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October, 2020:

Univision: Trump 49, Biden 46

Always time for one more poll, apparently.

The race for the White House in Texas is so close in the Nov 3 presidential election that it’s beginning to look uncharacteristically like a swing state, according to a new Univision News poll, which also surveyed voters in Florida, Pennsylvania and Arizona.

Donald Trump and Joe Biden are only separated by a slight margin (49% for the president and 46% for the Democrat) among registered voters in Texas, according to the poll carried out with the collaboration of the University of Houston and conducted between October 17 and 25. The difference falls within the margin of error, making it a virtual tie.

[…]

In all four states, the Hispanic vote largely favors Biden, although Trump has managed to maintain significant support from the Latino community (particularly in Florida, where 37% of Hispanics said they have already voted or will vote for Trump’s reelection).

At the national level (where the poll was conducted with UnidosUS/SOMOS), Hispanics voters favored the Democratic candidate by a margin of 41 points (67% vs. 26%).

The following are some of the highlights of the polls conducted for Univision by Latino Decisions and North Star Opinion Research in four of the states that could decide the Nov. 3 elections.

In the Lonestar state, the number of Hispanics who back Trump is 28%, which is a slight increase compared to September, when an Univision poll showed Trump had 25% of the Hispanic vote. Analysts agree that a larger increase in his Latino base could tip the balance in favor of the president’s reelection.

In Texas, and generally in every state where the polls were conducted, voter preferences clearly reflect the nation’s deep political polarization. Beyond the figure of the candidates, what the polls show is a clearly partisan vote. In Texas, 91% of Republicans said they voted or will vote for Trump and 91% of Democrats will vote for Biden.

More so than in previous elections perhaps, younger voters could be decisive, and this time clearly lean towards the Democrats. In Texas, 65% of those under the age of 29 express their support for Biden. But among those over 50 Trump leads by 10 points (53% to 43%).

In the Senate race, Republican candidate John Cornyn leads his race for re-election against the Democratic party challenger, MJ Hegar, by only 3 points (44% to 41%,) which is also within the margin of error. In this case, the support of younger voters for the Democrat is significantly lower, dropping from 65% to 55%.

For Texas voters, the coronavirus is the biggest concern (46%). Among Latinos, who have been hit especially hard by the pandemic, that number rises to 56%.

Overall, 54% of voters disapprove of Trump’s handling of the pandemic. But in a further sign of polarization, 83% of Republicans approve and only 31% consider the virus a priority, although 64% approve of the mandatory use of face masks.

In Texas, Trump’s attacks on Democrats seem to have wide acceptance, and “stopping the agenda of Pelosi and the Democrats” is a priority for 30% of Republicans, which is similar to support for defeating the coronavirus pandemic.

Early voting in Texas is very high: at the time of the survey it was 48% overall and 51% among Latinos; while only 16% have voted by mail, compared to 34% in Arizona and 26% in Florida. Texas is one of the few states that requires an excuse to vote absentee.

You can click over to see more on the other states and to see the graphics, and you can click here for an incredibly dense set of crosstabs. I noted the September Univision poll here. Their assertion that higher turnout among Latinos is likely to be a boon for Biden is what I’d call generally accepted wisdom, but I will note that the recent NYT/Siena poll does not concur with that.

In the Hegar-Cornyn contest, Hegar leads among Latinos by a more modest 52-30. The poll does not break out Black voters as a subsample, but there is an “Other” along with “White” and “Latino” that may literally be everyone else; in many polls, it usually means Asian-American and maybe Native American, but here it may also include African-American. This poll lands on the “big Latino support for Biden” side of that debate, but – plot twist! – it shows Trump with a 44-35 plurality among independents, adding yet another complication to that debate. As the old cliche goes, The Only Poll That Matters is going on right now, and in a few days we’ll (probably) know who was right. See this Twitter thread by Brandon Rottinghaus for more.

One last, desperate attempt to kill drive-though voting

These guys really suck. Not much more can be said.

A new challenge to Harris County’s drive-thru voting sites, filed by two GOP candidates and a Republican member of the Texas House, asks the state Supreme Court to void ballots “illegally” cast by voters in cars.

That could put more than 100,000 ballots at risk, drawing sharp criticism from Democrats and raising fears among voters, including those with disabilities and others who were directed into drive-thru lanes as a faster method of voting.

[…]

One of the unsuccessful challenges was filed by the Republican Party of Texas. The second was from the Harris County GOP, activist Steven Hotze, and Sharen Hemphill, a GOP candidate for district judge in Harris County. Neither petition sought to void votes.

That changed with the latest petition filed shortly before 11 p.m. Tuesday by Hotze, Hemphill, GOP congressional candidate Wendell Champion, and state Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands.

The new petition asks the all-Republican Supreme Court to confiscate memory cards from voting machines at drive-thru locations and reject any votes cast in violation of state election laws.

The petition argues that drive-thru voting is an illegal expansion of curbside voting, which state law reserves for voters who submit a sworn application saying they have an illness or disability that could put them at risk if forced to enter a polling place.

“Hollins is allowing curbside/drive-thru voting for all 2.37 million registered voters in Harris County. This is a clear and direct violation of his duties,” the petition argued.

But Hollins has said drive-thru voting is just another polling place with a different layout and structure, and that it was approved by the Texas secretary of state’s office before being adopted.

Vehicles form lines and enter the voting area one at a time, where a clerk checks each voter’s photo ID, has them sign a roster and hands over a sanitized voting machine. Voting typically takes place in large individual tents, and poll watchers can observe the processing of voters no differently than in traditional voting locations, Hollins has argued.

See here for the previous entry. As I said yesterday, I just don’t believe the Supreme Court will do this. It’s such a drastic step to take, it’s punitive towards a lot of voters who had every reason to believe they were doing something legal, it would be an enormous partisan stain on the court and the justices, four of whom are on the ballot themselves, and as I said if the court felt such an outcome was in play, they could have clearly signaled it earlier to minimize the effect on the voters. Maybe I’m naive, or willfully blind. This just seems like a bridge way too far. I guess we’ll find out.

Here comes a charter amendment effort

I’m neutral about this, at least for now.

The Houston Professional Firefighters Association and a coalition of other groups are launching a referendum campaign to give city council more power at City Hall.

The fire union and other groups announced the effort Monday outside the union’s headquarters. The petition, if it garners enough signatures, would ask voters to give city council members the ability to place items on the council’s agenda if they get two of their colleagues to join the request.

The mayor currently has near-total control of what appears on the council’s weekly agenda, a feature that historically has led to consternation for members and advocates on all sides of the political spectrum.

“It’s a small ask, but it will give citizens a big voice at City Hall. We’re a city of more than 2 million (people), and if you’re a citizen out there with an issue that you care about for your neighborhood or your community, and you don’t have connections at City Hall or the backing of some large group, it’s very hard for you to get your voice heard,” said Charles Blain of Urban Reform, a right-leaning advocacy group. “And that’s unfair. But that’s not the problem of any one elected official, that’s the system of government that we have in the city of Houston.”

The coalition needs to gather 20,000 signatures within 180 days to get the item on the ballot. The organizers did not identify a specific election date they are eyeing for the referendum.

Blain stressed the politically diverse coalition behind the effort, which includes the Houston chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, the left-leaning Indivisible Houston, Houston Young Republicans and the Houston Justice Coalition. City Councilmember Amy Peck, a conservative, also attended the news conference and said she supports the campaign.

Blain said the effort was not meant to further one cause or group. Instead, he said, it seeks to give residents a more accessible track to voice their concerns and get them addressed.

The immediate effect of such a change would be to eliminate, or at least weaken, any mayor’s ability to stifle council consideration of an issue or measure he or she does not support.

[…]

Turner said he respects the group’s ability to petition, but he thinks the current system is just fine.

“I think what is being proposed would create chaos and confusion,” Turner said, arguing it would lead to more combative and contentious politics akin to the federal government. “What it ends up doing is, it takes you away from the critical things that are important to the people in the city of Houston. There are a total of 17 of us on city council, and if, for example, only three can continuously bring up additional things, then you’ll be spending all of your time dealing with those items, and it takes away from everything else.”

The referendum organizers said council members still would need to win a majority of their colleagues to pass the measures, a political reality they said would discourage frivolous or unrealistic agenda items.

The story quotes HPFFA President Marty Lancton saying this isn’t about the firefighters’ differences with Mayor Turner. Imagine me raising my eyebrows here.

As the story notes, this idea has come up before, but has not gotten anywhere. In theory, I don’t have a problem with the idea. It’s still going to take a majority to get something passed, and I have no doubt that every Mayor has has refused to put things that likely would have gotten a majority vote from Council on the agenda. Any Mayor worthy of the office will have various ways to at least discourage things they don’t like from getting passed. Maybe this will make more people pay attention to Council races, especially At Large Council races. (Yeah, I know, probably not.)

It’s an interesting question to ponder what might be different in Houston now if we’d had this provision all along, or at least for the past 20 or 30 years. I can’t think of any specific ordinance that might have been passed – Mayors, like other politicians, generally prefer to do things that are broadly popular, or failing that things that will be more likely to get them re-elected than less likely. If you can think of something that would be law today were it not for one or more Mayors brazenly suppressing the will of the public, please specify in the comments.

I will say, a change like this is going to have the effect of making City Council more like Congress or the Lege. Plenty of legislators make their bones not on passing bills but on stirring up trouble, after all. If this were in place today, I feel confident that the threesome of Mike Knox, Michael Kubosh, and Greg Travis would feel free to bring forth many items for Council’s consideration. If all that did was waste time and annoy the Mayor, I’m pretty sure they’d consider that worth the effort. I’m picking on those three, but you could look at any time in the city’s recent political history and find a trio of troublemakers; almost every Council member has at least one issue they care a lot about that they could get two others to support, whether it goes beyond that or not. The average Council meeting will get longer with this on the books, is what I’m saying. Raising the threshold to bring forth an agenda item to, say, six or eight, would cut down on this, and ensure that most of the things that do get introduced this way are good candidates to be adopted, and not just used to score a point.

I would also expect this to encourage various special interests to ramp up their contributions to Council members (and candidates) with an eye to them sponsoring ordinances these interests favor. That’s got to be more efficient than going all in on a Mayoral candidate. I mean, this happens now, but it’s more complicated.

This may sound like I’m negative on the idea. I’m not, but I’m not sold on it either. I really would like some examples of things that would be in place in Houston now if Council members had this power. I’d also love to hear what former Mayors think of this, now that they no longer have to deal with it. What do you think?

We need an official Speaker candidate tracker

We’re up to five now, and we’re likely not done yet.

Rep. Trent Ashby

State Reps. Trent Ashby of Lufkin, Chris Paddie of Marshall and John Cyrier of Lockhart join two Democrats in seeking the gavel: Senfronia Thompson of Houston and Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio. More candidates are expected to file, perhaps after the Nov. 3 election once it’s clear which party will be in control of the chamber.

In statements, both Ashby and Cyrier pointed to the legislative session beginning in January — and the challenges state lawmakers will all but certainly have to tackle — to help make their pitch for why they’re the best candidate for the job.

“Given the collective challenges we will face in upcoming legislative session, as we continue our battle with COVID-19 and work to balance a budget despite revenue challenges, it is critically important that the next Speaker fosters the trust and cooperation necessary to overcome these challenges and deliver the results that all Texans expect and deserve,” Ashby, who has served in the House since 2013, said.

Cyrier, who has served in the House since 2015, said the session “will be a demonstration of Texans’ resilience.”

“My top priority as speaker will be to work with all members of the House and build consensus during what is sure to be a challenging session,” Cyrier said.

Paddie, who has served in the lower chamber since 2013, did not immediately release a statement about his bid.

As noted, Reps. Senfronia Thompson and Trey Martinez Fischer are already in. None of the three Republicans were among the crowd that had made a move towards running for Speaker before the last session; five of those seven will be in the 2021 Lege, so there is definitely the possibility of a larger field. I should note that Rep. Thompson picked up the endorsements of her fellow Harris County Democratic legislators, and also of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, thus giving her the most supporters for now, though still far from a majority.

We’ll have a much better idea of how this may shake out once we know how many Ds and how many Rs there will be. And as a reminder: Right after the election is when some number of members announce their intent to step down, thus necessitating a special election to replace them. Rep. Drew Spinger is in the runoff for SD30, scheduled for December 19, so his seat may become vacant right before the opening gavel as well. I say this all because the number we have on November 4 may be different than the number we have on January 4, and that could have a real effect on who has enough votes to actually become Speaker. The potential for chaos, and maybe even some shenanigans, is quite high. The Lege is never more entertaining when those things are true.

UPDATE: And now there are six:

Possibly by the time you read this, there will be more announced candidates. You see what I mean when I say we need a tracker.

UPDATE: And now there are seven:

All members of the House that are not running for Speaker, please raise your hand.

November 2020 Early Voting Day Sixteen: All through the night

This post is scheduled to publish before 5 AM today. When that happens, voting will still be happening in Harris County.

In Harris County this year, residents can vote where the Rockets or Texans play, from the comfort or their cars, or on Sundays. And on Thursday, they can vote at any time of day.

The County Clerk on Thursday will leave eight early voting sites open for 24-hours, an effort to make voting easier for residents who may have non-traditional schedules or who may be eager to avoid lines.

“Whether you’re a first responder who clocks in and out at 5 a.m., a medical professional working to save lives around the clock, someone keeping shelves full at grocery stores, or a shift worker keeping our port running, we want to give you the opportunity to cast your vote at a time that is convenient for you and four family,” Harris County Clerk Christopher Hollins said in a statement.

The 24-hour option is one of several innovations in Hollins’s ambitious $27 million election plan for this year; others include nearly tripling the number of early voting sites, drive-thru voting, sending mail ballot applications to all registered seniors and hiring more than 11,000 poll workers.

