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Election 2022

And now we have a judicial loser contesting the election

The Republicans did warn us they’d be sore losers.

Republican judicial candidate Erin Lunceford filed a petition Wednesday seeking a new election in Harris County’s 189th judicial district court race after losing by 2,743 votes out of more than 1 million ballots cast.

Lunceford’s opponent, Democrat Tamika Craft, won the election by 0.26 percent of the vote.

The petition, which names Lunceford as the contestant and Craft as contestee, claims numerous violations of the Texas Election Code, including a failure to provide a sufficient amount of ballot paper to 25 polling locations.

Harris County Republican Party Chair Cindy Siegel indicated there could be more election contests to come.

“During the last month, we’ve had a lot of our candidates that were in very close races that have been talking to us wanting to know the information that we’ve accumulated and have reported,” Siegel said. “Several of them are considering election contests.”

Andy Taylor, general counsel for the Harris County GOP, is representing Lunceford.

Taylor accused Harris County Elections Administrator Cliff Tatum, who took over the office starting in August, of intentionally causing ballot paper shortages in Republican-leaning neighborhoods.

“If it was just mismanagement, it was just gross incompetence, wouldn’t one think that the lack of paper would apply equally and uniformly across the map, so that there would be roughly an equivalent number of Democratic stronghold precinct neighborhoods as well as Republican precinct stronghold neighborhoods?” Taylor said. “And, yet, that’s not the way it’s breaking.”

Taylor alleged 80 percent of polling places with paper shortages on Nov. 8 were in areas considered Republican strongholds.

“I want to send a message to the Harris County elections administrator,” Taylor said. “Mr. Tatum, your day of reckoning has just started.”

In a statement, Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee said his office will keep a close eye on Lunceford’s election contest.

“I’m disappointed to see another losing candidate challenging the results of their election. Judge Lunceford previously served on the bench, so I trust she understands the seriousness of asking a court to disregard the votes of over a million residents across Harris County,” Menefee said. “This case will focus on the details of every aspect of the November 8 election in Harris County. My office will be involved in the case every step of the way to ensure people’s votes are protected.”

The petition is filed in Harris County, but the case will be heard by a judge from outside the county, according to Menefee’s office.

So many things to say, so I’ll bullet-point it:

– This is different from the ridiculous election contest filed in HD135 by a candidate that lost by 15 points and over 6,000 votes. That one would be heard in the House by a House committee, if Speaker Phelan for some reason doesn’t toss it as a frivolous waste of time. This one will be heard in a courtroom.

– As a reminder and a general principle, never believe a word Andy Taylor says.

– To put it another way, good luck proving intent. Also, reports from the field on Election Day about paper issues were very much coming from Democratic sites. The Texas Organizing Project didn’t file its lawsuit to extend voting hours because of problems in The Villages and Cy-Fair.

– Random fact: In 2020, Democrat Jane Robinson lost her race for Chief Justice of the 14th Court of Appeals by 1,191 votes out over over 2.3 million cast, a margin of 0.06 percent of the vote. You know what she did? She conceded gracefully and went on with her life.

– Another reminder: There were 782 voting locations on Election Day, and you could vote at any of them. There were a half-dozen voting locations within walking distance of my house on Election Day. Anyone who ran into a problem at one location could have gone to another. By all accounts, there were maybe 20-25 sites that have paper issues. That left a mere 750 or so alternatives, including ones that would have been very close by.

– In other words, please find me the people who showed up to vote at a location that was having paper problems, and did not wait for them to be fixed, did not go to another location, did not come back later, and as a result did not vote. You really gonna claim that there were over two thousand of them, and all of them were going to vote for Erin Lunceford?

– Did I mention that the Republicans opposed the extension of voting hours in Harris County (and not in red-voting Bell County, which also had voting location issues), and also opposed the counting of provisional ballots cast by people who voted after 7 PM? As I said before, the obvious way to deal with delays in opening a given voting location is to push back the closing time for it. But the Republicans opposed that at every turn.

– Can you imagine what the Republican response to this would be if it were a Democrat complaining about voting location problems? You could have voted elsewhere! You could have voted early! It’s your own damn fault you didn’t vote! Look at how zealously they opposed all of the efforts to expand voting access in the pandemic, including the third week of early voting that Greg Abbott ordered. You’re immunocompromised and you want to vote by mail or from your car because you’re afraid of a deadly disease? Too bad!

– The remedy, if they somehow win on these laughable claims, would be to redo the entire damn election. To say the least, that is a massive, massive upending of the regular democratic order. The amount of evidence they’d need to provide to come close to justifying such an ask, I can’t even begin to comprehend.

– But really, this is all about making noise and trying to cast doubt on the election administrator’s office and government in general in Harris County. It’s just the Big Lie in a slightly sanitized package.

Precinct analysis: Specifically, my precincts

I’m still waiting for the full landscape canvass data from Harris County – things are a bit up in the air right now because of the lawsuit filed by the local GOP, but I expect to get that data soon, and when I do I’ll do the usual set of analyses on it for you. In the meantime, I’ve been idly speculating about my own precincts in the Heights. I saw a lot of Mealer signs around, which is in part because she lives in the neighborhood, but it got me wondering if there was a significant crossover vote for her here. I never saw a yard that had both a Beto sign and a Mealer sign in it, but maybe those who voted that way wanted to keep it on the down low. The only way to know is to look at the data.

So I went to the canvass reports that are available now on the HarrisVotes website. I specifically wanted to see what the vote for Beto looked like versus what the Lina Hidalgo vote looked like in the two precincts around where I live and where I spend most of my time. For comparison, I did the same for 2018, to see how much Beto/Emmett crossover there was. It’s a limited look – I’ll be able to learn much more when I have the full landscape report – but all I’m looking for here is quick and dirty. That will do for now.

Here are the numbers. I added the vote totals for the two precincts. The percentages include the third party (and for 2022 County Judge, write in) candidates, so they don’t sum to 100. Note that precincts were redrawn last year, and the net effect is that there are more voters in them in 2022 than in 2018.


Year  Candidate   Vote    Pct
=============================
2018       Beto  1,819  72.0%
2018       Cruz    674  26.7%

2018    Hidalgo  1,205  49.2%
2018     Emmett  1,169  47.8%

2022       Beto  2,546  70.2%
2022     Abbott  1,019  28.1%

2022    Hidalgo  2,279  63.6%
2022     Mealer  1,302  36.3%

So yes, there were Beto/Mealer voters in my neighborhood. That’s not surprising, given that Beto got 54% of the vote and 595K votes total, while Hidalgo got under 51% and 553K votes. As I said, I won’t know if our neighborhood was substantially different than others in the improvement that Mealer had over Abbott until I get the full picture. She did fall well short of Ed Emmett in 2018, getting a bit more than half as many crossovers as he did then. Again, not a big surprise given Beto’s 58% versus Hidalgo’s 49% four years ago. Indeed, my neighborhood was a pretty good proxy for the count as a whole in the County Judge’s race in 2018, but it was significantly more Democratic in that race this year. Make of all that what you will.

From a turnout perspective, in 2018 2,527 of 3,431 registered voters came out, for 73.7% of the total. In 2022, it was 3,641 out of 5,298, or 68.7% turnout. The county as a whole declined from 52.86% to 43.54%, so again not a surprise. If anything, the decline was less steep here than elsewhere. But a decline it was.

Anyway, that’s what there is for this comparison. I will of course look at this in more depth once I have the data I need.

Candidate who lost by 15 points files election contest

Utterly ridiculous, and will hopefully be treated that way.

Rep. Jon Rosenthal

A losing Republican candidate for the Texas House of Representatives is challenging his defeat and asking the Legislature to void the results of the election.

Republican Mike May this week filed what’s known as an election contest with the Texas secretary of state’s office, citing reports of scattered paper ballot shortages at “numerous” polling places on Election Day. May lost to incumbent Democrat Jon Rosenthal by more than 6,000 votes in his bid to represent House District 135 in the Houston area.

The secretary of state’s office on Tuesday delivered May’s petition to House Speaker Dade Phelan, who can refer the contest to a committee for investigation and appoint another member of the House as a “master” to oversee discovery and evidence related to the contested election. If they side with May and void the results, another election would be required to decide the district’s representative. The House can also toss the contest by declaring it “frivolous.”

Election Day issues once again pushed Harris County’s election officials back under scrutiny, including from the state’s Republican leadership. Voting in Harris County was extended by court order for an extra hour after about a dozen polling places were delayed in opening. The county’s elections administrator Clifford Tatum has also acknowledged issues with insufficient paper ballots at some polling places, though he said election staff was dispatched to deliver additional ballots.

The fumbles prompted a lawsuit by the Harris County GOP, which alleged voters were disenfranchised by the paper shortages. The Harris County district attorney has since launched an investigation into allegations of “irregularities.” The Texas Election Code includes criminal penalties for various violations, including illegal voting, the unsolicited distribution of mail-in ballot applications by local election officials and the failure to distribute election supplies.

In his petition, May argued the results of the election were not the “true outcome” because election officials “prevented eligible voters from voting.” May did not immediately return a request for comment.

On Friday, Rosenthal’s camp framed May’s election contest as part of a national trend to “deny the outcome of an election when you lose.”

“This race demonstrated one of the largest percentage point differences in Harris County, it wasn’t even close,” Rosenthal’s campaign manager, Bailey Stober, said in a statement. “The opposition presented himself and his positions and was rejected by voters overwhelmingly. That is how democracy works.”

The statement came soon after Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee criticized the contest as an effort to “call into question the 2022 election in Harris County and lay the groundwork to force a redo.”

It’s unclear how Phelan will handle the contest. His office declined to comment Friday. But Menefee said he was hopeful that Phelan would throw out the challenge.

“And I trust that he will ensure a fair process before impartial legislators, without interference from the state leaders and other elected officials who have a history of making baseless claims against Harris County elections,” Menefee said.

The House took on a similar exercise in 2011 following a challenge by Travis County Republican Dan Neil, who, after a recount, lost to state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, by 12 votes. The House eventually upheld Howard’s win. She remains in the Texas Legislature.

Up till then, the Legislature had seen 113 election contests since 1846, according to the Texas Legislative Council, an in-house legal and research arm of the Texas Legislature. The losing party, however, had not managed to turn the outcome of the election at least in the last 30 years. In the one case in which the House ordered a new election in 1981, the winner of the initial contest was again elected.

There was also an election contest following the 2004 win by Rep. Hubert Vo, then a challenger, over then-Rep. Talmadge Heflin. The contest examined a number of votes that Heflin claimed were illegal, including at least one vote cast by a non-citizen (a Norwegian national who stated that he voted straight ticket Republican), upheld most of them, and in the end Vo still won. In both cases, the number of votes separating the winner and the loser was miniscule. There’s no planet on which this challenge even remotely resembles those two.

The Chron adds some context.

Larry Veselka, a Houston lawyer who represented Democrat Hubert Vo when Vo’s 2004 election to the Texas House was challenged by his Republican opponent, said the legal standard for voiding an election result and ordering up a redo typically requires “clear and convincing” evidence that would be near-impossible for May to obtain.

“It’s too speculative,” said Veselka, who previously served as chair of the Harris County Democratic Party in the 1980s. “I mean, how do you say who walked away at this hour or at this one location where they were short of ballots? … Have they gone out and found people that can credibly swear, I left and didn’t vote somewhere else?”

May’s election challenge sparked outrage among Houston Democrats, including Rosenthal, who called it “more a political stunt than any type of serious complaint or concern.”

Harris County Democratic Party Chair Odus Evbagharu, who previously served as Rosenthal’s chief of staff, said the petition “reeks of Republican desperation.”

“The Republican candidate is attempting to alter a certified election with this baseless charge,” Evbagharu said. “Clearly, they’re running out of options in the election-attack playbook.”

Mark McCaig, a Houston attorney and conservative activist, also condemned the election contest in a tweet.

“There were HUGE problems with the election in Harris Co, but frivolous election contests like this are a gift to Dems (which is why Rosenthal is eating it up),” McCaig tweeted. “The focus needs to be on the very real problems that occurred.”

Jason Vaughn, former president of Houston Young Republicans, added: “I’m highly involved in Republican politics in Harris and didn’t even know this guy existed. The district was literally drawn to be a Democrat district.”

To put a few numbers on this, if you threw out every vote cast in the HD135 race on Election Day, Rosenthal still wins by 4,161 votes. Mike May collected 6,055 votes on Election Day. If you doubled that, if you somehow accept that the problems at a handful of voting locations prevented as many people who voted for him on all of Election Day from voting for him at all, without anyone who might have not voted selecting Rosenthal instead, he would still lose by 131 votes. This doesn’t come close to passing the sniff test. The only rational response by Speaker Phelan is to declare it frivolous. We’ll see. A statement from Rep. Rosenthal is here, and from County Attorney Menefee is here.

The people may have spoken, but who’s listening?

How much respect to city councils owe voter-approved referenda?

Voters in two Central Texas cities overwhelmingly passed propositions earlier this month that would stop citations and arrests for low-level marijuana offenses within city limits. But elected officials in Bell County are pushing back.

On Tuesday, Harker Heights City Council voted to repeal the measure, saying that decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana was inconsistent with state law, as marijuana possession remains illegal statewide and federally. The City Council in Killeen agreed to put its decriminalization measure on hold as elected officials there weigh whether to repeal, amend or green light the ordinance that passed on Election Day.

Neither ballot measure legalizes marijuana. Instead, they prevent people from being cited or arrested for having up to 4 ounces of the drug. The propositions also prohibit city police officers from stopping someone because they smelled marijuana.

David Bass, the founder of Texas Veterans for Medical Marijuana, told City Council on Tuesday that the people of Killeen have spoken. Regardless of the legality of marijuana, the ordinance was clear and he said the council should respect voters’ decision.

“What I know is that the people of Killeen voted overwhelmingly for our police to stop arresting people for small amounts of cannabis,” Bass said. “We should listen to the will of the people of Killeen.”

Shirley Fleming, a former Killeen city councilwoman, told the Harker Heights City Council that repealing the ordinance could make residents feel like their vote doesn’t matter.

“If you stomp on this, a lot of people will say, ‘My vote doesn’t count,’” Fleming said. “Let’s respect their vote.”

See here for some background. With all due respect to Ms. Fleming, and speaking as someone who supports these measures and would vote for a similar one if it were to be on my ballot someday, I don’t think it’s quite that simple. All of the city council members here were also elected by the people, and if they believe that the ordinances that were adopted without their input are bad policy, then it’s consistent with their mandate as elected officials to take action as they see fit. I wouldn’t have done it this way – some public hearings would have been a better way to begin – and if I were a dissenting council member I’d have approached it from the perspective of modification rather than repeal. But they can do this, and I don’t see it as necessarily ignoring the will of the people but as different mandates.

Look at it this way: A President gets elected, begins to implement a policy agenda, and then two years later the voters elect a Congressional majority from the opposing party. Both were duly elected with a valid mandate, it’s just that those mandates conflict with each other. This isn’t a perfect analogy – the opposition Congress and the incumbent President were surely campaigning directly against each other, and the new Congress or the existing President may well not reflect a true majority of voters for various reasons – but the idea is the same. The voters may now render a judgment on those city council members in the next election, and that may or may not provide clarity. That’s just the nature of our system.

To be clear, I think the city councils of Killeen and Harker Heights should have started from the position that the voters made a valid statement that they should engage with seriously. They do have the latitude to make changes, and if they want to put themselves on the line they can act in opposition. I can easily imagine scenarios where the voters might approve something unjust, where the moral imperative would be to undo the damage. I can also easily understand the frustration of any voter who worked to pass these referenda only to see their work bulldozed by the same government officials who had acted as the obstacle they sought to overcome. All I’m saying is that it’s more complex than “the voters have spoken”. I’ll try to remember that if it happens here.

