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What it’s like fighting for the right to vote in Florida as an ex-felon

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After Florida voted overwhelmingly to let 1.5 million formerly incarcerated people regain the right to vote, Rosemary McCoy and Sheila Singleton, two Black women who had completed their sentences and probation for felony convictions, cast their ballots in 2019 for the first time in years.

Just months later, they lost that newfound power: In May 2019, the Republican-controlled Florida legislature, backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, enacted Senate Bill 7066. It required that formerly incarcerated people pay any restitution, fines, or court fees before they could register to vote and have their rights restored.

More than 85,000 released felons had already registered to vote. Now they faced a new roadblock. Backlash to the new ordinance was swift, with critics likening it to a modern-day Reconstruction-era poll tax. And in a state where election outcomes are often close, Floridians with prior felony convictions could be a key voting bloc.

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a felony disenfranchisement suit on behalf of McCoy and Singleton, arguing that the law is particularly harmful to these women because of their race, gender, and economic status. According to the SPLC, “nearly a quarter of all Black women in Florida live below the poverty line, and the unemployment rate for Black women with a felony conviction is more than 43 percent.” After the bill was passed, McCoy learned that she owed about $7,500 in restitution; Singleton owed $12,000. Interest has been accruing.

Earlier this month, a conservative majority federal appeals court ruled against the women, overturning a lower court’s decision that SB 7066 was unconstitutional. The requirement that formerly incarcerated people pay their fines and fees stands, and the US Supreme Court recently declined to take up the case.

Over the past few years, McCoy and Singleton have become two of the country’s biggest voting rights advocates and educators. They have picked up the torch from other Black women suffragists and activists like Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Mary Church Terrell, Ida B. Wells, and Fannie Lou Hamer.

“We are more energized now,” McCoy told Vox after their latest loss. “We are going to go out there and change minds.”

I talked to McCoy and Singleton about their mission to educate people about voting as they fight voter suppression. Our conversation has been edited for clarity.

Fabiola Cineas

An appellate court recently ruled that your voting rights shouldn’t be restored until you pay off all restitution, fees, and court costs. What’s your reaction to this latest roadblock?

Rosemary McCoy

For the hundreds of thousands of Floridians affected, the decision is a disaster. For me, that means we need to do a lot more work. Part of the work is to educate the public on the local and state level so we can elect better leaders and get better judges. And we also need to work on changing laws of oppressive leadership that deliberately disenfranchise a group of people. I’m going to continue to do the work. I’m energized.

Sheila Singleton

If I’m being honest, the system is broken. We don’t have the power we need to overtake those in power. We went out, we petitioned, we got our right to vote, and then those with money and power stepped in to take our right to vote away. They’re doing anything they possibly can do to prevent us from voting them out of office. Everybody should have a vote because everybody has a voice. If we don’t get out there and fight for what’s right, the people with wealth and power get to do whatever they want to do. Rosemary’s and my objective is to keep fighting, get the word out, and convince as many people as possible to join our cause.

Fabiola Cineas

Before Senate Bill 7066 was passed, what did Amendment 4, the measure that initially restored felon voting rights in Florida, mean to you?

Rosemary McCoy

It brought joy. Because when we say we are a democracy and we used the ballot initiative and people responded and most of the people — we were going out to get people to sign the petition — they didn’t even know that this was going on. They didn’t know, for instance, if someone had shoplifted something for $300 in Florida, that would be a felony charge. So someone could have been disenfranchised for 25 years because of $300! That’s how pitiful this is.

So when Amendment 4 passed, I thought, “Oh, my God! A piece of liberation. A piece so that maybe we can feel whole again.” I thought maybe I could feel more positive and have a desire to move forward and look at America in a different way. I could see the power and the truth that our votes do count — until Senate Bill 7066 came along.

Sheila Singleton poses after voting in March 2019 after having her voting rights restored.
Courtesy of Sheila Singleton

Sheila Singleton

I took so many pictures because I hadn’t voted in seven years. My voice counts, so that’s how important Amendment 4 was to me. And I feel like whatever my crime was, it was 10 years ago and you’re telling me you’re gonna hold me down for the rest of my life? No! Our votes gotta pass to make a change.

