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Election 2022

Time for the usual debate about debates

Of course Greg Abbott doesn’t want to have debates. There’s no value in them for him.

Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday he has agreed to debate Democratic opponent Beto O’Rourke on Sept. 30 in the Rio Grande Valley.

O’Rourke said he would debate Abbott in the Valley but did not commit to the Sept. 30 debate. Without ruling it out entirely, he also called for three “town hall-style debates.”

The perennial debate over debates kicked off Tuesday afternoon, when Abbott’s campaign announced he had accepted an invitation from Nexstar Media Group to debate O’Rourke on the evening of Sept. 30 at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg. Abbott’s campaign called it “the one and only gubernatorial debate of the 2022 election,” implying it is the only one he is willing to do.

O’Rourke’s campaign responded a little over an hour later.

“We looked forward to attending a forum hosted by Nexstar Media Group in the Rio Grande Valley at a mutually agreed upon date and time, but one debate in one community for the entire state of Texas is not nearly enough,” O’Rourke spokesperson Chris Evans said in a statement.

The O’Rourke campaign said it additionally wants Abbott to “participate in three town hall-style debates in every region of the state during weeknights this fall where they can take questions directly from their fellow Texans.”

Abbott’s choice of the evening of Sept. 30 — a Friday evening in the fall — is a timeworn tactic of incumbents looking to agree to a debate when not as many Texans are paying attention as they would on other nights of the week.

[…]

Abbott debated his last Democratic challenger, Lupe Valdez, once — also on a Friday evening in late September.

Honestly, I’m surprised he even agreed to one. I guess ducking them entirely would be a bad look, and maybe it would be enough of a story that this was the preferred alternative. But yeah, a Friday night in late September is par for the course. Beto will make as much noise as he can about this, and he can counter by setting up other debates that he’ll participate in whether Abbott does or not. He’s of enough interest that they may draw enough attention to make Abbott uncomfortable. I think in the end one will be all we get, but we’ll see.

(Standard disclaimer: I’m not really much of a debate watcher. I don’t think they have that much effect in a contest like this. They’re of greater value in situations where lots of people don’t know much about the candidates and are just trying to get a decent first impression. Primary debates, and forums for local candidates especially in non-partisan races are great. This, less so. But they can be good theater, and there’s always the risk of a disaster.)

Motherfuckergate

Sometimes, I just enjoy a a story about swearing.

Beto O’Rourke confronted a heckler Wednesday at a campaign event who laughed while he was talking about the Uvalde school shooting, telling the person, “It may be funny to you, motherfucker, but it is not funny to me.”

The moment, which spread quickly online afterward, came as the Democratic gubernatorial challenger was hosting an evening town hall in Mineral Wells. On live broadcasts of the event, loud laughing could be heard as O’Rourke described the impact of AR-15s, dropping to a knee to emphasize what he said were the wartime capabilities of the firearm.

O’Rourke’s admonishment of the person drew sustained applause and cheers from the crowd. He quickly moved on in his stump speech, talking about wanting to keep kids safe as the school year begins.

It is unclear who exactly was laughing, but tweets from the event showed there was a group of protesters present holding campaign signs for Republican Gov. Greg Abbott. On one live broadcast, the camera panned to the group after O’Rourke’s response and showed one of them laughing.

“Nothing more serious to me than getting justice for the families in Uvalde and stopping this from ever happening again,” O’Rourke tweeted afterward.

It was not the first time O’Rourke has addressed heckling at an event while discussing gun violence. He responded less explicitly last month in Snyder, telling the person, “Might be funny to you. It isn’t to me.”

It’s well known by this point that Beto has a potty mouth, which for many of us is part of his appeal. I don’t know why this particular example of said saltiness went national, but it did. The story notes that while there have been some examples of tension and conflict at Beto rallies with Republican protesters and troublemakers, there have also been examples of Beto engaging with these Republicans in a fairly cordial and civil manner. There were enough of these that Team Abbott warned its supporters to avoid wearing GOP-branded attire to Beto rallies, for fear they may get involved in one of these examples of civil discourse and thus used as part of the case for Beto. Anway, while I don’t engage in a lot of profanity on this blog, sometimes one has to do what one has to do.

Also, too:

I mean, I know which of the two I find far more offensive.

Here’s hoping we’ll have fewer mail ballot rejections in November

Counties are taking the problem seriously, which is a good start.

The statewide rejection rate [for mail ballots] was more than 12 percent in the primary — six times what it was in the last midterm year in 2018. By the primary runoffs, the rate was down to less than 4 percent rejected, according to data from the secretary of state’s office.

Ahead of the November general elections, a number of elections officials say they have found a simple fix — a brightly colored insert that arrives with mail ballots, explaining the new requirements and showing the easily forgotten space under the flap of the return envelope where the voter’s ID number needs to be printed.

[Bexar County Election Administrator Jacqui] Callanen said the insert is small enough and positioned in such a way that it will likely fall to the floor when voters open the mail ballot packet, so they can’t miss it. She said her office used the inserts in May primary runoff elections and saw immediate results.

“We had under a 1 percent reject rate,” Callanen said. “We were back to where we belonged, which was a dance of joy.”

Other large counties saw similar success with including physical reminders in ballot materials. Those counties may hold the answer for still-struggling counties like Harris to improve their own rates.

Harris County did not include a notice with May primary runoff ballots and reported a rejection rate of 7.7 percent in the Republican primary and 5.9 percent in the Democratic primary. Overall, out of 34,124 ballots cast; 2,294 were rejected.

While those rates were down from the sky-high 20 percent and 18 percent rates in the Republican and Democratic primaries respectively, they were still far higher than the county’s less than 0.3 percent rejection rate in the last midterm primary in 2018, when just 135 ballots were tossed.

[…]

Sam Taylor, a spokesman for the secretary of state, said the inserts “appeared to make a difference.” Taylor said elections officials across the state learned about the inserts and other best practices during an election law seminar the agency held at the beginning of this month.

Following the success of inserts in other parts of the state, Harris County election officials said this week they are including a new insert about voter ID requirements with their mail ballot applications, and adding voter ID information to an existing insert with mail ballots, for November’s general election.

In addition to an insert, Harris County interim elections administrator Beth Stevens said the county will redesign its mail ballot envelope, highlighting the space for the voter’s ID with a red box, in the same way the space for the signature is highlighted.

They will also educate voters through paid advertising and in-person community meetings and will put more resources into identifying ballots that need corrections, she said.

“We have increased our vote-by-mail team’s staffing level to account for the new requirements of SB1,” Stevens said, “which includes additional folks to answer phones, to answer voters’ questions, as well as people to handle vote-by-mail cures, either done online or in person.”

You know me and mail ballot rejections. We’ve talked about the design of the ballot and the envelope as a way of giving voters a hand in ensuring they fill in all the right data, and I’ve singled out Bexar County for being ahead of the curve. I’m more than happy to see Harris County start to catch up in this department. I’m reasonably optimistic that counties have taken adequate steps to really mitigate this issue.

I also want to point out that in a world where we absolutely had to have these new requirements, it would have been far better for there to have been a seminar like the one Sam Taylor from the SOS office describes well before the first election subject to those requirements, not four months after the first one and with two others in between. The Legislature gets the lion’s share of the blame for that – they simply didn’t care about the negative effects of the new law – but the SOS deserves some criticism for not pushing back hard enough. There’s nothing we can do now about the ballots that got rejected for no good reason. I just hope we’ve learned enough from this painful experience to minimize those losses going forward.

Commissioners Court plans to put a bond issue on the ballot

First one in seven years.

Harris County voters will have more on their November ballot, after a divided commissioners court Tuesday took the first step toward a $1.2 billion bond package for police, parks, drainage and roads.

Common with many votes, the court was split 3-2 on the matter, with County Judge Lina Hidalgo, Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia in favor and Tom Ramsey and Jack Cagle opposed.

Tuesday’s debate reiterated much of what divided county officials leading up to the vote, including the ability to put a robust plan in front of voters by November, concerns about future needs such as flood control and how exactly officials would split the windfall of money should voters approve.

The plan would likely lead to three bond votes on the ballot — $100 million for public safety, $200 million for parks and $900 million for transportation and drainage projects ranging from street maintenance to sidewalks and safety-related road repairs.

“People want to see that money spent yesterday,” Garcia said, noting the litany of improvements county residents are demanding.

Tuesday’s vote moved the county closer to a bond referendum, but did not finalize it. To call the election and set it for the November election, commissioners court must meet and call for the election between Aug. 12 and Aug. 22, per state law. They must also approve ballot language, which will guide the terms of the bond.

[…]

Though split on the plan, no one disputed Harris County has massive needs across a host of categories.

“I think people are clamoring for more capital investments,” Ellis said.

Local roads are in disrepair, drainage worries dot unincorporated communities who remember rising waters from Tropical Storm Harvey and Tropical Storm Imelda all too well and sheriffs operate out of outdated and crumbling buildings.

Voters “don’t need to be sold on flood control, roads and public safety,” said State Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, who spoke Tuesday in favor of the bonds.

Commissioners, however, struggled to find common ground on how they would share the money. Ellis and Garcia pressed for a “worst-first” approach that would focus funding in areas they said were previously neglected in their Precinct One and Precinct Two areas, and away from doling the money based on population and lane miles of road. Ramsey and Cagle, concerned about the inequity of that plan, said some equal divisions were needed so Precinct Three and Precinct Four could make needed repairs.

To satisfy her own concerns that funds needed to address problem areas but fairly include projects in each commissioners’ area, Hidalgo proposed the $100 million in public safety remain countywide, but that the road and parks money be divided in a way by the county that assured each precinct at least $220 million — leaving another $220 million to be spent where needs are greatest.

“Everybody has a base level of revenue from this bond,” she said.

Despite that compromise, other doubts remain, Ramsey said, citing the lack of project specifics provided by county staff.

Here’s the Tuesday morning version of the story, which in turn references that 2015 bond package. A total of four propositions that year passed easily, with percentages ranging from 61 to 74. I don’t have a strong opinion at this time about how the funds should be divvied up – I don’t recall that particular debate coming up in the past, for what it’s worth, but Commissioners Court was a lot clubbier in those days – nor am I particularly worried about a detailed project list at this time. We should have one, to be sure, but I think most people don’t get too far into those details when casting their vote. It’s for law enforcement/roads/bridges/parks/flood control/etc etc etc? That’s likely enough info for most voters. We’ll see what details we get when the final ballot language is proposed.

July 2022 campaign finance reports: State races

I don’t often follow the campaign finance reports in state races, mostly because they’re usually not that interesting and there’s too many races to look at if I was interested. I didn’t review these in January for the contested primaries, but I decided there are enough races that are worth checking on to have a peek at some July reports. I’ve noted the big Beto numbers, so I’ll skip that here.