Precinct analysis: How the 2022 Harris County State Rep candidates did versus the 2020 and 2018 results

I still don’t have a full canvass of Harris County, so I’m looking around to see what kind of analyses I can do in the meantime. For this post, I’m comparing how the candidates in the contested State Rep contests did against the 2020 and 2018 numbers that we saw in the redistricting reports. This isn’t my preferred kind of comparison – there are too many uncontested races, some “contested” races really aren’t because of poor candidate quality, incumbents tend to have a bit of an edge – but it’s what we’ve got for now. My impressions of the numbers for the new State Rep districts are here, and the Texas Legislative Council reports can be found here for 2020 and here for 2018. First up is 2020:


Dist   Biden   Trump   Hegar  Cornyn     Dem     Rep
====================================================
128    31.6%   67.1%   30.6%   67.2%   29.5%   70.5%
129    42.2%   56.2%   39.4%   58.0%   39.2%   60.8%
131    79.6%   19.5%   77.3%   19.9%   80.5%   19.5%
132    42.9%   55.6%   40.0%   57.6%   40.3%   59.7%
133    48.4%   50.3%   43.2%   54.9%   36.4%   61.4%
134    62.5%   36.1%   56.6%   41.7%   61.6%   37.1%
135    59.9%   38.7%   57.5%   39.4%   57.6%   42.4%
138    46.6%   52.0%   42.8%   55.0%   42.9%   57.1%
145    70.1%   28.3%   66.2%   30.8%   71.3%   28.7%
148    58.1%   40.5%   55.3%   41.7%   55.5%   42.6%
149    61.7%   37.2%   59.7%   37.5%   59.8%   37.7%
150    42.1%   56.5%   39.5%   57.9%   39.3%   60.7%

Biden generally outperformed the rest of the ticket by two or three points, more in some places like HDs 133 and 134. It’s clear he drew some crossover votes, so matching his performance is a sign of great strength. MJ Hegar was more of a typical Dem performer, and ideally a Dem in 2022 would do at least as well as she did. Note that most of the individual State Rep races were straight up D versus R, but in the cases where the percentages don’t add up to 100, assume there was a third party candidate as well. Most Dems met the Hegar standard, with incumbent Reps. Alma Allen (HD131) and Christina Morales (HD145) outdoing even the Biden number. On the other side, HD133 GOP candidate Mano DeAyala easily stomped a Democrat whose existence even I didn’t know about.

On to 2018:


Dist    Beto    Cruz  Valdez  Abbott     Dem     Rep
====================================================
128    32.6%   66.8%   29.1%   69.7%   29.5%   70.5%
129    42.8%   56.3%   36.8%   61.5%   39.2%   60.8%
131    85.2%   14.3%   80.4%   18.5%   80.5%   19.5%
132    41.8%   57.5%   36.2%   62.3%   40.3%   59.7%
133    46.1%   53.1%   37.9%   60.3%   36.4%   61.4%
134    62.4%   36.8%   52.5%   45.3%   61.6%   37.1%
135    64.4%   35.0%   59.4%   39.2%   57.6%   42.4%
138    46.4%   52.8%   39.6%   58.7%   42.9%   57.1%
145    75.0%   24.1%   67.5%   30.4%   71.3%   28.7%
148    62.7%   37.5%   56.1%   42.4%   55.5%   42.6%
149    68.7%   30.6%   64.0%   34.8%   59.8%   37.7%
150    41.2%   58.1%   36.3%   62.4%   39.3%   60.7%

Beto and Valdez represented the top and bottom of the scale for Dems this year. It’s clear that Dems fell short of the 2018 standard this year, with the 2022 version of Beto being somewhat above the Valdez line. In general, Biden did about as well in most districts as Beto had done two years before, though there are exceptions, of which HDs 135 and 149 are the most interesting. I don’t want to read too much into any single number here – this was a year I’d classify as an underperforming one for Dems overall, though at a much higher baseline than we were used to for off years, and I’d expect better numbers in 2024. Dems have the same targets as before in HDs 132 and 138, while if I were the Republicans I’d take a closer look at what’s going on in 135 and 148. The actual me really wants to see the full canvass data to see how the broader ticket did in these districts. Let me know what you think.

SCOTx allows provisional votes to be counted

Good.

The Texas Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that Harris County can include about 2,100 ballots cast during an extra hour of Election Day voting when officials certify the midterm results. But the state’s highest civil court also ordered Harris County to determine whether those late-cast ballots would affect the outcome of any races — and kept alive Attorney General Ken Paxton’s challenge to counting them.

It’s a win, at least temporarily, for Harris County officials in a fight against Paxton’s attempt to discard thousands of midterm ballots as election results are set to be certified Tuesday.

In an interview Tuesday, Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee said that about 2,100 provisional ballots cast after 7 p.m. Election Day should be counted. Those ballots were cast after a district court judge ordered Harris County polling places to remain open an extra hour because many locations had opened late that morning.

“The votes that were cast during that time period pursuant to a court order are still perfectly legal. And there’s nothing in the law that prohibits them from being counted,” Menefee said. “So our perspective is that those provisional ballots are no different than any other provisional ballots — they are to be counted.”

Harris County officials argued as much in a filing to the Texas Supreme Court on Tuesday. That came one day after Paxton petitioned the Supreme Court to toss the late-cast ballots.

[…]

In at least one race, the provisional ballots could impact the outcome. After provisional and mail-in ballots were counted, the incumbent for Harris County’s 180th Criminal State District Court, DaSean Jones, went from trailing Republican Tami Pierce to leading by less than 500 votes, the Houston Chronicle reported.

See here for the background and here for the court’s order. It’s just one page long, and the gist of it is this:

In this mandamus proceeding, which challenges Harris County election officials’ processing of the “later cast votes,” we grant the following temporary relief under Rule of Appellate Procedure 52.10(b):

  • Respondents are directed to conduct the canvass of the November 2022 election as required by the Election Code.
  • As part of the canvass, respondents are ordered to separately identify in the vote tabulations the number of “later cast votes” for each candidate in each race and for or against each proposition, so that candidates, the parties, and this Court may ascertain whether the “later cast votes” would be outcome-determinative and so that the parties can assess the extent to which further litigation is warranted.
  • Respondents are ordered to provide the Court with a copy of the canvass results, including the separately tabulated “later cast votes,” as soon as they are available.

The petition for writ of mandamus remains pending before this Court.

I presume that last line is there in the event the provisional ballots have an effect on the 180th Criminal District Court race, in which event (again, I presume) the merits of the arguments will have to be addressed. Lawyers, please feel free to correct me as needed. The only other race that is close enough to be even theoretically affected by the provisional ballots is the County Criminal Court #3 race, where Porsha Brown trails by the even smaller margin of 267 votes. However, given that the provisional votes cast on Election Day favored Democrats, it’s even less likely for that race to be affected, and it would be impossible for both of them to be in a position to change.

I maintain as I said yesterday that it is highly unlikely that the 180th Court will be affected. If you throw out all of the Election Day provisional ballots, DaSean Jones still leads by 89 votes. There are apparently 2,100 provisional Election Day ballots in question, out of 2,555 total E-Day provisionals and 2,420 that included a vote in this race. The odds that Jones could lose the entire 360 vote net he got from the E-Day provisionals plus another 90 votes in this subset of the total ballots just strike me as extremely remote. I wish the stories that have been published about this would go into more detail about this as I have done – yes, I know, math is hard, but you could at least use “highly unlikely” language to offer some context. By the time this runs in the morning we’ll know what the official canvass says, and from there we’ll see if an election challenge will follow.

The Chron story, from a bit later in the day, has more details.

While the provisional ballots are included in the official count certified by Commissioners Court, the Supreme Court also is ordering the county to include in the final canvassed results a separate report that details the votes of the “later cast votes for each candidate in each race.” That way, candidates can determine whether this group of ballots would change the outcome of their race and “assess the extent to which further litigation is warranted.”

Given that Harris County voters cast more than 1.1 million ballots overall, the 2,000 provisional ballots have little chance of changing most election outcomes. However, a handful of candidates in tight races may consider legal challenges over election results.

“At this point, we do not anticipate that it impacts the outcome of any races,” Harris County First Assistant County Attorney Jonathan Fombonne said. “Of course the [Texas Supreme Court] proceedings remain pending and the court could rule on something. And of course there can always be election contests. Many of those races were close, and it wouldn’t surprise us to see candidates filing election contests.”

[…]

On Election Night, the Texas Organizing Project, Texas Civil Rights Project and ACLU of Texas obtained a court order from a judge requiring all Harris County polling locations to extend voting hours until 8 p.m. after the groups argued in a lawsuit that late openings at some polling locations prevented some residents from voting.

Voters who were in line by 7 p.m. were able to vote normally, while those who arrived between 7 and 8 p.m. were allowed to cast provisional ballots.

That evening, in quick succession, Paxton’s office filed its writ of mandamus asking the Texas Supreme Court to vacate or reverse the court order, and the Supreme Court responded by staying that order, saying votes cast after 7 p.m. “should be segregated,” without specifying whether they must be excluded from the final count.

Because the proceedings are still ongoing, it is too soon to know whether the ability to extend voting hours in the future could be impacted.

“The court hasn’t specified whether or not that’s legal,” Fombonne said. “The proceedings are pending. There may be an opinion in the future that addresses that question.”

Hani Mirza, legal director of the Texas Civil Rights Project’s voting rights program, was part of the team that sought the court order extending voting hours this year. The group also filed a lawsuit in 2018 obtaining a similar court order in Harris County. Mirza said in the case four years ago, Paxton’s office did not ask the Texas Supreme Court to intervene.

Nor did Paxton’s office intervene this year when voting hours were also extended by one hour in Bell County because of early morning glitches with check-in systems. The Bell County attorney confirmed last week that a court order there had not been challenged by the Attorney General’s Office or another party.

“It doesn’t make any sense outside of, obviously, cynical partisanship and these targeted actions against Harris County, the most diverse county in the state” Mirza said.

That sort of addresses my question above about the last line in the SCOTx order. We’ll just have to keep an eye on that. The election has been certified by Commissioners Court, which if nothing else avoids the drama of any further delays. As to who might file a contest, again we’ll have to see. Seems like a lot of fuss for something that is unlikely to go anywhere, but who knows.

Paxton sues to prevent some provisional votes from being counted

On brand. Always, always on brand.

Best mugshot ever

The Texas Attorney General’s office is attempting a last-minute intervention to toss out 2,000 provisional ballots before a Harris County Commissioners Court meeting Tuesday to certify the November election.

The ballots in question were cast during a one-hour period on Nov. 8.

“Although the ballots were processed, Harris County now intends to include them in the final vote canvass,” Christopher Hilton, chief of the Attorney General’s office general litigation division said Monday. “We have never agreed that these ballots can be part of the final election results, and this afternoon we’re going to ask that the Texas Supreme Court rule that these late-cast votes should be excluded as Texas law requires.”

The petition was filed Monday afternoon. Hilton declined to comment on why the office did not ask for the ruling sooner.

“A court of law ordered Harris County to keep the polls to open for an additional hour on Election Day and people across our county cast their ballots during that time,” Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee said in a statement. “My office is going to do everything we can to protect every single vote that was cast. Republican, Democrat, or Independent — no eligible voter should have their ballot thrown out because the Attorney General can’t accept the results of Harris County elections.”

[…]

According to emails shared with Chronicle, parties including the Texas Attorney General’s office, Harris County Attorney’s office, Texas Civil Rights Project, Harris County Republican Party and Harris County Democratic Party all signed off an agreement on Nov. 11 for processing the provisional ballots.

First Assistant County Attorney Jonathan Fombonne wrote the Harris County Attorney’s office was approving the agreement “based on the understanding that the Texas Supreme Court’s order does not prohibit the tabulating of those votes as long as the ballots themselves remain segregated.”

Kimberly Gdula, deputy chief of the Attorney General’s office general litigation division, signed off on the agreement in an email: “The State is good with this.”

However, Sunday evening, two days before the commissioner’s court meeting to certify the election results, Hilton, the chief of the Attorney General’s office general litigation division, sent an email to the parties questioning the legal basis for including the provisional ballots cast after 7 p,m. in the final count and seeking clarification “so that the parties can pursue any legal remedies, if necessary.”

In a statement Monday, Harris County Attorney’s office spokesperson Roxanne Werner said: “Representatives from the Attorney General’s office and the Harris County Republican Party asked for the language describing that process to be removed from the agreed order, leaving Harris County to process and count the late ballots as they would other provisional ballots while ensuring they were kept segregated. All parties were put on notice that the votes would be counted.”

“This 11th-hour ask to throw those votes away should not be tolerated, especially considering the State rejected the County’s offer to hold off on counting these votes while it sought clarification from the Supreme Court,” Werner added.

See here and here for some background about the litigation that allowed polling locations to remain open until 8 PM. As the story notes, Bell County had similar issues with some polling locations and also got a court order allowing locations to remain open until 8 PM, which the AG’s office has not opposed. The main takeaway here is that not only can you not trust anything Paxton says, you also can’t trust anything his office says, even if they sign their names to it. No wonder he’s having a hard time retaining staff.

As a reminder, and as you can see from the report released by the Elections Office on the 18th, DaSean Jones netted 360 votes from the provisional ballots cast on Election Day. However, he is leading by 449 votes, so if you threw out all of the E-Day provisionals, he would still be ahead by 89 votes in his race. He had already overcome the 165-vote deficit he had in earlier reports thanks to the counting of cured mail ballots, which had gained him 259 votes.

It’s actually not clear from the story how many ballots we’re talking about. The story refers to “2,000 provisional ballots”. I can’t tell if this is just using a round number because exact figures are confusing or if this is the exact figure. There were 2,555 provisional ballots cast on Election Day, of which 2,420 included a vote in the DaSean Jones – Tami Pierce race. I guess it’s theoretically possible that of the provisional E-Day ballots that were specifically cast by people who got in line after 7 PM (because if you were already in line you were always allowed to vote), Jones had a net advantage of at least 450 over Pierce. To say the least, that would be an extraordinary circumstance. (*)

I point this out to say that barring something truly weird, Paxton’s bad faith filing will not – can not – have any effect on any race. That doesn’t change the fact that his filing is trash and should be rejected by SCOTx on the grounds that these people deserve to have their votes counted. The remedy for having to vote late because of voting location problems is to extend voting hours to accommodate those that were affected. Just like what happened in Bell County (won by Greg Abbott 59.04% to 39.52%, in case you were curious), which the AG has accepted as fact. I for one don’t see any difference between the two.

(*) I did search on the Supreme Court webpage for Paxton’s mandamus filing, which might have been more specific and thus answered my questions. Looking on the Electronic Filings search, I think this case is number 22-1044. However, the hyperlink for that case didn’t work when I tried it, and searching for the case via that number returned no results. If you can do better than I did, or if the webpage eventually fixes itself, let me know.

UPDATE: The Trib story also references “2,000 ballots”, which does not help clear up my confusion. They also refer to the overall total of about 4,000 provisional ballots – the actual overall total is 4,333, of which 1,778 were cast early and are clearly not at issue. So, until I hear otherwise, it is my contention that these provisional ballots are not enough to alter any race’s result, and also that this doesn’t matter because all of the ballots should be counted. We’ll see what the Court says.

Precinct analysis: Early voting versus Election Day

In his pre-election analyses of the early vote, Republican consultant Derek Ryan (whose numbers I have used in the past) suggested that there was still a significant number of regular Republican voters who had not voted yet, which could make Election Day redder than early voting was. I thought I’d take a look at the data to see how accurate that was. Short answer: Pretty accurate.


Candidate   Early%  E-Day%  Total%  Ratio
=========================================
Abbott     53.75%   57.05%  54.80%   1.06
Beto       45.14%   40.98%  43.81%   0.91
Others      1.11%    1.97%   1.39%   1.77

Note that “Early” here includes mail ballots, as the Secretary of State website combines mail ballots with early in person ballots to give that number. “Ratio” is just the Election Day percentage divided by the Early percentage, which you can interpret to mean that Abbott did about six percent better on Election Day while Beto did about nine percent worse. The Others include the Libertarian and Green candidates plus two write-ins. I am greatly amused by the fact that their voters are the real traditionalists for voting on Tuesday.

If you’ve followed the numbers from Harris County, you know that Democrats overall did at least as well on Election Day as they had done in early voting. I assumed there was a range of outcomes here, so I sorted the data by Abbott’s Ratio, to see where he did best and worst – relatively speaking – on Election Day. Here are a few counties of interest for each. First, where he improved on Election Day:


County                Abbott     Beto  Others
=============================================
Travis Early          24.07%   74.83%   1.10%
Travis E-Day          30.52%   66.96%   2.52%

Bastrop Early         53.93%   44.58%   1.50%
Bastrop E-Day         64.15%   33.53%   2.32%

Williamson Early      47.73%   50.94%   1.33%
Williamson E-Day      54.19%   43.20%   2.62%

Hays Early            42.52%   56.01%   1.46%
Hays E-Day            46.87%   50.30%   2.84%

Bowie Early           73.12%   25.96%   0.92%
Bowie E-Day           80.32%   18.17%   1.52%

Dallas Early          34.85%   64.18%   0.97%
Dallas E-Day          38.08%   60.02%   1.90%

There are numerous small counties in there that I haven’t listed, I’m just highlighting the ones of interest. Travis County was in fact the top Ratio value for Greg Abbott – he did 29% better on Election Day than he did in early voting. This is where I point out that “doing better (or worse) on Election Day” is not the same as doing well (or poorly). That said, Abbott did well enough on Election Day in Williamson County to nudge past Beto’s vote total for that county. Now here are a few where Abbott dropped off on Election Day:


County                Abbott     Beto  Others
=============================================
Fort Bend Early       47.58%   51.07%   1.35%
Fort Bend E-Day       44.72%   52.94%   2.33%

Lubbock Early         70.30%   28.64%   1.06%
Lubbock E-Day         67.54%   30.49%   1.97%

Harris Early          45.06%   53.79%   1.15%
Harris E-Day          43.31%   54.45%   2.24%

Gregg Early           73.76%   25.52%   0.72%
Gregg E-Day           71.09%   27.35%   1.56%

Jefferson Early       56.56%   42.33%   1.10%
Jefferson E-Day       54.61%   43.38%   2.01%

It’s interesting to me to see Central Texas counties filling up that first table, while the Houston area is more present in the second one. I could have included Waller, Wharton, and Chambers in the latter as well. Whether that’s a fluke or a tendency, I couldn’t tell you. But it’s finding weird things like this that makes doing this kind of exercise so much fun.

