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October 14th, 2020:

30 Day 2020 campaign finance reports: State races, part 2

Continuing to look at the 30-day campaign finance reports. A lot of candidates have been reporting big hauls, especially in the hot State Rep races. As before, I will split these into four parts. Part one, with statewide, SBOE, and State Senate, is here. Part two is State House races from the Houston area, which is this post. Part three will be State House races from elsewhere in the state, and part four will be for Democratic incumbents that may be targeted. I’m not going to be doing every race of course, just the ones of interest. January reports for Harris County State House races are here, and the July reports for these candidates are here.

Martin Shupp, HD03
Cecil Bell, HD03

Lorena McGill, HD15
Steve Toth, HD15

Jeff Antonelli, HD23
Mayes Middleton, HD23

Brian Rogers, HD24
Greg Bonnen, HD24

Patrick Henry, HD25
Cody Vasut, HD25

Sarah DeMerchant, HD26
Jacey Jetton, HD26

Eliz Markowitz, HD28
Gary Gates, HD28

Travis Boldt, HD29
Ed Thompson, HD29

Joe Cardenas, HD85
Phil Stephenson, HD85

Natali Hurtado, HD126
Sam Harless, HD126

Kayla Alix, HD129
Dennis Paul, HD129

Gina Calanni, HD132
Mike Schofield, HD132

Sandra Moore, HD133
Jim Murphy, HD133

Ann Johnson, HD134
Sarah Davis, HD134

Jon Rosenthal, HD135
Justin Ray, HD135

Akilah Bacy, HD138
Lacey Hull, HD138


Dist   Candidate       Raised     Spent       Loan     On Hand
==============================================================
HD03   Shupp              305       618          0         305
HD03   Bell            12,400    14,708     82,140      16,924

HD15   McGill          27,474    23,342          0      12,161
HD15   Toth            38,615    18,138          0      40,889

HD23   Antonelli       10,889     5,393          0       5,495
HD23   Middleton      318,855    85,129    500,000     317,001

HD24   Rogers             455       240          0       1,170
HD24   Bonnen          47,466    70,626    450,000     541,745

HD25   Henry            3,010     5,355          0       1,775
HD25   Vasut           37,245    23,251      1,600       1,865

HD26   DeMerchant     322,433    94,227          0      90,146
HD26   Jetton         295,526    26,240     25,000      91,922

HD28   Markowitz      108,038    55,813          0      68,241
HD28   Gates          374,629   371,476  1,736,100      67,328

HD29   Boldt           59,421    18,253          0      40,635
HD29   Thompson       106,896   148,176          0     344,974

HD85   Cardenas        14,731     7,872      5,027       2,830
HD85   Stephenson      12,375    22,403     29,791      24,691

HD126  Hurtado        311,139   107,738          0     210,474
HD126  Harless        449,290    53,893     20,000     290,216

HD129  Alix            43,480     7,991          0      35,568
HD129  Paul            72,400    45,052    156,000      45,875

HD132  Calanni        308,292    75,081          0     235,006
HD132  Schofield      252,100    65,647          0      98,339

HD133  Moore           10,976    11,207          0       9,593
HD133  Murphy         140,000    89,105          0     586,798

HD134  Johnson        481,430   292,265          0     314,593
HD134  Davis          597,463    93,842          0     299,564

HD135  Rosenthal      206,564   111,248          0     110,589
HD135  Ray            418,811   126,810          0      52,800

HD138  Bacy           630,565    99,967          0     353,811
HD138  Hull           277,421    45,612          0      84,768

First things first, I had the wrong Republican listed for HD26 last time. Just a goof on my part, which is now corrected.

Also, as a reminder, when there’s a big disparity between the money raised and spent, and the cash on hand, look for a significant amount of in kind donations. A lot of the contributions to Mike Schofield, Justin Ray (nearly $300K in his case), and Lacey Hull are expenditures on their behalf by PACs like Associated Republicans on Texas. Some of this spending is quite visible – I’ve seen many ads for Hull and Ray (mostly Hull) on cable, mostly during sporting events. Some of that is wasted since I don’t live anywhere near either of their districts, but I’m sure people in those district did see them.

