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November 1st, 2020:

Weekend link dump for November 1

Have you voted yet? You have one last chance on Tuesday. Don’t blow it.

“Consider, Wyllie says, the extraordinary chain of events that would need to happen to successfully spread SARS-CoV-2 on a surface. A sufficiently large amount of the virus would need to be sprayed by an infected person onto a surface. The surface would need to be the right kind of material, exposed to the right levels of light, temperature, and humidity so that the virus does not quickly degrade. Then the virus would need to be picked up—which you would most likely do with your hands. But the virus is vulnerable there. (“Enveloped” viruses like SARS-CoV-2 do not fare well on porous surfaces like skin and clothing.) And then it needs to find a way inside you—usually through your nose or your eye—in a concentration big enough to get past your mucosal defenses and establish itself in your cells. The risk, Wyllie concludes, is low.”

“Since August, world governments have pledged more than $12 trillion in stimulus spending to dig their way out of the coronavirus-caused economic downturn — a truly mind-boggling amount of cash that represents three times the public money spent after the Great Recession. How does that compare with the money that would be needed to fight climate change? That’s the question behind a new paper published last week in the journal Science. According to the analysis, the money countries have put on the table to address COVID-19 far outstrips the low-carbon investments that scientists say are needed in the next five years to avoid climate catastrophe — by about an order of magnitude.”

“As football fans tailgated without masks outside Texas Tech University’s 60,000-seat stadium in West Texas this weekend ahead of the Red Raiders’ homecoming game, it was easy to forget that Lubbock — a rural county of 310,000 — has one of the highest COVID-19 infection rates in the country.”

RIP, Lee Kun-Hee, transformative CEO of Samsung.

“Coffee Machine Hit By Ransomware Attack—Yes, You Read That Right”.

“It’s been embraced for saving money, hated for its lack of sound privacy, blasted for reinforcing sexist behavior, and even cited as a reason people considered leaving their jobs, which have led many to call, repeatedly, for the end of the open-plan office. The pandemic may finally make that happen. According to a new survey of tech companies, fewer than half of offices with fully open plans expect to keep that layout in the post-pandemic era. For some offices, the open plan is already on its way out.”

“What I’m getting from all of this is, Jill – much to everyone’s surprise – saw the light at the end of the crunchy hairspray-covered bangs, and she decided to start living as a Duggar in name only. This kind of makes sense when you remember the awful shit that allegedly went on in their house with her older awful brother Josh Duggar (and how her parents allegedly swept it under the rug).”

“In rural America, resentment over COVID-19 shutdowns is colliding with rising case numbers”.

“A No. 1 Song Written by a Solitary Songwriter Is Becoming a Thing of the Past”.

RIP, Billy Joe Shaver, legendary Texas singer/songwriter.

The TV show Dallas make have helped to hasten the fall of the Soviet Union.

“Joe Biden has been declared the winner of Nickelodeon’s “Kid’s Vote,” but not before a group of internet users attempted to steal the mock election — because of course they did.”

“President Donald Trump left several thousand of his supporters stranded at Eppley Airfield after his event in Omaha Tuesday night.”

For your consideration: How the Texas GOP Went Off the Rails in 2020, and Texas Democrats Went Missing for Decades. Can They Come Back Tuesday? Answers to these and other questions, hopefully coming soon.

“Allow me to put that concern to rest: No, white evangelical support for Trump has not harmed and cannot harm evangelicals’ witness. Because white evangelical support for Trump and for Trumpism is its witness. This is the gospel that white evangelicalism proclaims and embodies. This is the testimony it offers and the witness it bears to the world. This is the community embodied in its churches, schools, para-church ministries, Bible colleges, publications and publishing houses. This is the news it has to share with a fallen world.”

RIP, Sean Connery, Academy Award winner and the best James Bond.

RIP, Herb Adderley, Hall of Fame cornerback and multiple-time Super Bowl winner.

How all day voting went in Harris County.

Hotze and Woodfill take their fight against drive-thru voting to federal court

Just another quiet Saturday…

Mark can be a bit of an alarmist, but that doesn’t mean he’s wrong. For what it’s worth, Rick Hasen thinks this suit is without merit, though again worth worrying about given the deranged nature of parts of the federal judiciary these days.

