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October, 2020:

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.

November 2020 Early Voting Day Eleven: We reach one million

Let’s take a brief detour to Fort bend County.

Fort Bend County voters continue to smash early-voting records — with a greater share of voters turning out so far than in populous Harris and Dallas counties, according to a news release from the county judge in Fort Bend.

As of Wednesday, 38.65 percent of voters had cast ballots so far in Fort Bend compared to 35.5 percent in Harris and Dallas counties. During the second week of early voting, more than 20,000 votes a day have been casting ballots.

“We are doing everything we can to ensure safe, secure, and accessible voting in Fort Bend County, and it is a daily inspiration to see so many casting their ballots,” Fort Bend County Judge KP George said in a written statement.

Officials said 188,927 people had voted in person in Fort Bend County as of Thursday, which is about 39 percent of the county’s 483,221 registered voters. About 16,563 mail-in ballots had also been returned to the county.

With mail-in ballots included, a total of 205,490 ballots have been cast so far in Fort Bend, a diverse county that has been trending blue. That’s compared to a total of 200,251 votes cast during early voting in 2018 and 214,170 votes in 2016, according to a news release from the district attorney’s office.

Way to go, Fort Bend!

As for Harris County, it looks like we hit the 2016 early voting mark of 985,571 by about 1 PM yesterday, based on this tweet:

We hit one million around 3 PM or a bit later – the tweet was at 3:15, and the press release announcing it hit my mailbox at 3:45. The social media and PR staff over there are on top of it, let me tell you. For what it’s worth, I will note this much: As a percentage of registered voters, the 985,571 people who voted early or by mail in Harris County in 2016 were 45.15% of the RVs we had that year. This year, with 2,468,559 registered voters, 985,571 would only be 39.92% of the total. To get to 45.15%, we’d need to reach 1,114,504 voters. As of today, we’re at 41.36%. However, we’ve also only had eleven days of early voting, while the 2016 cycle had 12, as is usually the case. We need to get about 94K voters today to reach that same percentage for a twelve-day period. Feels a bit out of reach, but we’ll get close.

I’ll have that update for you tomorrow. In the meantime, the Day Eleven 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       40,059    220,046    260,105
2012       53,131    260,274    313,405
2016       77,445    374,679    452,124
2018       64,832    315,030    379,862
2020      145,177    322,324    467,501

A busier day in person than yesterday, basically at Wednesday’s level, but only 8,326 mail ballots returned, so the overall total was down from yesterday. It was still almost 70K votes in total, and the uptick in in-person votes on the Friday is in line with previous years. It was busy enough in 2016 that the earlier year has almost caught up, in a sense. Other than those first 600K+ votes, of course. Anyway, I’m very interested to see what today looks like, as it’s the first second Saturday of early voting we’ve ever had. Up through 2016, the Saturday of early voting was the busiest day of the first week, but that may not be the case here, given all the early voting action we’ve already had. But who knows? We’re officially in uncharted territory.


Vote type     Mon     Tue      Wed     Thu     Fri      Total
=============================================================
Mail        17,106  12,216  10,097  21,928   8,326    145,177
Drive-thru   6,347   7,578   6,834   5,145   5,009     85,018
In person   67,679  62,173  55,557  49,698  56,484    790,690
Total       91,132  81,967  72,488  76,771  69,819  1,020,885

We are now at 76.2% of 2016’s final turnout, and we are of course now past all early voting numbers. The next milestones for final turnout are 1,188,731 for 2008, 1,204,167 for 2012, and 1,219,871 for 2018. At a pace of about 70K a day, which is more or less what we were doing this week so far, we’ll pass them all by the end of the day Monday, and we’ll pass 2016’s number on Wednesday. We’ll need to average 45,430 per day to match 2016 by Friday. Can we keep it up? We’ll see!

Here’s your Derek Ryan email:

Through yesterday, 6,391,021 have voted by mail or in person (37.7% of all registered voters).

In my daily reports, I have spent a lot of time discussing who has voted, but I thought I would change things up a little today and discuss who has NOT voted. I ran the numbers and there are still over five million people who voted in the March Primary, the 2018 General Election, and/or the 2016 General Election who have not voted yet. Naturally, some of these people may not vote this year, but if 90% of these people end up voting, that puts turnout at nearly 11 million votes (and that’s before including any new voters who may show up to vote).

Of the five million who have not voted yet, 1.3 million have most recently voted in a Republican Primary and 900,000 have most recently voted in a Democratic Primary. The remainder are people who only vote in General Elections and have no primary election history.

You can see the full report here. “Yesterday” in that first paragraph meant Thursday, which was the tenth day of voting. I’d have to go back and chart each day’s daily total to see what kind of pace we’re on, but it’s not at all hard to see from these numbers so far why Ryan was projecting 12 million in total turnout. Some others are a little less bullish, but still predicting more than 11 million. Let’s see what the last seven days of early voting bring. Have you voted yet?

Morning Consult: Biden 48, Trump 47

The overview is here and there are some words that I’ll include shortly, but for the headline we’ll need this picture:

I know it says “Tied” despite the “Biden 48, Trump 47” listing. My guess is that the exact numbers are something like 47.8 to 47.2, and they chose to call it a tie rather than overstate the situation after they rounded off to the nearest integer. Whatever the case, it seems clear this is a “tie” in which Biden actually has a tiny lead.

Morning Consult has done a number of these polls, in which Texas is one of the featured states, over the past couple of months. I’ve linked to two of them from the late July/early August period, in which Biden was leading by a point. As noted in yesterday’s post, this was the peak Biden polling period. With the exception of one oddball in July that had Trump up seven (best just to scroll through the 538 poll tracker for Texas), they’ve all been close. They don’t provide any specific data for their state polls, but you can see some of their subsample breakdowns for their national sample at the first link.

They also have this for the Senate race.

As early voting kicks into gear in several states and Election Day approaches in less than two weeks, contests that will decide which party controls the Senate in January are tightening across competitive states.

Democrats enter the final stretch of the campaign with leads in Arizona, Colorado, Michigan and North Carolina, according to the latest Morning Consult Political Intelligence tracking, while Democrat Jaime Harrison has taken a narrow lead over Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham in South Carolina. In Texas, GOP Sen. John Cornyn still leads Democrat MJ Hegar, though the senior senator’s edge in the contest has been almost cut in half since earlier this month.

The surveys, conducted Oct. 11-20 among likely voters in each state, found a narrowing across the map compared with polling conducted Oct. 2-11, except for North Carolina. In the Tar Heel State, former state Sen. Cal Cunningham (D) maintained a lead of 6 percentage points over Republican Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), 48 percent to 42 percent, in surveys conducted following the senator’s Oct. 2 COVID-19 diagnosis and after news broke of the Democratic challenger’s relationship with a woman who was not his wife.

In Texas, Hegar’s outreach to Black voters, independents and Democrats — fueled by a late surge in cash to her campaign — appears to be yielding results.

The latest survey found she’s narrowed Cornyn’s lead to 5 points, 46 percent to 41 percent, improving her own standing by 4 points while Cornyn’s support has gone virtually unchanged. The share of Black voters backing Hegar’s candidacy increased to 74 percent, up 6 points from earlier this month, while she improved her standing with independents by 5 points, to 40 percent.

They have the race at 46-41 for Cornyn right now, which is typical in that both candidates lag behind their party’s Presidential nominee, but Hegar is farther back than Cornyn is. On the subject of that late cash injection:

Part of the reason Cornyn’s wide cash-on-hand lead evaporated was due to how much he spent in the third quarter — $13.7 million, doubling Hegar’s expenditures. The overwhelming majority of Cornyn’s spending was on “media” or similarly labeled costs, indicating he may have been locking down TV time for the fall.

But with early voting underway in the Nov. 3 general election, Hegar has been consistently outspending Cornyn on TV, beating him for the past four weeks and outpacing him by more than 2-to-1 over the last two weeks, according to ad-tracking data reviewed by the Tribune. During the most recent week, Hegar’s campaign benefited from joint TV spending with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, while the Cornyn campaign’s TV buys have been boosted by the state Republican Party.

Third-party spending has also become a problem for Cornyn.

Last week, the top Democratic super PAC in Senate races, Senate Majority PAC, announced it was plunging into the contest with an $8.6 million TV ad buy against Cornyn. On Tuesday, another Democratic super PAC, Future Forward USA, suddenly went up on TV in the race and disclosed to the Federal Election Commission that it was dropping an estimated $3.9 million on the election for now.

Even more concerning to Cornyn is that the last-minute offensive appears to be part of a coordinated ambush. Recode reported Tuesday that a coalition of Democratic groups, including Senate Majority PAC and Future Forward, was plotting a $28 million infusion into the race for the last two weeks. About $10 million was expected to come from Senate Majority PAC, which announced its $8.6 million buy Thursday, while the rest was still being raised as of last week, according to Recode.

Future Forward is a relatively new super PAC that has been spending heavily in the presidential race as it reaches its end. The group’s top donors include some of Silicon Valley’s biggest players, such as Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

As that Recode story notes, the idea behind this is some academic research that claims that late TV ads are the most effective way to move numbers in an election. I might feel a bit better about that if they had begun before millions of people had already voted, but what do I know? If you suddenly start seeing a bunch of pro-Hegar and/or anti-Cornyn ads, now you know why.

Anyway. We now have four polls this week that show either a tie or a one-point Biden lead, after several polls in September that had Trump up by more than one point. All I know for sure is that a lot of people are voting now. You should be too, if you haven’t already. The Texas Signal and the Chron have more.

SCOTX rejects challenges to drive-through voting

Halle-fricking-lujah.

Voters in the state’s most populous county can continue casting their ballots for the fall election at 10 drive-thru polling places after the Texas Supreme Court Thursday rejected a last-minute challenge by the Texas and Harris County Republican parties, one of many lawsuits in an election season ripe with litigation over voting access.

The court rejected the challenge without an order or opinion, though Justice John Devine dissented from the decision.

[…]

Though the program was publicized for months before the ongoing election, it was not until hours before early voting started last week that the Texas Republican Party and a voter challenged the move in a state appeals court, arguing that drive-thru votes would be illegal. They claimed drive-thru voting is an expansion of curbside voting, and therefore should only be available for disabled voters.

Curbside voting, a long-available option under Texas election law, requires workers at every polling place to deliver onsite curbside ballots to voters who are “physically unable to enter the polling place without personal assistance or likelihood of injuring the voter’s health.” Posted signs at polling sites notify voters to ring a bell, call a number or honk to request curbside assistance.

The lawsuit also asked the court to further restrict curbside voting by requiring that voters first fill out applications citing a disability. Such applications are required for mail-in ballots, but voting rights advocates and the Harris County Clerk said they have never been a part of curbside voting.

The Harris County clerk argued its drive-thru locations are separate polling places, distinct from attached curbside spots, and therefore available to all voters. The clerk’s filing to the Supreme Court also said the Texas secretary of state’s Office had approved of drive-thru voting. Keith Ingram, the state’s chief election official, said in a court hearing last month in another lawsuit that drive-thru voting is “a creative approach that is probably okay legally,” according to court transcripts.

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for County Clerk Chris Hollins’ attempt to get the Secretary of State on record about this. The decision came down a couple of hours after County Judge Lina Hidalgo (among others) called on Greg Abbott to do the same. This would have been a monumental middle finger to the voters of Harris County, and an utter disgrace for the Supreme Court, had they upheld the Republican challenge. I don’t know what took them so long, but if they’re going to be slow about it, they’d better get it right, and this time they did. Exhale, everyone.

We shouldn’t leave this item without giving Hollins the victory lap he deserves:

There’s a bit more on Hollins’ Twitter feed. When he says that every county should do it like this, he’s absolutely right. You can see all the SCOTX denials here, and the Chron has more.

(Oh, and let’s please do remember this when John Devine is up for election next. The rest of the court may have done the right thing, but that guy has truly got to go.)

Time to check in on Ken Paxton again

It’s good to know, in times of crisis, that there are friendly fake media outfits one can run to to deny all the allegations against you.

Best mugshot ever

When Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton decided to break his silence about accusations by his top aides that he had committed crimes including bribery and abuse of office, he turned to a little-known legal outlet called the Southeast Texas Record.

In the exclusive interview, he trashed the aides and claimed that before his top deputy resigned, Paxton had planned to put him on leave anyway.