Mike Collier, Lt Gov
Rochelle Garza, Attorney General
Janet Dudding, Comptroller
Jay Kleberg, Land Commissioner
Susan Hays, Ag Commissioner
Luke Warford, Railroad Commissioner

Morgan LaMantia, SD27

Daniel Lee, HD26
Luis Echagaray, HD52
Sheena King, HD61
Brittney Verdell, HD65
Jesse Ringness, HD66
Kevin Morris, HD67
Mihaela Plesa, HD70
Suleiman Lalani, HD76
Salman Bhojani, HD92
Elizabeth Ginsberg, HD108
Elva Curl, HD112
Frank Ramirez, HD118
Rebecca Moyer DeFelice, HD121
Angela Aramburu, HD122
Stephanie Morales, HD138


Candidate     Raised      Spent       Loan     On Hand
======================================================
Collier      693,806    226,315    450,500     534,242
Garza        518,054    107,134          0     445,817
Dudding       37,956     52,378     45,884      16,908
Kleberg      586,296    433,030    100,000     439,854
Hays          96,085     94,777          0      53,310
Warford      296,516    271,506     23,561     110,066

LaMantia     183,859    427,090  2,980,000      58,024

Lee            2,580        904      1,000      11,345
Echegaray      9,343      9,123          0       9,081
King          20,999     14,635          0           0
Verdell       16,711      4,252          0      16,669
Ringness       2,635      3,212          0       2,635
Morris        20,124     11,589          0       9,266
Plesa         80,030     45,215     59,000      45,793
Lalani        10,742     26,925    145,000      10,617
Bhojani       84,346     77,688    100,000      24,682
Ginsberg     105,297     22,587          0      83,152
Curl          27,622      7,455     10,000      35,274
Ramirez       43,423     32,299          0       6,962
DeFelice      64,110     40,476      5,000      35,460
Aramburu      38,353      8,289          0       5,063
Morales        6,131      3,252          0       8,583

I’m looking at the non-Beto and non-judicial statewide races, the one open State Senate seat that could be interesting, and a handful of State House races based partly on 2020 election data and my own idiosyncrasies. There were a few State House races that might be intriguing on paper, I couldn’t find a finance report for the candidate in question. If there’s a race that I’ve skipped that offends you, let me know in the comments.

Remember that these reports may cover different time spans, depending on the candidate’s primary status. Candidates who had no primary opponent, such as Luis Echagaray in HD52, have reports that include all activity since January 1. Candidates who won their March primary, such as Daniel Lee in HD26, have reports that include all activity since February 21. And candidates who had to win a primary runoff, such as Suleimon Lalani in HD76, have reports that include all activity since May 16. Check the report itself if you’re not sure for a given candidate – the information is there on the first page.

Mike Collier is one of those who had to endure a runoff, so that $693K is since mid-May. That in itself is not too bad – it’s not particularly eye-catching, but it’s a decent pace and will add up over time. To that extent, here are the totals Collier has posted over other periods since last year:

Feb 20 – May 14 – $487,963
Jan 21 – Feb 19 – $124,329
Jan 01 – Jan 20 – $55,989
Jul 01 – Dec 31 – $826,861
Jan 01 – Jun 30 – $757,109

That’s nearly $3 million raised since the beginning of 2021. It’s not a huge amount – you may not be aware of this, but Texas is a big state with a lot of media markets and it costs a crapton of money to effectively advertise statewide as a result – but it’s not nothing. If Collier can continue at the pace from his last report, he’ll collect a couple million dollars by November. Maybe that’s another reason why Republicans are now attacking him.

Rochelle Garza and Jay Kleberg, who were also in the May runoffs, posted their own $500K-plus totals for the six weeks of their periods. I won’t do the same listing as I did for Collier, but I can tell you that Garza has raised about $1.1 million and Kleberg about $2 million since last November. The same caveats as with Collier apply, but I can’t think of any election since maybe 2002 where multiple statewide Dems posted similar numbers. As I’ve said elsewhere, whatever you’ve budgeted to give to Beto, leave a little room for Collier and Garza and Kleberg and the others.

SD27 is the Senate seat that Eddie Lucio is finally vacating. Morgan LaMantia won the nomination in the runoff, so her totals are from May 15. SD27 was moderately Democratic in 2020 after having been much more Democratic in 2016, so it’s one to watch for signs of either a rebound or further decay. There was a recent Trib story that I don’t feel like looking for with a headline that says Republicans are mulling whether to pour money into this one. I don’t know why they wouldn’t, but I guess even they don’t have infinite resources and have to choose their priorities.

I haven’t paid a lot of attention to most of these State House races, many of which were uncontested in March. I didn’t even recognize a few of the names before I went looking for their reports. HDs 70 (Collin County) and 92 (Tarrant) are new Democratic districts drawn to shore of neighboring Republican districts. HD76 had been a Democratic district in El Paso, and is now a Democratic district in Fort Bend. The rest for the most part are districts Trump won by less than ten points, with HD118 being a slight Biden seat that the Republicans won in a special election last year. Frank Ramirez is back for a second shot at it, and I’d certainly like to see a bigger cash on hand number in that one. Otherwise, not much here to grab your attention, with the possible exceptions of Elizabeth Ginsburg, who hopes to flip one of the last two red districts in Dallas County, and Rebecca Moyer DeFelice, running in HD121, the Bexar County equivalent of HD134 (and HD108, for that matter).

This concludes my tour of the July finance reports. I expect to look at the 30-day reports for Harris County, and maybe the 8-day reports for it as well. As always, let me know if you have any questions.

The independents

Recently I got an email from a gentleman named Ted Wood, who wrote to inform me that he had successfully completed the requirements to be an independent candidate for Chief Justice of the First Court of Appeals on the November 2022 ballot. The basic requirements to be an independent candidate for non-statewide office are filing a declaration of intent to run as an indy – this is to be done at the filing deadline – and then collecting 500 signatures from people who didn’t vote in the primaries.

Wood told me his candidacy is the first Independent run for an appellate bench in Texas since 1996. I hadn’t checked that at the time he told me, but I believed it. In my experience, most of the independent candidates run for Congress or the Legislature. I’ll get to some past numbers in a minute, but did you know that there’s no public listing of independent candidates for the 2022 election right now? Obviously there will be one in about a month when the ballots are finalized and printed to be sent to overseas voters, but if you want to know right now who besides Ted Wood is an independent candidate running for state or federal office in Texas, you have to make a Public Information Act request to the Secretary of State. Seems crazy to me, but here we are.

Anyway, Wood did this and shared the list with me, which you can see here. It’s six candidates for Congress, two for the State House, and him. Two of the Congressional candidates are repeat customers – Vince Duncan has been an indy for Cd18 in 2020, 2018, and 2014, while Chris Royal ran as an indy for CD34 in 2020. The current cycle and the last two have been relatively busy ones for independent candidates for Congress – six this year, seven in 2020 and 2018, though in 2018 there were two in CD09, so indy candidates were only in six races – but for whatever the reason it wasn’t like that at all before 2018. I found no independent candidates for Congress in 2016, two in 2014, and one in 2012. I have no explanation for that – if you have one, let me know. I found one independent candidate for State House in each of 2014, 2016, and 2018; I didn’t search 2020 because the new format on the SOS website is a pain in the ass for that sort of thing. I found no independent candidates for any other offices since 2012, which was as far back as I checked for state elections.

Wood also inquired with Harris County about any independent candidates running for county offices. He was informed by Judge Lina Hidalgo’s office that there were no independent candidates for county office on the ballot in Harris County in 2022. This didn’t surprise me, as I couldn’t think of any recent examples of such a candidacy offhand. I went back through Harris County election results all the way to 1996, and found two non-legislative indies in that time. One was a candidate for the 245th Civil District Court in 2002, an Angelina Goodman, who got 3.69% of the vote. That’s not a county office, though – it’s a state office. I finally found a genuine indy for a county office in 1996. In the race that year for Constable in Precinct 7, a fellow named Andy Williams was the sole opponent to Democrat A. B. Chambers, and he got 6.39% of the vote. You learn something new every day.

Anyway. Wood as noted is running for Chief Justice of the First Court of Appeals, a seat that is being vacated by Sherry Radack. Democrat Julie Countiss, who is currently a Justice on this court but for another bench (she can run for Chief Justice without giving up her current seat), and Republican Terry Adams, who had been appointed to the First Court for Place 5 in 2020 then lost to Amparo Guerra that November, are his opponents. He’s working now in the Harris County Public Defender’s office. Before that, he worked for the General Counsel at the Texas Office of Court Administration (OCA) in Austin, and served two terms as County Judge in Randall County. As a Democratic precinct chair I am supporting Julie Countiss, who is also someone I know in real life and who I voted for the First Court in 2018. But I enjoyed having the chance to talk to Ted Wood, and I definitely appreciate the opportunity to get a nerdy blog post out of it. Hope you enjoyed this little excursion into electoral miscellania as well.

Republicans have begun attacking Mike Collier

Interesting.

Mike Collier

Fox News host Laura Ingraham is joining a growing list of Republicans attacking Mike Collier, the Democratic candidate for Texas lieutenant governor, as polls indicate a narrowing race between him and incumbent Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Ingraham reposted an article from a right-wing website on Sunday criticizing Collier for opposing private school vouchers, which would allocate public funding to send children to private or charter schools. It’s an increasingly popular policy among Texas Republicans, including Gov. Greg Abbott, who have cast both vouchers and charter schools as a way to ensure parents can find alternatives for their kids if they don’t like their local public school.

Collier has said he would lead the charge to ban them if elected as a top state policymaker.

Teachers’ unions and Democrats have likened the push for school vouchers to an effort to defund already-struggling public schools.

“Vouchers are for vultures,” Collier said during a speech at Texas Democrats’ convention in Dallas earlier this month.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz also blasted that remark last week, calling Collier’s stance “sick.”

[…]

It’s a marked change from Collier’s last run against Patrick in 2018, when Republicans generally shied away from mentioning Collier by name or publicly attacking him. Collier lost to Patrick by five percentage points that year. Recent University of Houston polling indicates it’s now a 4-point race.

“As Mike Collier closes the gap in the race for lieutenant governor to just 4 points, it’s no surprise that Dan Patrick’s extremist allies suddenly rush to his defense,” said Collier campaign manager Ali Zaidi. “And while Dan Patrick continues to hide from the voters of Texas, Mike Collier will be on the ground, on the airwaves and online — exposing the truth about Dan Patrick’s eight years of failure to fund our schools, rein in property taxes and fix the damn grid.”

It’s interesting because while Republicans have always attacked Democrats as a group and high-profile Democrats who may (Beto, Biden, Hillary Clinton, Obama, etc) or may not (Nancy Pelosi, AOC, etc) be on the ballot, they almost always reserve those attacks for those brand names. They very rarely attack candidates with lower profiles who name ID they will inevitably raise by their actions. I don’t know what’s behind this apparent change in strategy – maybe it’s just the ants-to-a-picnic effect of a Fox News personality making Mike Collier their main character for a day, in which case this will disappear as quickly as it manifested. I hope Collier is able to raise a few bucks from it in the meantime.

