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NYT/Siena: Trump 47, Biden 43

Possibly the last poll of interest for the cycle.

President Trump maintains a narrow lead in Texas, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll on Monday, as he faces a rebellion in the state’s once overwhelmingly Republican suburbs but survives with support from an unlikely ally, Hispanic voters.

Over all, Mr. Trump leads Joe Biden, 47 percent to 43 percent, among likely voters. The majority of interviews were conducted before the final presidential debate on Thursday. In the Senate race, the Republican incumbent, John Cornyn, holds a larger lead, 48-38, over the Democrat, M.J. Hegar.

[…]

The findings suggest that Republicans face catastrophic risks down-ballot, even if Mr. Trump wins. Mr. Biden leads him by five percentage points, 48 percent to 43 percent, across the 12 predominantly suburban congressional districts that the Cook Political Report has rated as competitive. These districts voted for the president by eight points in 2016.

In these districts, Republicans face a combination of rapid demographic change and previously unthinkable Democratic gains among white college-educated voters. Mr. Trump leads Mr. Biden by just two points among white college graduates in these districts, even though they say they backed Mr. Trump by 24 points over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Even those who have long embraced the Democratic dream of a “blue Texas,” powered by mobilizing the state’s growing Latino population, probably never imagined such staggering Democratic gains in once-solidly Republican areas. Yet the poll suggests that Hispanic voters might just be the group that keeps the state red a while longer.

Mr. Biden has a lead of only 57 percent to 34 percent among that group, somewhat beneath most estimates of Mrs. Clinton’s support among Hispanic voters four years ago. The finding broadly tracks with national surveys, which have shown Mr. Trump improving among Hispanic voters compared with his 2016 standing. Similarly, Hispanic voters in the Times/Siena poll say they backed Mrs. Clinton by a margin of 60 percent to 29 percent.

Hispanic voters are difficult to measure in any state, and Texas is no exception. In 2018, Times/Siena surveys generally underestimated turnout by Hispanics and their support for Democrats in Texas. So far this cycle, polls have varied widely on Mr. Trump’s standing among the group in Texas, with a recent Quinnipiac survey showing Mr. Biden ahead by just eight points, 51-43, while a Dallas Morning News/UT Tyler Texas survey showed him ahead by a far wider margin, 67-20.

Up to this point, the Biden campaign’s limited ad spending has been concentrated in the El Paso and San Antonio media markets, where Hispanic voters represent a particularly large share of the electorate. It may suggest that the Biden campaign sees Hispanic voters as one of its best and most cost-efficient opportunities to improve its standing in the state.

Mr. Trump also shows modest but meaningful strength among Black voters, who back Mr. Biden by a margin of 78 percent to 12 percent. Black respondents in the survey said they voted for Mrs. Clinton over Mr. Trump by a somewhat larger margin, 82-8, in 2016.

This poll now joins that UH Hobby School poll to snap the streak of positive results for Biden. The UH poll was weird in a couple of ways, this one is closer to the norm of other polls we have seen. On the matter of Hispanic voting, let me refer you to this tweet:

I’ve covered this before, and it’s my pet obsession with this election. The NYT/Siena result is kind of right in the middle of the pack (unlike that UH poll), which in itself makes it a bit of an aberration – the standard deviation here is big. The level of support for Trump among Black voters in this sample is on the high end, but not an outlier; at least two other polls had higher numbers for him. I thought those were outliers, and one was the September Qunnipiac poll that came back to earth in October. I haven’t studied this subgroup as closely, but I’d take the under if anyone asked.

As for the Hispanic number in the Siena poll, they have an interesting explanation.

With still a week of early voting and Election Day to go, more than seven million voters have already cast ballots in the state, representing more than 80 percent of the total turnout from four years ago. The state has not been vigorously contested at the presidential level in decades, leaving analysts with even more uncertainty about the eventual electorate than elsewhere

No pollster and analyst can be reasonably confident about what the final Texas electorate will look like, given that a significant departure from prior turnout patterns is all but an inevitability. Nonetheless, the Times/Siena poll offers one possible picture: a turnout approaching 12 million, with neither Mr. Biden nor Mr. Trump claiming a clear advantage because of the higher turnout, but still with a lower turnout among Hispanic than non-Hispanic voters.

The poll finds that Mr. Biden holds a seven-point lead among the half of the likely electorate who had already voted as of Friday, according to state records compiled by L2, a nonpartisan data vendor. These voters are older and whiter than the electorate as a whole, and more have participated in a recent Republican primary than a Democratic one. But, like early voters elsewhere in the country, they appear more favorable to Mr. Biden than their demographic characteristics would suggest.

The president counters with a 17-point lead among the voters who had not turned out by Friday, including an even wider 29-point advantage among those who say they are almost certain to vote.

Mr. Biden fails to keep pace on Election Day, the poll finds, in part because the survey sees relatively little evidence that the turnout surge will extend to Latino voters, and that even if it did, such a surge would do less to benefit Mr. Biden than one might expect.

Over all, 66 percent of Hispanic registered voters say they’ve already voted or are almost certain to do so, compared with 83 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 77 percent of non-Hispanic Blacks.

Perhaps surprisingly, the Hispanic voters likeliest to stay home are the Hispanic voters likeliest to support Mr. Trump. Or, if you prefer: Mr. Biden fares better among the Latino voters who say they will vote. Mr. Biden leads, 61-30, among Hispanic voters who say they’ve already voted or are “almost certain” to do so, while Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden are effectively tied among those who are less likely. Mr. Biden has an even wider lead of 73-20 among Hispanic voters who say they have already voted. As a result, higher Latino turnout does little to bolster Mr. Biden, even though this low-turnout group of voters identified as Democratic over Republican by a 16-point margin.

Low-turnout Hispanic voters in Texas are some of the toughest voters to reach in the country for pollsters. It is even harder to ensure a representative sample of the group in a state like Texas where voters don’t register with a party; party registration can be used to ensure the right number of Democrats and Republicans. We can’t rule out the possibility that the poll failed to reach the most Democratic-leaning of these voters.

Mr. Biden may also succeed in mobilizing the Democratic-leaning elements of this group, as already seems to be happening in early voting. He can also hope that undecided, low-turnout Latino voters will break toward Democrats over the final stretch, as they seemed to do two years ago.

The heavy early vote is a factor in how to model turnout for polls, obviously. All the indications we have are that the early vote has been very Democratic, but we don’t know where it’s going from here. The finding that lower-propensity Hispanic voters are more pro-Trump is not something I would have predicted. Indeed, there has been research in the past showing that lower-propensity Hispanic voters tend to be more Democratic than the cohort as a whole. The GOP strategy in CD23 was based on filling the district with non-voting Hispanic voters, to satisfy the Voting Rights Act requirement for it to be a Hispanic opportunity district while still keeping it competitive for them. I just don’t know what to make of this.

You can find the crosstabs here. It turns out that this sample has Trump leading 41-40 among independents, which as we know would make it only the second poll in at least a month to have him with a lead with this group, albeit a small one. Their level of support for Trump is in line with the other polls, it’s the support for Biden that’s a bit abnormal.

As it happens, there is another poll out there, from Data for Progress. I’ll blog about it tomorrow. Maybe that will be the last poll of the cycle. Maybe not.

SCOTX upholds Abbott’s limit on mail ballot dropoff locations

I’m shocked, I tell you, shocked.

In what’s expected to be the final ruling on the matter, the Texas Supreme Court has upheld Gov. Greg Abbott’s order limiting Texas counties to only one drop-off location for voters to hand deliver their absentee ballots during the pandemic.

The ruling, issued Tuesday by the all-Republican court, is the final outcome in one of a handful of lawsuits in state and federal courts that challenged Abbott’s order from early this month. A federal appeals court also sided with the Republican governor in an earlier ruling, overturning a lower court’s decision.

The state lawsuit argued that the governor doesn’t have authority under state law to limit absentee ballot hand-delivery locations, and that his order violates voters’ equal protection rights under the state constitution. The suit was filed in Travis County by a Texas-based Anti-Defamation League, a voting rights advocacy group and a voter.

In their opinion, the justices wrote that Abbott’s order “provides Texas voters more ways to vote in the November 3 election than does the Election Code. It does not disenfranchise anyone.”

See here for the previous update. In a narrow and technical sense, the Supreme Court is correct. Abbott did in fact expand voting options with his original order, which not only added that extra week to early voting but also allowed for mail ballots to be dropped off during the early voting period. State law only allows for that on Election Day, one of many problems that will need a legislative fix in the near future. But we all know that the purpose of his amended order, more than two months after Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins had announced his plan to have dropoff locations at all 12 County Clerk offices, and several days after people began using those locations, was to issue a rebuke to Hollins for having the nerve to innovate like that, and to throw a bone to the howling nihilists in his own party that were attacking him for taking any step to make voting easier. The limit served no legitimate purpose, and was done in haste and with politics in mind. It is what it is at this point, and as with every other ad hoc obstacle thrown in our path, the voters have adjusted. We’ll be coming for you soon, Greg. The Chron has more.

Bloomberg drops some money in the RRC race

I have four things to say about this.

Chrysta Castañeda

Billionaire Michael Bloomberg has made a late donation of $2.6 million to the Democratic nominee for railroad commissioner, Chrysta Castañeda, providing a massive fundraising boost in a race for the oil and gas regulatory board that usually does not see such big money — or attract much political interest outside Texas.

Bloomberg’s contribution helped Castañeda raise $3.5 million on her latest campaign finance report, according to her campaign. The filing covers Sept. 25 through Oct. 26 and is due to the Texas Ethics Commission by the end of the day Monday.

“Chrysta Castañeda will be a champion for Texans — her commitment to improving people’s lives is clear,” Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for president this year, said in a statement. “I’m glad to support Chrysta in her campaign to be the next Railroad Commissioner, because she has the vision and experience needed to build a safer, healthier, and more environmentally prosperous future for the state of Texas.”

Bloomberg gave $2.625 million total to Castañeda, $2.5 million in direct money and the rest in in-kind contributions, according to her campaign. It said her report will also show she received $500,000 from environmentalist philanthropists Richard and Dee Lawrence, and that the Sierra Club donated $90,000 and has pledged another $125,000.

[…]

In a statement, Castañeda said the seven-figure support “has allowed us to place television ads in every major Texas market,” educating voters about the little-known commission, which regulates the state’s oil and gas industry. Her commercials have also taken aim at [Republican opponent Jim] Wright, pointing out, among other things, that the commission fined a business he once owned in 2017 for environmental violations.

On the previous round of campaign finance reports, covering early July through Sept. 24, Castañeda was competitive with Wright on donations, taking in $230,000 to his $244,000. She also had $81,000 in in-kind contributions. But he outspent her nearly 3 to 1 and ended the period with more cash on hand, $170,000 to her $104,000.

1. Hooray! We’ve been waiting for this. Castañeda has raised a few bucks and gotten some commercials on the air as noted, but not nearly enough to make much of an impression. This kind of money is enough to run ads statewide for two weeks, and that will mean something.

2. Which leads to the obvious: Sure would have been nice to have had this in place sooner. I need to look at the 8 day report to see exactly when Bloomberg cut the check, but Castañeda started having ads on the air a month ago, so it’s not quite as late in the cycle as I first thought when I read the headline of the story. At least she seems to have gotten the money before people started voting, which was my main concern.

3. It is very much the case that the outcome of this race will be closely correlated with the Presidential race. There’s only so much Castañeda can do to move the needle (more on that in a minute), but if Biden wins Texas or comes close enough, she can put herself in a position to win. It should be noted that downballot statewide Dems have generally lagged the top of the ticket by a few points, and that was the case in 2016 and 2018. There is some variation from race to race – generally speaking, in lower-profile races, having a Latino surname is a benefit. Note that the top downballot votegetters in 2016 were Eva Guzman (top overall in her case) and Dori Garza, both Supreme Court candidates. Castañeda has that going for her, which is likely to be worth a point or so in the final tally. If there’s one downballot Dem that I think could out-perform Biden, at least on a percentage basis, it’s Chrysta Castañeda.

4. The presence of third party candidates means that one does not need fifty percent of the vote to win. That, and who third party candidates tend to draw some votes from, was the basis for all that litigation that ultimately did not result in any candidates being thrown off the ballot. The RRC races, which are pretty obscure for most voters and which have featured some, um, less than optimal candidates in recent years, is a prime example of this. Here are the combined third-party vote percentages from the past three Presidential elections:

2016 – 8.56%
2012 – 4.23%
2008 – 3.52%

There were Libertarian and Green candidates in 2016 and 2012, and just a Libertarian in 2008. The 2016 race had two of the worst candidates ever for this office, bad enough that the Libertarian got several major newspaper endorsements. The point here is that it is likely 48% of the vote will be enough to win; 49% for sure will win. And while RRC is very close to the top of the ballot – fourth in line, after the three federal races – it’s likely more people will skip it than perhaps the Supreme Court races because they have no idea what the RRC does. That means fewer votes are needed as well. Anything Castañeda can do to minimize undervoting by Dems and to tempt soft Rs and indies to cross over will help. That’s what this money can do. The Chron has more.

No school on Election Day

For HISD, anyway.

Houston ISD will not hold virtual or in-person classes on Election Day, district officials said late Tuesday, a reversal of earlier plans to provide online-only instruction because more than 100 schools will be used as polling places.

District officials said staff members are expected to participate in virtual professional development on Nov. 3, though some may take a comp day if approved by a manager.

[…]

The Texas Education Agency confirmed last week that virtually all public school districts holding online-only classes on Election Day will not receive credit toward their legally-required minimum of 75,600 minutes of instruction they must provide. Districts that fall short of the 75,600-minute requirement would risk losing a fraction of their funding, TEA officials said.

In a statement Wednesday morning, HISD administrators said the district’s calendar “allows for an excess of minutes beyond the 75,600-minute requirement from the state to allow for inclement weather or emergency closure days.” District officials did not respond to questions about how many minutes are built into their calendar.

See here for the background. Election Day should of course be a national holiday – though at the rate we’re going now, there won’t be that many people left to vote on Election Day this year – but that is not something HISD can control. Taking the day off is the next best thing. As for the minutes of instruction, I’m going to assume they have that covered. In the meantime, go vote.

UH-Hobby: Trump 50, Biden 45

Here’s a poll result that stands in contrast to the others we have seen lately.

President Donald Trump is leading Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden by more than five points among likely voters in Texas, according to a poll released Monday by the Hobby School for Public Affairs at the University of Houston.

The poll, conducted between Oct. 13 and Oct. 20, found 50% of voters said they already had or will vote for Trump, while 44.7% said they had or will vote for Biden.

Trump and running mate Mike Pence carried Texas by nine points in 2016.