The website where that interview was posted has been identified as part of a national network of some 1,300 pay-for-play news websites that publish on-demand coverage for Republican political campaigns and public relations firms. According to The New York Times, those websites, whose names sound like ordinary local news outlets, have received at least $1.7 million from Republican political campaigns and conservative groups.

Ian Prior, who promoted the story for the Paxton campaign, denied to The Texas Tribune that the campaign had paid the outlet to run the story — “definitive no,” he said — saying he had merely reached out to set up an interview with an outlet that had already covered the story.

The Southeast Texas Record describes itself as a legal outlet focused on informing readers about the courts, with a weekly print edition published on Sundays.

After the interview was published, Prior shared it with reporters via email.

He declined to answer questions about why the campaign chose a little-known legal publication as opposed to a news outlet with wider readership, such as The Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle or Austin American-Statesman, which had all been following the Paxton story closely.

“Appreciate the question but not going to get into [public relations] strategy/discussions,” Prior said in a text message Tuesday.

[…]

In the Oct. 13 Paxton story, the Record foregrounds Paxton’s point of view in the ongoing scandal and elaborates less on the allegations against him, which remain murky, with federal authorities refusing to confirm whether there is an investigation into Paxton’s behavior at all. The author, David Yates, writes that Jeff Mateer — the top Paxton deputy who resigned after accusing his boss of criminal wrongdoing — did not return requests for comment.

It gives no indication that the author attempted to reach David Maxwell or Mark Penley, two top aides whose work is questioned in the story and whom Paxton placed on leave from the agency.

And the story elides details that raise questions about Paxton’s role in the scandal. In an internal email that was obtained by the Tribune, top aides alleged Paxton was using the power of his office to help a donor, real estate investor Nate Paul, who accused federal authorities of wrongdoing after the FBI raided his home and office in 2019. Paxton has claimed his office was investigating Paul’s allegations merely because local authorities in the Travis County district attorney’s office referred the complaint to the agency. But Travis County DA Margaret Moore has disputed that timeline, telling reporters that Paxton sought a meeting with her office about the complaint before it was referred.

The Record story does not include those details, nor does it extensively detail the accounts of the seven senior aides who have leveled accusations against Paxton.

The strategy is obvious: Talk to friendly people who won’t ask any embarrassing questions, and avoid any outlets that will probe or push back. That way, the core supporters will only hear your side of the story and can thus dismiss anything that comes out elsewhere, since it’s not from a “trusted” source. This doesn’t stop all the bad information from getting out, but it does put a barrier up to it for the base.

Also, the retributions have begun.

Lacey Mase, one of the top aides who accused Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton of crimes including bribery and abuse of office, has been fired, she told The Texas Tribune on Tuesday evening.

“It was not voluntary,” she said, but declined to comment further.

Mase was hired in 2011 and worked most recently as the deputy attorney general for administration. Paxton’s office did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

[…]

Mase’s personnel file, obtained through a public records request, shows she rose quickly through the agency’s ranks, earning frequent promotions. She was promoted as recently as Sept. 1, 2019, earning a nearly 12% pay bump to $205,000 annually. When Mase was promoted in April 2018, a supervisor wrote that she “consistently exceeded standards” in all her roles at the agency. Her salary has multiplied over the past few years, from $50,000 in 2013 to more than $200,000 most recently.

Texas law “protects public employees who make good faith reports of violations of law by their employer to an appropriate law enforcement authority,” according to the Texas attorney general’s website. “An employer may not suspend or terminate the employment of, or take other adverse personnel action against, a public employee who makes a report under the Act.”

Firing Mase so soon after she and the other top aides made their report is “suspicious,” said Jason Smith, a North Texas employment attorney who has handled whistleblower cases and who worked in the attorney general’s office in the 1990s.

“This looks and smells like classic whistleblower retaliation,” Smith said. “This situation looks like what the Texas Whistleblower Act was designed to prevent. And the timing looks bad.”

Smith said the aides appear to have taken all the proper steps to invoke whistleblower protections, reporting suspect behavior to “an appropriate law enforcement authority” as specified in the law, and making their employer aware of the allegations through the letter to human resources. The aides used that exact language — “appropriate law enforcement authority” — in their Oct. 1 letter to the agency.

I mean, maybe there was a reason for this, but it sure looks suspicious, and there’s no way Ken Paxton deserves any benefit of the doubt. And hey, now there’s a pattern.

A second whistleblower has been fired from the Texas attorney general’s office after reporting his boss, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, to law enforcement for crimes including bribery and abuse of office, according to a former senior official with the agency who had knowledge about the firing but did not want to be named for fear of legal repercussions.

Blake Brickman, who had served as deputy attorney general for policy and strategy initiatives for less than a year, was fired Tuesday, the official said.

[…]

Brickman and Mase were among seven top aides in Paxton’s office who alerted law enforcement weeks ago that they believed their boss had run afoul of the law. In internal emails obtained by the Tribune, they accused Paxton of using the power of his office to serve the financial interests of a donor, Nate Paul.

I mean, once you’ve fired one whistleblower, why not go all in and fire another? In for a penny and all that. I hope Ms. Mase and Mr. Brickman find themselves some good employment attorneys. The Chron has more.

November 2020 Early Voting Day Ten: Closing in on 2016

A couple of tweets to get us started:

I talked about the likely percentage of people with no voting history in yesterday’s roundup. These folks include some number who did vote in 2018, and among them will be those who turned 18, or became citizens, or had moved to Texas in the interim. It will also include a lot of these brand-new voters. It seems likely this cohort will tend to favor the Democrats, though we can’t know just yet how that will shake out.

For the record, there were 732,037 registered voters in Travis County in 2016, and 477,588 of them voted, giving 65.8% of their vote to Hillary Clinton. Seems likely they’ll do a lot better this year. The Statesman had a story about the early vote in Travis County so far, but I thought Susan’s tweet was more on point.

Anyway. The Day Ten 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       37,381    170,629    208,010
2012       50,790    201,962    252,752
2016       73,043    293,440    366,483
2018       59,332    249,383    308,715
2020      136,851    260,831    396,682

The in person early vote total declined again, though it would still be enough by itself to maintain the pace needed to match 2016’s final turnout during the EV period. Despite that, the overall total from Thursday actually exceeded Wednesday because of a huge number of returned mail ballots. Here’s the daily breakdown so you can see what I mean:


Vote type    Monday  Tuesday Wednesday  Thursday    Total
=========================================================
Mail         17,106   12,216    10,097    21,928   136,851
Drive-thru    6,347    7,578     6,834     5,145    80,009
In person    67,679   62,173    55,557    49,698   734,206
Total        91,132   81,967    72,488    76,771   951,066

We are now at 96.5% of 2016’s early vote (plus mail ballot) turnout of 985,571. I think we can safely assume we will pass that today. We are also now at 71.0% of 2016 total turnout. We passed 2012’s early vote total (777,067) and 2008’s early vote total (746,025) on Wednesday. We could reach their final turnout totals (1,188,731 for 2008, 1,204,167 for 2012) early next week. Total early vote turnout from 2018 was 867,871, and we passed that Wednesday. Total 2018 turnout was 1,219,871, so we could pass it along with 2008 and 2012 on the same day. With eight days to go, we will need to average 48,479 votes per day to reach 1,338,898 total votes. The mail ballots returned has already exceeded the 101,594 from 2016, and there’s 110,583 ballots still out there. (Though some people who got mail ballots have been voting in person and turning the mail ballots back in. I’ll have more on that over the weekend.)

Here’s your Derek Ryan email.

We’ve reached the halfway point of the early voting period and over one-third of registered voters in Texas have voted (5,887,488 people).

Those in the political world who know me know that I have an obsession with Loving County. Loving County has 111 registered voters and 29 of those people have voted early (6.9% have no previous election history in the last eight years). For reference, 876,887 people have voted in Harris County.

The full report is here. Gotta say, twelve million seems doable. Crazy, isn’t it?

Quinnipiac: Biden 47, Trump 47

Very interesting.

In the home stretch of the 2020 presidential election campaign, former Vice President Joe Biden is in a tied race with President Donald Trump in the reliably red state of Texas, and he holds a single digit lead in the battleground state of Pennsylvania, according to Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pea-ack) University polls conducted in both states.

TEXAS PRESIDENTIAL RACE

Today, Trump and Biden are tied 47 – 47 percent among likely voters. This compares to a September 24th poll of likely voters in Texas when Trump had 50 percent and Biden had 45 percent.

Among those who will vote in person on Election Day, 62 percent support Trump and 32 percent support Biden.

Among those who are voting by mail or absentee ballot, 63 percent say they support Biden and 31 percent support Trump.

Among those who are voting at an early voting location, 48 percent support Biden and 46 percent support Trump.

“Biden and Trump find themselves in a Texas stand-off, setting the stage for a bare knuckle battle for 38 electoral votes,” said Quinnipiac University Polling Analyst Tim Malloy.

Likely voters have mixed views of both candidates, but opinions of Biden have improved since last month.

Today, they give Biden a mixed favorability rating, with 44 percent saying favorable and 46 percent saying unfavorable. This compares to a negative 41 – 52 percent favorability rating in a September 24th survey. Today, likely voters give Trump a mixed favorability rating, with 48 percent saying favorable and 47 percent saying unfavorable, essentially unchanged since September’s 49 – 47 percent score.

[…]

TEXAS: CORNYN VS. HEGAR

In the U.S. Senate race in Texas, incumbent Republican John Cornyn leads Democrat M.J. Hegar among likely voters, 49 – 43 percent. Seven percent are undecided. On September 24th, Cornyn had 50 percent support and Hegar had 42 percent, also with 7 percent undecided.

Likely voters give Hegar a positive 33 – 26 percent favorability rating, while 39 percent say they haven’t heard enough about her to form an opinion. In September, voters gave her a positive 29 – 19 percent favorability rating while 50 percent hadn’t heard enough about her.

Likely voters give Cornyn a positive 42 – 30 percent favorability rating, while 26 percent say they haven’t heard enough about him. In September, they gave him a 39 – 30 percent favorability rating, while 30 percent hadn’t heard enough about him.

“While Cornyn maintains a lead, there are still two weeks to go, and you can’t count Hegar out,” added Malloy.

Polling was done from October 16 to 19, so after early voting had started. This poll did not ask if people had already voted, however.

This is the fourth Quinnipiac poll of Texas this year, and three of the four poll results have been within one point:

May 28 – June 1: Trump 44, Biden 43
July 16-20, Biden 45, Trump 44
September 17-21, Trump 50, Biden 45

The June and July polls were done during Biden’s best polling run, where more than half of all polls showed him tied or leading. The September result came during a stronger period for Trump, where pretty much all polls had him in the lead, and several had him up by four or more points. This one now joins the Data for Progress and PPP polls that had Biden up by a point. Better to peak at the right time, I guess.

Two other points of interest. One is that like previous Quinnipiac polls, this one shows a more modest level of Latino support for Biden. He leads 51-43 with that demographic, which is exactly the same as it was in that September poll. The main difference between the two seems to be that Black voters went from an absurd 19% support for Trump in September (with 79% for Biden) back to a more normal 86-8 split in this poll. I’ll say this for Quinnipiac, their responses from Latino voters have been consistent. Biden’s support in their four polls has ranged from 47% to 53%, with Trump starting at 32% and being at 43% in each of the last two polls. You know my thoughts on this, so we’ll just note this and move on.

The other point is the disparity between those who vote early, either in person or by mail, and those who say they will vote on Election Day. For one thing, this shows how big the early portion of the vote is going to be, not that we needed more evidence of it. It also at least potentially puts a lot more pressure on the Republicans to really have a big day on November 3, because their margin for error may be small. A bad weather day could be a serious impediment to them. For that matter, the early voting surge could be a problem. If early turnout is high enough, and Democratic enough, that could be a very high hill for them to climb.

Anyway. What we have here now is a mini-run of polls with Texas as a true tossup, after a slightly longer run of polls with Trump in the lead. You can insert your own cliche about the only poll that matters here.

(In re: the Senate poll numbers, this is more of what we have seen before. Hegar gets slightly less Dem support than Biden, with more “don’t know/no answer” responses, and so she trails. I continue to believe that gap will mostly close in the actual results, but I will not be surprised if she runs a bit behind Biden anyway.)

Hollins calls on Secretary of State to defend drive through voting

Good.

Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins is seeking assurance from Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughs that her office is “committed to defending the votes” cast at the county’s drive-thru voting sites, the subject of two lawsuits currently before the state Supreme Court.