And as I have said before, this is absolutely a thing we should make standard going forward. Massive kudos to Chris Hollins for his innovative thinking, which has made voting in Harris County so much better.

I’d say this deserves a video:

Maybe even two:

The Day Sixteen daily EV totals are here. You can find the daily totals for 2008 and 2012 (and 2016 as well, but I’ve got a separate link for it) here, for 2016 here, and for 2018 here. I’m just going to keep on keeping on with the pretense that early voting actually began last Monday, except with 628K votes already in the bank. The first table is totals for the “normal” early voting time period for each year.


Election     Mail      Early      Total
=======================================
2008       49,558    513,888    563,446
2012       61,972    549,816    611,788
2016       89,271    700,697    789,968
2018       81,609    605,851    687,460
2020      161,378    553,520    714,898

There were 61K votes on, with 4,652 of them coming by mail, making Wednesday busier in person and back to normal for mail. At that same level for Thursday and we’ll be close to 2016 final turnout, and at that same level for both Thursday and Friday and we’ll approach 1.4 million for the EV period. I’ll bet the over for each.


Vote type       Mon     Tue     Wed     Thu     Fri     Week
============================================================
Mail          6,407     569   4,652                   11,628
Drive-thru    5,448   6,145   6,403                   17,996
In person    46,727  50,746  50,726                  148,199
Total        58,582  57,460  61,781                  177,823

Vote type     Week 1    Week 2    Week 3      Total
===================================================
Mail          75,504    74,246    11,628    161,378
Drive-thru    54,105    39,264    17,996    111,365
In person    499,099   348,227   148,199    995,525
Total        628,708   461,737   177,823  1,268,268

I’ve screwed up somewhere in my separation of the drive-through vote from the non-drive-through in-person vote, and as a result my tally is 2,013 less than what shows up on the daily sheet, which has 1,270,281 total votes. I can’t figure it out, but it’s not worth worrying about at this point. If Thursday is even slightly better than Wednesday, we’ll equal 2016 total turnout. I think we’ll make it to 1.4 million by 7 PM tomorrow, but if not we’ll be pretty close.

Here’s the Derek Ryan email.

We have officially surpassed 50% turnout. Through yesterday, 8,525,424 Texans have voted early. It was pointed out to me by The Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith that when we look at the numbers through today (tomorrow’s report), we will have surpassed the total number of people who voted in the 2016 General Election.

As a reminder, there are still four million voters who have voted in a previous General Election who have NOT voted yet. A few weeks ago, I said we would probably get to 12 million votes cast. I’m feeling a little bit better about that prediction.

Have you voted yet?

UPDATE: We made it to the 2016 final turnout level, on Thursday night just before 10. Here’s the press release. I’ll report on the final Thursday numbers tomorrow, and the final EV numbers on Sunday.

DFP: Biden 49, Trump 48

Once again, from Twitter:

In their full sample, there are 452 people who have already voted, and Biden leads among them 54-45, as noted in the tweet. Of the 566 people who have not yet voted but say they will, Trump leads 50-44, with five percent undecided. (Not many third-party supporters in this sample, which is a combination of SMS and web panel.) Since independents are the new hotness, Biden leads among them in the full sample, 45-43.

The previous DFP result was a week ago. At that time, 180 voters from their sample had voted, with Biden leading 57-41 among them. You can make of that what you want. Biden led 47-46 in that poll, with Cornyn leading Hegar 44-41. The main takeaway here is fewer undecideds, and that more of the undecideds are going to Hegar than Cornyn. Indeed, Hegar leads by the same 54-45 among those who have voted, but trails 50-39 with the rest, with 9% undecided. This is the first poll I can think of that suggests she will finish within a point or so of Biden.

Again, we’ll see if this is the end of the polls for this cycle. We sure can’t complain that we were ignored.

Will Greg Abbott ever talk about COVID-19 again?

Signs point to No.

On Wednesday, Gov. Greg Abbott knocked on doors in the Fort Worth suburbs, fist-bumping with police officers and warning residents that Democrats want to raise their taxes.

That night, he opened Game 2 of the World Series at Globe Life Field in Arlington, belting out a hearty “play ball” before a stadium partly filled with cheering fans.

With the Nov. 3 election fast approaching, the state’s top Republican is in full campaign mode, trying to block Democrats from retaking the Texas House.

But away from the choreographed appearances, the governor is facing another challenge: Coronavirus infections are rising again, filling up hospitals in parts of the state. Unlike when cases mounted earlier this summer, Abbott has been all but silent about COVID-19’s resurgence.

The governor hardly has mentioned the uptick, which has been most severe in parts of North and West Texas. In news releases, he has announced that he’s sending resources and medical staff to hot spots, but he has downplayed or failed to even mention the outbreaks — part of a third wave sweeping the South and Midwest.

Abbott hasn’t held a public briefing on the pandemic in more than a month.

For a governor who made a point of being on television every night as cases spiked this summer, making himself the face of the state’s response, the silence is notable and likely strategic.

“There’s no advantage to Abbott coming out now to acknowledge the spiking numbers, which say Texas isn’t doing a good job, which say he isn’t doing a good job,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “With a week until the election, that would not be beneficial for him.”

[…]

Nearly 5,000 people were hospitalized Thursday with COVID-19, a 55 percent jump since Oct. 3. The average of new daily infections has been rising steadily for two weeks, and the rate of people testing positive for the virus is now just shy of 9 percent, after dipping to a low of 6.3 percent in September.

In Tarrant County, where Abbott appeared Wednesday, health officials have warned residents of substantial community spread, meaning the virus is being transmitted through workplaces and schools.

“The signs are pointing to a big surge coming,” Tarrant County public health director Vinny Taneja told WFAA-TV in Dallas on Wednesday.

Abbott has been an important figurehead in the state’s coronavirus response. When the number of people hospitalized with the coronavirus reached 5,000 in late June, he responded by closing the bars and cutting maximum occupancy for restaurants to 50 percent. He later issued a statewide mask mandate, which remains in effect.

Asked about the new trends Wednesday as he door-knocked for a fellow Republican, Abbott told reporters the state is preparing for a vaccine rollout as soon as late November, a claim that conflicts with remarks from top federal health officials.

The state’s own health officials aren’t planning for a wide rollout of a potential vaccine until July of next year.

Earlier this month, amid mounting pressure from conservatives, Abbott released a video announcing bars could open in counties with local approval, hoping to show a state that had put the worst of the pandemic behind it as voters prepared to head to the polls.

“The good news is that even with more businesses opening, even with more students returning to school and more gatherings like football games, Texans have shown that we can contain the spread of COVID,” Abbott said.

Anyone remember Abbott’s four metrics for reopening? Because I’m pretty sure he doesn’t at this point. Part of the problem, I admit, is that everyone is focused on the election – I sure am – and that means there’s basically no public pressure on Abbott to take action. But this has been building for weeks, and we’ve got kids back in schools while bars are open and people are attending live sporting events – college football appears to be a non-trivial factor in community spread – while a bunch of jackasses are going around the state demanding that we open up even faster. And of course there’s a malevolent President who’s doing all he can to ensure that things are getting worse. Is anyone surprised that Greg Abbott can’t be bothered to at least remind everyone that they should be wearing masks and avoiding crowds?

As little as I think of Abbott, I do expect he’ll have to start talking about this again after the election. If nothing else, we’ll be embarking on a legislative session soon, and we need to decide how we’re going to handle that. I just hope we get something that resembles leadership from Abbott before too many more people are hospitalized or dead.

More investment from Bloomberg

Once again, better late than never.

Billionaire Michael Bloomberg is funding a last-minute ad blitz on behalf of Joe Biden in Texas and Ohio, providing a boost to the former vice president as polls and a flutter of late campaign activity continue to show that the Lone Star State might be in play.

A Bloomberg spokesperson told The Texas Tribune on Tuesday morning that the former mayor of New York City and Democratic presidential candidate will use his super PAC, Independence USA, to fund $15 million worth of statewide ads in both Texas and Ohio.

The ads begin running Wednesday and will go through Election Day, or Nov. 3. In Texas, the ads will focus on “[President Donald] Trump’s mismanagement of COVID-19 crisis,” according to a Bloomberg spokesperson. The commercials will run in both English and Spanish.

[…]

The Bloomberg spokesperson confirmed earlier reports from the New York Times that the former mayor asked his team to run a round of polls across multiple states and based its spending decisions on survey results. The team came away convinced that Texas and Ohio were prime pickup opportunities for Democrats, despite both going for Trump in 2016, and Bloomberg later gave “the go-ahead to invest additional money to support Joe Biden,” the spokesperson said.

Unlike the RRC race money, which came in late September, this really is a last-minute blitz. You may, quite reasonably, think that having this kind of money earlier would have been better, and as a matter of principle I agree. I think the intent here is specifically to go after the lower-propensity voters, the handful of undecideds, and the type of Trump voters who don’t actually like him but still think that on balance he’s better – or at least not as bad – as the alternatives. The first group can be targeted with a straightforward positive pro-Biden pro-Democrats GOTV message, while the latter group gets a bunch of anti-Trump messages blasted at them. The middle group will get some of each. Because these folks are likely to not have been as engaged in the election before now, targeting them a month ago would have been less effective. It’s the same theory and application that motivated that late spending on MJ Hegar, who will also likely benefit from the Bloomberg splurge, as she will need as many of the folks in that first group to support her as well. It makes sense, and if Bloomberg sees a sound data-based reason to do this, it’s pretty encouraging.

So what’s up with that National Guard story?

Hell, I don’t know.

Governors can deploy troops for numerous reasons, from natural disasters to border security.

But observers found it rare to the point of extraordinary when the Texas National Guard revealed that Gov. Greg Abbott has directed troops be prepared to respond to disturbances after the Nov. 3 election in major cities across the state.

Abbott has not explained his reasons, so far.

Ben West, a security analyst at the RANE subsidiary Stratfor, a consulting firm, said he anticipates most of the forces will be sent to Houston and Austin, which saw the bulk of the state’s racial justice protests this summer. Guard officials have compared the new mission to its response in June to the unrest.

While an election-related deployment is uncommon, 2020 might be the exception, West said.

“When everything is just upside down, things that in any other year would have been extraordinary get lost in the wash,” he said.

The governor has pushed hard in recent weeks to convey to voters his allegiance to law enforcement, and has proposed new laws that would stiffen punishments for unruly protesters, including mandatory jail time.

The Guard said Monday it would send up to 1,000 troops to Houston, Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonio as early as this weekend. A top guard official, retired Maj. Gen. James K. “Red” Brown, said the deployment was in case of “postelection” disturbances, to support local law enforcement and the Texas Department of Public Safety.

He said the guardsmen’s role would be similar to that during last summer’s George Floyd protests, and the troops would act “as we previously did to deter any civil disturbance at sites in various cities in Texas.”

This was the original story. Since then, Abbott has assured officials in San Antonio there will be no troops sent there after they complained, and there was a clarification that none of the troops would be sent to polling locations. On Wednesday, Abbott finally spoke about the issue.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday answered questions about the deployment of Texas National Guard troops to Texas cities on Election Day, saying they will play no role whatsoever in the election process.

“Our job is to make sure that cities are safe and along those lines, we want to make sure that in the event there are any protests after the election that we will have adequate personnel in place to make sure that we will be able to address any protests that could turn into riots,” the governor said.

When asked specifically about the assignment of troops to Houston, Abbott indicated those decisions will be made on an as-needed basis.

“It is erroneous to say we will have a presence here,” he said.

My guess is that this was a typical politics-first move by Abbott that wasn’t very well thought out and neither took into account any stakeholder input, nor anticipated their reactions. It will probably not amount to much in the end, which is also typical of Abbott. I suppose this is as good a place as any to point out that violence from far-right groups is a much greater threat than people protesting police brutality, though I know there’s a zero percent chance Abbott knows or is much interested in that. It is what it is, as they say. The Press and the Trib have more.

Texas blog roundup for the week of October 26

The Texas Progressive Alliance urges you to vote if you haven’t already as it brings you this week’s roundup.

(more…)

November 2020 Early Voting Day Fifteen: Now with evening hours

In case you haven’t heard, Texas is in play.

It’s six days from a presidential election, and the anchor of the Republican Electoral College coalition—Texas—is a toss-up. That is not just us being goofballs and throwing around dramatic words. “Toss-up” is the status to which forecasters at both the Cook Political Report and Inside Elections shifted the Texas presidential race on Wednesday. NBC News had done so the previous day. And the Biden campaign, which has been reluctant to devote resources to an expensive state it didn’t expect to need to win, has chosen in the last few days of the campaign to spend a valuable resource: a three-stop visit from its vice presidential candidate on Friday, the state’s last early voting day.

The race still tilts Republican in polling, with the FiveThirtyEight forecast predicting about a 3-point victory, and a 70 percent win probability, for Donald Trump. But a couple of factors have made Texas difficult to accurately forecast. As Cook noted, there’s not much experience in measuring Texas as a battleground state, so analysts and pollsters—who underestimated Democrats’ strength in the state in 2018—are going in somewhat blind. And the sheer population growth in Texas over the past four years, matched by its soaring early-voting turnout rates this cycle, add more uncertainty to the final result.

The early turnout in Texas has been astounding. On Wednesday afternoon, with six days remaining until the election, nearly 8.2 million votes had been cast—or 91 percent of the total number of votes cast in the state in 2016. The next closest state, as of this writing, was Montana at 81 percent of its 2016 total; nationally, voters have cast 54 percent of the total votes in 2016. Rapidly growing counties like Hays, Collin, Denton, and Williamson outside major metropolises were among the first counties in the country to surpass their 2016 totals.