Does any of this matter on a more macro level? Again, I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t think it matters that much, in the sense that the votes all count the same and from the perspective of a campaign’s win number it doesn’t make a difference. It’s certainly nice to have a bunch of votes banked before Election Day – if nothing else, it mitigates some risk from bad weather and technical difficulties at voting locations. But ultimately, either your voters show up in the numbers you need or they don’t. I think this data is interesting, and it may suggest some strategies for how better to deploy campaign resources. Beyond that, it’s what you make of it.

DaSean Jones wins after provisional and cured mail ballots are counted

I’m sure someone is going to throw a fit over this.

Judge DaSean Jones

The Harris County felony judge race for the 180th criminal state district court flipped Friday night in favor of incumbent DaSean Jones after new mail and provisional ballots were counted.

Jones, who assumed office in 2019, has taken a 449-vote lead over Republican Tami Pierce. Pierce led by more than 1,200 votes the morning following the election. That number dwindled to 165 votes on Nov. 10.

Nearly 5,300 new ballots were counted in the latest update by Harris County Elections — including a little under 1,000 mail, nearly 1,800 early provisional and about 2,500 E-Day provisional.

[…]

According to Harris County Elections, the results posted Friday are the “final unofficial posting” before Tuesday when Harris County Commissioners Court is scheduled to canvass the results. The Elections office is still working on the reconciliation form.

See here, when I published the previous count, which was as of November 10 at 2:42 PM. Those were the last results before provisional votes were counted – as we know, those always take a few days for review. With the new restrictions on mail ballots, the same law that added those restrictions also allows for mail ballots that have a defect in them, such as lacking the correct ID number (drivers license number or last four digits of the SSN, depending on which you used to register with), to be corrected up to six days after the election, as noted by the Secretary of State. I presume that means up through Monday the 14th, I haven’t checked to see what the exact specification in the law is.

Be that as it may, here’s the November 10 report, which as noted had no provisional ballots and still some uncounted mail ballots. At that time, a total of 60,302 mail ballots had been counted, and as we know they favored Democrats countywide. Beto was leading in mail ballots in that report 62.25% to 36.76% over Greg Abbott, a net of 15,151 votes, while Lina Hidalgo had a 60.26% to 39.65% (11,960 votes) advantage. DaSean Jones was up 31,382 (56.12%) to 24,541 (43.88%) as of the 10th.

In the report from the 18th, which included the final mail totals as well as the provisionals, Jones gained 259 net votes, going to a 31,914 to 24,814 lead. Counted provisional votes were sorted into those from Early Voting and those from Election Day. His opponent Tami Pierce netted five votes in the former, winning them 850 to 845, but Jones added another 360 to his margin by taking Election Day provisional votes 1,390 to 1,030.

Overall, the EV provisional votes had a slight Democratic lean – looking just at the judicial races, the Democratic share of the EV provisionals was generally a fraction of a point to a point higher than the overall early vote percent. Jones was one of three Democratic judicial candidates to not carry the EV provisionals – Genmayel Haynes, one of the four remaining Democrats who lost, and Tami Craft, who had the closest margin of victory among the Dems who won before Jones’ ascent, were the other two. Dems won the Election Day provisional vote by a much more solid margin, in the 57-60% range in the judicial races I looked at. That right there suggests to me that the Republican claims about voting location problems affecting them disproportionately are bogus.

For what it’s worth, Beto now has 54.03% of the vote in Harris County; my previous post with the 2022 update on how statewide results compared to Harris County is now out of date, which is a lesson I’ll learn for next time. Lina Hidalgo increased her lead to 1.67 percentage points, now 0.09 points bigger than her percentage margin from 2018 though her raw vote margin of 18,183 is still slightly less. The Democrat among the four who lost who came closest to winning is now Porsha Brown, who now trails Leslie Johnson 50.01% to 49.99%, a 267 vote margin. Final turnout is 1,107,390, or about 43.75% of registered voters.

On comparing counties from 2018 to 2022

I started with this.

Voters in counties across Texas chose GOP leaders over Democrats at a higher rate than they did four years ago, a Dallas Morning News analysis shows.

The findings, based on data as of noon on Wednesday, reflect that an overwhelming number of counties — 205 out of 254 — favored Republicans. Those counties turned more Republican by an average of 2.87 percentage points, the data showed.

The analysis also showed urban areas are shifting toward Democrats, part of a continuing trend across the country.

All five North Texas counties experiencing population growth saw an uptick in the percentage of votes for Democrats, the analysis showed.

Collin County, a Republican stronghold anchored by suburban women, shifted its share of votes to Democrats by 4.45 percentage points compared to 2018, according to the analysis.

Tarrant County, another GOP-dominated region that has seen an increasing number of Democratic votes, increased support for Democrats by 3.04 percentage points; Dallas County, by 3.23 percentage points; Denton by 3.53; and Rockwall by 3.5, the analysis showed.

Political experts who reviewed The Dallas Morning News’ findings weren’t surprised by the shift. Though slow-moving, the changes can make an impact over the next decade, they said.

“We shouldn’t delude ourselves in any way that the Democrats are about to take over,” said James Riddlesperger, a professor of political science at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. “At the same time, election coalitions are dynamic and what we’re seeing is the competitiveness of the two political parties in this area is becoming more apparent.”

This Trib story has more of the same. And it set me off to do the thing I usually do, which is put a bunch of numbers into a spreadsheet and then try to make something interesting happen with them. If you were to do the same – copy county-by-county election results for the Governor’s races from 2018 and 2022 into Excel – you’d see what these stories say, which is that Beto generally did better than Lupe Valdez in the large urban and suburban counties, and generally did worse elsewhere. You’d also notice that the reverse is true, which is that Abbott did worse where Beto did better and vice versa. You might think this means something about maybe Dems closing the gap in some places, and maybe that’s true, but if so then you have to contend with the fact that the likes of Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton did better overall than they had done four years ago, and as such there’s a limit to this kind of analysis.

I got to that point and I just didn’t feel like putting more time into it. I’ll spend plenty of time looking at district-level numbers, to see how the assumptions of the 2021 redistricting have held up so far and where opportunities and dangers for 2024 might lurk. Much of that data won’t be available until after the next Legislative session begins, though some county data should be there after the votes are canvassed. But statewide, I think we already know what we might want to know, at least at a macro level. We Dems didn’t build on 2018. There’s nothing to suggest that the trends we saw over the last decade have reversed, but there was nothing to see this year to suggest that we have moved the ball any farther than it would have moved on its own. So I’m going to put my effort into places where I hope to find things to work for in the next election or two. I promise I’ll throw numbers at you in those posts.

A brief look at the judicial races

From a few days ago:

The advertisements rolled out with weeks to go until the November election. In one TV spot, the sister of Martha Medina urged Harris County voters in Spanish and another in English to honor her sister, killed in 2021 during a purse snatching, by electing new tough-on-crime judges.

Stop Houston Murders PAC made similar calls to action in TV ads and online, pleading with the public to rid the felony courts of Democratic judges. The action committee blamed Judge Hilary Unger for facilitating Medina’s death when she set bail for her accused assailant on an earlier capital murder charge. The group blasted other felony judges for similar bail decisions, implying that pretrial releases had led to a rise in violent crime.

Hours before the polls closed on Election Day, the Houston Police Officers Union joined the effort, tweeting a photo of the criminal courthouse stating there would be “zero sympathy” for the judges voted out of office.

By Wednesday morning, the damage to Democrats on the felony bench was contained. Seven incumbents, including Unger, narrowly survived the barrage of rhetoric — winning their races and seemingly validating their progressive approach to bail and punishment decisions.

[…]

Judge Josh Hill, an incumbent Democrat, addressed his win Thursday, saying he had feared voters would take the conservative messaging to heart. For months, he had been unable to response to misinformation in attack ads and news reports because judicial rules prohibit judges from speaking about pending cases.

But the ads didn’t sway enough voters to topple him or remove most of his colleagues.

“If it did anything — it was minimally effective at best,” Hill said.

The crime-focused PAC, with endorsements from loved ones of Harris County crime victims, began pouring more than $2 million into local races months before the November election. The committee blamed the wave of Democratic judges elected in 2018 and thereafter for what they described as a crime crisis in the region.

The PAC said it supported reducing the backlog of felony cases by forcing trials to take place within a year of arrest and prohibiting the release of defendants accused of crimes related to firearms.

I know this PAC spent a lot of money on this – you should definitely read that linked story about who the sources of the money were, and then go re-read that Endorsement Regrets editorial; good times, good times – but it was mostly invisible to me. I think maybe I saw one TV ad for them, there was one billboard on I-45 South just north of the I-10 exit, which was high up and hard to read, and a few yard signs around. No online ads that I can recall, which is usually where I get the most exposure. I’m sure it was different for others, but the joy I get imagining them setting all that money on fire is real.

Nothing new in this article about the numbers, which I wrote about on Monday. On Thursday, I got a mention in the Chron’s latest lament about judicial elections.

The lesson is clear: Texans’ compulsion to vote straight-ticket, even if we have to do so manually these days after lawmakers took away the quick option, is strong enough to ensure that the solidly Democratic counties remained blue. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke may have lost to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott — he won Harris County by half the margin he did when he ran for U.S. Senate in 2018 — but his coattails were just long enough to drag down-ballot candidates across the finish line.

And yet the narrow margins for Democrats in Harris County suggest that the money funneled by Republicans targeting certain candidates as soft on crime was effective and resonated with voters concerns about public safety. These ads singled out many felony judicial candidates for making bail decisions in cases where defendants were freed on bond and then were re-arrested on new violent charges — including, in some cases, murder.

As local politics blogger Charles Kuffner noted in a recent post, Democratic judicial candidates in Harris County typically outperform the statewide candidates. This year’s election broke with that trend: Only eight of the 61 Democrats running for criminal and civil district and county courts won more than 51 percent of the vote. The gap between the top of the ticket — O’Rourke with 54 percent — and the lowest vote-getter among Democratic judicial candidates — misdemeanor court candidate Je’Rell Rogers with 49.3 percent — was the largest since 2010.

“That shows you that there was a lot of defection,” Robert Stein, a political science professor at Rice University, told the editorial board. “With judicial candidates, I think people made rational choices. They thought Democrats were really bad, not bad enough to replace, but not good enough to give them the kind of margins they got in 2016, 2018 and again in 2020.”

There were, however, some down-ballot results that defied conventional wisdom. While there are still some provisional ballots to be counted in Harris County, as of Wednesday, District Court Judge DaSean Jones, a Democrat, trailed his Republican opponent, Tami Pierce, by 165 votes. In another district court race, Harris County public defender Gemayel Haynes, a Democrat, trailed Republican candidate Kristin Guiney by about 4,300 votes. In the misdemeanor courts, Democratic candidates Rogers and Porscha Brown, as well as incumbent Judge Ronnisha Bowman, also lost their election bids.

There may be a less sophisticated explanation for some results: Voters pay so little attention to down-ballot races that some pick their candidates based on nothing more than cosmetic biases. All five of these Democratic judicial candidates who lost are Black with non-traditional first names. That, combined with a tougher-than-usual political climate for Democrats, is a recipe for outliers.

First, thanks for reading. I recommend you also read the many posts I have about why non-partisan judicial elections aren’t such a great idea, at least not for the problem that the editorial board and various folks like former Justice Wallace Jefferson say they want to fix. You might also listen to Thursday’s What Next podcast, in which we find out that candidates in non-partisan judicial races don’t feel any compunction to be non-partisan themselves, and the big money interests that back candidates of a political party are also spending a bunch of money backing their preferred “non-partisan” judicial candidates. It’s like some local politics blogger once said, you can’t take the politics out of an inherently political process.

As for what Prof. Stein says, I mean I guess, to some extent. If Dems were wiped out in the judicial races then sure. But we still won 56 out of 61, which last I looked was a pretty good percentage. Also, the Chron quoted my post incorrectly – I said only 8 of the 61 got more than the 51.75% that the average statewide candidate got. By my count 38 of the 61 exceeded 51%, with there being two very near misses at 50.99% and 50.96%. My point is that the effect, for which I have said that the anti-Democratic ads likely was a factor, wasn’t very big – a few thousand votes overall. There may have been other factors, as the Chron points out. The range between the top-scoring Democratic judicial candidate and the low-scoring one was tight, more so than in other years. I mentioned the ad spending because it would have been ignorant and disingenuous not to mention it. We’ll never really know how much of an effect it had. We just can’t say it had no effect.

Finally, a bit of accountability for myself: I had also suggested that in past years weak Democratic statewide candidates lost fairly significant vote totals to third party candidates, which dragged down their percentages and made the local and judicial candidates, who were mostly in two-person races, look better by comparison. That’s true for some years, but to my surprise when I looked this year it was not the case, at least in percentage terms, when compared to 2018. The effect isn’t uniform and I’ll want to take a closer look, but I’m going to discount that now as a factor. Not quite enough Democratic turnout is the better suspect.

Commissioner-elect Briones

Good story.

Lesley Briones

Yes, Lesley Briones secured a victory that handed Democrats a stall-proof majority on Harris County Commissioners Court.

And yes, she upset Republican Commissioner Jack Cagle in a precinct where he has won reelection every cycle since 2011, beating the incumbent by about 3 points when polling in the week before the election marked Cagle with a firm lead in the race.

It’s also true that Briones’ election to office marks the first instance in its 145-year history that two women have served on Harris County Commissioners Court at the same time. It should also be noted that her presence adds a third representative with Latin American heritage to the five-member body in a county where Latinos make up the largest racial demographic group and have been growing every year since 2010.

But Briones maintains that the circumstances and implications surrounding her victory will not color her decisions as she prepares to assume her role as Harris County’s newly elected Precinct 4 Commissioner. A former Harris County Civil Court Judge who graduated from Harvard and went to law school at Yale, told Chron that she plans to approach her role as commissioner “just the way I did in court.”

“In my court, I wear a black robe, not a blue robe, not a red robe or any other color. And I listen to both sides of a case, or all sides if there are multiple parties. And I listened to the evidence and made my rulings in the fairest way possible,” Briones said.

“I am a proud lifelong Democrat, but it’s beyond partisanship,” said Briones. “It’s about being Americans, being Houstonians, being Texans. It’s about fixing potholes, improving parks, maintaining ditches. It’s about making sure we have the number of law enforcement officers we have,” she added.

Looking back at her and Democratic Judge Lina Hidalgo’s re-election victories, Briones said that “when people box themselves into corners, if it’s hyperpartisanship or polarization or however you want to frame it, it wasn’t serving people, and things weren’t getting done.”

First, that was the same poll that had claimed Judge Hidalgo was losing in her race; it underestimated her support by six points. To be fair, that poll showed a lot of undecided voters and noted that they came primarily from demographics that would favor Democrats. I’m just noting this all for the record, so we can examine the polls of 2024 more carefully.

I like the subtlety with which Commissioner-elect Briones calls out her vanquished opponent for his quorum busting – there’s more later in the story – which she had taken the opportunity to attack as it was happening in the latter stages of the campaign. I have no idea if this had an effect on the outcome – we don’t have any data on that – but as the victor one gets to write the narrative. Seems like a pretty good way to start telling the story of her tenure.

Finally, given that we will be talking a lot about Latino representation on Houston City Council in the coming year, not to mention the promised lawsuit to get rid of the At Large Council seats, it’s worthwhile to compare Harris County to Houston and note the disparity in their governing bodies. I will note that County Commissioner races are a lot more expensive than At Large City Council races, and that Briones won in a district that was not specifically drawn to elect a Latino. She had to defeat a diverse slate of opponents in her primary to get onto the November ballot. To be sure, she’s running in a partisan race, which can be (but isn’t necessarily) a boost to one’s fundraising prospects. She’s also running in an even-numbered year, which as we’ve discussed before in the City Council context means much higher turnout and thus a more diverse electorate than our odd-year municipal elections. If we had city elections in even-numbered years, we would almost certainly have a different-looking City Council. There are good reasons to not want to have those elections in even years, I’m just saying it’s another option, and something to keep in mind as we have this longer conversation in 2023. Campos has more.

Christopher Busby: The Case for Texas Democratic Optimism

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

The election came and went with a similar story. Texas Democrats just started to get their hopes up about the idea of finally breaking through for their first statewide win since their fall from voters’ graces in the early 90s. Then falling flat yet again in their efforts. 30 years in the wilderness can do a lot to sting the hopes of Democrats parched for any sign of success. In 2014 Wendy Davis sent shock waves among Texas Democrats in her voracious defense of abortion rights yet lost by 20 points. In 2018 Beto O’Rouke came within a three point margin of knocking off the firebrand Junior Senator from Texas Ted Cruz. In 2020 President Joe Biden lost by just 6 pts, the best Democratic Presidential performance since 1996.