The Republican edge held for statewide contests down the ballot, including for U.S. Senate, Texas Railroad Commission and three statewide judicial races covered by the poll.

“Record turnout in early voting clearly shows the state’s Democrats are energized, but at least at the top of the ticket, that enthusiasm appears unlikely to overcome the Republican advantage among men, Anglos and older voters,” said Renée Cross, senior director of the Hobby School. “In fact, we found the Republican candidate leading by wider margins in statewide races farther down the ballot.”

Among the findings:

  • More than 40% had already voted at the time of the poll. Biden held a substantial edge among those voters, leading Trump 59% to 39%. Almost two-thirds of those who plan to vote on Election Day said they will vote for Trump.
  • Incumbent U.S. Sen. John Cornyn leads Democratic challenger MJ Hegar 48.9% to 41.6%.
  • Republican Jim Wright is leading in the race for an open seat on the Texas Railroad Commission, with 46.8% of the vote; Democrat Chrysta Castañeda has 38.4%.
  • Biden holds a slight edge among women, 49.5% to 46%. Trump is preferred among men by a notably larger margin, 54.3% to 39.5%.
  • While 63% of Anglos support Trump, and 87% of African-American voters back Biden, the gap is narrower among Latino voters: 56% support Biden, and 38% back Trump.
  • Republican Nathan Hecht leads Democrat Amy Clark Meachum 47.5% to 40% for Texas Supreme Court chief justice. For Supreme Court Justice Place 6, Republican Jane Bland leads Democrat Kathy Cheng 49.2% to 40.1%.
  • Republican Bert Richardson leads Democrat Elizabeth Davis Frizell 48.2% to 38.3% for Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Place 3.

The full report is available on the Hobby School website.

The Hobby School did a primary poll in February and one Trump-Clinton poll around this time in 2016; they also did a couple of polls of Harris County in 2016. As noted in their introduction, this was a YouGov poll, so similar in nature to the UT/Texas Tribune polls. As I alluded to in the headline, this is the first poll we’ve had in awhile that was this positive for Trump, and it especially stands in contrast with that UT-Tyler poll that came out over the weekend. What does one make of this?

You can peruse the poll data as you wish. I’m going to note one thing that really stood out to me. The following is a list of how Independent voters went in each of the last nine polls over the past month for which that data was available (in other words, skipping the Morning Consult polls). See if you can see what I saw:


Poll      Biden   Trump
=======================
UH-Hobby     34      51
UTT/DMN      51      29
Q'piac Oct   50      39
DFP          40      36
PPP          60      35
UT-Trib      45      37
UML          43      39
NYT/Siena    41      37
Q'piac Sep   51      43

Yeah, that’s a very different result for independent voters than for basically every other poll we’ve seen. Note that the UT-Trib poll had Trump up by five, as did the Quinnipiac poll from September (both were 50-45 for Trump, in fact), and that UMass-Lowell poll had Trump up 49-46. As the song goes, one of these things is not like the others.

There are other things that can be said about this poll – I appreciate the “who has voted” versus “who has yet to vote” distinction, and I appreciate the inclusion of downballot races though I tend to discount those results because of the increase in “don’t know” responses – but this is the main thing I wanted to cover.

Links to the cited polls, and their data or crosstabs page where the numbers I included can be found:

UT-Tyler/DMNdata
Quinnipiacdata
Data for Progressdata
PPPdata
UT-Trib (data about indies in quoted excerpt)
UMass-Lowelldata
NYT/Sienadata
Quinnipiacdata

I will also note that Jim Henson and Joshua Blank have observed a shift in independents’ preferences in Texas towards indies this cycle. And now I will stop beating this horse.

Try not to get sick before Election Day

If you suffer a late illness that prevents you from getting to a polling place, you will need a doctor’s note to get an absentee ballot.

Texas voters who get sick shortly before Election Day and can’t go to the polls will still need a doctor’s note before they can get an emergency absentee ballot, a state appeals court ruled Friday.

Voting rights group MOVE Texas will not appeal the temporary ruling further. Instead, as a fallback, the group has established a free telehealth service with volunteer physicians to provide the necessary documentation for sick voters seeking absentee ballots starting Saturday, the executive director said.

The Texas 3rd Court of Appeals’ ruling, overriding a state district court order, said implementing the lower court’s ruling “would change the longstanding requirements governing late mail-in ballots and risk voter confusion.” The case will still be reviewed further after the election.

MOVE Texas first challenged existing election law in a Travis County court after reports this summer detailed voters who tested positive for the coronavirus in the days before the primary runoff election struggling to cast ballots.

Unlike applications for absentee ballots received before the general deadline, which was Friday, Texas law dictates that voters submitting applications for emergency absentee ballots must provide certification from a doctor that the voter has developed an illness that would keep them from being able to vote in person.

In the July primary runoffs, two Austin voters tested positive for the new coronavirus and were put under self-quarantine orders shortly after the cutoff date for mail-in ballot applications. They asked a Travis County district judge to waive the requirement for a doctor’s note but lost their case.

On Oct. 2, MOVE Texas filed a challenge in court, arguing that the state’s criteria for applying for emergency absentee ballots is unconstitutional and imposes an undue burden on the right to vote. Travis County District Judge Tim Sulak agreed, ruling against the requirement for a doctor’s note last week.

[…]

Preparing for the loss in the 3rd Court of Appeals, Galloway said the group designed a fallback program to connect sick voters to volunteer physicians who will meet via videoconference.

“It’s completely up to the physician if they want to issue the waiver or not,” Galloway said. “If so, they can do it digitally. That voter is then set and it’s at no cost to them to be able to complete the application and turn it into the elections department.”

Probably for the best at this point. I remember the earlier story, but if I blogged about it at the time, I can’t find the post.

Let’s be clear about three things. One, this is likely to affect a tiny, tiny number of people. The set of circumstances under which someone would be affected by this are super specific. It’s always worth worrying about anyone who faces obstacles to voting, but you can probably count the number of these people on your fingers. That said, if you haven’t voted yet, you could be a person affected by this.

Two, the main reason for all of this is our state’s restrictive laws for voting by mail. In a world where getting a mail ballot is easy – or even the default – problems like this go away. This specific situation could have been addressed by the court, but the big picture needs to be handled by the Legislature.

Finally, this is the argument for voting at your first opportunity. Life is uncertain. I get wanting to vote on Election Day, out of a sense of tradition or because you want to make sure that nothing comes up that might change your mind in a given race, or because a voting location that has meaning for you is only available on Election Day. The risk you take is that the longer you take, the greater the chances that something could come up that will complicate your ability to vote. I’m a committed early voter, and have been for years. Your mileage may vary. Just be aware of the tradeoffs.

TMF files for Speaker

Now it’s a race.

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer announced Monday that he is running for Texas House speaker, becoming the second Democrat in the lower chamber to launch a bid for the gavel.

Martinez Fischer, from San Antonio, joins state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, the longest-serving woman and Black person in the history of the Texas Legislature, in the race. Both filings come ahead of a November election in which Democrats are within striking distance of winning control of the Republican-held House for the first time in nearly two decades.

Martinez Fischer would be the first Latino to hold the position, if elected. Thompson would be the first woman and Black person to serve as speaker.

No Republicans have filed paperwork yet with the Texas Ethics Commission to run for the job, which Republican House Speaker Dennis Bonnen will vacate at the end of his term when he retires from office. More members from both parties are expected to enter the race in the coming days.

[…]

Martinez Fischer nodded to the upcoming legislative challenges in a statement announcing his speaker bid, saying he is running “because I believe that I am best prepared to deliver the solutions Texans expect, navigate the redistricting process, and protect the House as we chart our path forward as Texans.” Martinez Fischer also said as speaker his goal would be to “make historic changes” to the makeup of House committees in an attempt to address “the disparities in the lack of women and people of color in our leadership ranks.

“The Texas House operates on trust,” he said in his statement. “For the last twenty years, Members know that even when we may disagree, I have never been shy about saying where I stand. As Speaker, I will always deal straight.”

See here for the background. I had said that it was my belief that if Rep. Thompson wanted this, she’d have a clear path. That’s not the case, but it is early days. There were multiple people floated as possible challengers to Tom Craddick before a majority coalesced around Joe Straus, and when Dennis Bonnen succeeded Straus, it was after several other Republicans (and one Democrat) had made their intentions known. In each situation, the others simply backed down and got on board with the winner. If Dems have a clear majority in the House, I would expect there to be only one Dem in the running for Speaker at the end.

Does it mean anything that TMF filed so quickly after Thompson did? Probably not – his ambition is as good as anyone’s, he’s likely been talking about it for some time, and there are many ways to be a Speaker if one gets elected to that spot. Most of what will happen between now and when the members take a vote will not be visible to us. That said, if this ever does get ugly, we will surely hear about it. I’m sure a Republican will file at some point, but I figure there’s still some factional healing that needs to happen post-Bonnen, and no one may be ready to go public yet. This is the Lege nerds’ equivalent of fantasy football – it’s of extreme interest to a few, and means nothing to normal people. Enjoy the ride, or feel free to tune out until something interesting happens, it’s your call.

Here comes Kamala

Just a little fuel to the “Texas is in play” fire.

Kamala Harris, Joe Biden’s running mate and the California U.S. senator, will be visiting Texas on Friday, according to an email Biden’s campaign sent to Democratic lawmakers in Texas on Sunday.

Harris will be the highest-profile representative of the Biden campaign to visit Texas in person during the general election, though his campaign was already set to spend millions of dollars on TV ads in Texas.

“Allow me to provide as a courtesy, the below in person travel notification for Sen. Kamala Harris which will be publicly released momentarily,” the email reads. “Sen. Kamala Harris will be personally traveling to Texas on Friday – October 30. 2020.”

Her visit comes as polls project a tight presidential race in Texas. According to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll, Trump leads Biden in the state by 5 percentage points. Trump won Texas by 9 points in 2016.

I have to admire the Trib’s branding department for only mentioning their poll from a couple of weeks ago, which was one of the best results for Trump this cycle, and not any of the five more recent polls that show a tie or a Biden lead. That UT/Trib poll would be Exhibit A for why Team Biden shouldn’t be paying any attention to Texas. I love the Trib, but they really needed to read the room here.

Here’s the Chron story.

Vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris is set to campaign in Texas this week, with Democratic sources saying Houston will be one of her stops.

Harris, a U.S. Senator from California, is set to be in Texas on Friday in a push to get more voters to the polls on the final day of early voting. The exact location and times have not been released publicly.

Her trip marks the first time in over 30 years that a Democratic vice presidential nominee has been sent to campaign in the Lone Star State this close to election day.

It is yet another sign that the Donald Trump campaign and the Joe Biden campaign have vastly different views of political conditions in Texas.

“The president is going to win Texas,” Tim Murtaugh, the communications director for Trump’s reelection campaign, said on Sunday. “And the president will be focusing his time and travel and energy on the states that will decide the election.”

But public polls over the last week have shown Trump and Biden locked in a dead heat. A Dallas Morning-News and University of Texas at Tyler poll released Sunday showed Biden leading Trump 48 percent to 45 percent.

The Biden campaign is convinced early voter data shows Democrats have a legitimate shot of delivering Texas for a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time since 1976.

See, that wasn’t so hard. At this point in the voting cycle, the key task is to push lower-propensity voters to the polls. The hardcore folks have mostly voted, or will be voting soon. This will excite them most of all, which may spur them to volunteer to help push those less-frequent voters out. After two weeks of voting, and what feels like thirty years of anticipation, keeping everyone’s energy up is important. I can’t think of a better way to do that.

November 2020 Early Voting Day Fourteen: Where will we end up?

Because we like starting with tweets:

That was from Sunday, after the UT-Tyler poll was factored in. As you may know, there have been two polls released since then, both favorable to Trump, so the above may be a fleeting snapshot in time. Enjoy it anyway.

The two polls I mentioned have their issues, and I will be covering them both, one today and one tomorrow. There have been a lot of polls of Texas, some better than others and some more publicized than others. It’s hard to keep up with them.

President Donald Trump frequently derides “phony polls” after he proved them wrong by defeating Hillary Clinton in 2016. But in Texas, some public polls had the opposite problem: They overestimated Trump’s margin of victory by 3 percentage points.

Two years later, polls in Texas yet again underestimated Democrats, including Beto O’Rourke, who came within 3 percentage points of unseating U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz after public polling showed him down by as many as 9 percentage points that October.

As Texas appears to be acting more like a swing state than it has in decades, O’Rourke and other Democrats have turned the idea that polling underestimates them into a sort of rallying cry as they seek to convince voters that Texas is actually in play for former Vice President Joe Biden, or that former Air Force pilot MJ Hegar could unseat longtime Republican Sen. John Cornyn.

“Pollsters have a very hard time locating, tracking and counting the votes of likely Democratic voters,” O’Rourke said recently. “Even with the polling this tight, I think actually the advantage is to Biden.”

I’ll leave it to you to read the rest. I don’t know that the polls will necessarily underestimate Biden, as they did underestimate Beto – the final polling averages in 2016 were fairly accurate, as I have noted before. There is a lot of uncertainty this year – big turnout, super big early turnout, many newly registered voters – and the polls have varied wildly in things like Latino support for Trump, which has led to some big differences in overall numbers. Early turnout is very heavily female, and women poll much more strongly for Biden. Models factor a lot of stuff in, but they all have to make some assumptions.

The Day Fourteen daily EV totals are here. You can find the daily totals for 2008 and 2012 (and 2016 as well, but I’ve got a separate link for it) here, for 2016 here, and for 2018 here. I’m just going to keep on keeping on with the pretense that early voting actually began last Monday, except with 628K votes already in the bank. The first table is totals for the “normal” early voting time period for each year.


Election     Mail      Early      Total
=======================================
2008       46,085    376,761    422,846
2012       57,031    429,186    486,217
2016       85,120    555,383    640,503
2018       78,190    494,712    572,902
2020      156,157    439,488    595,645

One way you can see the shift to earlier voting for people is to compare Week One and Week Two for each of these pre-2020 years. In 2008 and 2012, Week Two early voting was generally higher each day than in Week One. That was not true in 2016 and 2018, where the daily levels were for the most part about the same or maybe a bit less in the second week. In those years, Week One had started at a higher level, so there was less room to grow, and in the end a lot more people wound up voting in the EV period. We saw crazy high daily totals in Week One this year, lower but still pretty good Week Two levels, and now we’re in the uncharted waters of Week Three. The only thing I expect to be the same is for the final day to be the busiest.

Day One of Week Three was slower than any of the five weekdays from Week Two, though the in person total was close to last Thursday’s. It was above the mark for Saturday and Sunday, and has us back ahead of the pace to equal or bypass 2016 total turnout during the EV period.