Texas, as Democratic strategist and TargetSmart CEO Tom Bonier told me, is “at a higher level of engagement than any other state.” And a big part of what’s driving that, he said, is voters who didn’t vote in 2016.

“You look at it from the Biden perspective, how do you win Texas?” Bonier said. “Well yeah, you need to do better from a persuasion perspective among a lot of the likely voters, but you also have to change the electorate. And you’ve got to bring new people in who weren’t there in 2016. And that’s clearly happening.” More than 2 million people have voted in Texas already who didn’t vote in 2016, he said, or over 27 percent of all ballots cast. And 300,000 of those surge voters, he said, are seniors.

“Generally when we look at surge vote, we’re looking at young voters, we’re looking at African American voters, we’re looking at Latino voters,” Bonier said. “We’re not usually talking about seniors. But it’s happening. It’s happening in Texas, it’s happening in other competitive states, and it seems to be favoring Democrats at this point.” The number of Black voters over 65 who’ve voted in Texas, he said, “exceeds the total number who voted entirely in the 2016 election.”

The Day Fifteen daily EV totals are here. You can find the daily totals for 2008 and 2012 (and 2016 as well, but I’ve got a separate link for it) here, for 2016 here, and for 2018 here. I’m just going to keep on keeping on with the pretense that early voting actually began last Monday, except with 628K votes already in the bank. The first table is totals for the “normal” early voting time period for each year.


Election     Mail      Early      Total
=======================================
2008       47,413    443,267    490,680
2012       59,304    491,349    550,653
2016       86,456    626,627    713,083
2018       79,879    557,246    637,125
2020      156,726    496,391    653,117

Tuesday was within about a thousand votes of Monday, but with more in person votes (likely due to the extended hours) and fewer mail votes – only 569 total mail ballots were counted on Tuesday. I don’t know if that represents the end of the line, more or less, for mail ballots or if that was an aberration – we’ll see when I get Wednesday’s numbers.
Day One of Week Three was slower than any of the five weekdays from Week Two, though the in person total was close to last Thursday’s. It was above the mark for Saturday and Sunday, and has us back ahead of the pace to equal or bypass 2016 total turnout during the EV period. The mail ballots returned so far represent 62.7% of the 249,848 ballots sent out, considerably less than the 76% of ballots returned in 2016, but as we know some number of people who got them have decided to vote in person instead. So I wouldn’t make too big a deal about it.

In the four previous years that I’m tracking, the Friday vote tally was the highest. In 2008, the daily total went up a bit each day from Monday to Friday, and in the other years the Monday through Thursday totals were about the same, then they took a big leap on Friday. My guess is we’ll have something more like that, but with the overnight hours at eight locations on Thursday, maybe that will be a bit different. As the pace we are on right now, we will approach 2016 final turnout on Thursday, and how much we zip past it will depend whether we get a 2008 increase on Friday or an increase like the other years.


Vote type       Mon     Tue     Wed     Thu     Fri     Week
============================================================
Mail          6,407     569                            6,976
Drive-thru    5,448   6,145                           11,593
In person    46,747  50,758                           97,505
Total        58,602  57,472                          116,074

Vote type     Week 1    Week 2    Week 3      Total
===================================================
Mail          75,504    74,246     6,976    156,726
Drive-thru    54,105    39,264    11,593    104,962
In person    499,099   348,227    97,505    944,831
Total        628,708   461,737   116,074  1,206,519

We officially passed the final turnout totals from 2008 and 2012 on Tuesday, and went past the 2018 total on Wednesday morning. The only remaining hill to climb is 2016 final turnout, and we need 44,126 voters per day to get there. I’m feeling pretty good about that. Getting all the way to 1.4 million by 7 PM Friday is not out of the question if turnout ticks up a bit – with days like Monday and Tuesday, we’d be at around 1.32 million going into Friday morning, so we’d need 80K on Friday to reach that mark. That’s a bit aggressive, but not far out of line with previous years, and we could get a modest increase before Friday as well. By one account I heard on Tuesday there were about 600K Harris County voters considered “more likely than not” who hadn’t yet voted. If we approach 1.4 million by the end of Friday, then 1.7 million final turnout is well within reach, and 1.8 million is in play. Take a deep breath and think on that for a minute.

And now that you’re all calm and happy, I regret to inform you that the usual cadre of nihilist wingnuts have gone back to the Supreme Court to demand that all 100K-plus votes that have been cast at the Harris County drive-through locations be tossed out, despite the previous rejection of such a challenge. I’ll blog the news story about this tomorrow, but I’m not wasting any time worrying about that. I think if SCOTX were of a mind to take such action they would have dropped a hint about it when they rejected the original mandamus, and would be more likely to take that drastic action while voting was still going on, to give people a chance to try again. Honestly, though, I think this is a bridge too far for them. You can feel free to worry about it if you want, though.

Here’s your Derek Ryan email to cleanse the palate.

Through yesterday, 48% of voters have voted early (either in person or by mail). Nine counties have surpassed the total number of votes which were cast during the entire 2016 General Election. Those counties are: Denton, Collin, Williamson, Fort Bend, Hays, Comal, Rockwall, Guadalupe, and McCulloch. I’m not sure what’s going on in Brady (McCulloch County), so if you know if there’s a hot local contested election going on that’s boosting turnout, I’d love to know.

We will likely see a few more counties added to that list after today’s votes are added to the mix. I read on Twitter that Travis County may be added to the list once today’s votes are added. It was on Twitter, so it must be true, right?

Currently, voters who most recently voted in a Republican Primary have about a 350,000 vote advantage over voters who most recently voted in a Democratic Primary. As a reminder, I look at voter’s primary history over the last four primaries when determining this. Also, voting in a specific party’s primary does not automatically mean that person is voting for that party’s candidates this election. But, everyone is dying to know what the trends are and this is a way to gauge who is showing up.

It is also important to know that there are 3.5 million people who have voted early who have not voted in a primary election…1.6 million of these come from the top five most populous counties and 1.9 million come from the remaining counties.

Full report is here. Have you voted yet?

NYT/Siena: Trump 47, Biden 43

Possibly the last poll of interest for the cycle.

President Trump maintains a narrow lead in Texas, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll on Monday, as he faces a rebellion in the state’s once overwhelmingly Republican suburbs but survives with support from an unlikely ally, Hispanic voters.

Over all, Mr. Trump leads Joe Biden, 47 percent to 43 percent, among likely voters. The majority of interviews were conducted before the final presidential debate on Thursday. In the Senate race, the Republican incumbent, John Cornyn, holds a larger lead, 48-38, over the Democrat, M.J. Hegar.

[…]

The findings suggest that Republicans face catastrophic risks down-ballot, even if Mr. Trump wins. Mr. Biden leads him by five percentage points, 48 percent to 43 percent, across the 12 predominantly suburban congressional districts that the Cook Political Report has rated as competitive. These districts voted for the president by eight points in 2016.

In these districts, Republicans face a combination of rapid demographic change and previously unthinkable Democratic gains among white college-educated voters. Mr. Trump leads Mr. Biden by just two points among white college graduates in these districts, even though they say they backed Mr. Trump by 24 points over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Even those who have long embraced the Democratic dream of a “blue Texas,” powered by mobilizing the state’s growing Latino population, probably never imagined such staggering Democratic gains in once-solidly Republican areas. Yet the poll suggests that Hispanic voters might just be the group that keeps the state red a while longer.

Mr. Biden has a lead of only 57 percent to 34 percent among that group, somewhat beneath most estimates of Mrs. Clinton’s support among Hispanic voters four years ago. The finding broadly tracks with national surveys, which have shown Mr. Trump improving among Hispanic voters compared with his 2016 standing. Similarly, Hispanic voters in the Times/Siena poll say they backed Mrs. Clinton by a margin of 60 percent to 29 percent.

Hispanic voters are difficult to measure in any state, and Texas is no exception. In 2018, Times/Siena surveys generally underestimated turnout by Hispanics and their support for Democrats in Texas. So far this cycle, polls have varied widely on Mr. Trump’s standing among the group in Texas, with a recent Quinnipiac survey showing Mr. Biden ahead by just eight points, 51-43, while a Dallas Morning News/UT Tyler Texas survey showed him ahead by a far wider margin, 67-20.

Up to this point, the Biden campaign’s limited ad spending has been concentrated in the El Paso and San Antonio media markets, where Hispanic voters represent a particularly large share of the electorate. It may suggest that the Biden campaign sees Hispanic voters as one of its best and most cost-efficient opportunities to improve its standing in the state.

Mr. Trump also shows modest but meaningful strength among Black voters, who back Mr. Biden by a margin of 78 percent to 12 percent. Black respondents in the survey said they voted for Mrs. Clinton over Mr. Trump by a somewhat larger margin, 82-8, in 2016.

This poll now joins that UH Hobby School poll to snap the streak of positive results for Biden. The UH poll was weird in a couple of ways, this one is closer to the norm of other polls we have seen. On the matter of Hispanic voting, let me refer you to this tweet:

I’ve covered this before, and it’s my pet obsession with this election. The NYT/Siena result is kind of right in the middle of the pack (unlike that UH poll), which in itself makes it a bit of an aberration – the standard deviation here is big. The level of support for Trump among Black voters in this sample is on the high end, but not an outlier; at least two other polls had higher numbers for him. I thought those were outliers, and one was the September Qunnipiac poll that came back to earth in October. I haven’t studied this subgroup as closely, but I’d take the under if anyone asked.

As for the Hispanic number in the Siena poll, they have an interesting explanation.

With still a week of early voting and Election Day to go, more than seven million voters have already cast ballots in the state, representing more than 80 percent of the total turnout from four years ago. The state has not been vigorously contested at the presidential level in decades, leaving analysts with even more uncertainty about the eventual electorate than elsewhere

No pollster and analyst can be reasonably confident about what the final Texas electorate will look like, given that a significant departure from prior turnout patterns is all but an inevitability. Nonetheless, the Times/Siena poll offers one possible picture: a turnout approaching 12 million, with neither Mr. Biden nor Mr. Trump claiming a clear advantage because of the higher turnout, but still with a lower turnout among Hispanic than non-Hispanic voters.

The poll finds that Mr. Biden holds a seven-point lead among the half of the likely electorate who had already voted as of Friday, according to state records compiled by L2, a nonpartisan data vendor. These voters are older and whiter than the electorate as a whole, and more have participated in a recent Republican primary than a Democratic one. But, like early voters elsewhere in the country, they appear more favorable to Mr. Biden than their demographic characteristics would suggest.

The president counters with a 17-point lead among the voters who had not turned out by Friday, including an even wider 29-point advantage among those who say they are almost certain to vote.

Mr. Biden fails to keep pace on Election Day, the poll finds, in part because the survey sees relatively little evidence that the turnout surge will extend to Latino voters, and that even if it did, such a surge would do less to benefit Mr. Biden than one might expect.

Over all, 66 percent of Hispanic registered voters say they’ve already voted or are almost certain to do so, compared with 83 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 77 percent of non-Hispanic Blacks.

Perhaps surprisingly, the Hispanic voters likeliest to stay home are the Hispanic voters likeliest to support Mr. Trump. Or, if you prefer: Mr. Biden fares better among the Latino voters who say they will vote. Mr. Biden leads, 61-30, among Hispanic voters who say they’ve already voted or are “almost certain” to do so, while Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden are effectively tied among those who are less likely. Mr. Biden has an even wider lead of 73-20 among Hispanic voters who say they have already voted. As a result, higher Latino turnout does little to bolster Mr. Biden, even though this low-turnout group of voters identified as Democratic over Republican by a 16-point margin.

Low-turnout Hispanic voters in Texas are some of the toughest voters to reach in the country for pollsters. It is even harder to ensure a representative sample of the group in a state like Texas where voters don’t register with a party; party registration can be used to ensure the right number of Democrats and Republicans. We can’t rule out the possibility that the poll failed to reach the most Democratic-leaning of these voters.

Mr. Biden may also succeed in mobilizing the Democratic-leaning elements of this group, as already seems to be happening in early voting. He can also hope that undecided, low-turnout Latino voters will break toward Democrats over the final stretch, as they seemed to do two years ago.

The heavy early vote is a factor in how to model turnout for polls, obviously. All the indications we have are that the early vote has been very Democratic, but we don’t know where it’s going from here. The finding that lower-propensity Hispanic voters are more pro-Trump is not something I would have predicted. Indeed, there has been research in the past showing that lower-propensity Hispanic voters tend to be more Democratic than the cohort as a whole. The GOP strategy in CD23 was based on filling the district with non-voting Hispanic voters, to satisfy the Voting Rights Act requirement for it to be a Hispanic opportunity district while still keeping it competitive for them. I just don’t know what to make of this.

You can find the crosstabs here. It turns out that this sample has Trump leading 41-40 among independents, which as we know would make it only the second poll in at least a month to have him with a lead with this group, albeit a small one. Their level of support for Trump is in line with the other polls, it’s the support for Biden that’s a bit abnormal.

As it happens, there is another poll out there, from Data for Progress. I’ll blog about it tomorrow. Maybe that will be the last poll of the cycle. Maybe not.

SCOTX upholds Abbott’s limit on mail ballot dropoff locations

I’m shocked, I tell you, shocked.

In what’s expected to be the final ruling on the matter, the Texas Supreme Court has upheld Gov. Greg Abbott’s order limiting Texas counties to only one drop-off location for voters to hand deliver their absentee ballots during the pandemic.

The ruling, issued Tuesday by the all-Republican court, is the final outcome in one of a handful of lawsuits in state and federal courts that challenged Abbott’s order from early this month. A federal appeals court also sided with the Republican governor in an earlier ruling, overturning a lower court’s decision.

The state lawsuit argued that the governor doesn’t have authority under state law to limit absentee ballot hand-delivery locations, and that his order violates voters’ equal protection rights under the state constitution. The suit was filed in Travis County by a Texas-based Anti-Defamation League, a voting rights advocacy group and a voter.

