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Election 2020

More people are requesting mail ballots

It’s a trickle and not a flood so far, but I suspect that will change as we get closer to Novemner.

The legal status of mail-in voting for virus-related reasons has gone back and forth — earlier this month, one court gave the green light only to be overturned by another court less than 24 hours later. Nevertheless, a considerable number of voters have turned in early requests for mail ballots, a Hearst Newspapers analysis shows.

In Harris County, the number of accepted mail-in ballot requests has risen from about 2.4 percent of registered voters in 2016, or 51,451 voters, to 3.2 percent of voters, or 76,267 voters, so far this year. Most were annual applications and were not limited to a single election.

Requests from Harris County voters age 65 or older, who are guaranteed a mail-in ballot in Texas, continue to represent the vast majority of applications — more than 90 percent. Requests for ballots on the basis of a disability totaled 1,429 — 0.06 percent of registered voters, compared to 0.04 percent in 2016.

Bexar County has similarly seen a slight increase in mail-in ballot requests compared with 2016. They’ve risen from about 1.6 percent to 2.2 percent of registered voters, or 24,477 total. Voters 65 or older accounted for most of the increase.

Texas’ primary runoff is scheduled for July 14. The deadline to apply to vote by mail is July 2, some five weeks away. (Applications must be received by that date, not simply postmarked.)

Bob Stein, a Rice University political science professor who studies elections, said the initial numbers point to a significant shift toward mail balloting.

“It’s historically high,” Stein said. “For the fall, the data tells me that if the conditions today remain unchanged or worsen … the consequence is that more people will try to vote by mail, try to avoid contracting the virus by voting in person early or they won’t vote at all.

“But there’s no doubt in my mind that the share of the vote cast by mail will go up, and it will go up dramatically.”

Depending on how the courts rule, Stein said the number of mail-in ballots cast in Texas could increase anywhere from 15 to 100 percent or more in the Nov. 3 general election.

Let’s add some clarity to the math in the second and third paragraphs. First, the numbers cited for early voting are for the primaries. There were 124K absentee ballots mailed for the November 2016 election, and 120K absentee ballots mailed for November 2018. There were something like 833 mail ballots requested due to disability for the 2016 primary – we don’t know what the comparable figure for November was – which is needless to say a tiny figure in the grand scheme of things. The 1,429 disability ballots requested so far – it would be super nice to know how many have been requested for the Dem primary runoff and how many for the Republican primary runoff by the way, since this is a thing we can know – is way less than ten percent of the total mail ballots, more like 1.8%. If we take Bob Stein’s high end estimate for November, we could be looking at 250K ballot requests, with maybe up to five thousand of them being from people claiming a disability. Sure seems like a little bitty thing for the Republicans to be freaking out so much about.

Of course, we don’t have any idea how this will go. Maybe a huge number of people will request mail ballots if the federal courts ultimately rule in favor of the plaintiffs. Maybe more people than you might think prefer to vote in person, or just don’t want to try something new in such a consequential election when it’s the first time it’s been done and the chances of human error causing havoc are higher than usual. Maybe people will feel safer voting in person in November, or maybe we’ll have had a second spike and people will be even more scared of doing anything outside the house than they are now. The point I would make at this time is yes, more people are requesting mail ballots, at least in the biggest counties. The vast overwhelming majority of those making that request are people 65 and older, who have always had that legal right. Even with this increase, the mail ballot universe represents a small fraction of all registered voters – we’re talking maybe ten percent of registered voters if we assume the Bob Stein maximal figure, which in turn may be something like 15-20% of total turnout for November. Not nothing, but not earth-shattering either. Ask me again in October and maybe my answer changes, but for now it’s significant but still small, and nothing the system shouldn’t be able to handle.

We will have more early voting time in November

That’s good.

Gov. Greg Abbott said Thursday he will extend the early voting period for an unspecified amount of time during the November election as concerns continue to persist around in-person voting during the coronavirus pandemic.

Abbott has already doubled the time period for the primary runoff election July 14, calling it necessary so that “election officials can implement appropriate social distancing and safe hygiene practices.”

In a TV interview Thursday afternoon, Abbott was asked if he believes Texas voters will be able to cast their ballots safely not only this summer but also in the fall.

“We do, and for this reason, and that is … Texas has always had early voting, and what I did for the July time period and what we will do again for the November time period is we will extend the early voting period,” Abbott said in the interview with KCBD in Lubbock. “And what that does — it allows more people to go vote early in settings that are not highly congregated. As a result, you can go vote without having to worry about a whole bunch of people being around you that you could contract COVID-19 from. That makes voting a lot safer [of a] setting than it would otherwise be with the shortened early voting time period.”

See here for the background. I had called on Abbott to do exactly this, though I did not expect that he would. He hasn’t said yet how much he’ll extend early voting – maybe we’ll get a third week, maybe a third and a fourth, who knows – but this is a Good Thing, and I’m glad to see it. Having the state pony up to help counties cover their extra expenses in this weird year, and not being fanatically opposed to letting people with a legitimate fear of COVID exposure vote by mail, would also be nice. But this is something, and credit where it’s due.

A note about voter ID and vote by mail

See if you can detect the same theme I’m detecting.

From Houston Public Media:

Rice University recently surveyed Harris County voters. And nearly 70 percent of respondents preferred voting by mail if that’s an option.

“We found that a large number of voters – particularly Democrats, women, and persons over 65 – were reluctant to vote in person at a polling location on or before Election Day,” said Rice political scientist Bob Stein.

[…]

But the Rice survey shows Republicans are far less likely to want to vote by mail, let alone to support others doing so for fear of catching COVID-19. One reason: potential voter fraud.

Clay Mills of Humble has been a Republican poll judge for the past 10 years.

“In my opinion, based on all those years of experience, by far the easiest way to commit fraud is vote by mail,” Mills said. “I think we should always be concerned about health and do the best we can, but we also can’t destroy the purity of the vote based on health reasons.”

Such fraud is extremely rare, according to studies conducted by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.

Michael Palmquist is also a Republican poll judge and army veteran from Spring. As for concerns about voting in person during the pandemic? “None whatsoever.”

“I mean, if I can go to the grocery store, and I can go to Sam’s, and I can go to Walmart, there’s no reason I can’t stand in line and vote,” Palmquist said.

And Joanne Thomas, an Alabama native and a teacher from West Houston, is battling cancer. But she’s still determined to vote in person, not by mail.

“I will wear my gloves, I will wear my mask, and I will go in and vote,” Thomas said. “I have family members who have died for the right for me to vote.”

Like Mills, Thomas is concerned about potential vote fraud.

“I have heard the term ballot harvesting, and I totally disagree with it because you can’t prove who you are,” Thomas said, “I am a firm believer that you should carry some form of ID to have the privilege to vote in the United States of America. You should be an American citizen and pay taxes. If you don’t, you don’t have the right to have the say on who will govern us.”

See here for more on the poll in question, but that’s not what I want to focus on.

From the DMN:

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Lewis Sessions, a Dallas lawyer who is not involved in the case, agrees with Paxton. Sessions, who has represented the county Republican Party in voter fraud cases, said he opposes expanded mail voting because the system can be exploited by fraudsters.

If mail voting is opened up to a larger portion of the population, he said, election officials will be unprepared to handle such an increase and unable to verify each ballot.

David Thomas, 72, of Oak Cliff said he was similarly concerned that officials would not be able to use the state’s voter identification law to verify ballots cast by mail.

“Somebody else can vote for you,” he said.

Sessions, 67, said the courts should stay out of the legal battle and let local officials determine the best way to hold elections during the pandemic.

“This can be done, it’s just a question of working through the logistics,” he said.

But not all Republicans are opposed to expanding mail voting. Kathaleen Wall, a GOP candidate in a runoff to replace Sugar Land Rep. Pete Olson, has urged her voters to vote by mail, saying in mailers that they have the “green light” if they are worried about contracting or spreading the virus.

John Pudner, executive director of Take Back Our Republic, a national conservative nonprofit that works on campaign finance reform, said he supports expanding mail voting during the pandemic — with some caveats.

Pudner, a longtime Republican consultant who worked for President George W. Bush’s campaign in 2000, said mail ballot applications should be sent to all voters as long as the process includes a form of verification, like a signature, a witness match or a thumbprint.

His group does not support sending ballots to all registered voters or conducting the elections entirely by mail, as Nevada has announced. Pudner said he also thinks the changes should be temporary and not extend beyond the pandemic.

Did you notice the reference to voter ID in each of the two stories? I’ve previously discussed this, but it seems this is the sort of thing that will need to be repeated over and over again. The reason that the odious voter ID law does not apply to mail ballots is because the Republicans that passed the voter ID law chose to exempt mail ballots from any voter ID requirement. The reason they chose to exempt mail ballots is because mail ballots, at least at the time that the voter ID law was passed, strongly favored Republicans, and Republican legislators did not want to make it harder for their voters to vote. (Also, too, voters over the age of 65 are disproportionately white, as noted by LULAC when they intervened in the first federal lawsuit over expanding vote by mail.)

Now, I am not calling for voter ID to be extended to include mail ballots. The voter ID law is trash and needs to be thrown out. My point is simply that if you are going to trot out the creaky old talking points about “vote fraud”, you should at least be made to reckon with the fact that the Republican legislators who passed the voter ID law in 2011 specifically and deliberately chose to exempt mail ballots from its requirement. It was convenient for them to claim that “vote fraud” was not an issue for mail ballots then, just as it is convenient for them to claim that it is an issue now. You might want to ask yourself why that is.

Have you missed having Stan Stanart to kick around?

Well then, I have good news for you.

Former Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart will run again for his old job, he confirmed Wednesday, joining two other Republicans seeking their party’s nomination for the November special election.

Incumbent clerk Diane Trautman, who defeated Stanart in 2018, announced she would resign May 31 because of undisclosed health concerns.

The Democratic and Republican parties must nominate candidates to fill the remaining two years of her term.

“I’ve got eight years’ experience, and the name ID necessary to win in November,” Stanart said in a phone call. “I’m calling precinct chairs and doing very well asking for their endorsement.”

Stanart’s announcement Wednesday was the result of a mix-up; he said he thought he was talking to a Harris County Republican Party precinct chair when a Houston Chronicle reporter called him. He said he had planned to go public with his candidacy next week.

The other Republican candidates to date are former Houston city councilman Bert Keller and former Harris County judicial candidate Michelle Fraga.

Emphasis mine. We’ve all missed that Stan Stanart touch around here, haven’t we? Not to mention the glorious headshot. I feel like he missed his calling as a spokesman for BrylCreem, but we must look forward from here.

Anyway. As the story notes, no Dems have publicly announced their interest in the nomination as yet. I expect Teneshia Hudspeth to throw her hat in the ring, but as yet I’ve heard nothing. I presume we’ll know more by the time of the next CEC meeting.

Voter, sanitize thyself

WTF?

With voting in the primary runoff election starting next month in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, the Texas secretary of state on Tuesday issued “minimum recommended health protocols” for elections, including a suggestion that voters bring their own hand sanitizer to the polls and that they “may want to consider” voting curbside if they have symptoms of COVID-19.

In an eight-page document, Secretary of State Ruth Hughs laid out checklists for voters and election workers that range from self-screening for symptoms to increased sanitation of voting equipment — none of which are binding and many of which were already being considered by local election officials planning for the first statewide election during the coronavirus pandemic.

In its recommendations, the state said voters should consider wearing cloth face masks, bringing their own marking devices — like pencils with erasers or styluses — and using curbside voting if they have a cough, fever, shortness of breath or other symptoms associated with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Voters in Texas have long had the option of having a ballot brought to them outside their polling place if “a voter is physically unable to enter the polling place without personal assistance or likelihood of injuring the voter’s health.”

The state instructed local election officials to place markings on the floor to facilitate social distancing and to keep at least 6 feet between voting stations. Election officials should also consider having all employees wear masks, the secretary of state said.

The recommendations are meant to serve as a baseline, and county officials can adopt additional protocols. Early voting for the July primary runoff starts June 29.