Vote type       Mon     Tue     Wed     Thu     Fri     Week
============================================================
Mail          6,407                                    6,407
Drive-thru    5,448                                    5,448
In person    46,747                                   46,747
Total        58,602                                   58,602

Vote type     Week 1    Week 2    Week 3      Total
===================================================
Mail          75,504    74,246     6,407    156,157
Drive-thru    54,105    39,264     5,448     98,817
In person    499,099   348,227    46,747    894,073
Total        628,708   461,737    58,602  1,149,047

For the next three days, there will be extended early voting hours, to 10 PM each day. I’m not going to be awake when the County Clerk sends out the daily totals, so for the rest of the week expect the updated figures to lag by a day. I’m very interested to see what effect the extended hours have – do the daily totals tick up in proportion to the extra three hours, or does the load just get spread out a bit more evenly? Same thing for the 24-hour voting, which will be happening at eight locations. How many people wander into an EV location at 2 AM? I can’t wait to find out. Note that even if the overnight tallies are low, they’re still worth doing, as this is about making it easier and more convenient to vote. One of those 24-hour EV locations is in the Medical Center, and you know there are plenty of people milling about there at all hours. I look forward to seeing this become the standard for future elections.

We are now about 40K away from surpassing 2008 total turnout, 55K from 2012 total turnout, and 70K from 2018. With a day like Monday, the first two are in range today. We need to average 47,463 over the next four days to surpass 2016. My next update will be tomorrow. Have you voted yet?

UT-Tyler/DMN: Biden 48, Trump 45

The late run of good polls in Texas for Joe Biden continues.

Former Vice President Joe Biden has regained a narrow lead over President Donald Trump in Texas, after wooing more independents and Hispanics, according to a poll released Sunday by The Dallas Morning News and University of Texas at Tyler.

Biden’s lead among likely voters is 48%-45%, within the poll’s margin of error.

In the Texas race for U.S. Senate, Republican incumbent John Cornyn lost a bit more ground against Democrat MJ Hegar. Cornyn’s lead now stands at 8 points, down from 11 in September.

Also, in a sign of potential trouble for Texas as it grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, fewer than half of Texas registered voters say they’re likely to take a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available. That’s a slide from last spring, when about three-quarters were willing.

“Texas remains a tossup because of the public’s attitudes toward President Trump,” said political scientist Mark Owens, who directed the poll.

In September, 32% of Texans said they had no confidence in Trump’s ability to keep communities safe from the coronavirus pandemic, Owens noted. Today, 44% voice that sentiment. Trump, though, still has the advantage as the candidate Texans believe would handle the economy best.

Biden, who was 2 points behind Trump among likely voters in The News and UT-Tyler’s September survey, edged slightly ahead of the president this month by expanding his support among independents and grabbing a better than 3-to-1 advantage among Hispanics.

The former vice president’s rebound from last month, when Trump led among likely Texas voters, 48-46, is sure to boost the already high spirits of state Democrats.

[…]

The poll, conducted Oct. 13-20, surveyed 1,012 registered voters. Of those, 925 are likely voters, 408 of whom had already voted and just 120 of whom said they plan to vote in person on Nov. 3. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.08 percentage points for the bigger group, and 3.22 points for the subset of likely voters.

The party split of poll respondents — 40% Republicans, 33% Democrats — “is in line with what we expect to see across the state,” Owens said

While Trump’s hospitalization with COVID-19 dominated headlines as the poll was being taken, 63% of Texans said the president’s illness neither heightened nor reduced their concern about the virus. The survey found 25% more concerned and 12% less.

In some ways, the pandemic and its economic fallout push the presidential race in opposite directions, Owens said.

As COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations have begun to rise again in Texas, especially toward the end of the survey period, Texans’ trust in Trump and Gov. Greg Abbott to protect them and their communities has ebbed, the poll found.

Trump’s job approval, at 47-46, is largely unchanged from a divided verdict in September (40-38). Similarly, the more popular Abbott’s job rating didn’t move, remaining at 54% approve, 34% disapprove.

But asked if they trust the leaders to keep their communities healthy and safe during the public health crisis, Texans gave Trump a thumbs-down, with 44% saying they trust him and 54% saying they don’t.

Abbott remains above water on that question, with 52% trusting and 45% not trusting him. In September, the same percentage trusted the governor but just 39% did not.

The UT-Tyler Political Science homepage is here, and you can see links to their past polls, which I’ll get to in a minute. They have two separate data sets for this one, one for registered voters and one for likely voters. It’s the LV sample that has Biden up 48-45; he’s leading 46-44 in the RV sample. I’m going to limit my discussion to the likely voter result, since that’s the more relevant at this point. I should note that their result in the Cornyn-Hegar race is 42-34 for Cornyn; more on that later as well.

This is the fourth UT/Tyler poll result we’ve had since Biden became the Dem nominee; they had a February pre-primary poll and three polls from 2019, but I’m less interested in those. Here’s what this pollster has said since the matchup officially became Biden versus Trump:

April 18-27: Trump 43, Biden 43
June 29-July 7: Biden 48, Trump 43 (LV)
Aug 28-Sep 2: Trump 48, Biden 46 (LV)

That second poll was the single best result Biden has gotten, and it came in the middle of that great run of polls for Biden. The third poll came in that run of good September results for Trump. This poll is the fifth one we’ve had in October that have shown either a tie or a small Biden lead, and it is again the best result for Biden.

Here’s a comparison of various subgroups from that September poll that had Trump up two, and this poll with Biden up three:


             September      October
Subgroup     Trump  Biden   Trump  Biden
========================================
Dems             4     93       1     97
Indies          37     46      29     51
GOP             92      5      92      6

White           60     35      63     32
Hispanic        28     58      21     69
Black            9     87       5     89

18-24           22     75      15     78
25-34           30     58      30     59
35-44           47     47      43     47
45-65           54     40      51     42
65+             56     40      56     40

It’s always a dicey proposition making definitive statements about movement within subgroups, since the margins of error are greater, but you can see why one sample is more favorable to Biden than the other.

As for the Senate race, it’s the same story as it has ever been, in that the “Don’t know” number is much higher – 18% overall, and in the 20s among Dems (21%) and indies (where Hegar leads 40-32), and people of color. The two third-party candidates combine for five percent of the vote, just a bit more than the three percent they get in the Presidential race. I believe this race is closer than the topline number indicates, but it is consistent with Cornyn slightly outperforming Trump. I believe that if Biden does win by three, Hegar is likely to win as well. Beyond that, we’ll see.

This poll did ask if people had voted, and what method they used to vote if they had voted. There weren’t any significant differences in the use of mail voting among the various subgroups. I wish they had asked for whom these people had voted, but they did not.

There’s still a NYT/Siena poll in the field for Texas, and if past elections are an indicator there may be a YouGov poll happening as well. We’ll see if anything contradicts this current run of success Biden has been on.

Not everyone will be sending in their mail ballot

I get this.

Samina Mirza had read enough in the news about U.S. Postal Service delays that she decided there was no way she’d trust the mail to deliver her ballot to Harris County election officials on time.

The 70-year-old retired nonprofit staffer had originally planned to drop off her ballot at a location near her home in Katy, until Gov. Greg Abbott issued a proclamation limiting counties to just one drop-off site.

“I wasn’t going to drive 25 miles to downtown Houston to use the dropbox because the nearest one was taken away, so I said ‘OK that’s fine, I’ll take a chance and just vote in person,’” said Mirza, who voted for Democrat Joe Biden for president.

Mirza is one of about 32,000 voters in Harris County and almost 9,600 in Bexar County who had received a mail-in ballot but chose to instead vote in person as of Wednesday — and there’s still a week and a half left of early voting to go. That’s about 13 percent and 9 percent of all voters who received mail ballots in each county, respectively.

About 759,000 Harris County residents had voted early in person by Wednesday and about 115,000 had done so by mail. In Bexar County, about 326,000 had voted in person and about 70,000 by mail.

“Since there are more people voting by mail in general, it does make sense that some people might change their mind for whatever reason and decide to vote in person,” said Roxanne Werner, Harris County spokeswoman. “Some people may have applied months ago, and with news about USPS and general situations changing, they may have decided to vote in person.”

[…]

Some who switched to in-person voting, like Mirza, cited concerns about the reliability of the mail. Others said they felt attached to their habit of in-person voting. Others still felt more reassured about the safety of the polling places with the longer early voting period, and after observing early voting procedures adapted for the pandemic.

The bottom line for all of the voters, though, was that in a high-stakes election that’s drawing record numbers of Texans to the polls, they didn’t want to take a chance that their vote would not count.

Still, it’s putting an extra burden on poll workers who are already stretched thin handling high turnout and trying to manage wait times that increase potential exposure to the virus.

Well, yes. That was one of the reasons why election administrators were encouraging people to vote by mail in the first place. Not that any of our fake fraud-obsessed Republican leaders cared. Had Harris and other counties been allowed to have more than one mail ballot dropoff location, that would have also worked. But as someone once said, it is what it is. At least these folks will still be voting – as we have observed, the harder the Republicans have made it to vote, the more determined everyone seems to be. Shouldn’t have to be this way, and someday we will make it better, but for now this is where we are.

If you received a mail ballot – not just an application, but an actual mail ballot – you must bring it with you and turn it in if you decide to vote in person. Your vote will be provisional otherwise. No big deal, people do this, just bring it with you. Or fill it out and mail it in (quickly!) or drop it off. Just make sure you vote.

Don’t park in a bike lane

It’s illegal now, and you will get a citation.

Houston city council on Wednesday made it illegal to park in or otherwise block the city’s expanding network of bike lanes, a long-sought change by cyclists fed up with dodging cars and other obstacles in their designated paths.

Council voted 15-2 to pass an ordinance to forbid people from blocking the dedicated lanes that are physically separated from roadways. The prohibition applies to 120 miles of bike lanes, and violations will be punishable by a $100 fine.

Councilmembers Mike Knox and Edward Pollard voted against the measure, but did not explain why. Council did not discuss the ordinance.

Previously, there was nothing in the city’s code that prohibited blocking the lanes. The city had to post “no parking” signs along the lanes in a sometimes futile effort to keep them clear.

Nick Hellyar, a board member for the nonprofit Bike Houston, hailed the ordinance as a pragmatic step toward safety.

“Bike Houston has been fighting for this for forever,” said Hellyar. “It’s just some of that common-sense government that sometimes we need to push a little harder for as advocacy groups.”

Warnings will be given for the first 90 days, and an amendment proposed by three Council members to offer a free bike class in lieu of the fine – sort of like defensive driving class for illegal parkers – was adopted. Motor vehicles of any kind are not allowed on the off-road bike trails, so in a sense all this does is standardize the bike trails around the city. I approve.

November 2020 Early Voting Day Thirteen: In the home stretch

Twitter time:

As a point of comparison, total turnout in 2008 was 8,077,795, and in 2012 it was 7,993,851. One reason for this is that there’s over three million more registered voters since then. Be that as it may, if we haven’t already, we will surpass those numbers today.

The Day Thirteen daily EV totals are here. You can find the daily totals for 2008 and 2012 (and 2016 as well, but I’ve got a separate link for it) here, for 2016 here, and for 2018 here. I’m just going to keep on keeping on with the pretense that early voting actually began this Monday, except with 628K votes already in the bank. The “original” Day Four numbers are here.


Election     Mail      Early      Total
=======================================
2008       45,361    314,252    359,613
2012       53,131    362,827    415,958
2016       80,681    486,060    566,741
2018       76,947    429,009    505,956
2020      149,750    387,293    537,043

Sundays are short days, only seven hours of voting. The votes per hour was a bit under 4K, which would have been a pace of about 45K total for a 12-hour day. Only 560 mail ballots processed – I have no idea what the rules are for Sundays, some previous years counted mail ballots on Sundays, others did not.


Vote type   Mon-Fri     Sat     Sun     Week      Total
=======================================================
Mail         69,673   4,013     560   74,246    149,750
Drive-thru   30,913   5,392   2,959   39,264     93,369
In person   291,591  33,337  23,299  348,227    847,326
Total       392,177  42,742  26,818  461,737  1,090,445

Vote type   Week One  Week Two      Total
=========================================
Mail          75,504    74,246    149,750
Drive-thru    54,105    39,264     93,369
In person    499,099   348,227    847,326
Total        628,708   461,737  1,090,445

Basically, we need about 50K voters per day to reach final 2016 levels. I expect things to tick up a bit this week, with the likely usual rush on Friday, but at this point I have on idea what that means in this context. I fully expect that when all is said and done, another 500K people or more will have voted, but maybe more of them will be next Tuesday than we think. We’ll see. Note that today and Friday are normal 7 to 7 days for voting, while Tuesday through Thursday are 7 AM to 10 PM, with several locations going 24-hour from Thursday to Friday. The EV locations map says there are seven 24-hour locations, but I only see five such designated on the map. I’m sure that will get cleared up before then. Have you voted yet?

UPDATE: My bad, I didn’t scroll all the way down the list of voting sites, so I missed seeing a couple of them. Also, as per this tweet, there are now eight 24-hour voting locations from Thursday through Friday – you can see them listed more clearly here.

Weekend link dump for October 25

“A Disturbing Twinkie That Has, So Far, Defied Science”.

I could not possibly care less about the future job prospects of current Trump staffers. Let them struggle to find honest work, maybe it will help them understand their prior decisions.

Scalzi on living in Trump Country, four years later.

RIP, Tab, diet soft drink of choice for many an 80s-era sorority sister.

“The concept of containing hot spots isn’t new, but it’s being tested under new pressures as authorities try to avoid a dreaded resurgence of illness and deaths, this time with economies weakened from earlier lockdowns, populations chafing at the idea of renewed restrictions and some communities complaining of unequal treatment.”

“A Long List of Shady Financial Mysteries Trump Still Refuses to Explain”.

“Senator David Perdue (R-GA) attacked Kamala Harris with a racist trope and then refused to apologize. Who is backing his campaign? A bunch of corporations that claim to be committed to fighting racism.”

“In 2017, President Donald Trump and the Wisconsin GOP struck a deal with Foxconn that promised to turn Southeastern Wisconsin into a tech manufacturing powerhouse. In exchange for billions in tax subsidies, Foxconn was supposed to build an enormous LCD factory in the tiny village of Mount Pleasant, creating 13,000 jobs. Three years later, the factory — and the jobs — don’t exist, and they probably never will.”

“How TV’s Top Cop Shows Are Changing Their Approach to Law & Order”.

“President Donald Trump’s sprawling political operation has raised well over $1 billion since he took the White House in 2017 — and set a lot of it on fire.”