In their opinion, the justices wrote that Abbott’s order “provides Texas voters more ways to vote in the November 3 election than does the Election Code. It does not disenfranchise anyone.”

See here for the previous update. In a narrow and technical sense, the Supreme Court is correct. Abbott did in fact expand voting options with his original order, which not only added that extra week to early voting but also allowed for mail ballots to be dropped off during the early voting period. State law only allows for that on Election Day, one of many problems that will need a legislative fix in the near future. But we all know that the purpose of his amended order, more than two months after Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins had announced his plan to have dropoff locations at all 12 County Clerk offices, and several days after people began using those locations, was to issue a rebuke to Hollins for having the nerve to innovate like that, and to throw a bone to the howling nihilists in his own party that were attacking him for taking any step to make voting easier. The limit served no legitimate purpose, and was done in haste and with politics in mind. It is what it is at this point, and as with every other ad hoc obstacle thrown in our path, the voters have adjusted. We’ll be coming for you soon, Greg. The Chron has more.

Bloomberg drops some money in the RRC race

I have four things to say about this.

Chrysta Castañeda

Billionaire Michael Bloomberg has made a late donation of $2.6 million to the Democratic nominee for railroad commissioner, Chrysta Castañeda, providing a massive fundraising boost in a race for the oil and gas regulatory board that usually does not see such big money — or attract much political interest outside Texas.

Bloomberg’s contribution helped Castañeda raise $3.5 million on her latest campaign finance report, according to her campaign. The filing covers Sept. 25 through Oct. 26 and is due to the Texas Ethics Commission by the end of the day Monday.

“Chrysta Castañeda will be a champion for Texans — her commitment to improving people’s lives is clear,” Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for president this year, said in a statement. “I’m glad to support Chrysta in her campaign to be the next Railroad Commissioner, because she has the vision and experience needed to build a safer, healthier, and more environmentally prosperous future for the state of Texas.”

Bloomberg gave $2.625 million total to Castañeda, $2.5 million in direct money and the rest in in-kind contributions, according to her campaign. It said her report will also show she received $500,000 from environmentalist philanthropists Richard and Dee Lawrence, and that the Sierra Club donated $90,000 and has pledged another $125,000.

[…]

In a statement, Castañeda said the seven-figure support “has allowed us to place television ads in every major Texas market,” educating voters about the little-known commission, which regulates the state’s oil and gas industry. Her commercials have also taken aim at [Republican opponent Jim] Wright, pointing out, among other things, that the commission fined a business he once owned in 2017 for environmental violations.

On the previous round of campaign finance reports, covering early July through Sept. 24, Castañeda was competitive with Wright on donations, taking in $230,000 to his $244,000. She also had $81,000 in in-kind contributions. But he outspent her nearly 3 to 1 and ended the period with more cash on hand, $170,000 to her $104,000.

1. Hooray! We’ve been waiting for this. Castañeda has raised a few bucks and gotten some commercials on the air as noted, but not nearly enough to make much of an impression. This kind of money is enough to run ads statewide for two weeks, and that will mean something.

2. Which leads to the obvious: Sure would have been nice to have had this in place sooner. I need to look at the 8 day report to see exactly when Bloomberg cut the check, but Castañeda started having ads on the air a month ago, so it’s not quite as late in the cycle as I first thought when I read the headline of the story. At least she seems to have gotten the money before people started voting, which was my main concern.

3. It is very much the case that the outcome of this race will be closely correlated with the Presidential race. There’s only so much Castañeda can do to move the needle (more on that in a minute), but if Biden wins Texas or comes close enough, she can put herself in a position to win. It should be noted that downballot statewide Dems have generally lagged the top of the ticket by a few points, and that was the case in 2016 and 2018. There is some variation from race to race – generally speaking, in lower-profile races, having a Latino surname is a benefit. Note that the top downballot votegetters in 2016 were Eva Guzman (top overall in her case) and Dori Garza, both Supreme Court candidates. Castañeda has that going for her, which is likely to be worth a point or so in the final tally. If there’s one downballot Dem that I think could out-perform Biden, at least on a percentage basis, it’s Chrysta Castañeda.

4. The presence of third party candidates means that one does not need fifty percent of the vote to win. That, and who third party candidates tend to draw some votes from, was the basis for all that litigation that ultimately did not result in any candidates being thrown off the ballot. The RRC races, which are pretty obscure for most voters and which have featured some, um, less than optimal candidates in recent years, is a prime example of this. Here are the combined third-party vote percentages from the past three Presidential elections:

2016 – 8.56%
2012 – 4.23%
2008 – 3.52%

There were Libertarian and Green candidates in 2016 and 2012, and just a Libertarian in 2008. The 2016 race had two of the worst candidates ever for this office, bad enough that the Libertarian got several major newspaper endorsements. The point here is that it is likely 48% of the vote will be enough to win; 49% for sure will win. And while RRC is very close to the top of the ballot – fourth in line, after the three federal races – it’s likely more people will skip it than perhaps the Supreme Court races because they have no idea what the RRC does. That means fewer votes are needed as well. Anything Castañeda can do to minimize undervoting by Dems and to tempt soft Rs and indies to cross over will help. That’s what this money can do. The Chron has more.

No school on Election Day

For HISD, anyway.

Houston ISD will not hold virtual or in-person classes on Election Day, district officials said late Tuesday, a reversal of earlier plans to provide online-only instruction because more than 100 schools will be used as polling places.

District officials said staff members are expected to participate in virtual professional development on Nov. 3, though some may take a comp day if approved by a manager.

[…]

The Texas Education Agency confirmed last week that virtually all public school districts holding online-only classes on Election Day will not receive credit toward their legally-required minimum of 75,600 minutes of instruction they must provide. Districts that fall short of the 75,600-minute requirement would risk losing a fraction of their funding, TEA officials said.

In a statement Wednesday morning, HISD administrators said the district’s calendar “allows for an excess of minutes beyond the 75,600-minute requirement from the state to allow for inclement weather or emergency closure days.” District officials did not respond to questions about how many minutes are built into their calendar.

See here for the background. Election Day should of course be a national holiday – though at the rate we’re going now, there won’t be that many people left to vote on Election Day this year – but that is not something HISD can control. Taking the day off is the next best thing. As for the minutes of instruction, I’m going to assume they have that covered. In the meantime, go vote.

UH-Hobby: Trump 50, Biden 45

Here’s a poll result that stands in contrast to the others we have seen lately.

President Donald Trump is leading Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden by more than five points among likely voters in Texas, according to a poll released Monday by the Hobby School for Public Affairs at the University of Houston.

The poll, conducted between Oct. 13 and Oct. 20, found 50% of voters said they already had or will vote for Trump, while 44.7% said they had or will vote for Biden.

Trump and running mate Mike Pence carried Texas by nine points in 2016.

The Republican edge held for statewide contests down the ballot, including for U.S. Senate, Texas Railroad Commission and three statewide judicial races covered by the poll.

“Record turnout in early voting clearly shows the state’s Democrats are energized, but at least at the top of the ticket, that enthusiasm appears unlikely to overcome the Republican advantage among men, Anglos and older voters,” said Renée Cross, senior director of the Hobby School. “In fact, we found the Republican candidate leading by wider margins in statewide races farther down the ballot.”

Among the findings:

  • More than 40% had already voted at the time of the poll. Biden held a substantial edge among those voters, leading Trump 59% to 39%. Almost two-thirds of those who plan to vote on Election Day said they will vote for Trump.
  • Incumbent U.S. Sen. John Cornyn leads Democratic challenger MJ Hegar 48.9% to 41.6%.
  • Republican Jim Wright is leading in the race for an open seat on the Texas Railroad Commission, with 46.8% of the vote; Democrat Chrysta Castañeda has 38.4%.
  • Biden holds a slight edge among women, 49.5% to 46%. Trump is preferred among men by a notably larger margin, 54.3% to 39.5%.
  • While 63% of Anglos support Trump, and 87% of African-American voters back Biden, the gap is narrower among Latino voters: 56% support Biden, and 38% back Trump.
  • Republican Nathan Hecht leads Democrat Amy Clark Meachum 47.5% to 40% for Texas Supreme Court chief justice. For Supreme Court Justice Place 6, Republican Jane Bland leads Democrat Kathy Cheng 49.2% to 40.1%.
  • Republican Bert Richardson leads Democrat Elizabeth Davis Frizell 48.2% to 38.3% for Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Place 3.

The full report is available on the Hobby School website.

The Hobby School did a primary poll in February and one Trump-Clinton poll around this time in 2016; they also did a couple of polls of Harris County in 2016. As noted in their introduction, this was a YouGov poll, so similar in nature to the UT/Texas Tribune polls. As I alluded to in the headline, this is the first poll we’ve had in awhile that was this positive for Trump, and it especially stands in contrast with that UT-Tyler poll that came out over the weekend. What does one make of this?

You can peruse the poll data as you wish. I’m going to note one thing that really stood out to me. The following is a list of how Independent voters went in each of the last nine polls over the past month for which that data was available (in other words, skipping the Morning Consult polls). See if you can see what I saw:


Poll      Biden   Trump
=======================
UH-Hobby     34      51
UTT/DMN      51      29
Q'piac Oct   50      39
DFP          40      36
PPP          60      35
UT-Trib      45      37
UML          43      39
NYT/Siena    41      37
Q'piac Sep   51      43

Yeah, that’s a very different result for independent voters than for basically every other poll we’ve seen. Note that the UT-Trib poll had Trump up by five, as did the Quinnipiac poll from September (both were 50-45 for Trump, in fact), and that UMass-Lowell poll had Trump up 49-46. As the song goes, one of these things is not like the others.

There are other things that can be said about this poll – I appreciate the “who has voted” versus “who has yet to vote” distinction, and I appreciate the inclusion of downballot races though I tend to discount those results because of the increase in “don’t know” responses – but this is the main thing I wanted to cover.

Links to the cited polls, and their data or crosstabs page where the numbers I included can be found:

UT-Tyler/DMNdata
Quinnipiacdata
Data for Progressdata
PPPdata
UT-Trib (data about indies in quoted excerpt)
UMass-Lowelldata
NYT/Sienadata
Quinnipiacdata

I will also note that Jim Henson and Joshua Blank have observed a shift in independents’ preferences in Texas towards indies this cycle. And now I will stop beating this horse.

Try not to get sick before Election Day

If you suffer a late illness that prevents you from getting to a polling place, you will need a doctor’s note to get an absentee ballot.

Texas voters who get sick shortly before Election Day and can’t go to the polls will still need a doctor’s note before they can get an emergency absentee ballot, a state appeals court ruled Friday.

Voting rights group MOVE Texas will not appeal the temporary ruling further. Instead, as a fallback, the group has established a free telehealth service with volunteer physicians to provide the necessary documentation for sick voters seeking absentee ballots starting Saturday, the executive director said.

The Texas 3rd Court of Appeals’ ruling, overriding a state district court order, said implementing the lower court’s ruling “would change the longstanding requirements governing late mail-in ballots and risk voter confusion.” The case will still be reviewed further after the election.

MOVE Texas first challenged existing election law in a Travis County court after reports this summer detailed voters who tested positive for the coronavirus in the days before the primary runoff election struggling to cast ballots.

Unlike applications for absentee ballots received before the general deadline, which was Friday, Texas law dictates that voters submitting applications for emergency absentee ballots must provide certification from a doctor that the voter has developed an illness that would keep them from being able to vote in person.

In the July primary runoffs, two Austin voters tested positive for the new coronavirus and were put under self-quarantine orders shortly after the cutoff date for mail-in ballot applications. They asked a Travis County district judge to waive the requirement for a doctor’s note but lost their case.

On Oct. 2, MOVE Texas filed a challenge in court, arguing that the state’s criteria for applying for emergency absentee ballots is unconstitutional and imposes an undue burden on the right to vote. Travis County District Judge Tim Sulak agreed, ruling against the requirement for a doctor’s note last week.

[…]

Preparing for the loss in the 3rd Court of Appeals, Galloway said the group designed a fallback program to connect sick voters to volunteer physicians who will meet via videoconference.

“It’s completely up to the physician if they want to issue the waiver or not,” Galloway said. “If so, they can do it digitally. That voter is then set and it’s at no cost to them to be able to complete the application and turn it into the elections department.”

Probably for the best at this point. I remember the earlier story, but if I blogged about it at the time, I can’t find the post.

Let’s be clear about three things. One, this is likely to affect a tiny, tiny number of people. The set of circumstances under which someone would be affected by this are super specific. It’s always worth worrying about anyone who faces obstacles to voting, but you can probably count the number of these people on your fingers. That said, if you haven’t voted yet, you could be a person affected by this.

Two, the main reason for all of this is our state’s restrictive laws for voting by mail. In a world where getting a mail ballot is easy – or even the default – problems like this go away. This specific situation could have been addressed by the court, but the big picture needs to be handled by the Legislature.

Finally, this is the argument for voting at your first opportunity. Life is uncertain. I get wanting to vote on Election Day, out of a sense of tradition or because you want to make sure that nothing comes up that might change your mind in a given race, or because a voting location that has meaning for you is only available on Election Day. The risk you take is that the longer you take, the greater the chances that something could come up that will complicate your ability to vote. I’m a committed early voter, and have been for years. Your mileage may vary. Just be aware of the tradeoffs.

TMF files for Speaker

Now it’s a race.

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer announced Monday that he is running for Texas House speaker, becoming the second Democrat in the lower chamber to launch a bid for the gavel.

Martinez Fischer, from San Antonio, joins state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, the longest-serving woman and Black person in the history of the Texas Legislature, in the race. Both filings come ahead of a November election in which Democrats are within striking distance of winning control of the Republican-held House for the first time in nearly two decades.

