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A Republican-led hand recount of ballots cast in Arizona’s most populous county hit a major milestone Monday when counters finished a tally of all the regular ballots cast in November’s general election. Ken Bennett is the Arizona Senate's liaison to the recount contractors and says all that remains are a small number of boxes filled with Braille, large-type, overseas military and duplicated ballots. That means almost all the 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County have been recounted. The GOP-led Senate ordered the audit after backers of President Donald Trump claimed without evidence that fraud led to his loss in Arizona and other battleground states.

A former Mississippi lawmaker has been found shot to death in a rural area outside the burned home where her sister-in-law was found dead after Christmas. Ashley Henley was a Republican who served in the state House from January 2016 to January 2020 from a district in DeSoto County. The North Mississippi Herald was first to report that Henley’s body was found Sunday night in rural Yalobusha County, about 70 miles south of DeSoto County. Her body was outside the home where the body of her sister-in-law Kristina Michelle Jones was found Dec. 26. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed a bill into law that would require public schools in his state to hold at least one minute of silence to allow students to meditate or pray. The state joins more than a dozen others in compelling schools to do so. Florida had already given schools the option of setting aside time for prayer and meditation. The governor signed the bill at a South Florida Jewish temple, where he denounced anti-Semitism and stood with Israel. His visit to the Shul of Bal Harbour had the air of a campaign rally. Moments after DeSantis began speaking, authorities forcibly removed a heckler from the hall.

Lawmakers in Indiana and other states scrambled in the final days of their legislative sessions to make decisions on spending their shares of the $350 billion in federal coronavirus relief money that was allocated to state and local governments. They directed aid toward schools and businesses, dedicated money for highway construction and bailing out depleted unemployment benefits accounts. With much of Indiana’s $3 billion share still unallocated, budget writers latched onto an idea floated by a local tech millionaire for a $75 million revolving loan program aimed at helping workers obtain short-term training certifications to advance their careers. It's an example of how states cast about for ways to spend the federal influx.

There is no shortage of job openings for local election officials in Michigan. It's the same in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and other states. After facing threats and intimidation during the 2020 presidential election, and now the potential for new punishments, county election officials are quitting or retiring early. The once quiet job has become a political minefield thanks to the baseless claims of widespread fraud pushed by many in the Republican Party. Their exits raise concerns over whether the jobs will be filled by loyalists of former President Donald Trump who are intent on sabotaging the process of running elections.

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has led a throng of motorcyclist supporters through the streets of Sao Paulo — and got hit with a fine for failure to wear a mask, in violation of local pandemic restrictions. The conservative president waved to the crowd from his motorcycle and later from atop a sound truck, where helmeted but largely maskless backers cheered and chanted Saturday as he insisted that masks were useless for those already vaccinated. That's an assertion disputed by most public health experts. Sao Paulo’s state government press office said a fine would be imposed for violation of a mask requirement.

With COVID-19 cases declining and vaccinations increasing, governors across the U.S. are wrestling with decisions about when to declare an end to the emergency declarations they have issued and reissued throughout the pandemic. More than a half-dozen states already have ended their coronavirus emergencies. That includes South Carolina and New Hampshire, where Republican governors ended their emergency orders this past week. More states could join that list soon. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker says his emergency declaration will come to an end Tuesday. Republicans generally are leading the push to end emergency orders, but some Democrats also are supporting such moves. 

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