In a letter sent to Hughs Tuesday, Hollins cited prior support from state election officials, including Elections Director Keith Ingram, for the legality of drive-thru voting. He asked Hughs to confirm by noon Wednesday that the office stands by those statements.

By noon, Hollins had not received a response from Hughs, according to a spokeswoman for the clerk’s office.

A spokesman for Hughs said the office had received Hollins’ letter, but he declined to say whether Hughs or anyone from her office planned to respond. He also did not say whether Hollins had accurately characterized the position of state elections officials on drive-thru voting.

[…]

In his letter to Hughs, Hollins wrote, “Your office has repeatedly expressed that drive-thru voting fit the definitions and requirements for a polling place provided in the Texas Election Code for both Early Voting and Election Day.” During a court proceeding, Hollins wrote, Ingram called drive-thru voting “a creative approach that is probably okay legally.”

Last Friday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a guidance letter in which he suggested Harris County’s use of curbside voting does not pass legal muster. He wrote that state law “makes no provision for polling places located outdoors, in parking lots, or in parking structures.” The state election code also does not allow “‘drive-thru’ voting centers at which any voter may cast a ballot from his or her vehicle regardless of physical condition,” Paxton wrote.

“Curbside voting is not, as some have asserted contrary to Texas law, an option for any and all voters who simply wish to vote from the comfort of their cars when they are physically able to enter the polling place,” Paxton wrote.

You can see a video call with Hollins about this here, his official statement here, and further coverage from Chron reporter Jasper Scherer here. The concern at this point is not just that the Supreme Court might put a halt to what Harris County has been doing, but that they might invalidate the 70K+ votes that have been cast by drive-through voting. The contempt for voters that this would display, at this super late hour, is breathtaking. I can’t even begin to wrap my head around that. I don’t know what else to say.

I don’t know when the Supreme Court might rule on this facially ridiculous challenge, but I will note that not only was it filed after early voting had begun, it’s now been a week since it was filed with SCOTX. They’re taking their sweet time about this. I hope that means that they’re not willing to stick a knife in this, but all I have is hope. Again, what this writ represents is plain and simple contempt for voters. There’s no other principle here.

On a side note, we also have this:

That is of course in reference to this turd of a Fifth Circuit ruling, and it’s exactly what we’d expect from the Clerk’s office. Every other election administrator in this state should follow their example.

“On the cusp” of another COVID surge

The numbers are already trending up. You know what that means.

Cases of COVID-19 in parts of Texas surged to near catastrophic levels this summer as some hospitals were forced to put beds in hallways, intensive care units exceeded capacity and health officials struggled to stem the tide of the virus.

After peaking in late July and August, cases fell and leveled off in September, and the state’s seven-day positivity rate — or the proportion of positive tests — reached its lowest point since early June.

But health officials are now eyeing a worrying trend: New infections are rising again, and the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 is also ticking upward. The state reported 2,273 new cases Monday, and the seven-day average was up by 862 from the previous week. On Monday, at least 4,319 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19, far below the more than 10,000 in July, but that number has steadily risen during the last month.

“I’m no longer pondering if we’re going to see a surge,” said Dr. James McDeavitt, dean of clinical affairs at the Baylor College of Medicine. “We’re already seeing it.”

Eight months since Texas recorded its first case, experts say the state is more prepared to handle another wave, but they fear that if the state fails to control the outbreak, it could quickly spiral out of control.

“The question is whether it’ll be a modest surge, or something like we saw in July, or worse,” McDeavitt said.

[…]

At Houston Methodist, one of the region’s largest health care systems, medical staff were stretched thin this summer, said President Marc Boom. At its peak in July, the system’s staff treated nearly 850 patients with COVID-19 each day. Since then, Boom said, the medical community’s understanding of the virus has evolved, along with how to treat the disease.

Remdesivir, an antiviral medication, has shown promising results in minimizing the severity of illness, especially when administered shortly after symptoms develop. Houston Medical was the first hospital to use convalescent plasma, a therapy in which antibody-rich blood from people who have recovered from COVID-19 is administered to ill patients, Boom said.

“We’ve had tons of experience gained, better outcomes, shorter lengths of stay,” Boom said. “But this is still a serious illness.”

While health authorities are better equipped to deal with new spikes, including an adequate supply of protective gear and sizable quantities of drugs like Remdesivir, a fall surge could still be equally as taxing on hospitals, said Carrie Kroll, vice president of advocacy, quality and public health at the Texas Hospital Association. As colder weather forces people inside and families gather for the holiday season, the chances for transmission increase, she said.

“We certainly have been tested, and we know the beast that it is, and have shown that we were able to make it through those first two spikes,” Kroll said. “But we don’t want to test the limit by putting patients into hospitals.”

See here for the previous update. It’s getting bad all around the country, too. Just a reminder, the July surge was bad, and it took Greg Abbott way too long to react to it. In the meantime, various assholes have decided that it’s a good use of their time to sue everyone in sight to limit the government’s ability to respond to COVID-19. I have one small bit of local optimism in that Harris County has not backed down from being at the top threat level even as the numbers were improving. Our numbers are also trending up, but they’re not as bad as other places. Yet, anyway.

“The trends are going in the wrong direction,” said William McKeon, president of the Texas Medical Center. “You hate to see the sacrifices we made and the successes we achieved lost because people let their guard down.”

Dr. Marc Boom, president of Houston Methodist, said, “We’ve definitely turned the wrong corner. The numbers aren’t growing in an out-of-control fashion, but there’s no doubt we’re in a significant growth trend that we need to stop before the holiday season.”

[…]

The Houston numbers are well below those in other parts of the country, particularly the Midwest and the West. As of Monday, 16 states had added more COVID-19 cases the past week than in any other seven-day period.

The surge is even greater in Europe. There the total of new cases in the five most-affected countries — France, the United Kingdom, Russia, Spain and the Netherlands — was nearly 42 percent greater than the U.S. increase a week ago.

Nor does Houston’s increase compare to the Panhandle and El Paso. El Paso health officials Monday reported their highest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations since the pandemic began — 449 in one day — and said just seven of the city’s ICU beds were unoccupied.

Still, increases in Houston area’s key metrics since early October are cause for concern, said local health officials. Those provided by the Texas Medical Center include:

• The rolling average of 497 COVID-19 cases reported the week ending Sunday represents a 33 percent increase from late September, when the number was 373. It increased gradually the weeks in between.

• The number of COVID-19 patients admitted to TMC hospitals exceeded 100 last week, up from the 80s the previous week and 70s the week before that.

• The TMC COVID-19 test positivity rate, 3.4 percent early in October, has been at 3.9 percent the past week, an 8 percent increase.

• The so-called R(t), or reproduction rate, the rate at which the virus is spreading, did drop to 0.99 Tuesday, but that remains a 55 percent increase over the Sept. 29 rate of 0.64, when the spread was decreasing. The rate last week hit 1.14, which means the virus’ spread was increasing.

“We’re in a yellow zone, not a red zone”, is how one doctor put it. “COVID fatigue”, they say this is. I get that, but you can see what happens when we start to take this less seriously. Until there’s a widely available vaccine, wear your damn mask, stay out of crowded indoor spaces, maintain social distancing, and hope for the best. At least our mild winter weather means we can largely stay outside. It could be worse.

Texas blog roundup for the week of October 19

The Texas Progressive Alliance urges you to get out there and vote as it brings you this week’s roundup.

(more…)

November 2020 Early Voting Day Nine: Starting to run out of clever subtitles

And now, for something slightly different, Part One:

This was hard for Jacob Monty.

As a lifelong Republican, the 52-year old Houston attorney has been in the trenches with former President George W. Bush, never voted for a Democrat for president and even was part of President Donald Trump’s National Hispanic Advisory Council.

But there he was on Wednesday at a Texas Democratic Party press conference, going public with his decision to vote for Joe Biden for president.

“This is not a decision I took lightly, I love the GOP,” said Monty who has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to GOP causes over the years.

But Monty said voting Trump out is the only way he sees to save the GOP he grew up in.

“I’ve not changed my philosophy, I’ve just determined that Donald Trump is an existential threat to America and a threat to the GOP,” he said, adding that he’s still voting Republican down the ballot.

Well, there’s one Biden/Cornyn voter, which addresses a point I’ve raised a time or two in discussing polls. We thank you for your moral decision, sir.

Slightly Different Part Two:

A “Seinfeld” reunion of sorts is in the works — to raise money for Texas Democrats as the state continues to see robust early voting turnout.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander and Larry David are slated to share behind-the-scenes stories and dish about their favorite episodes online in a “fundraiser about something” hosted by Seth Meyers.

“We knew that we had to reunite for something special and the movement on the ground for Texas Democrats up and down the ballot is the perfect opportunity to do just that,” the three stars said in a joint statement. “Texans are getting out to vote in droves and showing the world that Texas has never been a red state, it’s been a non-voting state.”

The event begins Friday, and you can find more information about it here. You can insert your own Seinfeld quote or GIF, Lord knows there’s a million of ’em. It sure is nice to be on the receiving end of some positive attention, isn’t it?

Anyway, this is the post where we talk early voting numbers, so let’s do that. The Day Nine 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 Three numbers are here.


Election     Mail      Early      Total
=======================================
2008       34,527    126,394    160,921
2012       47,265    150,722    197,987
2016       70,023    217,111    287,134
2018       55,106    190,445    245,551
2020      114,923    205,988    310,814

Things continue to slow down a bit, at least as far as in person voting goes. The early voting period in 2016 was quite active, and unlike the comparison I’m doing with this year, when the universe of people who haven’t voted yet is now much smaller, there was still a lot of room to grow. It won’t surprise me if Week 1 of 2016 catches all the way up to Week 2 of 2020 by Friday or so. Nonetheless, we remain comfortably at a pace to reach 2016’s entire turnout before the end of early voting.


Vote type    Monday  Tuesday Wednesday    Total
===============================================
Mail         17,106   12,216    10,097  114,923
Drive-thru    6,347    7,578     6,834   74,864
In person    67,679   62,173    55,557  684,508
Total        91,132   81,967    72,488  874,295

We are now at 88.7% of 2016’s early vote (plus mail ballot) turnout of 985,571, and at 65.3% of 2016 total turnout. We passed 2012’s early vote total (777,067) and 2008’s early vote total (746,025) on Wednesday. We could reach their final turnout totals (1,188,731 for 2008, 1,204,167 for 2012) early next week. Total early vote turnout from 2018 was 867,871, and we passed that today. (This tweet only counted ballots cast in the 2016 Presidential race; it did not include undervotes or absentee ballots, so it is not a true measure of “turnout”.) Total 2018 turnout was 1,219,871, so we could pass it along with 2008 and 2012 on the same day. With nine days to go, we will need to average 51,623 votes per day to reach 1,338,898 total votes. The mail ballots returned has already exceeded the 101,594 from 2016, and there’s 130,993 ballots still out there.

The Derek Ryan email is here. One thing to highlight:

I’ve had quite a few people point out that women make up a much larger portion of the early voters than men. Through yesterday, 52.1% of voters have been women, 43.1% have been men, and 4.8% don’t have a gender listed on the Secretary of State’s list of registered voters. I think it’s worth pointing out that there are more women who are registered to vote in Texas than men. The breakdown of all registered voters is 50.9% women, 45.3% men, and 3.8% with no gender information listed.

The first page of my report includes a breakdown based on which previous elections each voter has participated in.

[…]

Voters with previous Democratic Primary history (who have not voted in a previous Republican Primary) have seen their share of the vote decrease by 6.9% since my first report. Voters with previous General Election history (who have not voted in any party’s primary) have increased their share by 4.1% and voters with no General Election or Primary Election history have increased their share by 2.7%.

The report, which is through Tuesday, is here. If we really are headed towards twelve million people voting, then the share of people with no previous voting history is going to get pretty high, probably around 25%. I mean, total turnout from 2016 was under nine million, and in 2018 it was about eight and a half million, so there’s a big gap to make up. Similarly, the number of people with general election history but no primary history will also get bigger. Republicans had 2.8 million voters in their 2016 primary, and there were two million Dems in 2020. Even assuming there are some primary voters from other elections that are still around, we’re not even halfway to twelve million. The million dollar question is, who are these people voting for?

HISD needs a bond referendum

Easier said than done, though.

Houston ISD appeared to be on track in mid-February to put a bond election on the ballot this November, taking a critical step toward asking voters for the first time since 2012 to let it borrow money to finance major facility upgrades in the district.