On a side note in re: the “tightening” polls: Yes, there have been a few recent poll results that show a fairly close race for Governor, with one of those polls also putting Collier within four points of Dan Patrick. It’s more than one poll, and some of those individual polls showed movement in a Dem direction since their previous sample, but I still hesitate to attribute any meaning beyond the simple numbers to them. Maybe there is a Dobbs effect (with perhaps also a Uvalde effect), and maybe it will all dissipate like the morning dew as our attention spans fill up. I’ve been burned on this topic too many times, and I can already see the headlines that we’ll get if this “trend” doesn’t continue. The data is what it is at this point. If the Republicans are responding to it – we don’t know that this is what they’re doing, but let’s roll with that for a minute – then that’s another data point. That’s as far as I’ll go with it.

July 2022 campaign finance reports: Harris County

Happy Mid-Year Campaign Finance Reporting Day to all who celebrate. Today we’ll be looking at the races of interest in Harris County, which thankfully for me has a lot fewer candidates to review than the last time we did this in January, before the primaries. I also did this roundup in July 2021 if you want to go that far back. You know the drill here, so let’s get to it.

Lina Hidalgo, County Judge
Alexandra Mealer, County Judge

Rodney Ellis, County Commissioner, Precinct 1

Adrian Garcia, County Commissioner, Precinct 2
Jack Morman, County Commissioner, Precinct 2

Tom Ramsey, County Commissioner, Precinct 3

Jack Cagle (SPAC), County Commissioner, Precinct 4
Lesley Briones, County Commissioner, Precinct 4

Teneshia Hudspeth, County Clerk
Stan Stanart, County Clerk

Marilyn Burgess, District Clerk
Chris Daniel (SPAC), District Clerk

Carla Wyatt, County Treasurer
Eric Dick, County Treasurer
Kyle Scott, County Treasurer


Name             Raised      Spent    Loans    On Hand
======================================================
Hidalgo       1,150,804    569,065    1,400  1,983,697
Mealer          764,544    404,802    6,000    455,927

Ellis           543,900    241,714        0  3,805,232

Garcia, A       787,949    675,976        0  1,897,179
Morman           63,144     19,585        0     69,638

Ramsey           34,869     69,290        0    549,707

Cagle           388,332    209,368        0  1,231,540
Briones         126,038     98,547        0     90,720

Hudspeth         18,265     18,145        0     13,952
Stanart           3,407      5,583        0      6,729
Burgess          16,070     15,864    5,207     15,049
Daniel           20,600      9,619   25,000     12,144
Wyatt             2,085      6,082        0      1,092
Scott             2,309      5,340   23,000        719

With the much-smaller field of candidates now that we are fully past the primaries, everyone who is on the November ballot in these races has a current finance report online. Note that for some candidates, the report covers the period from February 20 through June 30 – these are the candidates who won their March primaries outright – and for some it covers the period from May 15 through June 30. These are the candidates who had to win in their runoff, a list that includes Alexandra Mealer, Jack Morman, and Lesley Briones. Mealer’s amount raised total is a lot more competitive with Judge Lina Hidalgo’s given the smaller amount of time that her report covers, but as John Coby points out, she got more than half of that total from four donors who each gave her $100K.

It’s interesting to me that Morman, who was a County Commissioner for eight years before Commissioner Garcia nipped him in 2018, has had such anemic fundraising. I’m not sure what that says, other than maybe not enough people think he can win. Lesley Briones still has a significant cash deficit against Commissioner Jack Cagle, but she’s been considerably more proficient at fundraising. She is unlikely to catch up to him in that department, but she’ll be more competitive.

Not much else to say, as the other offices tend to have little fundraising capacity, and these reports present no surprises. Eric Dick also filed a report for his current office of HCDE Trustee, in which he again reported zeroes across the board. Given Dick’s past propensities, I wouldn’t take any of that as gospel, but it is what he reported.

UPDATE: My bad, I had the wrong Republican candidate for Treasurer.

July 2022 campaign finance reports: Congress

The runoffs are now over, and we’re fully into the fall election season. As before, I’ve consolidated this list down to the elections of interest, which means I’ve dropped CD30 as it was a primary-only affair. I’m also dropping CD10 and CD22, because while those are districts that are of interest to me, neither Linda Nuno nor Jamie Jordan has managed to file a report so far, and so I just can’t be bothered. Better candidates next time, please. The October 2021 reports are here, the July 2021 reports are here, the January 2022 reports are here, the April 2022 reports are here, and you can get the links to the previous cycle’s reports from there.

Dan Crenshaw – CD02
Robin Fulford – CD02
Keith Self – CD03
Sandeep Srivastava – CD03
Michelle Vallejo – CD15
Monica de la Cruz – CD15
Chip Roy – CD21
Claudia Zapata – CD21
Tony Gonzales – CD23
John Lira – CD23
Beth Van Duyne – CD24
Jan McDowell – CD24
Henry Cuellar – CD28
Cassandra Garcia – CD28
Vicente Gonzalez – CD34
Mayra Flores – CD34
Wesley Hunt – CD38
Duncan Klussman – CD38


Dist  Name             Raised      Spent    Loans    On Hand
============================================================
02    Crenshaw     14,140,850 13,216,975        0  2,776,589
02    Fulford         109,995    100,957   15,595      9,038
03    Self            314,699    240,821        0     73,877
03    Srivastava      160,121    141,656   65,000     18,464
15    Vallejo         699,131    540,643  100,000    158,488
15    De la Cruz    2,914,515  2,366,992        0    555,028
21    Roy           1,757,556  1,047,612        0  1,173,526
21    Zapata           77,500     68,918        0      8,581
23    Gonzales      3,346,655  2,054,016        0  1,323,998
23    Lira            486,541    395,459        0     91,081
24    Van Duyne     3,022,405  1,366,847        0  1,723,967
24    McDowell         44,677     27,975    3,843     16,701
28    Cuellar       3,351,820  4,664,602        0    237,690
28    Garcia          695,640    470,707        0    224,932
34    Gonzalez      2,251,211  2,201,071        0  1,420,633
34    Flores        1,765,515  1,651,532        0    113,983
38    Hunt          4,238,227  2,390,809        0  2,071,360
38    Klussman        180,323    145,198    7,000     35,125

I get kind of a 2012 vibe from looking at these numbers. Dems raised big money in two races – the eternal target of CD23, and the open seat CD14 which only drew interest because former Congressman Nick Lampson made a run at it – and decent money in CD27, a former Dem district lost in the 2010 debacle that was made more Republican in redistricting. No Dem candidate in a red district approached raising as much as $100K for the entire cycle outside of those three; I remarked on that multiple times in 2018 as Dem candidates were shattering records left and right.

It’s a little less bleak this time, but the shape is similar. CD15 is the new CD23, though for this cycle at least it’s still a Dem hold and not a flip. CD23 is redder than before though still closer to 50-50 than any other district, with a stronger Republican incumbent; Quico Canseco was a typical “dog that caught the car” in 2010, and that surely helped Pete Gallego in his quest to win it back. John Lira is not in Gallego’s fundraising neighborhood, but he might approach a million bucks before it’s all said and done. Duncan Klussman, Sandeep Srivastava, and Robin Fulford have all topped $100K already, with Claudia Zapata likely to get there. That’s a symbolic figure more than an impactful one, but given how bleak things were in 2012 we can at least reset some expectations. I have hope that the districts I’ve quit following will rejoin the conversation in future cycles. As for Jan McDowell in CD24, at least some things never change.

The top Democratic fundraiser in a district that ought to be competitive this fall was Jessica Cisneros, who raised over $6.5 million in her ultimately losing race against Henry Cuellar. Cisneros complained loudly and at length about Dem leadership supporting the incumbent in this race. I get that and I will not offer any defenses of Cuellar, but I will note that the lack of support she got on that front did little to hinder her ability to raise money. I’m pretty sure we’ve not heard the last of her. She did succeed in wiping out Cuellar’s cash on hand advantage over Cassy Garcia, but I assume Cuellar will reopen that gap this quarter.

Along those lines, that special election in CD34 certainly helped Mayra Flores rake it in, though Vicente Gonzalez still has a large lead in cash on hand. Flores has a lot more visibility now, but she’s running in a different CD34 in November, one that was drawn to be a lot friendlier to Dems. We’ll see if she has a big Q3 or if she comes back to earth in that reality.

On the Republican side, I still have no idea what’s going on with Keith Self. How is it he hasn’t raised more than $314K at this point, having had all of Q2 to himself as the nominee in CD03? It’s a mystery to me. Unlikely to matter much, as he should easily win this year, but it will get harder for him in this blue-trending district. Mostly, I just don’t understand why he’s lagging his peers. Not complaining, you understand, just puzzling.

I’m working on posts for the other finance reports of interest. Let me know what you think.

Hinojosa retains TDP chair

It’s fine.

Gilberto Hinojosa

Gilberto Hinojosa won reelection as chairman of the Texas Democratic Party on Saturday, defeating two challengers who sought to tap into members’ simmering frustrations over a lack of progress in the state, especially after their disappointing 2020 election.

Hinojosa, who first took over leadership of the state party in 2012, was up against Kim Olson, a former statewide and congressional candidate, as well as Carroll Robinson, chairman of the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats.

Hinojosa’s victory took two rounds of voting at the party’s convention Saturday in Dallas. After the first round, Robinson bowed out and backed Hinojosa, who then got 58% on the second ballot to 40% for Olson.

In his victory speech, Hinojosa recognized both his challengers, saying he listened and learned from their campaigns.

Hinojosa had argued he had grown the party immensely over the past decade, putting Democrats in a position to capture statewide office as soon as November. But his challengers said he has had enough time to deliver on turning Texas blue.

“Ten years ago, you elected me to be your chair, and I promised you that we would rebuild this party,” Hinojosa said in his final pitch to delegates. “Well, I’ve made good on our promise. We are now the biggest battleground state in the United States.”

See here and here for some background. I didn’t have a strong preference in this one, I just wanted us to come out of the election without hating each other. The story says the contest was basically amicable, so well done there. Hinojosa has said this will be his last term, and that’s fine as well. Let’s move on to November.

This is why you don’t put a crook in charge of enforcing the law

Y’all, Ken Paxton.

Best mugshot ever

For the past two and a half years, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has declined to sue hundreds of candidates and elected officials who altogether owe more than $700,000 to the state in unpaid fines for campaign reporting violations.

Campaign finance laws are meant to give the public insight into politicians’ possible influences and allow voters make informed decisions and hold officeholders accountable.