Man, this is weak. The main takeaway here is that the state of Texas really, really doesn’t want to do anything to make it safer or easier for anyone to vote. Let’s put aside the hotly-contested question about allowing more voting by mail and consider two fairly simple alternatives the state could do in this regard. One, the state could pay for the extra supplies that voters or county officials if they are willing and able are being encouraged to provide for themselves. A few million bucks from Greg Abbott’s discretionary fund would go a long way towards buying hand sanitizer, pencils, masks and gloves for poll workers, and so forth, not just for the July election but for November as well. Additionally, and speaking of November, Abbott could use his emergency powers – or call a special session if this would be too legally questionable – to extend the early voting period for November to four weeks. That would do a lot to address concerns about long lines and crowds of people crammed inside polling places waiting their turn. He extended the early voting period for July to address this, which I do appreciate. But no, we get this limp mixture of “you might wanna bring some Purell with you, and oh yeah, mark some spots on the floor”. Are you kidding me?

Republican voters should be unhappy about this inability to engage with the actual issue, too. This isn’t hard. And surely I’m not the only one looking at that recommendation to voters that they spend their own money to provide their own risk mitigation and thinking that telling voters there’s a cost to voting they have to pay amounts to a poll tax. If there isn’t a lawsuit filed over this, I’ll be quite surprised. I don’t know what it’s going to take to get the state to take this seriously.

Interview with Rep. Eddie Rodriguez

Rep. Eddie Rodriguez

We’re about a month out from the start of early voting for the July 14 elections, which are the primary runoffs and at least one special election, to fill the vacancy in the State Senate left by Kirk Watson’s resignation. There’s a field of six set to compete in the heavily Democratic SD14, but really only two candidates that matter. I’ve done interviews with both and will be presenting them to you here. First up is State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, who has represented HD51 in Travis County since 2002. A native of the Rio Grande Valley and an alum of UT (both undergrad and the law school), Rep. Rodriguez serves on the House Committees on Calendars, State Affairs and Ways & Means in the 86th Legislative Session. He is co-founder and Chair of the Texas House Farm-to-Table Caucus, Policy Chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus and an active member of the House Women’s Caucus, the House Democratic Caucus and the Legislative Study Group. Here’s the interview:

I will have an interview with former Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt on Monday. I’m going to review the primary runoffs of interest in the coming weeks as well.

Dan Patrick gets all hysterical about voting by mail

Poor Dan. You know how emotional he gets. Could someone get him a nice cup of chamomile tea, to help him calm down a bit? Thanks.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Friday said that efforts to expand mail-in voting during the coronavirus amount to a “scam by Democrats to steal the election” and claimed that people under 65 are at more risk of dying in a car wreck on the way to vote than they are from dying from the coronavirus because they voted in person.

“There is no reason — capital N, capital O — no reason that anyone under 65 should be able to say I am afraid to go vote,” Patrick, a Republican, said in an interview with Fox News. “Have they been to a grocery store? Have they been to Walmart? Have they been to Lowe’s? Have they been to Home Depot? Have they been anywhere? Have they been afraid to go out of their house? This is a scam by the Democrats to steal the election.”

Texas has been locked in a legal fight over whether it has to expand who is eligible to vote by mail during the coronavirus pandemic. Multiple groups have sued the state, saying it’s dangerous to require people to wait in line and cast ballots on machines shared with other voters while the virus is spreading. GOP state officials have opposed the effort, however, saying that mail-in voting is vulnerable to fraud.

Patrick repeated those worries about fraud on Friday, while also dismissing any fears people might have about going to the polls if they aren’t eligible for a mail-in ballot. Patrick noted that the vast majority of people dying from the virus are older. Currently in Texas, anyone 65 or older or with a disability is eligible for a ballot.

“This idea that we want to give you a disability claim because I am afraid to go vote — if you are under 65 — is laughable,” Patrick said. “You have more chance of being in a serious auto accident if you are under 65 on the way to vote than you do from catching the virus and dying from it on the way to voting. This is the greatest scam ever.”

Texas does not have complete data for the ages of the 1,440 people who have died in the state from the virus. But the state has completed fatality investigations for 489 of those deaths, and about 29% of those were people confirmed to be under 65.

In addition, public health experts are encouraging people of all ages to limit their social interactions. While older people are generally at more risk of dying from the virus, young people can transmit it and endanger people of all ages.

You may recall, Dan Patrick said there were more important things than living and that senior citizens should be willing to die for the economy. So maybe he’s not the best judge of what one’s risk appetite should be.

It’s easy to mock Dan “Menace II Grandma” Patrick, and we all should do it on a regular basis because he is ridiculous. But we should also look at his words and try to understand what he’s really saying. Whether he meant to or not, there are three things that he made clear from this little outburst.

First, there’s no actual justification for the 65-and-over qualification. It’s completely arbitrary, and Patrick doesn’t even try to defend it. It’s there because that’s the number lawmakers picked when they wrote the law. If someone did press Patrick on this point, I’m sure he’d have little to offer beyond some form of “that’s just the way it is”. The federal age-discrimination lawsuit hasn’t had a response from the state yet, and I’ll be very interested to see what justification they come up with. My guess is they won’t bother to try to justify it, they’ll instead simply claim that having an age limit isn’t discriminatory. My point here is that Dan Patrick can’t defend this provision in the law, he can only hide behind it.

Second, there’s the “vote fraud” shibboleth. Forget for a minute that there’s a trivially small amount of actual vote fraud in the system, since statistics and logic mean nothing in this context. I’m old enough to remember when the voter ID bill was passed and the litigation was filed against it. One of the many points of contention over this odious law was the fact that it only applied to in person voting. Voting by mail, which was a smaller component of turnout than it is now and which was much more Republican than it is now (look at the absentee ballot totals for Harris County from 2008 and 2012, for example), was exempted in part because the Republicans who passed the law did not want to burden their own voters, but also because they professed no concerns at all vote vote by mail fraud, even as Democratic legislators and people who testified at the hearings pointed out that most of the handful of vote fraud examples we had centered on mail ballots. The only reason why Republicans are trotting out their “vote fraud!” wolf cries now is because Democrats have gotten better at using vote by mail. That’s what they’re actually afraid of.

And that brings us to point three. The Republicans know they are losing the argument. There was a time when Republicans didn’t care about who was showing up to vote, because they were confident they were going to win all of the elections they wanted to win. They had the lion’s share of the vote – George W. Bush won re-election as Governor in 1998 with 68% of the vote, and he got 62% of the vote as President in 2004 – and they knew it. They have no such assurance today, and they know that, too. All of the big urban counties (save for Tarrant, which is headed that way) are hopelessly Democratic, and now the big suburban counties are slipping away from them. They see their lack of popularity with younger voters and people of color. They’re not going to change what they stand for, so Plan B is to make it harder on all the people they don’t like to vote. This isn’t a revelation, and yes I know what Paul Weyrich was saying back in the 1980s. The difference now is that they really are saying it out loud. They don’t want to make it easier for people to vote, because they fear – with justification – they will lose too many elections if they do. They know people aren’t buying what they’re selling, so they’re trying to restrict the marketplace.

So yes, please do continue mocking Dan “Triggered By Sandra Bullock” Patrick. It’s fun, and he deserves it. But listen to what he’s saying, because he’s telling us what he’s afraid of. Let’s make sure we’re paying close attention to that.

Coronavirus and the State Supreme Court

Just a reminder, nearly half of the State Supreme Court is up for election this November. You know, in case you had opinions about their recent opinions.

Typically not top of mind for voters, the nine Republican justices of the Texas Supreme Court have come under the spotlight during the coronavirus pandemic with a slate of high-profile and controversy-generating moves.

Actions on bailevictions, debt collections, vote-by-mail and a Dallas salon owner named Shelley Luther have foregrounded the court in a year when four incumbent justices face reelection — making it easier, Democratic challengers say, to make the case against them.

Last week, the high court lifted its coronavirus ban on evictions and debt collections, put in place in March as the economy shut down and hundreds of thousands were added to the unemployment rolls. And the justices temporarily put on hold a lower court ruling that expanded vote-by-mail access during the pandemic. Both decisions have infuriated some voters and energized the Democratic Party.

This month, the court ordered the release of Luther, who was jailed for contempt of court after refusing to shutter her salon under coronavirus orders; earlier this spring, it sided with state officials in limiting how many inmates could be released from county jails, which have become hotspots for disease.

Democrats, who have not won a seat on the state’s highest civil court in more than two decades, have reclassified the typically sleepy races as a “top-tier priority,” a designation party officials said comes with digital ad spending. And some candidates have already begun to speak out publicly against high court decisions they say disenfranchise voters and risk their safety.

“I think people’s eyes are opening up,” said 3rd Court of Appeals Justice Gisela Triana, one of the four women running for Supreme Court on the Democratic ticket this year. “What has been the sleepy branch of government … has woken up.”

There’s more and you should read the rest. For obvious reasons, these races are largely going to be determined by the Presidential race – if Joe Biden can run even with or ahead of Donald Trump, one or more of the Democratic candidates can break through. It surely wouldn’t hurt for their to be some money spent on these races, in part just to make sure voters are aware of them and in part to highlight some of the decisions that are not exactly in line with public preferences, but there’s only so much the individual candidates can do about that. In case you’re wondering, I have one Q&A from a Democratic candidate for Supreme Court from the primaries, from Judge Amy Clark Meachum.

On a more sobering note:

Justice Debra Lehrmann

One day after presiding over a hearing on the state’s mail-in ballot controversy via videoconference, Texas Supreme Court Justice Debra Lehrmann says she and her husband have tested positive for COVID-19.

“We began to exhibit symptoms last week, despite diligently complying with stay-at-home rules,” Lehrmann wrote on Twitter on Thursday. “Thankfully, this has not interfered with #SCOTX work, as the Court is working remotely. We are grateful for your thoughts & prayers.”

Her diagnosis marks the first known coronavirus case of a top state official. The justice did not immediately respond to requests for an interview but told the Dallas Morning News that she and her husband Greg had fevers and body aches early last week before getting tested at an Austin drive-thru testing center.

She also told The News that their Houston lawyer son, Jonathan, his wife Sarah and their six-month-old son Jack, who had been visiting them every other week, stopped and are believed to also be infected.

Her tweet is here. I wish Justice Lehrmann and her husband all the best for a swift recovery. (She is not on the 2020 ballot, in case you were wondering.)

Biden campaign says it will compete in Texas

That is what we want to hear.

Former vice president Joe Biden is planning to compete against President Trump in traditionally Republican states such as Arizona, Texas and Georgia as his campaign bulks up in size and turns to a general election made highly unpredictable by the coronavirus.

“We believe that there will be battleground states that have never been battleground states before,” said Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, Biden’s campaign manager, on a call with reporters Friday. “We feel like the map is really favoring us if you look to recent polling.”

Biden’s campaign said it will also compete in other states such as Iowa and Ohio that Hillary Clinton lost by large margins in 2016.

The campaign’s public announcement of targets — which some Democrats feel are overly ambitious — is driven by what it sees as weaknesses for Trump that have been magnified by his response to the virus. It comes after weeks of criticism from Democrats, who worry Biden isn’t being aggressive enough.

[…]

Biden’s staff, on the call with reporters Friday, frequently pointed to national polling and surveys in battleground states that give Biden an edge. Recent public polls in Arizona, Florida, Michigan and Wisconsin show Biden leading. Trump is beating Biden by small margins in Iowa and Texas.

The FiveThirtyEight average of the four polls of Texas post-primary have Trump leading Biden by two in Texas. That can change, of course, and there are a whole host of other factors to consider, from fundraising to organization to how the election will be conducted, but it’s hard to see Texas as un-competitive right now. It’s true that if Biden does actually win Texas he’s almost certainly run up the score to such an extent that he surely didn’t need to win Texas, but there are plenty of other considerations as well, from a US Senate race to multiple potential Congressional pickups to winning the State House and having a voice in the 2021 redistricting process. The Chron covers some of this ground:

In the 1990s, Bill Clinton came within 5 percentage points of winning Texas in both 1992 and 1996, but both those races had eccentric Texas tycoon H. Ross Perot taking voters from the Republican nominees. Minus those races, Hillary Clinton coming within 9 percentage points of beating Trump in 2016 is the closest a Democrat has come to winning Texas since Jimmy Carter won the state in his first election in 1976.

The chairman of the Texas Republican Party James Dickey has been warning the party faithful that Democrats are energized and are going to put a lot more money into Texas to try to flip it and Republicans need to be prepared. He’s been touring the state since last year outlining how the party is more aggressively fundraising, hiring field staff and registering voters than in past cycles. While he dismisses the state being a blue state, he has been emphatic that “Texas is on Red Alert” for 2020.