Two weeks later, federal agents raided the district’s headquarters. Three weeks after that, campuses closed due to COVID-19.

Once again, an HISD bond would have to wait.

As voters in Dallas, San Antonio and parts of Fort Bend County decide in the coming weeks whether to back billions of dollars in school improvements, residents of the state’s largest district will not see a bond request on the ballot for the eighth straight year, the longest absence among Texas’ major urban districts.

Despite promising signs earlier this year that HISD finally may have weathered a cascade of embarrassments, the district remains unable to garner support needed to provide students with much-wanted improvements. After approving a facilities assessment in February, a precursor to a bond vote, HISD administrators and trustees never publicly discussed seeking an election following the raid and pandemic-induced shutdown.

In addition to grappling with the novel coronavirus pandemic, HISD continues to face fallout from the abrupt departure of former Superintendent Richard Carranza, self-admitted dysfunction on the school board in 2018 and 2019, the Texas Education Agency’s ongoing effort to replace trustees and the raid tied to former high-ranking administrator Brian Busby.

“As a layperson on the outside looking in, with everything that was going on in the district, I personally would have had some reluctance supporting one,” said HISD trustee Kathy Blueford-Daniels, one of four new members on the nine-person board this year. “We’re not entangled in all that controversy now, and so it’s imperative that we look at trying to do a bond every five years. We’re way overdue.”

[…]

Rice University political science professor Bob Stein, who has conducted dozens of school bond polls and led a survey on voter attitudes toward HISD last year, said he would be “shocked” if the district could earn the needed majority support for a package. If a bond vote fails, HISD must cover costs associated with administering the election.

“There’s just no confidence in the district, and I have no reason to think that confidence has increased with remote learning,” Stein said. “My guess is they’re not going to pass a bond anytime soon.”

Here’s a scorching hot take: Maybe the best way to get a very necessary bond passed is to hand that responsibility to the board of managers that will (one presumes) eventually get installed by the TEA as part of its now-held-up-in-the-courts takeover. If there’s not enough faith that the elected Board members are up to the task (a proposition I’d question, but let’s go with it for now), then give the new Board a crack at it. It’s not clear to me that the appointed Board would have a net gain in public trust, since so many HISD parents and other stakeholders are deeply suspicious of (if not outright hostile to) the TEA takeover, but maybe they could earn some trust, or have a honeymoon period, or just be able to bring it up without other issues getting in the way. I’m just spitballing here. The fact remains, the schools need the capital investment. I’m open to any reasonable ideas for making it happen.

DFP: Biden 47, Trump 46

From Twitter:

What’s interesting about this is that the full sample of 933 voters includes 180 who have already voted. That subgroup is incredibly Democratic – Biden leads Trump 57-41 (!) among those 180 voters, taking 98% of the Democratic vote (zero to Trump), winning indies 63-33, and even getting eleven percent of Republicans (!!). MJ Hegar leads with this same crowd 54-44, with a one percent Dem vote for John Cornyn and only four percent of Republicans. If Cornyn does outperform Trump, that will be the reason. The combination of these two groups gives the 47-46 topline result.

Of the other 753 respondents, Trump leads 46-44, and he does better with Republicans (93-5) than Biden does with Dems (92-7) while also winning indies 33-30. Cornyn leads Hegar with this same crowd 43-36. It’s a much bigger group, and the could suggest a gradual shift in the vote totals in the direction of the Republicans as we go forward, but then maybe some of these folks wind up not voting. In the Senate race, there’s a bigger “Don’t know” contingent among Dems (16%, compared to 7% for the GOP), which gives Hegar some room to grow, though these folks would seem to be more likely than anyone in the sample to not vote, or at least not vote in that race.

You can make of this what you will. Data For Progress, like PPP, has generally had better results for Dems than some other pollsters, which may be their house effect. I’m more interested in the split between those who have voted and those who have not yet voted.

On a related note, there was also a poll released in the CD22 race, an internal poll from the Sri Kulkarni campaign. That poll has Kulkarni up 48-43, with Biden leading Trump 52-43 in the district. I didn’t have enough to say about this to make it a standalone post, so I’m including it here as bonus content. You’re welcome.

Keep fighting, fellas

Primal scream time.

Two of Texas’ top Republicans took part [last] Saturday in a protest of Gov. Greg Abbott’s coronavirus restrictions outside the Governor’s Mansion, a striking display of intraparty defiance three days before early voting begins for a momentous November election.

The “Free Texas” rally featured speeches from Texas GOP Chair Allen West and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, both of whom invoked the governor critically. At one point, Miller turned toward the mansion with a message for Abbott.

“Quite frankly, governor, your cure is worse than the disease,” Miller said.

West, who took over the party in July and has been an open critic of some of Abbott’s coronavirus decisions, read a resolution that the State Republican Executive Committee passed last month. The resolution tells Abbott: “No Exceptions, No Delays….Open Texas NOW.”

“We call upon the governor to do what is right by the people of the great state of Texas so that Texas can continue to be a leader,” West added. “And if the governor did not get this resolution, I’m gonna leave it right here, at the gates of the Governor’s Mansion.”

The protest drew at least 200 people, a virtually maskless crowd, to a parking lot steps away from the Governor’s Mansion in downtown Austin. After hearing from a lineup of speakers that also included state Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, the group marched on the streets and sidewalks surrounding the mansion, chanting, “Open Texas now!”

The audience was filled with signs expressing disgust at Abbott’s decisions to institute a statewide mask mandate and shut down certain businesses throughout the pandemic. One sign called Abbott the “#1 Job Killer in Texas,” while another called to “IMPEACH ABBOTT THE RHINO.”

I’ve been sitting on this for a few days in part because there’s so damn much other news that I’ve not been able to fit it in, and in part because it’s hard to add anything to “IMPEACH ABBOTT THE RHINO”. But we carry on.

West’s criticism of Abbott’s pandemic decisions has fueled speculation that he could run against the governor in 2022. As West prepared to start speaking at the rally, there were a couple chants of “West for governor!” which he sought to brush off, saying, “Oh, stop it, stop it, stop it.” Then there was another chant that drew cheers, prompting West to shake his head lightheartedly.

“Paid political announcement by a bunch of knuckleheads,” he said jokingly.

The idea of a carpetbagger like Allen West being a serious primary challenger to Greg Abbott is bizarre, to say the least, but we live in strange times. I do at this point believe someone will challenge Abbott in the primary, but who that might be and how seriously it will be taken remains unclear. Maybe this was Sid Miller’s audition for the job – he’s dumb enough to think he can do it, and clownish enough to appeal anyone who might think Allen West is some kind of savior. There’s plenty of room for this to get dumber, of that I’m certain. Dan Patrick as ever is the wild card, and likely the one Republican than Abbott actually fears. I don’t have any predictions – even if I did, it would be ridiculous to make them this far in advance – but I sure am interested in seeing how this plays out. We have a super consequential legislative session coming up, with redistricting and coronavirus and executive power and who knows what else that will dominate. How much does this kind of dissension affect Republican plans, or can they pull it together enough to support the things they all are supposed to like? Would a Dem Speaker remind them all of their real opponent? I don’t know, but these are the things I’ll be thinking about.

Back to the classroom for some

I sure hope this goes well, but I remain worried.

With the novel coronavirus still top of mind, HISD will welcome back an estimated 80,000-plus of its nearly 200,000 students to classrooms Monday, becoming the region’s final large district to reopen campuses for in-person instruction.

The return will come with new safety, scheduling and teaching protocols, some of which will vary across the district’s 280 campuses. All students returning to buildings must wear masks, while staff members will direct children to frequently use hand sanitizer and wash their hands. Many schools plan to stagger bell schedules, aiming to limit hallway traffic, while most teachers are preparing to provide in-person and online instruction at the same time.

The restart arrives as many districts across the state report only sporadic cases of students and staff stepping foot on campus while infected with COVID-19, a positive early sign amid the pandemic. As of Friday, seven Houston-area high schools had reported outbreaks involving more than 10 active cases at one time, with no elementary or middle schools reaching that threshold.

However, HISD’s return comes with some risks. About 85 percent of HISD students are Black or Hispanic, two demographic groups that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. In addition, case counts and hospitalizations in Greater Houston have started creeping up in the past couple weeks after a major dip in the late summer.

“I’m a little nervous, because all of this with the virus is not good,” said Norma Vasquez Chavez, whose kindergartner and fifth-grader will attend in-person classes Monday at Brookline Elementary School on the district’s southeast side. “Every time my daughters go out, I’m telling them about using the masks, using the hand sanitizer. I’m trying to trust in them and all that the school is doing.”

The lingering concerns are reflected in the fact that about 60 percent of HISD students are expected to continue learning from home Monday, despite the district offering in-person classes to all families. Under state guidelines, HISD had until Nov. 2 to provide face-to-face instruction to all students who wanted it.

[…]

District leaders have not published metrics for when HISD will change its “gauge,” showing if and how in-person classes are held. HISD moved from “red,” which requires keeping campuses closed, to “orange,” which allows for in-person classes with mandatory social distancing, on Oct. 9, three days before staff were scheduled to return to buildings.

HISD also changed its desk distancing requirements from a mandatory 6 feet to “whenever possible,” citing “updated public health and educational guidelines.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended spacing desks 6 feet apart “when feasible” in early September.

Wheatley High School teacher Kendra Yarbrough, however, called on district leaders to reverse the switch.

“This will greatly help reduce teachers’ stress,” Yarbrough said. “Many of us are struggling currently, trying to make decisions, figuring out how do we keep ourselves safe, as well as ensure that we’re providing for our own families who are at high risk.”

Our kids are still doing remote learning for now, as are some but not all of their friends. The 13-year-old gave me a running commentary on Monday about how it was going – short answer, a little weird because the kids that were there in school were not also on the Teams session, so it wasn’t clear how they were going to answer questions since they weren’t loud enough to be heard by the teacher’s microphone; also, the between-class duration was confusing – but I figure they’ll work out the odd bits this week, as they did when this year’s remote learning started. The main concern, of course, is keeping everyone safe. As far as that goes, well

Five Houston ISD schools temporarily have closed due to a confirmed or presumed COVID-19 case on campus, swift shutdowns on the day after the state’s largest district resumed in-person classes.

Bellaire High School, Daily Elementary School and Foerster Elementary School canceled in-person classes and transitioned to virtual learning this week, according to HISD officials.

Emails sent by the leaders of Lanier Middle School and Westbury High School and reviewed by the Houston Chronicle also show those two schools were closed Tuesday. HISD administrators have not yet confirmed the shutdowns and initially reported only three closures Tuesday morning.

In confirming the closures of Ballaire, Daily and Foerster, district officials said they received notice of a single positive or presumed COVID-19 case at each campus. HISD’s COVID-19 protocols call for shutting down a campus for a “recommended number of days to allow for disinfection and sanitization” after learning of a positive or presumed case. Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan has said district leaders would consult with city and county health officials, the district’s communicable disease plan task force and district operations staff to determine need actions and length of closures.

And there were still more school closures later in the day. Not great, Bob. It’s early, these were based on single test results, it’s been so far so good in other districts, but with more kids back in classes now, the risk is necessarily higher, and this is happening at a time when the infection rate is increasing. We need to be prepared for the possibility that this will be a short-lived experience. The Press has more.

November 2020 Early Voting Day Eight: Any idea what pattern we’ll follow?

The Chron provides five takeaways from early voting so far.

Democrats appear to be doing well in Harris County, but don’t call it a wave yet. Turnout to date has been strong in precincts carried by Trump and Clinton in 2016. Why is this good news for Democrats? Because Clinton won more precincts and carried the county by 12 points.

Harris County already is a blue county, and a similar Democratic turnout this year would mean another shellacking for local Republicans.

[…]

A surge in voter registration probably helps Democrats. Harris County added more than 298,000 voters since 2016. That is more than the population of Lubbock. Democrats disproportionately benefit from this, political scientists say, because new registrants are more likely to be younger and people of color, two groups that favor that party.

[…]

Democrats have an edge among primary voters. Through the first five days of voting, 27 percent of voters had cast a ballot in this year’s Democratic primary, compared to 15 percent who had voted in the Republican primary, according to an analysis by University of Houston political scientists Brandon Rottinghaus and Jeronimo Cortina. Fifty-nine percent of voters through Saturday had not voted in the primaries. Since Texas does not have party registration, primary voting history typically is one of the best indicators to determine how a resident will vote in a general election.