Yet despite all the clear movement in Democrats favor, incumbent Republican Governor Greg Abbott decisively defeated Beto O’Rouke to win by approximately 11 points. My guess is that across the state Texas Democrats feel much like Charlie Brown lying on his back on the football field. Fool me once. Shame on you. Fool me for three decades?

The message I want Texas Democrats to take away from this however is counter intuitive. My message is: Y’all are still headed in the right direction.

Before you think I’m just Lucy with her football again, hear me out.

In political statistics it is often most useful to compare the final performance of a candidate’s party relative to the national environment. In 2000 then Texas Governor George Bush lost the national popular vote in his race for president yet won Texas by 21 points in the same year. In parlance of political statistics that would make Texas an R+21 state. 8 years later when President Obama was carrying the country by 8 points he lost Texas by 12 points, meaning that despite a facially 8 point improvement, Texas was still R+20 compared to the nation as a whole. Little relative movement.

Taking this in mind we shouldn’t be too surprised by political consultants who got excited about Hillary Clinton’s Texas performance where she lost the state by only 9 points despite winning the popular vote by 2 points. Suddenly Texas moves from an R+20 state to an R+11 state. Suddenly Texas moves from a pipe dream to just… a dream.

In the years after Clintons narrow loss Texas Democrats have started taking themselves seriously again. What have the numbers since then told us? Looking at the presidential race President Biden lost the state by 6 points while winning nationally by 4 points. Now R+10 Texas inches ever closer to being competitive. BUT we just got done with a midterm year. Midterm numbers are where data nerds’ minds will pour over for the next few months.

2018 was the Texas Democrats banner year. Beto O’Rouke was cast as a political rockstar for almost upsetting Texas Senator Ted Cruz. His 3 point loss during a year when Democrats were winning by 8 points was very much in line with the R+11 numbers that Clinton and Biden would achieve in the elections before and after. Yet let’s look at Governor Greg Abbott who also was on that same ballot. He defeated Dallas Sheriff Lupe Valdez by approximately 13 points, an R+21 performance. Many will want to argue that Beto’s performance at the top of the ticket was indicative of Democratic performance that year however looking at the data it’s clear that most statewide officials fell closer to Abbott’s performance. Abbott was one of the top performing officials on the ticket year of either party.

2022 tells a story for state Democrats that they should take some optimism in. Taking the 2018 top performer from each party would seem like a recipe for a competitive race. Easy math would have expected an Abbott victory of 6-8 points if the year was the same. However the midterm years were very different. Numbers are still slowly trickling in so the data here will be less precise than the historical numbers, yet the initial measure of national vote seems like it will likely land somewhere between an R+1-2 year, much different from the D+8 year of the previous midterm. Moving almost 10 points redder Abbott lost 2 points off his victory margin and his performance fell from a solid R+21 to an R+9-10. The message should be clear: When Texas Democrats put up strong candidates with a real performance they can draw down the Republican ceiling more than Republicans can push Democrats to their floor.

Let’s take a more detailed look at the national picture. Governors across the country went up for re-election. Republicans had been hoping to score a host of upsets in swing states. Instead Democrats held on and in fact gained 3 governor’s mansions in open races. The story however was different for Republican incumbents. In every single state where a Republican governor ran for re-election they gained more support as compared to 2018. Except one: Texas. I’ll say it again for effect Texas was the ONLY governor’s race in the nation where the Republican incumbent lost support in re-election compared to 2018. In fact only Nevada and Georgia had governors races where the winning Republican candidate did worse than Greg Abbott and both those states were states which President Biden won in 2020. And looking briefly at President Biden’s performance you would see that of all states won by former President Trump, the only state to vote to the left of Texas was Florida. Florida, for the record, completely fell off the map for Democrats this year with Senator Marco Rubio winning by 17 points and Governor Ron DeSantis winning by 19 points.

So if I haven’t lost you in all the numbers, what does this mean for Texas Democrats in 2024? It means that Texas may be on the precipice of a major shift. Or may not. It depends on whether national Democrats want to fight for it or not. Ted Cruz is no Greg Abbott. While partisan Democrats might find equal distaste in the two I think you would be hard pressed to find the same polarization around Governor Abbott that you do Senator Cruz. Ted Cruz simply falls flat with the same independent voters who have proved crucial Republicans past successes. On a ticket with the equally, if not more, polarizing former President Trump Texas Democrats have a real opportunity. If Texas Democrats put up a real candidate who can draw investment and has a proven track record of campaigning they might just create an opening. Most importantly President Biden’s campaign team needs to take a hard look at the hundreds of millions dumped in Florida cycle after cycle even as it drifts more and more red. 2022 saw Texas and Florida cross each other’s paths in terms of state partisanship. Texas sits to the left of every major red state at this point and only the population sparse Alaska might argue an opportunity for an easier flip. If national Democrats are looking to expand the map beyond the states won by President Biden in 2020 they have their best opportunity in the lone star state.

Christopher Busby is a lifelong Houstonian and independent political campaign consultant and policy advisor. He is a currently pursing a medical doctorate, is former K-12 educator, and has worked extensively on local campaigns. All views and opinions expressed are his own and not representative of any affiliated entities.

If Greg Abbott demands an investigation, Greg Abbott will get an investigation

This is all still so dumb.

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg is launching an investigation into “alleged irregularities” during last week’s election after receiving a referral from the Texas Secretary of State’s office.

Ogg sent a letter to Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw asking for the Texas Rangers’ assistance on Monday, the same day Gov. Greg Abbott called for an investigation and the Harris County Republican Party filed a lawsuit accusing Elections Administrator Cliff Tatum and the county of numerous violations of the Texas Election Code.

The allegations include paper shortages at 23 polling locations, releasing early voting results before polls closed at 8 p.m., the improper disposition of damaged ballots and inadequate instructions on how poll workers were to manage instances in which the two-page ballots were not completely or adequately scanned into machines.

Under Harris County’s countywide voting system, residents had 782 locations to cast their ballots on Election Day. The paper shortages affected a small number of polling places.

The GOP lawsuit, however, claims “countless” voters were turned away due to the paper shortages and did not go to a second location to vote.

See here for the background. Ogg, who was not exactly an asset to Democrats in this election, has taken some heat for this. I get that and I’m not here to defend any of her recent actions, but I’m not exercised about this. There was going to be an investigation of some kind once Abbott threw his tantrum, and given that it can’t be Ken Paxton unless he’s invited in, it may as well be the local DA. Having the Texas Rangers assist makes sense in that it’s best to have outside help for an internal political matter. If this turns out to be much ado about nothing, as I believe it is, then let the Rangers take the blame from the Republicans for not finding anything. I am not going to waste my energy sweating about this at this time.

In the meantime:

Harris County Elections Administrator Cliff Tatum, speaking at length publicly for the first time since Election Day, pledged a complete assessment of voting issues Tuesday but said the county is in “dire need” of improvements to the way it conducts elections.

“A full assessment is in order,” Tatum told Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday. “We have started that assessment, but I’d like to remind you and the public we are still counting votes.”

He said his office still was working its way through about 2,100 provisional ballots cast after 7 p.m. last Tuesday. A state district judge ordered the county to keep the polls open until 8 p.m. because some voting locations failed to open on time. Those provisional ballots are being kept separate from the unofficial count, pending a court ruling on the validity of those votes.

The deadline for the county to canvass the vote is Nov. 22.

[…]

Tatum told Commissioners Court his staff is contacting each election judge to gather feedback and assess challenges they faced, including any technical difficulties and the response they received.

At least one polling place had a late opening and certain locations ran out of paper, Tatum confirmed.

Tatum took over the job in August, just two months before early voting in the November election began. So far, he noted the county is in “dire need” of some critically needed improvements, including a better communication system, more maintenance and operations personnel and a tracking system for monitoring requests from the election workers running polling locations.

Tatum said he has spoken with election judges who requested technical help and did not receive it.

“Because I can’t track that technician within the system that I have, I can’t tell you what happened,” Tatum said.

I dunno, maybe wait until all the work is done and see what happens before storming the barricades? And yes, especially now that they have full control over the budget, the Democratic majority on Commissioners Court needs to ensure this office has sufficient resources. We need to do better. Reform Austin has more.

One weird trick for maybe doing better with the next election

The Texas Democratic Party does another election post-mortem.

The odds were more stacked than usual against Texas Democrats this election cycle, with an unpopular president from their party going against them. Yet there was still hope and cautious optimism within the party that if anyone could pull off the upset, it would be Beto O’Rourke.

At a minimum, he could give a repeat performance of his 2018 matchup against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, where he came close enough to defeating the Republican — less than 3 percentage points — that Democrats could convincingly make the case that Texas is a battleground state worthy of national attention and investment.

Instead, O’Rourke, the most promising Texas Democrat in recent history, got walloped by Gov. Greg Abbott by 11 percentage points, and every other statewide candidate lost by double digits.

The drubbing has left Democrats in a familiar position: wounded after a disappointing election night while contemplating their strategy and their future.

“It’s been one [election] after another where we ramp everybody up and set up these expectations that we’re going to finish in first — and then we finish in second,” said Joel Montfort, a Democratic consultant in North Texas. “I don’t see any indication that we can win at statewide levels or won’t continue to bleed house seats to the other party.”

In an internal party memo obtained Thursday by The Texas Tribune, Democratic Party executive director Jamarr Brown blamed historic midterm trends, voting restrictions enacted in last year’s priority Republican legislation, redistricting that benefited the GOP, “mind-blowing” amounts of funding for Republicans, and a lack of national investment for Texas Democrats.

But perhaps the most damning mistakes Democrats identified in interviews and the memo was their inability to get voters to show up at the polls coupled with their candidates’ weak response to the GOP’s united messaging around immigration and the economy.

“We as Texas Democrats can no longer be seen as sticking our heads in the sand on issues that poll after poll tell us Texans care deeply about,” Brown said in the memo, singling out border security at length. “This election has made clearer the immense challenges we face over the next two years to continue making Texas into a state where all working families can thrive.”

O’Rourke’s campaign leaders are set to offer their own takeaways in a call with reporters on Monday.

Here’s what I think: I think we are not the ones that should be judging our performance. I think it’s past time to get some outside eyes in here and have a look at how we operate and what assumptions we make and what things we don’t do and render their opinion on it. Form a committee of politics knowers and doers from other states and let them at it. I’m thinking group of people from other mostly purple states, which is the status we are aiming for, with a diversity of ages, geographies (i.e., urban, suburban, exurban, rural), races, and expertises. I’d like to have folks from Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Georgia. I want a top to bottom look at everything, a set of reports that clearly states what we do well and what we don’t do well, and recommendations for action. I want it then to be shared with the SDEC, county parties, clubs and organizations, and affiliated friendly groups. Do whatever it takes to get the money to pay for all this, and then let it rip.

This may be impossible to do for any number of reasons. It may be that there are only medium-to-long term solutions available. It may be that we can’t really move forward without federal action on the border and immigration, which may very well involve legislative solutions that we Texas Democrats won’t like. It’s also super easy for an idiot on the Internet like me to propose such things. All I can say, after too many years of having the same feelings after the election, is that my first reaction upon seeing the headline to this story was “oh, not, not another one of these”. I personally would like to see us try something different this time. Take that for whatever it’s worth.

This is all so dumb

I’m going to quote a large swath of this Reform Austin story because it sums up what has been happening the past couple of days better than I could.

Gov. Greg Abbott called for an investigation into Harris County’s election practices last Tuesday, saying that he wanted to get answers as to why a myriad of election administration issues occurred. Delayed openings at some polling places openings, a shortage of paper ballots at some polls, and understaffing problems plagued the county on election day.

“The allegations of election improprieties in our state’s largest county may result from anything ranging from malfeasance to blatant criminal conduct,” Abbott said in a statement but did not offer further details.

He added: “Voters in Harris County deserve to know what happened. Integrity in the election process is essential. To achieve that standard, a thorough investigation is warranted.”

But Harris County Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum responded that the county is “committed to transparency” and is already participating in the state’s election audit process.

“The office is currently reviewing issues and claims made about Election Day and will include these findings in a post-elections report to be shared promptly with the Harris County Elections Commission and the County Commissioner Court,” Tatum said in an emailed statement.

Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia said that any problems on Election Day were technological and were related to the new voting machines Harris County was forced to purchase to bring the county into compliance with the new state law.

That law mandated the new models would be used as they produce a paper backup in addition to electronically capturing voter input. GOP state legislators passed the legislation called SB1 in their post-2020 “election integrity” campaign, despite any evidence of irregularities or fraud.

“Rather than waste resources on this nonsense, Gov. Abbott ought to investigate how many permitless guns have been used in violent crime,” Garcia said.

Also Monday, the Harris County Republican Party filed a lawsuit against Tatum and the county, alleging paper shortages at some voting centers amounted to violations of the Texas Election Code.

But Harris County Democratic Party Chair Odus Evbagharu disputed the GOP’s assertions, saying that “The claim that there was, like, thousands and thousands of people who were disenfranchised, there’s no claim to that, there’s no proof of that,” Evbagharu said.

The delayed openings of roughly a dozen polling places on election day led a state district judge to allow an extra hour of voting time at those sites in response to a last-minute lawsuit filed by progressive advocates.

The Texas Civil Rights Project argued the case on behalf of the Texas Organizing Project, which sued to keep polls open. The suit stated it felt compelled to take legal action because election operation disruption earlier that day had caused voter disenfranchisement.

Hani Mirza, voting rights program director at the Texas Civil Rights Project said in a statement “We went to court because these closures and errors, especially in communities of color across Harris County, robbed voters of the opportunity to cast their ballot.”

Harris County District Judge Dawn Rogers ruled the effort was likely to prevail, and that the government had infringed upon voters’ rights, and thus she approved the additional time.

Not surprisingly, Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office appealed the organization’s suit immediately, prompting the Texas Supreme Court to order the county to segregate votes cast during the extension while it reviews the judge’s action.

Honestly, all things considered, I thought Election Day didn’t go as badly as some people are saying. There were some glitches, and for sure we could do a better job with the paper, but we’re talking twenty-some locations out of 782. One reason we have so many locations is to give people plenty of other options if the place they went to is having issues. It’s a pretty small percentage, and so far as I can tell, no one has come forward to say that they were prevented from voting. Even more, the obvious remedy to voting locations that opened late or had to shut down for a period while paper issues were being sorted would have been to allow voting to go on for some extra time, so that anyone who was unable to get to another location and could not return before 7 PM would still have a chance to vote. Which the Texas Organizing Project and the Texas Civil Rights Project sought to do and got an order from a district court judge, which was then opposed by Ken Paxton and shot down by the Supreme Court. You can’t have it both ways.

The Elections Office is going to have to make its mandated reports. There was already going to be an audit of the November election, in case anyone has forgotten. Paxton is going to do whatever he’s going to do. If the local GOP is claiming that there was some kind of conspiracy to make it harder for Republicans to vote – pro tip: never believe a word Andy Taylor says – all I can say is good luck proving intent. Until shown otherwise, this all looks like a bunch of hot air and sour grapes. The Trib, the Chron, and the Press have more.

State and county election result relationships, part 4: What happened in 2022

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Now that the final totals are in, let’s go back and do the same exercise in comparing overall results for statewide candidates to the results they got in Harris County, and then from there comparing them to the local countywide numbers. I’m going to limit the comparisons to the last four elections, since as we saw things changed in 2016 and I don’t see any reason to go back farther than that. Here are the statewide numbers:


2016                   2018                   2020                   2022
State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff
43.24   53.95  10.71   48.33   57.98   9.65   46.48   55.96   9.48   43.81   54.00  10.19
38.38   47.35   8.97   42.51   52.11   9.60   43.87   52.90   9.03   43.44   53.41   9.97
38.53   47.96   9.43   46.49   56.07   9.58   43.56   52.90   9.34   43.62   53.40   9.78
41.18   50.78   9.60   47.01   56.90   9.89   44.49   53.16   8.67   40.91   50.56   9.65
39.36   48.28   8.92   43.39   52.74   9.35   44.08   53.49   9.41   42.10   51.08   8.98
40.05   49.86   9.81   43.19   53.71  10.52   44.76   53.76   9.00   43.63   53.15   9.52
40.20   49.53   9.33   46.41   56.68  10.27   44.35   52.97   8.62   40.51   49.92   9.41
40.89   50.72   9.83   43.91   53.25   9.34   45.18   54.45   9.27   41.81   50.40   8.59
                       46.83   56.68   9.85   44.70   54.72  10.02   42.87   51.44   8.57
                       46.29   56.48  10.19   45.47   54.00   8.53   43.55   52.13   8.58
                       46.29   55.18   8.89                          43.02   50.99   7.97
                       45.48   55.62  10.14                          42.74   50.46   7.72
                       45.85   54.90   9.05				
										
										
Min   8.92             Min   8.89             Min   8.53             Min   7.72
Max  10.71             Max  10.52             Max  10.02             Max  10.19
Avg   9.58             Avg   9.72             Avg   9.14             Avg   9.08

One could argue that the dip in the average difference between Harris County and the statewide results is a continuation from 2020, but I’m not so sure. I’m fascinated by the discrepancy between the executive office numbers and the judicial race numbers, which are the last five ones from 2022. The executive office average is 9.64, while the judicial average is 8.29. We have not seen anything like this in previous years – indeed, judicial races had some of the highest differences in all three previous cycles. My best guess for this is the same thing I’ve suggested before, that the multi-million dollar campaign waged against Democratic judges in Harris County had some modest but measurable success.