But while Republicans scoff at the idea of Texas turning blue, Trump has already spent more time and money in Texas than many past Republican presidential contenders.

Before the pandemic had even hit, Trump had made 14 trips to Texas since he was inaugurated. That is more than three times as many visits as President Barack Obama made during his first term in office. And with a big financial advantage over the Democrats, Trump has been able to do more to shore up Texas, rather than just focusing on traditional battle grounds in Pennsylvania, Florida and Wisconsin.

It is not hard to imagine a race that is decided by 5 percentage points or less in Texas, said Jillson, the SMU political science professor. But Jillson said if Trump struggles to hold Texas, it would be a sign of a bigger problem nationwide.

“If Texas is in play, it probably means Joe Biden has won 40 other states,” Jillson said.

Forty is an overstatement. If you think I’m being pedantic, go ahead and list the nine states Trump would definitely still win in the event Biden carried Texas. I feel pretty confident saying you’d be leaving off a few obviously red states in such an exercise, all of which would be a much bigger shift towards the Democrats than Texas would, and without the corresponding poll numbers to suggest it. Here’s an illustration of this:

That’s not intended to be a rigorous predictive model, just as noted a simple way of viewing the state of play right now. Point being, Texas really has shifted, and it’s time to think about in those terms. How much of an investment it merits from a Presidential campaign perspective is open to debate, but the fact that it is competitive is not.

More runoff debates

In case you had not seen this, as I myself had not before Sunday.

Watch Democratic Candidate Debates Here!

Every Tuesday and Thursday in May, join us for our debate series:

Debate Schedule:
Tuesday, May 5 – Harris County Precinct 3 Commissioner
Thursday, May 7 – Texas State House District 138
Tuesday, May 12 – Texas State House District 142
Thursday, May 14 – Texas State House District 148
Tuesday, May 19 – US Congressional District 10
Thursday, May 21 – Texas State Board of Education Position 6
Tuesday, May 26 – Texas Railroad Commission
Thursday, May 28 – United States Senate

Video of past debates are on the page, so for example if you want to hear Anna Eastman and Penny Shaw, go here. In some cases, one of the candidates in the runoff has declined or not responded, but in most cases you can hear both candidates. Early voting begins June 29, so remind yourself of who’s on your ballot and start making up your mind.

Primary precinct analysis: Where a man can still win

Judge Gisela Triana

As previously discussed, female candidates in Democratic judicial primaries kicked a whole lot of ass this year. The four statewide races that featured one female candidates against one male candidate were shockingly not close – Amy Clark Meachum and Tina Clinton both topped 80%, while Kathy Cheng and Gisela Triana were both over 70%.

I’ve said before that blowout elections usually don’t yield anything interesting to see when you take a closer look at them. When a candidate wins by a dominant margin, that dominance tends to be ubiquitous. Still, I wondered, given that Texas is such a mix of counties – large, medium, small; urban, suburban, rural; Anglo and Hispanic; Republican and Democratic – that I wondered if that might still be true in these judicial primaries.

So, I picked the closest of the four race, Gisela Triana versus Peter Kelly, which was a 73-27 win by Triana, and looked at the county by county canvass. Behold, here is every county in Texas in which Peter Kelly won or tied:


County      Kelly   Triana
==========================
Borden          4        2
Briscoe        16       15
Burleson      340      292
Carson         59       56
Coke           33       28
Collingsworth  25       17
Fisher         79       20
Glasscock       7        5
Hall           33       30
Hansford       11        8
Hardeman       53       41
Hartley        32       29
Haskell        83       59
Hudspeth      143      143
Jack           72       70
Jasper        551      494
Kent           21       12
King            2        0
Lavaca        257      213
Limestone     340      308
Loving          4        1
Madison       132      111
Morris        345      274
Motley          5        5
Newton        160      134
Oldham         18       18
Red River     208      191
Roberts         5        4
Rusk          861      776
San Augustine 219      172
Shelby        187      182
Stonewall      35       19
Wilbarger     130      129

So there you have it. Congratulations to Fisher County, in what I would call the southern end of the panhandle, for being the most pro-dude part of the state, and to Rusk County in East Texas for being the largest pro-dude county. There were two counties in which each candidate got at least a thousand votes that were fairly close:


County      Kelly   Triana
==========================
Gregg       2,028    2,159
Harrison    1,182    1,484

I did not check the other races, on the assumption that there would be fewer such examples in those less-close contests. None of this is intended as a comment on the quality of the candidates – the Dems had a robust lineup of well-qualified contenders this cycle. I don’t think that this kind of “analysis”, if one can call it that, tells us anything useful, but I do think there’s value in examining the silly side of politics now and then. I’ve also had this sitting in my drafts since mid-March and felt like it was finally time to publish it. I hope you enjoyed this little exercise in said silliness.

Emerson: Trump 47, Biden 41

Next up.

The latest Emerson College/Nexstar Media polls of Texas, California, and Ohio show President Donald Trump with a slight advantage in Ohio and Texas in the general election against presumptive Democratic nominee former Vice President Joe Biden. Trump also appears to be who voters in these states expect to win in November, as a majority expect him to secure a second term.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to deeply affect the country, Governors in all three states maintain strong approval and partisan divides are stark in individual opinions on the country’s future.

[…]

In Texas, a potential new battleground state, President Trump is at 46% approval and 44% disapproval. Republican Governor Greg Abbott has 54% approval and 32% disapproval among voters in the state. n=800, +/-3.4%.

Trump leads Biden by six points among Texas voters, 47% to 41%, but when undecided voters are included, Trump’s lead tightens to four points, 52% to 48%. Despite the close ballot test, a clear majority of voters in Texas, 61%, expect Trump to be re-elected.

A slight majority in Texas, 51%, would rather vote by mail this year because of concerns about safety related to the virus.

You can see the full poll data for Texas here. For what it’s worth, FiveThirtyEight uses the 52-48 push-the-leaner total on its Texas polling page.

There are some questions about what kind of newly reopened establishments one would feel comfortable in, if you want to read more. Texas respondents were more cautious than their Ohio counterparts, which was interesting. Note that while Greg Abbott had fairly solid approval numbers, they pale in comparison to Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who checked in at 71 approve/15 disapprove – California Governor Gavin Newsom was at 65/20. Both DeWine and Newsom have been generally praised for their handling of the pandemic, while Abbott has been his usual wishy-washy self. It’s not that Abbott’s numbers are terrible, but compared to his peers, they’re weak. Make of that what you will.

Hegar and West to debate

I know it hasn’t gotten much attention lately, but the primary runoffs are coming up, and the biggest choice you’ll have to make is in the Senate race. You’ll get to hear from the candidates in an online debate on June 2.

MJ Hegar

The Democrats in the runoff race to challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn are set to face off in a debate next month, the Texas Democratic party announced on Monday.

The first debate in the runoff between former Air Force pilot MJ Hegar and longtime state Sen. Royce West is set for June 2 at 7 p.m. The debate will air on Nexstar stations across the state, including Houston’s KIAH and San Antonio’s KSAT, and will be streamed online.

“To take back our state, Democrats must get our vision for the future to as many Texans as possible and showcase our candidates on as many platforms as possible,” Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement. “There is no Texas race bigger than the U.S. Senate race. MJ Hegar and Royce West represent the best of what Texas has to offer. This debate presents an opportunity for them to discuss our ideas and solutions to the challenges Texans face every single day.”

[…]

The runoff election, which was initially set for later this month, was pushed back until July 14 because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The Texas Signal adds a bit more:

Sen. Royce West

Texas Democrats announced today that they will be hosting a virtual Senate primary debate featuring candidates MJ Hegar and Royce West. This is the only debate scheduled, thus far, ahead of the July 14 runoff election.

In a Dallas Morning News/UT-Tyler poll from April, Hegar holds a double-digit lead over West. More than 40 percent of potential Democratic Primary voters still remain undecided.

[…]

According to KXAN, the host of the June debate, the event will consist of questions from moderators, other state journalists, and viewers. Viewers can submit questions using the hashtag #txsendebate on social media and email at [email protected]

The debate will be held on June 2, at 7 p.m. CST.

Here’s that KXAN story, which among other things shows where you can watch. In Houston, it will be on KIAH, the CW station, and also on their website. Click over to see where you can watch.

On a side note, I’m not paying a whole lot of attention to who is endorsing whom in the runoff. Both candidates are fine by me, but if this matters to you, then go check that out. Early voting now begins in June 29, so let’s start getting back in the zone.

SD14 special election field is set

There are six candidates in total, but really only two that matter.

Rep. Eddie Rodriguez

Six candidates, including some well-known Austin-area politicians, have filed to run for the July 14 special election to replace retired Democratic state Sen. Kirk Watson, according to the Texas secretary of state’s office.

Candidates had until 5 p.m. Wednesday to file to run for the seat.

State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, a longtime Austin Democrat, and former Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt are widely considered the two most prominent candidates for Texas Senate District 14, a historically Democratic seat that covers Bastrop County and parts of Travis County.

Sarah Eckhardt

Rodriguez has served in the House since 2003 and has support from most of Travis County’s state House delegation. And Eckhardt, whose last day as county judge was Tuesday, has helped to oversee the community’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Two Republicans are also running for the Senate seat: Don Zimmerman, a former Austin City Council member, and Waller Thomas Burns II, who initially filed as an independent.

Former Lago Vista City Council member Pat Dixon is running as a Libertarian, while Jeff Ridgeway is running as an independent candidate. Several others, including Austin City Council member Greg Casar, had been eyeing a run but decided not to join the race.

See here, here, and here for the background. This election was also originally scheduled for May and postponed till July due to coronavirus. I say that only the two Democrats matter in this race because SD14 is a safe Democratic seat. I have a very hard time imagining a scenario where either of the two mainstream, broadly popular Democrats who have previously won multiple elections fail to finish in the top two. One of the could win it outright, but if not then these two will be in the runoff. I may reach out to them for interviews – Lord knows, it will be good to talk about electoral politics again – but in the meantime, you voters in SD14 have a clear decision to make, and can’t go wrong either way.

On picking a new County Clerk

Stace has some thoughts.

Diane Trautman

I’m of the opinion that the Democratic majority on the Commissioner’s Court should make a strong appointment of someone who will be the incumbent, making it clear that there is no need for a possible free-for-all at the precinct chair level.

We elected our County Judge and our Commissioners, while most of us cannot even find a link on the Party website to find our own precinct chair so that we can lobby for whom we want them to vote. Either process is hardly democratic as the voters are left out of the process. I’d rather go with whom our top leaders choose and have the precinct chairs basically ratify it so we can move forward. Wishful thinking? Maybe.

Some may opine that appointing as interim one of the professionals already in the County Clerk’s office to run the 2020 election and be a placeholder while allowing a candidate chosen by the precinct chairs to run full-time is the solution. And that’s a good argument. But I think we should have a candidate who can show that they can do the professional and the political work, simultaneously. I think it’s more of a confidence builder for us voters when we see that our candidates can walk and chew gum at the same time.

Either way, we’ll see what happens. I already see suggestions on my Facebook feeds about who should run and about diversity on the ballot. There’s nothing wrong with healthy debate, but these things can take a turn for the ugly real quick. And that’s another reason why I’d like to see the Judge and Commissioners lead on this one.

See here for the background. As a precinct chair who will be among those lucky duckies that gets to put a nominee on the ballot for 2020, let me say that I agree with Stace’s position that we should want a candidate who “can do the professional and the political work, simultaneously”. I hope to have a better feel for this once people start throwing their hats into the ring, but I agree that a Clerk who can plan for and run an election well and who is also able to tell Ken Paxton to get stuffed while giving clear direction on these matters to the Court, the County Attorney, and the government relations crew at the county, is someone I want to see in that job.

How we get there is of less importance. If Commissioners Court – specifically, Judge Hidalgo, Commissioner Ellis, and Commissioner Garcia; I don’t expect either of the other two to provide any productive input but will hear it out if they do – says that they just want someone who can carry out the necessary electoral duties for 2020 and leave the politics up to the political people, that’s fine by me. If instead they make a strong statement about wanting the same kind of qualities as discussed here in the next Clerk and appoint someone they believe embodies those qualities, I will be more than happy to endorse that selection for the November ballot, if I agree that they got it right. I’m happy to be led by them on this matter, as long as they do lead us in the right direction. I reserve the right as part of the body that makes this selection to maintain my own counsel.