The one thing no one knows is how turnout ultimately will be. Sure, Harris County smashed early voting records with an unprecedented four-day streak of more than 100,000 ballots. The pace already has slowed, however, and the big question remains: Are more people going to vote overall or are voters casting ballots early or by mail to avoid Election Day crowds?

Here’s a tweet summary, which notes that the electorate is so far much more female than male (good for Dems, since Dems do better among women in the polls) and younger voters are showing up (also good for Dems). I will note that while this week is a bit slower than last week, we almost certainly couldn’t keep up that 100K per day pace, and we’re well on our way towards exceeding 2016 turnout during the EV period. We still have ten days of early voting to go, and we really could slow down a lot, but until then what we’re doing is piling up votes, with a lot of time left to pile them even higher.

The Day Eight 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 think I’ve decided to pretend we’re at the normal Day Two and compare to previous years, just with the knowledge that 628K people have already voted. We’ll see how long this makes sense. The “original” Day Two numbers are here.


Election     Mail      Early      Total
=======================================
2008       30,318     82,612    112,930
2012       44,092     98,671    142,763
2016       64,377    141,013    205,390
2018       53,947    127,969    181,916
2020      104,826    143,597    248,423

A bit slower than Monday, but still ahead of 2016 for in person votes – which, remember, is after there had already been six full days of voting – and with a lot more mail ballots. We’re still very much on pace to equal all of 2016 in the early voting period.


Vote type  Saturday   Sunday   Monday   Tuesday    Total
========================================================
Mail          8,807    8,249   17,106   12,216   104,826
Drive-thru    7,806    4,135    6,347    7,578    68,030
In person    57,675   30,361   67,679   62,173   628,951
Total        74,288   42,745  628,708   81,967   801,807

We are now at 81.4% of 2016’s early vote (plus mail ballot) turnout of 985,571, and at 59.9% of 2016 total turnout. With ten days to go, we will need to average 53,709 votes per day to reach 1,338,898 total votes. The 104,826 mail ballots returned has already exceeded the 101,594 from 2016, and there’s 140,270 ballots out there.

I will leave you with this:

Through Monday, 28% of registered voters have voted early (4,708,734 voters). The more interesting thing is that the total is half the total of all votes which were cast during the 2016 General Election…and we still have another week and a half of early voting (and Election Day too).

I’m not ready to give an exact number, but we will likely surpass 12 million people voting in this election. That would be 71% turnout. In 2016, turnout was 59.4% with 8,969,226 people voting.

That’s from the Derek Ryan email (data here). Twelve million seems high to me, but I don’t have a good counter-argument at this time. Have you voted yet?

Your handwriting should not jeopardize your vote

Jesus Christ.

Texas election officials may continue rejecting mail-in ballots if they decide the signature on the ballot can’t be verified, without notifying voters until after the election that their ballot wasn’t counted, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Monday.

The appeals court halted a lower court’s injunction, which had not gone into effect, that would have required the Texas secretary of state to either advise local election officials that mail-in ballots may not be rejected using the existing signature-comparison process, or require them to set up a notification system giving voters a chance to challenge a rejection while their vote still counts.

Requiring such a process would compromise the integrity of the mail-in ballots “as Texas officials are preparing for a dramatic increase of mail-in voting, driven by a global pandemic,” reads the Monday opinion issued by U.S. Fifth Circuit Judge Jerry E. Smith.

“Texas’s strong interest in safeguarding the integrity of its elections from voter fraud far outweighs any burden the state’s voting procedures place on the right to vote,” Smith wrote.

Before mail-in ballots are counted, a committee of local election officials reviews them to ensure that a voter’s endorsement on the flap of a ballot envelope matches the signature that voter used on their application to vote by mail. They can also compare it to signatures on file with the county clerk or voter registrar that were made within the last six years.

The state election code does not establish any standards for signature review, which is conducted by local election officials who seldom have training in signature verification.

Voters must be notified within 10 days after the election that their ballot was rejected, but state election law does not require affording them an opportunity to challenge the rejection, the appeals court ruling noted.

[…]

Plaintiffs said they will now push counties to voluntarily give early notice to voters whose ballots are rejected for signature-match issues, allowing them a chance to rectify the situation and let their vote count.

“It will affect this 2020 election, so voters will not be notified in time, and so I think the main thing we’re trying to do now is notify counties that ballot boards are not required to give pre-election day notice, but they can,” said H. Drew Galloway, executive director of MOVE Texas, a plaintiff. “We encourage them to follow the original intent of the lower courts here so folks (whose ballots were rejected) can go vote in person, or contest that decision.”

See here for the background. That ruling had been stayed pending this appeal, so in that sense nothing has been lost. It’s another typical hatchet job from the country’s worst court. Let me bullet-point this, because I’m tired and this shit needs to stop.

– We all know that if this had a disproportionate effect on white voters, the concern about “safeguarding the integrity of its elections from voter fraud” would be a mere footnote. Some voters are more equal than others.

– On the very same day that this turd was handed down, a state court in North Carolina ruled that “voters whose absentee ballots have problems with their envelopes can now expect contact from board of elections offices in order to fix their ballots by Election Day”. We need uniform national standards that prioritize and protect the rights and ability of all citizens to vote. That needs to be very high on the to do list of the next Congress.

– Can we please give some serious consideration to packing the Fifth Circuit? Quite a few Trump-appointed judges are there because vacancies were not allowed to be filled during Obama’s terms. This court is in serious need of reform.

– On a more practical note, Drew Galloway is correct: We need to be talking to local election officials to get them to agree to try to fix these problems in advance. The court didn’t say that they couldn’t do this, just that they didn’t have to. Well, if it’s a choice, then let’s make sure they make the right choice.

That’s all I’ve got. This effing court. The Chron has more.

District B runoff officially scheduled

Hooray!

Cynthia Bailey

At long last, voters in the north Houston neighborhoods that make up City Council’s District B will get to select a new representative in December.

Visiting state District Judge Grant Dorfman on Monday ordered the long-delayed runoff to be held Saturday, Dec. 12, almost exactly a year after the election was originally scheduled last year. Tarsha Jackson, a criminal justice organizer, and Cynthia Bailey, a neighborhood advocate, will face off in the election.

That is the same date for any runoffs necessitated by the Nov. 3 general election.

[…]

Tarsha Jackson

Council member Jerry Davis, the incumbent set to leave office last January, has remained in the seat to ensure the district had representation during the legal fight. Davis narrowly was defeated in his July runoff against state Rep. Harold Dutton for the District 142 seat Dutton has held since 1985.

District B includes nearly 200,000 people from many historic north Houston neighborhoods, such as Acres Homes, Kashmere Gardens and Settegast. The district stretches up to include Greenspoint and Bush International Airport. It has the second-highest concentration of Black residents, 47 percent, in the city.

See here for the background. Not much else to say here, we’ve been waiting a long, long time for this. It’s time to finally get a new Council member in District B.

“I opposed him in private before completely supporting him in public”

Man, this guy is a weasel. And honestly, that’s insulting to weasels.

Big John Cornyn

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn acknowledged Friday that at times he has disagreed with President Trump on issues such as budget deficits and debt, tariffs and trade agreements and border security.

But, the senior Republican senator from Texas, who is being challenged by Democrat MJ Hegar, said he chose to work on those disagreements with the president’s staff in private discussions, rather than by publicly voicing his opposition.

Although polls show Cornyn with a small lead over Hegar, both candidates are vying for undecided voters during an extraordinary election season in which many once-solid Republican public office seats are now in reach for Democrats.

During a meeting with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial Board, Cornyn was asked if he and other Republicans regretted not pushing Trump to combat the COVID-19 virus more aggressively, or rein in some of his political stances that were unpopular or stood little chance of passing in Congress.

Cornyn initially described his relationship with Trump as “maybe like a lot of women who get married and think they’re going to change their spouse, and that doesn’t usually work out very well.”

Cornyn continued: “I think what we found is that we’re not going to change President Trump. He is who he is. You either love him or hate him, and there’s not much in between. What I tried to do is not get into public confrontations and fights with him because, as I’ve observed, those usually don’t end too well.”

Cornyn noted that his friend, former U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who initially was on cordial terms with Trump’s White House, opted not to run for re-election in 2018 after clashing with Trump on issues such as a border wall.

It’s rare to see someone be so candid about their own cowardice, especially when they clearly don’t understand that that’s what they’re doing. John Cornyn, one of the most powerful men in America, is saying he was afraid to say anything in public that would be in disagreement with Donald Trump because he was afraid Trump would say mean things about him on Twitter. John Cornyn, a man who has been an elected official for over 30 years and has spent that time talking about how firm and committed his principles are, would not do anything in support of those principles because it might make his job harder. John Cornyn, a United States Senator, voted with Donald Trump nearly 100% of the time even when he thought the policy Trump was pushing was bad and against everything he believed in, for reasons that I guess made sense to him at the time. But don’t worry, behind the scenes where no one else could see and in contravention of all the evidence we have in front of our eyes, John Cornyn was working hard to express his serious reservations with Donald Trump.

I’m just going to quote a couple of tweets here.

And his strategy for doing this is basically The Lurkers Support Me In Email, with Cornyn as one of the lurkers. What a profile in courage.

UPDATE: Jennifer Rubin really lets Cornyn have it.

November 2020 Early Voting Day Seven: It’s Day One all over again, sort of

Here’s a mid-day headline that needed some revision by the evening.

Harris County is on pace to reach half of of 2016’s total voter turnout by Monday evening, the county clerk reported.

By 11 a.m. Monday, the seventh day of early voting, more than 20,000 local ballots had been cast, putting the county on pace for about 690,000 total by the time polls close for the day at 7 p.m. That would be about 51 percent of the 1.3 million county voters who cast ballots in the presidential election four years ago.

The volume of voters has declined since last week, when more than 100,000 turned out for four consecutive days. The Harris County clerk’s website showed just one of 112 polling sites, the North Channel Branch Library, with a wait time exceeding 40 minutes at noon on Monday.

Across Texas, 4.1 million residents have cast ballots, more than any other state.

For whatever the reason, Monday started kind of slow. Things picked up later in the day, and the eventual total for the day exceeded that projection. I’ll get to the overall figures in a bit, but first the preliminaries. The Day Seven 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. As this is essentially Day One for the normal early voting period, I’m going to compare today’s totals with the Day One numbers from previous years. In other words, a reprise of this post, with updated mail ballot totals.


Election     Mail      Early      Total
=======================================
2008       29,301     39,201     68,502
2012       40,566     47,093     87,659
2016       61,543     64,471    129,014
2018       52,413     63,188    115,601
2020       92,610     74,026    166,636

“Total” isn’t accurate for this year, but if today had been Day One, you can see that we still would have outpaced previous elections. The mail ballot certainly played a role in that, but the in person totals were a new high compared to the other years as well, even if they’re down a bit from last week. Like I said, we couldn’t keep up that pace forever. Now let’s update the numbers for 2020:


Vote type  Saturday   Sunday   Monday    Total
==============================================
Mail          8,807    8,249   17,106   92,610
Drive-thru    7,806    4,135    6,347   60,452
In person    57,675   30,361   67,679  566,778
Total        74,288   42,745  628,708  719,840

We are now at 73.0% of 2016 early turnout (including mail), and 53.8% of total 2016 turnout. At today’s pace, we’d reach 2016’s early vote turnout of 985,571 by close of business on Thursday. There were 101,594 mail ballots returned in 2016, and it seems likely at this pace we will pass that either today or tomorrow. A total of 244,359 mail ballots have been sent out, and so far 37.9% of them have been returned. My estimate remains that some 185K mail ballots will ultimately be cast, so we’re basically halfway there.

An average of 56,278 voters per day for the remaining 11 days of early voting is needed to equal final 2016 turnout of 1,338,898. That’s down from 59,182 yesterday. Oh, and we have a new number for voter registration:

If turnout as a percentage of registered voters is 61.33% as it was in 2016, then 1.52 million people will vote. If it’s 62.81% as it was in 2008, then 1.55 million will vote. Turnout of 68.62% is needed to get us to 1.7 million, as suggested by County Clerk Chris Hollins. I would not say that is out of reach.

Finally, here’s a interesting analysis of the vote through the weekend by Brandon Rottinghaus, with a nifty visualization from Jeronimo Cortina. Have you voted yet?