Mark Stern flagged this new lawsuit filed in federal court which seeks to throw out over 100,000 ballots cast by Harris County, Texas voters who voted using drive-thru voting in Texas. There was an earlier lawsuit in state court seeking to block this means of voting on grounds that it purportedly violated Texas law, but the Texas Supreme Court rejected that claim. This new lawsuit is making the same novel claims under the “independent state legislature” doctrine that any actions by any state court or state agency not specifically authorized by the legislature is an unconstitutional usurpation of the legislature’s power. It’s this same audacious and unproven theory that formed the background for the outrageous 8th Circuit order this week over segregating ballots in Minnesota. The lawsuit has been assigned to Judge Hanen (a judge who had struck down all of Obamacare at one point before being reversed), who has already scheduled a hearing.

On the merits, this case should be a sure loser, but given how crazy things are getting in the federal courts these days, I cannot be 100 percent confident in my predictions. Here are some of the reasons this suit should be thrown out decisively

You can click over and read Hasen’s reasons, and you can read these threads by law professor Michael Morley and Buzzfeed News reporter Molly Hensley-Clancy for more reasons. You should also remember that at the end of the day, Jared Woodfill is a complete moron, and anything that relies on his legal acumen is likely to fall well short of the mark. Again, that doesn’t mean that a pliant federal judge won’t give him what he wants. It just means that would be the only reason why he’d succeed. Democracy Docket has intervened, and Josh Marshall, whose post alerted me to Mark Joseph Stern’s tweets, has more.

In the meantime, the State Supreme Court will also be dealing with this tomorrow.

The Texas Supreme Court drew alarmed attention Friday after directing Harris County to respond to a petition that seeks to invalidate more than 117,000 votes cast in drive-thru lanes.

The court’s interest came as an unwelcome surprise to voting advocates and Harris County officials who were banking on a quick dismissal of the petition, filed by two GOP candidates and a Republican member of the Texas House.

[…]

The petition — filed by state Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, GOP activist Steven Hotze and two Republican candidates in Harris County — argued that drive-thru voting is an illegal expansion of curbside voting, which state law reserves for voters who have an illness or disability that could put them at risk if forced to enter a polling place.

The court responded by giving Harris County until 4 p.m. Friday to file a legal brief responding to the petition, raising fears that the Supreme Court was giving consideration to tossing out tens of thousands of ballots.

However, it takes only one justice on the nine-member court to request a response to a petition, and there is no way of knowing how many justices were interested in Harris County’s response because the court does not disclose that information.

In addition, before tossing out the votes, the court would have to acknowledge that 117,000 Harris County voters had visited a drive-thru polling site by Thursday night, including more than 42,000 drive-thru votes that were cast since justices first had a chance to stop the practice a week earlier but did not.

In a memo prepared for Harris County on the issue, noted Austin lawyer C. Robert Heath said the bid to void drive-thru votes faces the daunting challenge of overcoming a key legal supposition — that state laws are to be interpreted in favor of preserving the right to vote.

“If a court or other authority were to decide to invalidate those votes, it would require ignoring or overruling more than a century of Texas law,” Heath concluded.

In the brief requested by the Supreme Court, Harris County lawyers argued that there is nothing illegal about drive-thru voting, nor can votes cast that way be considered illegal.

“Uncountable votes are those that resulted from clear fraudulent behavior,” they argued. “There is nothing about an eligible voter casting an in-person vote from their car that renders their vote illegal, fraudulent, or not countable.”

The brief argued that drive-thru voting is just another polling choice with a different structure. Vehicles enter the voting area, typically a large individual tent, one at a time. A clerk checks each voter’s photo ID and has them sign a roster before handing over a sanitized voting machine.

More importantly, the county said, drive-thru voting was approved by the Texas secretary of state’s office before being adopted and was used, without objection, in the July primary runoff election.

Reform Austin also covered this, with a focus on Harris County’s response, so go check that out. This is another reason why we need comprehensive legislation, at both the state and national levels, to clarify, affirm, and assert the right to vote, and to explicitly ratify different methods to expand voting access. If nothing else, that is needed to ward off future bullshit lawsuits like these.

As for this one, I maintain my belief that SCOTX is unlikely to do anything radical. You are free to freak out as you see fit over either of these.

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story on this.

UPDATE: If you participated in drive-through voting and want to intervene in this federal lawsuit, fill out this form.

There’s still a lot of work to be done to make it easier to vote

The ease of access for disabled voters is still a huge unaddressed issue.

Val Vera finally cast his ballot after sitting for two hours in his van outside a Denton County polling place. He wasn’t waiting on people in line ahead of him, but for an elections clerk to respond to his phone calls.

Vera, 52, is disabled and decided to vote curbside this election, an option every county is required to offer any voter whose health would be harmed by entering the polls, or who is physically incapable of doing so.