To be sure, this kind of process can get ugly in a hurry. This may be the best chance any Democrat has to win one of these offices now that there are no more Republicans to oust and we have to fight among ourselves to win. Having the Democratic members of Commissioners Court come out in unison behind a well-qualified candidate that they would like to continue working with after this November would make this a lot easier. We’ll see what they decide to do.

Meanwhile, Campos has one piece of advice:

The Commissioners Court will pick an interim County Clerk and sometime this summer the Harris County Democratic Party Executive Committee will select a nominee to place on the November ballot. The Commissioners aren’t going to listen to Commentary, but I hope they pick a female. If they pick a male and the male ends up getting the Executive Committee’s nod, he will win this November but get knocked off in the 2022 Democratic Party Primary by a female sure enough. Dudes need not apply.

For sure, that can happen. I will just say, 2022 will be its own election, with a different context and likely smaller turnout due to the lack of a Presidential race. It’s certainly possible that the robust candidate we hope to pick this year will get knocked off in 2022 by someone no one has heard of today. I will just say that we are not completely powerless to prevent such an outcome – I’ve been talking about the need to do a better job of promoting quality candidates at the statewide level for a couple of cycles now, following recent debacles in various downballot low-profile primaries. The same prescription holds true here, with a combination of financial support to allow a visible campaign and visible support from the elected leaders who have as much of a vested interest in having the best person possible to run elections as the rest of us do. Pick the best possible person, then support that person going forward. It’s not that complicated.

Those are my thoughts at this time. Feel free to tell me whose name you are hearing for the job and how you think I should approach this when the precinct chairs get together (virtually, I assume) to formalize it.

Early voting gets an early start

This is a remarkably sensible thing to do.

Ahead of the first statewide election during the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Greg Abbott has doubled the length of the early voting period for the upcoming July primary runoff elections.

In a proclamation issued Monday, Abbott ordered early voting for the July 14 runoffs to begin June 29 instead of on July 6. He noted that sticking with the truncated early voting window that’s typical for runoff elections “would prevent, hinder, or delay necessary action in coping with the COVID-19 disaster.”

Abbott previously used his emergency powers under his statewide disaster declaration to delay the primary runoffs, which were originally slated for May, and a special election for the Austin area’s Texas Senate District 14.

[…]

“In order to ensure that elections proceed efficiently and safely when Texans go to the polls to cast a vote in person during early voting or on election day,” Abbott wrote in the proclamation, “it is necessary to increase the number of days in which polling locations will be open during the early voting period, such that election officials can implement appropriate social distancing and safe hygiene practices.”

See here for the background. Bear in mind, it is this election for which the expanded vote by mail order applies, pending the outcome of appeals. Both increasing vote by mail and extending the early voting period serves the purpose of reducing the risk of in person voting. It could be that this decision was a strategic one, designed to undercut the Democratic argument that fear of contracting coronavirus is a legitimate disability per Texas law that must be mitigated by mail ballots. The idea here would be that having a longer early voting period for this election means that the risk of being in a crowd or waiting on line to vote is sufficiently lower that no further mitigation is needed. It may also be that Abbott is responding to the wishes of Republican voters, who have so far expressed greater interest in voting in person. Or maybe, just maybe, Abbott did this because it was a smart and beneficial thing to do. Crazier things have happened. If that’s the case, maybe he’ll be amenable to allowing a longer early voting period for November as well. Be that as it may, you now have two weeks to vote early in person for the primary runoffs. It’s a good thing however it came to be.

A poll of poll workers

A bit of good news, and a bit of a warning, here.

Harris County poll workers seem willing to participate in this fall’s presidential election, even amid the pandemic, but voters are more reluctant, according to results from a recent Rice University survey.

Poll workers here — regardless of party affiliation — were game to show up if conditions are safe enough. However, registered voters across the political spectrum were more reluctant about in-person voting even with safeguards in place, according to a Rice University study conducted between March 27 and May 4.

“What was surprising to us was how many poll workers were committed to working the polls with the caveat that they wanted protective gear, Plexiglass screens and Q-tips (to cast votes on machines). They wanted to do in-person voting with protection,” said Bob Stein, a political science professor who ran the survey funded by Rice’s COVID-19 Initiative with colleagues from the university’s psychology, anthropology and computer science departments.

[…]

Nearly 80 percent of poll workers said they were likely to help out in November at sites that observed social distancing guidelines and provided personal protective equipment. Poll staffers were were less enthusiastic about outdoor or drive-thru voting scenarios, according to the Rice findings. Many election workers said they relied on the seasonal income.

Voters’ responses lined up more predictably based on their age, party and gender. Democrats, women and people over 65 opted for potential remote voting — drive-thru, drop-off, mail-in or online options. Republicans, men and voters under under 65 were more willing to cast ballots in person.

More than 30 percent of Democrats said were unlikely to vote in person with nothing but social distancing to protect them, versus 9 percent of Republicans. A fourth of women voters were reluctant to vote in person, compared to 14 percent of men. Among voters over 65, who are at greater risk if exposed to the virus, 27 percent said they probably wouldn’t vote even with protections in place; whereas, 18 percent of voters under 65 said they were averse to voting under those circumstances.

You can see a copy of the poll report here. As the story notes, the Harris County Clerk is already gearing up for more mail ballots and other protective measures for the July and November elections. The challenge may be a little greater now with the forthcoming resignation of County Clerk Diane Trautman, but that shouldn’t complicate things too much. Given the concerns about poll workers, most of whom are over 60, I’m pleasantly surprised to see their willingness to work this election. That says a lot both about their dedication, and their faith that the county will do a good job of making their job as safe as possible.

The partisan split in willingness to vote in person is a bit alarming, but let’s keep three things in mind. One is that the last picture everyone has of voting is the fiasco in Wisconsin, which I daresay has people justifiably spooked. I feel reasonably confident that election officials in the state do not want their county to be the poster child for that kind of experience in November, so I have faith there will be plenty done to ameliorate the concerns. I hope that the July primary runoffs will help alleviate some worry as well. Two, that cohort of people who are most reluctant about voting in person are the people who absolutely and without question already have the right to vote by mail, and that’s the voters who are 65 or older. The HCDP has been quite good at getting mail ballots out to their voters in recent elections, and I feel confident they’re up to that task for this year as well. I would also expect there to be a lot of messaging to voters, from the county and from parties and candidates, about voting by mail. And three, we still may get a much broader vote by mail program for the state, in one of the lawsuits that have been filed by the TDP or the one filed by younger voters on federal age discrimination claims. We now know more about where people are for this election. We just need to act on it.

The bad guys will be spending a lot in Texas, too

Don’t get complacent.

The Koch-backed Americans For Prosperity is planning an unprecedented push into Texas in 2020, throwing its support behind a slew of Republican candidates and expecting to spend millions as Democrats also commit more resources to the state ahead of November elections.

Americans For Prosperity Action, a super PAC affiliated with the nonprofit funded by billionaire Charles Koch that has long supported conservative causes. It announced Wednesday its plans to spend heavily to support Republicans in three key congressional races in the suburbs of Houston, San Antonio and Dallas. The group also plans to spend seven figures defending U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, for whom it has already spent more than $700,000 on ads, as Democrats try to win their first statewide race in a generation. And it’s supporting a dozen Republicans — and one Democrat — in state House races.

[…]

Americans For Prosperity Action says it plans “robust” spending in three of those races: U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, a Central Texas Republican facing a challenge Davis; Wesley Hunt, an Army veteran challenging Fletcher in the west Houston suburbs; and Genevieve Collins, a Dallas business executive running against Allred.

That support will include ads, direct mail and efforts to reach voters through text messages, phone calls and virtual events.

The group says it has already spent more than $700,000 supporting Cornyn. It plans to run digital ads supporting the Texas Republican constantly through the election, as well as larger ad buys, such as $500,000 it spent on ads just after Super Tuesday.

While the group is mostly throwing its support behind Republicans, it is backing one Democrat this cycle: Longtime state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., locked in an unexpected runoff to hold onto his Brownsville district against Sara Stapleton Barrera, who ran at him from the left.

Yes, that’s Chip “You get coronavirus! And you get coronavirus!” Roy. We’ve begun to see the money for progressive candidates come in. This was inevitable, and it’s in many ways a good sign. They can’t take Texas for granted any more. Now we have to show them their money’s no good here. How sweet will it be for them to spend all that dough and lose?

Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman to resign

This was unexpected, to say the least.

Diane Trautman

Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman will resign May 31 due to health concerns, she said Saturday afternoon.

Trautman, 70, steps down just 16 months into her first term. She defeated incumbent clerk Stan Stanart in 2018.

“Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, my age, and underlying health issues, I do not feel I can safely continue to carry out my duties,” Trautman said in a statement. She declined to answer questions.

Commissioners Court will appoint an interim clerk to serve until November, when a new clerk is elected. The Democratic and Republican parties will each put forth a nominee.

During her brief tenure, Trautman’s signature success was the implementation of county voting centers, which for the first time allowed residents to visit any polling place on Election Day. County Judge Lina Hidalgo praised that effort and Trautman’s dedication to the job.

“Dr. Trautman embodies the spirit of the community she has served,” Hidalgo said in a statement. “In her brief time as County Clerk, Dr. Trautman has fought to make it easier for citizens to participate in elections and make their voices heard.”

You can see a copy of her press release, which hit my mailbox at 6 PM last night, here. I’m still a little stunned, but the more I think about it the more I wonder if she will be just the first in line to step down over health and safety concerns. Elected officials tend to be older, and we have seen multiple stories of them having come down with COVID-19. A quick google search turned up three examples of state representatives who have died as a result of the disease. In that regard, it’s honestly a little surprising we haven’t seen more elected officials do the same.

As her resignation is official on May 31, I assume there will be some kind of application process for the interim Clerk. Whoever that is will have to continue the preparations for more mail ballots as well as making in-person voting as safe as possible, both for the voters and the poll workers. No pressure, right? I presume the nominee to replace her on the November ballot will be picked by the precinct chairs, as we did with Commissioner Ellis and the three judges in 2016. That will add a level of excitement to the next CEC meeting, which is already going to be a big deal since the March one was postponed. I’m sure I’ll begin hearing from hopefuls in short order. I do not envy whoever it is at the HCDP who will be tasked with organizing this meeting, which I’m going to guess will have to be done remotely, unless we all somehow feel confident about packing several hundred mostly older folks into the IBEW hall one day next month. This is going to be all kinds of fun. We’ll get it done one way or another. In the meantime, my thanks to Diane Trautman for her service, and my best wishes for a healthy post-County Clerk life.

Here comes Everytown

Bring it.

Gun safety groups planning to spend millions to turn Texas blue this year are rolling out their first round of ads, which say COVID-19 isn’t the only public health crisis facing the state.

Everytown for Gun Safety, the Michael Bloomberg-backed group that plans to spend $8 million in Texas this year, is launching $250,000 in digital ads targeting Republicans including Houston-area U.S. Reps. Dan Crenshaw and Michael McCaul, as well as Central Texas U.S. Rep. Chip Roy.

The group shared the plan exclusively with Hearst Newspapers. It includes ads targeting Central Texas U.S. Rep. John Carter and Beth Van Duyne, a former mayor of Irving running for a Dallas-area congressional seat. The ads say the Republicans “ignored our safety” by opposing universal background checks and other gun laws.

[…]

Everytown isn’t alone in targeting Texas, the top target in 2020 for groups pushing for more restrictive gun laws. BradyPAC, the political affiliate of one of the country’s oldest gun violence prevention groups, plans to spend more than $500,000 on elections in the state, more than it’s spending anywhere in the nation by far.

See here for the background. I approve of the target list, though I assume at some point these groups will turn to the State House races, since taking over the State House serves the goal of winning and holding Congress as well. But part of this is just about boosting Dem turnout, in the places where it grew the most in 2018. That should lift all the boats. The Trib, which has a longer story, has more.

UT-Tyler/DMN: Trump 43, Biden 43

New day, new poll.

Donald Trump and Joe Biden are in a dead heat in the race for Texas, signaling that the Lone Star State is evolving into a presidential battleground.

