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Election 2004

Once again, Hispanic support for Bush in Texas

Sometimes being first is better than being correct. I point you to a tidbit in this story about Republican agida over immigration for an example.

President Bush has been courting Latino voters for years, as both a gubernatorial candidate and presidential candidate, and it has paid dividends. In his 2004 re-election campaign, Bush won 44 percent of Hispanic voters nationwide and nearly 60 percent in Texas.

That “nearly 60 percent” figure came from an AP exit poll released shortly after the 2004 election – the exact number in question was 59. Only problem is, the AP issued a revised statement a day or so couple of weeks later, adjusting that number down to 49 percent. That did still represent an improvement of six points for Bush from 2000, but it’s not nearly as sexy as that 60 was.

Even before that correction, I was very skeptical of that figure, because I just couldn’t make the math work based on a county-by-county breakdown of Bush/Kerry numbers. Turns out also that the 44 percent national figure was also revised downwards, but I’m not as exercised about that one. It’s not so much to ask that a Texas newspaper pay attention to a story like this for more than a day, is it?

UPDATE: I just now realized that the date on that Mystery Pollster piece is December 1, 2004. Though he says he’s a “bit behind” in reporting on the revised exit poll data, it can’t be the case that the revision was within “a day or so” of the original report, so I’ve corrected that statement. I’ve also sent an email to the reporter on this story to point this out, as Kevin suggested. If I hear anything back, I’ll post about it.

UPDATE: I have received a gracious reply from reporter Greg Jefferson, who said that a correction is forthcoming. I will post that URL when I see it.

The Frost effect

One of the things that was hotly debated in the aftermath of the 2004 elections was whether Martin Frost’s campaign for the 32nd CD had a positive effect on downballot races, or if the resources he expended only benefitted his own totals. I think I have some data that may help answer this question.

What makes this tough to answer is finding an appropriate basis for comparison. Looking at turnout in a given precinct, even in a strongly Democratic precinct, isn’t enough, since you can’t say for certain based on higher than usual numbers who those people were actually voting for. Similarly, you can’t just look at returns in a given precinct, since you don’t know what the baseline performance would have been. What you need is to compare returns in precincts where Frost was on the ballot to those without him, and you’ve got to compare the results for a downballot candidate to a baseline result for each.

I got an inkling for how to do this while doing an analysis of Chris Harris’ SD9, which was requested of me awhile back. What gave me the idea was noticing that within SD9 there were four contested Congressional races, and that there was a wide spread in performance among the four Democratic candidates.

Results in SD9 CD26 - Michael Burgess versus Lico Reyes Candidate Votes Vote Pct Vote Diff Pct Diff ======================================================== Burgess 38,709 78.90 +833 +4.45 Reyes 10,353 21.10 -2,643 -4.45 Bush 37,876 74.45 Kerry 12,996 25.55 CD06 - Joe Barton versus Morris Meyer Candidate Votes Vote Pct Vote Diff Pct Diff ======================================================== Barton 22,824 52.54 -893 +0.03 Meyer 20,618 47.46 -780 -0.03 Bush 23,717 52.57 Kerry 21,398 47.43 CD24 - Kenny Marchant versus Gary Page Candidate Votes Vote Pct Vote Diff Pct Diff ======================================================== Marchant 56,759 61.67 -3,210 -0.35 Page 35,278 38.33 -1,440 +0.35 Bush 59,969 62.02 Kerry 36,718 37.98 CD32 - Pete Sessions versus Martin Frost Candidate Votes Vote Pct Vote Diff Pct Diff ======================================================== Sessions 13,104 52.87 -2,111 -6.65 Frost 11,680 47.13 +1,333 +6.65 Bush 15,215 59.52 Kerry 10,347 40.48

“Vote diff”, in case you can’t tell, is the difference between that candidate’s total and the corresponding total in the Presidential race. “Pct diff” is the same for the two-party vote percentage. An eleven point range between Frost, who got more votes than John Kerry, and Reyes, whose opponent got more votes than Bush. Clearly, Frost’s campaign made a difference for himself. How can we translate this to other races?

What I decided to do what this: Within SD9, there were two Dallas County races, one of which you may have heard about. Those races were for Judge of the 303rd District Court, between Beth Maultsby (R) and Dennise Garcia (D), and for Sheriff, between Danny Chandler (R) and Lupe Valdez (D). Did Martin Frost help either of those two Democratic candidates get more votes than they otherwise would have?

The method I chose was this: Compare the performance of Garcia and Valdez to that of John Kerry in the precincts where Frost was on the ballot to those where he wasn’t. The theory here is that since there was essentially no campaigning by Kerry in Texas, his performance could be considered a baseline, a minimum of what a Democrats should get (it’s probably a little higher than that since there was some campaigning by Bush, but that’s not really important for these purposes.) Only the Marchant-Page race covered any significant part of Dallas County in SD9 (there were two precincts in the Burgess/Reyes race, totalling about 50 votes), so we’ve got a fairly straightforward basis for comparison. Looking at the less-heralded judge’s race as well helps us to filter out whether any differences are due to Valdez’ well-known effort.

With that in mind, here’s what we get:

Dallas County portion of SD9 Candidate Votes Vote Pct ================================= Bush 43,097 60.66 Kerry 27,950 39.34 Maultsby 38,867 57.59 Garcia 28,627 42.41 Chandler 39,113 57.29 Valdez 29,159 42.71 Sessions/Frost precincts Candidate Votes Vote Pct ================================= Bush 15,215 59.52 Kerry 10,347 40.48 Sessions 13,104 52.87 Frost 11,680 47.13 Maultsby 13,680 56.35 Garcia 10,597 43.65 Chandler 13,865 56.41 Valdez 10,714 43.59 Marchant/Page precincts Candidate Votes Vote Pct ================================= Bush 27,846 61.28 Kerry 17,591 38.72 Marchant 25,820 59.75 Page 17,397 40.25 Maultsby 25,149 58.26 Garcia 18,021 41.74 Chandler 25,211 57.77 Valdez 18,432 42.23

Both Garcia and Valdez clearly did better overall in the Frost precincts, but looking at how they did relative to Kerry in each area, there doesn’t appear to be much difference – indeed, if there is anything significant, it’s in Page’s favor.

Differences in Sessions/Frost to Bush/Kerry Candidate Votes Vote Pct Pct Ratio ============================================ Sessions -2,111 -6.65 0.89 Frost +1,333 +6.65 1.16 Maultsby -1,535 -3.17 0.95 Garcia +250 +3.17 1.08 Chandler -1,350 -3.11 0.95 Valdez +934 +3.11 1.08 Differences in Marchant/Page to Bush/Kerry Candidate Votes Vote Pct Pct Ratio ============================================ Marchant -2,026 -1.53 0.98 Page -194 +1.53 1.04 Maultsby -2,697 -3.02 0.95 Garcia +430 +3.02 1.08 Chandler -2,635 -3.51 0.94 Valdez +1,035 +3.51 1.09

“Pct ratio” is the ratio of the given candidate’s vote percentage to that of the corresponding Presidential candidate for those precincts. Another way of putting this is that Frost did 16% better than Kerry, while Garcia and Valdez each did 8% better in his districts; Page did 4% better than Kerry while Garcia was again 8% better and Valdez 9% better in Page’s districts.

From this, it would seem fair to conclude that on a performance basis, it didn’t matter to Garcia and Valdez if they were in Page’s precincts or Frost’s – they each did about as well relative to the national ticket in each. Therefore, if there was any Frost effect at all, it would have to come from turnout alone.

I didn’t know what I was going to find going in to this. I do not consider this to be fully conclusive. For one thing, I’ve not looked at all of Dallas County; in particular, I’ve not looked at any of the other Congressional races there, including the precincts in which Eddie Bernice Johnson ran unopposed. More importantly, we only looked at some turf that was pretty hostile overall to Democrats; we’ll need to see how things shake out in the more Democratic areas in these districts. I also don’t have the relative turnout numbers at hand, so I can’t say if there was a real benefit from an absolute vote total perspective in Frost’s district. At the very least, however, this should cast doubt on the notion that Frost’s tide lifted all boats. There’s still more work to be done, but it doesn’t look good at this point.

The full spreadsheet is available here if anyone wants to check my math.

Analysis of HD47

As promised, I’ve done a fuller analysis of HD47, the State House district which has just been abandoned by incumbent Republican Terry Keel. You can see all of my data in this spreadsheet. Here’s an executive summary.