The main action outside of Harris County is in HD26, where both Sarah DeMerchant and Jacey Jetton. Both of them also had large in kind totals – $107K for deMerchant, mostly from the HDCC, and $170K for Jetton, again mostly from the ART. Eliz Markowitz raised a decent amount, and I give Lorena McGill and A for effort in her deep red district. The one candidate I wish had done better is Travis Boldt. HD29 is not a must-have to win the House, but it’s in a part of Brazoria County that’s been trending blue, and I feel like it’s worth the investment. Maybe something will happen in the 8 day reporting period. On the Republican side, Phil Stephenson has it in cruise control, and so far his anti-Abbott apostasy hasn’t been particularly lucrative yet for Steve Toth.

Natali Hurtado has another strong report, putting her a the top of the class among Democratic challengers to incumbents. Sam Harless is taking that challenge seriously. None of the longer-shot candidates have raised enough to change perceptions.

Gina Calanni and Jon Rosenthal have done well, though Rosenthal was outgunned by the PAC money that boosted Justin Ray. Sarah Davis bounced back from her unimpressive July report but still trails Ann Johnson in cash on hand. Akilah Bacy ($212K in kind) had the big report of the period. I have seen one pro-Bacy ad so far – I mostly watch sports on live TV, so maybe she’s got some running on other channels, who knows – and at least one anti-Bacy attack ad to go along with the Lacey Hull ads. I’ve seen a few Rosenthal ads as well, not as many as the Ray ads, but not too far behind. I’ve not seen any ads for Johnson or Davis, though I’m closer to HD134 than either 135 or 138. Maybe better targeting, or they’re not doing TV, or just not advertising where I’m watching. Have you seen any ads for any of these races?

More races from around the state coming next. Let me know what you think.

Fifth Circuit upholds Abbott’s mail ballot dropoff limits

Because of course they did. Why would you have expected anything else?

In a ruling issued late Monday night, a federal appeals court upheld Gov. Greg Abbott’s order that limited counties to one mail-in ballot drop-off location.

A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, all appointed by President Donald Trump, rejected arguments from civil and voting rights groups that claimed Abbott’s order suppressed voting rights by making it harder to cast a ballot, particularly for elderly and disabled voters who are the most likely to use mail-in balloting.

In reality, the judges said, Abbott expanded voting options by suspending a state law that allows mail-in ballots to be hand delivered only on Election Day — a July 27 order that Abbott merely refined on Oct. 1 by closing multiple ballot drop-off sites in Travis and three other large counties, the panel said.

“That effectively gives voters 40 extra days to hand-deliver a marked mail-in ballot to an early voting clerk. And the voter still has the traditional option she has always had for casting a mail-in ballot: mailing it,” Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan wrote for the panel.

The ruling blocked Friday’s injunction from U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman, who said Abbott’s order placed an unacceptable burden on voters who are most vulnerable to COVID-19.

[…]

The panel criticized Pitman for vastly overstating the magnitude of the burden on voting rights caused by Abbott’s “partial refinement” of an earlier order that made it easier for eligible Texans to hand deliver a ballot before Nov. 3.

“How this expansion of voting opportunities burdens anyone’s right to vote is a mystery,” Duncan wrote. “Indeed, one strains to see how it burdens voting at all.”

Texans still have “numerous ways” to participate before the Nov. 3 election — by voting early beginning Tuesday because Abbott added six days to the early voting period as a pandemic safety measure, by hand delivering completed mail-in ballots before Election Day, and by dropping their ballot in the mail, Duncan said.

See here and here for the background. Never mind the fact that the state of Texas had previously affirmed that multiple dropoff locations were legal, never mind the fact that Abbott issued this order a week before early voting began and more than two months after Harris County had announced its plan for multiple locations, and of course never mind the global pandemic that has everyone seeking to mitigate their own personal risk. Abbott extended the early voting period, so what are you peasants complaining about?

I mean, look. The Harris County Clerk used legal means to make voting easier and more accessible. The Governor used a false pretext to overrule him, and did so late in the process after people had been led to expect what the Clerk had implemented. The fact that the Governor had indeed taken steps to expand voting access isn’t relevant. The fact that most other counties hadn’t taken similar action as Harris isn’t relevant – they could have and in many cases should have, and if the Governor thought that was unfair to the voters in the slacking counties, he could have used the same authority he exercised here to try to spur those other counties to action. The point is that Harris County stood for making it easier and more convenient to vote, and the state of Texas said no, you can’t do that. In response, the Fifth Circuit said “we don’t see the problem here”. That’s what we’re up against.

