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September 3rd, 2020:

Supreme Court issues possibly pointless stay in mail ballots case

This story doesn’t quite say what it seems to say, as we will see.

The Texas Supreme Court has temporarily blocked Harris County from sending mail-in ballot applications to all its voters for the November election.

The decision Wednesday came in response to a lawsuit filed days ago by Republicans in the state’s largest county. Attorney General Ken Paxton has since launched his own legal challenge to the plan.

Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins announced last month that the county would send applications to its more than 2.4 million registered voters, an effort to make it easier to participate in the election due to the coronavirus pandemic. After being sued by Paxton, Hollins said he would only send applications to voters 65 and older, who are eligible to vote by mail under state law, pending the litigation.

The Harris County GOP lawsuit alleges that Hollins is a “rogue clerk who is abusing the application to vote by mail process and compromising the integrity of elections in Harris County.” The lawsuit was brought by the county party, conservative activist Steve Hotze and judicial candidate Sharon Hemphill.

See here and here for the background. Before we go on, let’s look at the actual order released by SCOTX:

The Emergency Motion for Temporary Relief is GRANTED in part. In conformance with the Rule 11 agreement in State of Texas v. Hollins (No. 2020-52383, 61st Judicial District Court, Harris County), Real Party in Interest Hollins is ordered to refrain from sending applications to vote by mail to registered voters under the age of 65 who have not requested them until five days after a temporary injunction ruling in State of Texas v. Hollins. The Real Party in Interest should inform the Court of any developments in State of Texas v. Hollins that may affect this order.

[Note: The petition for writ of mandamus remains pending before this Court.]

Emphasis mine. This is of course what Hollins had agreed to do, so functionally there are no changes since yesterday. The reason for this stay is that it came from the Hotze mandamus action, whereas Hollins’ agreement to suspend any mailings to under 65 voters came from the state lawsuit. Note also that this does not in any way affect the mandamus itself – as the Court says, that’s still pending. There should be a hearing on the state lawsuit early next week, which corresponds with the timeline for this order as well. Bottom line, nothing has changed here.

One more thing:

Amid the latest legal chapter Wednesday, Democrats called Republicans hypocrites for apparently sending out their own mail-in ballot applications while fighting Harris County’s plan in court. Hollins tweeted pictures from a mailer, paid for by the Texas GOP, that says President Donald Trump “is counting on you” and urges recipients to fill out an attached mail-in ballot application after confirming they are eligible.

“Much like Trump, Texas Republicans have been exposed as hypocrites to the highest degree,” state Democratic Party spokesperson Abhi Rahman said in a statement. “Voting by mail is safe, secure, and convenient.”

Remember how much the Republicans whined about straight-ticket voting in 2018, even as they were exhorting their own voters to vote a straight Republican ticket? It’s like that. Pay no attention to the noise machine.

Morning Consult: Trump 48, Biden 47

We’re already starting to get a ton of new polls now that the conventions are over, and with that I expect some more Texas-specific polls. In the meantime, there’s this.

Despite two weeks of party conventions and amid civil unrest prompted by the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., the state of the race between President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden stands largely unchanged from its pre-convention numbers in some of the country’s most-contested states — with the notable exception of Arizona.

While Biden was trailing the president in the Southwestern battleground by 2 percentage points in an Aug. 7-16 Morning Consult poll conducted before the Aug. 17 start of the Democratic National Convention, the former vice president has improved his margin over Trump by 12 points.

According to the Aug. 21-30 survey of 943 likely Arizona voters, which has a 3-point margin of error, Biden leads Trump, 52 percent to 42 percent, driven by a 10-point increase in support among Arizona men, statistically tying him with Trump (49 percent to 45 percent), and a 7-point increase in support with suburban Arizonans, who now favor Biden by 9 points, 51 percent to 42 percent. He also leads among women (55 percent to 40 percent) and independents (51 percent to 37 percent) in the state.

[…]

Nationally, Biden continues to be on more solid polling ground than Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton was four years ago, when she led Trump by 3 points following the conclusion of the national conventions.

The latest survey, conducted Aug. 28-30 among 12,966 likely voters, found Biden 8 points ahead of Trump, 51 percent to 43 percent. That includes a 12-point lead among women (53 percent to 41 percent), an 11-point lead among independent voters (48 percent to 37 percent) and an 11-point lead among voters in the suburbs (52 percent to 41 percent).

The figures, which are nearly identical to polling conducted Aug. 14-16, come after daily tracking of the head-to-head contest showed a narrow improvement in Trump’s standing against Biden on Friday. That post-convention bump proved to be fleeting, with daily tracking on Saturday showing Trump trailing Biden 43 percent to 51 percent and Sunday’s responses putting Biden back to a 9-point lead and 52 percent of the vote. The Saturday and Sunday polling came with respective 2- and 1-point margins of error.

Similarly, movement away from Biden and toward Trump that was detected on Friday among white voters and suburbanites was short-lived, with the three-day survey showing no significant national shifts among those groups.

Compared to 2016, voters are 11 points less likely to be undecided (6 percent now vs. 17 percent then) heading out of the conventions, with just 2 percent of voters saying they’d choose “someone else” over either Biden or Trump.