Martinez Fischer would be the first Latino to hold the position, if elected. Thompson would be the first woman and Black person to serve as speaker.

No Republicans have filed paperwork yet with the Texas Ethics Commission to run for the job, which Republican House Speaker Dennis Bonnen will vacate at the end of his term when he retires from office. More members from both parties are expected to enter the race in the coming days.

[…]

Martinez Fischer nodded to the upcoming legislative challenges in a statement announcing his speaker bid, saying he is running “because I believe that I am best prepared to deliver the solutions Texans expect, navigate the redistricting process, and protect the House as we chart our path forward as Texans.” Martinez Fischer also said as speaker his goal would be to “make historic changes” to the makeup of House committees in an attempt to address “the disparities in the lack of women and people of color in our leadership ranks.

“The Texas House operates on trust,” he said in his statement. “For the last twenty years, Members know that even when we may disagree, I have never been shy about saying where I stand. As Speaker, I will always deal straight.”

See here for the background. I had said that it was my belief that if Rep. Thompson wanted this, she’d have a clear path. That’s not the case, but it is early days. There were multiple people floated as possible challengers to Tom Craddick before a majority coalesced around Joe Straus, and when Dennis Bonnen succeeded Straus, it was after several other Republicans (and one Democrat) had made their intentions known. In each situation, the others simply backed down and got on board with the winner. If Dems have a clear majority in the House, I would expect there to be only one Dem in the running for Speaker at the end.

Does it mean anything that TMF filed so quickly after Thompson did? Probably not – his ambition is as good as anyone’s, he’s likely been talking about it for some time, and there are many ways to be a Speaker if one gets elected to that spot. Most of what will happen between now and when the members take a vote will not be visible to us. That said, if this ever does get ugly, we will surely hear about it. I’m sure a Republican will file at some point, but I figure there’s still some factional healing that needs to happen post-Bonnen, and no one may be ready to go public yet. This is the Lege nerds’ equivalent of fantasy football – it’s of extreme interest to a few, and means nothing to normal people. Enjoy the ride, or feel free to tune out until something interesting happens, it’s your call.

Here comes Kamala

Just a little fuel to the “Texas is in play” fire.

Kamala Harris, Joe Biden’s running mate and the California U.S. senator, will be visiting Texas on Friday, according to an email Biden’s campaign sent to Democratic lawmakers in Texas on Sunday.

Harris will be the highest-profile representative of the Biden campaign to visit Texas in person during the general election, though his campaign was already set to spend millions of dollars on TV ads in Texas.

“Allow me to provide as a courtesy, the below in person travel notification for Sen. Kamala Harris which will be publicly released momentarily,” the email reads. “Sen. Kamala Harris will be personally traveling to Texas on Friday – October 30. 2020.”

Her visit comes as polls project a tight presidential race in Texas. According to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll, Trump leads Biden in the state by 5 percentage points. Trump won Texas by 9 points in 2016.

I have to admire the Trib’s branding department for only mentioning their poll from a couple of weeks ago, which was one of the best results for Trump this cycle, and not any of the five more recent polls that show a tie or a Biden lead. That UT/Trib poll would be Exhibit A for why Team Biden shouldn’t be paying any attention to Texas. I love the Trib, but they really needed to read the room here.

Here’s the Chron story.

Vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris is set to campaign in Texas this week, with Democratic sources saying Houston will be one of her stops.

Harris, a U.S. Senator from California, is set to be in Texas on Friday in a push to get more voters to the polls on the final day of early voting. The exact location and times have not been released publicly.

Her trip marks the first time in over 30 years that a Democratic vice presidential nominee has been sent to campaign in the Lone Star State this close to election day.

It is yet another sign that the Donald Trump campaign and the Joe Biden campaign have vastly different views of political conditions in Texas.

“The president is going to win Texas,” Tim Murtaugh, the communications director for Trump’s reelection campaign, said on Sunday. “And the president will be focusing his time and travel and energy on the states that will decide the election.”

But public polls over the last week have shown Trump and Biden locked in a dead heat. A Dallas Morning-News and University of Texas at Tyler poll released Sunday showed Biden leading Trump 48 percent to 45 percent.

The Biden campaign is convinced early voter data shows Democrats have a legitimate shot of delivering Texas for a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time since 1976.

See, that wasn’t so hard. At this point in the voting cycle, the key task is to push lower-propensity voters to the polls. The hardcore folks have mostly voted, or will be voting soon. This will excite them most of all, which may spur them to volunteer to help push those less-frequent voters out. After two weeks of voting, and what feels like thirty years of anticipation, keeping everyone’s energy up is important. I can’t think of a better way to do that.

November 2020 Early Voting Day Fourteen: Where will we end up?

Because we like starting with tweets:

That was from Sunday, after the UT-Tyler poll was factored in. As you may know, there have been two polls released since then, both favorable to Trump, so the above may be a fleeting snapshot in time. Enjoy it anyway.

The two polls I mentioned have their issues, and I will be covering them both, one today and one tomorrow. There have been a lot of polls of Texas, some better than others and some more publicized than others. It’s hard to keep up with them.

President Donald Trump frequently derides “phony polls” after he proved them wrong by defeating Hillary Clinton in 2016. But in Texas, some public polls had the opposite problem: They overestimated Trump’s margin of victory by 3 percentage points.

Two years later, polls in Texas yet again underestimated Democrats, including Beto O’Rourke, who came within 3 percentage points of unseating U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz after public polling showed him down by as many as 9 percentage points that October.

As Texas appears to be acting more like a swing state than it has in decades, O’Rourke and other Democrats have turned the idea that polling underestimates them into a sort of rallying cry as they seek to convince voters that Texas is actually in play for former Vice President Joe Biden, or that former Air Force pilot MJ Hegar could unseat longtime Republican Sen. John Cornyn.

“Pollsters have a very hard time locating, tracking and counting the votes of likely Democratic voters,” O’Rourke said recently. “Even with the polling this tight, I think actually the advantage is to Biden.”

I’ll leave it to you to read the rest. I don’t know that the polls will necessarily underestimate Biden, as they did underestimate Beto – the final polling averages in 2016 were fairly accurate, as I have noted before. There is a lot of uncertainty this year – big turnout, super big early turnout, many newly registered voters – and the polls have varied wildly in things like Latino support for Trump, which has led to some big differences in overall numbers. Early turnout is very heavily female, and women poll much more strongly for Biden. Models factor a lot of stuff in, but they all have to make some assumptions.

The Day Fourteen daily EV totals are here. You can find the daily totals for 2008 and 2012 (and 2016 as well, but I’ve got a separate link for it) here, for 2016 here, and for 2018 here. I’m just going to keep on keeping on with the pretense that early voting actually began last Monday, except with 628K votes already in the bank. The first table is totals for the “normal” early voting time period for each year.


Election     Mail      Early      Total
=======================================
2008       46,085    376,761    422,846
2012       57,031    429,186    486,217
2016       85,120    555,383    640,503
2018       78,190    494,712    572,902
2020      156,157    439,488    595,645

One way you can see the shift to earlier voting for people is to compare Week One and Week Two for each of these pre-2020 years. In 2008 and 2012, Week Two early voting was generally higher each day than in Week One. That was not true in 2016 and 2018, where the daily levels were for the most part about the same or maybe a bit less in the second week. In those years, Week One had started at a higher level, so there was less room to grow, and in the end a lot more people wound up voting in the EV period. We saw crazy high daily totals in Week One this year, lower but still pretty good Week Two levels, and now we’re in the uncharted waters of Week Three. The only thing I expect to be the same is for the final day to be the busiest.

Day One of Week Three was slower than any of the five weekdays from Week Two, though the in person total was close to last Thursday’s. It was above the mark for Saturday and Sunday, and has us back ahead of the pace to equal or bypass 2016 total turnout during the EV period.


Vote type       Mon     Tue     Wed     Thu     Fri     Week
============================================================
Mail          6,407                                    6,407
Drive-thru    5,448                                    5,448
In person    46,747                                   46,747
Total        58,602                                   58,602

Vote type     Week 1    Week 2    Week 3      Total
===================================================
Mail          75,504    74,246     6,407    156,157
Drive-thru    54,105    39,264     5,448     98,817
In person    499,099   348,227    46,747    894,073
Total        628,708   461,737    58,602  1,149,047

For the next three days, there will be extended early voting hours, to 10 PM each day. I’m not going to be awake when the County Clerk sends out the daily totals, so for the rest of the week expect the updated figures to lag by a day. I’m very interested to see what effect the extended hours have – do the daily totals tick up in proportion to the extra three hours, or does the load just get spread out a bit more evenly? Same thing for the 24-hour voting, which will be happening at eight locations. How many people wander into an EV location at 2 AM? I can’t wait to find out. Note that even if the overnight tallies are low, they’re still worth doing, as this is about making it easier and more convenient to vote. One of those 24-hour EV locations is in the Medical Center, and you know there are plenty of people milling about there at all hours. I look forward to seeing this become the standard for future elections.

We are now about 40K away from surpassing 2008 total turnout, 55K from 2012 total turnout, and 70K from 2018. With a day like Monday, the first two are in range today. We need to average 47,463 over the next four days to surpass 2016. My next update will be tomorrow. Have you voted yet?

UT-Tyler/DMN: Biden 48, Trump 45

The late run of good polls in Texas for Joe Biden continues.

Former Vice President Joe Biden has regained a narrow lead over President Donald Trump in Texas, after wooing more independents and Hispanics, according to a poll released Sunday by The Dallas Morning News and University of Texas at Tyler.

Biden’s lead among likely voters is 48%-45%, within the poll’s margin of error.

In the Texas race for U.S. Senate, Republican incumbent John Cornyn lost a bit more ground against Democrat MJ Hegar. Cornyn’s lead now stands at 8 points, down from 11 in September.

Also, in a sign of potential trouble for Texas as it grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, fewer than half of Texas registered voters say they’re likely to take a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available. That’s a slide from last spring, when about three-quarters were willing.

“Texas remains a tossup because of the public’s attitudes toward President Trump,” said political scientist Mark Owens, who directed the poll.

In September, 32% of Texans said they had no confidence in Trump’s ability to keep communities safe from the coronavirus pandemic, Owens noted. Today, 44% voice that sentiment. Trump, though, still has the advantage as the candidate Texans believe would handle the economy best.

Biden, who was 2 points behind Trump among likely voters in The News and UT-Tyler’s September survey, edged slightly ahead of the president this month by expanding his support among independents and grabbing a better than 3-to-1 advantage among Hispanics.

The former vice president’s rebound from last month, when Trump led among likely Texas voters, 48-46, is sure to boost the already high spirits of state Democrats.

[…]

The poll, conducted Oct. 13-20, surveyed 1,012 registered voters. Of those, 925 are likely voters, 408 of whom had already voted and just 120 of whom said they plan to vote in person on Nov. 3. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.08 percentage points for the bigger group, and 3.22 points for the subset of likely voters.

The party split of poll respondents — 40% Republicans, 33% Democrats — “is in line with what we expect to see across the state,” Owens said

While Trump’s hospitalization with COVID-19 dominated headlines as the poll was being taken, 63% of Texans said the president’s illness neither heightened nor reduced their concern about the virus. The survey found 25% more concerned and 12% less.

In some ways, the pandemic and its economic fallout push the presidential race in opposite directions, Owens said.

As COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations have begun to rise again in Texas, especially toward the end of the survey period, Texans’ trust in Trump and Gov. Greg Abbott to protect them and their communities has ebbed, the poll found.

Trump’s job approval, at 47-46, is largely unchanged from a divided verdict in September (40-38). Similarly, the more popular Abbott’s job rating didn’t move, remaining at 54% approve, 34% disapprove.

But asked if they trust the leaders to keep their communities healthy and safe during the public health crisis, Texans gave Trump a thumbs-down, with 44% saying they trust him and 54% saying they don’t.

Abbott remains above water on that question, with 52% trusting and 45% not trusting him. In September, the same percentage trusted the governor but just 39% did not.

The UT-Tyler Political Science homepage is here, and you can see links to their past polls, which I’ll get to in a minute. They have two separate data sets for this one, one for registered voters and one for likely voters. It’s the LV sample that has Biden up 48-45; he’s leading 46-44 in the RV sample. I’m going to limit my discussion to the likely voter result, since that’s the more relevant at this point. I should note that their result in the Cornyn-Hegar race is 42-34 for Cornyn; more on that later as well.

This is the fourth UT/Tyler poll result we’ve had since Biden became the Dem nominee; they had a February pre-primary poll and three polls from 2019, but I’m less interested in those. Here’s what this pollster has said since the matchup officially became Biden versus Trump:

April 18-27: Trump 43, Biden 43
June 29-July 7: Biden 48, Trump 43 (LV)
Aug 28-Sep 2: Trump 48, Biden 46 (LV)

That second poll was the single best result Biden has gotten, and it came in the middle of that great run of polls for Biden. The third poll came in that run of good September results for Trump. This poll is the fifth one we’ve had in October that have shown either a tie or a small Biden lead, and it is again the best result for Biden.

Here’s a comparison of various subgroups from that September poll that had Trump up two, and this poll with Biden up three:


             September      October
Subgroup     Trump  Biden   Trump  Biden
========================================
Dems             4     93       1     97
Indies          37     46      29     51
GOP             92      5      92      6

White           60     35      63     32
Hispanic        28     58      21     69
Black            9     87       5     89

18-24           22     75      15     78
25-34           30     58      30     59
35-44           47     47      43     47
45-65           54     40      51     42
65+             56     40      56     40

It’s always a dicey proposition making definitive statements about movement within subgroups, since the margins of error are greater, but you can see why one sample is more favorable to Biden than the other.