The point of this exercise was twofold. One was to show that Democrats don’t have to do all that well statewide to still carry Harris County. That’s been especially true in elections since 2016, but it was true before than. Barack Obama got 41.23% statewide, losing by 16 points, and yet Democrats won more than half of the races in Harris County. Wendy Davis got 38.90% in 2014 and lost by over 20 points; if she had lost by about 14 and a half points – which it to say, if she had done less than a point better than Obama – she’d have gotten to 50% in Harris County and Dems would have won at least some county races. Given this past history and the fact that Beto got to 54% in Harris County, the surprise is not that Dems won it’s that they didn’t sweep. I would have bet money on them taking everything with Beto at that level.

Which gets to the second item. In past elections, Democratic judicial candidates in Harris County have generally outperformed the statewide candidates. Most, and in some cases all, of the judicial candidates did better than the statewide candidates’ average in Harris County. That was the key to Dems winning as many judicial races as they did in 2008 (statewide candidate average 50.62%) and 2012 (statewide candidate average 48.59%). This just wasn’t the case in 2022. Let’s start with the numbers:


Havg	51.75
Jmin	49.29
Jmax	52.30
Drop	4.71

As a reminder, “Havg” is the average percentage of the vote in Harris County for statewide candidates. “Jmin” and “Jmax” are the lowest and highest percentages achieved by Harris County Democratic judicial candidates. “Drop” is the difference between the top score among statewide candidates (54.00% for Beto) and the low score among the judicial candidates.

The Harris average for the statewides was the third best it has ever been, behind 2020 and 2018. As noted in the past, weak statewide candidates have in the past lost a lot of votes to third party candidates, which has dragged down the “Havg” value in those years. While most years there have been judicial candidates that have scored worse than the Havg for the year (2006 and 2016 being exceptions), in previous years the bulk of the judicial candidates did better than the Havg number.

Not this year. By my count, only eight of the 61 district and county court Democrats scored better than 51.75% of the vote. Obviously, you don’t need that much to win, but the effect was that five candidates finished below fifty percent. The range between the top scoring judicial candidate and the bottom scoring one was right in line with historic norms, but because that range began at a lower point, there was a bigger gap overall between how the statewides did compared to the local judicials. That “Drop” of 4.71 points is the second biggest ever, and the only reason that the 2010 Drop was bigger was because Bill White was a huge outlier. If there’s one thing from this election that truly surprised me, it was the gap between the top of the Democratic ticket and the judicial races. That is something we had not seen before.

Again, I believe that the massive amounts of spending by the usual cadre of Republican oligarchs had an effect. It’s something we will have to take into account next time around. Not all of this spending was aimed at the judicial candidates, of course, There was an effect on the county executive office races as well, though thankfully it was smaller:


Havg	51.75	
CJ	50.79
DC	51.17
CC	51.59
CT	51.60

I haven’t calculated a judicial average score for Harris County yet, but my gut says that the three non-County Judge candidates came in above it, while Judge Hidalgo was probably a bit below it. Good enough to win, which is what matters most. County Judge is the only really visible one of these offices and it was very much Judge Hidalgo who was the subject of the ad blitzes. I’m not in a position to say why she persevered, but I will be very interested to see how she performs in the precinct data. In the UH Hobby Center poll of Harris County from October, their second poll of the county, they were pretty accurate about Beto’s performance – they pegged him at 50-42 over Abbott, an eight point lead, which I projected to Beto getting about 54%, dead on to where he was – but they had Hidalgo trailing Mealer among Latino voters by a 47-44 margin. I thought at the time that was inaccurate and I still do, but we’ll get a reality check when the precinct data is available. Let’s put a pin in this one.

I’ve made good on my promise to throw a lot of numbers at you. I hope this made sense, I hope it illustrated why I thought the pundits were likely to be wrong about Harris County, and I hope it will help inform this discourse going forward. Past performance may not predict future results, but it does help to at least know what that past performance was. The numbers are always there.

The Lege is a little more diverse now

A good thing.

Salman Bhojani

Voters in Texas added to the diversity of their state Legislature on Tuesday, tripling the number of openly gay Black lawmakers holding office and electing the first two Muslim lawmakers to serve in the Capitol.

As recently as May, there were no openly gay Black members of the Legislature. Rep. Jolanda Jones, D-Houston, became the first when she won a special election that month. She was elected to a full term on Tuesday. She’ll now be joined by Democrats Christian Manuel Hayes and Venton Jones, who both won their races Tuesday night. Hayes will represent House District 22, based in Beaumont, and Jones will represent House District 100 in Dallas.

“They’ve never backed down when our rights are on the line and we are confident they’ll channel this courage and compassion in Austin,” said Annise Parker, the former Houston mayor who serves as president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund.

The two candidates will take office ahead of a legislative session in which LGBTQ issues are likely to play a large role. Conservative lawmakers in recent years have raised concerns about books in schools that portray the experiences of gay and transgender people and indicated an interest in banning some content.

The first two Muslim lawmakers are Salman Bhojani, who won election to House District 92 in Tarrant County, and Suleman Lalani, who won election to House District 76 in Fort Bend County.

Both men are also immigrants. Bhojani, whose family is originally from Pakistan, moved to the United States as a teenager. Lalani came to the country in the 1990s to begin his career as a doctor.

In the Texas Legislature, Muslims haven’t always been met with open arms. In 2007, Dan Patrick, then a state senator, boycotted the Texas Senate’s first-ever prayer by a Muslim cleric.

I’m sure he’s so much more compassionate and tolerant now. HD76 is a Democratic seat moved from El Paso to Fort Bend in redistricting. HD92 is a new Democratic-drawn seat in Tarrant County. HD100 is the seat vacated by US Rep.-elect Jasmine Crockett, and HD22 is the seat in Jefferson County made vacant by the retirement of Rep. Joe Deshotel. I wish I could say that all the newbies were coming into a welcoming place where they’ll have a fair chance to pass bills of interest to their constituents, but signs point to No on that one. Nonetheless, I welcome them and wish them all the best. Whatever they can do to make that place and our state better, we’ll be happy for it.

Mail ballot rejections were down for November

Good, but still room for more improvement.

More than 10,000 ballots were rejected in the state’s largest counties in Tuesday’s midterm election, making for a rejection rate of about 4 percent, according to preliminary data from the secretary of state’s office.

That’s a vast improvement from the March primary that immediately followed the passage of a Republican-backed election overhaul bill that added a new ID requirement for voting by mail that continues to confuse voters. More than 24,000, or 12 percent, of primary mail ballots were thrown out across the state.

Still, the 4 percent mail-ballot rejection rate is more than double the less than 2 percent tossed in Texas in the last midterm election in 2018.

“There is definitely room to lower rejection rates even more, but the trends we’ve seen since the primary show major improvements across the state, and show the rejection rates are moving in the right direction,” secretary of state’s office spokesman Sam Taylor said. “This was the 4th statewide election with the new ID requirements for mail-in ballots in place, so voters were more familiar with the process generally.”

The number of ballots rejected may decrease as some voters visit their local county clerk’s office to make corrections to their ballots to fix errors by the Monday deadline. The rate was calculated based on most of the state’s 18 largest counties, which accounted for 65 percent of the statewide vote.

[…]

About half of the largest counties’ rejected ballots came from Harris County, the largest county in the state where 1.1 million ballots were cast. About 8 percent of ballots received by the county were rejected.

Out of about 65,000 returned ballots, about 7,000 were rejected, including about 4,700 related to an ID error. Of those rejected, about 1,900 were corrected and counted.

“We have seen a significant decrease in the number of mail ballots rejected,” said elections spokeswoman Leah Shah. “That said, our priority is to ensure that every vote is counted, and we will continue to expand our education and outreach efforts to help close the gap.”

Bexar County, which had one of the highest rejection rates during the primary at 22 percent, managed to keep its denials down, continuing a trend that started during the primary runoffs when it dipped to less than one percent. This election, the rate was about 1 percent.

Emphasis mine, and see here for the previous report in this series. I highlighted that sentence because it may be one factor in the gradual increase in mail ballots counted between Wednesday morning and Thursday afternoon. The total increase is larger than 1,900 and for sure many of those were likely corrected even before Election Day, but I’ll be surprised if there were none that were cured during this week. Given that we haven’t reached the deadline to cure them, we will likely see a few more get added to the final tally. I commend the election workers who put in so much effort to make this a smaller problem, I continue to hold up Bexar County as the standard to which we should aspire, and I hope this is the last election where we have to follow this issue so closely. The Press has more.

In which Harris County Republicans look for moral victories

Believe me, as a Texas Democrat and a longtime fan of the Rice Owls, I know what it looks like to search for moral victories in the face of defeat. It looks like this.

Feel the power…

Harris County Republicans on Tuesday posted their strongest showing in years, appearing to capture their first countywide race since 2014 and nearly unseating County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

In the end, though, Hidalgo eked out a narrow victory over Republican Alexandra del Moral Mealer, leaving the party all but empty-handed despite massively outspending Democrats and launching an all-out push to reclaim control of Harris County Commissioners Court.

Under new precinct boundaries crafted by Democrats last year to expand their court majority, Republican Commissioner Jack Cagle also came up short against Democrat Lesley Briones, whom he trailed by more than 3 percentage points with all voting centers reporting. Democratic Commissioner Adrian Garcia also held off Republican Jack Morman by more than 5 points in Precinct 2.

Mealer conceded early Wednesday morning, cementing a 4-1 majority for Democrats on Commissioners Court.

Even Republicans acknowledged this year could be their last realistic chance, and certainly their best shot in recent years, at winning a county that has seen pronounced demographic shifts over the last couple of decades. Harris County’s population is growing younger and more racially and ethnically diverse, while adding more college-educated residents — groups that all tend to favor Democrats, said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.

However, Harris County Republicans saw a confluence of factors — the felony indictment of three Hidalgo aidesa rise in homicidesDemocrats bracing for a Republican wave year nationally — that appeared to put the county judge race and other countywide seats in play. Also fueling their optimism was the removal last cycle of straight-ticket voting, meaning voters no longer can cast their ballots for every candidate from one party by pressing a single button.

“The best chance to unseat a Democrat in Harris County is when they’re new to office, when they’re somewhat vulnerable, and when national trends cut against the Democrats,” Rottinghaus said. “That’s the perfect storm.”

Typically a low-profile affair, this year’s county judge race unfolded into one of Texas’ marquee election battles. Republican and business community donors, sensing Hidalgo was vulnerable, poured millions of dollars into Mealer’s campaign and political action committees backing Republican candidates, leaving Hidalgo and other local Democrats financially overwhelmed in a race few expected to be truly competitive a year ago.

The conditions in Harris County’s high-profile races appeared to boost Republicans in down-ballot judicial contests, five of which swung in favor of the GOP. Through unofficial results, Democrats appeared to lose control of two criminal district courts and three county misdemeanor courts, marking the party’s first countywide defeats in eight years.

Republicans also held a number of Democratic judicial candidates under 51 percent, far narrower results than their recent courthouse sweeps.

“We are light years from where we were four years ago. Light years,” state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, said to a crowd at the Harris County Republican Party’s election night watch party.

Atop the ballot, Democrat Beto O’Rourke carried Harris County over Republican Gov. Greg Abbott by about 9 percentage points — far less than his 17-point margin over U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018.

That year, O’Rourke helped usher in a wave of Democratic wins in down-ballot county races. Under less favorable conditions atop the ticket this year, Democrats running for administrative countywide offices still narrowly retained the seats they had first captured four years ago.

I wrote three posts talking about the connection between statewide performance and Harris County performance for Democrats. This might be a good time to point out that when Republicans were running the table in Harris County in the off-year elections, they were also absolutely stomping Democrats statewide. This was a worse year for Dems statewide than 2020 and 2018 were, but it was (ahem) light years from where they were in 2014 and 2010. Light years.

I mean, I had plenty of moments of doubt and worry going into this race. Some of those late polls, the ones that had Beto down by 12 or 13 points, were in line with the expectation that Harris County would be at best a mixed bag for Dems, with the real possibility of not only losing Judge Hidalgo’s race but also the majority on Commissioners Court. Hell, having both Lesley Briones and Adrian Garcia also lose wasn’t out of the question if things were really going south. I would have preferred to not lose any of those judicial races, but I can live with it. At least now there will be benches to run for that don’t require primarying someone. Oh, and by the way, all five of the losing Democratic judges had a higher percentage of the vote than Mealer did. Just so you know.

I will say, and I’ll say it again when I write another post about the state-county connection to update it for 2022, I do think the campaign to blame Democrats for crime, and all the money spent on it, probably moved the needle enough to get at least a couple of those Republican judicial candidates over the hump. They still needed the good statewide showing to be in a position to take advantage, but every little bit helps. But crime has been declining, and the crime rate has basically nothing to do with who’s on the bench anyway, so good luck replicating that in 2026.

I must note, by the way, that some people (on Twitter and on the CityCast Houston podcast) have mentioned that the five losing Democratic judicial candidates were all Black and all had names that might suggest they are Black. On the podcast, Evan Mintz noted this and mentioned the 2008 election, in which several Democratic judicial candidates with uncommon names had lost. I will just say that if you scroll through the Election Day results you will see quite a few Democratic candidates who are Black and whose names might also suggest they are Black that won. I’ve said before, there is always some variation in the range of performance for the Democratic judicial candidates. I’ve never found a pattern that consistently explains it, and that includes this year. As such, I am very reluctant to offer reasons for why this happens. I do think as I have just stated that the millions of dollars spent on blaming crime on the judges had some effect, but if it did then the effect was an overall one, with the range of scores being a bit lower than it might have been. That was enough to push a handful of Dems below fifty percent.

By the way, the two Republican judicial candidates who lost by the largest margins were named “Geric Tipsword” and “Andrew Bayley”. Make of that what you will.

I guess the question I’d ask is how confident are you right now that things will be better for your team in 2024, and in 2026? I feel pretty confident right now that Dems will sweep Harris County in 2024. The track record in Presidential years is a bit longer and more decisive. For 2026, it’s much harder to say. The possibility of a bad year in what could be Year 6 of President Biden or Year 2 of President Some Other Democrat is one that can’t be dismissed. You couldn’t get me to wishcast a 2026 gubernatorial frontrunner right now for love or money. Current trends suggest Dems would be in a better position in four years even with those possibilities, but trends don’t always continue as they have in the past, and even when they do they can slow down or bounce around a bit. With all that said, I still like our chances. Ask me again in three years when it’s filing season for that election.

Election 2022 miscellania: Marijuana, Austin Mayor, CRT

Three items of interest for you. First up, several local initiatives to decriminalize marijuana were successful on Tuesday.

By the end of Election Day, five Texas cities have voted to decriminalize low-level marijuana possession.

After Austin voters overwhelmingly approved the proposition to decriminalize carrying small amounts of marijuana in May, Ground Game Texas — the progressive group behind that effort — successfully worked with local organizations and pushed for similar measures to appear on the ballots of Denton, San Marcos, Killeen, Elgin and Harker Heights for the midterms cycle.

Voters in these cities have now shown strong support for the proposals at the polls.

The campaign saw the highest level of support in San Marcos — home to Texas State University — with nearly 82% of the votes. Denton, which has several university campuses, saw more than 70% of the votes backing the proposition.

In Killeen, known for its proximity to military base Fort Hood, close to 70% of voters approved the proposition. Elgin, just outside of Austin, saw almost 75% of votes in support of the reform. And on the low end, more than 60% of voters in Harker Heights in Bell County casted ballots in favor of decriminalizing marijuana.

“These meaningful reforms will keep people out of jail and save scarce public resources for more important public safety needs,” said Mike Siegel, political director of Ground Game Texas and a former Democrat congressional candidate. “We’re extremely happy with our results.”

Like Austin’s ordinance, the successful propositions establish city ordinances that end low-level enforcement, including citations and arrests for possessing less than four ounces of marijuana and related drug paraphernalia, in most cases. They also largely ban using city funds and staff to test substances for THC, the cannabis plant’s chemical that gets users high.

[…]

Ultimately, Ground Game Texas hoped to use the campaign to boost turnout, especially among young voters.

“We wanted to use workers, wages and weed to engage new voters,” Siegel said.

