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November 4th, 2019:

So what do we think final 2019 turnout will be?

Let’s take the numbers we have so far and try to hone in a bit more exactly on what to expect tomorrow, shall we? I’m going to go back a little farther into the past and establish some patterns.

2019
2015
2013
2011
2009
2007


Year    Early    Mail   Total   Mailed
======================================
2019  137,460  15,304  152,764   26,824
2015  164,104  29,859  193,963   43,280
2013   87,944  21,426  109,370   30,572
2011   49,669   8,676   58,345   15,264
2009   71,368   9,148   80,516   20,987
2007   43,420   6,844   50,264   13,870

Year    Early    Final   Early%
===============================
2015  193,963  421,460    46.0%
2013  109,370  260,437    42.0%
2011   58,345  164,971    35.4%
2009   80,516  257,312    31.3%
2007   50,264  193,945    25.9%

Couple of points to note up front. One is that the early vote totals I report above are the totals as of the end of the early voting period. Mail ballots continue to arrive, however, so the mail ballot results you see on the election return pages on the County Clerk website are a bit higher. I’m basing the calculations here on those as-of-Friday results, for consistency’s sake.

Second, note that while early voting in even year races is now a large majority of the total vote – in 2018, for example, about 71% of all votes were cast before Election Day – in municipal elections, it remains the case that most voters take their time and do their business on Tuesday. The early vote share has steadily increased over time, and it wouldn’t surprise me if we’re at least at 50-50 now, but the bottom line is that there are very likely still a lot more votes to be cast.

Note also the increase in mail ballots over time, both in terms of mail ballots sent out and mail ballots returned. The HCDP has made a priority of this since Lane Lewis was elected Chair in 2012 and continuing under Lillie Schechter, and you can see that reflected in the totals beginning in 2013. I’m not exactly sure why the numbers took a dip this year, but they remain well above what they were prior to 2013.

All this is a long preamble to the main question, which is what to expect tomorrow. Here are three scenarios for you:

2019 at 45% early = 339,476 in Harris County, 231,862 in Houston.
2019 at 50% early = 305,428 in Harris County, 208,676 in Houston.
2019 at 55% early = 277,753 in Harris County, 189,705 in Houston.

The second number in each of those lines represents the fact that the numbers we have are for all of Harris County, while per Keir Murray about 68% of this year’s turnout is from the city of Houston. I used his figure in projecting the Houston numbers. Sixty-eight percent of Harris County votes coming from Houston is a bit higher than it was in 2015 and 2013, which were in the 64-65% range, but it’s well within historic norms, where the city vote percent has topped 70% in some years.

My best guess is that we’re headed for something like the middle scenario. I see no reason why the trend of an increasing early vote share wouldn’t continue, so I’d expect it to notch up a couple more points. For what it’s worth, in the 2017 election, when there were no city of Houston races, about 41.3% of the vote was cast early. That race doesn’t fit this pattern so I’m not taking it into consideration, but I figured someone reading this would be wondering about it, so there you have it.

Beyond that, I expect the Mayor’s race to go to a runoff, with Turner getting in the low to mid-forties and Buzbee getting in the mid to upper-twenties. There is a 100% certainty that I will keep the remote close at hand to avoid being subjected to any further Buzbee commercials when I’m just trying to watch a football game. I expect the Metro referendum to pass. I have no idea what else to expect. Feel free to leave your guesses in the comments.

UT/Trib: Impeachment inquiry more popular than not

Seems like a big deal.

Not quite half of Texas registered voters agree that “Congress is justified in conducting impeachment investigations into actions Donald Trump has taken while president,” according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Almost as many — 42% — disagree with that statement. Republican and Democratic voters are predictably partisan in their responses, while independent voters are more likely than not to say the investigations are merited: 46% agree, while 32% do not.

“The rank and file is still mostly solid behind the president,” said Joshua Blank, research director for the Texas Politics Project. “But among voters who identify themselves as conservatives first, there are some reservations.”

Texas registered voters are evenly divided — and strongly partisan — about whether Trump ought to be removed from office before the end of his term, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Although Trump hasn’t been impeached or tried, voters are drawing some conclusions. To the question, “Based on what you know, do you think that Donald Trump has taken actions while president that justify his removal from office before the end of his term?” 43% of registered Texas voters say yes and 44% say no. Again, the partisan splits are what you might expect — 79% of Democrats say early removal is justified, while 79% of Republicans say it’s not. Independents were divided, 34% yes, 33% no and 24% unsure.