That was grimy the way they did the Senate bill — how are you going to take people’s rights back when it was on the ballot and passed? And then you go in and try to make changes?

Rosemary McCoy

Because it was a Republican majority (the bill passed 22-17 in the Senate and 67-42 in the House along party lines). That’s why SB 7066 happened. Why not give it back to the people? They let the people decide on Amendment 4, so let them decide on SB 7066.

Sheila Singleton

They didn’t even give the people a chance. They had no say in that.

Fabiola Cineas

The stipulations of Senate Bill 7066 have been compared to a poll tax — that you have to pay all fees and restitution in order to register to vote and cast a ballot. What’s your reaction to the idea that you are being disenfranchised in the same way Black people were barred from voting 150 years ago?

Sheila Singleton

That’s the thing. I went through my probation 10 years ago. Now you’re telling me I have to go back through the system again to try to pay this money? That should’ve been included in my probation. I didn’t know anything about my restitution.

This is actually how I met Rosemary. We were at the office together when we were trying to figure out our papers and how much we owed. They didn’t tell us anything about restitution because the restitution was somewhere else. Some people get out of jail and they don’t know nothing about their restitution because they don’t follow up on this kind of stuff. They don’t let people know that they owe this money. And there’s recurring interest. I feel like it’s illegal the way it was done, so I’m not going to pay anything until we get through with this case.

Rosemary McCoy

Duval County, where we live, does not have a payment arrangement or plan for restitution. If you owe restitution, you must pay the full amount. And the other part of that is, according to the restitution statute, if a person is innocent, then how can you assess them to pay restitution? Restitution is supposed to have an end date. It’s not supposed to be forever.

Fabiola Cineas

What do you say to the people who don’t care, the people who, because of your records, don’t believe you should be able to vote again?

Rosemary McCoy

First of all, I pay taxes. Sheila pays taxes. That’s the number one thing. And we are still citizens of the United States of America. If they have a mindset like that, and especially if they’re calling themselves a Christian, they need to think about forgiveness. But we are more energized now. No matter what you do to us, we just multiply like Bébé’s Kids. All we are going to do is go out there and speak to someone.

Fabiola Cineas

Black women are recognized as some of the most loyal and dedicated voters and organizers in the country. Can you each talk about what it feels like to be a Black woman who is being restricted from fully stepping into her power, but also stepping into what seems to be a calling for so many Black women?

Rosemary McCoy

Black women have been very powerful in all movements. I’m talking about back during slavery. I’m talking about Harriet Tubman freeing her people. Black women have so much determination. And they know. The number of incarcerated women in this country has gone up by more than 700 percent in the past quarter-century. They are arresting a lot of women. Because we are powerful, and we are not going to stop.

Southern Poverty Law Center staff Nancy Abudu (left) and Caren Short (right) and McCoy plaintiffs Rosemary McCoy (center left) and Sheila Singleton (center right).
Southern Poverty Law Center

Sheila Singleton

As Black women, me and Rosemary are advocates. It doesn’t matter how they try to stop us. We are going to win anyway. This makes me want to fight even more. We share what we know with the people that don’t know. For example, when they give out the stimulus money, we tried to get people to see it wasn’t enough. How are you giving people $1,200, but you can give the millionaires all of the small-businesses money and don’t do nothing about it? They won’t give us money because they want us to continue to work for pennies. That’s how I look at it — they want us to get back to work.

Fabiola Cineas

And how does the voting restriction influence your day-to-day work and mission?

Sheila Singleton

Me and Rosemary do the same thing. We called people and made sure they voted during the primary. We remind them to vote early. We also work on getting people to complete the 2020 census. We make sure people go out and vote early or vote by mail.

Rosemary McCoy

But the jobs we have as advocates at New Florida Majority are temporary positions. After the November election, we won’t have jobs. The Lord has taken care of us, our kids, our grandkids, so we know we will overcome and that we will be employed. We will be able to provide for our people and we will be able to change our community. We also started a nonprofit organization we named after Harriet Tubman, the Harriet Tubman Women’s Auxiliary. Through the organization, we are going out there and changing minds. We have been beat down for so long.

Fabiola Cineas

At this point in the fight to regain such a significant right, what defines each of you and brings you joy?