I should note that there is still that state lawsuit, which will have a hearing this week. I don’t expect much at this point, but duty compels me to point this out. I presume the other federal lawsuit – as I observed before, this was a combination of two federal lawsuits, but did not include the third – is now moot. As we have seen over and over again, the way forward is going to require winning more elections first.

State GOP files suit to stop curbside voting in Harris County

Honesty, it feels like they’re just trolling now.

Hours before early voting began, the Texas Republican Party filed a new lawsuit Monday night challenging Harris County’s efforts to provide more voting options during the coronavirus pandemic, this time asking a court to limit curbside voting and halt the county’s drive-thru voting programs.

State election law has long allowed voters with medical conditions to vote curbside. After they arrive at a polling location, a ballot is brought outside to them in their vehicle by an election worker. In addition to urging qualified voters to use the curbside option this year, Harris County also opened designated “drive-thru” polling locations for all voters, where poll workers hand people a voting machine through their car window after checking their photo identification.

The state GOP’s lawsuit, filed in a state appeals court in Houston, seeks to halt the drive-thru voting program and limit curbside voting to those who have submitted sworn applications saying they qualify for it. Glenn Smith, a senior strategist with Progress Texas, said Tuesday he could find nothing in the law requiring an application to vote curbside. Texas election law instructs election officers to deliver an on-site curbside ballot if a voter is “physically unable to enter the polling place without personal assistance or likelihood of injuring the voter’s health.”

“Unless stopped, each of these instances of illegal voting will cast a cloud over the results of the General Election,” the lawsuit states.

Chris Hollins, the Harris County Clerk, said the latest lawsuit is in line with the Republican Party “feverishly” using resources to limit people’s right to vote.

“This lawsuit is not only frivolous, but it’s also a gross misrepresentation of the differences between curbside voting — for voters with disabilities, including illness — and drive-thru voting, which is available for all voters who want to vote from the safety and convenience of their vehicle,” he said in a statement Tuesday.

[…]

The Republicans argue that fear of contracting the coronavirus isn’t enough under state election law to qualify for curbside voting. Their point is bolstered by a May ruling from the all-Republican state Supreme Court which said a lack of immunity to the coronavirus is not a disability that qualifies Texans to vote by mail. But Texas law differentiates between mail-in ballots — which must be requested ahead of time through an application under strict qualifications, like a disability — and curbside voting, which is requested onsite.

The Texas secretary of state’s office has repeatedly said this year that those who have symptoms or signs of the new coronavirus should use curbside voting. The office has provided placards for county election officials to use at polling locations that urge curbside voting for sick people or those who can’t enter a polling place without the “likelihood of injuring your health.”

[…]

Voters must provide photo identification, then will be handed a portable voting machine in their car, according to the website. The clerk’s office notes drive-thru voting is open to all voters, as opposed to curbside voting which is applicable for those with a disability.

The lawsuit filed Monday says drive-thru voting is an expansion of curbside voting, and therefore can’t be available to all voters. The Republican Party also notes that election law states polling places must be located inside a building, and the county’s promotional video for drive-thru voting is in an outdoor parking lot.

I will admit that I have generally not distinguished between curbside and drive-through voting. I’d not given any thought to the difference, or even that there was a difference. I will point out here that this drive-through method was piloted for the primary runoffs, and formally announced as part of the county’s overall election plan in August. I will also note that Bexar County had announced their own plans for drive-though voting even earlier in August. This once again raises the question of “if you’re gonna sue about this, why is it taking you so long?”

The Chron has some more details.

In a petition filed late Monday in Texas’ 14th Court of Appeals, the Texas Republican Party contended the Texas Election Code limits curbside voting, including drive-thru voting, to voters who are sick or disabled, or if voting inside the polling location “would create a likelihood of injuring the voter’s health.” Those provisions do not apply to the coronavirus pandemic, the party argued in its filing.