You have to look at the graphic to see the Texas numbers, which were apparently Trump 47, Biden 46 before the conventions. Morning Consult has had Biden in the lead before, but consistently at 47%, while the Trump number has ranged from 45 to 48. Likely doesn’t mean all that much other than the obvious that this is a close race. Which we’ve known for some time now. Let’s hope we get more poll numbers soon.

More on the Republican attempt to defenestrate the Libertarians

From the Statesman:

Republican candidates and organizations are asking the Texas Supreme Court to remove 41 members of the Libertarian Party from the November ballots.

All of the Libertarians are ineligible to run, the GOP argues, because they failed to pay a newly created candidate filing fee or collect the necessary petition signatures to avoid the fee. But the Libertarian Party argues that the GOP, which could have challenged the candidates in December, waited too long to seek a court remedy.

“In the midst of pandemic, with life in general taking longer and facing more complications than usual, this Court should not exacerbate the problem by ordering counties across the state to stop preparing ballots so (the GOP) can strip Texas voters of their rights to vote for their chosen candidates,” the party’s leaders told the Supreme Court in a Tuesday filing.

[…]

The Republicans argued that they “fell in the trap” of challenging the eligibility of candidates, too late as it turned out, when they should have challenged the candidate applications as improper under a different section of the state’s election laws. Removing candidates based on improper applications can take place any time before Sept. 18, when ballots are mailed to members of the military serving overseas, the Republicans told the Texas Supreme Court.

Practically, however, the party acknowledged that the Texas secretary of state’s office has been arranging to print and distribute those ballots since Aug. 28, and its petition urged the Supreme Court to act as quickly as possible.

“Should this Court issue relief, the Secretary of State can take corrective action through early September,” said the petition, filed last Wednesday.

One day later, the court gave the Libertarian Party until 10 a.m. Tuesday to file a response. In that filing, party officials urged the court to avoid a rushed decision over a filing fee that many Libertarians see as an unconstitutional poll tax — particularly with two court challenges underway.

In the first, a state lawsuit filed by current and former party candidates in Harris County led to a court order blocking the fee as unconstitutional, though the ruling was halted by an appeals court that has yet to decide the case. The second involves a federal lawsuit by the party and several of its candidates that is set for trial next year.

“There are two constitutional challenges pending,” the Libertarians said. “In this context without the benefit of a more developed record, it would be difficult to say that ineligibility is conclusively established.”

See here for the background. My not-a-lawyer self thought the Republicans’ second attempt to knock off the Libertarians had some merit – certainly more than the clumsy and too late initial attempt had – but I also think the Libertarians make a good point in their response. The successful Democratic attempt to boot the Greens was based on well-established state law, and the facts were incontrovertible. The Republican challenge is novel, and the Libertarians are correct that the facts are still in dispute in this case. The ongoing federal litigation may sway the court as well, though that same appeal did not work for the Greens. We should get a ruling quickly, that much I feel confident saying.

Texas blog roundup for the week of August 31

The Texas Progressive Alliance calls for a competent and compassionate response to Hurricane Laura as it brings you this week’s roundup.

(more…)

Voter Registration Week

It’s been going on all week, and a busy week this has been.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

After seeing record turnout for this year’s primaries and runoffs, Texas Democrats are striving for even higher numbers in the general election.

They have a large pool from which to draw.

There are an estimated 5 million people eligible to vote in Texas, but not registered. Many are Latinos and other people of color as well as young people, said Luke Warford, Texas Democratic Party director of voter expansion.

On Monday, the start of Texas Voter Registration Week, the party planned to start a weeklong voter registration blitz with the goal of connecting with 1 million unregistered voters and starting them on the process of registering.

“Voter registration is important to us and a huge part of our path to victory,” Warford said.

[…]

The pandemic has shut down many traditional ways of registering voters, like rallies and events and going door to door. Under current circumstances, the party is relying on sending text messages and many phone calls, much of that done with the help of volunteers.

Texas, however, does not have online registration, one of 11 states without it. Forms to register are available online, but once filled out have to be printed, signed and mailed in.

The system can create challenges or additional steps for people without an internet connect or a home printer or who may not spend money on stamps.

On Friday, a federal judge told the state it has until Sept. 23 to comply with the 1993 National Voter Registration Act and make it possible for people to update their voter registration online when they renew a driver’s license or move, the Austin American Statesman reported.

Democrats set up the site registertexas.com that guides people through the process. Once a form is filled out, the party sends the form to the person with a return envelope, already stamped, eliminating the need for the person to print it or obtain a stamp.

Warford said they see good results from people filling out the form and mailing it back in once it is sent to them. The party also follows up with emails and texts pestering them about getting the registration sent back in.

Warford said the party signed up to 1,500 people over two days to help make the 1 million contacts. The party said it is conducting the voter registration blitz with the Joe Biden campaign and the campaign of M.J. Hegar, who is challenging Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

More coverage is here, and the TDP press release on the subject is here. It’s hard to set a metric for something like this that goes beyond “number of people contacted”, but as a reminder we are at just over 16 million registered voters now. We won’t get a final figure for another few weeks, but that will at least provide some basis for comparison. There’s still time if you want to get involved, or if you know someone who needs to get registered. Reform Austin has more.