Rosemary McCoy

I was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, so Florida is a culture shock. I came here through the military. We were stationed here. I had a home and raised my children. I learned the truth when I got arrested — that this is a state, as a whole, that is still oppressing Black and brown people. Having been born and raised in Philadelphia, I’m not afraid to speak up. But what I found here is it’s hard to get people to move in a certain direction.

I consider myself complete — I was raised in a house with a mother and father who loved me. I enjoyed myself, running up and down the street, going to the swimming pool, playing Double Dutch and hopscotch. I enjoyed all of that. I believe that I had a great life. I traveled, I was in the military. I had government positions.

But reenfranchising 1.5 million more people is now part of my career and what brings me joy. I enjoy serving people. My experience in the criminal justice system changed things for the better because sometimes you have to get the experience in order to understand. As a common citizen, I didn’t know. I was just working, raising my children and enjoying life. When someone got arrested and went to prison, I didn’t pay attention. I didn’t know about the laws being passed or the people we were electing, and why we needed to focus on electing certain types of people. Today, I am very focused.

Sheila Singleton

Being born and raised in Duval, my TV now stays on MSNBC. I like to know what’s going on. I have a Facebook where I share everything I possibly can to anyone who is listening, to help them understand what’s going on. This is a fight that will end, but it’s terrible because it seems like Congress don’t have no control. It seems like Trump has locked everything down with the judges — they’re doing everything he says. Right now, I see the councilmen and governor opening up schools, and our children are catching the virus. Nobody cares that it is killing people. I’m on my way to a viewing right now for a man who died from coronavirus. They’re trying to downplay this thing so bad, like it’s okay for people to die. Everyone is walking around like it’s normal, but we are in a fight.

Though things aren’t going the way we want them to go as returning citizens, we are in this now. We are making sure that other people will get out of their homes to vote. It feels like me and Rosemary are the spokeswomen for what’s going on today in society. In Duval, people are so relaxed. They don’t talk about the issues. It’s scary because just imagine if this man gets four more years.

Fabiola Cineas

In thinking about how you want your futures to look, what is your idea of liberation? What would liberation look like for each of you?

Sheila Singleton

My liberation is that Donald Trump loses, Biden wins, and he changes everything back like it was and gives us our rights back. Hopefully, he puts things in order by changing the judicial system. That’s what I’m looking forward to. That would make me feel really gracious, getting my rights back to vote. Being able to get a job, without people saying, “Hey, you’re not qualified because you did this.” Liberation is also being able to change someone else’s life by telling them where I came from and what God did for me — that that’s what made me who I am today. That’s my liberation right there.

Rosemary McCoy

Liberation, to me, is to divide this country into two different countries. Thinking back to how there was a Black Wall Street, where they had their own banks, schools, markets — everything! They were not dependent on this system. Liberation means I’m not dependent on your evil, wicked system that has a noose around my neck. I want to be free from this system. I want to have my own. I don’t want to look to you for your crumbs.


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All the products we found to be the best during our testing this year

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(CNN) —  

Throughout the year, CNN Underscored is constantly testing products — be it coffee makers or headphones — to find the absolute best in each respective category.

Our testing process is rigorous, consisting of hours of research (consulting experts, reading editorial reviews and perusing user ratings) to find the top products in each category. Once we settle on a testing pool, we spend weeks — if not months — testing and retesting each product multiple times in real-world settings. All this in an effort to settle on the absolute best products.

So, as we enter peak gifting season, if you’re on the hunt for the perfect gift, we know you’ll find something on this list that they (or you!) will absolutely love.

Coffee

Best burr coffee grinder: Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder With Digital Timer Display ($249; amazon.com or walmart.com)

Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder
Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder

Beginner baristas and coffee connoisseurs alike will be pleased with the Baratza Virtuoso+, a conical burr grinder with 40 settings for grind size, from super fine (espresso) to super coarse (French press). The best coffee grinder we tested, this sleek look and simple, intuitive controls, including a digital timer, allow for a consistent grind every time — as well as optimal convenience.

Read more from our testing of coffee grinders here.

Best drip coffee maker: Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker ($79.95; amazon.com)

Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker
Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker

During our testing of drip coffee makers, we found the Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker made a consistently delicious, hot cup of coffee, brewed efficiently and cleanly, from sleek, relatively compact hardware that is turnkey to operate, and all for a reasonable price.