The Texas Ethics Commission levies the fines against candidates and elected officials who, for example, fail to file reports on their campaign fundraising and spending in a timely manner. Other violations include filing inaccurate or incomplete reports, misusing campaign or public funds for personal benefit, or producing and distributing misleading political advertising.

The state has few restrictions on political spending by design, with the laws supported by Republican lawmakers who generally oppose government regulation. It’s one of only 11 states that put no limits on individual contributions to campaigns.

And the Texas Ethics Commission, the regulatory agency in charge of enforcing those laws, doesn’t have many tools at its disposal to go after scofflaws aside from letter notifications. Its last line of defense against delinquent filers is to refer their cases to the attorney general’s office.

“We have very few rules when it comes to campaign finance in Texas, and the few that we do have are not enforced, clearly,” said Anthony Gutierrez, executive director of Common Cause Texas, a government watchdog group. “What’s the point of even having the rules?”

Refusing to collect the fines is the latest exhibit of the antagonistic relationship between Paxton and the Texas Ethics Commission. In recent years, Paxton’s office has questioned the constitutionality of the agency’s work, and though his office is charged with defending state agencies in court, he has declined to defend it against a still-ongoing suit filed by political allies of his who seek to gut the agency. The unusual move has cost the state over $1 million by forcing it to seek outside counsel.

[…]

Chase Untermeyer, former chair of the Texas Ethics Commission and former Republican state representative for a Houston district, said he was surprised to hear that no suits had been filed. The attorney general’s office always had a threshold dollar amount for filing suits, he said, but it never quit filing them altogether before Paxton. Untermeyer served on the commission from 2010 to 2017 and was chair from 2016 to 2017.

“In theory, I think the attorney general’s office should represent the ethics commission and carry out both the spirit and the letter of the law,” Untermeyer said, “but I recognize they have a limited staff and for very practical and perhaps financial reasons, they may limit or put a floor on the amount of times they consider enforcement.”

Many times, he said, the only option left to the agency is the “naming and shaming” delinquent filers on a publicly available list on its website. As of last month, the list showed nearly 500 people owed fines that summed more than $2 million.

The halt of collections cases comes after the office filed 36 suits in 2019 and 15 in 2018, agency records show.

Democrat Rochelle Garza, Paxton’s opponent as he seeks re-election, said in a statement to Hearst Newspapers that this is “just another example of Ken Paxton’s impotent use of his office.”

“Paxton cares more about his extremist agenda than doing his job and bringing accountability to our electoral system,” she said. “I will bring back integrity and accountability to our government. There will be no more free passes for bad actors under my administration.”

The irony, as the story notes, is that the two biggest fine-owers right now are both Democrats – Rep. Ron Reynolds, and a Dallas County judge. Among many other things, this particular failure by Paxton – which, again, is a choice and not an error – would give Rochelle Garza a prime opportunity right out of the box if she wins to show how a non-partisan law-abiding Attorney General would operate. Imagine that for a minute. Such a simple lesson, not putting a crook in charge of enforcing the law.

Beto raises $27 million since Feb 20

A new record for that sort of thing.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke raised a staggering $27.6 million from late February through June, outraising Republican incumbent Greg Abbott and setting a new record for campaign fundraising in Texas.

O’Rourke’s campaign announced the haul Friday morning, and Abbott’s followed with the announcement that he raised $24.9 million over the same period. O’Rourke’s $27.6 million is the most a candidate for state office in Texas has ever raised in a reporting period.

Still, Abbott maintains a decisive advantage in cash on hand. His campaign said it had $45.7 million cash on hand as of June 30. O’Rourke’s campaign did not release that figure, but it had $6.8 million in the bank as of mid-February.

The candidates are set to formally disclose their latest campaign finances on a report due later Friday to the Texas Ethics Commission. It will cover Feb. 20 through June 30.

O’Rourke’s haul came from over 511,000 contributions, 98.9% of which came in online, according O’Rourke’s campaign. The average donation was $54.

By comparison, Abbott’s campaign said it “nearly” 113,000 contributions. The campaign added that “nearly 86% came from within Texas.”

The most recent fundraising period saw at least two major events that energized Democrats, including the Uvalde school shooting in May and then the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade in June. O’Rourke alluded to those events in a statement touting his fundraising.

“We’re receiving support from people in every part of Texas who want to work together to ensure our state moves beyond Greg Abbott’s extremism and finally leads in great jobs, world class schools, the ability to see a doctor, keeping our kids safe and protecting a woman’s freedom to make her own decisions about her own body, health care and future,” O’Rourke said in a statement.

Apparently, the group that contributed the most among Beto’s contributors was teachers. Can’t imagine why. Abbott is still made of money, and he’s already starting to spend a bunch of it on various forms of advertising. Beto will never have as much money, but he will have enough to be competitive. If you’ve donated to Beto, whether you plan to donate to him again or not, please consider throwing a few bucks to his ticketmates as well – Mike Collier and Rochelle Garza in particular, but any of the others on the statewide ballot will do. We’re going to need every little bit. The Chron has more.

That UH/Hobby poll has Judge Hidalgo up by one in Harris County

Don’t know how many of these polls we’re going to get.

Democrat Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo holds a 1 percentage point lead over Republican opponent Alexandra del Moral Mealer in polling results released Thursday by the University of Houston.

Hidalgo leads del Moral Mealer 48 percent to 47 percent with 5 percent undecided, among likely voters, putting the two candidates in a “statistical dead heat” in the Harris County 2022 county judge race, according to the report.

In the Texas 2022 gubernatorial race, Democrat Beto O’Rourke holds a 9 percent lead over Republican Greg Abbott, with O’Rourke leading Abbott 51 percent to 42 percent among Harris County likely voters.

The online survey was conducted by the Hobby School of Public Affairs between June 27 and July 7, in English and Spanish, with 321 respondents who are registered to vote in Texas. The margin of error is plus- or minus 5.47 percent.

Del Moral Mealer holds a 31-percentage point advantage over Hidalgo among white voters, while Hidalgo holds a 66-point advantage over del Moral Mealer among Black voters. Del Moral Mealer holds a 3-percentage point edge over Hidalgo among Latino voters. Hidalgo holds a 14-point lead over del Moral Mealer among women, while del Moral Mealer holds a 13-point edge among men.

See here for the Abbott/Beto poll post, and here for the poll details. Some of the subsample numbers are a little strange, but that’s what you get sometimes. Beto beat Ted Cruz in Harris County by a 58-41 margin in 2018, and I have to say it’s hard for me to see how the Governor’s race could be as close as five points if he’s only leading in Harris by nine. I don’t expect to get a whole lot of other Harris County-specific polls, though we may get more numbers from the Hobby Center before it’s all said and done. As always, putting too much faith in one poll result is a hazard to your health, so use this story wisely.

UH/Hobby Center: Abbott 49, Beto 44

This one is post-Dobbs.

In the race for governor, Republican Greg Abbott leads Democrat Beto O’Rourke by 5% among likely voters, 49% to 44%, with 5% undecided and 2% intending to vote for Libertarian Mark Tippetts.

More than nine out of 10 Abbott (95%) and O’Rourke (92%) voters are certain about their vote choice, while 5% and 8% indicate they might change their mind between now and November.

Abbott holds a 27% (60% to 33%) lead over O’Rourke among white voters while O’Rourke holds a 72% (80% to 8%) lead over Abbott among Black voters and a 9% (51% to 42%) lead among Latino voters.

O’Rourke has a 6% (49% to 43%) lead over Abbott among women, while Abbott enjoys a 18% (56% to 38%) lead over O’Rourke among men.

Older Texans belonging to the Silent Generation/Baby Boomer cohort and to Generation X favor Abbott over O’Rourke by margins of 18% (57% to 39%) and 9% (52% to 43%) respectively, while O’Rourke is the candidate of choice among younger Texans belonging to the Millennial/Generation Z cohort, with a 15% (51% to 36%) advantage over Abbott.

Virtually every Texas Democrat (96%) intends to vote for O’Rourke compared to 1% who intend to vote for Abbott, and virtually every Texas Republican (91%) intends to vote for Abbott, compared to 2% who intend to vote for O’Rourke. Texas Independents are more evenly divided, with 48% intending to vote for Abbott and 32% for O’Rourke.

When asked to what extent 15 issues would be important to their gubernatorial vote choice, more than three-fourths of Texas likely voters listed these five policies as being extremely or very important: inflation (84%), crime and public safety (83%), economic growth (78%), government spending and taxes (78%), and health care costs (76%).

Only three issues are extremely or very important to less than half of likely Texas voters when deciding who to vote for in the 2022 gubernatorial election: climate change (48%), COVID-19 policies (47%), and LGBTQ rights (36%).

Four issues are extremely or very important to more than nine out of ten Abbott voters when making their gubernatorial vote decision: inflation (96%), immigration and border security (94%), crime and public safety (92%), and government spending and taxes (91%).

Three issues are extremely or very important to more than nine out of ten O’Rourke voters when making their gubernatorial vote decision: voting rights (94%), gun control (92%), and health care costs (90%).

In the race for lieutenant governor, Republican Dan Patrick leads Democrat Mike Collier by 5% among likely voters, 48% to 43%, with 9% undecided.

More than nine out of 10 Patrick (96%) and Collier (92%) voters are certain about their vote choice, while 4% and 8% indicate they might change their mind between now and November.

In the race for attorney general, Republican Ken Paxton leads Democrat Rochelle Mercedes Garza by 5% among likely voters (46% to 41%), with 9% undecided and 4% intending to vote for Libertarian Mark Ash.

More than nine out of 10 Paxton (94%) and Garza (91%) voters are certain about their vote choice, while 6% and 9% indicate they might change their mind between now and November.

The generic Republican U.S. House candidate leads the generic Democratic U.S. House candidate by 6% among likely voters (49% to 43%), with 6% undecided.

Among likely voters, Abbott is viewed favorably by 50% and unfavorably by 47%.

Among likely voters, O’Rourke is viewed favorably by 45% and unfavorably by 50%.

This was an online YouGov poll, fielded between June 27 and July 7, so entirely after the Dobbs decision, the first such poll. It’s more or less the same as the their February poll, so at least in this poll there doesn’t seem to be much difference as a result of that ruling. Well, in this sample Beto is much closer to Abbott among independents. That probably doesn’t mean much, but it’s what I see.

It’s interesting that the Lite Guv and AG races have similar margins, with the Dem candidates doing almost as well as Beto in total support. The norm for these lower-visibility races is that the “don’t know/no answer” contingent is much higher, which tends to drag the Democratic number down further, as those candidates lack name recognition. This poll confirmed that a large number of respondents didn’t really know much about Mike Collier or Rochelle Garza or any other statewide non-Beto Democrat, but they’re willing to vote for them anyway. Make of that what you will. Reform Austin has more.

Losing Clear Creek ISD candidate sues to overturn her loss

This is probably going to amount to nothing, but we still have to get through it.

