Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

November 15th, 2019:

Fifth Circuit overturns “motor voter” lawsuit verdict

Bummer. Totally expected and completely on brand for the Fifth Circuit, but a bummer nonetheless.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A federal appeals court has overturned a previous ruling that could have opened the door to online voter registration in Texas.

In a Wednesday court order, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a federal district judge’s ruling that Texas was violating federal law by failing to register residents to vote when they updated their driver’s licenses online. The panel of three federal judges that considered the case did not clear the state of wrongdoing but instead determined that the three Texas voters who had brought the lawsuit did not have standing to sue.

The case revolved around a portion of federal law, often called the motor voter law, that was designed to ease the voter registration process by requiring states to give residents the opportunity to register to vote at the same time they apply for or renew their driver’s licenses.

The legal dispute came after three Texas voters who moved from one county to another were unable to reregister to vote when they updated their driver’s licenses through the state’s online portal. Although the state follows the law for individuals who renew their driver’s licenses in person, Texas does not allow for online voter registration.

[…]

Two of the voters who sued the state believed they had registered and didn’t discover they were not on the voter rolls until they tried to vote in 2014. They were allowed to cast provisional ballots, but their votes were not counted. The third voter also believed he was registered to vote and only discovered he wasn’t when he sought help from county officials to determine his polling location for a 2015 election.

But the 5th Circuit sided with the state’s argument that the voters could not take the issue on in court because they had since successfully registered to vote and were no longer harmed by the state’s practice.

The federal appeals court found that [District Court Judge Orlando] Garcia erred when he reasoned that court-ordered compliance with federal law was needed to “prevent repetition of the same injury” to the three voters and others because the state’s challengers had not sufficiently proved the online system would continue to be a problem for them in the future.

I have a lot of links for this. The lawsuit in question was filed in 2016, and the initial ruling came two years later. Judge Garcia ordered the state to come up with a fix, which could have led to a partial implementation of online voter registration to comply. (Note how the main opposition to this, in mid-2018, came from the Harris County Clerk’s office. Elections matter, y’all.) The state said “nah, we’re good, no fixes needed or offered”, appealed the ruling, asked for an emergency stay of the order, which they received, thus putting everything on ice. And now here we are.

The fact that this was overturned on grounds of standing rather than on the merits suggests that maybe another go at this might be successful, if the right plaintiffs can be found. Which is still kind of ridiculous, since the claim wasn’t that people couldn’t get registered at all but that the state wasn’t following federal law and thus made it more of a pain to register and more likely that people would honestly think they had had their registration updated when they hadn’t. One of the plaintiffs was denied the opportunity to vote in the 2014 election, which sure seems to me to be a legitimate harm for a court to address. I’m not sure what a “correct” plaintiff looks like in this context. Be that as it may, it took over three years to get from the original filing to this ruling, and with no guarantee that a second try would work, or would succeed at SCOTUS even if it got past the Fifth Circuit, this is once again something that’s just gonna have to be solved by winning elections and passing laws, and in this case maybe also installing a DPS director that cares about complying with federal law. I wish it didn’t have to be this hard to secure basic rights and services from our state government, but it is, and we’re the only ones who are going to be able to do something about it. The Texas Signal has more.

News flash: Republicans still like Trump

I know, I’m as shocked as you are.

As in any sports bar in Texas when the Dallas Cowboys are playing on Monday night, most of the TVs at a British pub in northwest San Antonio were tuned to the game.

But on one side of The Lion and Rose, the sights and sounds were just a little off. None of the fans wore silver or blue. Instead, about 50 people, predominately wearing red, gathered around a bank of big-screen TVs playing C-SPAN as they ate bar food and cheered with each applause line that President Donald Trump delivered on a stage in Kentucky.

Trump’s re-election campaign organized the watch party to connect with more potential volunteers as it seeks an army of campaign workers to help extract more votes, even out of Democratic-leaning areas like San Antonio. The event was part of the Trump campaign’s National Week of Action, essentially a dry run to “activate” thousands of volunteers needed next November to get out the vote.

It was the second San Antonio event in just three weeks — on Oct. 15 the president’s son Donald Trump Jr headlined a rally downtown aimed at firing up the party faithful as well as collecting names, emails and phone numbers of volunteers who can be deployed next fall. And President Trump himself was in San Antonio seven months earlier meeting with business leaders and holding a fundraiser.

“We’re not giving up on one single voter,” said Toni Anne Dashiell, the Texas Republican National Committeewoman from nearby Kerr County who was at the watch party last week.

Dashiell said the strategy is to mobilize while the Democrats are locked in a potentially long primary battle to determine their nominee. While the opposition is working on Iowa and New Hampshire, the Trump campaign is pouring resources into states such as Texas to shore up support.

The Democrats are convinced Texas is more in play that it has been in a generation, but by the time they get their presidential nominee, Dashiell said Trump will be way ahead in building the kind of ground game needed to hold the state.

Still, GOP optimism can be a tall order in Bexar County, which wasn’t kind to Trump in 2016. While Trump won Texas by 9 percentage points, his defeat in Bexar County wasn’t just bad — it was historically bad.