Read more from our testing of drip coffee makers here.

Best single-serve coffee maker: Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus ($165; originally $179.95; amazon.com)

Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus
Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus

Among all single-serve coffee makers we tested, the Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus, which uses pods that deliver both espresso and “regular” coffee, could simply not be beat for its convenience. Intuitive and a snap to use right out of the box, it looks sleek on the counter, contains a detached 60-ounce water reservoir so you don’t have to refill it with each use and delivers perfectly hot, delicious coffee with a simple tap of a lever and press of a button.

Read more from our testing of single-serve coffee makers here.

Best coffee subscription: Blue Bottle (starting at $11 per shipment; bluebottlecoffee.com)

Blue Bottle coffee subscription
Blue Bottle coffee subscription

Blue Bottle’s coffee subscription won us over with its balance of variety, customizability and, most importantly, taste. We sampled both the single-origin and blend assortments and loved the flavor of nearly every single cup we made. The flavors are complex and bold but unmistakably delicious. Beyond its coffee, Blue Bottle’s subscription is simple and easy to use, with tons of options to tailor to your caffeine needs.

Read more from our testing of coffee subscriptions here.

Best cold brewer coffee maker: Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot ($25; amazon.com)

Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot
Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot

This sleek, sophisticated and streamlined carafe produces 1 liter (about 4 1/4 cups) of rich, robust brew in just eight hours. It was among the simplest to assemble, it executed an exemplary brew in about the shortest time span, and it looked snazzy doing it. Plus, it rang up as the second-most affordable of our inventory.

Read more from our testing of cold brew makers here.

Kitchen essentials

Best nonstick pan: T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid ($39.97; amazon.com)

T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid
T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid

If you’re a minimalist and prefer to have just a single pan in your kitchen, you’d be set with the T-fal E76597. This pan’s depth gives it multipurpose functionality: It cooks standard frying-pan foods like eggs and meats, and its 2 1/2-inch sides are tall enough to prepare recipes you’d usually reserve for pots, like rices and stews. It’s a high-quality and affordable pan that outperformed some of the more expensive ones in our testing field.

Read more from our testing of nonstick pans here.

Best blender: Breville Super Q ($499.95; breville.com)

Breville Super Q
Breville Super Q

With 1,800 watts of motor power, the Breville Super Q features a slew of preset buttons, comes in multiple colors, includes key accessories and is touted for being quieter than other models. At $500, it does carry a steep price tag, but for those who can’t imagine a smoothie-less morning, what breaks down to about $1.30 a day over a year seems like a bargain.

Read more from our testing of blenders here.

Best knife set: Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set ($119.74; amazon.com)

Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set
Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set

The Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set sets you up to easily take on almost any cutting job and is a heck of a steal at just $119.97. Not only did the core knives included (chef’s, paring, utility and serrated) perform admirably, but the set included a bevy of extras, including a full set of steak knives. We were blown away by their solid construction and reliable execution for such an incredible value. The knives stayed sharp through our multitude of tests, and we were big fans of the cushion-grip handles that kept them from slipping, as well as the classic look of the chestnut-stained wood block. If you’re looking for a complete knife set you’ll be proud of at a price that won’t put a dent in your savings account, this is the clear winner.

Read more from our testing of knife sets here.

Audio

Best true wireless earbuds: AirPods Pro ($199, originally $249; amazon.com)

Apple AirPods Pro
Apple AirPods Pro

Apple’s AirPods Pro hit all the marks. They deliver a wide soundstage, thanks to on-the-fly equalizing tech that produces playback that seemingly brings you inside the studio with the artist. They have the best noise-canceling ability of all the earbuds we tested, which, aside from stiff-arming distractions, creates a truly immersive experience. To sum it up, you’re getting a comfortable design, a wide soundstage, easy connectivity and long battery life.

Read more from our testing of true wireless earbuds here.

Best noise-canceling headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4 ($278, originally $349.99; amazon.com)

Sony WH-1000XM4
Sony WH-1000XM4

Not only do the WH-1000XM4s boast class-leading sound, but phenomenal noise-canceling ability. So much so that they ousted our former top overall pick, the Beats Solo Pros, in terms of ANC quality, as the over-ear XM4s better seal the ear from outside noise. Whether it was a noise from a dryer, loud neighbors down the hall or high-pitched sirens, the XM4s proved impenetrable. This is a feat that other headphones, notably the Solo Pros, could not compete with — which is to be expected considering their $348 price tag.