Overall, as expected, this is a moderately Republican district. Here’s the breakdown for the statewide races, including the contest in the 21st Congressional District:

GOP Cnd Votes Pct Dem Cnd Votes Pct ======================== ======================== Bush 40,955 53.31 Kerry 35,872 46.69 LSmith 39,020 56.20 RSmith 30,409 43.80 Carillo 38,173 53.87 Scarboro 32,685 46.13 Keasler 38,959 53.00 Molina 34,545 47.00 Brister 39,657 53.61 Van Os 34,318 46.39 Total 197,797 53.73 Total 170,365 46.27

Note: Of HD47’s 51 precincts, 46 are in CD21, and the other five are in CD25. The spreadsheet combines the CD25 votes with CD21 (overall totals are 40,053/32,945, or 54.87%/45.13%), but I’m just showing the CD21 result above. As you can see, about a seven point advantage to the GOP. Note that all results given here are for two-party totals. The data downloaded from the SOS website appears to only include the top two votegetters.

Things are a bit different at the county race level, though. The six races include four judgeships, Travis County Sheriff, and a Constable race:

GOP Cnd Votes Pct Dem Cnd Votes Pct ======================== ======================== PKeel 40,589 54.80 Yelenosky 33,475 45.20 Pemberton 37,145 50.35 Henson 36,634 49.65 Green 35,332 47.75 Patterson 38,660 52.25 Anastas's 34,291 47.00 Cooper 38,661 53.00 McNeill 37,139 52.08 Hamilton 34,168 47.92 ThKeel 31,787 50.01 McCain 31,768 49.99 Total 216,283 50.34 Total 213,366 49.66

(Note: The Constable race between Thornton Keel and Richard McCain covered 44 of the 51 precincts.)

Now that’s a swing district! I don’t know what the dynamics were in these races, but the message should be clear: The right Democrat can win here.

There’s one last factor to consider. Terry Keel ran unopposed in 2004. Since I can’t do a two-party comparison, let’s see how he did in terms of percentage of total turnout. I’ve included all the Republicans in this district who did not have a Democratic opponent; Lawrence Meyers and Cheryl Johnson, both Court of Criminal Appeals justices, had Libertarian opponents.

GOP Cnd Votes Pct ======================== TeKeel 49,075 62.22 O'Neill 47,203 59.84 Green 46,677 59.18 Johnson 43,749 55.46 Meyers 42,988 54.50

You want an illustration of why you need to contest races, there you have it. The best percent-of-turnout performance among the contesteds was Bush with 51.92%. Only Patrick Keel (51.46%) and Scott Brister (50.28%) reached a majority (the combined Lamar Smith/Becky Klein vote was 50.78% of turnout). All other candidates lost between 1 and 10 points from their vote percentages.

What conclusions can we draw? I think based on his actual 2004 performance that Terry Keel would have won reelection with something like 55 to 57% of the vote had he had a viable Democratic challenger. Also based on that performance, he’d be a solid favorite in 2006, but not quite a lock. His non-lockstep voting record would be on balance a plus for him, but his assassination of the campaign finance reform bill HB1348 plus his bizarre mini-meltdown over HB268 at the end of the session would provide some fodder for whoever took him on. Opening this seat up is a tremendous boon for the Democrats, and raises the profile of this race greatly.

Now that I’ve figured out how to extract this kind of data efficiently, I hope to do more of this sort of analysis in the coming weeks. If you’ve got any requests, let me know and I’ll see what I can do.

“Get Out The Vo” article up

Here’s the promised link to that Texas Monthly article on Hubert Vo. It’ll be up till Monday, at which point I’ve been asked to take it down, so read it now while you can. The piece is in the June issue of the print version of the magazine.

One bit to highlight:

The growing political power of Houston’s Asian Americans may be felt in a number of races next November. DeLay’s reelection campaign will be the most closely watched, but the fate of several other Anglo Republicans, among them state senator Kyle Janek and state representative Joe Nixon, may also be in question. Janek’s district stretches from Alief to Port Arthur, which is home to a sizable Vietnamese American population. Nixon’s district is bookended by Vo’s district to the west and [Scott] Hochberg’s to the east. “Both could be vulnerable if a Vo-like candidate runs,” observes political analyst [Dr. Richard] Murray. Republicans, who study the same demographic data, see the potential in recruiting Asian candidates; Vo says he has already been approached by a high-ranking member of the Legislature (he won’t say who) who asked him to consider switching parties. He has grown accustomed to Republicans’ questioning his party affiliation. “They say, ‘You’re a self-made man,’” he explains. “‘You didn’t need welfare and food stamps to succeed. So why aren’t you with the Republican party?’” But Vo has no plans to switch.

I’ve talked about Moldy Joe Nixon several times. At this time, as far as I know, there’s a candidate lined up to run against him, Robert Pham. Janek’s SD17 has certainly been talked about as a Democratic target – you think Congressional seats are safe, State Senate seats are practically bulletproof, so this is a big deal. I haven’t heard any rumors yet as to who may be looking at it, though. I had not heard about attempts to woo Vo to the GOP. I guess I’m not surprised they tried, and I’m equally not surprised that they failed. It’s about values – Hubert Vo’s values make him a Democrat. It’s as simple as that.

Anyway, like I said, read and enjoy now before it goes away.

UPDATE: Per my agreement with Texas Monthly, I have removed the link as of Monday, May 23.

Get Out The Vo

I received an email this morning from the folks at Texas Monthly to tell me about an article from their upcoming June issue that might (and does) interest me. From the email:

“Get Out the Vo” is a story by Pamela Colloff on not just the Vo/Heflin race but how the demographics of that district, as well as others around Houston, have changed and could impact future legislative races.

Texas Monthly stories are normally only available to print subscribers online, but they’ve promised to send me a temporary link on Thursday for this, so look for it then.

The most important right

Greg Moses is still wading through documents from the Heflin Challenge, and he keeps putting out useful and interesting articles on what he’s found. Stay on top of it all here, here, here, and here.

One of the better questions to be raised by all this is why exactly did Tax Assessor Paul Bettencourt do an audit specific to HD149 when the normal procedure is to do one of the whole county? The answer they’ve given is that this was standard for when there’s such a close election, except that no one can recall a previous incident even though there have been similarly close elections in recent history, like this one, for example. As Moses documents, Bettencourt’s audit was quite the handy guide for Andy Taylor.

The more I read of Moses’ work, the more I share his distaste with the sustained attacks that Taylor made not just on individual voters, but on the concept that voting is a right, and as such it shouldn’t be trivially denied. Mark Schmitt notes that a frequent question on the test for US citizenship is “WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT RIGHT GRANTED TO U.S. CITIZENS?” The answer, of course, is “the right to vote”. Well, if that’s really so, why do we make it so hard to vote?

[We should] allow immediate voter registration on the day of the election, or abandon the concept of voter registration entirely. Show up with any proof of residence and citizenship, and you can vote. Your name is immediately entered into a state-level computer system so that you can’t vote again that day, and won’t need ID in the future. There’s no reason it can’t be that simple, and if this is truly “The Most Important Right,” we would do it.

Implied in there is the idea of being able to vote anywhere, which is something that the state of Florida has discussed recently. Taylor wanted to disallow the votes of people who cast their ballots in the wrong precinct, even though they were in the right House district and thus had the same slate of candidates. That’s ludicrous, especially in this day of early voting – I can’t remember the last time I voted in my precinct location on Election Day. Bettencourt’s office knows who you should be voting for, and so do the eSlate machines during the early period. Why not on Election Day as well?

I’ll close here by pointing to Greg’s account of a lunch date he and I had with Larry Veselka, the man who ably represented Rep. Hubert Vo in the Heflin challenge. I don’t have a whole lot to add to what he said, so I’ll just second the notion that there was quite the lack of outrage on the issue of absentee ballots from people serving in the military whose votes were questioned by Heflin and Taylor. Refer to pages 32-34 of the Hartnett report (PDF) for the notations on this. As Greg asks, where’s Jerry Patterson when you really need him?

How did Andy know?

Greg Moses continues his in-depth look at the original documents in the Heflin challenge, and discovers that some of the voters whom Andy Taylor claimed were illegal were not in the official list that Paul Bettencourt compiled, which leads to the question, “How did he know?” about them. If you want an example of good, original reporting by a non-mainstream media type (Moses is an activist and writes for Counterpunch among other online pubs, so I hesitate to call him a “blogger”), this here is a damn fine one for you. Check it out.

Questioning Taylor’s ethics

Greg Moses has two more articles as a result of his study of the original documents in the Heflin challenge, and he has concluded that Andy Taylor is guilty of attempting to violate the civil rights of some voters, specifically the voters whose registrations were fraudulently changed by Bernard Amandi. Here’s the crux of Moses’ argument:

Several voters of Nigerian descent discovered when they tried to vote in the November elections, that they had been fraudulently re-registered into a neighboring House District. Sometime in late 2003, someone had submitted new registrations for these voters, placing them into a legislative district that would soon involve a candidate of Nigerian descent. The candidate lost to an incumbent in the Democratic primary election.

During public hearings in the election contest that he brought to the legislature on behalf of his client Talmadge Heflin, Taylor argued that these African-American voters who preferred Democrat Hubert Vo should have their votes tossed out because they were cast in a legislative district other than where the voters were registered.

