Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Election 2010

A closer look at the turnout issue in 2014

I wrote yesterday about turnout for this year’s election. The main problem that Democrats face this year is that turnout has basically been flat for them since 2002 in the off year elections. I began to write a post to illustrate this last year, back when Battleground Texas was being viewed as a long-term experiment in increasing Democratic turnout, before we had Wendy Davis and a race we want and hope to win this year, but between the endless legislative summer and the short turnaround into the 2013 elections, not to mention the change in story line for this year, I never finished it. Now that we’re focusing on 2014, this is the time to polish that off.

I had previously suggested that BGT set some benchmarks for the 2014 election, back when we didn’t have anyone running statewide. We have the candidates and an updated mission now, but we still need to be clear about where we start out. What I did was take a look at the county by county results in the contested Railroad Commissioner races of 2006 and 2010. I did this for two reasons: One, generally speaking a low-level race like that is almost entirely a recapitulation of party ID, and two, 2006 Democratic candidate Dale Henry and 2010 Democratic candidate Jeff Weems got nearly identical vote totals – 1,752,947 for Henry, and 1,757,183 for Weems. I’m not taking into account their percentages or the vote total of any other candidate, because we’re focusing exclusively on Democratic turnout. The first questions to consider, therefore, are where did Weems do better than Henry, and where did he do worse? Here are the counties in which Weems did the best relative to 2006:

County Henry Weems Diff ==================================== Harris 253,845 335,689 81,844 Dallas 192,780 210,021 17,241 Hidalgo 27,213 44,372 17,159 Fort Bend 41,013 55,472 14,459 Bexar 116,909 128,360 11,451 Webb 12,012 19,451 7,439 Travis 121,035 125,283 4,248 Maverick 2,427 4,719 2,292 Collin 40,184 41,712 1,528 Hays 13,146 14,497 1,351 Williamson 29,684 30,910 1,226

I’ve said before that Harris County Democrats did not have a turnout problem in 2010. This is the clearest example I can give of that. All of these are counties where you’d like to see the Democrats improve, and where there is room for such improvement. It’s especially heartening to see gains in counties like Hidalgo, Webb, and Fort Bend. Maverick County deserves special mention because it’s easily the smallest county on this list, but still produced a decent-sized gain for the Dems. That’s mostly because overall turnout in Maverick in 2006 was a pathetic 14.8%. Turnout in 2010 was still only 24.1%. That’s in a county that went 72% Democratic in 2010, meaning there’s plenty of room to add a couple thousand more votes to the D column. I’d consider an improvement in Maverick County to be a necessary yardstick for measuring BGT’s progress in 2014.

Given that Weems got about as many votes as Henry, the fact that there were counties in which he gained means there were counties in which he lost as well. In fact, there were far more counties in which Weems lost ground than ones in which he gained. Here were the biggest losers:

County Henry Weems Diff ==================================== Nueces 30,018 24,021 -5,997 Tarrant 127,293 121,721 -5,572 Johnson 10,140 6,123 -4,017 Wichita 9,577 5,803 -3,774 Grayson 9,935 6,190 -3,745 McLennan 20,680 17,211 -3,469 Galveston 28,718 25,279 -3,439 Angelina 8,611 5,367 -3,244 Orange 8,060 4,903 -3,157 Parker 7,838 4,988 -2,850 Lubbock 14,537 12,169 -2,368

The good news is that Tarrant excepted, these are not strategic counties for Democrats. Of course, a vote lost in Wichita or Angelina is still a vote that has to be made up somewhere if you don’t want to lose ground overall. BGT clearly understands this, and I have no doubt that they will put resources into places like these in order to maximize Democratic turnout, even if it means just moving the needle a few points in a dark red county. The challenge is to give a reason for Democrats in places where there are no local Democratic candidates running for anything a reason to show up. I don’t envy them the task.

It should be noted that some of the counties listed above lost voters during the period. By the same token, there were numerous counties that gained quite a few voters between 2006 and 2010. Here’s a look at the 20 counties that had the largest increase in registered voters and how the Dems did in them.

County Growth Grow % Diff 06 AV% 10 AV% Ratio ============================================================ Collin 42,851 11.22% 1,528 10.52% 9.82% 0.93 Fort Bend 41,272 15.41% 14,459 15.32% 17.95% 1.17 Travis 38,234 6.75% 4,248 21.38% 20.73% 0.97 Denton 31,242 9.37% 904 10.13% 9.51% 0.94 Williamson 29,242 14.02% 1,226 14.24% 13.00% 0.91 Montgomery 22,928 10.10% -915 8.49% 7.35% 0.87 Harris 19,198 1.00% 81,844 13.23% 17.32% 1.31 Hidalgo 16,531 5.90% 17,159 9.72% 14.96% 1.54 Hays 12,609 14.73% 1,351 15.36% 14.76% 0.96 Tarrant 12,414 1.34% -5,572 13.77% 12.99% 0.94 Brazoria 7,252 4.43% -351 12.57% 11.83% 0.94 Bexar 7,172 0.80% 11,451 13.01% 14.17% 1.09 Guadalupe 6,768 9.95% -191 10.90% 9.66% 0.89 Cameron 6,552 3.91% -323 12.47% 11.82% 0.95 Parker 6,189 9.13% -2,850 11.56% 6.74% 0.58 Webb 6,097 6.01% 7,439 11.84% 18.09% 1.53 Comal 5,879 8.66% -706 10.22% 8.45% 0.83 Rockwall 5,706 14.22% -262 9.32% 7.59% 0.81

“Growth” is the increase in voter registrations; “Grow %” is the percentage increase. “Diff” is the difference between Weems’ vote total and Henry’s, so a positive number means Weems had more votes and a negative number means Henry had more. “06 AV%” and “10 AV%” is the ratio of Democratic votes to all registered voters, which is basically a straight up measure of turnout. “Ratio” is the ratio of the 06 AV% to the 10 AV%, so numbers greater than one are good. It’s good that the Dems gained votes in places like Collin, Denton, Hays, and Williamson, but they didn’t keep up with the increase in registered voters. This is what I was trying to get at with my earlier post about BGT’s efforts in Collin County. There’s a voter registration component to that, but the much bigger piece of that puzzle is reaching out to the Democrats and would-be Democrats that are already there and convincing them that their vote this fall really matters even if they lack local candidates to back, or if the local candidates they have face much longer odds than the statewide slate. It matters for this election and it matters for the future elections. We can’t just turn out voters in the strongholds, we have to turn them out everywhere. Democrats can’t and won’t be competitive statewide until that happens.

Neil finally concedes in HD48

At long last, it’s finally over.

Republican Dan Neil dropped out of the race today for the Texas House seat in District 48.

Neil lost to Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, on Election Day by 16 votes. After a recount, Howard’s margin fell to 12 votes. Neil then exercised his right to contest the election, which sent the matter to the Texas House. There, Speaker Joe Straus appointed Rep. Will Hartnett, a Dallas Republican, to serve as a “master of discovery” and hold a trial-like hearing.

After four days of listening to voters whose votes were suspect, Hartnett eliminated several ballots, and Howard’s margin was reduced to just four votes.

But just like in any contest, a tight victory is still a victory. And Hartnett said in a recommendation that Howard should retain her seat.

That was followed by the unanimous vote of the special committee in favor of Howard. Hard to see a path to victory from there, I suppose. A statement from Rep. Howard is beneath the fold. The Trib has more.


Howard wins again

It’s fourth and long for Dan Neil.

The House Election Contest Committee unanimously voted [Tuesday] to uphold Rep. Will Hartnett’s determination that Donna Howard won the long-disputed House District 48 seat. Committee members said Republican Dan Neil did not provide clear and convincing evidence to win. If Neil decides to challenge the committee’s vote, it will go to the House floor.


The committee, chaired by Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, heard closing arguments from both sides today. Neil’s lawyer and former state Rep. Joe Nixon focused on five voters — two who lived outside the county and three who lived outside of the district during the election season. According to current statutes, residents are allowed to vote in their individual district if they reside in the same county and fill out a statement of residence. The three voters, Nixon said, did not fill out a statement of residence.

“It’s like having a suspended driver’s license,” he said. “You don’t really have one.”

Nixon said Neil was bearing the burden of human error, and that it was up to the committee to fix those mistakes if the true outcome could be ascertained — and, if not, to declare the election void.

Howard’s attorney, Randall “Buck” Wood, said Neil was asking for legislators to ignore existing law and make new law.

“They are simply asking you not to ask a judicial body, but to act as a legislative and political body,” Wood said. “But you’re sitting here as judge and jury.”

Hartnett said the only issue in question is where the individual actually lives.

“If we open the door to strict application to these requirements, we might as well allow re-dos for every time an election is this close,” he said.

After the committee vote, Neil said he was not surprised about the outcome, but about the unanimous vote. Going into today’s committee meeting, Neil said his team leaned toward taking the matter to the House floor, but he is likely to finalize that decision [Wednesday].