“In an ideal world, curbside voting at your polling site, there’s the designated parking spot,” said Molly Broadway, voting rights specialist at Disability Rights Texas. “There’s a sign that lets you know that this is where curbside voting is going to happen, and there’s a call button, essentially, that one can access, which will alert the poll worker inside the building of your presence.”

For millions of disabled Texas voters, casting a ballot has long been challenging enough, even without a pandemic and explosive turnout in a high-octane election cycle. Using curbside voting, mail-in ballots and other aids, they must navigate a system that in some parts of Texas has been slow to accommodate their needs.

With fears of contracting COVID-19 compelling more voters to explore options to avoid setting foot in a polling place, disability rights advocates say the process has become an exercise in persistence for even more disabled voters.

In 2012, 30% of disabled voters nationwide reported difficulties at polling places, according to a Rutgers University study. In Texas, a newer Rutgers study estimates, about 15% of those eligible to vote in the general election are disabled — almost 3 million people.

Lisa Schur and Douglas Kruse, professors who helped conduct the study, said lack of accessibility causes disabled people to vote at lower rates than the general population. Without barriers, they estimate, 3 million more disabled Americans would have voted in 2012. Though it’s hard to determine the extent without solid data, the pandemic could limit people’s access even further.

[…]

Disability Rights Texas tries to help voters navigate hurdles they run into at the polls. This year, Broadway said, increased voter turnout, coupled with increasing visibility for disability rights over the past few years, has spawned more calls than usual, and not just for curbside voting.

Chase Bearden, deputy executive director of the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, said his organization heard reports of long lines at one polling place that strayed into grassy patches difficult to navigate in a wheelchair. Matt Plummer, a wheelchair user, said when he went to vote in Tarrant County, his wife had to make selections for him because he couldn’t reach the touch screen at the back of the machine.

Disabled voters in Texas are also allowed to use mail-in ballots, which helps some voters, but those aren’t entirely accessible either.

Kenneth Semien Sr. said he considered voting by mail but decided to go in person. To submit a mail-in ballot, Semien would have to rely on someone else to mark it for him because he is blind. Not only would that strip away his independence, he said, but he also would have no assurance the person was actually marking his choices instead of their own. Semien is involved in an ongoing federal lawsuit against the Texas secretary of state that is seeking more accessible mail-in ballots, and he thought an alternative way to vote would be available by the time November rolled around.

Instead, Semien cast his ballot in person at the same polling location he’s used in Jefferson County for the past 15 years. Once he arrived, a security guard he knew helped guide him through the line, telling him where to walk so he could stop on the taped X’s on the floor.

As he stepped up to vote, he said, the poll worker took a long time finding where to plug his headphones in so his screen reader could read the ballot to him. Such technical issues sometimes leave people unable to vote, and this one almost made Semien miss his bus back home.

Each time before he goes to vote, Semien calls ahead to make sure the polling location will have someone on staff trained to use the accessible voting machine. Typically, he said, he’s told what he wants to hear, but problems crop up when he arrives.

“It is just terrible that you have to keep repeating these things, but every time we go to the polls we deal with some of the same issues, you know, if the equipment is not available for some reason, they hadn’t gotten set up yet, even though I called before,” Semien said.

I searched my archives but didn’t find a post about Kenneth Semien’s lawsuit – there’s been so many voting rights lawsuits this year I just can’t keep up with them all – but I found this story and a copy of the complaint via Google.

A big part of this is voting locations. Harris County settled a lawsuit last year about the accessibility of its voting locations. Our county, led by County Clerk Chris Hollins, did a tremendous amount to make it easier for everyone to vote – usually over the objections and legal obstacles thrown up by Republicans – but it would be good to review what worked and what still needs improvement. This is going to take a law – really, there should be both state and federal legislation to address this – and money, but most of all it will take commitment, both to listening to the community and their advocates, and following through on what they need. We can absolutely improve this experience for millions of Americans, including millions of Texans, but we have to do the work.

Paxton trial move back to Collin County on hold

Delay is the natural state of being in this saga. I don’t know why we’d ever expect anything else.

Best mugshot ever

A Houston appeals court has pressed pause on a ruling that would have allowed Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to stand trial for felony securities fraud in his hometown of Collin County.

That Oct. 23 ruling came three years after the case was first sent to Harris County, with prosecutors arguing they could not get a fair trial prosecuting Paxton in a part of the state where he and his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, are deeply politically connected.