Yet, anyone with access to the original documents in the Heflin-Vo election contest (including Taylor himself, who submitted the docs in the first place) would have been able to plainly read the explanation that “fraudulent addresses” for voters of Nigerian descent had been allegedly submitted by someone other than the voters. In fact, the assertion was twice stated in carefully written explanations on envelopes for provisional ballots submitted by a husband-wife pair of voters.

The provisional ballots were approved by Harris County election officials who accepted that the voters should be considered as properly registered. And legislative Master of Discovery Will Hartnett (R-Dallas) also ruled the ballots to be legal. Hartnett explained in the election hearing that he had taken the time to call up one of the voters and discuss the predicament.

While it appeared to someone viewing the hearing that Hartnett was being exceedingly perceptive in his discovery of a pattern of fraud against the voters, in fact he was just reading what was plainly written, not once but twice, on the evidence submitted by Taylor. This plainly stated explanation, which was accepted by Harris County officials and Hartnett, never stopped Taylor from trying to suppress the votes of these African-American voters nevertheless, along with their votes for Vo.

The significance of this finding is that Taylor (the same attorney who defended the heavy-handed redistricting of the Texas Congressional map in 2004) continued to pursue allegations in a public hearing that a number of Nigerian-American voters (4-9 cases according to my preliminary estimate) had cast illegal ballots, even as he placed exculpatory evidence on the record that plainly indicated they were victims not perpetrators of fraud.

By pursuing his allegations against these voters in the context of a rare legislative election contest, Taylor used his law license to call down the power of the state to pursue certain voters under threat of arrest, when he had every reason to suspect they were innocent from the start. If the law is going to jealously guard Taylor’s right to pursue election irregularities, should it not just as jealously guard the rights of voters against willful and obnoxious harassment by agents of the law?

Taylor’s bad faith attack on these African-American voters counts as a Civil Rights infringement in two ways. First, it was an effort to criminalize voters of color by deliberately overlooking exculpatory evidence on the record. Second, it counts as a bad faith effort to overturn the election of a candidate of color. Using the power of law to harass voters of African descent in an effort to unseat a candidate of Vietnamese descent, accusing all parties of fraud when your own evidence indicates they have done nothing wrong, this is offensive, outrageous, indecent, and should cost Andy Taylor his license to practice law in Texas.

I’m not a lawyer, so I have no idea how the State Bar would react to an actual complaint being filed against Taylor on these grounds; my best guess is they would not act on it. What I want to emphasize here is that when you hear Taylor and his henchwoman Tine Benkiser scream about “fraud!” in the HD149 race (as they were both still doing after Hartnett made his ruling and Heflin dropped his challenge), this is what they’re talking about. In their opinion, voters who did nothing wrong and who had always voted in HD149 but were wrongfully reregistered in another House district by a third party intent on affecting another race should not have had their votes counted in the HD149 race, and the fact that their votes were counted is proof of massive fraud by Democrats bent on stealing the election from Talmadge Heflin.

There’s a good reason why Will Hartnett rejected Taylor and Benkiser’s twisted logic, beyond the fact that it’s a load of crap: People who didn’t do anything wrong should not be treated like people who did. These voters were essentially victims of identity theft. To deny them their right to vote based on that would add to their victimization. But that’s what Taylor and Benkiser wanted, and they’re still advocating for it. Whether that’s an offense worthy of the State Bar’s intervention or not I can’t say, but it’s shameful and dishonest, and they deserve to be scorned for it.

Voting rights and wrongs

Greg Moses of the Texas Civil Rights Review has embarked on his study of the original documents in the Heflin electoral challenge. Today he reports on the case of one deposed voter who answered the questions the way they deserved to be answered.

Meanwhile, Grits reports on yet another awful bill being filed in Austin, HB 516, by Betty Brown (R, Kaufman), which would amend the electoral code to add the following requirements for a voter’s registration card:

(1) a driver’s license or personal identification card issued to the applicant by the Department of Public Safety or a similar document issued to the applicant by an agency of another state, if the department or the agency of another state indicates on the driver’s license or personal identification card that the applicant has provided proof that the applicant is a United States citizen;

(2) a birth certificate or other document confirming birth that is admissible in a court of law;

(3) United States citizenship papers issued to the applicant; or

(4) a United States passport issued to the applicant.

Proof of registration as a voter in another state or county is not acceptable as proof of citizenship.

I don’t know about you, but my driver’s license doesn’t say anything about my citizenship. This would pretty much kill the concept of a voter registration drive – for sure, the HCDP’s Sharpstown office would never have signed up 2000 new voters this past fall if this had been on the books. Thankfully, I do have a passport and I know where my birth certificate is (I had to order a replacement a few years back in order to renew my passport), so I would be able to prove myself worthy of voting in 2006. How about you?

I’m not saying that we should be unconcerned about the issue of noncitizens voting. I am saying that I’m not aware of any problems with the current system that would necessitate such an enormous change. Remember, there was a grand total of one non-citizen who provably voted in the HD149 election, and that guy filled out the application form honestly (it was Paul Bettencourt’s office that screwed up, something which they’ve admitted). What’s so badly broken here that we need this kind of fix?

Grits has more reasons to scorn this bad bill, so be sure to read his recap. In the meantime, consider telling your representative what you think about this, and hunt around for that birth certificate just in case.

Van Os versus Kerry

Via Sam Heldman, I see this assertion from David Van Os:

I carried 17 rural counties that Kerry-Edwards lost, and ran ahead of the ticket statewide and in every region.

Well, hey, there’s nothing like digging into election return data for some good clean fun, so off to the Secretary of State webpage I went. First things first, I’m not sure where Van Os got that 17 county figure from. By my count, he carried 10 counties that Kerry did not:

Brister Van Os Total County REP DEM Brister Pct Van Os Pct Votes BEE 4,185 4,517 48.09% 51.91% 8,702 CAMERON 26,570 35,765 42.62% 57.38% 62,335 CULBERSON 289 316 47.77% 52.23% 605 FISHER 808 831 49.30% 50.70% 1,639 FRIO 1,482 1,957 43.09% 56.91% 3,439 KLEBERG 4,085 5,000 44.96% 55.04% 9,085 MORRIS 2,266 2,618 46.40% 53.60% 4,884 NEWTON 2,335 2,751 45.91% 54.09% 5,086 REEVES 1,217 1,690 41.86% 58.14% 2,907 ROBERTSON 3,086 3,174 49.30% 50.70% 6,260 Bush Kerry Total County REP DEM Bush Pct Kerry Pct Votes BEE 5,428 4,045 57.03% 42.50% 9,518 CAMERON 34,801 33,998 50.32% 49.16% 69,156 CULBERSON 407 375 51.65% 47.59% 788 FISHER 1,161 758 60.37% 39.42% 1,923 FRIO 1,991 1,931 50.66% 49.13% 3,930 KLEBERG 5,366 4,550 53.81% 45.62% 9,973 MORRIS 2,818 2,437 53.39% 46.17% 5,278 NEWTON 3,159 2,513 55.42% 44.09% 5,700 REEVES 1,777 1,600 52.34% 47.13% 3,395 ROBERTSON 3,792 2,979 55.81% 43.84% 6,795

(Note: Bush/Kerry percentages do not sum to 100 because of other candidates on the ballot.)

Pretty impressive, but not the whole story. To see what I mean, consider the results in those counties in the Railroad Commissioner race between Democrat Bob Scarborough and Republican incumbent Victor Carillo:

Carillo Scarborough Total County REP DEM Carillo Pct Scarborough Pct Votes BEE 3,601 4,891 40.60% 55.14% 8,870 CAMERON 26,457 32,366 41.37% 50.61% 63,948 CULBERSON 297 326 44.93% 49.32% 661 FISHER 841 927 47.22% 52.05% 1,781 FRIO 1,284 2,103 36.05% 59.04% 3,562 KLEBERG 3,811 5,033 40.57% 53.58% 9,393 MORRIS 1,925 2,942 38.75% 59.22% 4,968 NEWTON 1,886 3,174 36.30% 61.09% 5,196 REEVES 1,222 1,595 39.97% 52.18% 3,057 ROBERTSON 2,846 3,372 44.45% 52.67% 6,402

There was a Libertarian in this race, Anthony Garcia, who drew some sizeable support in a few counties (as you can tell by the percentage totals), yet despite his presence Scarborough did better than Van Os in all but Cameron (where Garcia drew over 5000 votes) and Reeves.

There’s more. Scarborough carried a lot more counties that were not carried by Van Os. I’ve reproduced those totals, including Garcia’s but without the percentages, beneath the More link.