A conservative candidate who ran for a seat on the Clear Creek ISD school board to fight “indoctrination” in May, has filed a lawsuit contesting her election loss, claiming problems with mail-in ballots.

Misty Dawson’s petition, filed June 30 in Galveston County District Court against Jessica Cejka, who narrowly won the District 1 seat by 43 votes, claims there were “at least 29” illegal votes counted in the race and asks for the results to be ruled void.

The basis for the petition, filed under Title 14 of the Texas Election Code, which allows any candidate of any election to contest results, is that discrepancies in mail-in ballots may have changed the outcome of the tight race. Though Dawson had a lead in early voting, Cejka won the election after mail-in ballots were counted.

“My hope is for any and all errors to be brought to light. For our district to do better in future elections. For every candidate to be given a fair (and) honest election where every eligible vote counts,” Dawson wrote in a message sent via social media Tuesday.

Cejka and Clear Creek ISD officials did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

In a response to the lawsuit filed in the case, Cejka said she rejects every claim made by Dawson.

The official results took 10 days to tally due to a large number of absentee votes. Once the results were official, Dawson said she would contest them.

In May, the district said it received 2,426 mail-in ballots. Of those, 380 were rejected, according to the district, for a number of reasons, including carrier envelopes not being signed, signatures on applications that could not immediately be verified to match the signatures on ballots and statements of residence not being included.

Among the discrepancies alleged in the lawsuit, Dawson said the District 1 position appeared on at least 19 early voting ballots for mail-in voters who did not live within the district boundaries.

John Coby, who lives in the area and follows the likes of Misty Dawson a lot more closely than I do, was first to report this. We all know why some mail ballots were rejected in May, so good luck with that. As for the rest, it’s one thing to make allegations, it’s another to prove them. According to the story, there will be a status conference for the lawsuit on September 29. I’ll keep an eye on this.

A few words about the state of the Governor’s race

There are many factors.

A school shooting in Uvalde that left 19 children and two teachers dead. The end of a nearly 50-year-old constitutional right to an abortion.

A history-making spring in Texas is laying the groundwork for a contentious final four months in the race to lead the state, where Republican incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott remains the favorite but is confronting his toughest Democratic opponent yet in Beto O’Rourke.

While O’Rourke works to harness the anti-incumbent energy spurred by the seismic events of the past few months, Abbott is banking on a general election centered on stronger issues for him: the economy and the border. But even as the national environment looks bleak for Democrats, O’Rourke has been able to keep the race competitive in Texas — and Abbott’s campaign is not taking any chances.

“People are energized right now, but you know, our job is going to be to keep them that way up until Election Day on Nov. 8,” said Kim Gilby, chair of the Democratic Party in Williamson County, a battleground county north of Austin that in 2018 went for both O’Rourke for U.S. Senate and Abbott for governor. “We can’t just lose sight — there’s so much at stake right now.”

Gilby added she was not worried about O’Rourke’s ability to keep people engaged, calling him the “Energizer bunny” of the campaign trail.

Abbott still carries most of the advantages in the race — money, for one, and a midterm election that is expected to favor Republicans across the country. The governor’s allies argue that voters are more worried about the skyrocketing inflation and illegal immigration — and that O’Rourke cannot separate himself from President Joe Biden, who is very unpopular in Texas.

“First and foremost, those [social] issues won’t overcome the reality of Biden’s economy and when you ask Texans what are their biggest issues, their answers are inflation, the economy and the border,” said Dennis Bonnen, the former Texas House speaker, adding he doesn’t think attitudes in Texas about abortion and guns are enough to move the needle. “Those are issues that have been around forever. The lines have been drawn … and I don’t see significant movement either way.”

Abbott himself has downplayed the political impact of Roe v. Wade getting overturned, arguing that his gubernatorial race in 2014 against then-state Sen. Wendy Davis was a “referendum on the issue of abortion” and he won resoundingly.

To O’Rourke and his supporters, though, this spring has been game-changing. His campaign said it has had 52,000 volunteer shift sign-ups in the five weeks since the Uvalde shooting, a 300% increase over the five weeks prior. After the Roe v. Wade ruling, which came on a Friday, the campaign set out to knock on 30,000 doors over the following weekend and hit 30,279 through 87 separate block walks statewide.

“For us to do that four months away from when this election is decided just shows you how energized the people of Texas are,” O’Rourke said on a Facebook Live afterward.

Beto mentions the latest Quinnipiac poll to bolster his case for optimism. This story came out before both the CBS/YouGov poll, which as noted was done at least partly before the Dobbs decision was released, and the UT/Texas Politics Project poll, which was done fully before Dobbs. We’ll surely get more polling data soon enough, and we’ll see fundraising reports soon. Those are the main objective things one can point to, the rest is mostly vibes. As Scott Braddock put it on the Tuesday CityCast Houston podcast, Abbott is the favorite but Beto has a chance. He’ll need a lot to go right – this story talks about those things, as well as the things that likely won’t go so well for him – and he’ll need to deliver a message that resonates. He’s been delivering a strong critique of Abbott, and he’s absolutely been drawing crowds and generating excitement. He’s just doing it from a non-advantageous starting point. Check back after we get some more of the objective stuff and we’ll see how the vibes are.

CBS/YouGov: Abbott 49, Beto 41

Kinda meh, but with some caveats.

As the race for governor tightens, a new CBS News poll shows Gov. Greg Abbott regaining support against Democratic candidate and former congressman Beto O’Rourke.

The matchup between Abbott and O’Rourke is the marquee race and the new poll shows Republicans could retain power in November.

“The economy, war and I think the court’s decisions clearly favor the Republicans. The only question mark — will Democrats mobilize?” KHOU political expert Bob Stein said.

Indications show incumbent Abbott is in a good position to win again in November.

The poll shows Abbott with an eight-point lead: 49% to 41%.

“Republicans always had a tremendous advantage in turnout — particularly in the midterms, in the midterm elections. The Democratic margin in turnout to Republicans was as much as 12 to 15 points,” Stein said.

[…]

Forty-six percent of Texans approve of the job Abbott is doing and 55% believe Abbott’s response to the Uvalde shooting was “bad.”

The CBS poll continued to show strong support for red flag laws, background checks, a ban on semi-automatic weapons and restricting the age to buy an AR-15.

You can find the poll data embedded at the end of this story. The poll was of 1,075 adults, not registered voters; they included a question about how likely one was to vote, which I guess helped them do a screen of some kind. Of interest is that they give the margin of error as 4.7%, which is a lot higher than it should be for a sample this size. A 4.7% MOE is consistent with a sample of between 450 and 500. I’m honestly not sure what this means in terms of their methodology.

Anyway. I’ve not been obsessively tracking the polls this cycle but I believe this is the first YouGov poll of the cycle – certainly, the first CBS-branded YouGov poll – so there’s no earlier result to compare it with. The poll was conducted between June 22 and 27, and as you may recall the SCOTUS opinion that overturned Roe v Wade dropped on June 24. The original story, the one with the data, does not mention that, nor what (if any) effect that may have had on responses. (Bob Stein mentions the overturning of Roe as a factor in the race in the KHOU story, though he doesn’t note the dates in question.)

As far as the numbers themselves go, the main thing I see that favors Abbott is his margin among independents – he leads them 55-30, which is huge. I mean, that terrible Quinnipiac poll from last December only had Abbott up 47-37 among indies. On the other hand, the somewhat oddball Hobby Center poll from February had him up 45-17, while only leading 48-43 overall. Go figure. The more recent Quinnipiac poll, which is the most recent other poll and which had Abbott up 48-43, had him leading with indies by a 46-40 margin. The lesson here is that poll models can vary quite a bit, which is why you never take one poll too seriously. We’ll see what the next one, which will hopefully be a fully post-Dobbs poll, has to say.

Beto will work to repeal Texas’ abortion ban

He can’t succeed, not at this time and not in the near future, but aim big and make it clear what the stakes are.

In the days after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Democrats at rallies and protests in Texas said the November election is key for protecting reproductive rights.

In an interview after a Sunday rally in Austin, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke told The Texas Tribune he would work to repeal Texas’ abortion ban and expand access to reproductive health care if he is elected. Rochelle Garza, the Democratic nominee for attorney general, said she would partner with other lawyers to stop enforcement of the state’s abortion laws.

But these promises may be hard to keep if Democrats on the statewide ballot in November win. They would have to work with a Legislature that is likely to remain dominated by Republicans. Still, working with the GOP, O’Rourke said, is part of a functioning democracy.

“Just imagine the shockwaves this will send if for the first time in 32 years, Texas elects a Democrat as governor, a governor who won on the right of every woman to make her own decision about her own body, her own future, and her own health care,” O’Rourke said. “You know the Legislature will not only take notice, they will be forced to act in more of our common interest, instead of this extreme, fringe set of policies they have been pursuing over the last decade.”

He also said he’s hopeful the outrage among voters over the end of constitutional protections for abortion will translate to a more balanced Legislature come November and “change the dynamics in the Capitol.”

As I’ve said before, nobody knows right now what the effect of SCOTUS overturning Roe will be in Texas. Early polling suggests that Democrats are fired up about this, but it’s too early to know if that will persist, and it’s too early to feel confident that other news will not displace it in the forefront. Historic polling has shown there to be about a 2-1 majority opposed to making abortion harder to get in Texas, but that was composed of roughly equal parts “make abortion easier to get” and “keep current laws as they are”. Which, as you may recall, was pretty strict even before SB8 passed.

I believe Beto has done a good job of engaging Democratic voters, who from where I sit look to be reasonably enthusiastic about voting in Texas. I think he’ll get some tailwind from the overturning of Roe. I don’t know how that compares to the already-existing enthusiasm on the Republican side, or whether this decision will add any juice to it or not have much effect. We’re going to need a lot of polling data to begin to get a picture, and of course the campaigns themselves have a lot to say about this as well. I tend to be optimistic (a hard thing to be these days), and I think Beto has run a good campaign so far. I’m just reluctant to speculate beyond that at this time.

Cuellar officially wins CD28 runoff

All over now.

Rep. Henry Cuellar

A recount has confirmed U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, as the winner of his hard-fought primary runoff, according to the Texas Democratic Party.

The recount wrapped up Tuesday, and Cuellar picked up eight votes, defeating progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros by 289 votes overall, the party said.

“As I said on election night, ‘the margin will hold’- and it has not only held but grown,” Cuellar said in a statement earlier Tuesday. “I am proud to be your Democratic nominee for the 28th District of Texas.”

Cisneros conceded in a statement, saying she will “keep fighting to create a more progressive and accountable Democratic Party this year and work to turn Texas blue in November.”

Cuellar’s Democratic primary runoff was one of two in South Texas that had gone to recounts. In the other runoff, for the open seat in the 15th Congressional District, Michelle Vallejo remained the winner after a recount wrapped up last week.