Looking ahead, Ground Game Texas will continue working with on-the-ground groups to place progressive measures on local ballots. They aim to put the measure along with several other propositions, including abortion decriminalization, in front of San Antonio voters in May 2023. And similar efforts are likely to pop up in other big cities like Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston in the 2024 elections, Siegel added.

“We’re hoping that we can prove not only that these issues are popular, but they also boosted turnout in the communities that are on the ballot,” he said. “And in the days following this election, we’re going to be having lots of conversations with folks about the next cycle.”

See here for some background. As noted there, I’m not sure what the practical effect of this will be, and I worry about legislative backlash just because that’s the world we live in now. I’ll be very interested to see if there is any evidence that this drove turnout, because Lord knows we could have used more of it if it did. And while I’m glad to see that there’s interest in bringing this to Houston, please remember that we already have several charter amendments on the ballot next year, which means either this would have to happen then or you’ll need to wait until at least 2025, since there’s a mandatory two-year wait after a successful charter amendment election. Hope y’all are already engaging with folks here about this, Ground Game Texas, so there are no unpleasant surprises for anyone.

Item two: There will be a runoff for Mayor of Austin between two familiar faces.

Austin’s next mayor was not decided Tuesday, as a tight race between Celia Israel and Kirk Watson will continue into a runoff in December.

To win the race outright, a candidate would have had to earn more than half of all votes as of Tuesday. Israel took 40% and Watson 35% of the vote, according to final but unofficial results. They were separated by more than 15,000 votes.

Jennifer Virden, the only other candidate who conducted a significant campaign, earned 18%.

Three other candidates received limited support. Phil Brual received 2%, and Gary Spellman and Anthony Bradshaw each received 1%.

In total, 304,000 votes were recorded.

Heading into the day, political insiders who analyzed the election said they expected the race to go to a runoff, as voters seemed split between Watson, the former Austin mayor and state senator, and Israel, a sitting state representative. Although Watson outraised Israel $1.3 million to $409,000, it was Israel who enjoyed momentum heading into Tuesday with recent endorsements from the American-Statesman and the Austin Chronicle.

I don’t have a dog in this fight. I like both of them and wish the eventual winner all the best.

And finally, a small bit of good news on the school board hysteria front:

A very welcome reversal from last year, in a different political climate. Well done, Round Rock and Leander.

The “less is more” option for improving Election Day

This deserves serious consideration.

Widespread problems with Harris County elections likely would be relieved if officials reduced the number of polling locations in favor of fewer sites that operate more efficiently, a Rice University researcher and some recent reports say.

“We do just fine with early voting,” said Robert Stein, a political scientist and fellow at the school’s James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy. “We have all kinds of locations over 12 days and that count goes fine. Then, at the end of election night you have 900 people standing in line.”

That line, like plenty of others, is made up of frustrated voters who, despite Harris County offering 782 polling locations with roughly 11,000 voting machines, encounter confusion and delays as poll workers troubleshoot problems, wait for instructions or replacement equipment from election officials.

County Election Administrator Clifford Tatum, the county’s fifth person to oversee elections since 2018, said Wednesday that officials would assess and investigate problems with this week’s mid-term election once they have completed the final tally and verified election results.

“We will look at every polling location,” Tatum said.

[…]

Tuesday’s election and others in recent years indicate the way to a smoother day is to decrease the number of places where problems can occur by reducing where people can cast a vote, Stein said.

Stein, who has studied local elections for more than 40 years and spent the past decade examining turnout and voter habits, said numerous analyses have shown voters likely can be better served with larger, more efficiently operated polling locations strategic to where they can conveniently vote.

The benefit would be two-fold, Stein said.

First, poll workers could be better distributed on Election Day so issues can be triaged as they arise. Currently, a polling location with six workers can grind to a halt if a single machine goes down and all the workers are huddling to handle the problem. Larger facilities can operate more smoothly because some election officials can focus on specific issues, such as technology, while less tech-savvy poll workers maintain the operations and check voters in. Reducing locations also means polling sites would have more machines at their disposal.

All of those changes would allow better use of “queuing theory,” the same research stores use to sell people more items with fewer workers. Better management of lines has been shown to improve not only the time voters spend in line, but their confidence in elections and likelihood to vote, according to a study jointly managed by Caltech and MIT.

Fewer polling places also would reduce the number of voting machines that need to be brought to a central counting location, verified, certified and uploaded, which should speed up the counting process.

Stein said more study is needed to calculate exactly how many polling locations are the correct amount for Harris County, and where they should be located, but it is likely a more efficient election could be conducted with hundreds of fewer sites.

Harris County already had trimmed the number of polling places this year, mostly because of a new state law requiring all votes be backed up with a paper ballot, that meant the county had to purchase and train scores of election volunteers on new machines. In 2020, the last major election — held during the COVID-19 pandemic — election officials offered 122 locations for the 12 days of early voting and 807 on Election Day.

[…]

The challenge to reducing polling locations in the Houston area, however, is politics of the most local level. Opposition to reducing the number of polling stations, historically, has been widespread because of fears it would disenfranchise low-income Black and Latino voters by removing neighborhood-centric sites and force suburban — often Republican — voters to drive farther to cast a ballot.

Most voters, however, do not vote in their neighborhood precincts, studies and the recent election show. Of the 1.1 million ballots cast in Harris County this cycle, nearly 700,000 were completed at 99 locations during early voting. Another 61,000 ballots were submitted by mail.

That leaves the approximately 350,000 people who voted Tuesday, many of whom crowded into major locations such as the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center on Gray Street, Trini Mendenhall Community Center and Jersey Village Municipal Government Center, all of which acted as early voting and Election Day sites.

Election officials could not produce a detailed list of where people voted Tuesday, citing the work they doing to finalize the election, but early voting indicates — as Stein said research also suggests — people vote where it is convenient for them but not necessarily closest.

Stein compared election locations to Starbucks, where someone’s habits may change but center on the most convenient choice. It may not be the closest one, he said, but it is the one on their way to work or while running errands.

“I can go back in time and model it,” Stein said. “You have got to know exactly where every voter is going to vote and you can get close with it. Is it perfect? No, but you can get pretty close.”

Additionally, local officials can leverage other options to easily connect people with polls. Metropolitan Transit Authority already offers free rides to polls through early voting and on Election Day, for example.

Early voting indicates voters already are finding their way to the most convenient places. Despite the 99 early voting locations being chosen to cover most of the county, the locations visited by the most voters are those located in major hubs for shopping or business, or where high concentrations of people pass by on their daily commutes. As a result, 50 of the locations handled 537,471 of the voters, while the other 49 saw 155,007 voters.

I feel like we had a version of this debate when the idea of voting centers was first proposed for Harris County. People at the time were very attached to the idea of voting in their neighborhood, and that’s understandable. Black and Hispanic communities have fought for generations for access to the ballot box, and being able to vote in their neighborhoods was both a symbol of their victory and an activity that had a lot of meaning. The fear that they would not be able to do that and would have to go someplace unfamiliar, possibly unwelcoming, and possibly inaccessible to some, was legitimate and a real reason to be wary if not opposed to the concept.

I believe that is different now, mostly because early voting is so popular and because voting at any location on Election Day is no longer new and unknown. The reason we have nearly as many Election Day locations where anyone can cast a vote as we did precinct locations where you could only vote at the one where you lived is basically the compromise that allowed for this hybrid version of voting centers to be initiated. The idea was always to consolidate voting locations on Election Day. It really does make sense and should eliminate a lot of the issues that caused delays, as Stein lays out in the story. And now that people are much more acclimated to the idea of voting wherever on Election Day, not to mention the fact that far fewer people wait until Election Day to vote, I would think moving towards that original vision, coupled with a plan and a promise to make both the voting experience and the vote-counting experience smoother and simpler and less time-consuming, ought to work. It’s absolutely worth a try. Campos and Stace have more.

Judge Hidalgo celebrates her win

Winning is sweet. Victory laps are even sweeter.

Judge Lina Hidalgo

Fresh off a narrow reelection that was anything but assured, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on Wednesday held a news conference to praise colleagues, thank supporters and call out some members of her own party for not backing her campaign.

“There were some elected officials that weren’t there because they didn’t think it was convenient, those in my own party that wouldn’t do an ad for me, that wouldn’t have a fundraiser, that wouldn’t help when it got tough,” Hidalgo said. “And oh, I remember who they are.”

The Hidalgo campaign declined to specify which officials she was addressing.

Hidalgo also addressed critics during the election cycle who accused the Democrats on Commissioners Court of defunding police, including what she called “unscrupulous politicians of both parties.”

She called out Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, a Democrat, without naming her directly.

“This person who is supposed to represent justice in this county more than once said with a straight face ‘stop the defunding’ knowing full well that the budget had increased,” Hidalgo said.

[…]

Despite being significantly out-funded by Republican newcomer Alexandra del Moral Mealer, Hidalgo emerged from early voting ahead of her opponent and narrowly maintained that lead throughout the night as votes were counted. The final unofficial tally, released just before 9 a.m. Wednesday, put Hidalgo in front of Mealer by slightly more than 17,000 votes, or 50.8 percent of the nearly 1.1 million votes cast. That was a narrower margin of victory than her surprise election in 2018, when the then-27-year-old ousted popular Republican Ed Emmett.

Mealer tweeted her concession around 9:30 a.m.

“While we did not accomplish our goal of changing leadership in Harris County, we were successful in elevating the profile of critical issues like the need to appropriately resource our law enforcement and criminal justice system as well as the desire to eliminate corruption and increase transparency in local government,” Mealer said in a statement. “This campaign was always about good government and I am hopeful that we have played a role encouraging that going forward.”

Hidalgo acknowledged her opponent’s hard-fought campaign, much of which centered on crime, blaming policies championed by Hidalgo for rising numbers of homicides the past two years, and accusing the first-term judge of corruption, mostly related to a controversial COVID vaccination outreach contract that resulted in indictments against three of her aides.

Since July 1, Mealer raised more than $8.5 million, much of it from large donors like Gallery Furniture owner Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale, an early supporter of her campaign. Hidalgo, who has refused to accept campaign contributions from county vendors, raised $2.4 million in that period.

“She had almost $10 million in the bank and she had a U.S. senator and she had a furniture salesman,” Hidalgo said in her speech, taking a swipe at McIngvale who ran several campaign ads in support of Mealer.

“I want to thank Alex Mealer for running a hard fought campaign,” Hidalgo said. “I want to thank her for her concession. And I want to thank her again for her service to our country.”

Surrounded by union leaders and Democratic party elected officials, Hidalgo thanked her supporters for helping her block walk, raise money and host campaign events.

Much of her speech was of a celebratory nature, citing past accomplishments with current Commissioner Court colleagues Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia.

“We have done so much from the very first meeting,” Hidalgo said, citing countywide voting as one example of successes while she has been in office. “We did that at the first meeting in 2019.”

In re: the margin of victory, they are referring to the raw vote differential. In 2018, Judge Hidalgo won by 19,277 votes, while in 2022 it was 17,397 votes. Of course, there were more total votes cast in 2018 than in 2022, which has an effect. As it happens Judge Hidalgo’s margin of victory as a percentage of the vote is greater now than it was then: In 2018 she won 49.76% to 48.18% (there was a Libertarian candidate that took the rest). In 2022, it was 50.79% to 49.19%, with a write-in candidate getting the other 0.02%. That means she won this year by 1.60 percentage points, compared to 1.58 in 2018. Pick your preferred measure of expression.

As for what may be on the agenda for 2023, I’m not the first person to suggest this, but don’t be surprised if Commissioners Court looks at redrawing the Constable/JP precincts. Most counties just have the Constable and JP precincts be the same as the Commissioners Court precincts. Harris has its own weird precincts for them that don’t match up in population and (as I understand it haven’t been updated since the 70s. There’s also no shortage of bad blood between (at least some) Constables and the Court, so a bit of payback may be in order. I suspect this would be a complex matter and would surely invite litigation so I don’t think it will be undertaken lightly, but I will be surprised if it doesn’t at least come up.

Beyond that, I expect the Court to do more of what it’s been doing, with the freedom of knowing that their next budget can’t be busted by no-shows. The main obstacle will continue to be interference from the state and whatever new BS legislation may come down. This is where I remind you that Harris County was under a Republican majority on Commissioners Court going back to at least the mid-70s, which is as far back as I’ve been able to verify, up until 2019 when Dems finally achieved a 3-2 advantage. We’ve done things a certain way for a long damn time. Making changes to make things better will take time, too. For now, we can celebrate a bit as we look forward. Let it out, Judge Hidalgo. You’ve earned it. The Press has more.

There were still ballots being counted yesterday

I think they’re done now? It’s hard to say for sure from the story.

With more than 1.1 million ballots cast, Harris County on Thursday still was counting ballots from Tuesday’s election.

The county filed a request for an extension Wednesday evening to get more time to complete its preliminary, unofficial count beyond the 24-hour deadline mandated by the Texas Election Code.

The state’s 24-hour rule to complete the Election Day tally is not new, but county officials said this is the first year Harris County is bumping up against the deadline because the county has implemented a paper ballot record, which is now required under state law. The county exceeded the deadline during this year’s March primaries.

[…]

A member of the county’s canvassing authority filed the motion Wednesday to obtain the court order allowing the county more time to process ballots, which a state district judge granted that night.

Leah Shah, a spokesperson for the Harris County Elections Administrator’s office, attributed the delays to the addition of paper ballot records and said the county anticipates it will finish counting by the end of the Thursday.

“When introducing paper voter records into the process we are now accounting not only for the processing of mail ballots, but also the processing of emergency slot ballots,” Shah said.

Emergency slot ballots are paper voter records that were not scanned at the polling location, which could happen for multiple reasons, including paper jams.

The county received 1,099 mail ballots on Election Day, along with 857 emergency slot ballots, according to the county.

All of those paper records had to be processed by the Early Voting Ballot Board before they could be counted. The board is made up of an equal number of representatives appointed by the county’s Republican and Democratic political parties.

There have been four Unofficial Results reports released since Wednesday morning. The date and time are in the files’ names.

CumulativeReport-20221109-04:51, with 1,094,415 total votes, 55,393 mail ballots, and 1,039,022 in person ballots.

CumulativeReport-20221109-08:46, with 1,096,633 total votes, 55,393 mail ballots, and 1,041,240 in person ballots.

CumulativeReport-20221109-17:10, with 1,100,979 total votes, 59,186 mail ballots, and 1,041,793 in person ballots.

CumulativeReport-20221110-14:42, with 1,102,097 total votes, 60,302 mail ballots, and 1,041,795 in person ballots.

As I said, it’s not clear to me if they are done – the Chron story had a publication time of 2:50 PM yesterday, which would correspond with that last updated file, but it also refers to “the end of the day”. I’m drafting this at about 8 PM and haven’t seen anything new, so maybe we’re done pending any provisional ballots. At some point I hope to do an interview with Clifford Tatum, and when I do I’ll ask him for an explanation of this. In the meantime, as I appended to yesterday’s post about the order extending the deadline to vote to 8 PM and the SCOTx ruling that put that aside, the closest race is now one in which the incumbent, 180th District Criminal Court Judge Dasean Jones, trails by 165 votes. If there are still votes, even provisional votes, to be counted, it is possible – still not likely, but possible – Jones could pull ahead. All we can do now is wait and see.

Tatum came in to run this election quite late in the game, and as we know Harris County is still new to the machines with the printers. I thought early voting went pretty smoothly, but there were some significant disruptions on Election Day – some of which were outside the county’s control – and while we were adequately warned about the count taking awhile and the HarrisVotes Twitter account was good about providing updates during the night, we really do need to get the count finished faster than this. I mean, we had 550K more voters in 2020, though the number on Election Day was smaller then because so many people voted early. The point is, the potential for this to be messier in two years unless things improve is significant. It’s going to take more resources and a better plan to collect the votes and get them processed. We need to get started on that ASAP.

UPDATE: Here’s the 8:15 PM version of the Chron story.

The Harris County Elections Office finished its preliminary count Thursday afternoon of more than 1.1 million votes from Tuesday’s election, following its request for an extension to finish its tally beyond the 24-hour deadline set by the state election code.

The county’s submission of the results to the state came shortly after the Harris County Republican Party said it plans to sue the office over claims that polling locations faced paper shortages on Election Day.

The state’s 24-hour rule to complete the Election Day tally is not new, but county officials said this is the first year Harris County has bumped up against the deadline because of the introduction of a paper ballot record now required under state law. The county exceeded the deadline during this year’s March primaries, too.

After receiving the extension, all ballots subject to the 24-hour rule had been counted by 3:12 p.m., according to the elections office. A spokesperson with the Texas Secretary of State’s office confirmed Harris County reported its final results shortly before 5:00 p.m.

At an afternoon press conference, Andy Taylor, the Harris County GOP’s legal counsel, criticized the county’s new Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum, saying the election was poorly run and the GOP is investigating claims that paper shortages occurred at 23 voting locations on Election Day, which Taylor claimed were all located in Republican precincts.