October 2020 campaign finance reports: Congress

This is it, the last quarterly finance report roundup for the cycle. It’s been quite the time, hasn’t it? Let’s do this and see where we are as voting continues. The January 2019 roundup is here, which closed out the 2017-18 election cycle, the April 2019 report is here, the July 2019 report is here, the October 2019 report is here, the January 2020 report is here, the April 2020 report is here, and the July 2020 report is here. For comparison, the January 2018 report is here, the April 2018 report is here, and the July 2018 report is here. The FEC summary page for Congress is here and for the Senate is here.

MJ Hegar – Senate

Lizzie Fletcher – CD07
Colin Allred – CD32

Hank Gilbert – CD01
Sima Ladjevardian – CD02
Lulu Seikaly – CD03
Stephen Daniel – CD06
Elizabeth Hernandez – CD08
Mike Siegel – CD10
Adrienne Bell – CD14
Rick Kennedy – CD17
Wendy Davis – CD21
Sri Kulkarni – CD22
Gina Ortiz Jones – CD23
Candace Valenzuela – CD24
Julie Oliver – CD25
Carol Ianuzzi – CD26
Donna Imam – CD31


Dist  Name             Raised      Spent    Loans    On Hand
============================================================
Sen   Hegar        20,579,453 12,121,009        0  8,505,926

07    Fletcher      5,673,282  4,115,705        0  1,599,643
32    Allred        5,060,556  3,477,172        0  1,686,828  

01    Gilbert         595,890    321,193   50,000    274,697
02    Ladjevardian  3,102,882  2,373,600   50,000    729,282
03    Seikaly       1,143,345    580,360    3,000    562,985
06    Daniel          558,679    396,453        0    162,225
08    Hernandez
10    Siegel        1,994,611  1,712,734        0    285,368
14    Bell            226,601    196,623        0     35,078
17    Kennedy         190,229    161,093    8,103     30,563
21    Davis         7,917,557  6,035,908        0  1,881,649
22    Kulkarni      4,663,288  2,941,745        0  1,749,310
23    Jones         5,893,413  3,877,366        0  2,107,566
24    Valenzuela    3,589,295  2,601,580        0    987,715
25    Oliver        1,599,523  1,102,297    2,644    497,225
26    Ianuzzi         129,145     91,293   53,335     37,852
31    Imam          1,000,764    620,512        0    380,251

These totals are just off the charts. Remember how in the 2018 cycle I was freaking out as one candidate after another topped $100K? Here we have nine challengers to incumbent Republicans that have topped one million, with the tenth-place challenger still exceeding $500K. For that matter, nine out of those ten outraised their opponents in the quarter, though several still trail in total raised and/or cash on hand. I’ve run out of synonyms for “unprecedented”. All this is without accounting for DCCC and other PAC money being spent. Who could have imagined this even as recently as 2016?

The one question mark is with the incumbent Dems, as both Rep. Lizzie Fletcher and Rep. Colin Allred were outraised for the quarter. Both took in over $1.2 million apiece, so it’s not like they slacked, and they both maintain a cash on hand lead while having spent more. I don’t know what to make of that, but I’m not terribly worried about it. Republican money has to go somewhere.

MJ Hegar raised $13.5 million this quarter, and there’s some late PAC money coming in on her behalf. I wish she had been able to raise more earlier, and I wish some of the excess millions that are going to (very good!) Senate candidates in much smaller and less expensive states had come to her instead, but she’s got what she needs to compete, and she’s got a competitive race at the top of the ticket helping her, too. We don’t have a Senate race in 2022, and someone will get to run against Ted Cruz in 2024. All I can say is I hope some folks are thinking about that now, and taking some initial steps to build on what Beto and MJ have done before them.

I don’t have a whole lot to say otherwise, because these numbers speak for themselves. I mean, remember when we were a little worried about the ability of candidates like Lulu Seikaly and Julie Oliver and Donna Imam to raise enough money? Seems like a long time ago now.

Let me end with a thought about the future. Will what we saw in 2018 and 2020 carry forward? 2022 is the first post-redistricting election, so with new districts and the likelihood of some open seats, there should be plenty of action. We did see a fair amount of cash being raised in 2012, after all. If there are many more Dem incumbents, it’s for sure there will be more money flowing in. We’ll have to see how many competitive races there are beyond that. What I do know is that we have definitively proven that this can be done, that quality candidates can be found and they will be supported. We had the power, and we figured out how to use it. Hard to believe that will go away.

PPP: Cornyn 49, Hegar 46

Of interest.

MJ Hegar

    Last week PPP took a look at the Presidential race in Texas, and this week we checked in on the Senate race. MJ Hegar trails John Cornyn just 49-46, making up for the Republican lean of the state thanks to a 55-34 advantage with independent voters.

    Hegar is running close to Cornyn even though he still has a 15 point advantage in name recognition on her. 76% of voters have an opinion about him with 39% rating him favorably and 37% unfavorably. 61% of voters have an opinion about Hegar with 32% rating her favorably and 29% unfavorably.

    There’s evidence within the numbers that if Hegar had parity with Cornyn on name recognition she would have a very good chance at winning the race. Among voters who know enough about Hegar to have an opinion about her, she leads Cornyn 51-48.

    This is the third Cornyn-Hegar poll PPP has released this year and they’ve gone from a 7 point lead for Cornyn to a 4 point lead to now just a 3 point lead. That’s a similar trajectory to the one the 2018 Senate race followed and Hegar has already reached the point where Beto O’Rourke finished last time. With two and a half weeks to go she has a chance to pull off the upset as more voters tune into the race and become familiar with her.

The polling data is here, and this result was reported by Daily Kos and the Texas Signal. The Presidential poll referenced is here, and it has Biden up 49-48, 50-49 with leaners included.

There have been several polls of Texas lately, generally showing Trump in the lead. That PPP result is one of the better recent ones for Biden, and this Senate poll is one of the best of the cycle for Hegar. Generally, Cornyn’s level of support is close to Trump’s, and Hegar’s trails Biden’s by a non-trivial amount, which I usually attribute to a higher portion of “don’t know/no answer” responses among Democrats. I have believed, and I still believe, that the Senate race result will be pretty close to the Presidential result. I don’t think it will be like 2016, when a significant number of Republicans skipped voting for Trump. I think it’s more likely the case that this will be like a typical Presidential election, where there’s some dropoff from the Presidential levels to the other races. It’s possible that Cornyn could wind up with a better percentage – maybe there are fewer Republican undervotes, maybe he gets a few crossovers, there are some possibilities. I will say, I can imagine Biden carrying Texas but Hegar losing more easily than I can imagine Trump carrying Texas with Cornyn losing. Obviously, I’m rooting for Biden and Hegar. Maybe all that money coming in for Hegar will help.

Texas, the “We don’t want you to vote” state

And by “We” I mean “Republicans”.

In five states controlled by Republican governors and legislatures, new policies allow all voters to use COVID-19 as an excuse to mail in their ballots. In Iowa, the Republican secretary of state sent absentee ballot applications for the November election to every active, registered voter. And in Mississippi, one of the few states not offering universal absentee voting this year, Republican state leaders extended the deadline to receive mail ballots.

Republican lawmakers across the country, including those in battleground states with tight Senate races, have lifted restrictions and defied President Donald Trump’s unfounded warnings of mail-in voter fraud by expanding the practice, in an attempt to prevent the coronavirus from spreading at polling sites.

And then there is Texas, one of five states where voters cannot use fear of COVID-19 to vote by mail, one of 10 without widespread online voter registration and one of two without either option. Top Republicans, including Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, have made a series of moves they say are necessary to protect election integrity — but that also make it harder for Texans to cast ballots.

Democrats have condemned the actions as thinly veiled attempts at voter suppression designed to prevent them from winning control of the Texas House and delivering the state’s 38 electoral college votes to their presidential nominee, Joe Biden.

Republicans wave off those assertions, noting the expanded voting policies sought by Democrats were not implemented in prior election cycles. And they point to Abbott’s decisions to add a week of in-person early voting and let voters drop off mail ballots before Election Day — though the governor later undercut the latter move by limiting each county to one drop-off site, forcing Harris County to close 11 and prompting accusations of voter suppression from Democrats and lawsuits from civil rights groups.

“There’s no question that the intent behind these moves is to cause there to be fewer Democrats voting,” said Joseph Fishkin, an elections expert at the University of Texas School of Law. “You want to call that voter suppression, I think that’s not unreasonable.”

I’m not sure what else you’d call it if the intent is indeed to make it harder to vote, but whatever. I’ve hit on these themes before, and I’ll repeat them here, because there are two basic facts we have to keep in mind. One is that if the Republicans felt confident that they were the majority, they would not feel the need to compulsively push to restrict the vote. It’s not just the things we’ve seen this year, it’s the resistance to online voter registration, it’s everything about the voter ID law, it’s the fanatical insistence that vote fraud – exclusively by people who don’t vote for them, of course – is rampant, and so on and so forth. They fear that if it were easy and convenient to vote, they’d lose. Donald Trump says it out loud, but their actions have been saying it just as loudly for much longer.

And two, the only way out of this is through it. That means overcoming all the obstacles and winning enough elections to be able to pass laws that will reform and repeal these laws. The courts won’t save us – indeed, considering the Fifth Circuit and SCOTUS, the courts will be another obstacle to overcome. It’s not just this year – we cannot begin to make real progress until we win statewide elections, and that means making an even bigger push in 2022. It’s not just about winning the elections, too – it’s about putting pressure on the leaders we elect to enact the reforms we demand and deserve. This is a long haul, and there will be setbacks along the way. But it is the way, and there’s no going around it. Remember this, and use it to push for the changes we need.

November 2020 Early Voting Day Six: And now we start the “normal” early voting period

I’m just going to jump right into the data here. The Day Six 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 going to be experimenting on how to give these numbers going forward, because we’re in such a different world these days:


Vote type  Saturday   Sunday    Total
=====================================
Mail          8,807    8,249   75,504
Drive-thru    7,806    4,135   54,105
In person    57,675   30,361  499,099
Total        74,288   42,745  628,708

Derek Ryan sent out an email that covered the first four days, which you can see here. For the table above, I broke out the drive-through votes from the other in person votes, because why not. And no, I didn’t know that mail ballots were delivered on Sunday, but apparently they are. Looking at the 2016 EV file, that was the same then, too. The more you know…

I’m going to throw some more numbers at you now.

– As of the end of Sunday’s early voting, 25.47% of all Harris County registered voters had turned out. There are, as noted, twelve more days of early voting to go.

– In 2016, total final turnout was 1,338,898. To equal that amount during the early voting period, an additional 710,910 people would need to vote. That’s an average of 59,182.5 per day. I don’t know that it’s necessary to get to this level by the end of early voting, but it would seem that it is well within the range of possibility. I’ll keep track of that as we go.

– In 2016, 76.4% of all mail ballots were returned. As of Sunday, 31.0% of all mail ballots had been returned. There were 123,999 mail ballots sent in 2016, and as of Sunday there had been 243,623 mail ballots sent. Mail ballots are still being sent – the original total was 238,062, and the deadline for requesting a mail ballot is October 23 (i.e., this Friday). If 76% of mail ballots are returned this year, over 185K votes will be cast by mail.

– This week is “normal” for early voting, at least as far as hours go. In Harris County, EV locations will be open 7 AM to 7 PM Monday through Saturday, then 12 PM to 7 PM on Sunday. There are extended EV hours the week after that, but we’ll discuss that later. I’m dying to see what the daily level of voting looks like this week. Have you voted yet?

Weekend link dump for October 18

It’s a Big Bang fight, and I am here for it.

“A kidnap and murder plot targeted Gretchen Whitmer. It’s no coincidence she’s a woman.”

Some giant shark news to brighten your day.

Please enjoy this lovely profile of Mandy Patinkin.

“It’s blatant corruption, of course. The payment of cash to the privately held businesses of a sitting president in exchange for that president personally bending government decision-making in your favor is definitively corrupt. It’s not even the usual method of brazen American corruption, forking over huge “campaign” donations in an attempt to curry such favors; nope, this money is going into Donald Trump’s pockets. He keeps it. Trump is making personal bank off the powers voters gave him.”

“It’s a serious threat that serious people should take seriously.”

RIP, Joe Morgan, Hall of Fame second baseman for the Reds and Astros.