“Chris Hollins is telling all Harris County residents that they are eligible for curbside voting when he knows that is not the case,” the party said in a statement. “Any voter that does not qualify to vote curbside under narrow statutory language would be voting illegally if allowed to vote drive-through.”

[…]

Assistant County Attorney Douglas Ray said county officials are comfortable with the legality of drive-thru voting because they do not consider it to be a form of curbside voting. The drive-thru locations, he noted, are all inside buildings, such as garages and temporary structures, which he said prevents them from being curbside under Texas law.

“We looked at this carefully before we decided to do it and feel that it’s within the boundaries of the law,” Ray said. “It’s disingenuous on their part to try to classify drive-thru as curbside, because that is not what we’re doing.”

This was filed with the 14th Court of Appeals, so I presume it’s a writ of mandamus. (I couldn’t find any filings when I searched the 14th Court website, but maybe I was just searching wrong.) I presume also that the 14th Court is under no obligation to issue a ruling in a timely manner – I’d say sitting on this one, then dismissing it as moot is the fate it deserves, but then I’m both petty and Not A Lawyer, so don’t pay too much attention to that. We all understand what this is about, and we all understand the motivation for it. The courts are gonna do what they’re gonna do, and we’ll go from there. Let’s not give this any more thought than that.

Here comes another rideshare company

Seems like a less than optimal time to be expanding, but here we are.

Alto, a new rideshare company based in Dallas, will roll into view in Houston as it looks to expand its reach and compete with Uber and Lyft.

The app-based service, which [arrived] in Houston Thursday, looks to distinguish itself in the market by offering what it calls a consistent experience by managing its own fleet of 200 luxury Buick sports utility vehicles and hiring employees to drive them rather than relying on independent contractors, as competittors such as Uber and Lyft do.

[…]

Alto’s expansion comes as a debate rages in California over how companies such as Uber and Lyft should treat its drivers. There, a new state employment law requires the gig economy companies to classify drivers as employees, but voters could exempt the companies via a ballot measure in November.

Alto also is expanding as the coronovirus pandemic batters the ride-hailing industry. Uber, the market leader, reported a 75 percent decline in ridership during the quarter ended June 30, as people grew wary of leaving the house and entering enclosed spaces.

Alto’s business has shrunk, too. Business is still down about 30 percent from pre-pandemic levels, [Alto CEO Will] Coleman said. “There’s some people in Dallas that are going to continue to not get into cars,” he said, “so our total customer base is smaller.”

That makes expanding into new territories more important to the company’s growth, Coleman said. Houston seemed like a natural next step, he said, given its proximity and size — it’s the nation’s fourth largest city. It also appealed because the company caters to the business community, which in Houston is large and international.

Business travel from the airport was a big sales driver before the pandemic, he said, and is beginning to pick back up. “People are looking for safe ways to move again,” Coleman said.

Not surprisingly, Alto costs more than Uber; the story does not do a comparison to a taxi fare, which would have been interesting. As someone who thinks Uber and Lyft treat their drivers like trash, I like Alto’s model, I just don’t know what their prospects are, even without factoring the pandemic into the equation. But if you’re the type of person who uses this type of service, and you’ve been wishing there was an alternative to Uber and Lyft, here you go.

(Also, can we please come up with an alternative term for “rideshare”? That doesn’t fit all that well any more for Uber and Lyft, and it makes even less sense for Alto, which actually owns the vehicles and employs the drivers. They’re basically a livery service, but that word makes me think of horse-drawn carriages with footmen. I am open to suggestion here.)

November 2020 Early Voting Day One: People sure were ready to vote

You’re going to hear the words “record-breaking” a lot.

More than 125,000 Harris County residents went to the polls Tuesday to cast ballots on the first day of early voting, smashing the county’s previous records.

As of about 7:30 p.m., the county was reporting roughly 128,000 votes with some people still casting ballots.

The polls were scheduled to close at 7 p.m., but people who were in line at that time still can vote.

The previous record for the first day of early voting was roughly 68,000 in 2016, which the county surpassed around 1:40 p.m. Tuesday.

Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins said the county also broke the record for most early votes on any day, which was set on the last day of the 2016 period.

“We’ve had a record first day of Early Voting in Harris County,” the clerk’s office said on Twitter.

