a Democrat who represents parts of Atlanta. “It’s not going to hurt just Democrats; it’s going to hurt the whole voting process and make it harder to vote.”A similar dynamic is underway in Iowa, where a new law shortens the early voting period from 29 days to 20 days, requires most mail ballots to be received by Election Day and forbids county election officials from sending absentee ballot request forms unless requested.“When you’re cramming everything into such a small window, of course it’s going to be harder on us,” said Travis Weipert, the auditor of Iowa’s Johnson County. “If the system is working, what are you trying to fix?”More than 1 million Iowans cast absentee ballots before Election Day in 2020, after the state mailed absentee applications to all registered voters. Some counties opened more early voting sites and allowed early drive-thru voting to reduce lines and promote social distancing. In 2016, the figure was around 650,000, about 40% of the total vote. Trump won the state handily in both 2016 and last year.Restrictions also are being considered in other politically important states.In Arizona, Republicans are behind measures to bar election officials from sending unsolicited absentee ballots and to establish new requirements to vote absentee, after about 3 million people cast ballots before the past election. In Florida, where around 9 million people voted before Election Day last year, Republicans have proposed requiring 24-hour surveillance of ballot drop boxes and making voters provide identification to submit a ballot at a drop box.Nearly 10 million voters last year cast advance ballots in Texas, where Republicans came out ahead in the presidential race and all statewide offices, and also held control of the state Legislature. Nevertheless, the GOP is pushing legislation that would make it a crime for local election officials to send mail ballot applications to voters who didn’t ask for them.Studies have shown that increased mail-in voting does not grant a partisan advantage. It is difficult to determine what level of restriction would turn a person off from voting, though critics of the proposals argue that lawmakers should be trying to encourage voting rather than tightening rules around popular methods.“We shouldn’t be looking at this through the partisan lens. We should just be looking at it through the lens of increasing participation,” said Dale Ho, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights Project. “If you don’t have a good reason to make voting hard, you ought not to. You ought to be making voting easier.”———Izaguirre reported from Lindenhurst, New York.———Associated Press coverage of voting rights receives support in part from Carnegie Corporation of New York. The AP is solely responsible for this content.