Cuellar led Cisneros by 177 votes after election night nearly a month ago. His lead grew to 281 votes by the time the final ballots were counted.

Cuellar had repeatedly declared victory, starting on election night, and dismissed the notion that a recount would change the outcome.

See here for the previous update, and here for the TDP statement. Not much to add, so let’s get on with it for November.

Recount updates

We have a winner in CD15.

Today, after Wednesday’s manual recount of the votes in the CD-15 primary runoff election, the Texas Democratic Party announced that Michelle Vallejo has secured enough votes to earn the Democratic nomination for U.S. Congress from the 15th Congressional District.

“The Texas Democratic Party is fully behind our nominee, Michelle Vallejo, and we’re going to put in the hard work required to send her to Washington D.C. to represent South Texas,” said Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa. “We congratulate Michelle and her team for the work they put into this campaign to show voters that Democrats are fighting for them – and thank Ruben Ramirez and his campaign for their dedication to this community as well.”

See here for the background. Vallejo had already declared victory, while Ramirez said he would until the state officially canvasses the results next week before issuing a statement. I suspect that a concession will be forthcoming soon. In the end, Vallejo added seven votes to her total, while Ramirez picked up two, making the final margin 35 votes.

Meanwhile, in CD28, we’re still waiting.

A recount was underway Thursday in a Texas primary race between Democratic U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar and progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros following their tight runoff in May.

Before the recount, Cuellar had been leading Cisneros by 187 votes, or 0.4 percentage points, out of 45,429 ballots counted as of last week, according to an Associated Press count. The AP will not declare a winner until the recount is completed.

It was not clear Thursday when the recount would be finished.

I don’t expect anything different. I’ll let you know when I see a further update.

Charlene Ward Johnson wins HCC2

Charlene Ward Johnson

Final voting for the HCC2 runoff was yesterday. You can see the results here. Charlene Ward Johnson won with 1,278 votes, out of 2,390 cast, for 53.7% of the vote. I said there had been 4,662 ballots cast in the May special election for this and that we might not see half as many this time around. I’m glad to say I was a tad bit pessimistic about that.

Be that as it may, Charlene Ward Johnson is the newest member of the HCC Board of Trustees, and she will hold that position through 2025, when the seat is next up for election. I didn’t see any news reports about this at a first glance – perhaps something will be reported on Monday. You can still listen to my interview with her if you need to get acquainted. Congratulations and best of luck to Charlene Ward Johnson.

Harris County GOP drops its lawsuit over election night vote dropoffs

It wasn’t getting anywhere, anyway.

The Harris County GOP on Friday dropped its lawsuit, filed on the day of last month’s primary runoff election, challenging the county’s plan for counting ballots.

Local Republican party officials argued the county’s ballot transport protocol violated state election law. The lawsuit, filed just hours before polls closed on Election Day, could have caused serious delays in counting ballots on May 24 had the Texas Supreme Court agreed with the Harris County GOP that the plan was unlawful. Instead, the court did not issue an opinion and election night ballot counting proceeded uneventfully at NRG Arena.

[…]

The Harris County Elections Administrator’s office debuted the plan in the May 7 election — deputizing law enforcement officials and full-time county staffers to deliver ballots from the polling location to the county’s central counting station.

Traditionally, the responsibility of transporting the ballots to the counting station on election night has fallen to election judges, the final task at the end of their 15-hour day. An election judge is the person in charge of running a voting location. In a primary election, each polling location has one judge from each party overseeing their own party’s voting process.

The Harris County GOP pushed back on the county’s plan, arguing only election judges are allowed to transport ballots and instructing Republican election judges to drive ballots themselves. The Election Administrator’s office notified Republican election judges they could “opt in” to the county’s plan if they wished, and at least 31 of them did so.

At a May 11 hearing with the state House Elections Committee, Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria argued the county’s ballot delivery plan utilizing law enforcement officers and deputized staffers is in compliance with Texas law.

Keith Ingram, the secretary of state’s director of elections, told lawmakers in the hearing he disagreed with that interpretation and believed Harris County’s plan violated the law.

See here for the background. As noted recently, the Supreme Court never responded to the initial writ, so I assume this was just a matter of the local GOP deciding it wasn’t worth the effort to continue. With a new election administrator about to come on board, we can revisit the matter and see if there’s a consensus to be had. From what I’ve gathered from talking to people, the multiple-dropoff-locations idea, which had been Diane Trautman’s original plan, is probably the best way to go. But we’ll see what happens.

Quinnipiac: Abbott 48, Beto 43

A lot closer than their previous poll, from December.

In the race for Texas governor, 48 percent of voters support Republican incumbent Greg Abbott, while 43 percent support Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke, according to a Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pea-ack) University poll of Texas registered voters released today. This compares to a Quinnipiac University poll in December 2021 when 52 percent of voters supported Abbott and 37 percent supported O’Rourke. In today’s poll, Republicans (90 – 5 percent) and independents (46 – 40 percent) back Abbott, while Democrats (96 – 2 percent) back O’Rourke.

There are also big differences by gender, race, and age. Abbott wins the support of men 59 – 33 percent, while O’Rourke wins the support of women 52 – 38 percent. Abbott wins the support of white voters 63 – 30 percent, while O’Rourke wins the support of Black voters 73 – 11 percent and Hispanic voters 50 – 41 percent. O’Rourke leads among voters 18 – 34 years old (56 – 35 percent), while Abbott leads among voters 35 – 49 years old (50 – 38 percent) and voters 50 – 64 years old (57 – 37 percent). Among voters 65 years of age and over, Abbott receives 50 percent, while O’Rourke receives 45 percent.

[…]

Fifty-one percent of voters think that stricter gun laws would help to decrease the number of mass shootings, while 47 percent think they would not. This is a change from a Quinnipiac poll in June 2021 when only 42 percent of voters said that stricter gun laws would help to decrease the number of mass shootings and 56 percent said they would not.

Voters support 58 – 38 percent stricter gun laws in the United States.

Voters support 93 – 6 percent requiring background checks for all gun buyers.

Voters support 73 – 25 percent raising the minimum legal age to buy any gun to 21 years old nationwide.

Voters are split on a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons. Forty-seven percent support a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons, while 49 percent oppose it.

See here for the December Q poll, which had Abbott up by a 52-37 margin that looked like an outlier to me; most other polls have had Abbott up by 6 to 11 points. Abbott’s approval rating was 52-42 in December, and 47-46 here, while Biden’s was 32-64 in December and 33-61 here. Whatever has Beto doing better in this poll compared to the earlier one, it’s not an improvement in the President’s fortunes.

Jeremy Wallace of the Chron points out that Abbott is doing better among independents and Latinos against Beto than Ted Cruz had done in 2018 (46-40 among indies for Abbott versus 56-40 for Beto against Cruz; 50-41 among Latinos for Beto against Abbott versus 60-36 against Cruz). That’s all true, but in the December poll, Abbott led 47-37 among indies, and also led 44-41 among Latinos. It’s all a matter of which comparison you want to look at. That said, I agree with the basic premise that these underlying numbers aren’t great for Beto. He did vastly improve on his performance among Dems (96-2 here versus 87-6 in December), which suggests to me that partisan enthusiasm and maybe the voter turnout model are more in his favor now. That’s something that only more poll samples can answer.

You know that I hate stories about single polls that refer to races “tightening” or leads “widening” or what not. No one poll can ever tell you that. Indeed, a day or two before this one came out there was another poll by an outfit I’d never heard of that claimed Abbott was up by 19, which obviously would contradict Quinnipiac’s narrative. I am naturally skeptical of new pollsters, and this result looks like a huge outlier even without that. It’s still a data point, whatever you make of it, and my point is that no one poll tells you anything more than that. Hopefully we’ll get some more data, and maybe see what the picture resembles now. The Chron has more.

Flores wins CD34 special election

Groan.

Republican Mayra Flores prevailed Tuesday in a special election for an open congressional seat in South Texas, marking a major breakthrough for Republicans eager to blaze new inroads in the historically blue region.

She beat Dan Sanchez, the leading Democrat, outright in the closely watched race and will be the first Mexican-born congresswoman. She will get to serve only until January, but Republicans heralded her win as a shot of momentum in their new South Texas offensive.

With all precincts reporting Tuesday night, Flores had 50.98% of the vote and Sanchez had 43.33%. There were two other, lesser-known candidates — Democrat Rene Coronado and Republican Juana “Janie” Cantu-Cabrera — in the race.

Sanchez is a Harlingen lawyer and former Cameron County commissioner, while Flores, a respiratory therapist, is the Republican nominee for the seat in November.

[…]

Sanchez conceded in a statement that pointed the finger at national Democrats for not doing enough to defend the seat. They had argued the race was not worth the investment.

“Based on the results, we came up short tonight despite being outspent by millions of dollars from out of state interests and the entire Republican machine,” he said. “Too many factors were against us, including little to no support from the National Democratic Party and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.”

The special election was called to finish the term of former U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, who resigned in March to work for the lobbying firm Akin Gump.

See here for some background. I don’t want to overreact or underreact to this result. Obviously, it’s not great – a longtime Dem seat, making the existing Dem margin that much smaller, furthering a lot of bad narratives about Dems and the 2022 election, etc etc etc. It’s also the case that this election was created in a lab to be friendly to Republicans, who had a ready-made candidate in place with money and an existing infrastructure, while Dems had to go looking for someone to run specifically as a temp. I was hoping to get this to a runoff, but nope. It is what it is, and what it is basically sucks.

It is true that Dems have done rather poorly in special elections in purple Latino districts in recent years, with HD118 in 2016 and SD19 in 2018 as Exhibits A and B. The SD19 result was for a brief minute seen as a bad sign for Dems in 2018, and we know how that turned out. Dems retook those seats, in 2020 in both cases. The new lines for CD34 are considerably more Dem-leaning than the old ones (CD15 took the brunt of that exchange), so Rep. Flores is probably also going to be a temp. Probably. It would have been nice to get some evidence of that in this race. We seem to like playing with matches, for some reason.

Not much else to say except to say once again that this is all because Filemon Vela couldn’t wait a couple of months to glom onto that cushy lobbyist gig he now has. If he had resigned in August instead of April, this election would have been in November and no one would have cared about it. He is forever invited to kiss my ass. The Observer has more.

Harris County ponders a bond election

First one in awhile.

Harris County leaders will begin discussions Tuesday about whether to add a bond election to the November ballot.

The bond would be a hybrid measure to raise money for roads, parks, flood control, and public safety. It’s unclear how much the bond would be for, but Commissioner Adrian Garcia’s office said it could come in the ballpark of $1 billion.

Garcia, who asked the county budget office to look into the possibility of a new bond, said Commissioners Court will first have to hear from the office on whether the county’s finances can sustain new borrowing.

Garcia, a Democrat, is up for reelection this fall.