My point here is not to bash David Van Os. I voted for him, and I agree with his argument that Democrats need to deliver their message aggressively and forcefully, and they must not be afraid to deliver it in places that aren’t traditionally friendly. Kerry’s campaign was understandably not present here, and the result speaks for itself. The point I am making, though, is that the right person has to deliver that message as well, and while I admire his fighting spirit, that person most likely isn’t David Van Os.


Taylor still in denial

Let me just say that it’s a good thing I wasn’t eating when I stumbled across Andy Taylor’s op-ed on “voting irregularities” in today’s Chron. It’s as bad, as self-serving, and as disingenuous as you’d expect from Taylor. Greg has already done the heavy lifting here, so I’ll leave you to that. One thing I do want to expand on:

To protect our democratic process and the vote of citizens who have ambiguous or disputed registrations, local officials should be allowed to use “provisional ballots” that can be easily added to or eliminated from vote tallies after investigations occur. Right now, votes can only be removed under the umbrella of an election challenge and the burden of proof for determining who loses — or gains — the votes is almost impossible to meet. In fact, a determination can only be attempted by legal deposition and as my client learned, most voters simply cannot remember with absolute certainty who they voted for.

The genius of provisional balloting is that once a determination is made that a vote may be illegal, it can be retrieved electronically and an accurate determination of whether that vote should count in an election and for whom, can be quickly made. If an out-of-county voter demands the right to vote, they can be allowed to vote but a retrieval code in place of the voter’s name determines exactly how that vote should be handled.

Left unanswered is the question of whose ballots would be provisional here. As Greg notes, there’s already an allowance for such a thing. What kind of an expansion on this is Taylor calling for? Is he suggesting that we’d be better off if ballots in general were not secret? I don’t know about you, but I don’t like that idea at all.

Greg Moses of the Texas Civil Rights Review picks up on this as well and explores the contrast between Kristin Mack’s column on Taylor and the Chron’s editorial stance on the whole matter. Check it out.

Open records request filed for Heflin/Vo documents

The Texas Civil Rights Review, which contributed several useful articles about the Heflin challenge while it was going on, has filed an Open Records request for the original files of evidence submitted in the case. They’re still interested in pursuing some of the voters’ rights issues that may have gotten put aside once the challenge was dropped. We’ll see what they find.

Veselka and Taylor

Kristen Mack writes about Larry Veselka and Andy Taylor, the two lawyers involved in the Heflin challenge and notes that for their roles – Taylor for taking up “a cause that made some Republicans uneasy”, and Veselka for winning – that both of them have raised their stature in the eyes of their parties.

I did get to hear Larry Veselka speak yesterday. Didn’t really get a chance to pursue the questions I had (time was limited), but got quite a bit out of it anyway. One thing he talked about that I want to point out in the Hartnett report (PDF), and that’s point three of Will Hartnett’s opening statement: “Contestant has produced no evidence of any intentional voter fraud which affected the final vote tally to his detriment.” I emphasize that last bit for a reason. Scroll down to page 24 where the vote total adjustments are summarized and you’ll see that the categories “double vote” and “non-citizen” both contain deductions from Heflin’s vote totals. We already knew about the Norwegian citizen who voted straight-ticket Republican; the one person who admitted to voting twice (she received two mail-in ballots and figured she was supposed to send them both back) was also a Heflin voter. Ponder that for a minute.

(The other main category of alleged fraud was voters from outside Harris County. Most of them were residents of Fort Bend, where as Paul Bettencourt notes, many people don’t have a firm lock as to where the county line is. One case that was touted initially was a voter from “as far away as Denton County!” that cast a ballot in the HD149 race. That voter, upon deposition, said she was selling her house in Houston – it was still on the market on Election Day – and was living in a rented place in Denton but was travelling back and forth and still considered Houston her permanent residence; she had not registered to vote in Denton County. Her vote was ultimately counted, as no challenge was raised to it in the evidentiary hearing. She voted for Heflin.)

Go back to Greg Moses’ transcription from the hearings, in which Veselka calls BS on Taylor’s fraud charges. That sentence from Hartnett’s opening was put in there at Veselka’s insistence to ensure that the record reflected that there was no fraud, at least none that damaged Talmadge Heflin. There’s an old lawyer’s saying that goes “When the law is on your side, pound on the law; when the facts are on your side, pound on the facts; when neither is on your side, pound on the table.” Veselka had the facts and the law on his side, which is why if you even saw a quote from him in the paper prior to the hearings, he was the voice of calm and reason who stuck to the facts and the law and expressed confidence that House members would do the same. Taylor had nothing, which is why he and his henchwoman Tina Benkiser spent the entire time baying at the moon. Their only hope was for partisanship to win out. It’s to Will Hartnett’s eternal credit that he was not swayed by them, and it’s to Veselka’s eternal credit that he recognized his winning hand and played it accordingly. And the real winners are the people of HD149 and honest Texans across the state.

Tina Benkiser thinks you’re a loser

Pink Dome picks up a quote from the conclusion of the Heflin Challenge that I had missed:

Republican Party officials praised Mr. Heflin’s efforts against what they called “illegal voting and election fraud” and called on the Legislature to take up election reform during this session.

“Unfortunately, the real losers today are the people of House District 149 and honest Texans across the state,” said GOP Chairwoman Tina Benkiser.

Funny, I don’t feel like a loser. Of course, I’m sure Tina would think I’m not an honest Texan, so I guess I’m disqualified. Maybe you ought to be having this discussion with Bev Kaufman, Paul Bettencourt, and Will Hartnett, Tina. They all seem to think that everything was on the level. But hey, maybe they’re just tools of us dishonest Democrats. We have that kind of power, you know. This whole letting you run the state thing is just part of our master plan. By the time you realize what we’re up to, it’ll be way too late. (Insert evil laughter here.)

Anyway. Any dishonest and/or loser Republicans want to comment on this?

Vo goes to work

Now that the Heflin Challenge is officially over, Rep. Hubert Vo can focus on the job he was sent to Austin to do.

“I feel very much relieved. Now I can focus on my work,” Vo, 48, said.

Members from both parties wished him well, including House Speaker Tom Craddick, who put his arm around Vo as they talked.

“They said, ‘It’s over now, and we are glad we don’t have to have this battle on the floor,’ ” Vo said.

Heflin already has said it is “highly likely” he will seek to regain the seat in 2006.

But for now, with the election contest behind him, Vo can hang pictures on his office walls and concentrate on legislative duties.

I think Heflin’s fooling himself if he thinks he can win again, but at least now he’s doing something productive. The Chron gives him his sendoff while welcoming Vo to his office.

Meanwhile, Rick Casey gets a bit muddled about the actual fraud that Rep. Will Hartnett found in his discovery process. Greg sets him straight – Casey was quoting somewhat out of context from this article. As Greg notes, this more recent article, which I linked to yesterday, goes into more detail.

Heflin challenge coda

Greg Moses reads through the Hartnett report (PDF) and finds some items that undoubtedly will not get any further attention now that the Select Committee on Election Challenges’ meeting will be a formality, but should. Check it out.

On a side note, I’m going to be at a gathering on Thursday that will include Larry Veselka, Hubert Vo’s attorney in this matter. If I get the opportunity, I’ll ask him about some of this.

Heflin concedes

Talmadge Heflin has withdrawn his challenge after Discovery Master Will Hartnett recommended that it be dismissed.

Hartnett concluded that Heflin had produced “no evidence of any intentional voter fraud” that would have affected his Nov. 2 loss to Vo in District 149. Vo won then by 52 votes, a margin that narrowed to 33 with an official recount including mail-in ballots.

“It became obvious that we didn’t have the data to meet the hurdle,” Heflin said of his effort to convince Hartnett and the House that the participation of ineligible voters put the result of the election in doubt. “When you see that you can’t meet a criteria that is thrust upon you, it makes no sense to move ahead.”


Heflin, who served 11 terms in the House and was chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, said it was “highly likely” that he would run again to regain the House seat or another public office.

Vo said he looks forward to serving, and that the residents of the district will “have a say again in two years.”

During the campaign, Vo said Heflin had lost touch with the increasingly diverse district.

Heflin wouldn’t address tha today, saying he was not going to dwell on the past and that in the election challenge, he only wanted to seek the truth.

“It’s not something I was in because I couldn’t let go of (the seat),” he said.


After reviewing Hartnett’s report, Heflin decided it was time to move on, said his lawyer, Andy Taylor.

“We made a political decision not to ask for the select committee to overrule Rep. Hartnett,” Taylor said. “I didn’t think that would be in the best interest of the parties or the House.”

He added that Heflin did not want to put House members in the “uncomfortable position” of having to weigh in on the race.

Heflin and Taylor said they still believe that the race was decided by ineligible voters, and said they wish they had had more time to collect evidence.

“Even under the most critical review of our evidence, a new election should have been ordered,” Taylor said. “How can anyone say with any confidence whatsoever that the outcome the election was such that one candidate prevailed over another?”

Heflin said he respected Hartnett’s report but doesn’t regret his challenge.