As for the Senate race, it’s the same story as it has ever been, in that the “Don’t know” number is much higher – 18% overall, and in the 20s among Dems (21%) and indies (where Hegar leads 40-32), and people of color. The two third-party candidates combine for five percent of the vote, just a bit more than the three percent they get in the Presidential race. I believe this race is closer than the topline number indicates, but it is consistent with Cornyn slightly outperforming Trump. I believe that if Biden does win by three, Hegar is likely to win as well. Beyond that, we’ll see.

This poll did ask if people had voted, and what method they used to vote if they had voted. There weren’t any significant differences in the use of mail voting among the various subgroups. I wish they had asked for whom these people had voted, but they did not.

There’s still a NYT/Siena poll in the field for Texas, and if past elections are an indicator there may be a YouGov poll happening as well. We’ll see if anything contradicts this current run of success Biden has been on.

Not everyone will be sending in their mail ballot

I get this.

Samina Mirza had read enough in the news about U.S. Postal Service delays that she decided there was no way she’d trust the mail to deliver her ballot to Harris County election officials on time.

The 70-year-old retired nonprofit staffer had originally planned to drop off her ballot at a location near her home in Katy, until Gov. Greg Abbott issued a proclamation limiting counties to just one drop-off site.

“I wasn’t going to drive 25 miles to downtown Houston to use the dropbox because the nearest one was taken away, so I said ‘OK that’s fine, I’ll take a chance and just vote in person,’” said Mirza, who voted for Democrat Joe Biden for president.

Mirza is one of about 32,000 voters in Harris County and almost 9,600 in Bexar County who had received a mail-in ballot but chose to instead vote in person as of Wednesday — and there’s still a week and a half left of early voting to go. That’s about 13 percent and 9 percent of all voters who received mail ballots in each county, respectively.

About 759,000 Harris County residents had voted early in person by Wednesday and about 115,000 had done so by mail. In Bexar County, about 326,000 had voted in person and about 70,000 by mail.

“Since there are more people voting by mail in general, it does make sense that some people might change their mind for whatever reason and decide to vote in person,” said Roxanne Werner, Harris County spokeswoman. “Some people may have applied months ago, and with news about USPS and general situations changing, they may have decided to vote in person.”

[…]

Some who switched to in-person voting, like Mirza, cited concerns about the reliability of the mail. Others said they felt attached to their habit of in-person voting. Others still felt more reassured about the safety of the polling places with the longer early voting period, and after observing early voting procedures adapted for the pandemic.

The bottom line for all of the voters, though, was that in a high-stakes election that’s drawing record numbers of Texans to the polls, they didn’t want to take a chance that their vote would not count.

Still, it’s putting an extra burden on poll workers who are already stretched thin handling high turnout and trying to manage wait times that increase potential exposure to the virus.

Well, yes. That was one of the reasons why election administrators were encouraging people to vote by mail in the first place. Not that any of our fake fraud-obsessed Republican leaders cared. Had Harris and other counties been allowed to have more than one mail ballot dropoff location, that would have also worked. But as someone once said, it is what it is. At least these folks will still be voting – as we have observed, the harder the Republicans have made it to vote, the more determined everyone seems to be. Shouldn’t have to be this way, and someday we will make it better, but for now this is where we are.

If you received a mail ballot – not just an application, but an actual mail ballot – you must bring it with you and turn it in if you decide to vote in person. Your vote will be provisional otherwise. No big deal, people do this, just bring it with you. Or fill it out and mail it in (quickly!) or drop it off. Just make sure you vote.

Don’t park in a bike lane

It’s illegal now, and you will get a citation.

Houston city council on Wednesday made it illegal to park in or otherwise block the city’s expanding network of bike lanes, a long-sought change by cyclists fed up with dodging cars and other obstacles in their designated paths.

Council voted 15-2 to pass an ordinance to forbid people from blocking the dedicated lanes that are physically separated from roadways. The prohibition applies to 120 miles of bike lanes, and violations will be punishable by a $100 fine.

Councilmembers Mike Knox and Edward Pollard voted against the measure, but did not explain why. Council did not discuss the ordinance.

Previously, there was nothing in the city’s code that prohibited blocking the lanes. The city had to post “no parking” signs along the lanes in a sometimes futile effort to keep them clear.

Nick Hellyar, a board member for the nonprofit Bike Houston, hailed the ordinance as a pragmatic step toward safety.

“Bike Houston has been fighting for this for forever,” said Hellyar. “It’s just some of that common-sense government that sometimes we need to push a little harder for as advocacy groups.”

Warnings will be given for the first 90 days, and an amendment proposed by three Council members to offer a free bike class in lieu of the fine – sort of like defensive driving class for illegal parkers – was adopted. Motor vehicles of any kind are not allowed on the off-road bike trails, so in a sense all this does is standardize the bike trails around the city. I approve.

November 2020 Early Voting Day Thirteen: In the home stretch

Twitter time:

As a point of comparison, total turnout in 2008 was 8,077,795, and in 2012 it was 7,993,851. One reason for this is that there’s over three million more registered voters since then. Be that as it may, if we haven’t already, we will surpass those numbers today.

The Day Thirteen daily EV totals are here. You can find the daily totals for 2008 and 2012 (and 2016 as well, but I’ve got a separate link for it) here, for 2016 here, and for 2018 here. I’m just going to keep on keeping on with the pretense that early voting actually began this Monday, except with 628K votes already in the bank. The “original” Day Four numbers are here.


Election     Mail      Early      Total
=======================================
2008       45,361    314,252    359,613
2012       53,131    362,827    415,958
2016       80,681    486,060    566,741
2018       76,947    429,009    505,956
2020      149,750    387,293    537,043

Sundays are short days, only seven hours of voting. The votes per hour was a bit under 4K, which would have been a pace of about 45K total for a 12-hour day. Only 560 mail ballots processed – I have no idea what the rules are for Sundays, some previous years counted mail ballots on Sundays, others did not.


Vote type   Mon-Fri     Sat     Sun     Week      Total
=======================================================
Mail         69,673   4,013     560   74,246    149,750
Drive-thru   30,913   5,392   2,959   39,264     93,369
In person   291,591  33,337  23,299  348,227    847,326
Total       392,177  42,742  26,818  461,737  1,090,445

Vote type   Week One  Week Two      Total
=========================================
Mail          75,504    74,246    149,750
Drive-thru    54,105    39,264     93,369
In person    499,099   348,227    847,326
Total        628,708   461,737  1,090,445

Basically, we need about 50K voters per day to reach final 2016 levels. I expect things to tick up a bit this week, with the likely usual rush on Friday, but at this point I have on idea what that means in this context. I fully expect that when all is said and done, another 500K people or more will have voted, but maybe more of them will be next Tuesday than we think. We’ll see. Note that today and Friday are normal 7 to 7 days for voting, while Tuesday through Thursday are 7 AM to 10 PM, with several locations going 24-hour from Thursday to Friday. The EV locations map says there are seven 24-hour locations, but I only see five such designated on the map. I’m sure that will get cleared up before then. Have you voted yet?

UPDATE: My bad, I didn’t scroll all the way down the list of voting sites, so I missed seeing a couple of them. Also, as per this tweet, there are now eight 24-hour voting locations from Thursday through Friday – you can see them listed more clearly here.

Weekend link dump for October 25

“A Disturbing Twinkie That Has, So Far, Defied Science”.

I could not possibly care less about the future job prospects of current Trump staffers. Let them struggle to find honest work, maybe it will help them understand their prior decisions.

Scalzi on living in Trump Country, four years later.

RIP, Tab, diet soft drink of choice for many an 80s-era sorority sister.

“The concept of containing hot spots isn’t new, but it’s being tested under new pressures as authorities try to avoid a dreaded resurgence of illness and deaths, this time with economies weakened from earlier lockdowns, populations chafing at the idea of renewed restrictions and some communities complaining of unequal treatment.”

“A Long List of Shady Financial Mysteries Trump Still Refuses to Explain”.

“Senator David Perdue (R-GA) attacked Kamala Harris with a racist trope and then refused to apologize. Who is backing his campaign? A bunch of corporations that claim to be committed to fighting racism.”

“In 2017, President Donald Trump and the Wisconsin GOP struck a deal with Foxconn that promised to turn Southeastern Wisconsin into a tech manufacturing powerhouse. In exchange for billions in tax subsidies, Foxconn was supposed to build an enormous LCD factory in the tiny village of Mount Pleasant, creating 13,000 jobs. Three years later, the factory — and the jobs — don’t exist, and they probably never will.”

“How TV’s Top Cop Shows Are Changing Their Approach to Law & Order”.

“President Donald Trump’s sprawling political operation has raised well over $1 billion since he took the White House in 2017 — and set a lot of it on fire.”

Whatever they were wasting money on, it wasn’t paying legal bills.

“Given current polling of the presidential race, it is possible to imagine three scenarios, either on November 4 or on days soon thereafter: a narrow Trump victory in the Electoral College, with a huge loss in the popular vote; a Biden landslide in which Trump claims he lost because of a “rigged” election; or a very close and potentially flawed election going into overtime that could lead to a prolonged struggle over the presidency and the country. Each of these presents its own set of challenges for American democracy.”

“Both sides of the landmark showdown over marriage equality have announced that whatever differences they may have had, the one thing we can all agree on is that Amy Coney Barrett doesn’t belong within an abortion protest buffer zone of the United States Supreme Court.”

Susan Collins is very disappointed with this story.

“Phil Collins’ ex-wife and the man she left him for (VIA TEXT!) have apparently launched an armed occupation of Collins’ $33M Miami mansion, and I have no idea why you people are tweeting about anything else.” I haven’t even read the linked story because the deep-cut Genesis puns in the replies were so good.

In more conventional music news, this is amazing: “I, Tom Lehrer, and the Tom Lehrer Trust 2000, hereby grant the following permission: All the lyrics on this website, whether published or unpublished, copyrighted or uncopyrighted, may be downloaded and used in any manner whatsoever, without requiring any further permission from me or any payment to me or to anyone else.” It’s the hits plus a lot of songs I did not know. But act fast, this website will be taken down in 2024.

RIP, Spencer Davis, rock and blues musician best known for “Gimme Some Lovin'”.

“In this regard, it made perfect sense for Democratic Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar to stream themselves playing Among Us, a multiplayer game where players work as a team to figure out who is sabotaging the crew of their spaceship, on Twitch to 400,000 viewers alongside Piker, Pokimane, and other popular streamers on Tuesday night. Their game play, and exhortations to the audience to vote, were being watched by mostly younger and largely sympathetic minds that have been primed by Destiny, Piker, and others.”

RIP, James “The Amazing” Randi, magician, skeptic, debunker of bullshit. Mark Evanier adds a few words.

RIP, Shelley Buschur, Houston art car artist.

“If the U.S. had followed Canadian policies and protocols, there might have only been 85,192 U.S. deaths—making more than 132,500 American deaths ‘avoidable.’ If the U.S. response had mirrored that of Germany, the U.S. may have only had 38,457 deaths—leaving 179,260 avoidable deaths.”

RIP, Jerry Jeff Walker, Texas music icon. 2020 truly is the worst.

SCOTX reinstates Abbott’s mail ballot dropoff location limit

They can move fast when they want to, that’s for sure.

Gov. Greg Abbott’s controversial order to limit Texas counties to one mail-ballot drop-off site was allowed to remain in effect Saturday by the Texas Supreme Court.

The court blocked a previous appellate court ruling that had briefly struck down Abbott’s order, which was widely decried by voting rights groups as a voter-suppression tactic. The lawsuit to overturn Abbott’s order is still pending.

In Harris County, more than 1 million voters have cast ballots during early voting, shattering previous records. Multiple drop-off sites had been set up for voters until Abbott issued his order, which he said would “stop attempts at illegal voting.”

State District Judge Tim Sulak had previously ruled that Abbott’s order would “needlessly and unreasonably increase risks of exposure to COVID-19 infections” and undermine the constitutionally protected rights of residents to vote, “as a consequence of increased travel and delays, among other things.”

Less than 24 hours after the Third Court of Appeals reinstated the district court ruling that had halted Abbott’s order. Clearly, SCOTX does not have a “we close at 5” mentality. It should be noted that this is not the end of the line. From the Statesman:

Acting soon after receiving an emergency appeal on Gov. Greg Abbott’s behalf, the Texas Supreme Court issued an order Saturday that temporarily barred counties from opening more than one drop-off site for mail-in ballots.

The court order keeps in place Abbott’s 3½-week-old proclamation that barred multiple drop-off locations that had opened in several counties, including Travis County, until the Supreme Court can determine the legality of Abbott’s limit.

With an eye on the fast-approaching Nov. 3 election, the court also set tight deadlines, requiring legal briefs in the case to be filed before 5 p.m. Monday.

A ruling could come as soon as Monday night, though the Supreme Court gave no indication when it might act.

In theory, SCOTX could issue a ruling on the appeal on Tuesday or Wednesday, and we could get a few days of having multiple dropoff locations if the lower court order is upheld. Not great, but better than nothing. I think the odds of that happening are pretty slim, but it’s possible, and this is the best case scenario. At least you know what to hope for.

In practical terms, this means very little at this point. Very few people had ever used mail ballot dropoffs before. Existing law only allows for them to be used on Election Day – Abbott’s executive order extended that to all of early voting, which is an improvement even if his subsequent order limits it to a significant degree. Voting by mail is limited to begin with, and the vast majority of that small universe mailed their ballots in. Allowing people to drop them off at one of twelve locations instead of just one was an innovation, one of many that County Clerk Chris Hollins pioneered, and it was a welcome one in this year of COVID chaos, but losing it is more of an inconvenience than an impediment.