Whatever they were wasting money on, it wasn’t paying legal bills.

“Given current polling of the presidential race, it is possible to imagine three scenarios, either on November 4 or on days soon thereafter: a narrow Trump victory in the Electoral College, with a huge loss in the popular vote; a Biden landslide in which Trump claims he lost because of a “rigged” election; or a very close and potentially flawed election going into overtime that could lead to a prolonged struggle over the presidency and the country. Each of these presents its own set of challenges for American democracy.”

“Both sides of the landmark showdown over marriage equality have announced that whatever differences they may have had, the one thing we can all agree on is that Amy Coney Barrett doesn’t belong within an abortion protest buffer zone of the United States Supreme Court.”

Susan Collins is very disappointed with this story.

“Phil Collins’ ex-wife and the man she left him for (VIA TEXT!) have apparently launched an armed occupation of Collins’ $33M Miami mansion, and I have no idea why you people are tweeting about anything else.” I haven’t even read the linked story because the deep-cut Genesis puns in the replies were so good.

In more conventional music news, this is amazing: “I, Tom Lehrer, and the Tom Lehrer Trust 2000, hereby grant the following permission: All the lyrics on this website, whether published or unpublished, copyrighted or uncopyrighted, may be downloaded and used in any manner whatsoever, without requiring any further permission from me or any payment to me or to anyone else.” It’s the hits plus a lot of songs I did not know. But act fast, this website will be taken down in 2024.

RIP, Spencer Davis, rock and blues musician best known for “Gimme Some Lovin'”.

“In this regard, it made perfect sense for Democratic Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar to stream themselves playing Among Us, a multiplayer game where players work as a team to figure out who is sabotaging the crew of their spaceship, on Twitch to 400,000 viewers alongside Piker, Pokimane, and other popular streamers on Tuesday night. Their game play, and exhortations to the audience to vote, were being watched by mostly younger and largely sympathetic minds that have been primed by Destiny, Piker, and others.”

RIP, James “The Amazing” Randi, magician, skeptic, debunker of bullshit. Mark Evanier adds a few words.

RIP, Shelley Buschur, Houston art car artist.

“If the U.S. had followed Canadian policies and protocols, there might have only been 85,192 U.S. deaths—making more than 132,500 American deaths ‘avoidable.’ If the U.S. response had mirrored that of Germany, the U.S. may have only had 38,457 deaths—leaving 179,260 avoidable deaths.”

RIP, Jerry Jeff Walker, Texas music icon. 2020 truly is the worst.

SCOTX reinstates Abbott’s mail ballot dropoff location limit

They can move fast when they want to, that’s for sure.

Gov. Greg Abbott’s controversial order to limit Texas counties to one mail-ballot drop-off site was allowed to remain in effect Saturday by the Texas Supreme Court.

The court blocked a previous appellate court ruling that had briefly struck down Abbott’s order, which was widely decried by voting rights groups as a voter-suppression tactic. The lawsuit to overturn Abbott’s order is still pending.

In Harris County, more than 1 million voters have cast ballots during early voting, shattering previous records. Multiple drop-off sites had been set up for voters until Abbott issued his order, which he said would “stop attempts at illegal voting.”

State District Judge Tim Sulak had previously ruled that Abbott’s order would “needlessly and unreasonably increase risks of exposure to COVID-19 infections” and undermine the constitutionally protected rights of residents to vote, “as a consequence of increased travel and delays, among other things.”

Less than 24 hours after the Third Court of Appeals reinstated the district court ruling that had halted Abbott’s order. Clearly, SCOTX does not have a “we close at 5” mentality. It should be noted that this is not the end of the line. From the Statesman:

Acting soon after receiving an emergency appeal on Gov. Greg Abbott’s behalf, the Texas Supreme Court issued an order Saturday that temporarily barred counties from opening more than one drop-off site for mail-in ballots.

The court order keeps in place Abbott’s 3½-week-old proclamation that barred multiple drop-off locations that had opened in several counties, including Travis County, until the Supreme Court can determine the legality of Abbott’s limit.

With an eye on the fast-approaching Nov. 3 election, the court also set tight deadlines, requiring legal briefs in the case to be filed before 5 p.m. Monday.

A ruling could come as soon as Monday night, though the Supreme Court gave no indication when it might act.

In theory, SCOTX could issue a ruling on the appeal on Tuesday or Wednesday, and we could get a few days of having multiple dropoff locations if the lower court order is upheld. Not great, but better than nothing. I think the odds of that happening are pretty slim, but it’s possible, and this is the best case scenario. At least you know what to hope for.

In practical terms, this means very little at this point. Very few people had ever used mail ballot dropoffs before. Existing law only allows for them to be used on Election Day – Abbott’s executive order extended that to all of early voting, which is an improvement even if his subsequent order limits it to a significant degree. Voting by mail is limited to begin with, and the vast majority of that small universe mailed their ballots in. Allowing people to drop them off at one of twelve locations instead of just one was an innovation, one of many that County Clerk Chris Hollins pioneered, and it was a welcome one in this year of COVID chaos, but losing it is more of an inconvenience than an impediment.

All that said, there is zero justification for Abbott’s order. People who wanted to drop off their mail ballots still had to go to an official County Clerk location, hand their ballot to an election judge, and show ID to have their ballot accepted. Fears of “fraud” and professions of “protecting election integrity” are empty shibboleths, the “thoughts and prayers” of vote suppression. Abbott imposed this limit as a sop to the extremists in his party who were already mad at him for adding an extra week to early voting. Hollins’ innovation made voting easier and more convenient. Abbott’s order made it harder and less convenient. That’s all there is to it.

I’ve said this before, but I firmly believe that a large majority of people like easier and more convenient voting, and support efforts to make it happen. There are lots of things the Democrats should un on in 2022. To me, this needs to be one of the big criticisms of Abbott – and Dan Patrick, and Ken Paxton, and every single member of the Supreme Court – in that election. Being on the side of “easier and more convenient” is the side to be on.

Rep. Senfronia Thompson files for Speaker

One hat in the ring, who knows how many to go.

Rep. Senfronia Thompson

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson, the longest-serving woman and Black person in the history of the Texas Legislature, filed Friday to run for speaker of the Texas House, making her the first to enter what’s been a quiet race so far to replace retiring Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton.

Thompson, a Houston Democrat, has filed ahead of a November general election in which Democrats are confident they will regain control of the House for the first time in nearly two decades. If elected, she would be the first Black woman to serve as speaker.

Thompson’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Thompson is not the only candidate expected to enter the race, which has had a different tempo and tone from the last one in 2018. The uncertainty surrounding which party will be in control of the lower chamber in 2021 has kept the race relatively quiet; by this time two years ago, several candidates had already declared that they were seeking the gavel.

[…]

Thompson, known better as “Ms. T” to colleagues and other Capitol goers, has served in the chamber since 1973, making her the second longest-serving member in the House. She has been mentioned repeatedly among both Republicans and Democrats as a potential candidate, with members pointing to her legislative experience and inroads with colleagues as perhaps her best case for a House that has a challenging agenda heading into the 2021 legislative session.

There are many potential Speaker candidates, but as I said in that post, if Rep. Thompson wants this, it’s hard to imagine other Dems opposing her. I’m sure she will be talking to those other potential candidates over the next few days, if she hasn’t been already. It won’t surprise me if they line up behind her.

There are of course a bunch of important things the next Legislature will have to tackle, from COVID response to a crap-ton of election and voting issues to redistricting to the budget to executive authority and the role of the Lege in dealing with crises. But even before we get to any of that, there’s a big question about how the Lege will operate. I mean, maybe you haven’t heard, but the COVID situation isn’t getting any better right now. I don’t have a whole lot of faith in Greg Abbott to impose restrictions again, so I’m not expecting it to be all that different come January. How exactly is the Lege going to conduct its business if it’s not safe for them all to be clustered in a stuffy room for hours at a time? What are they going to do if twerps like Briscoe Cain ignore a rule mandating masks in the Capitol? I don’t mean to be indelicate, but Rep. Thompson is 81. Rep. Alma Allen is 81, Tom Craddick is 77, Doc Anderson is 75, Harold Dutton is 75, and Phil Stephenson is 75. More than a few others are north of 60; not all of them have their age listed when I look them up on the Trib directory of State House members, but you get the point. The health and safety of every Member, as well as their staff and everyone who works at the Capitol is on the line, and as of today we have no idea what they plan to do about it. The next Speaker has some big things to do before a single vote is taken.

Please don’t screw up SD19 this time

Here’s hoping.

Rep. Roland Gutierrez

If elected to the Texas Senate, Roland Gutierrez promises not to end his tenure in federal prison. During a September phone call, the six-term state House rep assured me: “I’ve led my life as a responsible person; my parents raised me right.”

It’s a low bar. But Democrats in state Senate District 19—a sprawling district rooted in San Antonio that sweeps down to Eagle Pass and all the way out to far West Texas—have to start somewhere. The last liberal to hold the seat, Carlos Uresti, stepped down in 2018 just before being sentenced to 12 years’ incarceration for fraud and bribery. Now, after cinching the Democratic nomination in July, it’s up to Gutierrez to carry the torch of noncriminal progressive governance in SD-19.

The race won’t make the marquee this November. In Texas, the big-ticket fights are over the presidency, the U.S. Senate, and the state House. But a Gutierrez win would reassert Democratic control of a historically blue stronghold. It could also force a battle at the Capitol over the state Senate’s supermajority voting rules. And lastly—forgive me, reader, for mixing hope and Texas politics—it could even get the ball rolling on legal marijuana.

Standing in Gutierrez’s way: The Republican who’s held the seat the last two years, a former game warden by the name of Pete Flores—the bespectacled, cowboy hat-wearing embodiment of one of the Democrats’ worst electoral blunders in recent years.

I will pull one small piece of consolation out of the debacle that was the SD19 special election from 2018: After Flores’ stunning victory, I read more than one story, and many more than one quote from Republican elected officials like Dan Patrick, that were somewhere between skeptical and openly contemptuous of the idea that there was going to be a “blue wave” in Texas that year. I think we all know how that turned out, and it served as yet another reminder that weird low-turnout special election results just aren’t terribly predictive of anything.

All we really need to happen here is for 2020 to be a normal year, more or less, for Gutierrez to win and fix this error. In 2016, and again in 2018, SD19 was basically a ten-point Democratic district, with some variation on both ends. Carlos Uresti won it by 16 points in 2016. Gutierrez likely won’t do quite that well, as being the incumbent ought to help Flores a bit, but 2020 ought to be a pretty good year for Dems overall, with Bexar County giving Gutierrez a boost. I admit to being a little concerned about Gutierrez’s mediocre fundraising, but again, all we really need is typical performance from this district. Losing SD19 in the 2018 special election was upsetting, but in the end you could see how it happened. Losing it again this year would be inexcusable. Let’s not let that happen, mmmkay?

Bill Kelly: Voting Matters

(Note: The following is a guest post that was submitted to me. I occasionally solicit guest posts, and also occasionally accept them from people I trust.)

The national headlines have highlighted the increased turnout among Harris County voters, and rightfully so. But rather than discuss or project what that increase is likely to mean for election results, it is worth noting the actual mechanics of how so many of our neighbors are able to cast these early votes.

Chris Hollins, our Harris County Clerk, and his team have rolled out an impressive and imaginative early voting plan. Commissioner’s Court deserves credit for making the needed investments so that citizens in Harris County can safely access the ballot even during this pandemic.

Now I’ve been working in campaigns in Harris County since 2003, but this is the first time we have operated under a Democratic County Clerk for a general election. And the difference it has made is truly amazing, and I hope people can tell the subtle changes that are making a significant difference in giving voters access.

First, there is the timing. Governor Abbott’s decision to expand the normal 12 day early voting period to 18 days was critical to promoting a safer – and less crowded – voting experience. The tremendous turnout we have seen in the last 9 days would have packed polling locations without this additional time.

Days are made up of hours, and the investment by Harris County to keep polls open from 7am to 7pm is actual a big deal. Under previous clerks, early voting hours were restricted to the hours between 8:30am to 4:00pm during the first 5 days of early voting.

It is common sense and now self-evident that more people are turning out when the polls are open longer at more convenient times for voters.

What I want to point out is that proposition remains true in reverse: fewer voters access early voting when there are fewer hours.

While Harris County was operating under restrictive hours, Tarrant, Travis, and Dallas Counties all offered more hours for early voting. The Harris County excuse? It would cost more.

Having a Clerk who values democracy matters.

Second, locations – locations – locations. Today, there are 122 early voting locations around Harris County. In 2018, that number was close to 40. Again, this is not a difficult concept, but to see the scale of progress is really amazing.

Aside from tripling the number, nowhere is the location accessibility factor more visible than on our major college campuses. Having early voting locations at the University of Houston (Go Coogs!), Rice, and Texas Southern is a game changer.

In 2008, the closest early voting locations to each of these campuses was the Fiesta near NRG or the HCC Southeast location near I-45 South & 610.

For anyone familiar with Houston geography, these locations are not convenient – at all – to any of these campuses.

Again, Harris County choose not to place an easily accessible early voting locations before Hollins did for any general election. If you think this was an accident, I’d point to the campus openings of Rice in 1912, UH in 1939, and TSU in 1946. It should not take over 70 years to get an early vote site on these campuses.

Investing in over 100 locations in a county of 4.7 million should be the new normal – if the goal is to increase voter access and participation.

Finally, election day itself has been transformed to offer greater access. In campaign after campaign in the 2000s, the message of “you can early vote anywhere in the county” would quickly pivot to “you can ONLY vote in your neighborhood precinct.”

You wanna see a campaign manager in a panic? Tell them their election day doorhangers have the wrong polling location.

While Harris County clung to this system, Fort Bend creating election day Voting Centers, which allowed anyone in the county to vote at these locations on election day. It was an easy message to point toward a location where every voter in the county could vote. Another choice made that made voting less accessible.

Now, voters in Harris County can vote at ANY voting location on election day. For low propensity voters, the ease of pulling into a polling location and hearing, “yes, you can vote here,” again helps more voters participate in voting.

Timing, locations, and countywide access are all concrete policy changes that have been instituted by the Harris County Clerk since 2018. But these changes should not be the end point.

Even before the voting process begins, state policy looks to restrict access in ways that are laughable. The lack of online voter registration in Texas is a clear indictment of suppression policy. Despite statewide support for the policy, Senator Carol Alvarado faced opposition on her bill to create this online voter registration system by Republicans in Harris County.

Wonder why.

To be clear, the Texas Election Code allows for astronauts to voter from space . . . but does not allow for online voter registration. Seriously.

Online registration is less expensive, much cleaner with data input, and is unquestionable easier for citizens looking to register than mailing in an application.

