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October 11th, 2020:

Weekend link dump for October 11

Kimberly Guilfoyle sure sounds like a boss from hell.

So, what happens if a Presidential candidate dies or becomes incapacitated before Election Day? No reason, just asking.

“For The First Time, Scientists Successfully Extract DNA From Insects Embedded In Tree Resin“. Just please don’t clone the velociraptors, that’s all I ask.

Doug Emhoff is a mensch.

“The choice the Senate — and, thus, America — faces is simple: To keep the filibuster is to accept continued legislative paralysis, a Senate that acts not as the cooling saucer of the American political system but as the deep freezer of the legislative branch. To eliminate it is to court the whirlwind of governance — to accept that your opponents may win elections, to risk their agenda passing into law. Nightmares prowl both paths. But which do we fear more: being unable to govern, or being able to govern?”

“Marriage equality is one of the top issues targeted by the very wealthy far-right activists that we have battled all along.”

Go for it, Dolly.

“Cities Turn Parking Spaces Into Dining Spots And No One Seems To Mind”.

“Below, STAT outlines eight of the crucial unknowns about the president and the course of his illness, and how it could shape broader the political and public health spheres.”

By the way, one of the treatments the President received was based on stem cells, which Amy Coney Barrett (among others) considers to be morally equivalent to murder.

“Also, lying about one’s illness and clearly ignoring medical advice is not courage or strength. It’s reckless stupidity. It shows weakness. It claims too much.”

“A remote structure consisting of a supermassive black hole, several primordial galaxies, and copious amounts of gas finally explains how some of the earliest black holes were able to grow so quickly.”

“Because the chamber was designed to lock with a metal ring underneath the user’s penis, the researchers said it may require the intervention of a heavy-duty bolt cutter or an angle grinder to free the user.”

RIP, Eddie Van Halen, guitar god.

RIP, Johnny Nash, singer-songwriter best known for “I Can See Clearly Now”.

“We used to reject court packing as a dangerous game. Now we believe it may be the best way to restore the Court’s legitimacy.”

“Good on the BBWAA for removing Kenesaw Mountain Landis — and his history of racism — from MLB’s MVP awards”.

RIP, Monica Roberts, transgender and civil rights activist, blogger, and much more. A terrific person, and her loss leaves a big void and many broken hearts, but we will fight on in her honor.

RIP, Whitey Ford, Hall of Fame pitcher for the New York Yankees.

Judge briefly halts Abbott’s order limiting mail ballot dropoff locations

Late Friday breaking news, which lasted until the early afternoon on Saturday.

A federal judge ruled Friday that Texas counties can have multiple drop-off locations for absentee ballots heading into the Nov. 3 general election, blocking the enforcement of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent order that sought to limit counties to just one such location.

Saying Abbott’s order confused voters and restricted voter access, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman granted an injunction late Friday barring its enforcement. With an unprecedented number of Texas voters requesting mail-in ballots during the coronavirus pandemic, and concerns about the reliability of the U.S. Postal Service, some large, Democratic counties had set up numerous locations to accept the ballots before Abbott’s order.

“By limiting ballot return centers to one per county,” Pitman wrote, “older and disabled voters living in Texas’s largest and most populous counties must travel further distances to more crowded ballot return centers where they would be at an increased risk of being infected by the coronavirus in order to exercise their right to vote and have it counted.”

[…]

The Texas Democratic Party called Friday’s ruling a “common sense order [that] followed well-established law and stopped the governor from making up election rules after the election started.”

Before Friday’s ruling, Democrats had denounced Abbott’s order, labeling it voter suppression in a state that has repeatedly been knocked in federal court for intentionally discriminating against voters of color. Voting rights advocates and civic groups quickly sued Abbott in federal court, arguing the order was based on invalid security concerns and places an unconstitutional and unequal burden on the right to vote.

The Texas and national League of United Latin American Citizens, the League of Women Voters of Texas and two Texas voters filed suit the night of Abbott’s order, and another lawsuit was filed the next day by the Texas Alliance for Retired Americans, the get-out-the-vote group Bigtent Creative and a 65-year-old voter.