All that said, there is zero justification for Abbott’s order. People who wanted to drop off their mail ballots still had to go to an official County Clerk location, hand their ballot to an election judge, and show ID to have their ballot accepted. Fears of “fraud” and professions of “protecting election integrity” are empty shibboleths, the “thoughts and prayers” of vote suppression. Abbott imposed this limit as a sop to the extremists in his party who were already mad at him for adding an extra week to early voting. Hollins’ innovation made voting easier and more convenient. Abbott’s order made it harder and less convenient. That’s all there is to it.

I’ve said this before, but I firmly believe that a large majority of people like easier and more convenient voting, and support efforts to make it happen. There are lots of things the Democrats should un on in 2022. To me, this needs to be one of the big criticisms of Abbott – and Dan Patrick, and Ken Paxton, and every single member of the Supreme Court – in that election. Being on the side of “easier and more convenient” is the side to be on.

Rep. Senfronia Thompson files for Speaker

One hat in the ring, who knows how many to go.

Rep. Senfronia Thompson

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson, the longest-serving woman and Black person in the history of the Texas Legislature, filed Friday to run for speaker of the Texas House, making her the first to enter what’s been a quiet race so far to replace retiring Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton.

Thompson, a Houston Democrat, has filed ahead of a November general election in which Democrats are confident they will regain control of the House for the first time in nearly two decades. If elected, she would be the first Black woman to serve as speaker.

Thompson’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Thompson is not the only candidate expected to enter the race, which has had a different tempo and tone from the last one in 2018. The uncertainty surrounding which party will be in control of the lower chamber in 2021 has kept the race relatively quiet; by this time two years ago, several candidates had already declared that they were seeking the gavel.

[…]

Thompson, known better as “Ms. T” to colleagues and other Capitol goers, has served in the chamber since 1973, making her the second longest-serving member in the House. She has been mentioned repeatedly among both Republicans and Democrats as a potential candidate, with members pointing to her legislative experience and inroads with colleagues as perhaps her best case for a House that has a challenging agenda heading into the 2021 legislative session.

There are many potential Speaker candidates, but as I said in that post, if Rep. Thompson wants this, it’s hard to imagine other Dems opposing her. I’m sure she will be talking to those other potential candidates over the next few days, if she hasn’t been already. It won’t surprise me if they line up behind her.

There are of course a bunch of important things the next Legislature will have to tackle, from COVID response to a crap-ton of election and voting issues to redistricting to the budget to executive authority and the role of the Lege in dealing with crises. But even before we get to any of that, there’s a big question about how the Lege will operate. I mean, maybe you haven’t heard, but the COVID situation isn’t getting any better right now. I don’t have a whole lot of faith in Greg Abbott to impose restrictions again, so I’m not expecting it to be all that different come January. How exactly is the Lege going to conduct its business if it’s not safe for them all to be clustered in a stuffy room for hours at a time? What are they going to do if twerps like Briscoe Cain ignore a rule mandating masks in the Capitol? I don’t mean to be indelicate, but Rep. Thompson is 81. Rep. Alma Allen is 81, Tom Craddick is 77, Doc Anderson is 75, Harold Dutton is 75, and Phil Stephenson is 75. More than a few others are north of 60; not all of them have their age listed when I look them up on the Trib directory of State House members, but you get the point. The health and safety of every Member, as well as their staff and everyone who works at the Capitol is on the line, and as of today we have no idea what they plan to do about it. The next Speaker has some big things to do before a single vote is taken.

Please don’t screw up SD19 this time

Here’s hoping.

Rep. Roland Gutierrez

If elected to the Texas Senate, Roland Gutierrez promises not to end his tenure in federal prison. During a September phone call, the six-term state House rep assured me: “I’ve led my life as a responsible person; my parents raised me right.”

It’s a low bar. But Democrats in state Senate District 19—a sprawling district rooted in San Antonio that sweeps down to Eagle Pass and all the way out to far West Texas—have to start somewhere. The last liberal to hold the seat, Carlos Uresti, stepped down in 2018 just before being sentenced to 12 years’ incarceration for fraud and bribery. Now, after cinching the Democratic nomination in July, it’s up to Gutierrez to carry the torch of noncriminal progressive governance in SD-19.

The race won’t make the marquee this November. In Texas, the big-ticket fights are over the presidency, the U.S. Senate, and the state House. But a Gutierrez win would reassert Democratic control of a historically blue stronghold. It could also force a battle at the Capitol over the state Senate’s supermajority voting rules. And lastly—forgive me, reader, for mixing hope and Texas politics—it could even get the ball rolling on legal marijuana.

Standing in Gutierrez’s way: The Republican who’s held the seat the last two years, a former game warden by the name of Pete Flores—the bespectacled, cowboy hat-wearing embodiment of one of the Democrats’ worst electoral blunders in recent years.

I will pull one small piece of consolation out of the debacle that was the SD19 special election from 2018: After Flores’ stunning victory, I read more than one story, and many more than one quote from Republican elected officials like Dan Patrick, that were somewhere between skeptical and openly contemptuous of the idea that there was going to be a “blue wave” in Texas that year. I think we all know how that turned out, and it served as yet another reminder that weird low-turnout special election results just aren’t terribly predictive of anything.

All we really need to happen here is for 2020 to be a normal year, more or less, for Gutierrez to win and fix this error. In 2016, and again in 2018, SD19 was basically a ten-point Democratic district, with some variation on both ends. Carlos Uresti won it by 16 points in 2016. Gutierrez likely won’t do quite that well, as being the incumbent ought to help Flores a bit, but 2020 ought to be a pretty good year for Dems overall, with Bexar County giving Gutierrez a boost. I admit to being a little concerned about Gutierrez’s mediocre fundraising, but again, all we really need is typical performance from this district. Losing SD19 in the 2018 special election was upsetting, but in the end you could see how it happened. Losing it again this year would be inexcusable. Let’s not let that happen, mmmkay?

Bill Kelly: Voting Matters

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

The national headlines have highlighted the increased turnout among Harris County voters, and rightfully so. But rather than discuss or project what that increase is likely to mean for election results, it is worth noting the actual mechanics of how so many of our neighbors are able to cast these early votes.

Chris Hollins, our Harris County Clerk, and his team have rolled out an impressive and imaginative early voting plan. Commissioner’s Court deserves credit for making the needed investments so that citizens in Harris County can safely access the ballot even during this pandemic.

Now I’ve been working in campaigns in Harris County since 2003, but this is the first time we have operated under a Democratic County Clerk for a general election. And the difference it has made is truly amazing, and I hope people can tell the subtle changes that are making a significant difference in giving voters access.

First, there is the timing. Governor Abbott’s decision to expand the normal 12 day early voting period to 18 days was critical to promoting a safer – and less crowded – voting experience. The tremendous turnout we have seen in the last 9 days would have packed polling locations without this additional time.

Days are made up of hours, and the investment by Harris County to keep polls open from 7am to 7pm is actual a big deal. Under previous clerks, early voting hours were restricted to the hours between 8:30am to 4:00pm during the first 5 days of early voting.

It is common sense and now self-evident that more people are turning out when the polls are open longer at more convenient times for voters.

What I want to point out is that proposition remains true in reverse: fewer voters access early voting when there are fewer hours.

While Harris County was operating under restrictive hours, Tarrant, Travis, and Dallas Counties all offered more hours for early voting. The Harris County excuse? It would cost more.

Having a Clerk who values democracy matters.

Second, locations – locations – locations. Today, there are 122 early voting locations around Harris County. In 2018, that number was close to 40. Again, this is not a difficult concept, but to see the scale of progress is really amazing.

Aside from tripling the number, nowhere is the location accessibility factor more visible than on our major college campuses. Having early voting locations at the University of Houston (Go Coogs!), Rice, and Texas Southern is a game changer.

In 2008, the closest early voting locations to each of these campuses was the Fiesta near NRG or the HCC Southeast location near I-45 South & 610.

For anyone familiar with Houston geography, these locations are not convenient – at all – to any of these campuses.

Again, Harris County choose not to place an easily accessible early voting locations before Hollins did for any general election. If you think this was an accident, I’d point to the campus openings of Rice in 1912, UH in 1939, and TSU in 1946. It should not take over 70 years to get an early vote site on these campuses.

Investing in over 100 locations in a county of 4.7 million should be the new normal – if the goal is to increase voter access and participation.

Finally, election day itself has been transformed to offer greater access. In campaign after campaign in the 2000s, the message of “you can early vote anywhere in the county” would quickly pivot to “you can ONLY vote in your neighborhood precinct.”

You wanna see a campaign manager in a panic? Tell them their election day doorhangers have the wrong polling location.

While Harris County clung to this system, Fort Bend creating election day Voting Centers, which allowed anyone in the county to vote at these locations on election day. It was an easy message to point toward a location where every voter in the county could vote. Another choice made that made voting less accessible.

Now, voters in Harris County can vote at ANY voting location on election day. For low propensity voters, the ease of pulling into a polling location and hearing, “yes, you can vote here,” again helps more voters participate in voting.

Timing, locations, and countywide access are all concrete policy changes that have been instituted by the Harris County Clerk since 2018. But these changes should not be the end point.

Even before the voting process begins, state policy looks to restrict access in ways that are laughable. The lack of online voter registration in Texas is a clear indictment of suppression policy. Despite statewide support for the policy, Senator Carol Alvarado faced opposition on her bill to create this online voter registration system by Republicans in Harris County.

Wonder why.

To be clear, the Texas Election Code allows for astronauts to voter from space . . . but does not allow for online voter registration. Seriously.

Online registration is less expensive, much cleaner with data input, and is unquestionable easier for citizens looking to register than mailing in an application.

Texans are choosing their new elected leaders right now. Much of the Texas political power structure does not want a larger voter turnout, which is directly reflected by the voting policy.

Harris County decided to invest in greater voter access. It is making a difference.

Bill Kelly works as the Director of Government Relations for Mayor Sylvester Turner. He has worked on the winning campaigns for Mayor Bill White (2003), State Rep. Hubert Vo (2004), Council Member Peter Brown (2005), State Rep. Ellen Cohen (2006), and the Harris County Coordinated Campaign (2008).

November 2020 Early Voting Day Twelve: Second Saturday

Where we are.

Harris County surpassed 1 million ballots cast Friday, setting an early voting record with seven days remaining, in spite of the lingering COVID-19 pandemic and a flurry of lawsuits over the management of the election.

The county reached the milestone at 3:14 p.m. as tens of thousands of voters again headed to 112 polling sites on a muggy October afternoon.

If residents continue at the current pace of more than 90,000 daily ballots, the total turnout record of 1.34 million set in 2016 will fall before Election Day on Nov. 3.

Turnout here through Thursday accounted for 15 percent of ballots cast in Texas, exceeding the number recorded by several states with more residents, including Indiana, Missouri and Maryland.

[…]

Women in Harris County have cast 56 percent of ballots so far, well above the three-point gender gap in 2018. Women are more likely to support Democrats, and President Trump is polling historically poorly with them.

Young voters also continue to show up at the polls, and those under 40 make up a larger portion of the in-person electorate than they did four years ago.

To date, voters under 29 make up 13.8 percent of the in-person early vote, nearly double their 7.4 percent in 2016. Voters 30 to 39 comprise 17.3 percent of the total, 5 points higher than the last presidential cycle. That cohort, too, is more likely to support Democrats than older voters, according to the Pew Research Center.

High turnout among these groups shows that Democratic voters are more enthusiastic than their Republican counterparts, Rice University political science Professor Mark Jones said. He said Republicans can make up ground on Election Day, but said Democrats are well-positioned to carry the county by 10 to 20 points.

“One of the real challenges for the GOP now is they know they’re behind,” Jones said. “The Democrats have gotten a large share of their voters to actually cast a ballot, whereas Republicans are still working to make sure those individuals go and vote.”

Jeronimo Cortina, a political scientist at the University of Houston, said the expected record total turnout is likely to provide Joe Biden a greater margin of victory here than Hillary Clinton’s 12-point win in 2016. He agreed that Republicans have an opportunity to narrow the gap on Election Day.

“At least so far … it seems there is a pretty good trend in terms of Democrats outvoting Republicans,” Cortina said.

[…]

In precincts carried by Clinton, and Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke, in 2018, participation has been mixed. The heavily white corridor from Oak Forest south to Meyerland, as well as predominantly African-American neighborhoods including Acres Homes, Sunnyside and parts of Third Ward have seen 60 to 90 percent of their 2016 vote total.

Mostly Latino communities, including those from Aldine south through Second Ward and Pasadena, still are reporting less than 60 percent of their 2016 totals. That may leave Democrats with more outstanding potential voters — but only if they show up.

Democratic State Rep. Armando Walle is confident they will, and said Latinos traditionally are more likely to vote on Election Day. Even though there are no Latino presidential or U.S. Senate candidates on the ballot, he said they are motivated to choose leaders who will succeed at managing the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately harmed Latinos in Texas.

“Those (voting) numbers will even out as the race goes on,” Walle said.

The record turnout so far also is likely due, in part, to new voters; Harris County’s voter rolls grew by 298,000 since 2016. That gives an edge to Democrats, political scientists say, because the new voters are more likely to be younger and people of color, both demographics that tend to support the party.

We won’t maintain that 90K voters per day pace. We pretty much can’t, and as you’ll see the daily trend has been downward since that boffo first week. But that’s okay, we only need about half of that 90K pace to reach 2016 final turnout by the end of early voting, and I still think we will do that.