“As TV shows begin to return to air this fall, showrunners have had to decide whether or not to incorporate the coronavirus pandemic into their future storylines. From video chat-inspired comedies about quarantine to medical dramas facing the biggest medical story in generation, here’s how shows are incorporating COVID-19 into upcoming episodes.”

If only one person makes it to Final Jeopardy, is it still Final Jeopardy? (I got the question right, btw.)

“I ask you to do me a favor. Suburban women: will you please like me? Please.” (Spoiler alert: They do not and will not.)

“Given the kind of year 2020 has been, it’s best to prepare for the unexpected. But, it’s also important not to ignore what’s in front of us today. Trump is a president who is deeply underwater with only a few weeks to go in an election that lacks many of the things – like a deeply unpopular opponent and significant third-party support – that benefitted him back in 2016.”

Rudy Giuliani’s daughter urges you to vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

“As school districts deal with budget cuts brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak, many are switching to solar power to reduce costs.”

How to improve a billboard.

“Some amount of lying, and even more hypocrisy, is inevitable in politics. The Democratic Party isn’t immune. But it would be a mistake to confuse the acts of bad faith that have saturated Republican conduct for garden-variety hypocrisy or lying. These contradictions don’t point to a lack of self-awareness or passing acts of shame-faced expediency. Republicans and professional conservatives revel in double standards because by embracing double standards they claim power over their opponents. The Republicans have become a party that celebrates rulebreaking, because they have come to see rulebreaking as a show of strength. Their moral compass, inverted by their single-minded pursuit of self-interest, now points south.”

“I love that my mom aims to be polite even if the person she’s talking about is spiritually something akin to a boil on the left ass cheek of Satan, but Black elders have earned the right to be especially venomous, given what his victory in the 2016 presidential election signified.”

RIP, Bernard Cohen, ACLU lawyer who successfully argued for the plaintiffs in the case that outlawed bans on interracial marriage.

November 2020 Early Voting Day Five: How not to look at the early voting totals

From Twitter on Friday:

You can click over to see the thread, but it’s based on the share of votes that came from precincts won by Hillary Clinton in 2016 versus the share of votes that came from precincts won by Trump in 2016. As of Day Three, the same share of votes from Clinton precincts had been cast in this year’s election, which led to the conclusion that Biden was not outperforming Clinton, at least not yet.

There are several problems with this approach. First and foremost is that “precincts” is too rough a measure to use. Precincts are not uniform in size – there are precincts with upwards of four thousand voters in them, and there are precincts with fewer than one thousand, even those with fewer than one hundred. There are precincts that would have gone well over eighty percent for one candidate or the other, and precincts that were close to fifty-fifty. People move, so over the course of four years a given precinct could be quite different in composition or size. And as we have seen, some people have shifted their voting preferences – college-educated white women, in particular – so one’s vote in 2016 isn’t quite as predictive of one’s vote in 2020 as one might think.

There’s also the fact that the main Democratic strategy is just simply adding to their pile of potential voters, and then turning out as many of them as possible. I’ve said multiple times and in several contexts that there are just simply more Democrats in Harris County than there are Republicans. We saw this illustrated very starkly in 2016, when the total number of Democratic voters increased a lot more from 2012 than the number of Republicans did. See here for my explanation of that. The core of the Democratic voter registration strategy is that most of the folks who had not been voting before were people that were likely to support Democrats, and the focus has been on getting them registered check) and then turning them out. That worked quite well in 2016 and in 2018, and it’s the plan for 2020.

Well, what about the data that we have that suggests most of the voters so far are the old reliables? I will remind you, we haven’t even gotten to the starting line for what would have been the early voting period for this year, and there’s already been a ton of votes cast with that full time span to get everyone else out. There are better ways to estimate what the electorate so far looks like, I’ve talked about this before, and it’s based on using a data model on the vote roster that gives every voter a score of how likely they are to vote D or R, and then sum it all up. There’s some assumptions baked in, and the quality of the data varies a bit from cycle to cycle, mostly because underlying conditions change, but on the whole it’s a reasonable picture. One thing we know is that the first Saturday of the early voting period is a banner day for Democrats, at least in Harris County. That was even true in disaster years like 2010. This year we have two Saturdays, so maybe things will be a bit different – for sure, this Saturday will not be the high-water mark for the week, which is a change from other years – but it is a reminder that different people vote at different times.

In fact, in recent elections, it’s been Democrats who have done better on Election Day than in early voting. Here’s a comparison of the straight ticket vote for the last three high-turnout races:


2012 early - 279,619 R, 259,664 D - 51.9% R, 48.1% D
2012 E day - 124,546 R, 147,327 D - 45.8% R, 54.2% D

2016 early - 308,027 R, 333,477 D - 48.0% R, 52.0% D
2016 E day -  93,636 R, 128,553 D - 42.1% R, 57.9% D

2018 early - 298,644 R, 355,861 D - 45.6% R, 54.4% D
2018 E day - 112,010 R, 159,951 D - 41.2% R, 58.8% D

“Early” combines the mail vote with the early in person vote. I skipped the third party straight-ticket vote for this comparison. Obviously, with a lot more of the vote occurring early, that part of the vote has a much greater effect on the outcome. My point is simply that in past years, the early vote was not necessarily indicative of where everything would end up. Dems in general were trailing in 2012 after early voting, and mostly caught up on Election Day. That was also true for candidates like Ann Harris Bennett in 2016, and Lina Hidalgo in 2018.

I should note that this pattern has also held true for the two most recent lower-turnout races, in 2010 and 2014, which were Republican-dominant years. Dems actually cast more straight ticket votes on Election Day in 2010 than Republicans did, though it wasn’t nearly enough to mitigate the losses they suffered. In 2014, Dems lost all three parts of the vote, but by a smaller margin on Election Day.

The one year where this pattern was broken was 2008 – Dems won the early vote, and Republicans won Election Day, though not by enough for the most part to win countywide. Now to be fair, this year resembles 2008 in a lot of ways – Democratic enthusiasm was through the roof that year, and no one was surprised to see the initial results on Election Night. It will not surprise me if Republicans do better on Election Day than they do in early voting. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll make up ground on Election Day – it may just mean they lose the day by less, as was the case for Dems in 2014. Remember, the thesis here is there are more Dems than Republicans. That means that if Republican turnout is pretty good so far – and it does seem to be – then it also means they’re going to run out of voters faster than the Dems. I’d submit that’s what happened in both 2016 and 2018.

All this is for Harris County. I can’t speak for other counties. In a place like Denton County, for example, where Dems made great strides in 2018 but were still outnumbered overall as of that year, it may be that the population growth there plus the level of enthusiasm on the Republican side is enough to not only hold off further Dem advances, but increase the Republican advantage. We won’t know, or at least I won’t know, until we start seeing results. The same strategy of registering more voters, on the same belief that they are on balance more Dem than Republican, holds there. How well it works remains to be seen.

And speaking of Saturday numbers, we now have them. The Day Five 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 give these numbers today, because we’re now at a point where the day-to-day no longer makes sense:


Vote type  Saturday    Total
============================
Mail          8,807   67,255
Drive-thru    7,806   49,970
In person    57,675  468,738
Total        74,288  585,963

Derek Ryan sent out an email that covered the first four days, which you can see here. For the table above, I broke out the drive-through votes from the other in person votes, because why not. I’ve been meaning to ask if they’re tracking dropped off mail ballots separately, I need to follow up on that. Having a Saturday be at two-thirds the level of the Thursday and Friday would be deeply weird in a different year, but this year, who can say? I have no idea what to expect this week or next weekend. Early voting hours today are 12 to 7, instead of the usual 1 to 6, so maybe we’ll get 30-35K. If that’s about right, then with some 620K early and mail votes in the hopper as of Monday, the “normal” start for early voting, we’d need to average 60K votes per day to equal the 1.34 million total turnout from 2016. We’ll see how it goes on Monday and Tuesday, but yeah, I do think that’s within reach. It would mean something like 200K (for the lower end) to 400K (for the high-end Chris Hollins-predicted 1.7 million) voters left for Election Day. Like I said, we’ll see what the next week brings. Have you voted yet?

How hard it is to vote is a policy choice

Harris County tried to make it easier. The state GOP, various other Republican contingents, Greg Abbott, Ken Paxton, and others fought that choice every step of the way.

Much of the Democrats’ dream of turning Texas blue is pinned on ramping up turnout in Houston and other Texas cities where voters, many of whom are people of color, trend heavily their way.

In a bitterly contested election, overlaid with the fears and risks of an uncontrolled pandemic, Harris County has become a case study in raw politics and partisan efforts to manipulate voter turnout. Republican leaders and activists have furiously worked the levers of power, churning out lawsuits, unsubstantiated specters of voter fraud and official state orders in their bid to limit voters’ options during the pandemic.

Their power hemmed in by state officials, Houston Democrats have launched a robust effort to make voting as easy as possible, tripling the number of early and Election Day polling locations and increasing the county’s election budget from $4 million in 2016 to $33 million this fall. They reject GOP claims that making voting easier carries inherent risks of widespread voter fraud.

The battle lines were acknowledged in one of the many lawsuits Republican leaders and activists filed in the past few months attempting to rein in Harris County’s efforts to expand voting access.

“As Texas goes, so too will the rest of the country. As Harris County goes, so too will Texas,” the GOP lawsuit read. “If President Trump loses Texas, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for him to be reelected.”

Local political observers agree the writing is on the wall: Most of Houston’s residents are people of color, its local leaders are Democrats, and it is the fastest-growing county in the state, according to recent census data.

“This county looks like what Texas is going to look like in 10 years, and they know that if Harris County can become solidly entrenched in the Democratic Party, it’s just going to disperse from there,” said Melanye Price, endowed professor of political science at Prairie View A&M University and a Harris County voter. “I think in some ways they’re going to have more of an influence, and the governor knows that, and the attorney general knows that, and that is why they’ve decided to hobble them at every turn.”

It’s no coincidence, Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins said, that GOP efforts to tightly enforce Texas voting laws — among the nation’s most restrictive — target an important Democratic stronghold and one of the country’s most diverse cities.

“If you look at [election results] for Harris County, you see a very clear trend,” Hollins said. “If I were in the business of trying to suppress Democratic votes, I know where I would target.”

The piece will be largely familiar to anyone who has been following along, but go read the rest for a review. Again, I want to emphasize, Harris County – by which I mean Judge Hidalgo and Commissioners Ellis and Garcia and County Clerk Hollins – made a choice to invest the time and money to make it easier to vote. They did things that I think were revelations to all of us, who have been so used to the old ways for so long. “Wait a minute, we can have a lot more early voting locations? And more voting by mail, with options to drop off ballots instead of waiting on and worrying about the postal service (but we can also track our ballot if we do mail it), and with drive-through service? Who even knew any of this was possible?” Just spend a few minutes on Twitter or Facebook and see the many selfies and videos people have posted with their enthusiastic reaction to all this.

And then remember that every step of the way, Republicans of all stripes have tried to stop any of this from happening. From the two Republican Commissioners voting against that money that was budgeted for the election, to the Governor (who, to be fair, did extend the early voting period, and did extend the period during which mail ballots could be dropped off to all of early voting, even if he did later limit it all to one location) and the Attorney General and the Steven Hotze/Allen West minions filing lawsuit after lawsuit, every single innovation was opposed with a barrage of lies about “vote fraud” and not much else. Thanks to a batch of sympathetic Republican judges, though, they have been quite successful at it.

I’ve made this point before, but this is a long-term loser for the Republicans. People like ease and convenience. They want new ways to do things that take less time and require less effort. The Democrats, in Harris County and elsewhere, want to give it to them. The Republicans want to take it away or make sure they never get it in the first place. What side of that argument do you want to be on in the next election, or even before that in the next legislative session? Texas is a lousy state in which to vote, with obstacles everywhere you look. That’s a policy choice, enabled by the Republicans who run the state. The only way to change that is to change who runs the state. Look at Harris County’s vision for how voting could and should be, and then look at what the Republicans have done about it. What happens when the voters want something to be done about this?

Still worried about the Census

There’s this.

The census came to an abrupt halt Thursday after a pandemic and a legal tug-of-war threw the massive survey into chaos. Officials around the country now fear they’ll lose their fair share of federal funding and political representation due to an incomplete count.

A George Washington University study indicates that a mere 1 percent undercount for Texas by the U.S. Census Bureau would amount to $290 million less per year in federal revenue. A lower-than-anticipated count in urban areas could also mean one or two less congressional seats and fewer electoral votes for the state, as well as a smaller share of free lunches, Medicaid and HUD dollars.