“Any time you seek the truth it’s worth it,” Heflin said. “The integrity of the election process is what’s at risk.”

It took him longer than perhaps I would have liked, but ultimately Heflin did the right thing, and for that I thank him for his wise decision to accept the result and move on.

As for Andy Taylor…jeez, what a jerk. You were wrong every step of the way. Quit whining and go home. Oh, and be sure to read Hartnett’s full report (PDF), which explains at length and with many footnotes why you lost. Maybe you’ll learn something.

Anyway, Vince excerpts from the report, while Greg focuses on a specific case of interest. One thing I want to note from Page 16 of the report, which I suspect will make Kevin happy:

“The two months of discovery in this case show that very little about the November 2004 election in District 149 has not been examined. If anything, this contest has pulled back the carpet and allowed the master, the parties, and the Select Committee to sweep away the dust to allow an in-depth examination of the problems of conducting a modern election in a mobile urban society, while guaranteeing access to the ballot box for all and ensuring the integrity of the elections.”

That paragraph contained the following footnote:

“During the final conference call, all of the parties and the master expressed a willingness, after the resolution of this case, to sit down and discuss their experiences and jointly discuss possible changed in election law raised by this case.”

That would be a fine thing to result from this ordeal. I hope they follow through on it.

The word is in: Hartnett says that Vo wins

Rep. Will Hartnett is scheduled to release his report on the Heflin challenge this morning. This news brief indicates that Rep. Hubert Vo will be declared the winner, though with a slightly decreased margin of victory. I have been informed this morning by a Democratic source that Hartnett’s official report will indeed confirm Vo as the winner. Looking around, I see that Harvey Kronberg has the same information I do. Here’s Hubert Vo’s statement:

I appreciate the careful and thorough job my colleague Mr. Hartnett has done under intense pressure and in difficult circumstances. He refused to be distracted by sidebar issues and kept his focus on making sure the will of the voters is upheld.

I am confident that my colleagues on the special committee and in the full House will live up to the standard Mr. Hartnett has set in honoring both the spirit and the essence of our democratic process.

Hartnett’s report will be posted here. The Select Committee on Election Contests will meet tomorrow (PDF) to hear testimony from Hartnett and from attorneys from both sides. That committee will make its report for the full House by Thursday the 10th, and at long last this will be over.

UPDATE: Hartnett’s report is up (PDF).

“Contestant Heflin has failed to establish by clear and convincing evidence that the outcome of the contested election, as shown by the final canvass indicating Contestee Vo as the winner, was not the true outcome of the election. Accordingly, Contestant Heflin’s contest should be dismissed.”

My hat’s off to you, Rep. Hartnett. May your colleagues follow your lead.

UPDATE: The report has hit the wires. Here’s the Chron story and the Star Telegram story.

Vote fraud suspected in HD137

Greg and Cate tell you what you need to know about this story in which voters from HD149 were alleged to have been illegally moved into HD137. To answer Greg’s question about how this affects the Heflin challenge, I recall a quote from Will Hartnett in which he said that a voter who registered properly and then had his registration changed to an incorrect address without his knowledge or consent should not be disenfranchised. I can’t find the cite offhand, but I’m pretty sure those votes will be counted in that race.

No decision yet

We’ll have to wait till next week to find out what will happen with the Heflin challenge.

State Rep. Will Hartnett, R-Dallas, who is gathering evidence for a House committee that will consider Heflin’s charge that he lost because of ineligible voters, had hoped to make his recommendation today. But he said Tuesday he needs more time to sift through evidence from a two-day hearing last week.

Hartnett said he will tally the votes and “implicitly state a winner” Monday.

The House’s nine-member Select Committee on Election Contest will begin its hearings on Tuesday.

Hartnett will issue rulings on each of about 250 ballots alleged to have been cast by ineligible voters, and recommend whether the votes should be counted or tossed. Hartnett said he will agree to remove only votes in which voters were proved to be ineligible, voted in the Heflin-Vo race and will testify for whom they voted.


After weeks of alleging fraud, Heflin’s lawyers acknowledged Friday that they found no organized fraud in the election that unseated the Republican lawmaker.

Hartnett said he did find cases of fraudulent voter registration but that it did not appear intended to affect the Heflin-Vo race.

He said the registrations of about five voters in District 149 were moved without their knowledge to a different district, possibly to benefit a candidate in that district.

Heflin’s lawyers tried to get the votes thrown out, contending the voters were registered somewhere else but allowed to vote in the District 149 race.

Hartnett, however, declared their votes legal, ruling that the voters were legitimate residents of District 149 and that their registrations in the other district were forged.

“If someone you don’t know moves your registration you should not be disenfranchised,” Hartnett said. “The state is not going to recognize fraud on these innocent people.”

Greg finds cause for concern in this. Maybe, maybe not. Hartnett’s given off a pretty strong vibe of fairness so far, so I’m inclined to cut him a little slack.

This article by Greg Moses, the same fellow who produced the ILCA pieces noted here, sheds some light on the voters whose registrations were moved, and gives a bit more detail on the hearings. Via Andrew D.

Your daily Heflin Challenge update

The Chron, which you may recall endorsed Talmadge Heflin for the November election, calls him the poorest loser and urges him to drop his electoral challenge against Rep. Hubert Vo.

I don’t know much about the International Labor Communications Association, but they have two interesting posts up regarding the details of the challenge hearing from last week. This one shows Andy Taylor’s retreat from the wild and ill-founded allegations of fraud that he was spreading around like grass seed as recently as a week ago, while this one concludes that when all is said and done, the revised count done by Discovery Master Will Hartnett will still result with Vo in the lead (latter link via Byron). Stay tuned.

It’s in Hartnett’s hands

The next step in the Heflin challenge will be taken by Discovery Master Will Hartnett, who will issue his recommendations on Wednesday. Along the way, he rejected some bogus evidence presented by Team Heflin.

Hartnett, R-Dallas, ruled as irrelevant testimony by a Republican pollster who used calculations to project Heflin’s margin of victory.

Michael Baselice, an Austin-based pollster, testified Friday as an expert witness for Heflin.

Heflin’s lawyers said he would win by five votes, based on their analysis of 91 ballots cast by allegedly ineligible voters who have been willing to reveal their votes.

Baselice used a mathematical analysis, known as extrapolation, to determine that Heflin’s margin of votes would increase when applied to the remaining 250 potentially illegal ballots that were cast and counted.

“It’s a projection of a known quantity,” Baselice said. “It gives us an idea about how these may end up.”

Under cross-examination, Baselice acknowledged that what he did was “nothing more than middle school math.” He also said that he knew nothing about the votes, other than the percentage breakdown Heflin’s lawyers gave him.

Of course, we could have taken the evidence that three out of four illegal voters interviewed by the Chron had voted for Heflin, and extrapolated a much larger margin of victory for Vo. It would have been as scientific. Even if you could somehow claim this was a representative sample, the margin of error for a sample of 91 with a population of 40,000 is 10.26% (it’s 8.61% for a sample of 129; see below), which would make it a useless predictor for anything else. Why Team Heflin thought this was relevant evidence is beyond me.

For some odd reason, this story gives a different total in Baselice’s sample:

Taylor got sworn statements from 129 of the 250 people who cast what he says were illegal votes. Of those, 86 said they voted for Vo and 43 for Heflin.

Taylor argued that meant Heflin won the election by 10 votes.

Larry Veselka, one of Vo’s attorneys, said Taylor’s numbers show Vo winning by 37 votes.

As each vote was scrutinized over the past two days, attorneys argued over its legality. Hartnett made occasional comments, sometimes agreeing with one side and sometimes the other. He often said he would have to return to a specific vote.

At one point he told attorneys that “you’re asking me to assume an awful lot here.”

“No one knows for sure what he’s thinking,” said Rick Gray, one of Vo’s attorneys. “He’s giving everyone a fair shake.”

I don’t understand the reason for the discrepancy, but whatever – it was baloney either way. I’m just glad to hear that Team Vo has faith in Hartnett.

Finally, a quick hit from the Morning News.

Defeated GOP Rep. Talmadge Heflin continued his vanity bid Thursday, telling the Texas House why representatives should invalidate his loss to Democrat Hubert Vo. We remind you that this election has been through a few recounts already. And even some Republicans think Mr. Heflin has no business asking the House to throw out his loss. Most of all, we think the last thing the House needs is a partisan sideshow. The redistricting battles of 2003 split the place up enough. It’s time to heal and move on.


The hearings

Lawyers for Talmadge Heflin and Hubert Vo had their day in the House yesterday.

Heflin’s lawyer, Andy Taylor, maintains that Vo’s “razor close” victory margin was decided by illegal ballots, and that the election otherwise would have gone to Heflin.

Taylor said he contacted 129 voters who cast ineligible ballots and agreed to reveal their votes, and that Heflin would have won by 10 votes if the ineligible ballots hadn’t been counted.