In re: Latino voting so far, it’s not unusual for those voters to show up later in the cycle. Here’s a breakdown of early voting percentages for each State Rep district from 2016:


Dist    Early    Total  Early%
==============================
126    46,827   63,214   74.1%
127    58,934   75,620   77.9%
128    46,021   60,656   75.9%
129    50,423   71,355   70.7%
130    64,227   83,009   77.4%
131    34,175   47,459   72.0%
132    55,535   70,519   78.8%
133    58,215   78,173   74.5%
134    66,623   93,167   71.5%
135    46,733   61,619   75.8%
137    19,639   28,027   70.1%
138    39,337   52,787   74.5%
139    39,983   53,829   74.3%
140    17,949   28,652   62.6%
141    28,462   39,243   72.5%
142    33,908   46,243   73.4%
143    23,812   34,279   69.5%
144    18,563   28,120   66.0%
145    24,545   35,918   68.3%
146    36,001   50,081   71.9%
147    42,549   59,849   71.1%
148    36,334   49,819   72.9%
149    32,347   44,955   72.0%
150    60,267   78,180   77.1%

“Early” is the early in person vote plus mail ballots. Four of the five Latino districts – 140, 143, 144, and 145 – cast more than 30% of their total ballots on Election Day. No other district did that. So as far as that goes, I don’t see anything amiss. Obviously, these folks still need to turn out, but there’s no reason to think they won’t.

I’ll probably split my early-voting-so-far tables from Monday on to break things up into Week One, Week Two, and then each day from Week Three. I do think we will see an uptick on the last day or two of Week Three, as is always the case in a normal year’s Week Two, though it will be starting from a lower point than usual.

The Day Twelve daily EV totals are here. You can find the daily totals for 2008 and 2012 (and 2016 as well, but I’ve got a separate link for it) here, for 2016 here, and for 2018 here. I’m just going to keep on keeping on with the pretense that early voting actually began this Monday, except with 628K votes already in the bank. The “original” Day Four numbers are here.


Election     Mail      Early      Total
=======================================
2008       43,160    284,768    327,928
2012       53,131    331,667    384,798
2016       77,445    450,186    527,631
2018       73,478    394,671    468,149
2020      149,190    361,035    510,225

Yesterday was the first day you could reasonably call slow, with 38K in person voters and 4K mail ballots returned. That allows 2016 to pass 2020 by on total voters for the week, and 2018 to catch up on in person voters, as Saturday was twice as busy for them. Of course, that was the only Saturday for those years, so this isn’t really a straight comparison, it’s just the best facsimile I can come up with. Also, for reasons unclear to me, there were no mail ballots counted in 2012 and 2016, but there were in 2008 and 2018. Don’t ask, I don’t know.


Vote type   Mon-Fri     Sat     Sun    Week      Total
======================================================
Mail         69,673   4,013          73,686    149,190
Drive-thru   30,913   5,392          36,305     90,410
In person   291,591  33,337         324,928    824,027
Total       392,177  42,742         434,919  1,063,627

Vote type   Week One  Week Two      Total
=========================================
Mail          75,504    73,686    149,190
Drive-thru    54,105    36,305     90,410
In person    499,099   324,928    824,027
Total        628,708   434,919  1,063,627

Week Two has fallen well short of Week One – remember, Week One was only six days – probably by 125-150K after today is in the books. That would be the exact opposite of a “normal” year, where there’s only two weeks of early voting. This year, you had a lot of people who Could Not Wait to cast their ballot, and Week Two is basically the middle child, coming in between all that pent-up energy and the “oh, crap, early voting is almost over” realization. The average daily turnout for the (six-day) Week One was almost 105K, and the average daily turnout for the (six-day so far) Week Two is about 72.5K; I’ll recalculate that tomorrow to take Sunday into account.

Mail voting was about the same as before, though I expect that to level off some as we approach Election Day. Drive-through voting actually had a decent day yesterday, with a slightly larger crowd than either Thursday or Friday. I have no idea what to expect for the next six days, but I do still think that this coming Thursday and Friday will be busier than the four days before them, as that is the usual pattern. For the first time, the daily average needed to reach 2016 final turnout by Friday went up, though just by a bit, to 45,879. I still think we’ll get there, but now it’s more of a question than a sure thing. And let’s not forget, some people will still vote on November 3. That’s just how it is. Have you voted yet?

Abbott’s order limiting mail ballot dropoff sites blocked again

But that’s not the end of the story, so hang on.

A Texas appellate court on Friday stepped in to block Gov. Greg Abbott’s order limiting counties to just one mail-ballot dropoff site, but Harris County officials said they will wait until the case is resolved before reopening any additional sites.

A three-judge panel of the Third Court of Appeals in Austin ruled that there was “no reversible error” in a lower court’s ruling that put a hold on Abbott’s Oct. 1 order.

The Attorney General’s office said Friday that it planned to immediately appeal to the Texas Supreme Court.

The Republican governor had taken aim at Harris, Travis, Fort Bend and Dallas counties — all of which had either opened multiple dropoff sites or planned to do so in an effort to make mail-in voting more convenient and safer during the pandemic.

Abbott’s order, which triggered the back-and-forth legal battles, meant Harris County had to shut down 11 additional dropoff sites, adding to crowds at the main site at NRG Arena, just southwest of downtown Houston.

The appellate panel consisted of Republican Justice Melissa Goodwin and Democratic Justices Chari Kelly and Edward Smith; the latter two were elected in 2018 as part of a wave of 19 Democratic judicial wins that flipped the four major state appeals courts.

“We’re gratified that a bipartisan panel of the Third Court of Appeals agrees that Texans should have the right to return their absentee ballots easily and safely,” said Mark Toubin, regional director for the Anti Defamation-League Southwest, one of the groups that brought the suit.

See here for the background. Statesman reporter Chuck Lindell had tweeted yesterday morning that all the briefs had been filed, and a ruling was expected. Here’s more from his story.

The unsigned opinion by three justices on the 3rd Court — Democrats Chari Kelly and Edward Smith and Republican Melissa Goodwin — did not weigh the legality or constitutionality of Abbott’s order.

Instead, the panel determined that Sulak’s injunction should not be struck down because the judge did not abuse his discretion by issuing it.

“The trial court could have credited the evidence that decreasing the number of return locations leading up to election day would significantly increase congestion and wait times … which in turn would increase the risk of the voters utilizing this method of contracting COVID-19,” the panel said.

Friday afternoon, Paxton’s office told the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court to expect an appeal to be filed over the weekend.

You can see the opinion here. This is a nice ruling, and a bipartisan one, but as of today it means little because Harris County will not open any other dropoff locations until and unless the Supreme Court upholds the injunction. In practical terms, if this takes another week, it won’t mean much regardless. But maybe we’ll get a quicker ruling than that, you never know. The Trib has more.

Judge sends Paxton case back to Collin County

Pending appeal, of course.

Best mugshot ever

A Harris County judge on Friday moved Attorney General Ken Paxton’s criminal case to Collin County, handing Paxton a major win by placing the case in his hometown, where legal experts say he’s more likely to face a sympathetic judge or jury.

Judge Jason Luong ruled that he did not have the authority to move the case, deferring to an earlier order moving the case to Collin County.

Special prosecutors Brian Wice and Kent Schaffer said Friday that they plan to appeal. Paxton’s attorneys could not immediately be reached.

The decision adds yet another layer of complication — and likely more delays — to a case that has dragged on for more than five years over numerous issues unrelated to the substance of the accusations against Paxton.

I’m going to jump in here to remind everyone that Judge Robert Johnson had ordered the case back to Collin County in June, agreeing with Paxton’s defense team that the judge who had sent the case to Harris County in the first place did not have the authority to do so. Johnson then recused himself from the case, because the AG’s office is representing the criminal district court judges in the felony bail reform lawsuit, though it is not clear that he had to do so, since Paxton is not directly involved in that case and the judges who are defendants are being sued in their official capacity, not as plain old citizens. The First Court of Appeals set that order aside in July (the technical legal term is “abated”), on the grounds that the new judge, Jason Luong, needed to have an opportunity to review Judge Johnson’s order and either agree with it or vacate it. (Team Paxton later tried to get Judge Luong removed, but that motion was denied and subsequently mocked.)

In his ruling Friday, Luong added that even if a higher court rules that he does in fact have authority, he agrees with Paxton’s lawyers that the judge who allowed the case to move to Harris in the first place lacked authority as well, meaning the case would remain in Collin County.

As it was explained to me, the same mandamus that had been filed with the First Court of Appeals to challenge Judge Johnson’s ruling will now be taken up for Judge Luong’s ruling. I should note that the First Court’s abatement was supposed to be for 45 days, but as with everything related to this Paxton case, things took longer than that. Lord only knows when the next thing will happen. In the meantime, of course, there is now the Nate Paul shitshow, and if that does not have an effect on this case somehow at some point, I will be puzzled and very, very disappointed – like, Susan Collins clucking her tongue at Donald Trump-level disappointed. What the world needed now, when not much else is happening, is some more Ken Paxton news, am I right? The Trib has more.

Abbott sloshes some money around the State House races

Not really a surprise.

Gov. Greg Abbott’s campaign is ratcheting up its down-ballot efforts in the final weeks before the November election, working to defend the Republican majority in the state House and to remind voters about the importance of electing the party’s judges farther down the ballot.

In what his campaign described as a “mid-seven-figure” total expenditure, it is putting its weight behind two dozen House races and running statewide TV and radio commercials about judges. The news of the effort, detailed to The Texas Tribune, comes as early voting is underway and both sides have already invested millions of dollars in the House fight.

Abbott’s campaign is confident Republicans will beat back the Democrats’ drive to capture the majority, which would be a major prize ahead of the 2021 redistricting process.

“They’re spending a lot of money — there’s no question about that — and that’s nothing we didn’t expect from Day 1,” Abbott’s chief political strategist, Dave Carney, said in an interview. He acknowledged Republicans “will lose some members,” but noted the possibility that the party could win back some seats it lost in 2018.

“I think there’s zero chance that they can take control of the House,” Carney added.

Democrats are currently nine seats short of the majority in the 150-member House, after picking up 12 in 2018. Some Democrats see as many as 34 seats on the November battlefield — the 12 seats that they won two years ago and now have to defend, and 22 other pickup opportunities. Abbott’s campaign has zeroed in on 24 districts. Ten of those are held by Democratic freshmen, 10 are represented by GOP incumbents and four are open seats in battleground territory.

Across those 24 districts, Abbott’s campaign is appealing to 1,030,000 voters who Carney described as “either Abbott supporters or high-likelihood swing voters.” The campaign has already been targeting that group of voters with digital ads touting Abbott’s candidate endorsements, with mentions of specific issues that poll well in each district.

Apparently, that includes going after Beto O’Rourke and tying Dem candidates to him because there was a poll that suggested Beto was less popular than other statewide figures. I mean, with all the money coming in to support Democrats – there’s even more now – and with Abbott being basically Fort Knox and also needing to mend some fences with other Republicans, this was going to happen. Money is a necessary requirement to run a fully-functional modern campaign, but it is not sufficient.

Overview of Harris County Sheriff’s race

The explanation for why Sheriff Ed Gonzalez is a big favorite to be re-elected is quite simple, really.

County veterans wondered if former Houston police officer-turned politician Ed Gonzalez would be up to the job of sheriff in 2016 after he came out on top of a contested Democratic primary and then defeated veteran lawman Ron Hickman.

Four years later, Gonzalez has emerged the heavily favored incumbent against Republican challenger Joe Danna. Experts say Gonzalez’s chances are buoyed by wide name recognition, his performance in office, a rapid Democratic shift in Harris County’s demographics, and a contingent of Latino voters energized by the recent election of other Hispanics to county offices, including Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioner Adrian Garcia.

“It’s going to be more complicated (for Danna) to win,” said Jeronimo Cortina, an associate professor of political science at the University of Houston.

[…]

He stumbled initially, after the sheriff’s office ran afoul of state standards in the county jail. Texas Commission on Jail Standards Executive Director Brandon Wood said the sheriff’s office received several notices of noncompliance regarding jail operations — including one for a failed annual inspection — early on. After a meeting with Gonzalez and county judge Lina Hidalgo in early last year, he said state jail regulators noticed a “marked improvement” in the department’s jail operations.

“They passed their most recent annual inspection and we have not issued a notice of non-compliance since,” he said.

Gonzalez argues that he reined in the department’s troubled budget, expanded critical intervention training, ended practices outsourcing inmates to far-flung jails in other counties, and led the department through Hurricane Harvey and a still-ongoing pandemic — at a time when police departments across the country have come under renewed scrutiny for how they treat civilians.

He gained national attention when — as a defendant in a lawsuit over the county’s bail practices — he came out as a vocal supporter for misdemeanor bail reform.

[…]

Texas Southern University Professor Michael Adams said Danna appears to be a “law-and-order” candidate more common in past elections, one who will likely face significant hurdles given the county’s blue tilt.

“In the midst of not having any scar tissue in this particular race, and what we’ve seen in Harris County going back to 2018, in terms of a blue wave, if you will, I don’t see much of a threat,” he said.

First and foremost, Harris County is Democratic. That may change over time, and we may encounter conditions where base Democratic turnout is likely to be depressed while Republican turnout is not, but in this election we can safely assume there will be more Democrats voting, likely by a wide margin. Sheriff Gonzalez has done a good job, and was on the right side of the bail reform issue, which is one reason why the Dem base likes him. Those two factors alone put him in a very comfortable spot.

Given the Dem advantage, there are two scenarios where a qualified Republican could hope t get the significant number of crossover voters they’d need to win. One is where the Democratic nominee is manifestly unqualified and a vote for that nominee would be a disaster for the office in question. The 2012 DA race, where Lloyd Oliver managed to beat a much better candidate in the primary, is the canonincal example. (It helped that the Republican candidate in that race was Mike Anderson, whose chops for the job were obvious. Joe Danna is not Mike Anderson.) The other is where the Dem incumbent is fatally tainted by scandal. The best examples here actually involve the last two Republican Sheriffs, Ron Hickman and Tommy Thomas. Sheriff Gonzalez has a clean record, so that’s a non-starter.

So, putting it all together, Sheriff Gonzalez is a solid favorite to win re-election. As well he should be.