Seems to me that if we always adhered to the standard Nixon advocates, Sen. Bill Birdwell would have been knocked off the ballot last year. Be that as it may, I don’t know what Neil was expecting. I doubt he’ll get any more joy from the House, but hey, it’s Bob Perry’s his money. Rep. Howard released a statement that said:

I am obviously pleased with the committee’s decision regarding this extremely close election. Their unanimous vote reaffirms Master Hartnett’s thorough scrutiny of the details of this election contest. I look forward to continuing to serve the residents of House District 48.

As do the rest of us. Most of us, anyway. Postcards has more.

Neil in it till the bitter end

I guess he doesn’t have anything else to do right now.

After some vacillation, the Republican who is contesting his loss to incumbent state Rep. Donna Howard said [Wednesday] that he is now inclined to take his fight the distance.

Last month, Republican Dan Neil said his decision to continue contesting the election might depend on the upcoming recommendation of a special House committee. But now, he said, he wants to push the matter all the way to the House floor.

“I’m back and forth on it,” Neil said.

Howard beat Neil on Election Day by 16 votes. Eventually, Neil contested the election, which led to a trial-like hearing led by Rep. Will Hartnett, a Dallas Republican. Hartnett ruled that Howard should keep her seat.

Hartnett presented his opinion to a special House committee. And next week, the committee will hear from both sides’ lawyers. Then, the committee chair, Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, will announce the committee’s thoughts on the matter.

And ultimately, the members of the House could figure it out. No date has been set for the members to consider the matter.

Whatever. It’s his right, and Bob Perry’s his money. If nothing else, this ensures he gets cited in future news stories about election contests, as in “The last time a contest went all the way to the House floor was in 2011 when Dan Neil contested his loss to Rep. Donna Howard”. Gotta grab that little bit of immortality whenever you can, I always say.

Howard declared the winner in HD48

At long last.

Rep. Donna Howard won the House District 48 seat by four votes over Republican Dan Neil, according to state Rep. Will Hartnett, R-Dallas. Hartnett was appointed to investigate their election after Neil challenged the results.


Hartnett’s recommendation goes now to a select committee chaired by Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, which in turn will make a recommendation to the full House. The House’s decision is final. Neil can, if he chooses, withdraw his appeal at any time.

During the four-day hearing, Neil’s lawyer, Joe Nixon, argued the margin of votes was too close to definitively declare a winner. Howard’s lawyer, Randall “Buck” Wood, said Neil could not request a recount just because he did not like the results.

Seven voters moved out of Travis County but did not change their address before voting in the election, Hartnett wrote in his recommendation. Hartnett opened four ballots during the course of the trial and did not count one of those votes because of ineffective registration, which left Howard’s margin of victory at four votes, he said.

The full report will be out later; I’ll link to it when I find it. I expect Neil to withdraw his challenge before this ever get to the House, as Talmadge Heflin did in 2005 after contesting his close loss to Rep. Hubert Vo. But who knows, he may draw it out further still.

One important point to note, from Patricia Kilday Hart:

Representative Will Hartnett, Master of Discovery for the Election Contest for Texas House District 48 releases the following statement:

“After a thorough review of the numerous challenged ballots, I have concluded that Donna Howard won the House District 48 election by 4 votes.

Voters who had moved out of Travis County without changing their voter registration and returned to vote in their former precinct caused a net subtraction of 7 votes from Ms. Howard’s margin of victory. Counting 4 unopened ballots subtracted a net of 2 votes from Ms. Howard’s margin.

Striking 1 vote by a voter who was not effectively registered added 1 vote to her margin.

I have seen no evidence of any voter fraud or of any substantial errors by any Travis County election official. My report will be released later this evening.”

Emphasis mine. Fraud, rampant fraud, was also alleged by Heflin in 2005, and it too turned out to be nothing. Be sure to remind your local teabagger of this the next time they rant about illegal immigrants stealing elections or whatever else the voices in their heads are telling them. A statement from Rep. Howard is beneath the fold.


HD48 election contest still going on

There’s still some more testimony to be heard in the election contest between Dan Neil and Rep. Donna Howard in HD48. That and closing arguments are scheduled for today. There was a key development in the contest on Thursday just before everyone headed home to hunker down for the Snowpocalypse:

On Thursday morning, a Travis County sheriff’s deputy arrived at the hearing with a locked bag of ballots. He was accompanied by Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir, whose integrity was to be tested.

Neil’s lawyer, Joe Nixon, stood beside Ray Bonilla, one of Howard’s lawyers, as they examined the 265 nonmilitary mail-in ballots. DeBeauvoir observed from a couple of feet away.

Nixon said he thought the votes might have been included in the recount in December. Buck Wood, another one of Howard’s attorneys, said the votes had been properly eliminated.

In the end, it was determined that the votes had not been included in the recount.

Howard, Neil and members of their campaign staffs watched as the votes were announced by Nixon and agreed upon by Bonilla.

Neil said he wasn’t disappointed and was glad to get “to the bottom of it.”

Howard said the recount corroborated her position. “It lends more credibility to what we’ve said all along.”

If Thursday’s count hadn’t matched the number from the December recount, Neil’s effort to unseat Howard could have gotten a substantial boost. Such a finding would have cast suspicion over how the ballots were handled by the clerk’s office. And it might have provided enough of a reason for Hartnett to recommend something that Neil has been after all along: a new election.

Hartnett is Rep. Will Hartnett, the Special Master appointed by Speaker Joe Straus to investigate the matter. By all accounts, Howard is still leading though a couple of votes have been knocked off her tally. Barring anything dramatic, it looks like she’ll hold on, but we won’t know where things stand officially until Hartnett writes his report. Looks like we may have some answers this week, just in time for committee assignments.

UPDATE: We should have a result by Friday.

Update on the HD48 election contest

Patricia Kilday Hart sums up the state of things in HD48, where there’s a recount of the recount and a lot more testimony to come. I have no idea what to expect from this, but I think she’s right that it’s unlikely the House would vote in the end to seat Dan Neil, if only because if Special Master Will Hartnett tallies it in his favor, he’d likely be declared to be ahead of Donna Howard by an even smaller margin than she currently has. I can see a do-over election being called, for which I’d make Howard the favorite – the environment is considerably different than it was three months ago – and I can see Howard being seated if she manages to maintain the lead. Beyond that, who knows? Honestly, one more R wouldn’t mean that much now, and I’m sure the redistricting process will seek to make HD48 more GOP-friendly regardless of the outcome of this contest. We’ll see how it goes.

Howard files formal response to Neil’s election contest

Just before Christmas, Dan Neil filed an election contest that challenged the result of his race against Rep. Donna Howard in HD 48, in which Neil lost by 12 votes. Howard filed a response called “special exceptions” at that time, and now she has filed her official response to Neil’s contest.

Every allegation made by Republican Dan Neil “is either wrong under the law or has no factual basis,” Democratic state Rep. Donna Howard said today in her formal response to Neil’s contest to her narrow victory in the House District 48 election.

“I am still troubled by the lack of detail Mr. Neil has provided thus far,” Howard, D-Austin, said in a statement. “If his motives aren’t purely political, then he should have no problem answering questions about the allegations he has made.”

Also today, she filed a notice of intent to take Neil’s oral deposition.

Zach Vaughn, Neil’s campaign manager, said today that Neil “is perfectly willing to answer any questions.” Vaughn said that the campaign does not yet have all the information it needs from Travis County and has more research to do on information it received last week.

“She’ll get the details as we get the details,” Vaughn said of Howard. “We believe that once we get the information we originally requested, we’ll have proof of our case.”

That deposition, which is requested for January 4 at Buck Wood’s law office, ought to be fun. You can see Howard’s answer here and her deposition notice here. Among other things, Howard says that “In one glaring instance, Neil seeks to have ballots counted in this race which should not be counted but which, if counted, would increase Howard’s margin of victory from 12 votes to 38 votes.” Wonder what Neil’s answer to that will be.

In related news, Speaker Straus has appointed Rep. Will Hartnett to be the master of discovery for the contest. Hartnett was the master for the 2004 Heflin/Vo contest, and did a commendable job. I have no reason to doubt that he’ll do another good job this time around.

Neil files for election contest in HD48

I suppose this was inevitable.

Republican Dan Neil is continuing his challenge of state Rep. Donna Howard’s razor-thin election night victory with an appeal to the Texas House of Representatives.

Neil, who trailed Howard by 12 votes after a recount earlier this month, filed a contest of those results with the secretary of state late Monday afternoon, the deadline for such a challenge.

The decision now falls to the House members, who must either determine the clear winner based on the evidence or send it back to the voters.

House Speaker Joe Straus will soon appoint a representative to lead the investigation as well as a committee to hear to the case and make a recommendation to the full chamber.

The vote of the House is the final word.