Texans are choosing their new elected leaders right now. Much of the Texas political power structure does not want a larger voter turnout, which is directly reflected by the voting policy.

Harris County decided to invest in greater voter access. It is making a difference.

Bill Kelly works as the Director of Government Relations for Mayor Sylvester Turner. He has worked on the winning campaigns for Mayor Bill White (2003), State Rep. Hubert Vo (2004), Council Member Peter Brown (2005), State Rep. Ellen Cohen (2006), and the Harris County Coordinated Campaign (2008).

November 2020 Early Voting Day Twelve: Second Saturday

Where we are.

Harris County surpassed 1 million ballots cast Friday, setting an early voting record with seven days remaining, in spite of the lingering COVID-19 pandemic and a flurry of lawsuits over the management of the election.

The county reached the milestone at 3:14 p.m. as tens of thousands of voters again headed to 112 polling sites on a muggy October afternoon.

If residents continue at the current pace of more than 90,000 daily ballots, the total turnout record of 1.34 million set in 2016 will fall before Election Day on Nov. 3.

Turnout here through Thursday accounted for 15 percent of ballots cast in Texas, exceeding the number recorded by several states with more residents, including Indiana, Missouri and Maryland.

[…]

Women in Harris County have cast 56 percent of ballots so far, well above the three-point gender gap in 2018. Women are more likely to support Democrats, and President Trump is polling historically poorly with them.

Young voters also continue to show up at the polls, and those under 40 make up a larger portion of the in-person electorate than they did four years ago.

To date, voters under 29 make up 13.8 percent of the in-person early vote, nearly double their 7.4 percent in 2016. Voters 30 to 39 comprise 17.3 percent of the total, 5 points higher than the last presidential cycle. That cohort, too, is more likely to support Democrats than older voters, according to the Pew Research Center.

High turnout among these groups shows that Democratic voters are more enthusiastic than their Republican counterparts, Rice University political science Professor Mark Jones said. He said Republicans can make up ground on Election Day, but said Democrats are well-positioned to carry the county by 10 to 20 points.

“One of the real challenges for the GOP now is they know they’re behind,” Jones said. “The Democrats have gotten a large share of their voters to actually cast a ballot, whereas Republicans are still working to make sure those individuals go and vote.”

Jeronimo Cortina, a political scientist at the University of Houston, said the expected record total turnout is likely to provide Joe Biden a greater margin of victory here than Hillary Clinton’s 12-point win in 2016. He agreed that Republicans have an opportunity to narrow the gap on Election Day.

“At least so far … it seems there is a pretty good trend in terms of Democrats outvoting Republicans,” Cortina said.

[…]

In precincts carried by Clinton, and Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke, in 2018, participation has been mixed. The heavily white corridor from Oak Forest south to Meyerland, as well as predominantly African-American neighborhoods including Acres Homes, Sunnyside and parts of Third Ward have seen 60 to 90 percent of their 2016 vote total.

Mostly Latino communities, including those from Aldine south through Second Ward and Pasadena, still are reporting less than 60 percent of their 2016 totals. That may leave Democrats with more outstanding potential voters — but only if they show up.

Democratic State Rep. Armando Walle is confident they will, and said Latinos traditionally are more likely to vote on Election Day. Even though there are no Latino presidential or U.S. Senate candidates on the ballot, he said they are motivated to choose leaders who will succeed at managing the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately harmed Latinos in Texas.

“Those (voting) numbers will even out as the race goes on,” Walle said.

The record turnout so far also is likely due, in part, to new voters; Harris County’s voter rolls grew by 298,000 since 2016. That gives an edge to Democrats, political scientists say, because the new voters are more likely to be younger and people of color, both demographics that tend to support the party.

We won’t maintain that 90K voters per day pace. We pretty much can’t, and as you’ll see the daily trend has been downward since that boffo first week. But that’s okay, we only need about half of that 90K pace to reach 2016 final turnout by the end of early voting, and I still think we will do that.

In re: Latino voting so far, it’s not unusual for those voters to show up later in the cycle. Here’s a breakdown of early voting percentages for each State Rep district from 2016:


Dist    Early    Total  Early%
==============================
126    46,827   63,214   74.1%
127    58,934   75,620   77.9%
128    46,021   60,656   75.9%
129    50,423   71,355   70.7%
130    64,227   83,009   77.4%
131    34,175   47,459   72.0%
132    55,535   70,519   78.8%
133    58,215   78,173   74.5%
134    66,623   93,167   71.5%
135    46,733   61,619   75.8%
137    19,639   28,027   70.1%
138    39,337   52,787   74.5%
139    39,983   53,829   74.3%
140    17,949   28,652   62.6%
141    28,462   39,243   72.5%
142    33,908   46,243   73.4%
143    23,812   34,279   69.5%
144    18,563   28,120   66.0%
145    24,545   35,918   68.3%
146    36,001   50,081   71.9%
147    42,549   59,849   71.1%
148    36,334   49,819   72.9%
149    32,347   44,955   72.0%
150    60,267   78,180   77.1%

“Early” is the early in person vote plus mail ballots. Four of the five Latino districts – 140, 143, 144, and 145 – cast more than 30% of their total ballots on Election Day. No other district did that. So as far as that goes, I don’t see anything amiss. Obviously, these folks still need to turn out, but there’s no reason to think they won’t.

I’ll probably split my early-voting-so-far tables from Monday on to break things up into Week One, Week Two, and then each day from Week Three. I do think we will see an uptick on the last day or two of Week Three, as is always the case in a normal year’s Week Two, though it will be starting from a lower point than usual.

The Day Twelve daily EV totals are here. You can find the daily totals for 2008 and 2012 (and 2016 as well, but I’ve got a separate link for it) here, for 2016 here, and for 2018 here. I’m just going to keep on keeping on with the pretense that early voting actually began this Monday, except with 628K votes already in the bank. The “original” Day Four numbers are here.


Election     Mail      Early      Total
=======================================
2008       43,160    284,768    327,928
2012       53,131    331,667    384,798
2016       77,445    450,186    527,631
2018       73,478    394,671    468,149
2020      149,190    361,035    510,225

Yesterday was the first day you could reasonably call slow, with 38K in person voters and 4K mail ballots returned. That allows 2016 to pass 2020 by on total voters for the week, and 2018 to catch up on in person voters, as Saturday was twice as busy for them. Of course, that was the only Saturday for those years, so this isn’t really a straight comparison, it’s just the best facsimile I can come up with. Also, for reasons unclear to me, there were no mail ballots counted in 2012 and 2016, but there were in 2008 and 2018. Don’t ask, I don’t know.


Vote type   Mon-Fri     Sat     Sun    Week      Total
======================================================
Mail         69,673   4,013          73,686    149,190
Drive-thru   30,913   5,392          36,305     90,410
In person   291,591  33,337         324,928    824,027
Total       392,177  42,742         434,919  1,063,627

Vote type   Week One  Week Two      Total
=========================================
Mail          75,504    73,686    149,190
Drive-thru    54,105    36,305     90,410
In person    499,099   324,928    824,027
Total        628,708   434,919  1,063,627

Week Two has fallen well short of Week One – remember, Week One was only six days – probably by 125-150K after today is in the books. That would be the exact opposite of a “normal” year, where there’s only two weeks of early voting. This year, you had a lot of people who Could Not Wait to cast their ballot, and Week Two is basically the middle child, coming in between all that pent-up energy and the “oh, crap, early voting is almost over” realization. The average daily turnout for the (six-day) Week One was almost 105K, and the average daily turnout for the (six-day so far) Week Two is about 72.5K; I’ll recalculate that tomorrow to take Sunday into account.

Mail voting was about the same as before, though I expect that to level off some as we approach Election Day. Drive-through voting actually had a decent day yesterday, with a slightly larger crowd than either Thursday or Friday. I have no idea what to expect for the next six days, but I do still think that this coming Thursday and Friday will be busier than the four days before them, as that is the usual pattern. For the first time, the daily average needed to reach 2016 final turnout by Friday went up, though just by a bit, to 45,879. I still think we’ll get there, but now it’s more of a question than a sure thing. And let’s not forget, some people will still vote on November 3. That’s just how it is. Have you voted yet?

Abbott’s order limiting mail ballot dropoff sites blocked again

But that’s not the end of the story, so hang on.

A Texas appellate court on Friday stepped in to block Gov. Greg Abbott’s order limiting counties to just one mail-ballot dropoff site, but Harris County officials said they will wait until the case is resolved before reopening any additional sites.

A three-judge panel of the Third Court of Appeals in Austin ruled that there was “no reversible error” in a lower court’s ruling that put a hold on Abbott’s Oct. 1 order.

The Attorney General’s office said Friday that it planned to immediately appeal to the Texas Supreme Court.

The Republican governor had taken aim at Harris, Travis, Fort Bend and Dallas counties — all of which had either opened multiple dropoff sites or planned to do so in an effort to make mail-in voting more convenient and safer during the pandemic.

Abbott’s order, which triggered the back-and-forth legal battles, meant Harris County had to shut down 11 additional dropoff sites, adding to crowds at the main site at NRG Arena, just southwest of downtown Houston.

The appellate panel consisted of Republican Justice Melissa Goodwin and Democratic Justices Chari Kelly and Edward Smith; the latter two were elected in 2018 as part of a wave of 19 Democratic judicial wins that flipped the four major state appeals courts.

“We’re gratified that a bipartisan panel of the Third Court of Appeals agrees that Texans should have the right to return their absentee ballots easily and safely,” said Mark Toubin, regional director for the Anti Defamation-League Southwest, one of the groups that brought the suit.

See here for the background. Statesman reporter Chuck Lindell had tweeted yesterday morning that all the briefs had been filed, and a ruling was expected. Here’s more from his story.

The unsigned opinion by three justices on the 3rd Court — Democrats Chari Kelly and Edward Smith and Republican Melissa Goodwin — did not weigh the legality or constitutionality of Abbott’s order.

Instead, the panel determined that Sulak’s injunction should not be struck down because the judge did not abuse his discretion by issuing it.

“The trial court could have credited the evidence that decreasing the number of return locations leading up to election day would significantly increase congestion and wait times … which in turn would increase the risk of the voters utilizing this method of contracting COVID-19,” the panel said.

Friday afternoon, Paxton’s office told the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court to expect an appeal to be filed over the weekend.

You can see the opinion here. This is a nice ruling, and a bipartisan one, but as of today it means little because Harris County will not open any other dropoff locations until and unless the Supreme Court upholds the injunction. In practical terms, if this takes another week, it won’t mean much regardless. But maybe we’ll get a quicker ruling than that, you never know. The Trib has more.

Judge sends Paxton case back to Collin County

Pending appeal, of course.

Best mugshot ever

A Harris County judge on Friday moved Attorney General Ken Paxton’s criminal case to Collin County, handing Paxton a major win by placing the case in his hometown, where legal experts say he’s more likely to face a sympathetic judge or jury.

Judge Jason Luong ruled that he did not have the authority to move the case, deferring to an earlier order moving the case to Collin County.

Special prosecutors Brian Wice and Kent Schaffer said Friday that they plan to appeal. Paxton’s attorneys could not immediately be reached.

The decision adds yet another layer of complication — and likely more delays — to a case that has dragged on for more than five years over numerous issues unrelated to the substance of the accusations against Paxton.

I’m going to jump in here to remind everyone that Judge Robert Johnson had ordered the case back to Collin County in June, agreeing with Paxton’s defense team that the judge who had sent the case to Harris County in the first place did not have the authority to do so. Johnson then recused himself from the case, because the AG’s office is representing the criminal district court judges in the felony bail reform lawsuit, though it is not clear that he had to do so, since Paxton is not directly involved in that case and the judges who are defendants are being sued in their official capacity, not as plain old citizens. The First Court of Appeals set that order aside in July (the technical legal term is “abated”), on the grounds that the new judge, Jason Luong, needed to have an opportunity to review Judge Johnson’s order and either agree with it or vacate it. (Team Paxton later tried to get Judge Luong removed, but that motion was denied and subsequently mocked.)

In his ruling Friday, Luong added that even if a higher court rules that he does in fact have authority, he agrees with Paxton’s lawyers that the judge who allowed the case to move to Harris in the first place lacked authority as well, meaning the case would remain in Collin County.

As it was explained to me, the same mandamus that had been filed with the First Court of Appeals to challenge Judge Johnson’s ruling will now be taken up for Judge Luong’s ruling. I should note that the First Court’s abatement was supposed to be for 45 days, but as with everything related to this Paxton case, things took longer than that. Lord only knows when the next thing will happen. In the meantime, of course, there is now the Nate Paul shitshow, and if that does not have an effect on this case somehow at some point, I will be puzzled and very, very disappointed – like, Susan Collins clucking her tongue at Donald Trump-level disappointed. What the world needed now, when not much else is happening, is some more Ken Paxton news, am I right? The Trib has more.

Abbott sloshes some money around the State House races

Not really a surprise.

Gov. Greg Abbott’s campaign is ratcheting up its down-ballot efforts in the final weeks before the November election, working to defend the Republican majority in the state House and to remind voters about the importance of electing the party’s judges farther down the ballot.

In what his campaign described as a “mid-seven-figure” total expenditure, it is putting its weight behind two dozen House races and running statewide TV and radio commercials about judges. The news of the effort, detailed to The Texas Tribune, comes as early voting is underway and both sides have already invested millions of dollars in the House fight.

Abbott’s campaign is confident Republicans will beat back the Democrats’ drive to capture the majority, which would be a major prize ahead of the 2021 redistricting process.

“They’re spending a lot of money — there’s no question about that — and that’s nothing we didn’t expect from Day 1,” Abbott’s chief political strategist, Dave Carney, said in an interview. He acknowledged Republicans “will lose some members,” but noted the possibility that the party could win back some seats it lost in 2018.

“I think there’s zero chance that they can take control of the House,” Carney added.

Democrats are currently nine seats short of the majority in the 150-member House, after picking up 12 in 2018. Some Democrats see as many as 34 seats on the November battlefield — the 12 seats that they won two years ago and now have to defend, and 22 other pickup opportunities. Abbott’s campaign has zeroed in on 24 districts. Ten of those are held by Democratic freshmen, 10 are represented by GOP incumbents and four are open seats in battleground territory.

Across those 24 districts, Abbott’s campaign is appealing to 1,030,000 voters who Carney described as “either Abbott supporters or high-likelihood swing voters.” The campaign has already been targeting that group of voters with digital ads touting Abbott’s candidate endorsements, with mentions of specific issues that poll well in each district.