A new Dallas Morning News/University of Texas at Tyler poll shows that Trump and Biden are backed by 43% of poll respondents, with 5% opting for “other” candidates and only 9% undecided. Trump’s overall approval rating was 45%.

A February survey had Trump with a one-point lead over Biden, with 11% choosing neither.

The poll of 1,183 registered voters was conducted April 18-27 with a margin of error of +/- 2.85 percentage points. The survey asked additional questions of 447 registered voters who indicated they voted in the Democratic primary, with a margin of error of +/- 4.64%.

[…]

The poll also revealed that the coronavirus pandemic has had a pronounced impact on Texas politics, with state and local leaders trusted more than President Trump. The president’s handling of the crisis is approved by 43% of respondents, while 44% disapproved. Respondents were evenly split — 45% to 45% — on whether they trusted Trump to keep them safe.

Meanwhile, the fight over the coronavirus is obscuring the U.S. Senate race. In the Democratic primary, Air Force combat veteran MJ Hegar of Round Rock has a 32% to 16% lead over state Sen. Royce West of Dallas. But just as in other surveys, there’s a large group of undecided voters.

Incumbent Republican John Cornyn leads both Democrats by double digits in head-to-head matchups.

Elsewhere, poll respondents favored Democrats over Republicans in the rumble for the Texas House, a body the GOP has controlled since 2003.

And for the upcoming runoff elections, most voters feel comfortable voting at polling places, but the majority of respondents also favored having the option to vote by mail.

There were actually two UT-Tyler polls published in February, one of which was conducted in late January and one of which was just before the primary (scroll down, it’s the third poll cited). They publish registered voter and likely voter samples for each poll, which can make the reporting on them, especially comparison reporting, a bit tricky.

As is usually the case, the DMN story is out ahead of the poll data being published on the UT-Tyler Center for Opinion Research page, so there’s only so much I can tell you that isn’t in the article. The numbers for both Biden and Trump are down a bit from those earlier polls, which may just be a fluke of the sample or may indicate a higher level of uncertainty at this weird time. I wouldn’t spend too much time thinking about it – it’s just one result, as we like to say – but it’s worth noting in case we see more like it.

The primary runoff poll between MJ Hegar and Royce West is also the first we’ve seen so far, as is this:

For the general election, Republican Cornyn leads Hegar and West by similar margins. The longtime incumbent is ahead of Hegar 37% to 24% and West 35% to 24%. For both head-to-head matchups, 34% of voters were undecided.

[…]

Perhaps the most competitive contests on November’s general election ballot will be for the Texas House. Republicans hold a nine-seat majority, which Democrats hope to topple.

As it did in February, the survey found that most respondents slighted trusted Democrats over Republicans to lead the House.

Those are large undecided numbers in the Senate race, and the lack of support for either Hegar or West is reflected in the fact that even most Democrats had no opinion. (The full poll data is not available as of this writing, but there were a few tables in the DMN article, including one for this race.) I believe Cornyn is leading this race, and I believe he may outperform Trump in November, but if Biden is even with or leading Trump, and if the generic State House ballot leans Dem, that’s going to be a problem for him.

One more thing:

Eighty-five percent of those polled intended to vote in the runoff election. The poll found that 51% of Texans were comfortable with voting in person, while 33% were uncomfortable.

Only 17% wanted to vote in person on Election Day, and 35% didn’t mind voting in person at an early voting location.

The majority of those polled (37%) preferred to vote by mail. Most Texans, even those who wanted to vote in person, support an expansion of vote-by-mail in Texas.

The current law states that only residents over 65, voters who are ill, out of town or in prison can vote with an absentee or mail ballot.

The poll found that 58% of Texans would allow residents to vote by mail without giving an excuse, and 50% would allow the activity for all elections. On that question, 22% opposed mail-in ballot expansion and 20% were neutral. Of those opposed to expanding mail-in voting, 95% were worried about election fraud.

The partisan breakdown given for the question “Do you support Texas revising its election laws to allow any registered voter to mail in a ballot without an excuse?” was Dem 76% support, 5% oppose, Independent 57% support, 18% oppose, Republican 42% support, 41% oppose. (Note that the options included “Strongly Support”, “Support”, “Neutral”, “Oppose”, and “Strongly Oppose” – I combined the two “support” and “oppose” responses in my numbers.) I expect that whatever the actual level of Republican support is for these things, the Republican politicians who are fiercely opposing any expansion of vote by mail will not suffer for it. The rank and file will ultimately follow their leaders on this.

Comparing the April finance reports

In my roundup of April finance reports for Congress, I said I’d do a comparison of the 2018 numbers to 2020. I’m a blogger of his word, so let’s have that look.


Dist  Year Name             Raised      Spent    Loans    On Hand
=================================================================
02      18 Litton          546,503    304,139        0    242,363
02      20 Ladjevardian  1,133,296    930,810   50,000    202,485

03      18 Burch           104,700    116,639   25,649     14,085
03      18 Johnson          62,473     59,143    3,100      6,490
03      20 McCaffity       387,506    313,098        0     74,407
03      20 Seikaly         252,591    232,038    3,000     20,552

06      18 Sanchez         241,893    188,313        0     56,456
06      18 Woolridge        75,440     45,016   15,000     47,708
06      20 Daniel          196,861    187,942    7,500      8,918

10      18 Siegel           80,319     65,496    5,000     19,823
10      18 Cadien
10      20 Siegel          664,291    542,317   10,000    125,464
10      20 Gandhi        1,011,877    948,927        0     62,949

21      18 Kopser        1,100,451    846,895   25,000    278,556
21      18 Wilson           44,772     51,041   26,653     20,384
21      20 Davis         3,047,765  1,094,009        0  1,953,755

22      18 Kulkarni        178,925    158,369   35,510     56,067
22      18 Plummer         108,732     99,153        0      9,578
22      20 Kulkarni      1,564,263  1,226,088        0    365,942

23      18 Ortiz Jones   1,025,194    703,481        0    321,713
23      18 Trevino          16,892     20,416    3,285      3,915
23      20 Ortiz Jones   3,310,358  1,024,041    3,024  2,377,835

24      18 McDowell         33,452     16,100        0     17,470
24      20 Olson         1,231,183  1,028,804   20,000    202,378
24      20 Valenzuela      647,105    506,708        0    140,397

25      18 Oliver           78,841     37,812    3,125     40,860
25      18 Perri           139,016    133,443   24,890     30,603
25      20 Oliver          464,623    427,972    2,644     36,651

31      18 Hegar           458,085    316,854        0    141,240
31      18 Mann             56,814     58,856    2,276          0
31      20 Mann            277,815    278,885   44,500        367
31      20 Imam            363,194    223,126  100,000    140,068

I included losing candidates from primary runoffs in 2018 as well, as they were still in the race at that time. I did not include the high-dollar races in CDs 07 and 32 – Lizzie Fletcher and Laura Moser had each raised over $1M by this point, with Colin Allred and Lillian Salerno combining for close to $1.4M – because I wanted to focus only on challengers. Reps. Fletcher and Allred are doing quite well in this department now, they’re just in a different category. It’s clear there’s a lot more money now than there was in 2018, which I attribute mostly to the national Democratic focus on many of these races. Only CDs 03, 06, and 25 are not official targets, but any of them could get bumped up if the environment gets more favorable or the nominees step it up another level. Both CD03 candidates and the 2020 version of Julie Oliver are well ahead of the 2018 pace, while Stephen Daniel was a later entrant in CD06 and may catch up in the next report.

We eventually got used to the big numbers from 2018, which I repeatedly noted were completely unprecedented for Democratic Congressional challengers in Texas, and so there’s less of an “ooh, ahh” factor when we look at this year’s numbers, but let’s not totally lose our ability to be wowed. Joe Kopser raised a ton of money in 2018, and Wendy Davis has left him in the dust, taking in three times as much at this point. Sri Kulkarni has nearly matched his entire total from 2018, while Gina Ortiz Jones is doing to herself what Wendy Davis is doing to Joe Kopser. Throw in Sima Ladjevardian and both Kim Olson and Candace Valenzuela, and wow. We do need to appreciate where we are now, because there was a long time when anything like this would have been unthinkable. Hell, you can count on one hand the number of statewide candidates from 2004 to 2016 who raised as much as these Congressional candidates have done so far.

There’s also a lot more spending, as four candidates have already dropped a million bucks, with Ladjevardian and Pritesh Gandhi not far behind. Those two plus Sri Kulkarni and Kim Olson were in competitive primaries, with Olson and Gandhi in the runoffs, while Wendy Davis and Gina Ortiz Jones had much less formidable opposition. I have to assume the latter two did most of their spending with an eye towards November.

I will admit that some of the cash on hand totals from this year’s report had me nervous, but doing this comparison mostly alleviates those concerns. I am of course still worried about the environment for raising money now, but there’s only so much one can worry about it, and as we saw in the previous post there was no noticeable slowdown for the month of March. We’ll see what the July numbers look like.

If there is a cause for concern, it’s in CD31, which has been a soft spot in the lineup from the beginning. Christine Eady Mann and Donna Imam seem to have finally hit a stride in fundraising after the entire field, including several who dropped out along the way, got off to a slow start, though Mann continues a pattern from 2018 of spending every dollar she takes in. Neither has matched MJ Hegar’s pace from 2018, and I seriously doubt they’ll do any better going forward. That’s a high hurdle to clear – Hegar eventually raised over $5 million – but I’m more hopeful now that whoever emerges in that race can at least be competitive.

The next finance reports of interest will be the 30-day reports for state candidates, and then the June reports for county candidates. You know I’ll be on them when they come out. As always, let me know what you think.

The TDP motion for a fast ruling in their federal vote by mail lawsuit

I mentioned this in passing in yesterday’s post, so here are some more details.

Updating an ongoing lawsuit, the Texas Democratic Party on Wednesday asked a federal judge in San Antonio to issue an order by May 15 requiring state officials to expand vote-by-mail opportunities in upcoming elections.

The motion also asked U.S. District Judge Fred Biery to block Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton “from threatening voters with criminal or civil sanctions” if they vote by mail over fears of contracting the coronavirus at polling places.

The fast deadline is required, the petition argued, because county election officials need clarity as they prepare for primary runoff elections and a special election to fill the seat of retiring state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin — both set for July 14.

[…]

On April 15, state District Judge Tim Sulak ordered expanded ballot access due to coronavirus concerns, a ruling that Paxton has appealed. That same day, Paxton issued a statement saying that fear of contracting COVID-19 is not a legitimate excuse under state law.

“While the state Court has ruled that under age 65 voters can use the disability exemption to vote absentee, the Attorney General has threatened to prosecute those who engage in this activity,” the updated federal lawsuit said.

“Texas’ law discriminates on its face against younger voters by creating two classes of voters: those 65 or older and are able to access absentee ballots and those under 65, who generally cannot,” the lawsuit argued. “When in-person voting becomes physically dangerous, age-based restrictions on mail ballot eligibility become constitutionally unsound.”

See here, here, and here for the background. I presume the state will file its response shortly. There really is a compressed schedule here, because the more mail ballots that will need to be sent out, the more time election administrators will need to handle the requests. I’ll keep an eye on this.

Democracy Toolbox (PPP): Biden 47, Trump 46

From the inbox:

A new Texas poll shows former Vice President Joe Biden up by one percentage point over President Donald Trump and also provides insights into Texans’ concerns about voting during the COVID-19 outbreak. The poll was commissioned by Democracy Toolbox and conducted by Public Policy Polling April 27-28, yielding 1032 landline and cell phone responses, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent.

When asked to choose between Democrat Joe Biden or Republican Donald Trump in the presidential contest, 47 percent responded that they would vote for Joe Biden, 46 percent for Donald Trump, and seven percent were unsure. Forty-nine percent disapprove of Trump’s job performance, and 46 percent approve. Governor Gregg Abbott fared much better, with 58 percent approving of his job performance and 30 percent disapproving.

The poll also asked a number of questions to discover how Texans are feeling about voting in the era of COVID-19, particularly voting in person, and whether the pandemic could impact their decision to participate in upcoming elections. “Thoughtful leaders are asking for universal, no-excuse voting by mail and a majority of Texans agree with them. We will see how that plays out,” said Jeff Dalton of Democracy Toolbox. “We wanted to see how voters will react if the pandemic is still a concern and the state does not lift restrictions on voting by mail.”