The House last heard such a case after Republican Talmadge Heflin, a former powerful committee chairman, contested his loss to Democrat Hubert Vo in 2004, said Jeff Archer with the Texas Legislative Council . Heflin’s appeal did not clear the committee.

Neil maintains that, of the 51,500 ballots cast in the western Travis County district, some were mishandled or lost, a handful of legal votes were discounted, and more than 1,900 ineligible voters participated.

There were a couple of other contests filed in legislative races in 2004, and one in 2008, but all were dropped before they were heard by the House. From what I can tell, the last time that an election contest was upheld was after the 1980 election. It should be noted that even if Neil wins his challenge, that doesn’t mean he gets to be seated. According to Section 241.220 of the Elections Code, “In an election contest in which the election is declared void, the house or committee, as appropriate, shall include in its judgment an order directing the governor to order a new election.” In that 1980 case, the winner of the contest, who was a sitting Representative, lost the rematch election by a wide margin. Just something to keep in mind as we watch this unfold. My guess is that it’s more likely Neil withdraws his contest than he wins it, but we’ll see.

In the meantime, Howard has filed her response (called “special exceptions”) to Neil’s petition, which you can read here. Of interest, from the email that accompanied this:

“The level of detail in Mr. Neil’s petition does not match the seriousness of his claims. To demand the time and attention of the Legislature, I would have expected him to do more than just throw out a bunch of ideas to see what sticks,” said Howard.

The most notable deficiency was a vague reference to 1,900 ineligible voters. No specifics were given on who these voters are, whether or not they are registered to vote in House District 48, or whether or not they even voted in this election.

“The contestant in an election contest is required to provide specific information regarding the voters and votes in question. After reviewing what Mr. Neil has submitted, it is clear that he failed to perform the due diligence necessary to file a complete petition,” said Buck Wood who Howard has retained as her legal counsel.

Another puzzling allegation concerns those voters who live overseas, are eligible to vote only in federal elections, and cast a straight party vote. The contestant states that all of these ballots should be counted even though the voter wasn’t eligible to vote in the District 48 race.

“A closer inspection of these ballots reveals that Rep. Howard would have gained at least eight votes if straight ticket ballots from indefinite voters were tallied,” Wood said.

I haven’t seen Neil’s petition yet, but it is worth pointing out that there were some very specific claims of fraud made in the Heflin-Vo race of 2004. Most of them turned out to be bogus or unhelpful to Heflin’s cause, but they did identify specific voters whose ballots they said were invalid. One presumes Neil will either do the same or will drop the matter.

UPDATE: The Trib has more.

Prop 1 opponents file “We think the voters are stupid” lawsuit

I’m really angry about this.

Opponents of Proposition 1, Houston’s recently-passed drainage fee, filed a civil lawsuit Wednesday against Mayor Annise Parker and the City of Houston.

The lawsuit calls Prop 1 “illegal” because “the ballot language does not accurately describe the object and effect of Proposition 1, causing the voters to be intentionally misled.” It asks the judge to invalidate the vote.

The plaintiffs are Allen Mark Dacus, Elizabeth C. Perez and Rev. Robert Jefferson.

Paul Bettencourt, an outspoken Prop 1 critic, told 11 News that the plaintiffs are a few of the Prop 1 opponents – including business and church leaders — that met Wednesday to discuss how to challenge the drainage fee.

Those opponents decided to file a lawsuit Wednesday because it was the last day to do so, Betancourt said. The vote was canvassed on November 15 and a lawsuit had to be filed within 30 days, he said.

You can see a copy of the lawsuit here. I guess Bettencourt and his buddies decided they didn’t like their odds with the Lege, so they hoped to find a judge who’s as disdainful of the will of the voters as they are. I don’t think I can adequately express how much contempt I have for them.

UPDATE: From the Chron story:

[Mayor Annise] Parker said Bettencourt was “speaking out of both sides of his mouth” for challenging the result of Proposition 1 and supporting the result of Proposition 3, which banned the use of red light cameras in the city.

She accused him of “seeking to invalidate the will of the voters.”


Lawsuits focused on ballot language are not uncommon but rarely are successful, said Matthew Festa, a professor at South Texas College of Law.

“It’s always a problem with ballots,” Festa said of the imprecise language. “They’re never going to say exactly the same thing that the actual law that’s going to be passed says.”

This lawsuit is a waste of time and money. And Paul Bettencourt is perfectly fine with that.

Kuempel wins his father’s seat

We have a full House again.

John Kuempel, son of the late state Rep. Edmund Kuempel, won a special election Tuesday to fill his late father’s seat, state election officials said. With all precincts reporting, John Kuempel, 40, received 65 percent of the votes cast.

Voters chose between six Republicans, two Democrats and a Libertarian. The second-runner, Republican Gary Inmon, got 10 percent.

Any time you can win a multi-candidate special election with a majority of the vote, never mind 65%, it’s impressive. With the two party switchers, the GOP caucus now stands at 101 members. I wish the younger Kuempel all the luck in the world as he helps his party try to fix all of the problems they created.

More evidence that expanded gambling is doomed

From the latest TPJ Lobby Watch:

Gambling interests with stakes in the legalization of casinos or slot machines bet heavily on Democratic House candidates going into the Republican-dominated 2010 elections. Political bookies widely expected the GOP to expand its slim House majority this round, though few envisioned the extent of the sweep until late in the race.

On election night the gambling industry’s losses mirrored those of the Texas Democratic Party. Indian tribes and gambling PACs bet almost $1 million on Texas House candidates—with 80 percent going to the battered Democrats. Almost two-thirds of the money that the gambling industry bet in the House went to losers.

It’s pretty stark when you look at their table on page 3. There’s a grand total of three successful Republican legislative candidates there, one of whom is the late Rep. Ed Kuempel, and a long list of unsuccessful Democratic incumbents and challengers. I know the gambling interests claim to be optimistic, and I’m sure they’ve spent the past month getting acquainted with the boatload of new Republican legislators, but I just don’t see how the basic math is anything but less favorable to them now. Better luck in 2012, fellas.

Howard still wins after recount in HD48

Her margin is margin is a bit smaller, but still greater than zero, and that’s what counts.

With the votes counted again, the Austin Democrat beat Republican challenger Dan Neil by just 12 votes, Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said Thursday night.

Neil had called for the recount after Howard had been declared the winner of the Nov. 2 election by just 16 votes of more than 51,000 cast in northwestern Travis County’s District 48.

In the end, only a few mistakes were found — all of which were on paper ballots — and there were not enough discrepancies to change the outcome of the election, officials said.

Howard said she wasn’t surprised by the outcome but nevertheless was happy to put the recount behind her.

“I’m glad to have a final outcome that is actually final,” she said. “The work of the district continues.”

Before the results were announced Thursday, Neil sent out a news release complaining that the clerk’s office didn’t properly count several overseas ballots.

But DeBeauvoir said Neil’s concerns were unfounded.

That’s likely to be the end of it, though Neil may file for an election contest. There’s been at least one of those filed for the past few elections, with only the Heflin-Vo contest actually making it to the point of being investigated. My guess is if one is filed it will go nowhere, too.

Red light camera lawsuit

I’m trying to understand exactly what this is all about. Here’s the little sidebar summary, which captures the basic facts pretty well:

The city of Houston • filed a “pre-emptive lawsuit” in U.S. District Court Nov. 15 seeking a judge’s opinion on how it should proceed after terminating its contract with red light camera company American Traffic Solutions, or ATS, once voters had rejected the camera program.

ATS • filed a countersuit Nov. 24 seeking to nullify the referendum, arguing that the city improperly put the matter on the ballot.

Paul Kubosh and his brothers filed a motion to intervene in the matter Nov. 30, arguing that the city of Houston was not defending the outcome of the election aggressively enough. The Kubosh brothers bankrolled the effort to have the camera program repealed.

Here’s an earlier Chron story about that “pre-emptive lawsuit”, which required the city to leave the cameras up (though it did not require them to continue collecting fines) until the matter is settled. I guess if the idea was to pre-empt ATS from suing, it didn’t work. ATS, like anyone else, is free to sue anyone for anything, but I’ll say again that I believe any litigation relating to the validity of the referendum should have been filed and ideally resolved before the election. As was discussed ad nauseum here at that time, the issue wasn’t that you couldn’t force a vote on the matter but that there are two different ways to go about it, and that the way the Kuboshes should have gone awould have required more signatures (though not that many more) than they got. At least, that’s what it looked like to me after some comments from people like JJMB. But again, that should have been resolved before we all voted, because it’s basically a correctable error, for a future election if not for the current one. I know this isn’t how the world works, but to me the question about whether or not a referendum is legal should be moot after the referendum has actually been conducted, much like how an NFL coach can’t challenge a call once the ball has been snapped for the next play.