Apparently, that includes going after Beto O’Rourke and tying Dem candidates to him because there was a poll that suggested Beto was less popular than other statewide figures. I mean, with all the money coming in to support Democrats – there’s even more now – and with Abbott being basically Fort Knox and also needing to mend some fences with other Republicans, this was going to happen. Money is a necessary requirement to run a fully-functional modern campaign, but it is not sufficient.

Overview of Harris County Sheriff’s race

The explanation for why Sheriff Ed Gonzalez is a big favorite to be re-elected is quite simple, really.

County veterans wondered if former Houston police officer-turned politician Ed Gonzalez would be up to the job of sheriff in 2016 after he came out on top of a contested Democratic primary and then defeated veteran lawman Ron Hickman.

Four years later, Gonzalez has emerged the heavily favored incumbent against Republican challenger Joe Danna. Experts say Gonzalez’s chances are buoyed by wide name recognition, his performance in office, a rapid Democratic shift in Harris County’s demographics, and a contingent of Latino voters energized by the recent election of other Hispanics to county offices, including Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioner Adrian Garcia.

“It’s going to be more complicated (for Danna) to win,” said Jeronimo Cortina, an associate professor of political science at the University of Houston.

[…]

He stumbled initially, after the sheriff’s office ran afoul of state standards in the county jail. Texas Commission on Jail Standards Executive Director Brandon Wood said the sheriff’s office received several notices of noncompliance regarding jail operations — including one for a failed annual inspection — early on. After a meeting with Gonzalez and county judge Lina Hidalgo in early last year, he said state jail regulators noticed a “marked improvement” in the department’s jail operations.

“They passed their most recent annual inspection and we have not issued a notice of non-compliance since,” he said.

Gonzalez argues that he reined in the department’s troubled budget, expanded critical intervention training, ended practices outsourcing inmates to far-flung jails in other counties, and led the department through Hurricane Harvey and a still-ongoing pandemic — at a time when police departments across the country have come under renewed scrutiny for how they treat civilians.

He gained national attention when — as a defendant in a lawsuit over the county’s bail practices — he came out as a vocal supporter for misdemeanor bail reform.

[…]

Texas Southern University Professor Michael Adams said Danna appears to be a “law-and-order” candidate more common in past elections, one who will likely face significant hurdles given the county’s blue tilt.

“In the midst of not having any scar tissue in this particular race, and what we’ve seen in Harris County going back to 2018, in terms of a blue wave, if you will, I don’t see much of a threat,” he said.

First and foremost, Harris County is Democratic. That may change over time, and we may encounter conditions where base Democratic turnout is likely to be depressed while Republican turnout is not, but in this election we can safely assume there will be more Democrats voting, likely by a wide margin. Sheriff Gonzalez has done a good job, and was on the right side of the bail reform issue, which is one reason why the Dem base likes him. Those two factors alone put him in a very comfortable spot.

Given the Dem advantage, there are two scenarios where a qualified Republican could hope t get the significant number of crossover voters they’d need to win. One is where the Democratic nominee is manifestly unqualified and a vote for that nominee would be a disaster for the office in question. The 2012 DA race, where Lloyd Oliver managed to beat a much better candidate in the primary, is the canonincal example. (It helped that the Republican candidate in that race was Mike Anderson, whose chops for the job were obvious. Joe Danna is not Mike Anderson.) The other is where the Dem incumbent is fatally tainted by scandal. The best examples here actually involve the last two Republican Sheriffs, Ron Hickman and Tommy Thomas. Sheriff Gonzalez has a clean record, so that’s a non-starter.

So, putting it all together, Sheriff Gonzalez is a solid favorite to win re-election. As well he should be.

November 2020 Early Voting Day Eleven: We reach one million

Let’s take a brief detour to Fort bend County.

Fort Bend County voters continue to smash early-voting records — with a greater share of voters turning out so far than in populous Harris and Dallas counties, according to a news release from the county judge in Fort Bend.

As of Wednesday, 38.65 percent of voters had cast ballots so far in Fort Bend compared to 35.5 percent in Harris and Dallas counties. During the second week of early voting, more than 20,000 votes a day have been casting ballots.

“We are doing everything we can to ensure safe, secure, and accessible voting in Fort Bend County, and it is a daily inspiration to see so many casting their ballots,” Fort Bend County Judge KP George said in a written statement.

Officials said 188,927 people had voted in person in Fort Bend County as of Thursday, which is about 39 percent of the county’s 483,221 registered voters. About 16,563 mail-in ballots had also been returned to the county.

With mail-in ballots included, a total of 205,490 ballots have been cast so far in Fort Bend, a diverse county that has been trending blue. That’s compared to a total of 200,251 votes cast during early voting in 2018 and 214,170 votes in 2016, according to a news release from the district attorney’s office.

Way to go, Fort Bend!

As for Harris County, it looks like we hit the 2016 early voting mark of 985,571 by about 1 PM yesterday, based on this tweet:

We hit one million around 3 PM or a bit later – the tweet was at 3:15, and the press release announcing it hit my mailbox at 3:45. The social media and PR staff over there are on top of it, let me tell you. For what it’s worth, I will note this much: As a percentage of registered voters, the 985,571 people who voted early or by mail in Harris County in 2016 were 45.15% of the RVs we had that year. This year, with 2,468,559 registered voters, 985,571 would only be 39.92% of the total. To get to 45.15%, we’d need to reach 1,114,504 voters. As of today, we’re at 41.36%. However, we’ve also only had eleven days of early voting, while the 2016 cycle had 12, as is usually the case. We need to get about 94K voters today to reach that same percentage for a twelve-day period. Feels a bit out of reach, but we’ll get close.

I’ll have that update for you tomorrow. In the meantime, the Day Eleven daily EV totals are here. You can find the daily totals for 2008 and 2012 (and 2016 as well, but I’ve got a separate link for it) here, for 2016 here, and for 2018 here. I’m just going to keep on keeping on with the pretense that early voting actually began this Monday, except with 628K votes already in the bank. The “original” Day Four numbers are here.


Election     Mail      Early      Total
=======================================
2008       40,059    220,046    260,105
2012       53,131    260,274    313,405
2016       77,445    374,679    452,124
2018       64,832    315,030    379,862
2020      145,177    322,324    467,501

A busier day in person than yesterday, basically at Wednesday’s level, but only 8,326 mail ballots returned, so the overall total was down from yesterday. It was still almost 70K votes in total, and the uptick in in-person votes on the Friday is in line with previous years. It was busy enough in 2016 that the earlier year has almost caught up, in a sense. Other than those first 600K+ votes, of course. Anyway, I’m very interested to see what today looks like, as it’s the first second Saturday of early voting we’ve ever had. Up through 2016, the Saturday of early voting was the busiest day of the first week, but that may not be the case here, given all the early voting action we’ve already had. But who knows? We’re officially in uncharted territory.


Vote type     Mon     Tue      Wed     Thu     Fri      Total
=============================================================
Mail        17,106  12,216  10,097  21,928   8,326    145,177
Drive-thru   6,347   7,578   6,834   5,145   5,009     85,018
In person   67,679  62,173  55,557  49,698  56,484    790,690
Total       91,132  81,967  72,488  76,771  69,819  1,020,885

We are now at 76.2% of 2016’s final turnout, and we are of course now past all early voting numbers. The next milestones for final turnout are 1,188,731 for 2008, 1,204,167 for 2012, and 1,219,871 for 2018. At a pace of about 70K a day, which is more or less what we were doing this week so far, we’ll pass them all by the end of the day Monday, and we’ll pass 2016’s number on Wednesday. We’ll need to average 45,430 per day to match 2016 by Friday. Can we keep it up? We’ll see!

Here’s your Derek Ryan email:

Through yesterday, 6,391,021 have voted by mail or in person (37.7% of all registered voters).

In my daily reports, I have spent a lot of time discussing who has voted, but I thought I would change things up a little today and discuss who has NOT voted. I ran the numbers and there are still over five million people who voted in the March Primary, the 2018 General Election, and/or the 2016 General Election who have not voted yet. Naturally, some of these people may not vote this year, but if 90% of these people end up voting, that puts turnout at nearly 11 million votes (and that’s before including any new voters who may show up to vote).

Of the five million who have not voted yet, 1.3 million have most recently voted in a Republican Primary and 900,000 have most recently voted in a Democratic Primary. The remainder are people who only vote in General Elections and have no primary election history.

You can see the full report here. “Yesterday” in that first paragraph meant Thursday, which was the tenth day of voting. I’d have to go back and chart each day’s daily total to see what kind of pace we’re on, but it’s not at all hard to see from these numbers so far why Ryan was projecting 12 million in total turnout. Some others are a little less bullish, but still predicting more than 11 million. Let’s see what the last seven days of early voting bring. Have you voted yet?

Morning Consult: Biden 48, Trump 47

The overview is here and there are some words that I’ll include shortly, but for the headline we’ll need this picture:

I know it says “Tied” despite the “Biden 48, Trump 47” listing. My guess is that the exact numbers are something like 47.8 to 47.2, and they chose to call it a tie rather than overstate the situation after they rounded off to the nearest integer. Whatever the case, it seems clear this is a “tie” in which Biden actually has a tiny lead.

Morning Consult has done a number of these polls, in which Texas is one of the featured states, over the past couple of months. I’ve linked to two of them from the late July/early August period, in which Biden was leading by a point. As noted in yesterday’s post, this was the peak Biden polling period. With the exception of one oddball in July that had Trump up seven (best just to scroll through the 538 poll tracker for Texas), they’ve all been close. They don’t provide any specific data for their state polls, but you can see some of their subsample breakdowns for their national sample at the first link.

They also have this for the Senate race.

As early voting kicks into gear in several states and Election Day approaches in less than two weeks, contests that will decide which party controls the Senate in January are tightening across competitive states.

Democrats enter the final stretch of the campaign with leads in Arizona, Colorado, Michigan and North Carolina, according to the latest Morning Consult Political Intelligence tracking, while Democrat Jaime Harrison has taken a narrow lead over Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham in South Carolina. In Texas, GOP Sen. John Cornyn still leads Democrat MJ Hegar, though the senior senator’s edge in the contest has been almost cut in half since earlier this month.

The surveys, conducted Oct. 11-20 among likely voters in each state, found a narrowing across the map compared with polling conducted Oct. 2-11, except for North Carolina. In the Tar Heel State, former state Sen. Cal Cunningham (D) maintained a lead of 6 percentage points over Republican Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), 48 percent to 42 percent, in surveys conducted following the senator’s Oct. 2 COVID-19 diagnosis and after news broke of the Democratic challenger’s relationship with a woman who was not his wife.

In Texas, Hegar’s outreach to Black voters, independents and Democrats — fueled by a late surge in cash to her campaign — appears to be yielding results.

The latest survey found she’s narrowed Cornyn’s lead to 5 points, 46 percent to 41 percent, improving her own standing by 4 points while Cornyn’s support has gone virtually unchanged. The share of Black voters backing Hegar’s candidacy increased to 74 percent, up 6 points from earlier this month, while she improved her standing with independents by 5 points, to 40 percent.

They have the race at 46-41 for Cornyn right now, which is typical in that both candidates lag behind their party’s Presidential nominee, but Hegar is farther back than Cornyn is. On the subject of that late cash injection:

Part of the reason Cornyn’s wide cash-on-hand lead evaporated was due to how much he spent in the third quarter — $13.7 million, doubling Hegar’s expenditures. The overwhelming majority of Cornyn’s spending was on “media” or similarly labeled costs, indicating he may have been locking down TV time for the fall.

But with early voting underway in the Nov. 3 general election, Hegar has been consistently outspending Cornyn on TV, beating him for the past four weeks and outpacing him by more than 2-to-1 over the last two weeks, according to ad-tracking data reviewed by the Tribune. During the most recent week, Hegar’s campaign benefited from joint TV spending with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, while the Cornyn campaign’s TV buys have been boosted by the state Republican Party.

Third-party spending has also become a problem for Cornyn.

Last week, the top Democratic super PAC in Senate races, Senate Majority PAC, announced it was plunging into the contest with an $8.6 million TV ad buy against Cornyn. On Tuesday, another Democratic super PAC, Future Forward USA, suddenly went up on TV in the race and disclosed to the Federal Election Commission that it was dropping an estimated $3.9 million on the election for now.

Even more concerning to Cornyn is that the last-minute offensive appears to be part of a coordinated ambush. Recode reported Tuesday that a coalition of Democratic groups, including Senate Majority PAC and Future Forward, was plotting a $28 million infusion into the race for the last two weeks. About $10 million was expected to come from Senate Majority PAC, which announced its $8.6 million buy Thursday, while the rest was still being raised as of last week, according to Recode.

Future Forward is a relatively new super PAC that has been spending heavily in the presidential race as it reaches its end. The group’s top donors include some of Silicon Valley’s biggest players, such as Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

As that Recode story notes, the idea behind this is some academic research that claims that late TV ads are the most effective way to move numbers in an election. I might feel a bit better about that if they had begun before millions of people had already voted, but what do I know? If you suddenly start seeing a bunch of pro-Hegar and/or anti-Cornyn ads, now you know why.

Anyway. We now have four polls this week that show either a tie or a one-point Biden lead, after several polls in September that had Trump up by more than one point. All I know for sure is that a lot of people are voting now. You should be too, if you haven’t already. The Texas Signal and the Chron have more.

SCOTX rejects challenges to drive-through voting

Halle-fricking-lujah.

Voters in the state’s most populous county can continue casting their ballots for the fall election at 10 drive-thru polling places after the Texas Supreme Court Thursday rejected a last-minute challenge by the Texas and Harris County Republican parties, one of many lawsuits in an election season ripe with litigation over voting access.

The court rejected the challenge without an order or opinion, though Justice John Devine dissented from the decision.

[…]

Though the program was publicized for months before the ongoing election, it was not until hours before early voting started last week that the Texas Republican Party and a voter challenged the move in a state appeals court, arguing that drive-thru votes would be illegal. They claimed drive-thru voting is an expansion of curbside voting, and therefore should only be available for disabled voters.

Curbside voting, a long-available option under Texas election law, requires workers at every polling place to deliver onsite curbside ballots to voters who are “physically unable to enter the polling place without personal assistance or likelihood of injuring the voter’s health.” Posted signs at polling sites notify voters to ring a bell, call a number or honk to request curbside assistance.

The lawsuit also asked the court to further restrict curbside voting by requiring that voters first fill out applications citing a disability. Such applications are required for mail-in ballots, but voting rights advocates and the Harris County Clerk said they have never been a part of curbside voting.

The Harris County clerk argued its drive-thru locations are separate polling places, distinct from attached curbside spots, and therefore available to all voters. The clerk’s filing to the Supreme Court also said the Texas secretary of state’s Office had approved of drive-thru voting. Keith Ingram, the state’s chief election official, said in a court hearing last month in another lawsuit that drive-thru voting is “a creative approach that is probably okay legally,” according to court transcripts.