But Vo’s lawyer, Larry Veselka, said his examination of the ballots increased Vo’s margin of victory to 37 votes.

Taylor, who previously has alleged fraud in the election, toned down that language Thursday, saying only that there were “serious and deep flaws.”

Most errors resulted from actions of unspecified election officials, Veselka said.

“It should be clear what we have at stake here,” he said. “We don’t have voter fraud, but honest mistakes by people living busy lives.”

He said Taylor failed to seek enough evidence to prove that the election results should be overturned.


[Rep. Will] Hartnett, the presiding lawmaker, appeared skeptical of arguments by both sides.

“You are asking me to assume an awful lot,” he said during discussion of the eligibility of one voter. “There’s no clear evidence in all of this. It’s muddied up.”

In considering a dispute over whether signatures on an Election Day list indicated a double vote, he said: “It’s suspicious, but it seems to me we are speculating. At best we have sloppy activity.”

If that sounds like good news for Team Vo, Rick Casey would agree with you.

As the lawyers began arguing over individual cases, Hartnett made it clear he was holding Taylor and Heflin to a tough standard.

Under the law, evidence must be “clear and compelling” in order to throw out a vote as illegal. As Vo lawyer Larry Veselka put it, that is higher than the “preponderance of evidence” needed to decide ordinary lawsuits but lower than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” of criminal trials.

Here’s an example of Hartnett’s use of the standard.

Both sides agreed that scores of voters had voted illegally, mostly because they had moved. Often they were mistakenly told by election officials that they could vote at their old precincts.

In those cases, their votes would be subtracted if it could be determined for whom they voted. They were sent written questionnaires with questions from both attorneys, and signed them in front of a notary.

In one case a voter testified that he voted the straight Democratic ticket. But in a later question he was asked if he possibly voted for Heflin. He answered “Don’t know.”

It is possible, on the electronic ballots used, to push a button for the straight ticket but to then vote for individuals of the other party down-ballot.

Veselka argued that the voter may have done that. Taylor argued that it was pretty clear that “straight ticket” meant “straight ticket.”

Master Hartnett responded: “My inclination is that under ‘preponderance of the evidence,’ yes. But ‘clear and convincing? No.”

So far, so good. I don’t think I or any other Vo supporter will truly breathe easily until we receive Hartnett’s final recommendations, though.

Finally, this wouldn’t be our Lege if there weren’t an element of unintentional comedy.

Heflin has fellow Houstonian, former legislator and lawyer Ron Wilson on his side. Wilson, a Democrat who lost the primary race in March, said he offered his services — for free — to Heflin because “it just so happened that he’s the one that came out on the bottom.”

They sure don’t make the downtrodden like they used to, do they?

Testimony begins in Heflin-Vo case

It’s showtime today in the Heflin-Vo election contest, and you can add Select Committee on Election Contests Chair Terry Keel to the list of Republicans making reasonable public statements about the whole thing.

“You are going to have to have a high level of commitment to integrity and fairness and honesty, and your pursuit of those duties is likely not to ever, in any instance, make people happy,” said Keel, a legislator since 1997. “It’s more likely to always make somebody unhappy.”


Activists from both parties tried to influence lawmakers, but Keel said there’s too much at stake for those efforts to work.

Some questions have been raised about Keel’s role as chairman because he was the treasurer of the Stars Over Texas political action committee, which raised money last year for Republicans in tight election contests. The committee did not give money to Heflin’s campaign, though Heflin once gave money to the group.

Keel said his connection to the group should not cause concern because members regularly help their parties win seats.

Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, said he’s confident Keel will be fair because he knows him well. But he said Craddick should have appointed a committee chairman who did not have such visible ties to a group such as Stars Over Texas. “Why set up a situation where these are questions that can be asked?” said Dunnam, who is chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.


Keel said the House rarely calls for a new election and usually decides to seat the person who was declared the winner on Election Day. But he said history will not determine what happens this time.

“The integrity of the House is the bottom line here,” he said. “Consideration of party label or friendship or any other feelings on this matter have to give way to the law and evidence and the standards that we operate under.”

Actions speak louder than words, Terry. That’s ultimately how we’ll judge you.

Discovery Master Will Hartnett is also joining the chorus.

“I’m concerned about the use of the word fraud based on what I have seen so far,” Hartnett said, adding that he views fraud as intentional misdeeds by individuals seeking to thwart an election. “I’m going to be emphatic on determining what evidence there is of fraud.”

If actual fraud is the standard, then there’s just no way Heflin wins. We’re talking about 200 or so apparently honest mistakes in an election of 40,000 votes cast, which is to say one half of one percent of the votes. Remember, even Andy Taylor has said there wasn’t any fraud. What else is there to say?

Well, there’s this:

Amy Wong Mok, an Austin businesswoman and community activist, says Asians here and abroad are closely following this case. The outcome, she believes, could have long-lasting effects on the overall political landscape of Texas – home to the fourth-largest Asian population in the country. “If they take away Hubert Vo,” said Mok, “Asian-Americans are going to be very angry for the next two generations. It would be a slap in the face.” Mok, a former candidate for Austin City Council who leans Democratic, says the state GOP will have a hard time justifying itself to those Asians who traditionally vote Republican. “Many different Asian organizations are united behind Hubert Vo,” she said. “As we see it, this is about arrogance … it’s about not accepting defeat gracefully.”

Gracefulness has been markedly absent so far, that’s for sure.

Three further items. First, from the Chron story:

Michael Baselice, an Austin-based Republican pollster, will testify as an expert witness for Heflin. University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray and Waco economist Ray Perryman will testify for Vo.

Baselice isn’t just any Republican pollster, he’s Rick Perry’s pollster. Consider that another strand of evidence as to where Perry stands on this issue. The AusChron article says that some people believe Perry would be happy to have the election contest derail school finance reform so that the courts have to do the dirty work (and get the blowback for it). Make of that what you will.

Speaking of the AusChron story:

“I have no numbers to back this up, but the ‘Rs’ have already been hurt in Texas by this effort to seat Heflin,” said Kelly Fero, chief strategist for Take Back Texas, a sister organization of the state Democratic Party. Fero points out that Rep. Martha Wong, R-Houston, the first Asian-American woman elected to the Texas Legislature, is herself vulnerable and could lose her next re-election bid – “with help from the Asian community.” Rep. Joe Nixon, another Houston Republican, could also draw a challenger, already identified as attorney Robert Pham, a Vietnamese-American with a compelling success story like Vo’s, Fero said.

I’ve heard a rumor about a different potential challenger to Nixon, also a person of Vietnamese heritage. That’s all I can say at this time.

Finally, The Red State notes that today is also when committee and committee chair assignments will be announced. This is where Democrats will pay the price for last session’s Ardmore walkout. Regrettable, but not unexpected.

UPDATE: Greg tunes into the webcast of the hearings and commences banging his head against the wall.

One more day till the Heflin-Vo hearing

The end of Talmadge Heflin’s crusade to regain his seat can’t come soon enough for the voters who have been singled out by Heflin and Andy Taylor.

Ignatius Okeze has been voting since he became a citizen in 1998 — same neighborhood, same precinct.

“Of course I’m proud that I can make a contribution through the voting process,” Okeze said.

But in the contest between Hubert Vo and Talmadge Heflin, Okeze’s vote was one of those called into question and he is none too happy.

“I am knowledgeable about the voting process. I know who I am voting for. I know the values I stand for. And I voted correctly,” Okeze insisted. “I’ve been voting for years now.”

He wouldn’t tell questioners who he voted for. That is not the way it’s done he says.


The last thing Manu Patel says he wants is another election. Way too much taxpayer money he says.

“Fixing the roads, there are a lot of other things they can do, you know, for the people,” said Patel.

The good news is that at least some Republican House members are not making with the crazy talk, which is a nice contrast to their Party leadership.

“I’m trying to go into it with an open mind,” said Rep. Rick Hardcastle, R-Vernon, who won his first election by 350 votes, “but I’m pretty well convinced that the voters are never wrong, unless something went seriously wrong.”

If the case were to go strictly along party lines, Mr. Heflin would win his contest because the committee and the House have a Republican majority.

But just about everybody agrees that the politics are on Mr. Vo’s side. Democrats can’t lose: If Mr. Vo’s election is upheld, they’ve gained a rising star and secured their first House gain in 30 years. If he loses, they can cry that power-hungry Republicans are defying the voters.

Republicans, however, are caught between a rock and a hard place.

Houston GOP Rep. Gary Elkins said he’s gotten some e-mails from constituents asking him to consider the evidence seriously.

But unlike his party leaders, Mr. Elkins hasn’t decided what the evidence proves. Several House Republicans said the burden is heavy on Mr. Heflin, and he would have to prove outright election-rigging among the 44,000 ballots cast.