Here is your Day One report. It looks funny because it doesn’t all fit on one page horizontally, and there are so many more locations than before. It’s not going to make sense to do daily comparisons with past elections, but let’s compare Day Ones just for fun:


Election     Mail      Early      Total   Mail %
================================================
2008       29,301     39,201     68,502    42.8%
2012       40,566     47,093     87,659    46.3%
2016       61,543     64,471    129,014    47.7%
2018       52,413     63,188    115,601    45.3%
2020       41,337    128,186    169,523    24.4%

I threw 2018 in there because it was such a high-enthusiasm election. 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 would not read anything into the smaller number of mail ballots so far, mostly because there will be another six days of their return before we’d be at the same point in the calendar as the other years. My guess is we’ll be past where 2018 was and close to 2016 if not past it by next Monday.

What does this mean for final turnout? Hard to say right now, though as noted the excitement and drive to vote is as think as rush hour traffic. The daily vote roster will give us some idea how many of these folks are the old reliables and how many are newer or less likely to participate. For sure, some of this is a shift in behavior, but we’re now already more than ten percent of the way to 1.5 million total voters, and that’s on the low end of the “turnout as a percentage of registered voters” scale. Note also that some folks prefer to wait a bit precisely because Day One is always busy. I’m probably going to vote early next week, or maybe later this week. Let’s see what the next few days look like, and remember that outside of Day One, the rest of the first week is usually the slow period.

All that fervor to vote did mean some long lines and a few glitches, but overall things went as well as you could want in Harris County.

In Harris County, which is operating 112 early voting locations, 10 of which include drive-through voting, dozens of people were waiting in line at some of the busiest sites, including NRG Arena and the Multi-Service Center on West Gray Street, by the time polls opened at 7 a.m.

It look less than seven hours for Harris County to surpass its record of 68,000 in-person votes on the first day of early voting from the 2016 presidential election.

Some sites, such as the Houston Food Bank, which is operating an early voting site for the first time, did not have any lines shortly after polls opened.

At the multi-service center, a socially distanced line formed around the block, filled by voters who had lined up well before 7 a.m.

“I’ve never seen it like this,” said Hannah McCauley, a voter who said she never misses an election. “If I have to wait, I have to wait.”

Tijuana Jones, 49, was in line an hour before the polls opened and still was facing about a 30-minute wait by 7:45 a.m.

“It is time,” Jones said. She was ready to vote against President Donald Trump, she said, no matter how long the line.

I heard on Facebook and Twitter from a lot of folks who needed more than an hour to cast their ballot. Normally that’s a bad thing, because no one should have to wait that long, but remember: This was Day One, there are 17 more days on which to vote, there will be some round-the-clock locations later in the period, and there were 112 locations, spread all around the county. I mean, if you’re going to West Gray to vote, you know what you’re in for.

This is a different matter:

In Fort Bend County, an election system glitch caused frustration and delays, apparently the result of election officials setting computers for next week instead of Tuesday, according to District Attorney Brian Middleton. As a result, the county’s election system was down countywide and hundreds of people were left waiting in line.

“It’s just inexcusable,” said Middleton, outside of the Smart Financial Centre. “Certain things just should not happen.”

Middleton said his office would investigate the incident. Fort Bend County Judge KP George also promised to take action.

“Those who are responsible, we will do something about it and make sure it won’t happen again,” George said.

State Rep. Ron Reynolds, a Missouri City Democrat who gathered with other elected officials outside the Smart Financial Centre voting location in Sugar Land, said he received complaints from residents about the voting delays.

“The computers aren’t working because the county officials that were responsible for making sure that they could vote (at) the appropriate time didn’t think enough of the voters to correctly set the machines,” said Reynolds. “I find that very irresponsible. I think that it is derelict of their duties. You could say it’s a form of voter suppression. It really disturbs me.”

Voting machines went down again at Smart Financial Centre and three other locations around 10:30 a.m. because of technical issues, according to Middleton.

However, 26 other polling locations were operating across the county.

Voting hours were extended for the rest of the first week in Fort Bend to make up for this. Juanita has some sharp words for the county’s elections administrator, who was hired by the previous administration, so we can surmise who “those who are responsible” may be.

I’ll be staying on top of the data as we go. Did you vote yesterday? If not, when are you planning to vote?