“I’m in favor of putting it on the same ballot that I would be on,” he said. “I think it’s important to show the folks that we’re working on their behalf, we’re making investments, and we need their support to make the investments that they want to see done.”

[…]

Garcia’s office says the commissioner is flexible on the bond amount, as he’s hoping to win bipartisan support from his fellow commissioners to put it on the ballot.

There was the post-Harvey $2.5 billion flood bond election in 2018, a bond package in 2015 that passed easily, and the 2013 joint inmate processing center referendum that just barely passed (the “save the Astrodome” item on the same ballot went down). That was a sort-of sequel to a series of bond issues in 2007 that included one for jail construction, which was defeated. So yeah, there’s room for a new issue. Obviously, what would be in it needs to be defined, and it would need to be approved by Commissioners Court for the ballot by mid-August or so. We’ll see what they come up with. The Chron has more.

There was definitely an improvement in mail ballot acceptance for the primary runoffs

The last time I looked, I was largely unable to find any news stories about mail ballots and their rejection rates for the May primary runoff elections, with the exception of one story about Bexar County and how they were leading the field in getting rejection rates down to something akin to pre-SB1 levels. I still can’t find any stories about this, but it (finally) occurred to me that the new reconciliation reports that election officials now have to publish would contain the data I’m looking for. So with that in mind, off I went. I obviously don’t have the time to go looking everywhere, and some of those smaller county elections webpages are just awful, but I did have a look at a few places of interest.

Harris County, Democratic: 19,081 total mail ballots, of which 1,128 were rejected, for a rejection rate of 5.9%.

Harris County, Republican: 15,053 total mail ballots, of which 1,169 were rejected, for a rejection rate of 7.8%

That’s a clear improvement of the 20% rejection rate from March and the 12% rejection rate of the May special election. It’s still too high, but it’s not take-your-breath-away too high. And it pleases me no end to see Republicans have a harder time with it than Democrats. It’s unlikely to be enough to matter if that’s still the case in November, but it would be a rich piece of karma if more of their votes got tossed as a result of this malicious law.

Bexar County, Democratic: 11,919 total mail ballots, of which 15 (yes, fifteen) were rejected, for a rejection rate of 0.1%.

Bexar County, Republican: 5,856 total mail ballots, of which 33 were rejected, for a rejection rate of 0.6%.

Bexar is definitely the gold standard, the example for everyone else to emulate. And Dems did better here as well. Encouraging.

Travis County, cumulative: 10,224 total mail ballots, of which 222 were rejected, for a rejection rate of 2.2%.

Not all counties broke this out by party. The overall rate is low enough here to not sweat it too much. About 75% of the mail ballots overall were Democratic, so it’s likely that the Dem rejection rate was right around 2.2% – the Republican rate could have been a lot different without affecting the total too much.

Dallas County, cumulative: 10,708 total mail ballots, of which 176 were rejected, for a rejection rate of 1.6%.

Like Travis County, but slightly fewer rejections. Dems cast a bit less than 70% of the mail ballots.

Montgomery County, cumulative: 4,366 total mail ballots, of which 25 were rejected, for a rejection rate of 0.6%.

Republicans knew what they were doing here. They were 70% of mail ballots.

Fort Bend County, cumulative: 4,382 total mail ballots, of which 187 were rejected, for a 4.3% rejection rate.

Closest one yet to Harris. About two thirds of mail ballots were Democratic. Would have been nice to see the breakdown by party here.

Cameron County, Democratic: 1,323 total mail ballots, of which 3 were rejected, for a rejection rate of 0.3%.

Cameron County, Republican: 292 total mail ballots, of which 2 were rejected, for a rejection rate of 0.7%.

Wow.

So it’s clear there was a lot of improvement, and while Harris did a much better job there’s room for us to do better as well. It’s also important to remember that there are still a huge number of people who have not yet tried to vote by mail, so there’s no guarantee that the improvements will continue or be maintained. There’s still a lot of work to be done. But at least it looks like that work will have a payoff.

(PS – Not all counties had the reconciliation reports in a place that I could find. I looked for them for El Paso and Tarrant and came up empty. Might have just been me, but maybe their site design needs some work.)

So what’s going on in the CD34 special election?

We started with this.

Early voting continues for the June 14 special election for CD34 open (Lean R) through June 10. Candidates for that special election were required to file pre-special election reports today (Thurs.) if they meet the reporting thresholds. These reports disclose contributions received and expenditures made between April 1 and May 25.

Mayra Flores (R) out-raised former Cameron Co. Comm. Dan Sanchez (D), $734K to $46K, and outspent him, $754K to $42K. They each have just over $100K on hand. Sanchez has a $100K loan balance. Flores has raised $1.1M for the race so far including funds raised for the March 1 primary election, which she won outright with 60% of the vote.

Not great! Flores’ report is here, and Sanchez’s is here. Flores had raised $347K as of the April report, which means her combined total is now over a million, while Sanchez had not yet filed a report as of then as he had barely entered by that time. There’s now some national Democratic money in the race, which closes the gap a little, but not that much (Politico link via Daily Kos Elections).

Then we got this.

Early voting continues for the June 14 special election for CD34 open (Lean R) through Friday. As of yesterday (Mon.), just over 8K people – 2.1% of registered voters – have cast ballots early in person (78%) or by mail (22%). About three quarters of all early votes have been cast in Cameron Co., representing 2.7% of registered voters there. Those voters break down as follows:

  • 49% also voted in the March 1 Democratic primary election (2,982 voters)
  • 29% also voted in the Republican primary election (1,767 voters); and
  • 22% did not vote in either party’s primary election (1,360 voters).

These numbers suggest Democrats Dan Sanchez and Rene Coronado could receive a majority of early votes combined. Republican candidates this cycle have tended to perform better among Election Day voters. The difference-makers will likely be non-primary voters who are motivated to cast ballots in a low-turnout election. Republican Mayra Flores and allied PACs have greatly outspent the Democrats so far, which could provide more motivation for those non-primary voters who lean Republican.

Democratic PACs are making a late, albeit significantly smaller, push this week. The House Majority PAC released a new Spanish-language ad, “Lawless,” which uses an endorsement from a gun rights group to tie Flores to images of the January 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

You can see the ad in question there. The next-biggest piece of the existing CD34 is in Hidalgo County, which was also comfortably Dem in 2020; it would be nice to know how it’s going there. I agree that a Sanchez-Flores runoff is the single most likely outcome here, and if that happens this race will surely get louder and more expensive. Whether Dems up their investment or not may depend on how next Tuesday turns out. Stay tuned. The Trib has more.

Early voting is underway in the HCC2 runoff

Apparently, I missed the start of it, which was on Monday.

See here for the background. Early voting will run through next Tuesday, June 14, having started this Monday the 6th. You can find locations here and the map here. Polls are open every day from 7 to 7 except for Sunday, when they will be open from 12 to 7. According to the daily EV report I got yesterday, 264 in person ballots have been cast so far, 84 of which were at the Nassau Bay location. That report doesn’t show any mail ballots being returned, but I have to assume that’s an error of some kind. Regardless, as I suggested before, this will be a very low turnout affair. If you live in HCC district 2, your vote counts for a whole lot.

Here come the recounts

As expected.

Progressive candidate Jessica Cisneros announced Monday she will request a recount in the hard-fought Democratic primary runoff against U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, after she finished 281 votes behind him.

Another Democrat in a key South Texas congressional race, Ruben Ramirez, also said Monday he will ask for a recount. He finished 30 votes behind Michelle Vallejo for the open seat in the 15th District.

The recount announcements came shortly after the Texas Democratic Party certified its primary runoff results, confirming the margins for Cuellar and Vallejo that counties finalized last week.

“Our community isn’t done fighting, we are filing for a recount,” Cisneros said in a statement. “With just under 0.6 percent of the vote symbolizing such stark differences for the future in South Texas, I owe it to our community to see this through to the end.”

[…]

The recounts mean it will be at least weeks before an undisputed winner emerges in each runoff. Any runoff candidate can request a recount as long as their margin is less than 10% of the number of votes received by their opponent. The deadline to request a recount is 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Both Cuellar and Vallejo have claimed victory, and I do not expect these recounts to change that. They’ll just take time off the clock. Both Cisneros and Ramirez have the right to request these recounts, and I’d do the same in their position. The elections are close enough that you can imagine there being some possibility of the result being in question. I’m not them, and all I care about is November, so I’d prefer we not go down this path. That’s not my call, so here we are. I hope this doesn’t take too long.

Cuellar claims victory in CD28

He has a bigger lead now than he did on Election Night.

Rep. Henry Cuellar

With every vote counted in a fiercely contested South Texas Democratic primary runoff, longtime congressman Henry Cuellar was 281 votes ahead of progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros.

Cuellar declared victory last week, after coming in 177 votes ahead of Cisneros on Election Day. The remaining uncounted ballots expanded his lead by another 104 votes, final results from each county in the district showed.

“As I said on election night, the margin will hold — and it has not only held but grown,” Cuellar said in a statement.

Cuellar called for those who voted against him in the runoff to back him in the general election, when Republicans hope Cassy Garcia, a former staffer for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, will flip the long blue district.

“While we may differ on certain positions, we share a common ground on many issues to improve our communities and strengthen families,” Cuellar said.

The final tally is still well within the bounds of a possible recount, however. Texas law allows candidates to request one if the vote difference is less than 10 percent of the leading candidate’s vote total; Cuellar finished with 22,895 votes.

Cisernos’s campaign, which did not immediately comment on the final tally, spent the last week raising money for a “recount fund” and telling supporters that “a recount is looking more and more likely.”

Cuellar’s lead is considerably larger than Michelle Vallajo’s in CD15, though as noted both races are subject to recount. On that subject, among the thousands of emails I get each day are several from Cisneros asking for donations to her “recount fund”, which is silly since her campaign would not have to pay for a recount due to the closeness of the election. Such appeals do work, though, so here we are. As I said with CD15, either ask for a recount (which is Cisneros’ right under the law) or don’t, but either way it’s time to wrap this up and move on to November. Whatever you think of Cuellar (and as you know, I’ve never liked him), he’s always a strong performer in November and should be in decent shape to win even in a non-favorable environment. Big picture, y’all. The San Antonio Report has more.

Vallejo claims victory in CD15 runoff

Her opponent demurs, but it probably doesn’t matter.

Michelle Vallejo

Michelle Vallejo declared victory Wednesday in the Democratic primary runoff for the national battleground 15th Congressional District in South Texas.

Her declaration came eight days after election night, when she emerged with a 23-vote margin over opponent Ruben Ramirez. Her margin grew to 33 votes as the largest counties in the district began to report their final unofficial results Wednesday.

But Ramirez was not ready to concede. His campaign said in a statement that “it is essential that every voter has their say before a final call is made.” The statement suggested the campaign still saw a path to victory.

“South Texas politics has a long tradition of upset victories,” the statement said.