Of course, the world doesn’t work that way, so the court will presumably consider ATS’ challenge. Which it should then reject, since the underlying issue (again, at least as I understand it) isn’t nearly worth overthrowing the will of the voters. I don’t know what sufficient cause might be, but I know this isn’t it. As for the Kuboshes’ contention that the city will pussyfoot around on defense against ATS because it secretly hopes the judge will toss the referendum, I’ll just note that City Attorney David Feldman basically ordered City Council to vote to put it on the ballot, over the objections of several members. To claim that he’s going to sandbag now is both inconsistent with his earlier actions as well as a bit insulting. Well, the Kuboshes have been more successful outside the courtroom on this than they have been inside it, so I’m not too worried about that. We’ll see how it goes.

Stipeche wins HISD Trustee runoff

From School Zone:

Juliet Stipeche has won the Houston ISD District VIII school board runoff election by 48 votes, according to the unofficial results. Stipeche, an attorney, beat Judith Cruz, a stay-at-home mom and former HISD teacher, with 51 percent of the vote. The total number of votes cast was 2,032, compared with nearly 15,000 cast in the Nov. 2 general election.

The numbers are here – Stipeche won 1040 votes to Cruz’s 992. Cruz led in early voting, but Stipeche caught up and passed her with 53 of the 57 precincts reporting. Congratulations to Juliet Stipeche, HISD’s newest Trustee.

Runoff Day in HISD VIII

Today is the day of the runoff election for HISD Trustee in District VIII between Judith Cruz and Juliet Stipeche. According to School Zone, only about 1000 votes were cast during early voting, so if you live in this district, your vote really matters. See here for a map of the district, here for a list of residential addresses in the district, and here for a list of polling places, all of which will be open from 7 AM till 7 PM. Finally, you can listen to an interview I did before the November election with Cruz here and with Stipeche here. Now go vote!

Recount sought in HD48

Given how close this one was, a recount was to be expected.

Republican Dan Neil is seeking a recount in his challenge to state Rep. Donna Howard in the District 48 seat that represents part of Travis County.

Neil has filed the paperwork with the Texas secretary of state to request another look at the votes. Unofficial returns showed Howard winning by 16 votes out of more than 51,000 ballots cast.

“Our ultimate goal is to make sure every legal vote is counted,” Neil said. “I want to be an advocate for the voters.”

That’s obviously a much smaller margin than was in CD27, but I expect the same outcome, mostly because there are fewer votes in play due to electronic balloting. We’ll see how it goes.

Greg notes that an election contest would not be a surprise, and speculates about what a 100th member would mean for Constitutional amendment purposes. I will say that the one thing I’m not terribly worried about for this term is the specter of awful amendments getting pushed through, because it still takes a 2/3 vote in the Senate for that just as it does in the House, and I feel confident that will be insurmountable for anything truly egregious. There are plenty of other things to be concerned about, but that one isn’t high on my list.

Ortiz concedes

No surprise.

U.S. Rep. Solomon Ortiz on Monday conceded the loss of his 27th District seat that he held for nearly three decades.
A recount netted him more than 100 votes in Cameron County but left him still hundreds of votes behind Republican Blake Farenthold.

Ortiz called Farenthold at 8:04 p.m. to congratulate him and offer assistance on the transition.

“Although I gained votes during the manual recount, I did not surpass my opponent’s lead,” Ortiz said in a statement. “Therefore, with great respect and admiration in the democratic process, I congratulate my opponent, Mr. R. Blake Farenthold, in his election to the 27th Congressional District of Texas.”

The exact margin remained unclear. Ortiz spokesman Jose Borjon said Ortiz picked up about 200 votes overall, and Farenthold, about 50. He said the margin was “somewhere in the 600s.”

About what I expected. It was just too many votes to reasonably hope to overcome.

The interesting question is what comes after redistricting. As Greg notes, CD27 will be much more Democratic in a Presidential year like 2012, so it will require some surgery to protect its new Congressman from electoral peril, and even then that may not be possible. It may wind up that CD27, or whatever it is ultimately called, will be like Baron Hill‘s once and former district in Indiana, prone to flipping every cycle, with Dems having the advantage in Presidential years and Republicans coming back in the off years. Whatever the case, expect Rep-elect Farenthold to be a top target. Is there a Juan Garcia bandwagon for me to climb on board yet?

As goes Harris, so goes CC2

Just as HD133 was a microcosm of Harris County in 2008, Sylvia Garcia’s County Commissioner precinct was a miniature version of the county as a whole in 2010. Take a look at how Democratic candidates did in County Commissioner Precinct 2 (CC2) versus how they did countywide and see for yourself:

Candidate CC2 Harris ========================= STV Dem 45.01 45.30 White 50.34 51.06 C-Thompson 43.14 43.26 Radnofsky 40.68 41.67 Uribe 43.38 43.25 Gilbert 43.79 43.85 Weems 44.38 44.96 Sharp 44.61 44.50 Moody 44.48 44.95 Bailey 42.01 42.73 Hampton 43.74 43.83 Jackson 45.45 46.15 Bennett 45.44 45.63 Trautman 44.88 45.27 Briscoe 42.36 43.01

All percentages are for the straight up R/D comparison. “STV Dem” is the Democratic share of straight ticket votes. Spooky, isn’t it? It’s also not unexpected. Take a look at the same calculations for 2006:

Candidate CC2 Harris ========================= STV Dem 56.88 51.45 Radnofsky 42.22 42.22 Alvarado 44.98 43.46 Van Os 43.10 41.90 Head 44.86 43.23 Hathcox 46.91 45.69 Gilbert 48.36 46.49 Henry 48.55 46.50 Moody 51.68 49.56 Molina 49.57 47.02 Sharp 52.03 50.12 Kahn 49.80 48.01 Shike 48.26 46.09 Pierre 46.60 44.69 Garcia 49.58 48.34 Burks 50.50 48.63

Obviously, the county as a whole was more Democratic in 2006, and CC2 in particular was slightly more Democratic than the county that year. Garcia, who has no opposition in 2006 and was named on over 62% of all ballots cast to easily lead the pack in vote total, would likely have cruised to re-election with more than 55% of the vote had she been challenged that year. Had Harris County been as little as one point less red, or if CC2 had been slightly more Democratic than the county as was the case in 2006, she would likely have managed to win. That’s how high the tide was this year.

Another shorthand way of looking at this is to compare Garcia to HCDE Trustee candidate Mike Rose, who was running in Precinct 2 as well in a race that was almost certainly decided by partisan affiliation and little else. Here’s how that looks:

Candidate Votes Pct ======================== Garcia 63,766 49.11 Rose 56,283 44.43 Morman 66,070 50.89 Morris 70,387 55.57

“Morris” is Republican HCDE candidate Marvin Morris, who will succeed incumbent Carl Schwartz. Garcia got nearly 7500 more votes than Rose did, which includes about 4300 votes that went to Morris, and 3200 that didn’t vote at all in that race. That’s a big difference, just not quite big enough for her.

I unfortunately don’t have precinct data for 2002, so I can’t tell you how much better than the average Democrat Garcia must have done to win the open seat in another year that was unfriendly to Democrats, nor can I tell you if this same pattern persisted. I suspect that Garcia and other Democrats in this area were helped by the Tony Sanchez campaign, which as we know was generally a boon for Latino turnout, but I can’t put a number on it. Sorry about that.

All this suggests three points to consider for Democrats who would like to win this post back in 2014:

1. A rising tide lifts all boats, some more than others. If you assume that 2010 was a unique confluence of events, then 2014 will almost certainly be a more promising year, both countywide and in CC2. A good overall turnout effort, combined with a real effort to reach Latino voters, will go a long way.

2. Of course, CC2 won’t be the same in 2014 as it is today, since like everything else it will be redistricted in 2011. Guess who gets to draw the lines for County Commissioner precincts? That’s right, Commissioners Court. One presumes that the Republican majority on the Court will do what it can to protect their newbie. There may be only so much they can (or will be willing) to do given that Steve Radack’s precinct needs shoring up as well. They may decide that Radack needs more help for his Presidential year elections than Jack Morman will for his off year elections. And of course, the cardinal rule of redistricting is “Every man and woman for himself and herself”, so if someone is gonna get screwed, it’s gonna be Morman, the low man on the totem pole. This will bear watching.

3. Don’t underestimate the power of incumbency. Commissioner Garcia was able to run as far ahead of the pack as she did because people in that precinct knew her and knew her work. If Jack Morman isn’t a complete idiot, he will do everything he can to put himself in that same position in four years’ time. Morman won’t be running against Barack Obama in 2014, he’ll be running on his own record, and if for whatever the reason he doesn’t, then that’s what his opponent should focus on. Incumbents get their advantage from doing stuff voters like. Given that this will likely work against the Democratic candidate, he or she needs to be prepared to point out all of the things Morman will have done that they don’t like.