Seventy-eight percent of respondents indicated they were very or somewhat concerned about being around other people because of COVID-19. Sixty-three percent responded that they were very or somewhat concerned about voting in person because of the outbreak.

Those who identify as Democrats and Independents appear to be more concerned about voting in person than Republicans. Eighty-seven percent of Democrats said they were very or somewhat concerned. Sixty-four percent of Independents indicated they were very or somewhat concerned. In contrast, 14 percent of Republicans said they were very concerned, 28 percent somewhat concerned, and 58 percent said they were not too concerned or not concerned at all.

Despite worries about being in proximity with others, most voters across the political spectrum seem highly motivated to cast a ballot, even if they are only eligible to vote in person, and even if COVID-19 is still a concern. Seventy-five percent of respondents indicated that they would still participate in July runoff elections, even if they are only eligible to vote in person. Eighty-eight percent said they still plan to vote in November 2020, even if they are only eligible to vote in person.

The survey also asked people if they think Texas, for health and safety reasons, should lift restrictions on who can vote by mail. Fifty-three percent said they would like restrictions removed. Thirty-eight percent indicated they do not want restrictions removed.

You can see the questions and the crosstabs here. The sample reported voting for Trump over Hillary Clinton by a 51-42 margin, which is right on the 2016 result. A couple of questions of interest: First, to the question “If the coronavirus outbreak is still a threat in November during the presidential election, and the only way you are eligible to vote is in person at a polling location, would you still plan to vote in person, or would you consider not voting this year?”, that 88% that said they would still vote in person broke down as 92% of Trump supporters (with 4% saying they wouldn’t vote and 4% saying they didn’t know), and 86% of Clinton suppoters (with 7% each saying “would not vote” and “don’t know”). Second, to the question “If you were eligible to vote by mail, what are the chances you will vote by mail because of coronavirus: will you definitely vote by mail, will you consider voting by mail, or do you think you will you still vote in person?”, 19% of Trump voters would definitely vote by mail, 17% would consider voting by mail, and 60% would still vote in person, while 69% of Clinton voters would definitely vote by mail, 18% would consider it, and 10% would still vote in person. You now have all the information you need to understand the current fight over expanded voting by mail.

Three other items of interest from the crosstabs. One is the complete lack of a gender gap in these numbers. Women and men were very similar in their approval of Trump and Abbott, their intent to vote for Biden or Trump, their support of vote by mail, their level of concern about coronavirus, and so on. Two, independents strongly disapproved of Trump (35 approve, 55 disapprove) and supported Biden (50-34), and supported expanded vote by mail (61-31). Finally, voters under the age of 65 strongly disapprove of Trump (27/59 for 18 to 29-year-olds, 43/51 for 30 to 44-year-olds, and 44/54 for 45 to 64-year-olds), and will vote for Biden (52-29, 46-45, and 53-45, respectively), while those 65 and up were exactly the reverse (62-35 approval, 59-36 voting).

Standard disclaimers: one poll, it’s early, subsamples can be weird, etc etc etc. I’ve added a Polling Texas 2020 sidebar widget to track these results. Enjoy!

Harris County preps for more mail ballots

Good.

Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday voted to spend up to $12 million for an expected uptick in requests for mail-in ballots in the July primary runoff and November general election from voters concerned about contracting the novel coronavirus at polling places.

The three Democrats on the five-member court voted to give County Clerk Diane Trautman enough to send a mail-in ballot to every registered voter in the county over the objections of the two Republican members who said the clerk failed to justify the expense.

Trautman said her office is planning for any outcome in a lawsuit filed by Democrats and voting rights advocates seeking to force the Texas secretary of state to allow any resident to request a mail ballot.

“No matter what the courts and the state decide for the July and November elections, we must be prepared for an increase in mail ballots, which we are already seeing,” Trautman said.

[…]

Trautman said her office “can’t turn on a dime” and must begin preparing to accommodate more mail ballots, which are more expensive to process than votes cast at electronic voting machines because they would require more equipment and staff, as well as the cost of postage.

She outlined the costs of an expanded mail voting program: about $3 million for 700,000 ballots; $8 million for 1.2 million ballots; and $12 million for all 2.4 million ballots. The Democratic majority — County Judge Lina Hidalgo and commissioners Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia — opted for the full sum, noting the county clerk may end up spending only a portion of the funds.

“We want to make sure, with the possibility of a record turnout, we’re giving… the support they need,” Ellis said. “I want us to do what we can to improve the percentage of people who vote in this county, because it’s embarrassing.”

Hidalgo urged Trautman to keep the court and the county health department apprised of her plans to ensure upcoming balloting is safe for voters.

Whatever happens in the lawsuits, we should expect an increase in people voting by mail this fall. I mean, plenty of regular voters are over the age of 65, and all of them are eligible to receive a mail ballot. There were over 100K mail ballots returned in the 2016 election. That number could easily double or triple without any objection from Ken Paxton. Just preparing for that is going to take time and money, and that’e before any consideration of the possibility that a whole lot more people will be allowed to receive a mail ballot. It would be negligent in the extreme to not address this ahead of time.

One more thing:

Alan Vera, chairman of the Harris County Republican Party’s ballot security committee, warned that expanding mail voting would be a “logistical nightmare” that would render the county clerk unable to count all votes on election night.

Vera said Harris County should instead adopt an in-person voting system similar to South Korea, which held a national election in mid-April. Election workers in that nation sanitized polling stations and took the temperature of each voter. Residents with confirmed coronavirus cases still could vote by mail.

Trautman said her office already has ordered sanitation supplies for poll workers, including masks, gloves and face shields.

Okay first, as we know, all early mail and in person ballots are counted and the results published on Election Day when the polls close. You also have to get your ballot in by Election Day. I see no reason why the Clerk could not produce an up-to-date set of results on Election Day evening. I agree that the final count would be later, but most results would be clear by then. Second, because Diane Trautman is not an idiot and we are all aware of the courthouse situation, they are planning for extra safety and cleanliness measures as well. Finally, you do know that Republicans vote with mail ballots, too, right? Making it harder to vote in Harris County is going to hurt y’all as well. I can’t believe I have to tell the Harris County Republican Party that, but here we are.

April 2020 campaign finance reports: Congress

Hey, remember politics? You know, races and finance reports and stuff like that? Yeah, it’s still happening, weird as that may seem right now. As we are well into April, the Q1 Congressional finance reports for 2020 are in, and thankfully for me the number of candidates whose reports I need to review is much smaller. Let’s have a look. The January 2019 roundup is here, which closed out the 2017-18 election cycle, the April 2019 report is here, the July 2019 report is here, the October 2019 report is here, and the January 2020 report is here. For comparison, the January 2018 report is here and the April 2018 report is here. The FEC summary page for Congress is here and for the Senate is here.

MJ Hegar – Senate
Royce West – Senate

Lizzie Fletcher – CD07
Colin Allred – CD32

Hank Gilbert – CD01
Sima Ladjevardian – CD02
Sean McCaffity – CD03
Lulu Seikaly – CD03
Stephen Daniel – CD06
Elizabeth Hernandez – CD08
Mike Siegel – CD10
Pritesh Gandhi – CD10
Adrienne Bell – CD14
Rick Kennedy – CD17
David Jaramillo – CD17
Wendy Davis – CD21
Sri Kulkarni – CD22
Gina Ortiz Jones – CD23
Kim Olson – CD24
Candace Valenzuela – CD24
Julie Oliver – CD25
Carol Ianuzzi – CD26
Christine Eady Mann – CD31
Donna Imam – CD31


Dist  Name             Raised      Spent    Loans    On Hand
============================================================
Sen   Hegar         4,830,038  3,781,873        0  1,095,647
Sen   West          1,363,387  1,242,563  242,162    242,162

07    Fletcher      3,375,004    723,963        0  2,693,107
32    Allred        2,370,113    555,774        0  1,917,783  

01    Gilbert         190,941     44,804   50,000    146,136
02    Ladjevardian  1,133,296    930,810   50,000    202,485
03    McCaffity       387,506    313,098        0     74,407
03    Seikaly         252,591    232,038    3,000     20,552
06    Daniel          196,861    187,942    7,500      8,918
08    Hernandez
10    Siegel          664,291    542,317   10,000    125,464
10    Gandhi        1,011,877    948,927        0     62,949
14    Bell             84,724     71,740        0     16,061
17    Kennedy          65,908     59,041   11,953      8,294
17    Jaramillo        20,681     17,864        0      2,816
21    Davis         3,047,765  1,094,009        0  1,953,755
22    Kulkarni      1,564,263  1,226,088        0    365,942
23    Ortiz Jones   3,310,358  1,024,041    3,024  2,377,835
24    Olson         1,231,183  1,028,804   20,000    202,378
24    Valenzuela      647,105    506,708        0    140,397
25    Oliver          464,623    427,972    2,644     36,651
26    Ianuzzi          82,254     63,909   47,032     18,344
31    Mann            277,815    278,885   44,500        367
31    Imam            363,194    223,126  100,000    140,068

Some real separation in the Senate race, as MJ Hegar approaches five million total raised. She is in a much stronger position for the runoff than Royce West, though there’s still time for him to raise a few bucks. Hegar has a long way to go to be on par with John Cornyn, but she’s at least putting herself into “reasonably viable for a statewide candidate” range. For what it’s worth, Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez and Amanda Edwards did eventually top a million dollars raised, and in the end they both spent nearly all of it. I still don’t know why Tzintzún Ramirez was unable to do better in this department, but that’s water under the bridge now.

As was the case in 2018, everyone in all of the interesting races is raising a ton of money. The two incumbents are doing what they should be doing. Six challenger candidates have now topped a million dollars raised, with Wendy Davis and Gina Ortiz Jones both over three million. Pritesh Gandhi and Kim Olson still have to make it through the July runoff, by which time their runoff opponents – Mike Siegel and Candace Valenzuela – may have also topped that mark. Of course, right now is kind of a lousy time to be raising money, so hold that thought for a minute. We’re at a point where it’s basically routine for everyone to pile up big money-raised numbers, so let me note that the thing that stands out here is the amount that some of these candidates have spent. It’s more than a little mind-boggling that four candidates so far have spent over a million bucks, and some people, even the big moneybags, have left themselves a bit bereft in the cash-on-hand department. I’m glad to see both CD31 candidates finally start to get on the board, but that’s quite the hole Christine Eady Mann left herself in cash-wise. I’m going to do a separate post with a direct comparison to April 2018 later, but let’s put a pin in that. We don’t know what the fundraising environment is going to be like over the next few months. Dems benefited from a lot of Congressional cash in 2018. We had every reason to believe the same thing would happen this year as of the last report, but that was in the Before Times. Now, who knows?

We can take a little peek at how the fundraising environment may be. Everyone had to report their totals as of February 22 as well, thanks to the March primary. So here’s a look at how the Raised totals varied from January to April:


Dist Candidate         Jan01      Feb22      Apr01
==================================================
Sen  Hegar         3,225,842  3,864,201  4,830,038
Sen  West            956,593  1,134,953  1,363,387

07   Fletcher      2,339,444  2,481,687  3,375,004
32   Allred        2,370,113  2,577,348  2,370,113

02   Ladjevardian    407,781    660,853  1,133,296
03   McCaffity       267,288    308,240    387,506
03   Seikaly         109,870    173,031    252,591
06   Daniel          148,655    179,330    196,861
10   Siegel          451,917    527,802    664,291
10   Gandhi          786,107    869,277  1,011,877
21   Davis         1,850,589  2,186,063  3,047,765
22   Kulkarni      1,149,783  1,246,943  1,564,263
23   Ortiz Jones   2,481,192  2,684,696  3,310,358
24   Olson           861,905    967,032  1,231,183
24   Valenzuela      333,007    442,351    647,105
25   Oliver          325,091    387,523    464,623
31   Mann            170,759    198,783    277,815

Donna Imam did not have a February 22 total when I went looking for these numbers, so I omitted her from this table. Honestly, it doesn’t look like there was much of a slowdown in March, which is what I had been afraid of. Hell, Wendy Davis raised nearly a million bucks just in the last five weeks of the period. With the primaries over, the federal contribution limits get reset, so I think Davis and at least a couple other candidates who emerged victorious reaped a benefit from becoming the official nominee. Certainly Sima Ladjevardian and Gina Ortiz Jones took in a decent haul in the latter half of the filing period. Julie Oliver and Stephen Daniel did not get such a boost, however. I don’t have much more to say about this, I was just curious about how this went. We’ll see what the next quarter brings. As always, let me know what you think.