Houston is among a handful of gateway cities with growing immigrant populations that are most vulnerable to being undercounted, said Lloyd Potter, the state demographer for Texas. Low-income people, children, renters, people of color and immigrants are among the least counted; their communities then are underrepresented in government and must make do with less funding.

One in four Texans — more than 6 million people — live in hard-to-count communities, according to a 2019 report by the Center for Public Policy Priorities, an Austin-based nonpartisan organization. This demographic group includes people who may be difficult to contact, due to language barriers, or to locate, due to informal housing arrangements, or engage, due to fear.

By most estimates, Texas is on track to gain three congressional seats — more than any other state, said Richard Murray, a University of Houston political scientist specializing in Texas and U.S. electoral politics. But, it there is a significant undercount and the Trump administration excludes undocumented people, two of those new seats could be lost.

[…]

With the pandemic curtailing outreach and enumeration efforts and the stop-and-start of multiple deadlines, Potter, the state demographer, said, census workers have become worried about the repercussions of trying to tabulate the data on a drastically shortened timeline. “This is is just not like anything we ever would have expected.”

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee is among an array of local officials who have encouraged people all year to respond to the census, but the pandemic and confusion over deadlines hampered many efforts at outreach.

“I think it’s vital we recognize we’re in a dire condition,” Jackson Lee during a last-minute plea outside the student-free Blackshear Elementary campus on Thursday morning.

“It’s such a huge logistical problem counting every person in the country and to have all these problems thrown in the spokes, it’s been very difficult,” said Potter, the state demographer, who also runs the Institute for Demographic and Socioeconoic Research at University of Texas San Antonio. “This particular year there is a perfect storm of challenges for an undercount.”

Others who study the census agreed, saying it could yield surprisingly low totals.

“This is going to be the most problem-plagued census in modern times,” said Murray, the political scientist. On the front end, there was the obstacle of people who didn’t want to open their doors to enumerators amid a public health crisis. The next major obstacle is that once the data is collected, he said, we’re facing “a rogue political administration that’s unprecedentedly messing with the census to try to get it to give their party more power going forward.”

And there’s this.

The Supreme Court announced Friday that it will review President Donald Trump’s attempt to exclude undocumented immigrants when calculating how congressional seats are apportioned among the states.

The unprecedented proposal could have the effect of shifting both political power and billions of dollars in federal funds away from urban states with large immigrant populations and toward rural and more Republican interests.

A three-judge panel in New York said Trump’s July 21 memorandum on the matter was “an unlawful exercise of the authority granted to” him by Congress. It blocked the Commerce Department and the Census Bureau from including information about the number of undocumented immigrants — it is unclear how those numbers would be generated — in their reports to the president after this year’s census is completed.

The justices put the case on a fast track and said they will hold a hearing Nov. 30. By then, it probably will be a nine-member court again, if Judge Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed, giving the court a 6-to-3 conservative majority. The administration says timing matters because it must present the plan to Congress in January.

It is unclear whether the matter would divide the court along ideological lines, but the issue is another mark of how the once-­a-decade census has been transformed from a largely bureaucratic exercise into the centerpiece of a partisan battle.

I don’t actually expect any of our state leaders to care about the loss of federal funds, because those funds just go to programs that help people, which they don’t like. I am a little surprised that they might sit back passively as the state could lose one or two Congressional seats, since that represents power. With every passing day, I am more convinced that President Biden should just say that the Census was hopelessly botched by the Trump administration, and that the data they collected is worse than useless, so we have to do it again. I see no other just and equitable path forward.

The virtual marathon

We’re still not ready for things to be normal.

The 2021 Chevron Houston Marathon and Aramco Houston Half Marathon will be virtual due to ongoing public health concerns with COVID-19.

The 2021 Virtual Houston Marathon Running Events will be held over the span of 10 days where runners will have the option to complete the race distance anywhere between Jan. 8-17, according to the Houston Marathon Committee.

Participants who have already registered for the 2021 marathon will be able opt for the virtual race experience, which will include a discounted registration for the Chevron Houston Marathon 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2022; or defer their entry to one of the following two years (2022 or 2023); or donate their entry to the Houston Marathon Committee, which is a 501 c(4) nonprofit organization.

Half marathon registrants and We are Houston 5K runners will receive an email with instructions on how to complete their registration selection, according to a news release.

“At this time, we recognize that there are many unknowns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, but the safety and well-being of our runners, volunteers, partners, spectators and local Houston community will always be our top priority,” said Wade Morehead, committee executive director. “While we are unable to celebrate the 2021 event together in the heart of Downtown Houston, we will be cheering for our runners around the world as they participate in a unique virtual race experience, embracing the incredible spirit of our RunHOU community.”

I mean, none of this should be a surprise. The Marathon is an event where everyone is packed together, and even if the spectators and officials and volunteers were all wearing masks, there’s no way that the runners could. Doing it like this, where everyone just picks their own 26-mile course and registers to submit an official time for it, is the only way. This is just a reminder that seeing the calendar turn over into 2021 doesn’t mean anything in terms of the virus or its containment. We’re still in need of an actual federal plan, with actual leadership, to try to contain it, and eventually a vaccine to finally achieve some level of immunity. If we’re lucky, that 2022 50th anniversary marathon will be able to be run like it always has in the past. But as of today, we can’t say for sure that it will.

(You can register for the Marathon here, if that’s your thing.)

Don’t look now, but COVID numbers are ticking up again

In the state as a whole.

Texas reported more than 4,100 people hospitalized with the coronavirus on Wednesday, its largest total in six weeks and one that comes amid rising infections in El Paso and North Texas.

Hospitalizations hit a low in late September after a summer surge, but have risen incrementally for the past 10 days, reaching 4,133 on Wednesday. Other key metrics were also up slightly from a week earlier, including the reported rolling average of new daily infections and the number of people testing positive for the virus.

Public health officials said the increase is likely due to a combination of factors, including pandemic fatigue and expanded reopenings, especially bars. Bars were only allowed to begin reopening in select counties on Wednesday, but many have already been opened for weeks after reclassifying as restaurants — a loophole that the state created in hopes it would lead to better social distancing.

[…]

The biggest increases appear to be in West Texas and areas in and around Dallas.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins raised the county’s pandemic risk level back to red on Wednesday, and earlier this week Gov. Greg Abbott sent medical staff and supplies to El Paso to help respond to a wave of new COVID-19 cases.

“With a new and quickly escalating wave of COVID-19 cases hitting North Texas, it is more important than ever that we make good decisions,” Jenkins tweeted.

And here in the Houston area.

Houston-area COVID-19 numbers, trending in a positive direction for the last couple months, have taken a turn for the worse.

Four key coronavirus metrics all show an increase in the past week, according to the Texas Medical Center, which tracks the data for the complex’s seven major hospital systems. Those numbers had started trickling up the previous week in daily reports produced by the center.

The latest numbers from Wednesday’s report:

• The number of COVID-19 cases reported Tuesday, 671, represents a 62 percent increase over last week’s daily average of 412 cases per day.

• The number of COVID-19 patients admitted to TMC hospitals Tuesday, 102, represents an 18 percent increase over last week’s daily average of 86 patients per day.

• The TMC COVID-19 test positivity rate of 3.8 percent represents an 8 percent over last week’s daily average.

• The so-called R(t), or reproduction rate, the rate at which the virus is spreading, hit 1.16 Tuesday, an 18 percent increase in the past week. On Sept. 29, the number was 0.64, which meant the virus’ spread was then decreasing significantly.

The latest metric is probably the most concerning to health officials. A number below 1.0 means the virus is burning out in the area; a number above 1.0 means the spread is accelerating. After 32 consecutive days in which the metric showed the virus was burning out in the Houston area, it now shows the virus is again picking up steam.

And as was the case in the month of June, it’s already too late to stop this. The best we can do now is go back to what we had been doing before to bend the curve back in the downward direction. First and foremost, wear your goddamn masks, and practice social distancing. Don’t be this guy.

As for bars, I want them to survive, and I’ve been up front about the arbitrariness of the state’s definition of what a “bar” is versus what a “restaurant” is. I support the various ways that have been suggested to help bars survive by being more like restaurants, and by enabling to-go and outdoor service. And we really need a federal rescue bill for bars and restaurants and theaters and music halls and other public-gathering businesses that have been so devastated by this pandemic. But we have to be real and recognize that there are no circumstances under which crowding a bunch of people into indoor spaces is a good idea. How many times are we going to have to learn this lesson? The Trib has more.

All those voter registration efforts did what they set out to do

News item #1: Texas adds nearly 300,000 more voters in the last two weeks, approaches 17 million voters overall.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

In just two weeks, Texas added more than 284,000 more voters to its rolls just before the registration deadline and now has a record-setting 16.9 million voters heading into the first day of early voting on Tuesday.

That is an increase of 1.8 million voters just since the last presidential election in 2016 — a 12-percent increase in voters.

Nowhere have the gains been greater than along Interstate 35 — a region that has become a blue spine in the heart of an otherwise red state. Of the 1.8 million voters added since 2016, half have come from the 21 counties that stretch from Laredo north into San Antonio, Austin, Waco and the Dallas-Fort Worth region.

The biggest percentage increase has been in Central Texas where Hays, Williamson and Comal counties have all seen their voter registration rolls grow by 24 percent or more. Further north, outside of Dallas, suburban Collin and Denton counties have seen voter rolls grow 19 percent and 21 percent respectively.

[…]

In Bexar County, voter registration has jumped from just over 1 million in 2016 to 1.2 million this year.

“There’s an energy out there,” former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro said on a conference call with former Congressman Beto O’Rourke on Monday. “There’s a hunger for change.”

Just as a point of comparison, at the same 59.39% turnout level that we had in 2016, Texas will see a smidge over ten million voters. Approximately 78% of all voting age Texans are registered, which is where it was in 2016. Note that not all voting age Texans are eligible to vote – we do have a large non-citizen population, after all – so I don’t know offhand what the maximum would be. But we’re likely not that far from it.

New item #2: Record voter turnout expected, as Harris County roll grows by 234K since 2016.

Harris County has added nearly 234,000 voters to its rolls since 2016, despite adding just 143,000 residents during the same period.

As of Monday, the county had a record 2,468,559 registered voters for next month’s presidential election, according to the soon-to-be-final tally by the county voter registrar office.

The Texas Secretary of State’s Office has yet to confirm a final tally of registered voters from all 254 counties. The current count stands at 16.9 million, an increase of 12 percent, or 1.8 million, since four years ago. About 28 percent of that increase came in Harris, Bexar and Travis counties.

The growth benefits both major political parties, said Southern Methodist University political science professor Cal Jillson, but gives an edge to Democrats, who have a greater number of potential supporters who are unregistered.

Republicans draw a lot of support from Anglo voters, who already are registered and participate at high levels. African American and Latino residents, who historically have faced higher barriers to voting, could be a crucial source of new supporters for Democrats, he said.

“There’s just more room to grow the vote on the Democratic side than the Republican side,” Jillson said.

Young voters who just turned 18, especially Latinos, and naturalized citizens are two pools of voters where Democrats can make gains, University of Houston political science professor Jeronimo Cortina said.

“Democrats have a more diverse pool of people that sympathize with the Democratic Party,” Cortina said. “Part of it is, you have a tremendous pool of eligible potential voters in the state, especially in the urban areas, that four years ago was not tapped.”

Going again by 2016 turnout, which was 61.33%, would put turnout at over 1.51 million in Harris County, easily surpassing the 1.34 million we had in 2016. We would need over 68% turnout to get to 1.7 million, a number that County Clerk Chris Hollins has floated. That’s a bit high for me, but we could get close to 1.6 million if this really is a high-water year for turnout. Remember, the record number of people who voted in 2016 were a lower percentage of registered voters than in 2012 or 2008, but because there were so many more registered voters, the overall total was higher. Turnout as a percentage of registered voters was 62.81% in 2008, and at that level we’d top 1.55 million voters, for an increase of over 200K from 2016.

As we’ve seen so far, turnout numbers have been off the charts. A lot of that is from regular voters, but not all of them. There’s almost two million more voters in Texas than there were in 2016 – it won’t take much from them to have a significant effect, and that’s before we take into account the potential for higher turnout among less-frequent voters. We can’t say too much just yet, but the conditions are there to make the kind of difference Dems have been working towards.