Read more from our testing of noise-canceling headphones here.

Best on-ear headphones: Beats Solo 3 ($119.95, originally $199.95; amazon.com)

Beats Solo 3
Beats Solo 3

The Beats Solo 3s are a phenomenal pair of on-ear headphones. Their sound quality was among the top of those we tested, pumping out particularly clear vocals and instrumentals alike. We enjoyed the control scheme too, taking the form of buttons in a circular configuration that blend seamlessly into the left ear cup design. They are also light, comfortable and are no slouch in the looks department — more than you’d expect given their reasonable $199.95 price tag.

Read more from our testing of on-ear headphones here.

Beauty

Best matte lipstick: Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick ($11, originally $22; amazon.com or $22; nordstrom.com and stilacosmetics.com)

Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick
Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick

The Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick has thousands of 5-star ratings across the internet, and it’s easy to see why. True to its name, this product clings to your lips for hours upon hours, burritos and messy breakfast sandwiches be damned. It’s also surprisingly moisturizing for such a superior stay-put formula, a combo that’s rare to come by.

Read more from our testing of matte lipsticks here.

Best everyday liquid liner: Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner ($22; stilacosmetics.com or macys.com)

Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner
Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner

The Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner is a longtime customer favorite — hence its nearly 7,500 5-star reviews on Sephora — and for good reason. We found it requires little to no effort to create a precise wing, the liner has superior staying power and it didn’t irritate those of us with sensitive skin after full days of wear. As an added bonus, it’s available in a whopping 12 shades.

Read more from our testing of liquid eyeliners here.

Work-from-home essentials

Best office chair: Steelcase Series 1 (starting at $381.60; amazon.com or $415, wayfair.com)

Steelcase Series 1
Steelcase Series 1

The Steelcase Series 1 scored among the highest overall, standing out as one of the most customizable, high-quality, comfortable office chairs on the market. At $415, the Steelcase Series 1 beat out most of its pricier competitors across testing categories, scoring less than a single point lower than our highest-rated chair, the $1,036 Steelcase Leap, easily making it the best bang for the buck and a clear winner for our best office chair overall.

Read more from our testing of office chairs here.

Best ergonomic keyboard: Logitech Ergo K860 ($129.99; logitech.com)

Logitech Ergo K860
Logitech Ergo K860

We found the Logitech Ergo K860 to be a phenomenally comfortable keyboard. Its build, featuring a split keyboard (meaning there’s a triangular gap down the middle) coupled with a wave-like curvature across the body, allows both your shoulders and hands to rest in a more natural position that eases the tension that can often accompany hours spent in front of a regular keyboard. Add the cozy palm rest along the bottom edge and you’ll find yourself sitting pretty comfortably.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic keyboards here.

Best ergonomic mouse: Logitech MX Master 3 ($99.99; logitech.com)

Logitech MX Master 3
Logitech MX Master 3

The Logitech MX Master 3 is an unequivocally comfortable mouse. It’s shaped to perfection, with special attention to the fingers that do the clicking. Using it felt like our fingers were lounging — with a sculpted ergonomic groove for nearly every finger.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic mice here.

Best ring light: Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light ($25.99; amazon.com)

Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light
Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light

The Emart 10-Inch Standing Ring Light comes with a tripod that’s fully adjustable — from 19 inches to 50 inches — making it a great option whether you’re setting it atop your desk for video calls or need some overhead lighting so no weird shadows creep into your photos. Its three light modes (warm, cool and a nice mix of the two), along with 11 brightness levels (among the most settings on any of the lights we tested), ensure you’re always framed in the right light. And at a relatively cheap $35.40, this light combines usability and affordability better than any of the other options we tested.

Read more from our testing of ring lights here.

Home

Best linen sheets: Parachute Linen Sheet Set (starting at $149; parachute.com)

Parachute Linen Sheets
Parachute Linen Sheets

Well made, luxurious to the touch and with the most versatile shopping options (six sizes, nine colors and the ability to order individual sheets), the linen sheets from Parachute were, by a narrow margin, our favorite set. From the satisfying unboxing to a sumptuous sleep, with a la carte availability, Parachute set the gold standard in linen luxury.