Now of course, Democrats don’t have to wait till 2014 to even things back up on the Court. I’m just saying that it’s not too early to be thinking about it, and that things we do in the next two years to pull ourselves out of the hole we’re in now can and will pay dividends further down the line.

Endorsement watch: Runoff reiteration

The Chron reiterates its endorsement of Judith Cruz in the HISD Trustee runoff.

To a large degree, the solution to the United States’ education problems is being worked out here in Houston. We’re the birthplace of some of the nation’s most successful charter schools – schools like KIPP and YES, which have shown long-term, measurable success in propelling low-income and minority kids to college.

The secrets to their success aren’t secrets at all. (Have you seen Waiting for “Superman”?) At the very top of the list is an insistence on high-performing teachers.

Research confirms what PTO moms already know: Some teachers are far better than others. No other single factor – curriculum, class size, dollars spent, or use of technology – makes nearly as much difference in a kid’s academic performance as the quality of his teachers.

As much as any urban school district in the nation, HISD has tried to raise the level of its teaching: to recruit the best new teachers; to reward those who perform best; and to improve or get rid of those who don’t measure up.

The district has a long way to go. And naturally, the strategy isn’t popular with teachers’ unions, which fight to save their members’ jobs no matter how poorly those members perform.

But we believe that our public schools’ main purpose is to educate children – not to provide guaranteed employment for adults.

For that reason, in the runoff election for HISD’s District VIII board member, we support Judith Cruz.

Is it just me, or is the tone of this endorsement different from their usual style for endorsements? Makes me wonder if the author of this particular piece is someone who doesn’t usually do them. I’m also not sure where the Chron’s disdain for the teachers union is coming from, or the money we’ll need to hire and retain all these high-performing teachers we’re being promised, but those are subjects for another day. Anyway, you can listen to my interview with Judith Cruz here, and my interview with her opponent in the runoff Juliet Stipeche here. Details about the early voting period for this runoff are here.

Lineup set for HD44 special election

Here are your candidates for the special election to replace the late Rep. Edmund Kuempel of Seguin.

Tony Gergely, a Seguin business owner, is the Libertarian in the race.

The Democrats are Daniel Rodriguez Andrade of Seguin, who lists his occupation as “real estate/business owner,” and Cheryl Dees Patterson, a Seguin realtor.

The Republican list consists of Ron Avery, a Seguin architect; Chris Burchell, who’s in law enforcement in Adkins; Jim Fish, a small business owner from Cibolo; Gary Inmon, an attorney and school board member in Schertz (and the incoming president of the Texas Association of School Boards); John Kuempel, a Seguin salesman who’s running for the seat left open by his father’s death; Myrna McLeroy of Gonzales, who’s in petroleum land services; and Robin Walker, a self-employed business manager from Seguin who challenged the late representative in the March primary, gathering just 25.4 percent of the vote.

I can picture scenarios in which a Democrat makes it to the runoff, given the sheer size of this field, but not one in which he or she wins it. Without knowing anything else about the people listed above, the ones who strike me as having the best shot are Inmon, Walker, and the younger Kuempel. If you know more about this, please comment.

UPDATE: BOR tells us more about one of the Democratic candidates for this seat.

Who cares about the will of the voters?

Prop 1 opponents don’t.

Opponents of Proposition 1 are planning to lobby the state legislature to strike down the controversial drainage fee, even after voters narrowly approved it earlier this month.

Don Hooper, who organized a political action committee blasting Prop 1, said the effort is underway. Last week, a group that included real estate executives, church leaders and car dealers met to discuss its options.

Proposition 1’s opponents argue the ballot didn’t mention a “fee” – just a “pay-as-you-go-fund” – and plan to ask lawmakers to consider restricting any drainage fee accordingly.

“The petition language is very different from the ballot language,” Hooper said.


“Prop 1 is effectively duping the public in Houston into paying an incredibly large property tax,” said Paul Bettencourt, a Prop 1 opponent and former Harris County tax assessor.

In other words, Bettencourt and Hooper think that the voters were too stupid to know what they were approving, so they want the Lege to step in and save them from themselves. Can you imagine the reaction if red light camera proponents tried something like this? I have news for you guys: You lost. Deal with it. Thanks to Coby for the tip.

Early voting information for the HISD VIII runoff

One more election to go this year, the runoff for the open HISD Trustee seat in District VIII. Because of the Thanksgiving holiday, early voting begins tomorrow and runs through next Wednesday. Here’s what you need to know from the County Clerk:


The HISD Trustee – District VIII Run-Off Election will be on Tuesday, November 30th.

For more information pertaining to the run-off election, voters should call: 713 556 6121

Early Voting Schedule for HISD Trustee – District VIII Run-Off Election:

Nov. 18–24 (7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m., including Saturday and Sunday)

Early Voting Locations:
Gregory Lincoln Education Center
1101 Taft Street, Houston, TX 77019
Furr High School
520 Mercury, Houston 77013
West Gray Adaptive Recreation Center
1475 West Gray, Houston, TX 77019
Austin High School
1700 Dumble, Houston, TX 77023

The “West Gray Adaptive Recreation Center” is also known as the West Gray Multi-Service Center, with which we early voters are all familiar. Get out there and vote if you live in HISD VIII – the two candidates running are Judith Cruz and Juliet Stipeche – this is sure to be a low turnout election, so your ballot really matters.

Thibaut versus Murphy, third time around

We know that the story of HD133, which has now been won twice by Jim Murphy and once by Kristi Thibaut, is one of turnout. With sufficient turnout in the Democratic part of the district – that is, the precincts in Rep. Al Green’s CD09 – it’s a Democratic district. With dominant turnout in the Republican part of the district – the precincts in Rep. John Culberson’s CD07 – it’s a Republican district. How did things look this year?

CD07 - 2010

Pcnct  Votes  Turnout  Murphy Thibaut  T Pct  T Margin
130     1483    64.37    1145    285   19.93      -860
356     1456    51.02     978    425   30.29      -553
395     1064    59.64     782    240   23.48      -542
437     1195    60.38     892    270   23.24      -622
438     1132    63.52     879    213   19.51      -666
483     1856    43.85    1075    700   39.44      -375
492     1214    48.39     790    400   33.61      -390
493      962    53.47     696    235   25.24      -461
499     1498    65.56    1146    311   21.35      -835
504     1363    60.82     991    346   25.88      -645
625      990    53.40     646    314   32.71      -332
626     1231    43.22     731    455   38.36      -276
706      213    40.19     130     78   37.50       -52
727      764    31.48     265    466   63.75       201

Total 18,369    50.44  11,146  4,738   29.83    -6,408

CD09 - 2010

Pcnct  Votes  Turnout  Murphy Thibaut  T Pct  T Margin
96       323    26.22      38     274  87.82       236
338     1561    33.85     498    1001  66.78       503
429     1142    27.93     278     819  74.66       541
487      966    30.35     340     582  63.12       242
503      402    28.71     131     246  65.25       115
508     1179    36.71     397     728  64.71       431
559     1449    32.14     433     940  68.46       507
565      752    22.49     120     597  83.26       477
620     1948    39.05    1103     783  41.52      -320
765     1335    34.83     608     681  52.83        73

Total 11,057    32.14   3,946   6,651  62.76     2,705

The good news from Thibaut’s perspective is that turnout was up in her good precincts by quite a bit over 2006. The bad news is that it was also up in the bad precincts for her. Both did a little better percentage-wise in their strong areas, with Murphy doing a little better than Thibaut at improving the base rate. In the end, Murphy’s margin was larger in absolute terms than it was in 2006, but slightly smaller in relative terms. That’s not a whole lot of comfort, but given what a wave this was for Republicans, it makes Thibaut’s showing look more respectable.

I wondered what the result might have been in a somewhat more normal year. Out of curiosity, I applied the turnout and voter percentage rates from 2006 to all of the CD07 districts, and left the CD09 districts as they were for this year. This is how it looks in CD07 based on that:

Pcnct  Votes  Turnout  Murphy Thibaut  T Pct  T Margin
130     1246    54.09     924     322  25.85      -602
356     1128    39.51     756     371  32.94      -385
395      880    49.32     626     253  28.81      -373
437      997    50.39     748     249  24.98      -499
438      975    54.71     731     244  25.03      -487
483     1464    34.58     873     591  40.35      -282
492      917    36.55     610     307  33.47      -303
493      818    45.46     577     240  29.40      -337
499     1237    54.15     911     326  26.38      -585
504     1153    51.47     797     357  30.93      -440
625      830    44.75     517     313  37.69      -404
626     1049    36.83     611     438  41.72      -173
706      175    33.09     108      68  38.69       -40
727      484    19.96     198     287  59.20        89

      13,354    42.49   8,987   4,366  32.70    -4,621
                       12,933  11,107  46.38           

That last row represents what the total numbers would have been. The overall turnout rate, and Thibaut’s percentage of the vote, are each a bit different than what I showed in the original post for 2006 because I apparently just averaged the percentages back then, instead of adding the actual vote and voter numbers and figuring it out from there. My bad. Anyway, what this shows is that this district was always going to be a tough hold, but was at least within hailing distance of a win under more normal circumstances. It’ll be very interesting to see what happens here in the 2011 redistricting. One obvious “fix” would be to shift some of those CD09 precincts to Hubert Vo’s HD149, while moving some CD07 precincts from there to here. That shores up Murphy while acknowledging that if the Republicans couldn’t take out Vo in 2008 with his apartment issues and a strong candidate opposing him, and they couldn’t take him out in this hundred-year-flood year, they’re not likely to ever take him out. We’ll see about that.