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for County Clerk Chris Hollins’ attempt to get the Secretary of State on record about this. The decision came down a couple of hours after County Judge Lina Hidalgo (among others) called on Greg Abbott to do the same. This would have been a monumental middle finger to the voters of Harris County, and an utter disgrace for the Supreme Court, had they upheld the Republican challenge. I don’t know what took them so long, but if they’re going to be slow about it, they’d better get it right, and this time they did. Exhale, everyone.

We shouldn’t leave this item without giving Hollins the victory lap he deserves:

There’s a bit more on Hollins’ Twitter feed. When he says that every county should do it like this, he’s absolutely right. You can see all the SCOTX denials here, and the Chron has more.

(Oh, and let’s please do remember this when John Devine is up for election next. The rest of the court may have done the right thing, but that guy has truly got to go.)

Time to check in on Ken Paxton again

It’s good to know, in times of crisis, that there are friendly fake media outfits one can run to to deny all the allegations against you.

Best mugshot ever

When Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton decided to break his silence about accusations by his top aides that he had committed crimes including bribery and abuse of office, he turned to a little-known legal outlet called the Southeast Texas Record.

In the exclusive interview, he trashed the aides and claimed that before his top deputy resigned, Paxton had planned to put him on leave anyway.

The website where that interview was posted has been identified as part of a national network of some 1,300 pay-for-play news websites that publish on-demand coverage for Republican political campaigns and public relations firms. According to The New York Times, those websites, whose names sound like ordinary local news outlets, have received at least $1.7 million from Republican political campaigns and conservative groups.

Ian Prior, who promoted the story for the Paxton campaign, denied to The Texas Tribune that the campaign had paid the outlet to run the story — “definitive no,” he said — saying he had merely reached out to set up an interview with an outlet that had already covered the story.

The Southeast Texas Record describes itself as a legal outlet focused on informing readers about the courts, with a weekly print edition published on Sundays.

After the interview was published, Prior shared it with reporters via email.

He declined to answer questions about why the campaign chose a little-known legal publication as opposed to a news outlet with wider readership, such as The Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle or Austin American-Statesman, which had all been following the Paxton story closely.

“Appreciate the question but not going to get into [public relations] strategy/discussions,” Prior said in a text message Tuesday.

[…]

In the Oct. 13 Paxton story, the Record foregrounds Paxton’s point of view in the ongoing scandal and elaborates less on the allegations against him, which remain murky, with federal authorities refusing to confirm whether there is an investigation into Paxton’s behavior at all. The author, David Yates, writes that Jeff Mateer — the top Paxton deputy who resigned after accusing his boss of criminal wrongdoing — did not return requests for comment.

It gives no indication that the author attempted to reach David Maxwell or Mark Penley, two top aides whose work is questioned in the story and whom Paxton placed on leave from the agency.

And the story elides details that raise questions about Paxton’s role in the scandal. In an internal email that was obtained by the Tribune, top aides alleged Paxton was using the power of his office to help a donor, real estate investor Nate Paul, who accused federal authorities of wrongdoing after the FBI raided his home and office in 2019. Paxton has claimed his office was investigating Paul’s allegations merely because local authorities in the Travis County district attorney’s office referred the complaint to the agency. But Travis County DA Margaret Moore has disputed that timeline, telling reporters that Paxton sought a meeting with her office about the complaint before it was referred.

The Record story does not include those details, nor does it extensively detail the accounts of the seven senior aides who have leveled accusations against Paxton.

The strategy is obvious: Talk to friendly people who won’t ask any embarrassing questions, and avoid any outlets that will probe or push back. That way, the core supporters will only hear your side of the story and can thus dismiss anything that comes out elsewhere, since it’s not from a “trusted” source. This doesn’t stop all the bad information from getting out, but it does put a barrier up to it for the base.

Also, the retributions have begun.

Lacey Mase, one of the top aides who accused Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton of crimes including bribery and abuse of office, has been fired, she told The Texas Tribune on Tuesday evening.

“It was not voluntary,” she said, but declined to comment further.

Mase was hired in 2011 and worked most recently as the deputy attorney general for administration. Paxton’s office did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

[…]

Mase’s personnel file, obtained through a public records request, shows she rose quickly through the agency’s ranks, earning frequent promotions. She was promoted as recently as Sept. 1, 2019, earning a nearly 12% pay bump to $205,000 annually. When Mase was promoted in April 2018, a supervisor wrote that she “consistently exceeded standards” in all her roles at the agency. Her salary has multiplied over the past few years, from $50,000 in 2013 to more than $200,000 most recently.

Texas law “protects public employees who make good faith reports of violations of law by their employer to an appropriate law enforcement authority,” according to the Texas attorney general’s website. “An employer may not suspend or terminate the employment of, or take other adverse personnel action against, a public employee who makes a report under the Act.”

Firing Mase so soon after she and the other top aides made their report is “suspicious,” said Jason Smith, a North Texas employment attorney who has handled whistleblower cases and who worked in the attorney general’s office in the 1990s.

“This looks and smells like classic whistleblower retaliation,” Smith said. “This situation looks like what the Texas Whistleblower Act was designed to prevent. And the timing looks bad.”

Smith said the aides appear to have taken all the proper steps to invoke whistleblower protections, reporting suspect behavior to “an appropriate law enforcement authority” as specified in the law, and making their employer aware of the allegations through the letter to human resources. The aides used that exact language — “appropriate law enforcement authority” — in their Oct. 1 letter to the agency.

I mean, maybe there was a reason for this, but it sure looks suspicious, and there’s no way Ken Paxton deserves any benefit of the doubt. And hey, now there’s a pattern.

A second whistleblower has been fired from the Texas attorney general’s office after reporting his boss, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, to law enforcement for crimes including bribery and abuse of office, according to a former senior official with the agency who had knowledge about the firing but did not want to be named for fear of legal repercussions.

Blake Brickman, who had served as deputy attorney general for policy and strategy initiatives for less than a year, was fired Tuesday, the official said.

[…]

Brickman and Mase were among seven top aides in Paxton’s office who alerted law enforcement weeks ago that they believed their boss had run afoul of the law. In internal emails obtained by the Tribune, they accused Paxton of using the power of his office to serve the financial interests of a donor, Nate Paul.

I mean, once you’ve fired one whistleblower, why not go all in and fire another? In for a penny and all that. I hope Ms. Mase and Mr. Brickman find themselves some good employment attorneys. The Chron has more.

November 2020 Early Voting Day Ten: Closing in on 2016

A couple of tweets to get us started:

I talked about the likely percentage of people with no voting history in yesterday’s roundup. These folks include some number who did vote in 2018, and among them will be those who turned 18, or became citizens, or had moved to Texas in the interim. It will also include a lot of these brand-new voters. It seems likely this cohort will tend to favor the Democrats, though we can’t know just yet how that will shake out.

For the record, there were 732,037 registered voters in Travis County in 2016, and 477,588 of them voted, giving 65.8% of their vote to Hillary Clinton. Seems likely they’ll do a lot better this year. The Statesman had a story about the early vote in Travis County so far, but I thought Susan’s tweet was more on point.

Anyway. The Day Ten daily EV totals are here. You can find the daily totals for 2008 and 2012 (and 2016 as well, but I’ve got a separate link for it) here, for 2016 here, and for 2018 here. I’m just going to keep on keeping on with the pretense that early voting actually began this Monday, except with 628K votes already in the bank. The “original” Day Four numbers are here.


Election     Mail      Early      Total
=======================================
2008       37,381    170,629    208,010
2012       50,790    201,962    252,752
2016       73,043    293,440    366,483
2018       59,332    249,383    308,715
2020      136,851    260,831    396,682

The in person early vote total declined again, though it would still be enough by itself to maintain the pace needed to match 2016’s final turnout during the EV period. Despite that, the overall total from Thursday actually exceeded Wednesday because of a huge number of returned mail ballots. Here’s the daily breakdown so you can see what I mean:


Vote type    Monday  Tuesday Wednesday  Thursday    Total
=========================================================
Mail         17,106   12,216    10,097    21,928   136,851
Drive-thru    6,347    7,578     6,834     5,145    80,009
In person    67,679   62,173    55,557    49,698   734,206
Total        91,132   81,967    72,488    76,771   951,066

We are now at 96.5% of 2016’s early vote (plus mail ballot) turnout of 985,571. I think we can safely assume we will pass that today. We are also now at 71.0% of 2016 total turnout. We passed 2012’s early vote total (777,067) and 2008’s early vote total (746,025) on Wednesday. We could reach their final turnout totals (1,188,731 for 2008, 1,204,167 for 2012) early next week. Total early vote turnout from 2018 was 867,871, and we passed that Wednesday. Total 2018 turnout was 1,219,871, so we could pass it along with 2008 and 2012 on the same day. With eight days to go, we will need to average 48,479 votes per day to reach 1,338,898 total votes. The mail ballots returned has already exceeded the 101,594 from 2016, and there’s 110,583 ballots still out there. (Though some people who got mail ballots have been voting in person and turning the mail ballots back in. I’ll have more on that over the weekend.)

Here’s your Derek Ryan email.

We’ve reached the halfway point of the early voting period and over one-third of registered voters in Texas have voted (5,887,488 people).

Those in the political world who know me know that I have an obsession with Loving County. Loving County has 111 registered voters and 29 of those people have voted early (6.9% have no previous election history in the last eight years). For reference, 876,887 people have voted in Harris County.

The full report is here. Gotta say, twelve million seems doable. Crazy, isn’t it?

Quinnipiac: Biden 47, Trump 47

Very interesting.

In the home stretch of the 2020 presidential election campaign, former Vice President Joe Biden is in a tied race with President Donald Trump in the reliably red state of Texas, and he holds a single digit lead in the battleground state of Pennsylvania, according to Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pea-ack) University polls conducted in both states.

TEXAS PRESIDENTIAL RACE

Today, Trump and Biden are tied 47 – 47 percent among likely voters. This compares to a September 24th poll of likely voters in Texas when Trump had 50 percent and Biden had 45 percent.

Among those who will vote in person on Election Day, 62 percent support Trump and 32 percent support Biden.

Among those who are voting by mail or absentee ballot, 63 percent say they support Biden and 31 percent support Trump.

Among those who are voting at an early voting location, 48 percent support Biden and 46 percent support Trump.

“Biden and Trump find themselves in a Texas stand-off, setting the stage for a bare knuckle battle for 38 electoral votes,” said Quinnipiac University Polling Analyst Tim Malloy.

Likely voters have mixed views of both candidates, but opinions of Biden have improved since last month.

Today, they give Biden a mixed favorability rating, with 44 percent saying favorable and 46 percent saying unfavorable. This compares to a negative 41 – 52 percent favorability rating in a September 24th survey. Today, likely voters give Trump a mixed favorability rating, with 48 percent saying favorable and 47 percent saying unfavorable, essentially unchanged since September’s 49 – 47 percent score.

[…]

TEXAS: CORNYN VS. HEGAR

In the U.S. Senate race in Texas, incumbent Republican John Cornyn leads Democrat M.J. Hegar among likely voters, 49 – 43 percent. Seven percent are undecided. On September 24th, Cornyn had 50 percent support and Hegar had 42 percent, also with 7 percent undecided.

Likely voters give Hegar a positive 33 – 26 percent favorability rating, while 39 percent say they haven’t heard enough about her to form an opinion. In September, voters gave her a positive 29 – 19 percent favorability rating while 50 percent hadn’t heard enough about her.

Likely voters give Cornyn a positive 42 – 30 percent favorability rating, while 26 percent say they haven’t heard enough about him. In September, they gave him a 39 – 30 percent favorability rating, while 30 percent hadn’t heard enough about him.

“While Cornyn maintains a lead, there are still two weeks to go, and you can’t count Hegar out,” added Malloy.

Polling was done from October 16 to 19, so after early voting had started. This poll did not ask if people had already voted, however.

This is the fourth Quinnipiac poll of Texas this year, and three of the four poll results have been within one point:

May 28 – June 1: Trump 44, Biden 43
July 16-20, Biden 45, Trump 44
September 17-21, Trump 50, Biden 45

The June and July polls were done during Biden’s best polling run, where more than half of all polls showed him tied or leading. The September result came during a stronger period for Trump, where pretty much all polls had him in the lead, and several had him up by four or more points. This one now joins the Data for Progress and PPP polls that had Biden up by a point. Better to peak at the right time, I guess.

Two other points of interest. One is that like previous Quinnipiac polls, this one shows a more modest level of Latino support for Biden. He leads 51-43 with that demographic, which is exactly the same as it was in that September poll. The main difference between the two seems to be that Black voters went from an absurd 19% support for Trump in September (with 79% for Biden) back to a more normal 86-8 split in this poll. I’ll say this for Quinnipiac, their responses from Latino voters have been consistent. Biden’s support in their four polls has ranged from 47% to 53%, with Trump starting at 32% and being at 43% in each of the last two polls. You know my thoughts on this, so we’ll just note this and move on.

The other point is the disparity between those who vote early, either in person or by mail, and those who say they will vote on Election Day. For one thing, this shows how big the early portion of the vote is going to be, not that we needed more evidence of it. It also at least potentially puts a lot more pressure on the Republicans to really have a big day on November 3, because their margin for error may be small. A bad weather day could be a serious impediment to them. For that matter, the early voting surge could be a problem. If early turnout is high enough, and Democratic enough, that could be a very high hill for them to climb.

Anyway. What we have here now is a mini-run of polls with Texas as a true tossup, after a slightly longer run of polls with Trump in the lead. You can insert your own cliche about the only poll that matters here.

(In re: the Senate poll numbers, this is more of what we have seen before. Hegar gets slightly less Dem support than Biden, with more “don’t know/no answer” responses, and so she trails. I continue to believe that gap will mostly close in the actual results, but I will not be surprised if she runs a bit behind Biden anyway.)

Hollins calls on Secretary of State to defend drive through voting

Good.

Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins is seeking assurance from Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughs that her office is “committed to defending the votes” cast at the county’s drive-thru voting sites, the subject of two lawsuits currently before the state Supreme Court.

In a letter sent to Hughs Tuesday, Hollins cited prior support from state election officials, including Elections Director Keith Ingram, for the legality of drive-thru voting. He asked Hughs to confirm by noon Wednesday that the office stands by those statements.

By noon, Hollins had not received a response from Hughs, according to a spokeswoman for the clerk’s office.

A spokesman for Hughs said the office had received Hollins’ letter, but he declined to say whether Hughs or anyone from her office planned to respond. He also did not say whether Hollins had accurately characterized the position of state elections officials on drive-thru voting.