“We will, if those facts support what we believe to be true, file a lawsuit and we will have a day of reckoning in the courtroom for Administrator Tatum and all of his folks,” Taylor said.

Tatum has denied that the county ignored requests to deliver additional paper.

“I have staff in the field at this very moment delivering paper to any location that’s requested,” Tatum said Tuesday evening. “We’ve been delivering paper throughout the day.”

[…]

In response, Harris County Democratic Party Chair Odus Evbagharu said the reconciliation form is designed to be preliminary and unofficial.

“There is literally a disclaimer on this form that says ‘these numbers are subject to change as information is verified after Election Day,'” Evbagharu said. “It’s a snapshot in time of what the numbers are. That’s why we have a canvass. That’s why we have 10 days after to make sure that all of these things are right.”

Evbagharu said that while the reconciliation form is new under a state law passed in 2021, the vote counting process also took time to verify under Republican Stan Stanart, who ran Harris County elections for eight years until 2018.

“They never reconciled it in 24 hours,” Evbagharu said. “The only difference now is that you have it on paper so now they can make a big deal about it.”

He also disputed the claim that election problems only occurred in Republican strongholds, citing voting difficulties residents experienced in Houston’s predominantly Latino East End.

“They’re just now crying into the abyss because they lost,” Evbagharu said. “If I spent $20 million on an election and all I can say is I got a couple judicial seats, I’d be pissed, too. So, I’m not surprised if (Richard) Weekley and Mattress Mack and all these people are calling them like, ‘what the hell did you do with all of our money?'”

[…]

Secretary of State spokesman Sam Taylor said the office’s election trainers on the ground in Harris County Tuesday night observed several members of the early voting ballot board, which processes mail and provisional ballots from prior to Election Day, as well as staff counting regular ballots, leave in the middle of counting.

That “certainly contributed to the delay due to a shortage of people to continue the counting process,” he said.

The early voting ballot board consists of a small group of people appointed by the county elections administrator, sheriff and two major political party chairs, selected from lists submitted by the parties.

We’ll see what happens next. Threatening to sue is a lot easier than suing, which in turn is a lot easier than winning. I personally would like to know more about who wasn’t there during the counting and why. Things will happen, and people will have needs that come up and can’t be helped, but if that is a factor, it needs to be addressed going forward.

Some opening thoughts on the 2022 election

Done in the traditional bullet-point style. There may or may not be a part 2 to this, depending on the usual factors.

– Obviously the overall result was disappointing. It was harder to see a Beto victory this year from the polling data than it was in 2018, but that doesn’t lessen the sting. There were polls that had the race at about five or six points and there were polls that had it at about 11 to 13. One of those groups was going to be more right than the other, and unfortunately it was the latter.

– I’m not prepared to say that turnout was disappointing. I mean sure, Beto didn’t get the margins he had gotten four years ago in the big urban counties, and that was partly due to lower turnout. But look, turnout was over 8 million, which up until the 2020 election would have been considered Presidential level. Indeed, more votes were cast in this year’s Governor’s race than in the 2012 Presidential race. We didn’t build on 2018, certainly not as we wanted to, and turnout as a percentage of registered voters is down from 2018, but this was still by far the second highest vote total in an off year election, not too far from being the first highest. There’s still plenty to build on. And for what it’s worth, election losers of all stripes often complain about turnout.

– That said, I think any objective look at the data will suggest that more Dems than we’d have liked stayed home. I don’t know why, but I sure hope someone with access to better data than I have spends some time trying to figure it out. How is it that in a year where Dems nationally outperformed expectations the same didn’t happen here? I wish I knew.

– Turnout in Harris County was 1,100,979, according to the very latest report, for 43.21% of registered voters. A total of 349,025 votes were cast on Election Day, or 31.7% of the total. That made the pattern for 2022 more like 2018 than 2014, and the final tally came in at the lower end of the spectrum as well.

– For what it’s worth, predictions of a redder Election Day than Early Voting turned out to be false, at least when compared to in person early voting; Dems did indeed dominate the mail ballots, with statewide and countywide candidates generally topping 60%. Those five judicial candidates who lost only got about 55-56% of the mail vote, and did worse with early in person voting than their winning peers. On Election Day, most Dems did about as well or a little better than early in person voting. The Dems who fell a bit short of that on Election Day were generally the statewides, and it was because the third party candidates did their best on Election Day; this had the effect of lowering the Republican E-Day percentages as well. Go figure.

– In answer to this question, no I don’t think we’ll see Beto O’Rourke run for anything statewide again. If he wants to run for, like Mayor of El Paso, I doubt anyone would stake their own campaign on calling him a loser. But his statewide days are almost surely over, which means we better start looking around for someone to run against Ted Cruz in 2024. We know he’s beatable.

– Before I let this go, and before the narratives get all hardened in place, one could argue that Beto O’Rourke was the most successful Democratic candidate for Governor since Ann Richards. Consider:


Year  Candidate       Votes    Deficit    Pct   Diff
====================================================
2002    Sanchez   1,819,798    812,793  39.96  17.85
2006       Bell   1,310,337    406,455  29.79   9.24
2010      White   2,106,395    631,086  42.30  12.67
2014      Davis   1,835,596    960,951  38.90  20.37
2018     Valdez   3,546,615  1,109,581  42.51  13.30
2022   O'Rourke   3,535,621    889,155  43.80  11.01

He got more votes than anyone except (just barely) Lupe Valdez, but he came closer to winning than she did. He got a better percentage of the vote than anyone else, and trailed by less than everyone except for Chris Bell in that bizarre four-way race. Like Joe Biden in 2020, the topline result fell short of expectations, but compared to his peers he generally outperformed them and you can see some progress. It will take someone else to move to the next steps.

– I’ll take a closer look at the State House data when it’s more fully available, but overall I’d say Republicans did pretty well compared to the 2020 baseline. That said, there are some seats that they will have a hard time holding onto. Getting to 75 will probably take continued demographic change and the continuation of the 2016-2020 suburban trends, and a lot of work keeping up with population growth. All that will take money and wise investment. That’s above my pay grade.

– In Harris County, I was swinging back and forth between confidence and panic before Tuesday. In the end, I’m pretty happy. Getting to that 4-1 margin on Commissioners Court is huge, and that’s before savoring the end of Jack Cagle’s time in power and the enormous piles of money that were set on fire to oust Judge Hidalgo. I may have made a few rude hand gestures at some houses with Mealer signs in my neighborhood as I walked the dog on Wednesday. One of the pollsters that was close to the target statewide was the UH Hobby Center poll, but they botched their read on the Harris County Judge race, finding Mealer in the lead and underestimating Hidalgo by six points. Hope y’all figure that one out.

– In the end there were 59,186 mail ballots counted, after 57,871 mail ballots were returned at the end of early voting. These took awhile to be fully counted – as of the 5 AM tally, only 55,393 mail ballots had been tabulated in the Governor’s race, with fewer in the others. In the past, we have seen the mail ballot total go up by quite a bit more in the days between the end of early voting and the Tuesday results – for example, in 2018 there were 89,098 ballots returned as of the end of the EV period and 97,509 mail ballots tabulated. I have to assume this is about the rejection rate, which if so I’ll see it in the post-canvass election report. If not, I’ll try to ask about it.

– By the way, since there were more mail ballots counted at the end, they had the effect of giving a small boost to Democratic performance. There was a slight chance that could have tipped one or more of the closest judicial races where a Republican had been leading, but that did not happen. It almost did in the 180th Criminal District Court, where incumbent Dasean Jones trails by 465 votes – 0.04 percentage points – out of over a million votes cast. If there are any recounts, I’d expect that to be one. Unless there are a ton of provisional ballots and they go very strongly Democratic it won’t change anything, so just consider this your annual reminder that every vote does indeed matter.

I do have some further thoughts about Harris County, but I’ll save them for another post. What are your initial impressions of the election?

UPDATE: There were still votes being counted when I wrote this. I think they’re done now. Turnout is just over 1.1 million as of this update.

So what if anything will come of that SCOTx ruling on the extra voting time?

I have no idea.

The Texas Supreme Court on Tuesday set the stage for a legal fight over whether to count ballots Harris County voters cast during an extended hour of voting ordered by a lower court.

That lower court ordered that the state’s most populous county extend voting hours until 8 p.m. after several polling places were delayed in opening. The state’s highest civil court blocked that ruling and ordered Harris County to separate ballots cast by voters who were not in line by 7 p.m., the normal cutoff for voting in Texas. The Supreme Court’s order followed a request by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to reverse the lower court’s order. The Supreme Court posted the order on Twitter at 8:30 p.m.

It’s unclear how many votes were cast during the extra hour of voting, but Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee raised the prospect that the state would ask for those votes to be thrown out. The attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether they would pursue such action.

Voters who got in line after 7 p.m. were required to cast a provisional ballot, which the county had already said would take more time to process and would not be initially counted in election night returns. Harris County is home to nearly 2.6 million registered voters.

The order to keep polls open an extra hour at nearly 800 polling places came after the Texas Organizing Project sued Harris County, citing issues at numerous polling locations that opened more than one hour late Tuesday. Many Harris County voting locations also experienced voting machine malfunctions that caused delays and temporary closures throughout the day, the lawsuit claimed. The county did not fight the request for extra voting time.

“We didn’t oppose the original relief because we want to make sure every single eligible voter in Harris County has the chance to cast their ballot, and there were polling places that had some issues,” Menefee said. “But the Supreme Court of Texas will decide what happens here.”

In its request for extra voting time, the Texas Organizing Project argued the delayed openings violated the Texas Election Code because polling locations that opened after 7 a.m. would not remain open to voters for 12 hours. State law says polls must be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

In a court motion filed earlier Tuesday, the attorney general’s office argued that a county’s failure to open polls at 7 a.m. does not justify ordering them to remain open past 7 p.m.

[…]

“We went to court because these closures and errors, especially in communities of color across Harris County, robbed voters of the opportunity to cast their ballot,” said Hani Mirza, the voting rights program director at the Texas Civil Rights Project, which filed the lawsuit. “These folks got to the polls early, wanting to do their civic duty, and they would have were it not for these issues.”

Earlier in the day, a state district judge also ordered polling places to remain open an extra hour in Bell County in Central Texas. It is unclear if the attorney general’s office is also challenging that extension.

See here for some background, and here for a Twitter thread from the TCRP about their filing. At this point, I don’t believe any election is close enough to be potentially affected by however many provisional votes there could be. (I have no idea what that number is now, we’ll find out after the election is canvassed.) It would be nice to settle this as a matter of law and precedent, of course, and I would strongly argue that the voters shouldn’t be put in a position to be disenfranchised because of issues with a polling location – sometimes things go very wrong and it’s nobody’s fault – but I’m under no illusion that the Supreme Court will see it that way. Honestly, they’ll probably declare it moot once the provisional ballot numbers are confirmed, and that may be the best result we can hope to achieve. At least then there will be hope for the next time these things happen.

UPDATE: From the Chron:

Harris County officials declined to provide the number of voters who cast ballots during the extended period. The state’s highest civil court ordered these ballots be set aside until it issued a final ruling. In the meantime, all the votes during this period remain in legal limbo.

The Harris County district judge ordered that votes after the original 7 p.m. closing time be cast as provisional ballots, which are not counted until election workers confirm a voter’s eligibility.

Harris County Election Administrator Clifford Tatum declined to state how many ballots were cast during the extended period, but said Wednesday he didn’t believe any races would be affected by those provisional votes – or any provisional ballots left to count for other reasons.

“I don’t believe there are enough provisional ballots,” he said.

[…]

As of unofficial results, at least four district and county judicial races that flipped from Democrat- to Republican-held were close, separated by vote margins in the thousands and one as small as about 500.

As noted above, incumbent judge Dasean Jones is currently trailing by 465 votes, the closest countywide race. Jones won on Election Day with 50.24% of the vote. That means that if there are 10,000 provisional votes resulting from the problems with voting locations – this is, I want to emphasize, a huge over-estimate of the number of provisional ballots, but it’s a nice round number and will be nicely illustrative – and they vote at the same percentage for Jones, he’d have a net gain of 48 votes (524 to 476 for Jones). Of course, these problems occurred at specific locations which likely have more partisan characteristics – there’s no reason why they’d vote in exactly the same way as the county overall. Jones would need to win these 10K votes with 52.33% in order to pull ahead. If there are 5,000 provisional votes, he’d need to win them with 54.66% of the vote. If it’s 1000 provisional votes, it would need to be 73.3% of the vote. You get the idea. I don’t think it would be impossible for Dasean Jones to win with these votes, but unless those are extremely Democratic locations, the math is pretty challenging. For the candidates who lost by larger margins, even if those margins are tiny in absolute terms, it quickly becomes impossible to make up the ground. This is why recounts basically never change the outcome of even the closest elections.

UPDATE: There were still votes being counted when I wrote this. Looks like mostly mail ballots – there are another 1,116 of them in the latest report. County turnout is just over 1.1 million now. The bottom line, since mail ballots were much more Democratic than in person ballots, is that as of this writing Dasean Jones is now trailing by 165 votes, having closed the gap by 300. However, I think this is the end of that line. But if indeed there are a significant number of provisional ballots and they are mostly accepted, then the chances that Jones could edge ahead are greater than what the math had suggested before. I still think it’s unlikely, but it’s less unlikely now.

What AG “task force”?

Who knows?

Best mugshot ever

The fact that Paxton – who helped lead the charge to overturn the 2020 national election results and promoted false claims that it was stolen – now planned to send people from his office to monitor Harris County elections was seen as an intimidation tactic by local Democrats and non-partisan voting rights organizations. Several implored the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division to send federal election monitors to watch the state election monitors, a request the federal government has since granted.

But for all the attention on the effort in the lead up to Election Day, very little was actually known about it. Who was on the task force and how big was the operation? What exactly would they be doing? Where in Harris County would they be stationed? Here’s what the Chronicle was able to learn.

[…]

Has anyone in Harris County seen or interacted with members of Paxton’s task force?

Spokespeople for the Republican and Democratic parties in Harris County reached out to their teams that manage election workers to ask this same question. They said nobody on their team had reported any interactions from Paxton’s office yet.

“Imagine they’re here, but no reports that I’ve heard yet,” said Genevieve Carter, the Republican Party spokesman in Harris County, in a text message.

“Just checked with our elections folks,” Elisha Rochford, of the Democratic Party in Harris County, wrote in a text. “We have not heard anything about the AG’s office task force being in HC. We haven’t had any election workers report seeing anyone from AG.”

Alan Vera, a well-known conservative activist who has made numerous complaints about election problems in Harris County, said “I have not heard from anyone.”

Paul Bettencourt, a Republican state senator from Houston who has often complained about how Harris County administers elections, said he wasn’t aware of a team being sent to Houston from Paxton’s office. He said he would make some calls, but didn’t learn anything more. He said he believes the AG’s office is working with the Secretary of State’s office “remotely.”

Does the task force actually exist?

The Chronicle wasn’t able to find any evidence of a team from the attorney general’s office dispatched to Harris County.

See here, here, and here for the background. I don’t know if there was ever supposed to be a real “task force”. Maybe it was but it failed to materialize due to incompetence, laziness, or a lack of employees. Maybe it was always a stunt. Maybe it was 11-dimensional chess intended to mess with our minds and get the feds all scurrying about, in which case, mission accomplished, I guess. All I know is that the absence of Ken Paxton is always better than the alternative, so I’m going to chalk this up as a win.

Omnibus 2022 election results post

It’s already midnight as I start writing this. I’m just going to do the highlights with the best information I have at this time.

– Nationally, Dems are doing pretty well, all things considered. As of this writing, Dems had picked up the Pennsylvania Senate seat and they were leading in Georgia and Arizona. They held on in a bunch of close House races. The GOP is still expected to have a majority in the House, but not by much. The Senate remains very close.

– Some tweets to sum up the national scene:

– On that score, Republicans appear to have picked up CD15, which they drew to be slightly red, while the Dems took back CD34. Henry Cuellar is still with us, holding onto CD28.

– Statewide, well. It just wasn’t to be. The running tallies on the SOS Election Result site are a bit skewed as many smaller red counties have their full results in while the big urban counties have mostly just the early votes counted. Heck, they didn’t even have Harris County early results there until after 10:30 PM (the point at which I went and snoozed on the couch for an hour because I was driving myself crazy). It will be a ten-point or more win for Abbott, I just can’t say yet what. A survey of some county results early on suggested Beto was around where he’d been percentage-wise in most of the big counties (Tarrant, where he was a few points behind, being an exception) but was going to need some decent Election Day numbers to approach his raw vote margins. He didn’t do as well as he had done in 2018 in some of the larger suburban counties like Collin and Denton and didn’t do as well in South Texas.

– He also didn’t do as well in Harris, which made for some close races and a few Republican judicial candidates with early leads. A couple of those had eroded by the 11:30 addition of more Election Day and mail ballots, but we might see a few Republican judges on the bench next year. As of that 11:30 PM vote dump, Beto was leading Harris County by nine points, well short of where he had been in 2018.