For those who might wonder about Bill White’s ability to attract crossover votes, I should note that he lost this district by all of 15 votes. Here’s how the other statewide candidates who had Democratic opponents did this year and in 2006:

Incumbent   2006%   2010%   06 margin  10 margin
Dewhurst    62.30   58.94       4,952      4,645
Abbott      63.43   60.33       5,456      5,436
Patterson   59.84   59.03       3,902      4,656
Staples     59.27   58.18       3,688      4,197

Dewhurst and Abbott saw their percentages drop as much as they did because their margins were smaller with more votes being cast. Patterson and to a lesser extent Staples were helped by the increase in straight ticket voting, as both of them had a higher undervote rate in 2006 than in 2010. If you’re curious, you can see how the first three candidates did in 2002 here, on page 131.

What’s next for Bill White?

Not a campaign.

In the nearly two weeks since his decisive loss to Gov. Rick Perry, he’s had time to begin planning a family Christmas trip to a yet-to-be-decided Spanish-speaking country, to indulge his penchant for exploring new and interesting businesses and to begin thinking about what he wants to do next. He also has time to think about what might have been.

For now, he said, about the only thing he knows about his future is what he doesn’t plan to do. He is not running for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Kay Bailey Hutchison.

“I’m not running in 2012,” he said, relaxing on the couch in a sunlit den in the White home overlooking woods bordering Buffalo Bayou. He also said he has no plans to try again for the Governor’s Office or for a Senate seat in 2014, when Republican Sen. John Cornyn faces re-election. He looks forward to getting back into business, he said.

Good news for John Sharp. I do hope that White stays involved – Lord knows, we could use his fundraising ability all across the ticket – but I’ll certainly understand if this was his last election. BOR has more.

Partisan breakdown for the city propositions

Now that I have addressed the question of the effect of straight ticket voting on the city propositions, the next question is to figure out how they did in Republican and Democratic areas. To try and get a handle on this, I sorted the precincts into strong and weak partisan groups, based on the straight ticket vote in each. “Strong R” precincts are ones in which Republicans got 60% or more of the straight ticket vote, “Weak R” are the ones in which they got between 50 and 60%; the “Strong D” and “Weak D” precincts are the converse. Here’s how it looks:

Type Pro 1 Con 1 Pro 3 Con 3 For 1% For 3% ============================================================ Strong R 61,883 71,602 72,660 63,802 46.36 53.25 Weak R 17,251 13,683 16,419 15,269 55.77 51.81 Weak D 17,424 13,762 16,172 15,930 55.87 50.38 Strong D 69,557 61,463 53,908 82,292 53.09 39.58

The numbers don’t add up to the official totals because of the partial precincts that were excluded. I have to say, I was more than a little surprised by this. I would have assumed that Republicans would have been the primary opponents of the red light cameras, but that was not it at all. From what I saw, Prop 1 got a fair number of Democrats riled up – though as you can see, in the end Democrats were its biggest supporters – but I never saw or heard of any argument over red light cameras. The depth of animosity towards the cameras from Democratic voters just came out of left field for me.

As for Prop 1, you can look at this data and say that the Texas Conservative Review endorsement either had no real effect, or might have saved it by blunting opposition to it just enough. I’m agnostic about that, so either one can work for me. Here’s another view of the data from Greg Wythe, which shows the results from each election in certain key precincts:

Anglo Dem Neighborhoods Prop1 Prop3 Heights ......... 57.1 ... 52.2 Meyerland ....... 54.9 ... 59.6 Rice U .......... 65.2 ... 63.8 Montrose ........ 70.6 ... 55.0 African-American Neighborhoods Prop1 Prop3 Acres Homes ..... 45.8 ... 32.8 UH/TSU .......... 49.8 ... 36.0 Fifth Ward ...... 46.9 ... 28.5 Hiram Clarke .... 49.8 ... 36.7 Sunnyside ....... 49.2 ... 29.4 Anglo GOP Neighborhoods Prop1 Prop3 Clear Lake ...... 45.1 ... 50.0 Galleria ........ 50.1 ... 59.4 Kingwood ........ 34.9 ... 43.9 Garden Oaks ..... 42.2 ... 51.2 River Oaks ...... 56.1 ... 62.1 Sharpstown ...... 49.8 ... 55.1 Spring Branch ... 43.6 ... 53.7 Memorial ........ 44.3 ... 60.6 Hispanic Neighborhoods Prop1 Prop3 Hobby ........... 46.6 ... 41.6 East End ........ 55.2 ... 46.5 Near Northside .. 55.2 ... 44.6 Multicultural Neighborhoods Prop1 Prop3 Alief ........... 57.4 ... 44.6

If this summary looks familiar, it’s because Greg did something very much like it for the 2009 election. For Prop 3, the division was entirely racial: Anglo voters supported the red light cameras, people of color did not. As for Prop 1, I thought the late opposition from the four African-American members of Council might be a death blow for it, but in the end that doesn’t seem to have had that much of an effect. (Yes, you could make the same argument here as for TCR.) Maybe their message didn’t penetrate that much, I don’t know. It’s something to think about, that’s for sure.

By the way, Greg is back from his blogging hiatus, and he’s got maps a-plenty for those of you who like that sort of thing – you know who you are. Go pay him a visit and see the election in multicolored hues.

Straight ticket voting and the city propositions

As you know, the Chron recently wrote an editorial decrying the rise in straight ticket voting. Among other things, they said:

In two highly publicized Houston propositions on the ballot last Tuesday, nearly 56,000 voters did not register a choice on the Proposition 1 drainage fee issue and nearly 46,000 bypassed Proposition 3 on red-light cameras. Prop 1 narrowly passed and Prop 3 narrowly lost. It’s likely most of those so-called under votes were straight-ticket voters who never ventured down the lengthy ballot.

I still don’t have the data to answer the question about how many straight ticket voters did not cast a ballot in the city proposition elections, but I do have precinct data now, and can try to offer some illumination here.

The first thing to determine is in which precincts there are city of Houston votes, so the other precincts can be removed. This is an inexact science, because city boundaries do not conform to precinct boundaries. In other words, a given precinct may contain Houston voters and non-Houston voters in it. What I did, very simply, was eliminate precincts that had a large disparity between the number of votes cast and the number of votes plus undervotes for the propositions. This throws out some genuinely Houston votes, and includes some non-Houston votes, but it’s the best I can do, and it gets pretty close to the actual picture.

My method estimates that 380,830 votes were cast by Houston voters, which is a bit less than 48% of the Harris County total. The county clerk puts that number at 388,611, so I’m not too far off. I also calculate that 66.7% Houston voters cast a straight ticket vote, which is nearly identical to the 66.9% rate of straight ticket voting in the county overall. So far so good.

The undervote rate for each of the three propositions, as stated by the County Clerk, is as follows:

Prop 1 total votes = 332,757
Prop 1 undervotes = 55,838
Undervote rate = 14.37%

Prop 2 total votes = 315,076
Prop 2 undervotes = 73,522
Undervote rate = 18.92%

Prop 3 total votes = 342,819
Prop 3 undervotes = 45,779
Undervote rate = 11.78%

As discussed before, the undervote rate in the judicial elections was about 5.5%, so clearly there was a higher rate of undervoting on the city propositions. That leads to two questions. Question 1 is simply, was it likely to make a difference?

I’m going to throw out Prop 2 for the rest of this discussion, for two reasons. One, there was no campaign for or against Prop 2, and as such you should expect it to have made little impression on most voters. Two, the number of undervotes is less than the difference between the Against and For totals, meaning that if all of these undervotes were changed to For votes, it still would have failed.

For Prop 1, the For vote exceeded the Against vote by a margin of 6,123. To make up a 6,123 vote difference from 55,838 ballots, you need 30,979 of them to vote Against, which is 55.48%. I suppose that’s doable, but given the closeness of the overall vote, that seems like a bit of a stretch.

For Prop 3, it’s even more stark. Prop 3 was defeated by a 19,345 vote margin. To make that up from only 45,779 ballots, you’d need to win 71.13% of them, or 32,563 votes. I don’t think so. Maybe Prop 1 opponents have a case that straight ticket voters cost them a shot at a win, but red light camera proponents have no such argument. It’s just not plausible.