UT/Trib: Trump 49, Biden 44

Our first post-primary poll.

Donald Trump would beat Joe Biden by five points in Texas if the presidential race were held now, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

In a Trump-Biden contest, Democratic and Republican voters overwhelmingly back their own party’s candidate. But independent voters are on the fence, with 39% favoring Trump, 29% favoring Biden and 32% saying they haven’t formed an opinion.

The five point difference in support — 44% for Biden, 49% for Trump — is in line with previous UT/TT Polls taken before Democrats had settled on a nominee. In November 2019, the president was 7 percentage points ahead of Biden in a hypothetical general election matchup. In the February survey — conducted shortly before the presidential primaries in Texas and before the coronavirus outbreak was widespread — the two candidates were 4 percentage points apart. In all three of the most recent surveys, Trump’s lead was small, but outside the margins of error; none of the results could be called a statistical tie.

Trump has a harder race against himself. Ask Texans whether they would vote today to re-elect the president and, as they have done in four previous UT/TT polls, they split down the middle: 50% say they would vote for him, 49% said they’d vote against him.

Among Republican voters, 81% say they would definitely vote for Trump, and another 11% say they probably would. Democratic voters are just the opposite, with 85% definitely planning to vote for someone else, and 9% probably planning to. Most independent voters — 61% — would vote for someone else, while 39% say they’d vote for the president.

It’s only when you add Biden to the mix that Trump pulls ahead. “When you put a flesh-and-blood opponent against them, they do better,” said Daron Shaw, co-director of the poll and a government professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

Here’s the previous UT/Trib poll, from February, and here’s four other poll results from just before the primary. Those were indeed the last polls taken, according to FiveThirtyEight. Biden has been closer in some polls and a little farther back in some others. There are probably still a few Dems who are in the “don’t know/no opinion” bucket right now, as was definitely the case during the primary campaign, so he ought to inch up a bit all else being equal.

The main thing I will note is that not only does Biden start out scoring higher than Hillary Clinton did in 2016 – she only reached as high as 44% in two polls the whole cycle – he’s also above where Beto was in 2018. Beto only reached the 44% mark once before August, then was pretty consistently at or above it after that. Beto was still a fairly unknown candidate at this point in 2018, and his rise later was a sign that he was genuinely growing his support. I said this a few times during that cycle that while we had seen occasional polls that showed a Democrat “close” to a Republican statewide, the actual numbers would usually be something like 42-36, with a ton of “don’t know/no opinion” answers. It was truly rare before 2018 to see a Dem score as much as 42 or 43 percent in a poll, let alone 44 or 45. Wendy Davis in 2014 and Barack Obama in 2012 seldom touched 40 percent. For good reason, it turned out – Davis finished at 39%, Obama at 41. Seeing Biden start out at 44 is a sign that the gains Dems made in 2018 seem to be durable, and while we may not win statewide again, we’ll have enough of a share of the vote to do some damage downballot, as we did then. Winning the Texas House, and picking up some Congressional seats, is likely going to depend on Biden at least coming close to the 48% Beto got in 2018. The polling we have so far, which goes back to those pre-primary polls, suggests this is within range. The rest is up to us.

Vote by mail is not a panacea

Let’s be clear, I very much support expanded access to vote by mail. I support the ongoing TDP lawsuit to force expanded vote by mail, and I would very much advise anyone who is at risk for COVID-19 to apply for a mail ballot. I believe allowing no-excuse vote by mail should be universal, along with a bunch of other voting rights reforms. But we need to recognize that if we do get expanded vote by mail for this year, it’s going to fit within the existing system we have now, not one that has been prepared for it in advance. There are real risks to large-scale expansion of vote by mail, and as is always the case, they fall disproportionately on minority voters.

As election officials scramble to expand their absentee programs, voter advocates are pressing them to preserve adequate in-person voting options, pointing specifically to the obstacles faced by voters of color. They are also noting the ways that vote-by-mail systems — particularly, if implemented sloppily — tend to disenfranchise minority voters at a higher rate than white ones.

Their concerns have already been borne out in the few states that have large-scale mail-in voting programs; in many of them, minority voters’ use of the options lags behind that of white voters.

“From our experience of doing voter engagement, one of the things is that there is confusion,” said Adrianne Shropshire, the executive director of BlackPAC, which mobilizes black voting around key races.

Her group recently surveyed registered black voters in swing states and found that 4-in-10 had concerns about voting by mail, a process only 36 percent had experience with. Even with the ongoing pandemic, voting-in-person was about tied with vote-by-mail when the survey-takers were asked their preferred method for November’s election.

“In some ways there’s an instinct that you have about the challenges that make them suspicious or concerned even if they don’t know the specifics,” Shropshire said. “On the reality side, we already know the challenges that black voters face when they vote by mail.”

The potential for racial disparities in how vote-by-mail systems are implemented has already become a flashpoint in upcoming primaries in Ohio, Nevada and Georgia.

Some of the resistance to absentee voting can be chalked up to historical or cultural trends, experts say, such as the longstanding “Souls to the Polls” practice of black church-goers traveling to polling places after Sunday services.

“Early voting has been really, really important for African American communities in encouraging voter participation,” said Danielle Root, an expert at the Center For American Progress who worked on a recent CAP-NAACP paper on the need for in-person voting during the pandemic. “So eliminating all in-person options obviously negatively impacts African American voters in that way.”

There are other systemic issues at play as well. African Americans change addresses more frequently, and they make up a disproportionate percentage of the homeless population. Transience can make participating in vote-by-mail elections challenging.

Given the unreliable nature of postal service on tribal lands, certain mail-in voting policies present unique challenges for Native American communities.

In-person voting is also needed for non-English speaking voters and for voters with disabilities, advocates say.

Pointing to these populations, voter advocates have criticized — and in some places, sued — election officials who have sought to all but eliminate in-person voting during the pandemic, as they have expanded absentee voting opportunities.

“For communities — and this is true for African American voters — that have higher rates of moving and lower rates of voter-by-mail usage, [election officials] need to be figuring out how to reach voters, and not looking for ways to, frankly, cut corners and in turn cut people out of the process,” said Hannah Fried, the national campaign director of the advocacy group All Voting Is Local.

There’s more, and you should read the rest. We have talked about some of these concerns, but this article goes into a lot more detail, and it addresses concerns I had not previously considered.

There are three basic takeaways here. One is that the goal here is to make voting easier for everyone, and that means giving them the best way for them to vote, whether it’s mail or in person. Two, focusing on safety and risk mitigation means considering all reasonable options to make in person voting safer as well – more locations, hand sanitizer and wipes everywhere, getting as many poll workers in place and trained as possible, etc. We can’t afford to be too focused on one method of voting at the expense of others. And three, we need to really listen to the voters who always face the hardest challenges to voting and take their feedback seriously. I’m going to be fine whatever we wind up doing. Lots of people are not in that same position. We need to accommodate those voters before we worry about voters like me.

How do you conduct an election in a pandemic?

We’re about to find out, one way or another.

There will be an election in Texas in mid-July, apparently with polling sites, election workers and voting machines in place so people can cast their ballots in person. How many voters might be willing to risk a trip to the polls during a pandemic, though, remains unknown.

As Texas Republicans work to block the expansion of mail-in balloting during the new coronavirus crisis, local election administrators across the state are deciphering how to safely host voters for the July 14 primary runoff elections — and eventually the November general election — under circumstances unseen by even the most veteran among them.

Looking to expand curbside voting, some election officials are considering re-tooling parking garages or shuttered banks with drive-thru lanes. Rethinking contact during a process that requires close proximity, others are toying with the idea of buying hundreds of thousands of pencils that voters would take home after using the eraser end to mark their ballots on touch screen voting machines.

Many are scrambling to add sanitizing and protective gear to the long list of equipment needed to pull off a safe election. Plexiglass or plastic shields, like those now common at grocery store registers, could make an appearance at polling place check-in stations.

One huge unknown hangs over all the planning — whether there will be a surge of mail-in voting that creates a whole new sphere of logistical challenges.

“It’s almost like you’re preparing for two elections rather than one,” said Lisa Wise, the elections administrator in El Paso County. “That’s just part of what we’re in right now.”

[…]

Operating polling places during a pandemic creates another set of safety challenges as voters must check in, sign poll books and stand in lines.

Election administrators recently shared among themselves a poll that offered insight into how people feel about voting in person during a pandemic — 66% of Americans said they would feel uncomfortable going to a polling place now.

In Aransas County, elections administrator Michele Carew is considering whether she should establish a pop-up voting center in a tent in a parking lot. Because the county is small, her office warehouse typically serves as the only early voting site in the county. But with social distancing rules in place, she’d only be able to fit five voting machines instead of the 10 that normally run. That would be particularly unworkable for the high turnout expected for the November election, she said.

Other election administrations are exchanging messages about whether reducing polling locations would allow them to get a better handle on the situation; others are responding with suggestions about doubling the number of locations so they can space out voters and machines.

But those conversations often dovetail into another crucial consideration — there’s no way to know if they’ll have enough poll workers to staff their voting sites.

“Sixty percent of my election officials are over 65 so obviously they need to be replaced or a vast majority of them need to be replaced,” said Jacque Callanen, the Bexar County elections administrator. She’s considering turning to a pool of county workers who she can train up for the election, but the coronavirus will also get in the way of that.

Typically, she’d be able to cram 80 people into her training room, but she’ll be down to 20 at a time with social distancing requirements.

At this point, though, Callanen isn’t even certain how many poll workers she’ll need. A majority of the county’s polling sites would be propped up in public schools, but she’s not sure if they’ll be able to open up those sites to the public during an outbreak.

This is all a big fricking mess, with the huge uncertainties of where we will be with the virus, whether or not expanded vote-by-mail will be allowed, what sites will be available and practical to use, who will be willing to staff them, and so on and so forth. It’s on thing to say “this is the way it is and these are the parameters you have to work with” and ask election officials to plan for that, and another entirely to say “we have no idea what the conditions will be so plan for every possible scenario”, which is where we are right now. We could at least try to settle the vote by mail question, but as is so often the case our wishy-washy Governor has yet to articulate a position on the matter, leaving it up to the courts and his nihilistic Attorney General to sort it out. The good news, if you want to look at it that way, is that the July primary runoffs, plus the SD14 special election, are going to be pretty low turnout overall. As such, we can probably cobble together something that will more or less work. November is an entirely different story. Remember those pictures from Wisconsin? As the Fort Bend elections administrator says, if we don’t figure this out we’re gonna be Wisconsin times ten. The clock is ticking.

So about that Senate race

I mostly agree with this.

MJ Hegar

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn’s re-election campaign should be his race to lose.

The coronavirus outbreak, by most measures, has given Cornyn an even bigger advantage as he runs for a fourth term. The Texas Republican is sitting on $12 million with ads already on TV as his challengers campaign online against each other in a runoff election that was delayed six weeks by the pandemic.

Democrats MJ Hegar and Royce West are competing for attention with the biggest public health crisis in a century as they prepare for the July 14 election. The winner will get less than four months of head-to-head campaigning against Cornyn.

The Democrats had hoped to ride the momentum from Beto O’Rourke’s narrow loss to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz two years ago.

Sen. Royce West

Instead, “Sen. Cornyn is outpacing the Democrats on name identification, fundraising, and base support,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a University of Houston political scientist. “Democrats are in a holding pattern, stalling their momentum when it was needed to ramp up support. Given where things are, it would take Beto-level enthusiasm to capture Texans’ attention, which is on anything but politics for the moment.”

But Cornyn’s opponents see an opening.

They are now doing all they can to tie Cornyn to the Trump administration’s slow response to the outbreak and to hammer him over health care, which their party believes is a winning issue for Democrats nationally — but especially against the Texas Republican, who played a crucial role in efforts to scrap the Affordable Care Act.

They say Cornyn has helped them make their case by tweeting pictures of Corona beer, saying it will be a “piece of cake” to beat the virus and blaming Chinese culture for COVID-19.

“I think we have more opportunity to show people the contrast of the type of leadership they can see from John Cornyn in a crisis, which is tweeting out pictures of beer in rocks glasses,” said MJ Hegar, a former Air Force pilot vying to challenge Cornyn. “Now more than ever, we’re seeing the importance that everyone have access to health care. We’re seeing how painful a health care model tied to your employment is when we have record unemployment numbers.”