“Cutting these mail-in voting locations was wrong and done solely to attempt to steal the election from the rising Texas electorate,” said Gilberto Hinojosa, chair of the Texas Democratic Party. “A county, like Harris County, with more than 4.7 million Texans should have more than one hand delivery location. Limiting counties like Harris is a desperate Republican attempt to hold onto power.”

See here for the previous update, and here for a copy of the ruling. Looking at the plaintiffs, it appears that the first lawsuit and the second lawsuit were combined. That leaves one other federal lawsuit, plus the one state lawsuit for which there is a hearing next week.

One presumes this will be appealed, and as we all know the Fifth Circuit is where all good things go to die. I think there’s a strong argument to be made that allowing Abbott’s order, which was made more than two months after counties had begun making plans to have multiple dropoff locations and after the state Solicitor General filed a brief saying that state law allowed for this, is the thing that would improperly disrupt the election at this late date. I also think the Fifth Circuit can rise to the occasion of brushing such an objection aside. Travis County, one of the places that had multiple dropoff locations in place prior to the order, has said it will wait to see what the Fifth Circuit does before reopening them. It’s hard to fault them for that. The Chron and the Statesman have more.

UPDATE: As expected, Paxton has filed an emergency motion for a stay of the judge’s ruling. You can read that here. The smart money always says that he gets what he asks for from this court, so it’s a matter of how quickly they have a hearing and issue a ruling.

UPDATE: Faster than you can say “Anything you want, Kenny”, the Fifth Circuit grants Paxton’s motion. Now we wait for a hearing. See why Travis County decided to wait before reopening any of those dropoff locations? Here’s the Chron story about the granting of the stay.

We are finally about to get that District B runoff scheduled

About damn time.

Cynthia Bailey

A court hearing set for Oct. 19 finally could end the election dispute that has delayed a runoff in Houston city council’s District B for nearly a year.

A state district judge is scheduled to hear an unopposed motion to set the election for Saturday, Dec. 12, which would be almost exactly a year after the initial runoff on Dec. 14, 2019.

Houston, Harris County and the three candidates involved in the dispute support that election date, according to legal filings.

Tarsha Jackson

That would mean voters in District B, which is concentrated in north Houston and stretches up to Bush International Airport, could elect a new representative in December.

Tarsha Jackson and Cynthia Bailey were the top two finishers in the general election last November and now would proceed to the runoff.

[…]

The runoff could not be held on Nov. 3 because state law mandates it be held on the same date as the original election, which was a Saturday.

The date of the court hearing was delayed because state law prescribes a maximum amount of time between the court order and the runoff. Oct. 19 was the earliest date possible for a court order to get on the Dec. 12 ballot, according to legal filings.

See here for the previous update. December 12 is the date that a city runoff election would have been held this year, if there had been any city elections on the November ballot. It’s always the second Saturday in December. It sounds like this court hearing is pro forma, so once it’s over we should have an official, scheduled runoff election date. All I san say is “Hallelujah”.

Mayor will support the task force recommendations

Good start, now let’s get it going.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner on Wednesday endorsed “almost all” the 104 recommendations laid out last week by his Task Force on Policing Reform.

Speaking at a virtual city council meeting, Turner said a few recommendations, which he did not identify, raise questions about the need for state legislative action, and a few others prompt “some concern about where we come up with the money to implement some of the proposals.”

“But, by and large, I’ve read through the entire report and I am overwhelmingly supportive of most of the ideas,” Turner said.

[…]

The task force — which laid out an implementation timeline for all of its recommendations — would remain involved in developing the implementation strategy, Turner said.

While the mayor did not specify which items gave him pause, the task force report referred to the need for legislative action on at least one occasion. That involved allowing doctors and health care workers to issue notifications of detention, currently only allowed by law enforcement officers.

Other measures, such as amending disciplinary windows for officers, would require the union to sign off on the changes unless a state law is passed.

That prospect is unlikely. Houston Police Officers’ Union Vice President Douglas Griffith said some of the recommendations, including those regarding discipline, were ill-informed or impractical.

He challenged one proposal to allow supervisors to investigate officers 180 days after learning of alleged misconduct, rather than 180 after it occurred. The so-called “180-day rule” has been a key target for reform advocates.