“I just don’t see us overturning the will of the people,” Mr. Elkins said. “I’d have to see the evidence, of course, but unless there’s blatant and undeniable fraud, I don’t see it. We’ve never overturned an election and handed the seat to someone [other than the winner]. I don’t see what’s going to be different this time around.”

I’m glad to hear you say that. I just hope that attitude is prevalent among your colleagues.

On the editorial side of things, the Star Telegram bends over backwards to be fair to Heflin, but still draws a line.

Finally, while House members must give Heflin every chance to prove his case and must not let an improper election stand, they cannot ignore the hazards of public perception. They are judging a contest brought by a once very powerful Republican to a Republican-controlled legislative body. Nothing but a clear and convincing case will avoid a perception of political cronyism if this election is set aside.

This is Heflin’s case to prove. If he is able to do so, clearly and convincingly, he asks that the House seat him instead of Vo. Alternatively, he asks for a new election.

If House members are convinced that action is necessary — and that is far from clear at this point — sending the contest back to a new vote in District 149 is as far as they should go.

I’m sure Heflin realizes he won’t win a do-over election, which is why he’s pushing so hard to be declared the winner. Will he win over the Hardcastles and Elkinses? Tune in tomorrow.

The briefs are in

Lawyers for both Talmadge Heflin and Hubert Vo have filed their briefs in the election contest, and Andy Taylor is still beating the “irrefutable evidence of massive fraud!” drum. I’ve seen a copy of Vo’s brief, and I have to say they do a pretty decent job of refuting much of that “irrefutable” evidence. I have not seen the Heflin brief, so I have a one-sided view of this. It still looked darned convincing to me. Some highlights from the Vo brief:

1. Team Heflin interviewed a subset of those whose votes were questioned, and extrapolated from there.

2. Among those Team Heflin did interview, Team Vo disagreed with many of their assertions about whose vote should or should not count.

3. Some votes were questioned because voters went to the wrong precinct, but were still in HD149.

4. Some of the voters who had moved to Fort Bend were told by Paul Bettencourt’s office that it was OK for them to vote at their old location.

5. As noted in the story, some votes were challenged on the basis of uncorroborated phone interviews.

You get the idea. The hearing is Thursday, and Discovery Master Will Hartnett will issue his recommendations next week. In the meantime, ponder this:

[Andy] Taylor said Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman agrees with Heflin’s team that Heflin should be declared the winner because so many ballots cast for Vo should be thrown out.

But in a prepared statement, David Beirne, Kaufman’s spokesman, said Kaufman is waiting for the House to conduct an investigation and has not endorsed the findings of Heflin’s team.

“No such endorsement exists or should be construed from the office of Harris County clerk,” Beirne said.

One might wonder what else Andy Taylor is fibbing about.

Last but not least, the Daily Texan calls on Heflin to drop his challenge.

Will Andy Taylor put out for us?

Andy Taylor, chief mouthpiece for Talmadge Heflin, was supposed to have a press conference this afternoon at 2:30 in which he would present irrefutable evidence that those nasty Democrats stole the HD149 election from poor ol’ Talmadge. He’s been saying that all along now (modulo the occasional backtrack), but as there’s no news stories about this momentous event just yet, I can’t say if he’s finally come forth with something resembling evidence or not or if this is just more of the same. Consider this post a placeholder for now.

In the meantime, both Gary Scharrer and Harvey Kronberg note that the state GOP is putting a lot of pressure on its foot soldiers to fall in line and support overthrowing Hubert Vo for Heflin. Kronberg:

While Heflin was popular among his peers, virtually every Republican I have interviewed – including the most senior leadership – has stressed that only overwhelming evidence of serious and systemic voter fraud would persuade them throw to out an election.

Proving substantial voter fraud is a high standard and the burden rests exclusively with Heflin. Last week’s filings by Heflin point to some election irregularities, but I am not sure there is much evidence of fraud.

Meanwhile, Republican Party chairman Tina Benkiser has been ratcheting up the rhetoric, calling for a GOP grassroots uprising. Alleging a history of Democrats stealing elections, she has called upon the Republican faithful to lean on their legislators. She claims outside pressure is being exerted to keep the challenge from reaching the floor of the House. But with a Republican super majority and a fearless Republican speaker who is firmly in charge, Benkiser’s claims of outside pressure ring hollow.

Of course, the so-called “stolen” elections to which Benkiser refers were in South Texas where Democrats administered the elections.

This election was held in Houston where Republicans administered the election and counted the votes.


Democrats warn of dire consequences if Republicans call a new election for Heflin.

“I’m going to let loose unless they do what’s right,” says Rep. Paul Moreno, D-El Paso.

Individual Republicans have told Moreno they are under pressure to push a conservative agenda “no matter what” and might have to support Heflin, Moreno says.

File all that away for later. We should know more soon.

UPDATE: Rob reminds me that many contest-related documents can be found here. I do know that each side’s full briefs are not there, however. Initial and rather unexcited coverage is here.

A question as the Heflin challenge draws nearer

One of the advantages of occasionally dawdling before posting on something is that sometimes someone else will do the heavy lifting for you, which Greg has done on this story regarding the state of the Heflin challenge. Basically, he covered the important bits, and I agree with what he said.

One little thing:

Vo raised $114,000 during the period between Oct. 24 and Dec. 31, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission this week.

Among the post-election donors were political action committees representing farmers, architects, doctors, hospitals, automobile dealers, the restaurant association and beer distributors.

Heflin raised $184,000 in that same period.

Contributing to Heflin after the election were Houston home builder Bob Perry, who wrote a $50,000 check, and Gov. Rick Perry, who chipped in $10,000 from his campaign fund.

According to the TEC report on Heflin, Texans for Rick Perry made that contribution on November 9. Was that to help retire debt, or perhaps to help pay for the inevitable recount, or did Perry already know by then that Heflin would be challenging the result? We know that Hubert Vo had been declared the winner in the official canvass by November 9. What was Rick Perry giving Talmadge Heflin that money for? Has anyone asked him? Does he agree with what Tina Benkhiser and Sherry Sylvester have been saying?

Some Republicans have suggested privately that Heflin should accept his loss to avoid disruption of a busy session and to prevent the appearance of a partisan grab.

The Texas Republican Party, however, is putting pressure on GOP lawmakers not to sweep the case under the rug.

An e-mail from state Republican Chairman Tina Benkiser to thousands of members encourages them to contact their representatives to ensure that the election contest goes to the House floor.

“There are people who would just like this to go away,” said party spokeswoman Sherry Sylvester. “People have been very discreet, but it’s clear representatives are receiving pressure to not take it seriously and not consider the evidence.”

Maybe someone ought to ask the Governor where he stands on this. I’d sure like to know. Wouldn’t you?

Spector in State House race?

Via Byron, former State Supreme Court Justice Rose Spector is mulling a run at the newly open HD121 seat.

Spector, one of the last Democrats to hold statewide office in Texas, is the second potential Democratic contestant for the special race in a district that is stacked with Republican voters. Melissa Kazen, the wife of a county court-at-law judge, is also weighing a possible bid in the special election for HD 121.


Democratic strategists do not want more than one candidate in the special state House campaign. The Democrats’ hopes will hinge on getting a candidate into a runoff and then trying to beat the top Republican vote-getter in a one-on-one match. That won’t be easy – considering that almost 70 percent of the voters in HD 121 backed the GOP’s statewide ticket in 2002. The district contains the old-money enclaves of Alamo Heights, Terrell Hills and Olmos Park – all Republican bastions – along with suburbs that have more GOP voters than Democrats in the northeast part of Bexar County.

But Democrats see Spector as a potential dream candidate for that particular district. She was a highly-respected Texas Supreme Court member for six years until falling victim to the Republican statewide avalanche in 1998. She was a state district judge for a dozen years before winning a seat on the state’s highest court and a Bexar County court-at-law judge for five years before that. Spector, whose children attended Alamo Heights schools, fared better than all other Democratic statewide candidates except John Sharp and Paul Hobby when she lost to Republican Supreme Court Justice Harriet O’Neill in the general election six years ago.

Spector got 46.47% overall in 1998 (remember, Governor George Bush won reelection that year with 68%) and more importantly carried Bexar County with 56.89% of the vote. She had to have done pretty well in this part of town to collect that kind of number, so the question is whether or not she’d maintain that level of support and if she can get enough people to the polls for that day-before-the-Super-Bowl election. Picking up a seat like this would be a steal and a major feather in the cap for those involved. Stay tuned, I expect there will be more soon.

So where’s the fraud?

Sure does look like Andy Taylor’s wild claims of massive fraud in the Heflin-Vo race are melting away, doesn’t it? This article says that maybe a hundred noncitizens applied to vote in Harris County, a third of whom were rejected by the Tax Assessor’s office. The one confirmed noncitizen who voted in the HD149 race – he got a voter’s reg card despite checking the “not a citizen” box on the application, an error which one can attribute to the Tax Assessor – voted straight Republican. And Tax Assessor Bettencourt chalks this sort of thing up to mostly honest mistakes and bad paper processing.