[…]

In his letter to Hughs, Hollins wrote, “Your office has repeatedly expressed that drive-thru voting fit the definitions and requirements for a polling place provided in the Texas Election Code for both Early Voting and Election Day.” During a court proceeding, Hollins wrote, Ingram called drive-thru voting “a creative approach that is probably okay legally.”

Last Friday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a guidance letter in which he suggested Harris County’s use of curbside voting does not pass legal muster. He wrote that state law “makes no provision for polling places located outdoors, in parking lots, or in parking structures.” The state election code also does not allow “‘drive-thru’ voting centers at which any voter may cast a ballot from his or her vehicle regardless of physical condition,” Paxton wrote.

“Curbside voting is not, as some have asserted contrary to Texas law, an option for any and all voters who simply wish to vote from the comfort of their cars when they are physically able to enter the polling place,” Paxton wrote.

You can see a video call with Hollins about this here, his official statement here, and further coverage from Chron reporter Jasper Scherer here. The concern at this point is not just that the Supreme Court might put a halt to what Harris County has been doing, but that they might invalidate the 70K+ votes that have been cast by drive-through voting. The contempt for voters that this would display, at this super late hour, is breathtaking. I can’t even begin to wrap my head around that. I don’t know what else to say.

I don’t know when the Supreme Court might rule on this facially ridiculous challenge, but I will note that not only was it filed after early voting had begun, it’s now been a week since it was filed with SCOTX. They’re taking their sweet time about this. I hope that means that they’re not willing to stick a knife in this, but all I have is hope. Again, what this writ represents is plain and simple contempt for voters. There’s no other principle here.

On a side note, we also have this:

That is of course in reference to this turd of a Fifth Circuit ruling, and it’s exactly what we’d expect from the Clerk’s office. Every other election administrator in this state should follow their example.

“On the cusp” of another COVID surge

The numbers are already trending up. You know what that means.

Cases of COVID-19 in parts of Texas surged to near catastrophic levels this summer as some hospitals were forced to put beds in hallways, intensive care units exceeded capacity and health officials struggled to stem the tide of the virus.

After peaking in late July and August, cases fell and leveled off in September, and the state’s seven-day positivity rate — or the proportion of positive tests — reached its lowest point since early June.

But health officials are now eyeing a worrying trend: New infections are rising again, and the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 is also ticking upward. The state reported 2,273 new cases Monday, and the seven-day average was up by 862 from the previous week. On Monday, at least 4,319 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19, far below the more than 10,000 in July, but that number has steadily risen during the last month.

“I’m no longer pondering if we’re going to see a surge,” said Dr. James McDeavitt, dean of clinical affairs at the Baylor College of Medicine. “We’re already seeing it.”

Eight months since Texas recorded its first case, experts say the state is more prepared to handle another wave, but they fear that if the state fails to control the outbreak, it could quickly spiral out of control.

“The question is whether it’ll be a modest surge, or something like we saw in July, or worse,” McDeavitt said.

[…]

At Houston Methodist, one of the region’s largest health care systems, medical staff were stretched thin this summer, said President Marc Boom. At its peak in July, the system’s staff treated nearly 850 patients with COVID-19 each day. Since then, Boom said, the medical community’s understanding of the virus has evolved, along with how to treat the disease.

Remdesivir, an antiviral medication, has shown promising results in minimizing the severity of illness, especially when administered shortly after symptoms develop. Houston Medical was the first hospital to use convalescent plasma, a therapy in which antibody-rich blood from people who have recovered from COVID-19 is administered to ill patients, Boom said.

“We’ve had tons of experience gained, better outcomes, shorter lengths of stay,” Boom said. “But this is still a serious illness.”

While health authorities are better equipped to deal with new spikes, including an adequate supply of protective gear and sizable quantities of drugs like Remdesivir, a fall surge could still be equally as taxing on hospitals, said Carrie Kroll, vice president of advocacy, quality and public health at the Texas Hospital Association. As colder weather forces people inside and families gather for the holiday season, the chances for transmission increase, she said.

“We certainly have been tested, and we know the beast that it is, and have shown that we were able to make it through those first two spikes,” Kroll said. “But we don’t want to test the limit by putting patients into hospitals.”

See here for the previous update. It’s getting bad all around the country, too. Just a reminder, the July surge was bad, and it took Greg Abbott way too long to react to it. In the meantime, various assholes have decided that it’s a good use of their time to sue everyone in sight to limit the government’s ability to respond to COVID-19. I have one small bit of local optimism in that Harris County has not backed down from being at the top threat level even as the numbers were improving. Our numbers are also trending up, but they’re not as bad as other places. Yet, anyway.

“The trends are going in the wrong direction,” said William McKeon, president of the Texas Medical Center. “You hate to see the sacrifices we made and the successes we achieved lost because people let their guard down.”

Dr. Marc Boom, president of Houston Methodist, said, “We’ve definitely turned the wrong corner. The numbers aren’t growing in an out-of-control fashion, but there’s no doubt we’re in a significant growth trend that we need to stop before the holiday season.”

[…]

The Houston numbers are well below those in other parts of the country, particularly the Midwest and the West. As of Monday, 16 states had added more COVID-19 cases the past week than in any other seven-day period.

The surge is even greater in Europe. There the total of new cases in the five most-affected countries — France, the United Kingdom, Russia, Spain and the Netherlands — was nearly 42 percent greater than the U.S. increase a week ago.

Nor does Houston’s increase compare to the Panhandle and El Paso. El Paso health officials Monday reported their highest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations since the pandemic began — 449 in one day — and said just seven of the city’s ICU beds were unoccupied.

Still, increases in Houston area’s key metrics since early October are cause for concern, said local health officials. Those provided by the Texas Medical Center include:

• The rolling average of 497 COVID-19 cases reported the week ending Sunday represents a 33 percent increase from late September, when the number was 373. It increased gradually the weeks in between.

• The number of COVID-19 patients admitted to TMC hospitals exceeded 100 last week, up from the 80s the previous week and 70s the week before that.

• The TMC COVID-19 test positivity rate, 3.4 percent early in October, has been at 3.9 percent the past week, an 8 percent increase.

• The so-called R(t), or reproduction rate, the rate at which the virus is spreading, did drop to 0.99 Tuesday, but that remains a 55 percent increase over the Sept. 29 rate of 0.64, when the spread was decreasing. The rate last week hit 1.14, which means the virus’ spread was increasing.

“We’re in a yellow zone, not a red zone”, is how one doctor put it. “COVID fatigue”, they say this is. I get that, but you can see what happens when we start to take this less seriously. Until there’s a widely available vaccine, wear your damn mask, stay out of crowded indoor spaces, maintain social distancing, and hope for the best. At least our mild winter weather means we can largely stay outside. It could be worse.

Texas blog roundup for the week of October 19

The Texas Progressive Alliance urges you to get out there and vote as it brings you this week’s roundup.

(more…)

November 2020 Early Voting Day Nine: Starting to run out of clever subtitles

And now, for something slightly different, Part One:

This was hard for Jacob Monty.

As a lifelong Republican, the 52-year old Houston attorney has been in the trenches with former President George W. Bush, never voted for a Democrat for president and even was part of President Donald Trump’s National Hispanic Advisory Council.

But there he was on Wednesday at a Texas Democratic Party press conference, going public with his decision to vote for Joe Biden for president.

“This is not a decision I took lightly, I love the GOP,” said Monty who has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to GOP causes over the years.

But Monty said voting Trump out is the only way he sees to save the GOP he grew up in.

“I’ve not changed my philosophy, I’ve just determined that Donald Trump is an existential threat to America and a threat to the GOP,” he said, adding that he’s still voting Republican down the ballot.

Well, there’s one Biden/Cornyn voter, which addresses a point I’ve raised a time or two in discussing polls. We thank you for your moral decision, sir.

Slightly Different Part Two:

A “Seinfeld” reunion of sorts is in the works — to raise money for Texas Democrats as the state continues to see robust early voting turnout.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander and Larry David are slated to share behind-the-scenes stories and dish about their favorite episodes online in a “fundraiser about something” hosted by Seth Meyers.

“We knew that we had to reunite for something special and the movement on the ground for Texas Democrats up and down the ballot is the perfect opportunity to do just that,” the three stars said in a joint statement. “Texans are getting out to vote in droves and showing the world that Texas has never been a red state, it’s been a non-voting state.”

The event begins Friday, and you can find more information about it here. You can insert your own Seinfeld quote or GIF, Lord knows there’s a million of ’em. It sure is nice to be on the receiving end of some positive attention, isn’t it?

Anyway, this is the post where we talk early voting numbers, so let’s do that. The Day Nine daily EV totals are here. You can find the daily totals for 2008 and 2012 (and 2016 as well, but I’ve got a separate link for it) here, for 2016 here, and for 2018 here. I’m just going to keep on keeping on with the pretense that early voting actually began this Monday, except with 628K votes already in the bank. The “original” Day Three numbers are here.


Election     Mail      Early      Total
=======================================
2008       34,527    126,394    160,921
2012       47,265    150,722    197,987
2016       70,023    217,111    287,134
2018       55,106    190,445    245,551
2020      114,923    205,988    310,814

Things continue to slow down a bit, at least as far as in person voting goes. The early voting period in 2016 was quite active, and unlike the comparison I’m doing with this year, when the universe of people who haven’t voted yet is now much smaller, there was still a lot of room to grow. It won’t surprise me if Week 1 of 2016 catches all the way up to Week 2 of 2020 by Friday or so. Nonetheless, we remain comfortably at a pace to reach 2016’s entire turnout before the end of early voting.


Vote type    Monday  Tuesday Wednesday    Total
===============================================
Mail         17,106   12,216    10,097  114,923
Drive-thru    6,347    7,578     6,834   74,864
In person    67,679   62,173    55,557  684,508
Total        91,132   81,967    72,488  874,295

We are now at 88.7% of 2016’s early vote (plus mail ballot) turnout of 985,571, and at 65.3% of 2016 total turnout. We passed 2012’s early vote total (777,067) and 2008’s early vote total (746,025) on Wednesday. We could reach their final turnout totals (1,188,731 for 2008, 1,204,167 for 2012) early next week. Total early vote turnout from 2018 was 867,871, and we passed that today. (This tweet only counted ballots cast in the 2016 Presidential race; it did not include undervotes or absentee ballots, so it is not a true measure of “turnout”.) Total 2018 turnout was 1,219,871, so we could pass it along with 2008 and 2012 on the same day. With nine days to go, we will need to average 51,623 votes per day to reach 1,338,898 total votes. The mail ballots returned has already exceeded the 101,594 from 2016, and there’s 130,993 ballots still out there.

The Derek Ryan email is here. One thing to highlight:

I’ve had quite a few people point out that women make up a much larger portion of the early voters than men. Through yesterday, 52.1% of voters have been women, 43.1% have been men, and 4.8% don’t have a gender listed on the Secretary of State’s list of registered voters. I think it’s worth pointing out that there are more women who are registered to vote in Texas than men. The breakdown of all registered voters is 50.9% women, 45.3% men, and 3.8% with no gender information listed.

The first page of my report includes a breakdown based on which previous elections each voter has participated in.

[…]

Voters with previous Democratic Primary history (who have not voted in a previous Republican Primary) have seen their share of the vote decrease by 6.9% since my first report. Voters with previous General Election history (who have not voted in any party’s primary) have increased their share by 4.1% and voters with no General Election or Primary Election history have increased their share by 2.7%.

The report, which is through Tuesday, is here. If we really are headed towards twelve million people voting, then the share of people with no previous voting history is going to get pretty high, probably around 25%. I mean, total turnout from 2016 was under nine million, and in 2018 it was about eight and a half million, so there’s a big gap to make up. Similarly, the number of people with general election history but no primary history will also get bigger. Republicans had 2.8 million voters in their 2016 primary, and there were two million Dems in 2020. Even assuming there are some primary voters from other elections that are still around, we’re not even halfway to twelve million. The million dollar question is, who are these people voting for?

HISD needs a bond referendum

Easier said than done, though.

Houston ISD appeared to be on track in mid-February to put a bond election on the ballot this November, taking a critical step toward asking voters for the first time since 2012 to let it borrow money to finance major facility upgrades in the district.

Two weeks later, federal agents raided the district’s headquarters. Three weeks after that, campuses closed due to COVID-19.

Once again, an HISD bond would have to wait.

As voters in Dallas, San Antonio and parts of Fort Bend County decide in the coming weeks whether to back billions of dollars in school improvements, residents of the state’s largest district will not see a bond request on the ballot for the eighth straight year, the longest absence among Texas’ major urban districts.

Despite promising signs earlier this year that HISD finally may have weathered a cascade of embarrassments, the district remains unable to garner support needed to provide students with much-wanted improvements. After approving a facilities assessment in February, a precursor to a bond vote, HISD administrators and trustees never publicly discussed seeking an election following the raid and pandemic-induced shutdown.

In addition to grappling with the novel coronavirus pandemic, HISD continues to face fallout from the abrupt departure of former Superintendent Richard Carranza, self-admitted dysfunction on the school board in 2018 and 2019, the Texas Education Agency’s ongoing effort to replace trustees and the raid tied to former high-ranking administrator Brian Busby.

“As a layperson on the outside looking in, with everything that was going on in the district, I personally would have had some reluctance supporting one,” said HISD trustee Kathy Blueford-Daniels, one of four new members on the nine-person board this year. “We’re not entangled in all that controversy now, and so it’s imperative that we look at trying to do a bond every five years. We’re way overdue.”

[…]

Rice University political science professor Bob Stein, who has conducted dozens of school bond polls and led a survey on voter attitudes toward HISD last year, said he would be “shocked” if the district could earn the needed majority support for a package. If a bond vote fails, HISD must cover costs associated with administering the election.

“There’s just no confidence in the district, and I have no reason to think that confidence has increased with remote learning,” Stein said. “My guess is they’re not going to pass a bond anytime soon.”

Here’s a scorching hot take: Maybe the best way to get a very necessary bond passed is to hand that responsibility to the board of managers that will (one presumes) eventually get installed by the TEA as part of its now-held-up-in-the-courts takeover. If there’s not enough faith that the elected Board members are up to the task (a proposition I’d question, but let’s go with it for now), then give the new Board a crack at it. It’s not clear to me that the appointed Board would have a net gain in public trust, since so many HISD parents and other stakeholders are deeply suspicious of (if not outright hostile to) the TEA takeover, but maybe they could earn some trust, or have a honeymoon period, or just be able to bring it up without other issues getting in the way. I’m just spitballing here. The fact remains, the schools need the capital investment. I’m open to any reasonable ideas for making it happen.