Democrats in Congress are more likely to get good marks on the impeachment proceedings than Republican members, but both groups have more detractors than cheerleaders. While 25% of voters approve of the way Republicans are handling the investigations, 49% don’t. For Democrats, it was 40% approval and 45% disapproval. Trump’s numbers are in the same neighborhood: 39% approve of the way he has responded to the impeachment investigations, and 45% do not.

“The difficulties Republicans in Congress are having in dealing with this are evident here,” said James Henson, who co-directs the poll and heads UT’s Texas Politics Project. “Republican voters are split on Congress, and Republicans in Congress are trying to figure out how to defend the president without defending his conduct.”

This all tracks with the national numbers, though there a plurality already support impeachment and removal. Pollsters Jim Henson and Joshua Blank share their thoughts about the poll here. The poll also showed Trump with 47% approval and 48% disapproval, which are actually better numbers in that department than he’d had in September. The June UT/Trib poll doesn’t directly ask the approve/disapprove question, but the partisan breakdown on who will or won’t vote for Trump net year look a lot like the approve/disapprove numbers for the impeachment inquiry. All of this is just more evidence that Texas is in play next year. Trump is a drag on the Republicans, and while we’re a long way out from anything, it doesn’t look like that’s going to get any better for them.

Dan Patrick’s budget destruction

It’s not what you think it is, but it’s still bad.

Tucked away in a quiet corner of Texas state government, an arcane team of 100 or so budget nerds has led a private, if stressful, life — running financial models, ensuring state government and its private contractors aren’t spending beyond their means, and keeping lawmakers informed about each line item in the state’s 1,000-page, $250 billion two-year budget.

But these days, interviews with current and former budget agency staff indicate the emptying halls of their downtown Austin office feel more like the setting of an Agatha Christie novel.

The Texas Legislative Budget Board, created in 1949 to support full-time experts who track fiscal issues for the state’s part-time Legislature, provides the analysis on which the state bases its budget calculations — for example, how much money it costs to pay public school teachers or to fund hospital beds for people in mental health crisis.

It’s up to state lawmakers to set spending priorities, but legislators say their ability to make funding decisions is only as good as the information they receive from the experts.

“The LBB provided invaluable, unbiased information, which is critical to the development of the state budget,” former state Rep. John Zerwas, a Richmond Republican who chaired the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement.

The quality of that information may be in jeopardy; the agency is moldering as a quiet war erupts between its two masters.

State law names the lieutenant governor and House speaker as co-chairs of the 10-member board, which is supposed to jointly appoint an executive director to lead the agency. Last year, for the first time in nearly 70 years, that failed to happen; by Halloween, the agency will have been headless for a year.

Veteran employees have departed in droves with no one to replace them, leaving behind a trail of vacant offices and a dearth of institutional knowledge. Staff size has fallen 26% since 2015 — from 146 to 108 employees — and four of the agency’s five executive leadership positions will soon be unfilled. The agency’s lone remaining executive told a tearful staff last week that he, too, intends to resign.

Now, with House Speaker Dennis Bonnen announcing he will not run for reelection next year amid a scandal that has shaken the entire lower chamber, the board finds itself in its most precarious position yet.

Interviews with more than a dozen budget agency staff, Capitol staff and state lawmakers — who requested anonymity to discuss private board deliberations — indicate that the Senate’s presiding officer, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, has wielded a kind of veto power over the board to keep the agency undermanned and under fire.

They contend that his motive is to remake the agency to give the Senate more direct control over the number-crunchers; the current group of nonpartisan bureaucrats has produced analyses that at times conflicted with the lieutenant governor’s political messaging.

Basically, this is an attack on expertise and data. Dan Patrick doesn’t want accurate and objective facts about revenue and fiscal notes and what have you. They don’t serve his purposes. He wants minions who will tell him what he wants to hear so he can use it as a cudgel. If he can starve the LBB to death, maybe the end result (as the story suggests) would be two separate budget agencies, one for the House and one for the Senate, which would be under the control of the Lite Governor. Patrick is on the leading edge here – Senate Finance Chair Jane Nelson had similarly nice things to say about the LBB as outgoing House Appropriations Chair John Zerwas did – but where Dan Patrick goes, other Republicans tend to follow. The longer he gets to press this attack, the greater the odds he’ll eventually get what he wants. Do I need to add that this is yet another reason why we need a Democratic House and a Democratic Speaker in 2021?