Paxton is accused of persuading investors to buy stock in a technology firm without disclosing he would be compensated for it. He has maintained his innocence and dismissed the charges as politically motivated.

The 1st Court of Appeals in Houston has, for now, blocked the case from resuming in Collin County — likely further delaying the five-year-old case — as it considers the issues.

See here for the previous update. The Chron adds a few details.

The case was moved to Harris County after a judge ruled in 2017 that Paxton’s Republican political connections in Collin County would give him an unfair advantage at trial. But that decision has been under judicial review now for three years as Paxton’s defense team and the special prosecutors appointed in the case battle over the venue.

The prosecutors applauded the latest decision by 1st Court of Appeals Judge Gordon Goodman, a Democrat elected in 2018 as his party swept judicial races.

“The ruling of the court was not unexpected as the law and facts are very straightforward,” said Kent Schaffer, one of the prosecutors. “We are optimistic that the Court of Appeals will do the right thing, and Ken Paxton will face justice in front of a Houston jury.”

[…]

Paxton’s lawyers had argued that the case should have never been moved in the first place, because the judge made the decision after his assignment to the case had expired.

In June, Harris County state District Judge Robert Johnson ruled in Paxton’s favor and moved the case to Collin County. But the 1st Court of Appeals struck that order about a month later, after Johnson recused himself from the case because Paxton’s office is representing him in a separate suit.

The case was then reassigned to Harris County Jason Luong, a Democrat and former prosecutor with the Harris County District Attorney’s office.

Luong agreed the case should be sent back to Collin County based on his interpretation Johnson’s ruling, and he did not discuss where he believed Paxton would receive a fair trial.

The prosecutors had argued in their appeal that Luong misinterpreted the law.

Just to recap, and I’m totally relying on this Chron story rather than spending an hour digging through my own archives, but the case was first moved from Collin County to Harris County because the judge at the time, a Tarrant County jurist who had been appointed as a visiting judge precisely because no Collin County judge could handle the initial hearings, agreed with the prosecutors’ argument that Paxton would get preferential treatment in his home county. All the arguments since then have been about technicalities. It’s surely a safe bet that this current dispute will wind up before the Court of Criminal Appeals, just as the previous ones did. It’s not at all far-fetched to think that Paxton’s more recent legal troubles will see the inside of courtroom before this case does.

Idle yet hilarious thought: How much do you think Paxton will want to move the case back to Collin County if it flips blue and votes for Joe Biden this year?

Anyway. Settle in, or stay settled in if you never bothered to settle out. This will take awhile.

Once again with Asian-American voters

Long story in the Trib, on a topic that could use more focus.

Rep. Gene Wu

When Debbie Chen temporarily closed her Houston restaurant in March due to the coronavirus, she was worried about her health and her financial livelihood.

But as a Chinese American, she was also worried about vandalism and her physical safety, given how President Donald Trump and others were blaming China for the pandemic and using racist monikers for the virus.

Seven months later, as Texans head to the polls in the 2020 elections, she hasn’t forgotten. Chen works on Asian American and Pacific Islander voter turnout every year, but this year she feels even more motivated.

“I was so afraid someone would get attacked,” Chen said. Trump’s rhetoric “perpetuates this stereotype that Asians are foreigners or something.” [Read more about Chen’s experience during the coronavirus here.]

Voters who share Chen’s feelings could have a major impact on the 2020 elections. The share of Asian Americans nationwide remains less than 5% of the total electorate. But it’s the fastest growing racial or ethnic voting group in the country, according to the Pew Research Center.

In Texas, there are sizable Asian American communities in districts that hold an outsized importance this year. Democrats are hopeful that they can flip nine seats in the state House to gain a majority in the lower chamber ahead of next year’s legislative session. Key among those efforts are nine seats held by Republicans in which former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat, received more votes than U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in 2018. In two-thirds of those districts, the Asian share of the population is more than double the statewide share. Multiple U.S. House seats targeted by Democrats have large Asian American populations, too.

“There are some districts where there’s a significant enough level of organization and voters that can make a difference if it’s a matter of turnout and the races are close enough,” said Madeline Hsu, a history professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

Asian American voters are hardly a monolith. While the Indian American population has leaned reliably Democratic for years, Vietnamese Americans tend to lean Republican. And Filipino Americans are more evenly divided.

Since 2016, Trump has made small inroads with Vietnamese and Indian Americans but lost support among Chinese Americans, according to polls from the Asian American Voter Survey.

But recent polling also suggests that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, who are sometimes referred to collectively as the AAPI community, overall may turn out in higher numbers for Democrats in 2020.