Read more from our testing of linen sheets here.

Best shower head: Kohler Forte Shower Head (starting at $74.44; amazon.com)

Kohler Forte Shower Head
Kohler Forte Shower Head

Hands down, the Kohler Forte Shower Head provides the best overall shower experience, offering three distinct settings. Backstory: Lots of shower heads out there feature myriad “settings” that, when tested, are pretty much indecipherable. The Forte’s three sprays, however, are each incredibly different and equally successful. There’s the drenching, full-coverage rain shower, the pulsating massage and the “silk spray” setting that is basically a super-dense mist. The Forte manages to achieve all of this while using only 1.75 gallons per minute (GPM), making it a great option for those looking to conserve water.

Read more from our testing of shower heads here.

Best humidifier: TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier (starting at $49.99; amazon.com)

TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier
TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier

The TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier ramped up the humidity in a room in about an hour, which was quicker than most of the options we tested. More importantly, though, it sustained those humidity levels over the longest period of time — 24 hours, to be exact. The levels were easy to check with the built-in reader (and we cross-checked that reading with an external reader to confirm accuracy). We also loved how easy this humidifier was to clean, and the nighttime mode for the LED reader eliminated any bright lights in the bedroom.

Read more from our testing of humidifiers here.

Video

Best TV: TCL 6-Series (starting at $579.99; bestbuy.com)

TCL 6-Series
TCL 6-Series

With models starting at $599.99 for a 55-inch, the TCL 6-Series might give you reverse sticker shock considering everything you get for that relatively small price tag. But can a 4K smart TV with so many specification standards really deliver a good picture for $500? The short answer: a resounding yes. The TCL 6-Series produces a vibrant picture with flexible customization options and handles both HDR and Dolby Vision, optimization standards that improve the content you’re watching by adding depth to details and expanding the color spectrum.

Read more from our testing of TVs here.

Best streaming device: Roku Ultra ($99.99; amazon.com)

Roku Ultra
Roku Ultra

Roku recently updated its Ultra streaming box and the 2020 version is faster, thanks to a new quad-core processor. The newest Ultra retains all of the features we loved and enjoyed about the 2019 model, like almost zero lag time between waking it up and streaming content, leading to a hiccup-free streaming experience. On top of that, the Roku Ultra can upscale content to deliver the best picture possible on your TV — even on older-model TVs that don’t offer the latest and greatest picture quality — and supports everything from HD to 4K.

Read more from our testing of streaming devices here.

Travel

Best carry-on luggage: Away Carry-On ($225; away.com)

Away Carry-On
Away Carry-On

The Away Carry-On scored high marks across all our tests and has the best combination of features for the average traveler. Compared with higher-end brands like Rimowa, which retail for hundreds more, you’re getting the same durable materials, an excellent internal compression system and eye-catching style. Add in smart charging capabilities and a lifetime warranty, and this was the bag to beat.

Read more from our testing of carry-on luggage here.

Best portable charger: Anker PowerCore 13000 (starting at $31.99; amazon.com)

Anker PowerCore 13000
Anker PowerCore 13000

The Anker PowerCore 13000 shone most was in terms of charging capacity. It boasts 13,000 mAh (maH is a measure of how much power a device puts out over time), which is enough to fully charge an iPhone 11 two and a half times. Plus, it has two fast-charging USB Type-A ports so you can juice a pair of devices simultaneously. While not at the peak in terms of charging capacity, at just $31.99, it’s a serious bargain for so many mAhs.

Read more from our testing of portable chargers here.

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Trump’s misleading tweet about changing your vote, briefly explained

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Open Sourced logo

Searches for changing one’s vote did not trend following the recent presidential debate, and just a few states appear to have processes for changing an early vote. But that didn’t stop President Trump from wrongly saying otherwise on Tuesday.

In early morning posts, the president falsely claimed on Twitter and Facebook that many people had Googled “Can I change my vote?” after the second presidential debate and said those searching wanted to change their vote over to him. Trump also wrongly claimed that most states have a mechanism for changing one’s vote. Actually, just a few states appear to have the ability, and it’s rarely used.