Officers’ current contract and state law allows supervisors 180 days after discovering misconduct to issue temporary suspensions of up to 15 days. If department leaders want to fire officers, however, the contract requires chiefs to do it within 180 days after the alleged misconduct occurred or if the officer has been indicted.

In its report, the task force said budgetary considerations were beyond its scope, so it did not outline where to find the necessary funds to implement the measures.

“We acknowledge that some of our recommendations will require additional funding and recognize fundraising as a critical step toward implementation. That said, we implore the mayor, city council, and the HPD to explore partnerships, grant applications, and otherwise exhaust other reasonable options before declaring that something cannot be done due to a lack of funding.”

The task force included timelines on how long it believed recommendations should take to be enacted, suggesting HPD and the city implement many within 90 days. Those short-term objectives include creating a way for residents to file complaints online, or for the department to follow up with civilians who had filed complaints. A policy outlining the public release of body camera footage within 30 days of incidents and a new order on long-term patrol assignments were also included in the short-term objectives, among dozens of others.

Proponents of criminal justice reform said they were encouraged by the mayor’s comments but that Turner needed to provide more details on how he would carry out the task force’s recommendations.

“There’s never been a shortage of good ideas about police reform,” ACLU Policy Advocacy Strategist Nicholas Hudson said. “But we need a clear timeline for implementation, and aggressive action from the mayor and council, especially on items in the ‘Justice Can’t Wait’ report.”

See here for the background. My advice is to get the things that can be done quickly as soon as possible, and start building consensus or working with legislators on the rest. If the union is going to object to some things, well, that’s what they’re going to do, but don’t consider that an obstacle. This is a rare chance to make some real progress, and the success of Mayor Turner’s second term will be determined in large part by what he does with this from here.

Military ballots

When we talk about the deadline to print and send out mail ballots, we are specifically talking about ballots sent to active duty military personnel, which by federal law are to be sent out 45 days before Election Day to facilitate them being returned in a timely fashion.

The very people risking their lives to defend the nation are among those most likely to have their ballots left uncounted in the presidential election in November.

When nearly 1 million absentee ballots are sent to military and overseas Americans worldwide by Saturday — kicking off voting for the 2020 election — history shows many will never be returned in time, and a greater percentage will be rejected compared to the rest of the population.

“There’s just a high percentage of ballots that just don’t make it back in time,” said Texas State University’s Don Inbody, an expert on the history of military voting and author of The Soldier Vote. “They’re active duty military. They’re usually pretty busy so they are not going to be quite as efficient as you’d like them to be in getting their ballots back.”

That looms particularly large this year, as polls show military voters are more divided than ever on the presidential election and that they could have an impact on close races in states such as Texas, North Carolina and Florida.

[…]

Federal data shows that members of the military are less likely to vote than the civilian population. In 2018, only 26 percent of military members voted compared to 52 percent of the rest of the population. In that election, nearly half of all ballots sent out to military and overseas voters who requested them were never returned. And of those that were returned, nearly 6 percent were rejected by elections officials for various reasons according to a report from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

Nationwide, about 1 percent of absentee ballots are rejected among the civilian population.

The biggest reasons for ballots being tossed out include them not being returned in time, problems with the voter’s signature and missing postmarks.

During the last presidential election in 2016, Texas elections officials sent out almost 30,000 ballots to uniformed military and their dependents stationed around the nation and worldwide. But just 60 percent were returned, one of the worst rates in the nation. Nationwide military voters returned ballots nearly 70 percent of the time in that presidential election, according to the Election Assistance Commission.

There’s more in the story, so go check it out. Military personnel who cast votes via absentee ballots in Texas can check their ballot status here.

Something I learned when I looked at the vote rosters from the primary runoffs is that military and overseas ballots are coded differently in that file than “regular” mail ballots are. By law, these ballots are counted if they are received up to five days after Election Day, as long as they were mailed by Election Day. That’s only true for military and overseas ballots. For the primary runoffs in Harris County, the number of these ballots was quite small, like 20 or so; I’d have to go back and look again to get an exact number, but it was in that neighborhood. Each ballot matters and we should make every reasonable effort to ensure that these ballots are received and returned and counted, but if the result in Texas comes down to these ballots then the race was super close to begin with.