In winning just 40.7 percent of the vote, Trump did worse in the San Antonio area than any Republican Party candidate in nearly 50 years. Hillary Clinton won Bexar County by more than 79,000 votes — the biggest vote margin of victory for a Democrat in the county’s history.

Trump campaign officials say the 2016 returns are a symptom of “having left votes on the table.” They are convinced that if they can begin working now in Republican pockets in San Antonio, Houston and Dallas, they can far exceed their 2016 showing.

On the bright side, Trump did do slightly better in Bexar County than Ted Cruz did in 2018. I mean, we know that Republicans are going to work for the 2020 election. They’re trying to register voters, they’ll spend a bunch of money, that sort of thing. What makes that newsworthy, of course, is that they feel they have to do that. It’s not just that Republicans came close to losing several statewide races last year, it’s also that they got annihilated in urban areas, lost numerous suburban counties that had long been their strongholds, and saw Democrats at every level set turnout records. All of that was driven by Donald Trump, and the strong need so many people felt to put the brakes on his destructive reign. Polling data we have so far suggests none of that has abated.

Now having said all that, Republicans should expect to get more votes statewide in 2020 than they did in 2018. I say that because they got more votes in 2016 than they did in 2018. Some number of Presidential year Republicans did stay home in 2018. That’s true of Democrats as well, even with the record-setting turnout, but it’s fair to say that Republicans start with a deeper well to dig into. Not that much deeper – we know that a lot of people with Republican voting history went Democratic in 2018, again as a response to Trump. I don’t see any evidence to suggest that has changed. But there are voters out there for the Republicans to reach, likely more in the rural and exurban areas than the urban areas, and I expect they will mostly succeed in reaching them. Democrats have the harder task, which is not only reaching their 2016-but-not-2018 voters but also finding the new voters, and they have more ground to make up. That’s the challenge we have to meet.

By the way, in regards Engage Texas, the right wing-funded voter registration project: Tiffany and I each received a mailer from them last week, urging us to get registered. Which is hilarious, because we are the very definition of vote-in-every-election people, and we are not the people that Engage Texas is looking for. I mean, even a third-rate data processing operation would have figured that out. Maybe the ROI for this extreme blanketing approach is worth the presumably high cost per new registration that they manage to generate. It’s fine by me if they want to waste their money like that, though. Send us more mail, Engage Texas!

State Rep. Poncho Nevarez busted for cocaine possession

It’s been a week, hasn’t it? I have three things to say about this.

Rep. Poncho Nevarez

Authorities issued a warrant Thursday for the arrest of state Rep. Poncho Nevárez, an Eagle Pass Democrat, on felony drug possession charges. A state special investigator claims in the warrant, which was obtained by The Texas Tribune, that Nevárez was caught on surveillance footage in September dropping an envelope with cocaine as he was leaving the Austin airport.

A magistrate judge in Travis County signed the warrant Thursday afternoon. Nevárez faces a charge of third-degree felony possession of a controlled substance, which carries a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison.

Neither Nevárez’s office nor the Travis County District Attorney’s Office immediately responded to a request for comment.

Thursday’s news came hours after an affidavit detailing the allegations, filed Oct. 29 in Travis County court by the Texas Department of Public Safety, was revealed and later obtained by the Tribune and other news outlets. The affidavit was attached to a warrant seeking to conduct a test to determine whether Nevárez’s DNA was on the envelope. The document says that the envelope had Nevárez’s official House seal and held “four small clear baggies” containing a substance found to include cocaine.

Nevárez, who chairs the House Homeland Security & Public Safety Committee, announced last week he was retiring from the lower chamber. And in a statement to the Tribune Thursday morning before the warrant was issued, Nevárez confirmed that the “news is true” — and that the events detailed in the affidavit prompted his decision to not seek reelection.

“I do not have anyone to blame but myself,” he said, noting that he plans to seek treatment. “I accept this because it is true and it will help me get better.”

1. Nevarez had previously announced he was not running for re-election, which I think we can all agree is for the best. Sometimes, regardless of other considerations, stepping back in order to get one’s life together is the stronger course of action.

2. And I really do hope he gets his life back together. Addiction is a terrible thing, and it has real costs not just on the addict but on the addict’s family and friends. Even if I am grossly overstating the issue here – I am making some big assumptions – I stand by the main point about the personal cost to all involved.

3. I hope we take this as an opportunity to further reflect on how the criminal justice system handles drug usage and possession. I would not advocate for decriminalization of cocaine, but I would hope we would all by now recognize that a ten-year jail sentence for possessing a small amount of it is ridiculous and serves no worthwhile purpose. It’s needlessly punitive, exorbitantly expensive, and surely does not have a positive effect on addiction and drug abuse. And we should reflect on the fact that while someone like Rep. Nevarez is unlikely to spend much if any time in jail, many many people in Texas and around the country are not so fortunate. Our drug laws are harmful and woefully out of date. We really should do something about that. If Rep. Nevarez’s situation helps even one legislator realize that, then at least one good thing will come out of this.