Twitter did not attach a label to Trump’s recent tweet.
Twitter

Trump’s claim about what was trending on Google after the debate doesn’t hold up. Searches for changing one’s vote were not among Google’s top trending searches for the day of the debate (October 22) or the day after. Searches for “Can I change my vote?” did increase slightly around the time of the debate, but there is no way to know whether the bump was related to the debate or whether the people searching were doing so in support of Trump.

It was only after Trump’s posts that searches about changing your vote spiked significantly. It’s worth noting that people were also searching for “Can I change my vote?” during a similar period before the 2016 presidential election.

Google declined to comment on the accuracy of Trump’s post.

Trump also claimed that these results indicate that most of the people who were searching for how to change their vote support him. But the Google Trends tool for the searches he mentioned does not provide that specific information.

Perhaps the most egregiously false claim in Trump’s recent posts is about “most states” having processes for changing your early vote. In fact, only a few states have such processes, and they can come with certain conditions. For instance, in Michigan, voters who vote absentee can ask for a new ballot by mail or in person until the day before the election.

The Center for Election Innovation’s David Becker told the Associated Press that changing one’s vote is “extremely rare.” Becker explained, “It’s hard enough to get people to vote once — it’s highly unlikely anybody will go through this process twice.”

Trump’s post on Facebook was accompanied by a link to Facebook’s Voting Information Center.
Facebook

At the time of publication, Trump’s false claims had drawn about 84,000 and 187,000 “Likes” on Twitter and Facebook, respectively. Trump’s posts accelerated searches about changing your vote in places like the swing state of Florida, where changing one’s vote after casting it is not possible. Those numbers are a reminder of the president’s capacity to spread misinformation quickly.

On Facebook, the president’s post came with a label directing people to Facebook’s Voting Information Center, but no fact-checking label. Twitter had no annotation on the president’s post. Neither company responded to a request for comment.

That Trump is willing to spread misinformation to benefit himself and his campaign isn’t a surprise. He does that a lot. Still, just days before a presidential election in which millions have already voted, this latest episode demonstrates that the president has no qualms about using false claims about voting to cause confusion and sow doubt in the electoral process.

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Nearly 6,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan so far this year

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From January to September, 5,939 civilians – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded – were casualties of the fighting, the UN says.

Nearly 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year as heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters rages on despite efforts to find peace, the United Nations has said.

From January to September, there were 5,939 civilian casualties in the fighting – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a quarterly report on Tuesday.

“High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian,” the report said.

Civilian casualties were 30 percent lower than in the same period last year but UNAMA said violence has failed to slow since the beginning of talks between government negotiators and the Taliban that began in Qatar’s capital, Doha, last month.

An injured girl receives treatment at a hospital after an attack in Khost province [Anwarullah/Reuters]

The Taliban was responsible for 45 percent of civilian casualties while government troops caused 23 percent, it said. United States-led international forces were responsible for two percent.

Most of the remainder occurred in crossfire, or were caused by ISIL (ISIS) or “undetermined” anti-government or pro-government elements, according to the report.

Ground fighting caused the most casualties followed by suicide and roadside bomb attacks, targeted killings by the Taliban and air raids by Afghan troops, the UN mission said.

Fighting has sharply increased in several parts of the country in recent weeks as government negotiators and the Taliban have failed to make progress in the peace talks.

At least 24 people , mostly teens, were killed in a suicide bomb attack at an education centre in Kabul [Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]

The Taliban has been fighting the Afghan government since it was toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.

Washington blamed the then-Taliban rulers for harbouring al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda was accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.

Calls for urgent reduction of violence

Meanwhile, the US envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Tuesday that the level of violence in the country was still too high and the Kabul government and Taliban fighters must work harder towards forging a ceasefire at the Doha talks.

Khalilzad made the comments before heading to the Qatari capital to hold meetings with the two sides.

“I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever,” he said in a tweet.

There needs to be “an agreement on a reduction of violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”, added Khalilzad.

A deal in February between the US and the Taliban paved the way for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which agreed to sit with the Afghan government to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula.

But progress at the intra-Afghan talks has been slow since their start in mid-September and diplomats and officials have warned that rising violence back home is sapping trust.

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