There’s another way of looking at this, which leads to Question 2: How do these undervote rates compare to undervote rates in city-only elections? There’s no such thing as a straight ticket vote in odd-number-year elections, after all. Let’s take a look at the 2009 election and see what it tells us.

First, for the eleven Constitutional amendments on the ballot, the undervote rate ranged from 10.80% (Prop 2) to 16.84% (Prop 6). That range comfortably includes the undervote rates in the city proposition elections for this year. Those amendments were voted on by the whole county, however, so let’s look at city-only races. Here are the undervote rates for all of the non-Mayoral elections in 2009:

City Controller = 15.39%

At Large #1 = 28.48%
At Large #2 = 30.66%
At Large #4 = 28.56%
At Large #5 = 25.89%

District A = 18.24%
District B = 14.94%
District C = 13.30%
District D = 15.05%
District E = 14.98%
District F = 8.64%
District G = 22.51%

I only included the contested races. With the exception of District F, every race here had an undervote rate that was higher than it was for Prop 3, and with the exception of Districts C and F, every race here had an undervote rate higher than it was for Prop 1. You can say whatever you want about this, but straight ticket voting had nothing to do with it. As such, I consider the Chron’s hand-wringing to be unfounded. Like or dislike straight ticket voting as you wish, I say it had no effect on the city propositions.

UPDATE: Fixed the math on the Prop 3 undervote calculation. Thanks to Mark C for the correction.

Red light cameras to be turned off Monday

This was unexpected.

This week, officials with American Traffic Solutions Inc., of Scottsdale, Ariz., received a letter dated Nov. 10 from city attorney David Feldman, who reversed his previous opinion that the contract requires Houston to give ATS a 120-day notice before the cameras are switched off.

Now, Feldman informed ATS it must shut down the system at 10.a.m. Monday if the City Council canvasses the results of the Nov. 2 election when 53 percent of Houston residents voted to end use of the cameras. The Proposition 3 measure passed the same day Baytown residents passed an ordinance effectively ending the ATS red-light camera operation in that city.

George Hittner, vice president and general counsel of the Arizona-based firm, said Friday the company has many questions about the mechanics of ending Houston’s contract but it hopes to avoid a court battle.

“There are a lot of things the city and ATS has to work out contractually, but the city has asked us to turn off the cameras as of Monday morning … and we’ve agreed to that request,“ Hittner said. “The city has been a great partner with ATS, and just because there are a few things that remain to be resolved doesn’t mean we don’t want to honor the positive relations we’ve had with them the last three and a half years.“


Hittner said ATS’ contract does not have allow the city to immediately terminate the deal, as City Hall now proposes. “It’s our contention that the termination letter we received from the city is not consistent with what the city has available under the contract,“ said Hittner, a former Houston resident who unsuccessfully ran for City Council.

“Our costs were in the millions of dollars for this contract. As far as recouping our costs, we don’t think that will ever happen,“ Hittner said.

Mayor Annise Parker, who has said the Houston Police Department will lose $10 million annually in revenue if the cameras are taken down, issued a brief statement Friday afternoon on the issue: “We have indicated since the election that there are legalities to work out and this is just part of that process. Once City Council canvasses the votes for all three propositions on Monday, we will announce our next steps.”

That’s a pretty big reversal, and I wonder what was the impetus for it. I favor whatever approach minimizes the city’s costs and legal exposure. We’ll see if ATS takes its lumps and goes home or files a breach of contract suit.

Special election to succeed Rep. Kuempel set

Not surprisingly, Gov. Perry has set it for as soon as possible.

The election for the term beginning in 2011 will be held Dec. 14, the governor’s office said.

Candidates for District 44 in Texas House of Representatives must file applications with the Secretary of State no later than 5 p.m. on Nov. 15.

The early voting will run from Nov. 29 to Dec. 10.

Even in a good Democratic year, this is a solid Republican district, so the only question will be whether someone can win this without a runoff or not. If there is a runoff, it will be in early January, so the Republicans won’t be missing a member for any significant length of time.

On Latino turnout

I don’t know how to make more Latinos vote. But I do know these things:

1. Whatever it is that Texas Democrats have been doing, assuming there is something that qualifies as some kind of action in this area, it ain’t working; to be slightly more charitable, it ain’t working as well as it should or could be.

2. The one thing that I can’t say I’ve seen much discussion of when talking about Latino voting is funding. Whoever it is that’s responsible for getting more Latinos to the polls – the TDP, the local parties, the candidates, other groups – doing so costs money. Why don’t we start by talking about putting together the funding for a real Latino outreach/turnout effort? I’m quite sure there are plenty of people who know how to do that. With sufficient resources, the rest can be figured out. We can learn from what other states do, and if all else truly fails, we experiment. There’s no place to go but up.

3. Whoever takes on that challenge – and I hope there will be multiple groups doing so – a core part of their mission will need to be dealing with the vote-suppression organizations that crawled out from under various rocks this year. Look at what happened with Houston Votes, a non-partisan non-profit that was just trying to register voters, and then imagine the hysteria that will accompany a partisan effort to get Democratic-leaning voters to the polls. From this point forward, any group that doesn’t start out with a plan in place for fighting back against these jackwads is committing malpractice and isn’t worth supporting.

4. One reason why Latinos are such a rapidly growing segment of the population is because on average they’re a lot younger than the rest of us. That means that any outreach/turnout strategy has to think in terms of reaching a younger audience, which among other things doesn’t consume news and media the way us old farts do. As an extra added bonus, younger people in general tend to vote Democratic, but don’t vote in numbers commensurate with their share of the population, so any strategy aimed at getting Latinos to vote should also work pretty well for getting millennials to vote, too.

5. Another thing that I can’t say I’ve seen discussed much, if at all, is what we think Latino turnout “should” be, given factors such as age, education, income level, and so forth. What research, if any, exists to provide objective data? Yes, I know, the answer is “As high as possible”. The question is, how high is possible? How high is reasonably achievable, at least in the short term?

6. For the record, here’s how turnout in the Latino State Rep. districts in Harris County compare over the last three non-Presidential year elections:

Dist 2002 2006 2010 d0610 d0210 ======================================= 140 24.80 17.45 25.57 +46.5 +3.1 143 26.31 18.77 26.48 +41.1 +0.6 145 29.79 21.47 29.38 +36.8 -1.4 148 34.62 30.53 40.08 +31.3 +15.8

“D0610” and “D0210” are the percentage differences in turnout from 2006 to 2010 and 2002 to 2010, respectively. For the most part, it’s a modest improvement over 2002, the year in which the Tony Sanchez campaign did a decent job of getting Latinos to vote. Does this change anyone’s perception? Here’s what it looks like at the state level, for a few selected counties:

Year Cameron El Paso Hidalgo Maverick Webb ==================================================== 2002 29.67 28.81 27.87 26.52 41.99 2006 24.48 24.16 17.08 15.49 18.12 2010 23.52 23.28 24.63 26.40 27.43

I have no idea what’s going on in Cameron and El Paso. Webb’s performance in 2002 was juiced by being Tony Sanchez’s home county. Again, does this change anyone’s perceptions, one way or the other?

For what it’s worth, here’s how Bill White compared to Chris Bell and Tony Sanchez in the two-party race against Rick Perry in these counties:

Year Cameron El Paso Hidalgo Maverick Webb ==================================================== 2002 60.71 64.69 68.90 80.38 89.87 2006 49.86 52.28 56.00 63.00 66.60 2010 58.39 62.54 67.78 73.26 76.72

Remember, these numbers do not include Strayhorn, Kinky, or any third party candidates. White ran about ten points better than Bell, and was close to Sanchez outside of his back yard. Not a bad performance if you ask me. There’s already some arguing about how Perry did with Latino voters. Next year, when all of the relevant election data is available for all State Rep districts, I’ll do the same analysis on them as before, and we’ll see what we get.

7. Let’s keep some perspective here. Increasing Latino turnout will only get you so far. If there had been 100% participation in these five counties, with everyone getting the same percentage, White would have netted an additional 222,716 votes, and still would have lost by about 400,000 votes. Maybe in another year that would have truly helped, but even in 2006 Perry won by a wider margin than what this would have gained. Now of course there are plenty of Latino voters elsewhere, and there may be some level of turnout at which the election could have been tipped. I won’t know till I get more data. Point is, this is only one piece of the puzzle. A big piece, to be sure, but not the only one. I’ve said this before, after the 2008 election, Latinos don’t just exist in these counties and State Rep districts. They live everywhere, and a real outreach/turnout strategy needs to take that into account.

Rep. Donna Howard wins re-election

The closest election of this cycle has been decided, for now.

State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, has defeated Republican challenger Dan Neil for state representative in District 48 by 16 votes.

The count came after Travis County officials tallied all provisional and overseas ballots, which were due to the county clerk’s office [Monday] evening.