Meanwhile, Hotshot Casey brings us the sad news from Taylor himself.

Heflin attorney Taylor says he hasn’t seen anything that “rises to the level of fraud,” but he has not yet questioned some people who are listed as having voted twice.

“There may be innocent explanations,” he said. “I will accept those as true, then I will present to the House that some persons appear to have double-voted.”

But Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt, a Republican, says most or all of those “double votes” will “melt away” after accounting for typographical errors, clerical errors and people who didn’t use early-voting forms that had been sent to them.

He said the level of improper votes in this election was not unusual.

“A lot of people don’t have a firm lock on the county line down there,” he said.

In fact, during a training session I attended for deputy registrars, Bettencourt was asked about what we should do if someone who might be in Fort Bend asks to be signed up. He said to go ahead, his office and his Fort Bend counterpart get a lot of each other’s applications, which they pass along as needed, precisely because many people don’t know which side of the county line they fall on. Seems to me that if someone from Fort Bend voted in the HD 149 race, it’s either because they were issued an erroneous card or because the election judge at their polling place goofed. Maybe you ought to void such a close election as this one based on this sort of thing happening, but I sure don’t see how you can claim that all of the votes – or even enough of them, as Vo would have needed to get 100 of the 167 “illegals” for them to have made a difference – were going one way.

Well, you could interview everyone involved, I guess. Or drag them up to Austin to testify before the House. Or you could maybe just accept that there was no fraud, just some confusion and human error among people acting in good faith, and get on with your life. Will you follow in Jack Stick and Eric Opiela’s footsteps now, Talmadge? The choice, as ever, is yours.

One more thing, on a side note, from the first article:

The Federation for American Immigration Reform, a Washington-based group that pushes to reduce immigration, advocates a “national citizenship verification procedure” to ensure that voters in U.S. elections are citizens.

Federation President Dan Stein says it is virtually impossible to determine how many foreign citizens are voting here.

“Making false claims of U.S. citizenship is all but impossible to detect. It’s a huge, gaping, massive hole in the whole integrity of our enforcement structure,” he said.

Without citizenship verification, he said, Americans should have serious questions about the integrity of their electoral process.

“If we continue to have things like Florida in 2000 and these close elections being swung by ineligible voters, the very legitimacy of the electoral process itself is being thrown into question by ineligible voters voting,” he said. “While we sit around concerned about hanging chads and whether votes are counted, no one seems interested in ensuring that people who register are citizens.”

If Dan Stein and his federation sound familiar to you, it’s because they were in part responsible for some real ugliness in last year’s CD32 race. It would have been nice to find a non-crackpot to quote here, but then with immigration “reform” groups, it’s not clear there’s one to be found.

Opiela to drop electoral challenge?

Developing, as they say, at The Red State. Suspicion all along has been that like Jack Stick, Eric Opiela’s challenge was a stalking horse for Talmadge Heflin and his quest to overturn the election of Hubert Vo, but if both Stick and Opiela drop theirs before the hearings begin, his cover is gone. Nothing on this that I can see in Google News as yet, so stay tuned.

UPDATE: Andrew D is hearing the same whispers.

UPDATE: And now it’s official.

Former Republican House candidate Eric Opiela has withdrawn his election challenge for the South Texas seat, his attorney confirmed Friday.

Wonder if the letter he got from State Sen. Hinojosa had anything to do with his decision.

Voters subpoenaed

Like Greg, I note that three of the four people quoted in this Chron story about subpoenas being sent to testify before the State House in the Heflin contest voted for the Republican. I think that ought to put a dent in the crazy idea that there was some kind of nefarious Democratic plot to steal that election. What say you, Andy Taylor?

One other thing:

“If a person interferes with an election unjustly, they have no right of privacy as to who they voted for,” [Rep. Will] Hartnett said. “Historically, I don’t believe they have been forced, but that doesn’t bind me. I have the ability to compel illegal voters to divulge who they voted for.”

One subpoenaed voter, Henry Akuchie, described a day of confusion when he tried to vote Nov. 2.

Akuchie, a native of Nigeria who has been a U.S. citizen since 1993, had lived in Vo’s and Heflin’s district until a recent move to Sugar Land. He said he was sent to three different polling sites on Election Day.

“I ran around. It took me almost two hours,” he said. “I just hope my vote counts. How could I have done anything wrong? All I wanted to do was vote somewhere.”

He said he voted for Vo.

Isn’t Rep. Hartnett making a presumption of guilt here in his statement that he could force a voter like Henry Akuchie to give up his privacy? Shouldn’t Team Heflin be required to show some evidence of an intent to “interfere with an election unjustly” before Henry Akuchie can be dragged before the committee? Why isn’t Mr. Akuchie’s word that he acted in good faith given any weight?

Meanwhile, the Senate has set a good example for their brethren and sistren in the lower chamber. Let’s hope the House is paying attention.

Is the fix in for Heflin?

Keir Murray, a familiar name but a new blogger around here, reports a conversation he had with a state senator, who thinks the House may override the result of the Hubert Vo-Talmadge Heflin election.

I spoke last night with a state senator, who shall remain nameless, who now believes the State House GOP may decide to seat Heflin and bump Vo out, overturning Vo’s legitimate win in District 149. Like most folks familiar with the Legislature, until recently he didn’t think there was any chance of that happening. He’s changed his mind. The reasoning is as follows:

The legislative session begins next week, and Democratic House members begin baiting Craddick from the back microphone — “Mr. Speaker, if you are indicted, will you step down from your leadership post?” — and so on. The session quickly dissolves into a partisan lockdown, and Vo loses on a party-line vote.

Sound far-fetched? Think for a moment about what the GOP, at both the state and federal level, has had the audacity to do in the last couple of years — redistricting, ethics changes, now trying to eliminate the filibuster from the U.S. Senate, etc — and you may reach the same conclusion the state senator has. “These guys just don’t give a sh*t.” Bad press? Who cares. Public outrage? They’ll get over it. Politically dangerous? Not a chance — all we have to do is win a GOP primary anyway. Democratic retribution? (After several moments of laughter) Who?”

The senator (and I) believe the GOP will make every attempt to do this for one reason, they can. They have the votes and they value power above all else. If they can take a little bit more, they will, integrity and the public be damned.

If that were the only scenario for this outcome, then there’s an easy enough way to avoid it: have the Democratic House members stay on good behavior until the contest is officially settled. Surely if Jim Dunnam could convince 50 colleague to ride a bus to Ardmore, OK, last session, he can manage that this time around.

I fear, however, that such provocation isn’t necessary. As Greg notes, Harris County Tax Assessor Paul Bettencourt has announced that an open records request says that there were 167 illegal votes cast in the HD149 race. Of course, who those people voted for, or even if they did vote in the HD149 race, is something we can’t know unless we drag them onto a witness stand and ask them under oath. But if the House GOP leadership wants to seat Heflin, the mere existence of those votes would be a sufficient fulcrum for them. Jack Stick laid some groundwork with his own charges of vote fraud (though to his credit, Discovery Master Will Hartnett hasn’t bought it, and apparently Stick’s ideas of what constitutes fraud include voter registration). But who’s to say that can’t or won’t happen?

I will say this: Whatever happens later this month, Talmadge Heflin has won his last race. Whether he retires from public service and slips into a lucrative lobbying job now or in 2007 is still an open question, but he’s done as a candidate. His actions now may be enough to poison the well for a long time in HD149 for all other Republican hopefuls. Not that this bothers me, of course.

Lastly, Keir and Greg both also talk about the likely impact of seating Heflin on two other Republican State Reps, Joe Nixon and Martha Wong. Nixon’s district is even more Vietnamese than 149 is, and like Vo, Wong has benefitted from crossover support from Asian constituents. Further, Moldy Joe is already a prime target for 2006, and Wong’s district is about as swingy. For sure neither one will want to risk opposing Vo; the real question is whether they’ll publicly support him.

One down, two to go

Former Rep. Jack Stick has dropped the challenge of his electoral loss to Mark Strama.

The former legislator calls the voting system in Travis County problematic and chaotic and he’ll continue to review the system.

Stick plans to submit his findings to the House elections committee.

Stick says he believes there were serious irregularities in voting that may indicate he won the race.

But Stick says it would be a waste of lawmakers time and taxpayers money to continue the contest.

Yes, it would have. And you’re dreaming about the “may indicate he won the race” part. But thanks for playing, and thanks for the belated sensibility.

The other challengers will have their hearings on January 26 (Eric Opiela) and 27 (Talmadge Heflin). I suppose it’s too much to ask that they come to their senses like Stick did by then.

Hat tip to Andrew D for the catch.