Cornyn has the big advantages in fundraising and name ID as noted, and now is a lousy time for the two Dems remaining in the race to try to catch up on them. I mean, just look back at what I’ve been writing about for the past three or four weeks. There’s nothing to be said about most 2020 races right now, in part because everyone is focused on the pandemic, and in part because there’s not much the candidates themselves can do to make news, at least in a good way. The main potential for an equalizer is of course Donald Trump. His numbers have not been great in Texas, and if he slips into negative territory here – not just in approval ratings, but in actual head-to-head polling numbers – that will be a boost for the Dem and a drag on Cornyn. It’s too early to say what might happen, and at this point we have no idea how the 2020 election will be conducted and how that might affect things. Cornyn was always the favorite and he remains the favorite. The biggest risk to him is the one thing he cannot control, the virus and the President’s handling of it. We’ll see where we stand when things get back to something resembling normal.

Another view of the lawsuit over expanded voting by mail

From Ian Millhiser at Vox, who is decidedly more pessimistic about the plaintiffs’ chances. He starts by noting how restrictive Texas’ existing vote-by-mail law is.

The law only allows Texas voters to obtain an absentee ballot under a very limited list of circumstances. Voters may obtain an absentee ballot if they plan to be absent from their home county on Election Day, if they have a “sickness or physical condition” that prevents them from voting in person, if they are over the age of 65, or if they are jailed.

It is far from clear that a healthy person who remains at home to avoid contracting coronavirus may obtain an absentee ballot.

Texas Democratic Party v. Hughs, a lawsuit filed by the state Democratic Party, seeks to fix this law — or, at least, to interpret the law in a way that will ensure healthy people can still vote. But the lawsuit potentially faces an uphill battle in a state court system dominated by conservative judges.

All nine members of the state Supreme Court are Republicans, and Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a motion seeking to intervene in the lawsuit — a sign that he intends to resist efforts to prevent this law from disenfranchising voters.

The stakes in this case are astoundingly high. As Texas Democrats note in their complaint, voters are “now heavily discouraged” from even leaving their homes “by various government orders and are being discouraged in an enormous public education campaign.”

Even if the pandemic were to end by July 14, when the state plans to hold several runoff elections, “certain populations will feel the need and/or be required to continue social distancing.” Millions of voters could potentially be forced to choose between losing their right to vote and risking contracting a deadly disease.

[…]

Whether these Texans can get an absentee ballot could end up depending on how the courts interpret the phrase “physical condition.”

On the one hand, the law explicitly labels this provision as an accommodation for people who have a “disability.” The words “physical condition” also appear in conjunction with the word “sickness,” which implies that those words should be interpreted to refer to some sort of disabling condition that only a subset of Texans possess. Often, when a law uses a general term in the context of other, more specific terms, courts will assume that the general term should be given a narrow reading — one similar to the specific terms.

On the other hand, the literal meaning of the words “physical condition” is much more expansive. As a team of civil rights lawyers, including several from the ACLU, argue in a motion suggesting that the state law should be read expansively, “everyone has a physical condition” that prevents them from appearing at their polling place during a pandemic — the physical condition of being susceptible to coronavirus.

Either one of these interpretations of the Texas law is plausible, and a judge could reach either conclusion using methods of statutory interpretation that are widely accepted as legitimate. One judge might argue that the words “physical condition” should be read expansively, because that is the ordinary meaning of those words. Another might argue that they must be read in context with words like “sickness.”

The problem facing the Texas Democratic Party is that, when a fair judge acting in good faith could legitimately read a law in two different ways, it is very easy for a partisan judge to choose the interpretation they prefer. And every one of the nine justices on the Texas Supreme Court is a Republican.

Because older voters tend to prefer the GOP, the Texas Republican Party has a clear interest in preserving a legal regime that allows voters over 65 to obtain an absentee ballot but makes it much harder for younger voters to do so.

That said, if Democrats lose this particular lawsuit, that does not necessarily mean millions of Texans will lose their right to vote. It’s possible a federal court could rescue Texas voters in a separate lawsuit — one that most likely has not even been filed yet — holding that the unique burden the coronavirus pandemic imposes on voters renders Texas’s strict absentee ballot law unconstitutional.

This was written before the TDP filed its federal lawsuit, so bear that in mind as you read. I appreciate the analysis, which is the first in-depth look at the crux of the issue that I’ve seen. It’s a little crazy that it all hangs on the interpretation of two words, but here we are. I agree that in normal times one could reasonably interpret this either way, but if there’s ever a time for a bit of leeway, this is it. It’s not terribly surprising to me that the AG’s office has petitioned to intervene in the case – this is standard procedure for when the state gets sued, though the SOS does have its own attorneys. I’m more keen to know what if anything Greg Abbott thinks – if there’s going to be some influence on the court, it’ll come from him. There are definitely plenty of Republican elected officials who are in denial about the situation, and that could lead to pressure on Abbott to take a line-in-the-sand stance. Hasn’t happened yet, but that doesn’t mean it can’t or it won’t.

It’s also possible that the delayed July 14 primary runoffs will go off without any problems and in-person voting is fine, thus leading to a sense of complacency for November. Or maybe things will still be bad, or at least bad in the more-Republican rural areas, and that might make some people more aware of the fact that everyone has something to lose if we don’t plan better. That recent SOS advisory leaves me with some hope for a settlement in the existing litigation. The real tell will be if and when the usual agitators on the right start whipping up a frenzy. Remember also that the Republicans are busy trying to register voters this year – they have a stake in getting whatever new voters they sign up to the polls, too. Like I said, I have hope for a settlement, but it’s too early to tell which way the wind will blow.

Dutton’s colleagues ask for investigation of Natasha Ruiz

Hey, look, it’s actual election news!

Rep. Harold Dutton

Nearly the entire Harris County Democratic legislative delegation has asked the county attorney and district attorney to open a criminal investigation into the candidacy of a Texas House candidate whose existence was called into question after this year’s March election.

The candidate, one of four in the primary race for state Rep. Harold Dutton’s seat, received enough votes to help force Dutton, a longtime Houston Democrat, into a runoff this year.

“We are concerned that more than 2500 Harris County voters may have been duped into voting for a non-existent candidate, a serious theft of those voters’ most important right, and three legitimate candidates were harmed by the crimes committed,” reads the March 18 letter, which was signed by every delegation member except Dutton and released to a Tribune reporter on Thursday. “We request that your offices coordinate an immediate investigation into the events documented in the attached memo and take appropriate prosecutorial action at the earliest possible time.”

Dutton was the only Democrat from Houston not to sign the letter.

[…]

Dutton, who had previously said he had hired a private investigator to look into the matter, told the Tribune on Thursday that he was not involved with the delegation’s letter to Ogg and Ryan and was focused on winning the runoff election, which is now slated for mid-July instead of May.

“I hope someone takes a look at the system that allows this to happen and cleans it up so that it can’t happen again,” he said. “If there are people who have engaged in a conspiracy, I hope that law enforcement will deal with them in the proper context.”

The delegation’s letter also included an attached “Indices of Election Fraud,” which detailed the background of the long-winding drama and “known facts indicating election fraud.”

See here and here for the background. The letter sent by the delegation is here, and the “Indices of Fraud” attachment is here. The latter is the more interesting, and contains the most new information. It suggests strongly that the person originally identified as “Natasha Demming” is not the person who filed for a spot on the ballot, but was perhaps a victim of identity theft. What I had considered to be the wilder option, that someone impersonated this person when they filed for this seat, appears to be the more likely explanation based on what the delegation claims.

So yeah, this should be investigated. Start by talking to the private eye that Dutton hired, and talk to all the political insiders to see what crazy things they might have heard about this. The big question here isn’t who did this (if it really was a deliberate attempt to put a sham candidate on the ballot) but why they did it. If the intent was to hurt Dutton’s re-election chances, it seems to me that there are more straightforward ways to do that than putting an impostor on the ballot in the hope of forcing Dutton into a runoff that maybe he’d lose. (What do you think might have happened if Dutton’s runoff opponent had been Natasha Ruiz, for example?) For sure, if there is someone behind this, maybe that person isn’t the most clear-headed thinker you’ve ever known. Whatever the case, getting a handle on the motivation might at least point you in the direction of a suspect. There doesn’t appear to be much physical evidence (unless maybe someone managed to take a picture of “Natasha Ruiz”), so if this gets cracked it’ll be because someone talked. Find out who that might be, and the rest may follow.

UPDATE: And indeed, there will be an investigation.

The Harris County Attorney’s office told the Houston Chronicle on Thursday that it was looking into the matter.

The county’s District Attorney Kim Ogg responded to the delegation in late March by saying that she had forwarded the case to the public corruption division but could not confirm or deny whether it was under investigation.

“Please be assured that the protection of our democratic election process, along with enforcement of all related laws, is a top priority for my administration and that your complaint will be addressed by this office,” Ogg wrote.

Not exactly sure why it’s the County Attorney jumping in on this, but whatever. I very much look forward to seeing the results.

The gun safety fight is coming

Bring it on.

As the coronavirus outbreak ravages fundraising efforts by political campaigns across Texas, the political affiliate of one of the country’s oldest gun violence prevention groups is bringing reinforcements to the state, where it sees Democrats’ efforts to flip the state houses as among the most important races in the nation.

BradyPAC is the latest gun safety group to turn its attention to Texas, planning to spend more than half a million on elections in the state — more than it’s spending anywhere in the nation by far — as it remains the top target in 2020 for groups pushing for new gun laws.

“If you can get Texas passing strong gun laws, I think that sends a really strong message to the rest of the country,” said Brian Lemek, executive director of the political action committee affiliated with Brady, a nonprofit formed in 1974 that advocates for assault weapons bans, red flag laws and stricter gun storage requirements, among other things.

Texas gun rights groups are also stepping up fundraising, warning supporters that they need to help defend 20 seats in the Texas House this fall.

BradyPAC’s spending plans — the full extent of which were shared exclusively with the Houston Chronicle — come as other activists, including the Everytown for Gun Safety group backed by former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, have said they plan to spend millions in Texas on an “unprecedented financial and grassroots effort” to flip the Texas House, defend vulnerable freshmen Democrats in Congress and help Democrats take congressional seats in the suburbs.

I read this story and it reminded me that I had drafted a post about Everytown making the same pledge to pour a bunch of money into Texas with an eye towards helping Dems take over the Lege. That was from before the coronavirus madness, so about five hundred years ago in quarantine time. To save myself a bit of typing, here’s what I had written then, which works as well for this story now, plus the extra vigorish of the knowing that our current leadership thinks gun stores are “essential businesses”. Read on for that earlier post.

(more…)

TDP files federal lawsuit over expanded vote by mail

Double your venues, (hopefully) double your chances of success.

With primary election runoffs scheduled for July and the November general election on the horizon, the Texas Democratic Party has expanded its ongoing fight for more widespread mail-in balloting to federal court, fearful that a Monday U.S. Supreme Court decision on the Wisconsin presidential primary signals a need to get federal litigation in the pipeline quickly.

In a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday in San Antonio, the Texas Democrats argue that holding traditional elections within state and federal safety guidelines attempting to limit spread of the new coronavirus pandemic would impose unconstitutional and illegal burdens on voters unless state law is clarified to expand voting by mail.

[…]

In a recent advisory, the Texas secretary of state’s office signaled that the state’s voting-by-mail qualifications could extend to voters affected by the pandemic but provided no explanation of how eligibility could be expanded so more Texans can qualify for absentee ballots.

In their lawsuit, the Democrats argue the advisory “unhelpfully” gave local election administrators “no material guidance” on who can qualify to vote by mail under the circumstances brought on by the pandemic.

“Left without Court intervention, the state will march toward upcoming elections with no plan in place,” the Democrats wrote in their complaint, in which they allege multiple violations of the U.S. Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act.

See here for more on that recent advisory, and here for a copy of the lawsuit. As the story notes, there is already a state lawsuit filed. I have no idea which one is more likely to get a resolution first, nor do I have any idea which one may have better odds of success. The US Supreme Court sure doesn’t care, if Wisconsin is any example. I still think a settlement can happen, but I’d sure like to see the state take a step forward on that.