“You had this ‘Chinese Americans for Trump’ phenomenon in 2016 and it looked like that was a group that was maybe going to go conservative over time,” said Karthick Ramakrishnan, a University of California, Riverside political science professor who runs a survey on Asian American voters. “But his support has actually gotten worse among Chinese Americans. It’s not just the anti-China rhetoric, but all the bigotry he unleashed during the coronavirus is hurting.”

There’s more, so go read the rest. I’ve covered this topic before, so there’s not much to add. (There was also an earlier story in the Trib that I didn’t get around to.) I wish there was some Asian-American voter-specific polling done in Texas, the way Latino Decisions does the same for that community, but for now I need to keep waiting. As with Latino voters, the key here is engagement – these folks will vote more Democratic than Republican, but you have to make an effort to get them to vote. They’re just not used to candidates and campaigns speaking to them, which is something that those of us who always vote sometimes have a hard time understanding. Sri Kulkarni made a point of doing that in his 2018 campaign, and it’s a key to 2020 as well. Whatever happens, I hope there’s an effort made after the election to figure out how it went with this community.

Of course Republicans have benefited from voting by mail

Obviously. And yes, even in recent elections.

The coronavirus pandemic is expected to drive millions of Americans to vote by mail this year, a shift that data suggest is underway even in Texas, where only some voters are allowed to cast mail ballots.

Texas’ Republican leaders this year have fought efforts to expand mail balloting or have questioned its integrity, with some echoing President Donald Trump’s baseless claims that mail ballots are a source of rampant fraud.

And yet, historically, mail ballots in Harris County clearly have favored Republicans, a Houston Chronicle analysis of election data shows.

Though the GOP presidential candidate narrowly lost Harris County in 2008 and 2012, for example, the Republican ticket won three quarters of the 300 voting precincts in which the most mail ballots were cast in both elections.

That trend held even in 2016, when Trump lost the county badly but still won two-thirds of the 100 voting precincts in which the most mail ballots were cast.

What most drives the partisan skew in mail ballots, University of Houston political scientist Jeronimo Cortina said, is Texas’ status as one of the few states to require voters younger than 65 to have an excuse to cast a ballot by mail.

“The constituency of the Republican Party tends to be older,” he said. “I wouldn’t say that Republicans are more likely to vote by mail just because they’re Republicans, but maybe because being Republican is correlated with other demographics that make you more likely to vote by mail, in comparison to Democrats.”

(This story was from the first week of early voting. It’s been sitting in my drafts because there’s been such a crazy amount of news, and you know how it goes. I’m trying to publish all of these election-related drafts I have before Tuesday. You’ve been warned.)

I have no idea why the Chron went with this clunky “on a precinct basis” analysis. I guarantee you, when the next Democrat wins a statewide race, the Republican will have won far more counties than the Democrat. Those counties will almost all be far smaller than the Dem-won counties, and so on balance the Dem will win more votes. Why make this more complicated than it needs to be?

I mean, in the 2018 election, there were more Republican straight ticket votes cast by mail than there were Democratic straight-ticket votes. Democrats dominated that category for both phases of in person voting, but the mail universe leaned Republican. Greg Abbott won the mail vote, but lost the county overall. John Culberson, Mike Schofield, Gary Elkins, losers all, won the mail ballot race. Dems did win the 2016 mail vote, but if you scroll through the individual races, the Republican candidates – those who won and those who lost – did a little better with mail voters than they did overall.

It’s not that long ago that mail ballots were utterly dominated by Republicans. They put money into it, and they reaped the reward. It was then-HCDP Chair Lane Lewis who piloted a program to get mail ballot applications to eligible Democratic voters and then push them to use them, which grew into a big success for Dems here and became a model for the state party. It’s not rocket science, the Dems didn’t do anything revolutionary, they just put sufficient resources into a plan and executed it.

And this cannot be stressed enough: Republicans completely exempted mail ballots from their odious and racist voter ID law, which they rammed through in 2011, because they knew full well that voting by mail benefited them. This was part of the litigation against the voter ID law, because the over-65 population was (and still is) so much whiter than the state as a whole. The reason Republicans are melting down over mail ballots and screaming “fraud!” every time the subject comes up isn’t because this is some long-held belief of theirs. It’s because voting by mail is no longer their private playground. The Democrats have gotten good at it, and that is something they cannot abide. If there’s one thing that’s clear from all this, it’s that the Republicans will hurt their own voters if they believe the action they’re taking hurts Democratic voters more. That’s what this is all about.