On Nov. 2, Howard outpaced Neil by 15 votes. The Travis County Clerk’s Office said tonight that 58 additional votes were counted since election day.

Howard won with 25,026 votes, or 48.54 percent, to Neil’s 25,010, or 48.51 percent. Libertarian Ben Easton received 1,518 votes, 2.94 percent. A total of 51,554 ballots were counted.

There are still some formalities to be observed, and Neil will have until the end of them to request a recount. As noted before, that is unlikely to amount to anything. An election contest is also possible, but as I have not heard any complaints so far about irregularities, that seems a bit more remote. But I wouldn’t be too surprised by that, either. We won’t have truly final results for some time yet.

So was this a one-time thing or not?

So was the Republican showing in this year’s election an aberration or not? I’m going to limit this discussion to Harris County here. It’s clear by now that what we saw here was an unprecedented spike in Republican turnout. A significant number of people who normally don’t vote in off year elections did so this year, and most of them voted Republican. Will that happen again? I can think of two reasons why it might, and one reason why it probably won’t.

Why it might: First, not to put too fine a point on it, but winning elections is fun. It feels good, and it makes you feel like you were rewarded for your efforts. All these Republican voters who had previously only come out in years divisible by four may be saying to themselves “Hey, we made a difference. We should do this again.” You can be certain every Republican they helped elect will be reinforcing that message for the next four years and beyond.

And two, voting is a habit. The people we expect to vote in a given election are overwhelmingly those who voted in the last one like it. The set of people who have voted in an off year election, in Harris County and in Texas, is now bigger than it used to be. Until proven otherwise, all 797,000 people who participated in this year’s election have to be considered likely voters for the 2014 election.

Against that, the set of conditions that led to this year’s Republican surge are highly unlikely to be replicated any time soon. For all we know, in 2014 we could have a Republican President and a Republican Congress about to suffer their own midterm backlash. Four years is a long time, and betting on things that had never happened before to happen again sure seems against the odds.

To me, it’s pointless to worry about what Republican voters may or may not do in some future election. We Democrats don’t have a lot of control over that. One could argue that it was our string of legislative and policy successes that was a big driving factor in their increased motivation this year. I’ll take that trade any day. What we do have control over is our own level of turnout. If there’s one thing I hope we learn from this experience, it’s that if they can do it, so can we. We quite rightly expect the voters who helped propel Democrats to victory in Harris County in 2008 to come back out in 2012. We need to work on convincing them that they need to turn out in other years, too. I believe some of them did do so this year – I know that the bulk of Democratic GOTV efforts were aimed at “Obama surge” voters, and given that Democratic turnout hit unprecedented heights this year, if not nearly as high as the GOP, I’d have to say that effort saw at least some success. My hope is that it continues on through 2012 and 2014 and beyond. If nothing else, it’s the one thing we absolutely can control.

On straight ticket voting

After Democrats made big gains in 2008 in Harris County thanks in part to straight ticket voting, I defended the practice from the Republican concern trolls that came out to wring their hands about it now that they were no longer its primary beneficiary. I’m not going to change my mind after this election just because things went the other way. To my mind, there are far bigger issues that need to be dealt with first, in particular the legalization of unlimited anonymous corporate campaign money that the Supreme Court foisted on us this year. But at the end of the day, if people want to push one button and be done, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

Be that as it may, it’s time once again to deal with the usual tongue clucking that seems to follow every election these days. First, a different issue that got the concern trolls riled up two years ago, partisan judicial elections.

During our recent screening of Harris County judicial candidates, the one consistent message from both incumbents and challengers was their distaste at having to run for office with a party affiliation.

The current method of electing judges also forces candidates to raise money from lawyers who will practice in their courts, a system that at minimum creates the appearance of favoritism in court deliberations.

In the last two elections we’ve lost good GOP and Democratic judges because of the boom-and-bust partisan cycles. It’s time to revive discussion of a merit appointment system linked to a periodic retention election to give the electorate the opportunity to replace poorly performing jurists.

Here’s the reality.

Iowa’s rejection of three state supreme court justices who ruled in favor of same-sex marriage underscored the growing electoral vulnerability of state judges as more and more are targeted by special interest groups, legal scholars and jurists said Thursday.

“It just illustrated something that has been troubling many of us for many, many years,” California Chief Justice Ronald M. George said. “The election of judges is not necessarily the best way to select them.”

The three Iowa high court justices were ousted in the kind of retention election California uses for appeals court judges: They face no opposing candidates and list no party affiliation, and voters can select “yes” or “no.” Legal scholars have generally said that system is among the most effective ways of avoiding a politicized judiciary.

But a report by the Brennan Center for Justice this year found a “transformation” in state judicial elections during the last decade throughout the country. Big money and a campaign emphasis on how a judge votes on the bench has become “the new normal,” the report said.

“For more than a decade, partisans and special interests of all stripes have been growing more organized in their efforts to use elections to tilt the scales of justice their way,” said the report, which examined 10 years of judicial elections. “Many Americans have come to fear that justice is for sale.”

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: You cannot remove the politics from judicial selections, no matter how you do it. Merely removing the partisan labels from judicial candidates will not magically make partisan interest groups and their money disappear. If you want to blunt the influence of those outside groups, the best bet is to reform the way judicial campaigns are financed. In this post-Citizens United world, that will only get you so far, but it’s a start. If the problem is the money, then deal with the money. I do not understand why this concept is so hard to grasp.

The second electoral reform the Legislature should consider is changing the current formula that encourages straight-ticket voting. Nearly 67 percent of Harris County voters voted straight ticket in the recently concluded election. Texas is among only 16 states permitting straight-party voting, and five others abolished it during the last two decades.

Critics contend the system encourages partisanship at the expense of quality government service. It can also undercut nonpartisan races and propositions on the same ballot. In two highly publicized Houston propositions on the ballot last Tuesday, nearly 56,000 voters did not register a choice on the Proposition 1 drainage fee issue and nearly 46,000 bypassed Proposition 3 on red-light cameras. Prop 1 narrowly passed and Prop 3 narrowly lost. It’s likely most of those so-called under votes were straight-ticket voters who never ventured down the lengthy ballot.

As Chronicle Outlook contributor Bill King noted before the election, straight-party voting in Texas was created by Democrats and maintained by Republicans to protect the majority party. “It will go away when the party in power in Austin calculates it is to its political advantage to do so,” noted King. “That might just be the case in 2011.”

Bill, if you’re reading this, I’ll bet you $10 right now that doesn’t happen. Hell, I’ll be shocked if such a bill even makes it to a committee vote. If there was a time for this, it was in the 2009 session, when Republicans were in close control but had just suffered major losses in the big counties. With their overwhelming win last Tuesday and hugely inflated legislative margin – in fairness, King wrote the column cited before the election – they have no reason to think in these terms. Even if they did, the budget and redistricting and all of their wingnut wish list items will take precedence.

As far as the assertion regarding the city propositions is concerned, it seems to me that is something that ought to have an objective answer. Surely we should be able to tell from the returns how many people who voted a straight ticket did and did not also cast a ballot on the propositions. I’ve put in an email to the County Clerk to inquire about that and will report back when I get an answer. Regardless, it also seems to me that there’s no reason why an electronic voting system could not be programmed to accommodate this. If a straight-ticket vote is cast, the interface could then prompt the voter if it detects that there are elections on the ballot that aren’t covered by that vote – special elections, non-partisan races, ballot propositions, etc. Maybe the Chron could ask our new County Clerk to make this a requirement for the next generation of eSlate machines. The point is, there’s no reason why this needs to be an issue. We have the technology to not make it one.

They picked a good year to have a scandal

Reps. Joe Driver and Linda Harper Brown made it through the election and now just have to worry about what a prosecutor might think.

The Travis County district attorney’s office is looking into Driver’s travel reimbursements. An official there last week said he couldn’t comment on whether Harper-Brown’s use of a 2010 Mercedes-Benz E550 was being investigated.

Kathy Colvin, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Dallas, said she couldn’t comment about whether her office was looking into either Driver’s or Harper-Brown’s actions.

Driver and Harper-Brown did not return phone calls seeking comment last week.

Dallas County Republican Party chairman Jonathan Neerman said it’s too soon to tell whether either of the lawmakers will face future political repercussions.

“The voters had a chance to make a determination, which they did on Tuesday night,” he said. “If there’s still an investigation being conducted by those legal authorities, we need to let those investigations play out.”


Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, said Driver and Harper-Brown will likely be in the clear if authorities don’t conclude they did anything wrong.

“They have been re-elected to new two-year terms,” Jillson said. “By the time they stand for re-election again, if there have been no further scandals or major issues raised against them, these will fade.”

Very likely true, though unless they actually get a result that casts doubt on the merit of the initial charges I’m sure they will come up again. But unless they get into more trouble, it will be at most background noise, and could even be an asset for them if they wind up in the clear. Timing is everything in this life.