Counties have until the end of day on Thursday to report their final numbers to the state, and even then, candidates can still request recounts. Since election night, counties have been counting mail-in ballots that were postmarked in the 11th-hour, military and overseas ballots that were due Tuesday and provisional ballots.

It was one of two key Democratic runoffs in South Texas that were unsettled coming out of election night. The other is the runoff for the 28th Congressional District, where the moderate nine-term U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, faced progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros. He led by 177 votes after election night, but as most counties reported their final unofficial results Wednesday, his margin widened to at least 192 votes.

[…]

Candidates can request recounts if their margin is less than 10% of the number of votes their opponent received. Ramirez and Cisneros are currently well within that range.

See here for some background. I would expect both Ramirez and Cisneros to request recounts – the races are close, the recounts won’t cost them because they’re close – though as discussed many times I don’t expect that to make any difference. I’d like to get these settled quickly because they’re the two of the closest districts in the state, with CD15 redrawn to be 51-48 Trump in 2020, and we have our work cut out for us. Let’s get to the November part of the race, we don’t have time to lose.

HCC special election runoff will be June 18

From last week:

The Board of Trustees of the Houston Community College System has called a Special Trustee Runoff Election for June 18, 2022 in HCC geographic District II. The position for geographic District II is to be filled for a term continuing until December 31, 2025.

The candidates entitled to a place on the ballot for the Runoff Trustee Election in Trustee District II are:

Charlene Ward Johnson

Kathy “Lynch” Gunter

For additional election information, please contact Harris County Election Administrator: https://www.harrisvotes.org/ or HCC Office of Board Services at 713-718-8398.

Johnson and Gunter were the top two votegetters in the May election. There were 4,662 ballots cast for that in May, helped in part by the statewide special Constitutional amendment election. This time around it will be the only show in town, and I’ll be surprised if it gets as many as half as that total. The winner may receive about a thousand votes total. I hope I’m underestimating, but did you even remember this was a thing? Had you heard anything about it before reading this post? I’m guessing no, and thus my pessimism about turnout. My interview with Kathy Gunter is here, and my interview with Charlene Ward Johnson is here. If you live in this district or know someone who does, please vote or make sure they vote.

By the way, there is also the CD34 special election on June 14, featuring two Democrats and two Republicans; one of those Republicans is their nominee for the new CD34 and had raised some $300K as of the April finance reports. As of the weekend, there were no finance reports for any of the other candidates, so I have no idea if the (decent-looking on paper) stand-in candidate that the Dems managed to recruit has had any success raising money. Early voting for this race starts today, which means that it will go the full two weeks (minus Memorial Day). It’s not listed yet on harrisvotes.com, but given that the HCC runoff is on a Saturday, I would expect early voting for it to run from Wednesday, June 8 to Tuesday the 14th. I’ll let you know when I can confirm that.

Oh, and if no one in the CD34 election gets to 50%, we’ll have a runoff there, which will mean an election in (I presume) July as well. Isn’t this fun?

A better mail ballot

I’m glad someone’s working on this.

After thousands of mail-in ballots were rejected in Texas’ statewide primaries in March, election officials and voting rights groups are stepping up efforts to make sure voters don’t run into the same problems with ballot rejections going forward.

Nearly 25,000 mail ballots were rejected for the March 1 primaries — a far higher rate than prior elections.

Some ballots were rejected because identifying data didn’t match what was on file. But election officials and voting groups say a design issue with the envelope that Texas voters use to return their mail ballots was most responsible for the rejections.

Grace Chimene, president of the League of Women Voters of Texas, says voters missed important instructions located right under the flap of the mail ballot return envelope. That is where voters have to provide either a partial Social Security number or their driver’s license number.

“Voters wouldn’t see [the section] if the flap is down,” she says. “It’s only visible if the flap is up. And the reason behind that was to keep it secret so people couldn’t get that [information] when it was going through the mail.”

Sam Taylor, assistant secretary of state for communications with the Texas secretary of state’s office, says election officials are also convinced that the new voter ID field on the envelope is what led to mass rejections.

“Based on the number of people who just missed it completely, I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch to think that some people thought it was just an optional section,” Taylor says.

A lot of these changes were prompted by a voting law Republican state leaders enacted last year. Taylor says that among the changes, more information was required to be on the return envelope. That affected the envelope’s design.

“There’s more language that’s required, and as a result there is more language and text competing for the same amount of real estate,” he says.

Just so we’re clear, this is the Assistant Secretary of State for Communications confirming that the Republican voter suppression law did in fact suppress votes by making the process sufficiently confusing that thousands of regular voters cast ballots that had to be rejected. They could have ameliorated this problem by delaying implementation of the law until 2023, which would have given the SOS and county officials enough time to design a better mail ballot (which includes the envelope and any supplemental materials) as well as giving the SOS enough time to properly communicate the changes and anything else that county officials needed to know. But they didn’t, and this was the result. Again, I just want to be clear on that.

Chimene says the League of Women Voters of Texas has been working with the Center for Civic Design to create a pamphlet for Texas voters that breaks down everything they need to do to make sure their ballot is counted.

“And that involved simplifying the words and using images and graphics and using bolding and other methods that they specialize in to make voter information that makes sense,” Chimene says.

The plan is to get county election officials to include these pamphlets with vote-by-mail materials. Chimene says hopefully their easy-to-read guides will clear up any confusion.

I certainly hope that county election officials pay heed to this. I continue to maintain that the Texas Democratic Party, the county parties, the candidates and elected officials and affiliated groups and so on, also had and have a responsibility to communicate to their voters what they need to know and do to vote by mail. This is just too important to leave to anyone else, even if it is their job.

The good news is that we know that making changes like this can work, because Bexar County has proven it.

The mail ballots of Bexar County voters in the primary runoff are being returned at a significantly lower rate when compared to the March primary election earlier this year.

About one in five mail ballots for the March Primary were being rejected by the elections office under rigorous new standards set by the Texas Legislature under SB1, the state’s new controversial voting law. However, as of the day before the May primary runoff election, the rejection rate has dropped to less than 1% according to the Bexar County Elections Administrator.

About 16,000 mail ballots have been received by the office so far and the rejection rate is drastically lower than the 22% seen in March.

“The rejection rate for the Democrats is 0.9% and the rejection rate for the Republicans is 0.4% so we are genuinely thrilled,” said Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen.

There are twice as many Democratic Primary ballots that have been received compared to Republican Primary ballots, Callanen added.

[…]

In March, out of the 18,000 ballots received, about 4,000 were rejected.

After that, Callanen said her office made adjustments.

“Just from looking at the raw numbers right now, it looks like it worked,” she said.

That included an insert that was in both English and Spanish.

“We came up with an insert to put in there to assist the voters so they don’t miss on the envelopes with the very tiny print that they need to put on their (Texas Drivers License), or the last four of your social, so we are really excited and now at this point now we’re looking forward to November,” she said.

Another adjustment was increasing the font size on the envelope relating to the new SB1 requirements.

“What we basically did was, we took the area under the flap with all the legalese and we blew it up,” she said referring to the font size which she said was boosted to 12 point font.

We’ve discussed the Bexar County success story before, and I will bang the drum for their example again. I will also note that even within that, there’s room for improvement on the Dem side, which is why it’s important for the Texas Democratic establishment to take their own initiative. I can’t say this often or loudly enough: It is too important to do anything less.

These were the stories I found when I did my latest Google News search for mail ballot rejections. We should have final vote canvasses on Tuesday, so maybe we’ll get some numbers – and some reporting – from other counties as well. I will follow up and let you know.

The national trend is for less voting by mail

Of interest.

The great vote-by-mail wave appears to be receding just as quickly as it arrived.

After tens of millions of people in the United States opted for mail ballots during the pandemic election of 2020, voters in early primary states are returning in droves to in-person voting this year.

In Georgia, one of the mostly hotly contested states, about 85,000 voters had requested mail ballots for the May 24 primary, as of Thursday. That is a dramatic decrease from the nearly 1 million who cast mail ballots in the state’s 2020 primary at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

The trend was similar in Ohio, Indiana and West Virginia, which held primaries this month; comparisons were not available for Nebraska, another early primary state.

A step back in mail balloting was expected given easing concerns about COVID-19, but some election officials and voting experts had predicted that far more voters would seek out the convenience of mail voting once they experienced it.

Helping drive the reversal is the rollback of temporary rules expanding mail ballots in 2020, combined with distrust of the process among Republicans and concerns about new voting restrictions among Democrats. And a year and a half of former President Donald Trump and his allies pushing false claims about mail voting to explain his loss to Democrat Joe Biden has also taken a toll on voter confidence.

“It’s unfortunate because our election system has been mischaracterized and the integrity of our elections questioned,” said Ben Hovland, a Democrat appointed by Trump to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. “Mail ballots are a safe and secure method of voting used by millions of Americans, including myself.”

A record 43% of voters in the U.S. cast mail ballots in 2020, compared with 24.5% in 2016, according to the commission’s survey of local election officials. The number of voters who used in-person early voting also increased, although the jump was not quite as large as in mail ballots, the survey found.

Before the November 2020 election, 12 states expanded access to mail ballots by loosening certain requirements. Five more either mailed ballots to all eligible voters or allowed local officials to do so, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. This year, eight states will mail ballots to every eligible voter.

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Requesting a mail ballot is significantly harder now in Georgia than in 2020, when voters could go online to request a ballot be sent to them without a printed request. Part of the 2021 voting law pushed by Republicans required voters to print or obtain a paper form, then sign it in ink before sending it in by mail, email or fax.

Voters also must include their driver’s license number or some other form of identification after Republicans decided that the process of matching voter signatures was no longer enough security for an absentee ballot application.

“I couldn’t even figure it out,” said Ursula Gruenewald, who lives in Cobb County, north of Atlanta. “Before, I used to just click a button on a website, and they’d send me my ballot. I don’t know what they want now.”

Gruenewald said she usually votes by mail but decided last week to seek out a nearby early voting center, recalling she had waited in line for two hours to vote in person in 2016.

I’m not surprised that voting by mail is down from 2020. Lots of people just like voting in person, I think. I know I do, though I’m a weirdo who actually knows a lot of the candidates and their campaign staffs. I’m also not surprised that it’s down this much given how much harder it is now to vote by mail and how much abuse and disinformation has been heaped on the practice. I think longer term it will tick back up, if only because a significant portion of the population is heading into senior citizen territory and those are the biggest mail ballot users, but who knows how long the Trump/GOP damage will last.

I would be remiss if I didn’t once again harp on the mail ballot rejection issue here in Texas, which wasn’t noted in that story. I have no doubt that there are now people who would have voted by mail, who may have tried to vote by mail in March, who will instead vote in person because of the significant risk of their mail ballot not being counted. I’m still waiting to see if voting by mail in May was any less messy than it was in March. Keep your fingers crossed.