– But as of this time, and with the proviso that I don’t know which voting centers have reported and which are still out, the Harris County Democratic delegation was all ahead, though not be a lot. This includes Lesley Briones for County Commissioner, which if it all holds would give Dems the 4-1 margin on Commissioners Court that they sought. There are still a lot of votes to be counted as I type this.

– Going back to the state races, Republicans may pick up a seat or two in the Lege. HD37 was leaning their way, and they may hold onto HD118. Dems were leading in HDs 70 (by a little) and 92 (by a more comfortable amount), two seats that had been drawn to siphon off Dem voters in formerly red areas. As of this writing, the open SD27 (Eddie Lucio’s former fiefdom) was super close but all of the remaining votes were from Hidalgo County, where Dem Morgan LaMantia had a good lead in early voting. That one will likely be a hold for Dems. On the other hand, SBOE2 was leaning Republican, so Dems may be back to only five members on the SBOE.

– There were of course some technical issues.

Tight races in Harris County, where around 1 million votes will be tallied, could hinge on whether ballots cast after 7 p.m. will be included in the count, after an Election Day filled with glitches and uncertainty for voters and poll workers alike.

Harris County District Court Judge Dawn Rogers signed an order keeping all county voting sites open until 8 p.m., only to have the Texas Supreme Court stay her order just in time to create confusion at voting locations letting voters arrive late.

In a three-sentence order, the court said voting “should occur only as permitted by Texas Election Code.” The high court also ruled that votes cast in the final hour should be segregated. That means those votes can’t be counted until the court issues a final ruling.

That ruling could be critical in the event that certain county races, including the hard-fought battle for county judge between Democratic incumbent Lina Hidalgo and Republican challenger Alexandra del Moral Mealer, are close enough to be decided by those set-aside votes.

“Every single vote counts,” said Laila Khalili, a director at the voter engagement group Houston in Action. “Some elections can be won by just a couple of votes.”

Khalili watched a handful of voters file provisional ballots at the Moody Park voting location.

The request to keep the polling sites open late was made by the Texas Organizing Project, Texas Civil Rights Project and ACLU of Texas, citing what they said were late election location openings and poor planning that disenfranchised some voters.

“These delays have forced countless voters to leave polling places without being able to vote,” the groups said.

Harris County was unable to estimate or confirm how many votes were cast after the typical 7 p.m. cutoff that allows for anyone in line by that time to cast a ballot.

Voters who arrived between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. cast a provisional ballot, according to the county attorney’s office. Some voters, later in the evening, complained that election workers even denied them that option, as the Supreme Court stay was broadcast to the 782 polling locations.

There were some issues with temporarily running out of paper at some locations and some long lines at others. We’ll just have to see how many provisional votes there are.

– Finally, for now, all of the county and city bond issues were passing. The closest ones as of this time were city of Houston prop E, up by eight points, and Harris County prop A, up by 11.

I’m going to hit Publish on this now and go to bed. I’ll make updates in the morning, either here or in a new post.

UPDATE: It’s 2:30 and I never actually got to sleep. With 334 of 782 voting centers reporting, Dems have gained some more ground in Harris County. Beto leads by nine points, while Judge Hidalgo is up by almost two full points and over 15K votes. She has led each aspect of voting. A couple of Dem judges who trailed early on are now leading, with a couple more in striking distance. There will be some Republican judges next year barring something very unexpected, but the losses are modest. All things considered, and again while acknowledging there are still a lot of votes out there, not too bad.

UPDATE:

An email with the summary file hit my inbox at 4:51 AM. Democrats officially have a 4-1 majority on Harris County Commissioners Court. By my count, Republicans won five judicial races in Harris County.

Justice Department agrees to send election monitors

Good.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced Monday it will send election monitors to three Texas counties — Harris, Dallas and Waller — to keep an eye on local compliance with federal voting rights laws on Election Day.

Monitors from the Justice Department are regularly deployed across the country for major elections, with Texas counties making the list for at least the past decade under both Democratic and Republican administrations. The three Texas counties are among 64 jurisdictions in 24 states that will have a federal presence Tuesday.

The department did not specify how it made its selections for monitoring, though Harris and Waller counties have made the list in the last four presidential and midterm elections. Harris and Dallas are the state’s largest and second-largest counties. Rural Waller County is home to Prairie View A&M University, a historically Black campus.

Voters can send complaints on possible violations of federal law to the DOJ through its website or by calling 800-253-3931. Polls open at 7 a.m. on Election Day.

See here and here for the background. When Ken Paxton and his minions are involved, you need all the help you can get. And while the early voting period was pretty calm, we know there’s a lot of bad stuff lurking. I feel better having these folks in the city. Politico and the Press have more.

Today is Election Day

Get out and vote if you haven’t done so yet.

Here’s the interactive map to find the polling location nearest you. Remember that you can vote anywhere in the county, so “nearest you” is however you want to define it. Note that they show 50 locations at a time, so if you’re not seeing anything near you, either click through the “Next 50” button or just enter your address and search for your locations. An alphabetical list of them is here.

I’ll be up late tracking results, which will probably not be final until I’ve given up the ghost and gone to bed. I’ll at least have summaries of the state and local elections of interest. I have no idea what to expect, so we’ll just find out together. Happy voting!

Fewer mail ballots rejected in November

Good, but still could be better.

Local election officials in Texas are reporting a drop in the percentage of mail ballots that have so far been flagged for rejection during the ongoing midterm elections, as compared with a spike earlier this year.

During the state’s primary in March, state officials said 24,636 mail-in ballots were rejected in that election. That’s a 12.38% rejection rate — far higher than in previous contests. According to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, Texas’ mail ballot rejection rate during the 2020 general election was 0.8% and it was 1.5% in 2018.

The surge in the rejection rate in March followed a voting law passed by Republicans in the state legislature in 2021 that created new ID requirements for mail ballots. Local officials said confusion created by the law, known as Senate Bill 1, tripped up many voters. In many cases, voters completely missed the field on the ballot return envelope that requires either a partial Social Security number or driver’s license number.

According to the Texas secretary of state’s office, however, the ongoing general election isn’t experiencing the same high rate of ballot rejections so far.

State officials have reported that 1.78% of mail ballots returned to county election officials have been rejected so far — 8,771 ballots out of 491,399, as of Friday afternoon.

About 314,000 ballots still had to be processed by local officials, according to the secretary of state. Voters have until Election Day on Tuesday to turn in mail ballots.

Many ballots that have been flagged for rejection will be remedied before voting ends next week, because SB 1 also created a ballot cure process in Texas. That means voters will have an opportunity to fix their mistakes.

Sam Taylor, assistant secretary of state for communications, attributes the decrease in the mail ballot rejection rate to updates to the return ballot in some Texas counties, as well as additional voter information included in mail ballots by local officials.

He says various voter education campaigns following the March primary have also helped. Taylor said his office, along with county election officials, focused on educating older voters in the state about new ID requirements. In Texas, voters over 65, voters with disabilities, people out of town and people in jail but not convicted can cast a mail ballot.

Taylor also said rejection rates were always likely to improve as “voters got used to” the new mail ballot process.

“I think it is moving in the right direction and more education never hurts,” he said.

Harris County — which is home to Houston, and is the state’s most populous and diverse county — so far has a higher rejection rate than the state average.

According to Harris County officials, about 9% of returned mail ballots were flagged with a rejection or exception code, as of Wednesday. Officials said most of those preliminary ballots were flagged specifically with ID issues, which are a result of the state’s new voting law.

We’ve discussed this before, and I’ve been generally optimistic that the downward trend we saw from May would continue. I give a lot of credit to county election administrators, who have worked very hard to mitigate the problem. What all of this tells me is that yes this will continue to improve over time, and that the fact that this was imposed for the primaries without giving the counties or the SOS the chance to figure it out and develop training and communication materials just shows how little the Republicans in the Lege cared about disenfranchising people. They were willing to do the beta test in real time without there ever having been any dry runs, and too bad for anyone affected. Not much we can do about it now, but never forget the attitude.

As for the Harris County figure, I can’t find any other information at this time. I do hope that these are the correctible kind of error and that the final rejection totals will be lower. For what it’s worth, these are the totals through the end of early voting for elections from 2012 for the percentage of mail ballots accepted:


Year    Mailed   Counted   Pct
==============================
2012    92,290    66,310  71.8
2014    89,073    67,967  76.3
2016   123,999    94,699  76.4
2018   119,742    89,098  74.4
2020   250,434   170,410  68.0
2022    80,416    57,871  72.0

This is mail ballots that have been accepted and counted, which are listed as Returned on the daily total files. The large majority of other ones are those that weren’t returned, but some of them were returned and rejected for whatever the reason. The point here is that we don’t have an abnormally low number of returned and counted ballots. So unless the accounting for this has changed, it looks pretty normal. We’ll know more after the election, but this is reassuring. Did you vote yet?

Final November 2022 EV totals: Catching up

First, some slightly outdated numbers from the Chron.

Fewer Harris County voters cast ballots during this year’s early voting period than in the 2020 and 2018 elections, according to unofficial voter counts released after polls closed on Friday night.

From Oct. 24 to Nov. 4, about 736,000 people had voted at Harris County’s 99 early voting locations. They accounted for about 28 percent of Harris County’s 2.6 million registered voters.

Local voters are taking to the polls to elect dozens of local offices, including Harris County judge, as well as to vote on $1.2 billion in bond proposals and on statewide races for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and others.

But so far, the number of voters has lagged behind the turnout in recent November elections.

In 2020, which was a presidential election year, more than 1.4 million people, about 57 percent of registered voters in Harris County, voted early. In 2018, early voting turnout was 855,711 people or 36.6 percent of registered voters.

There was an uptick in recent days of voter turnout. On Friday, more than 95,000 people voted in person, the highest daily total during the two-week early voting period. The second-highest voting day was Thursday, when more than 75,000 people voted. Long lines and waits of more than 2 hours were reported at some locations on Friday. After polls closed at 7 p.m., there were still 200 people in line to vote at some locations, including NRG Stadium, according to the Harris County Election Administrator’s Office.

I’ll get to the numbers in a minutes, but this story has a publication time of 9:14 PM and refers to a tweet posted at 7 PM by the Elections office. The final in person vote count for Friday was actually 105K, so waiting till later to publish (the voters file with the final count hit my mailbox at 11:24 PM) might have been advisable. Be that as it may, this is what we got when all was said and done. Final EV totals from 2018 are here and from 2014 are here. The final totals for 2022 are here.


Year     Mail    Early    Total
===============================
2014   67,967  307,280  375,247
2018   89,098  766,613  855,711
2022   57,871  692,478  750,349

In the end, early turnout for 2022 was 87.7% of what it was in 2018, while in person turnout was 91.6% of the 2018 number. That’s down, but as noted on Friday, the gap has narrowed. All three final days of early voting had higher in person totals this year than in 2022. Comparisons to 2020 are not particularly interesting – this is a non-Presidential year, and in case you forgot there were three weeks of early voting in 2020, thanks to the pandemic. We may be hard pressed to match 2020 EV totals in 2024.

The question is, what might final turnout look like? The trend in Presidential years is that fewer votes are cast on Election Day. In 2012, 35% of votes were cast on Election Day, in 2016 it was 26% of the vote, and in 2020 – again, in a year with three weeks of early voting, and also a record number of votes by mail – just 12% of the vote was on Tuesday. That trend is much less pronounced in off years. In 2010, 44% of all votes were cast on Election Day, in 2014 it was 45%, and in 2018 it was 29%.

What that means is that if Election Day in 2022 is like it was in 2018, we’ll get about 307K votes cast (*) for a final total of about 1.057 million. If it’s more like 2014, we’ll see 614K votes cast, for 1.364 million total. Going by the estimate of about 2.53 million total voters in Harris County, that would be 41.8% turnout of registered voters on the low end, and 53.9% on the high end. That compares to 41.7% in 2010, 33.7% in 2014, and 52.9% in 2018.

My high end scenario, in other words, would mean that 2022 exceeds 2018 both in absolute numbers as well as in turnout percentage. That feels a bit exuberant to me, but not out of the question. I think the 29% turnout on Election Day is probably too low – I’ll get into that more in a minute – so let’s split the difference and say 37% of the vote happens on Tuesday. If that’s the case, then 1.191 million votes will be cast, or 47.1% turnout. That’s down from 2018 but not by much. It feels plausible to me, with the proviso that we’re all just flat-out guessing here.

One argument for why we might get a larger portion of the vote cast on Tuesday than we had in 2018 is that more voters came out in the final days of early voting this year. The last three days of early voting in 2018 accounted for about 27% of the final in person early vote total. This year, about 35% of the in person vote came out on the last three days. That at least suggests the possibility that more people are taking their time to get to the polls. Does that necessarily carry over to voting on E-Day instead of voting early? Maybe, I don’t know. We’re dealing with the tiniest possible sample sizes here, so you can read anything you want into this stuff. That’s why I try to talk in terms of ranges of possibility. Different years are, well, different. It’s plausible to me that the Election Day share of the vote this year could be higher than it was in 2018, but that doesn’t mean it will be, nor does it mean that if it is it will be as much as it was in previous years. Pick your adventure here. Have you voted yet?

(*) – Just a reminder that some number of mail ballots come in between Friday and Tuesday, which means that the mail totals you see on the official Election Night returns don’t match what I’ve got here from the daily EV tallies. In 2018, there wound up being just over 100K mail ballots, which means there were another 11K that came in after the “final” totals posted above. My guess is we’ll get between 65-67K total mail ballots this year. All this means that my calculations for the Election Day vote share are slightly off, but it’s not worth worrying about. The basic contour is still whether we get an Election Day more like 2018 or more like 2014/2010.

The Ken Paxton problem is bigger than Ken Paxton

It’s that there’s just no accountability, barring the election result we’re all desperately hoping for.

Best mugshot ever

In the wake of the 2020 presidential election, Republican officials around the country have been giving increasing attention and resources to investigating election crimes. Most have focused on the alleged wrongdoing of voters.

But Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is also working a different angle: His office has been criminally investigating the people who help run elections.

Over the past two years, Paxton’s office opened at least 10 investigations into alleged crimes by election workers, a more extensive effort than previously known, according to records obtained by ProPublica. One of his probes was spurred by a complaint from a county GOP chair, who lost her reelection bid in a landslide. She then refused to certify the results, citing “an active investigation” by the attorney general.

In at least two of the cases, Paxton’s office unsuccessfully tried to indict election workers, attempts that were first reported by the Austin American-Statesman. In the remaining eight investigations identified by ProPublica, it is unclear just how far the probes went. As of mid-October, none of the cases resulted in criminal charges.

The story covers the ordeals of Dana DeBeauvoir and Rob Icsezen, both of whom Paxton tried to indict for incidents that any unbiased observer would have taken to be at worst honest misunderstandings. He even pursued those charges in neighboring Republican counties instead of the counties where the “crime” allegedly happened. Put aside for the moment the mess and dysfunction going on in that office, and the alleged criminality of Paxton himself. The office of Attorney General is traditionally one that pursues civil cases, not criminal ones, yet the guy in charge is off pursuing quixotic political indictments while letting human traffickers go free because they can’t keep track of witnesses. I’m old enough to remember when that sort of thing would have been a huge scandal, the kid of screwup that might force an official to resign because they had lost the faith of the public.

Not anymore, though. Short of it becoming a national story, there’s no way to focus enough attention on that kind of scandal to make it become an issue for anyone but the most plugged-in news-watcher. Republican voters don’t care, and neither do Greg Abbott or Dan Patrick or the Republicans in the Legislature, who at least nominally have some oversight of the Attorney General. At this point, Ken Paxton could murder someone on Sixth Street, and I doubt more than a handful of Republican legislators would call for him to step down. The only way that this Legislature will become interested in that oversight role will be if Rochelle Garza wins, at which point they’ll become very invested in having a say over what the AG does and does not do. Ken Paxton is what happens when people with power believe, with complete justification, that they can act with impunity.

November 2022 Day Ten EV totals: Two to go

This is the data from Wednesday. It came in a little later than usual. Since yesterday was the vote-till-10PM day, I thought I’d provide this update now, and will give the final EV totals on Sunday. Final EV totals from 2018 are here and from 2014 are here. The Day Ten totals for 2022 are here.


Year     Mail    Early    Total
===============================
2014   63,857  220,505  284,362
2018   82,009  605,869  719,878
2022   52,608  513,398  566,006

About 58K in person voters Wednesday, which was in line with the dailies from week one, plus another 6K mail ballots. The second Wednesday of week two early voting in 201 had a weird dip, to 48K in person votes – maybe it rained all day that day, I dunno – so the gap between 2018 and 2022 was slightly closed. About 122K in person votes over the last two days will make the 2022 early vote exceed the entire total from 2014. We won’t catch up to 2018 barring a huge surge, but closing the gap a bit more is possible. Have you voted yet?