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November 27th, 2020:

What the Early Voting Ballot Board does

They were especially important this year.

In the wake of the Nov. 3 general election, the air is filled with an overwhelming amount of disinformation about vote counting, specifically as it relates to mail ballots and provisional ballots. In Michigan, two Republican members of the Board of Canvassers of Wayne County, which includes Detroit, first refused to certify the election results there and then reversed their decision. This troubling incident rightfully made the national news. But it should be noted why: because it is an exception to the rule.

It is with this in mind that I feel compelled to offer my experience as the presiding judge of the Harris County Early Voting Ballot Board.

Every county in Texas has an Early Voting Ballot Board (EVBB) that is charged with two primary tasks: qualifying mail ballots and qualifying provisional ballots. Each of these boards is comprised of an equal number of Republicans and Democrats nominated by their respective county party chairs and appointed by the county election board (which is comprised of the two party chairs, the county judge, the county clerk, the voter registrar and the sheriff).

As partisan political appointees in an historically divided political climate, one might expect that the EVBB would reflect the toxic divide. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are regular people, and we look like Harris County. We are CPAs, city employees, entrepreneurs, health professionals, homemakers, lawyers, non-profit workers, retirees, technicians, veterans and everything in between. Our identities are indicative of the beautifully diverse community that is Harris County, and we each bring our unique lived experiences to our work. We are committed to the integrity of our democratic process and an unwavering dedication to free and fair elections.

[…]

For mail ballots, our primary job is to determine whether or not the voter was the person who voted the ballot. The principal evidence we review in this process is the signature on the vote-by-mail application and the signature on the mail ballot carrier envelope. We also check voter registration status. All of this is done in pairs — one Republican and one Democrat. And so in order for a mail ballot to be accepted, a Republican and a Democrat must agree that the voter voted the ballot and did not violate the Election Code. Ninety nine percent of the time, we agree. For those instances where there is a question, multiple teams — always one Republican and one Democrat — conduct the review. Sometimes we call the voter, sometimes we coordinate with the voter registrar’s office about registration issues. If we cannot agree, the presiding judge makes the final call. This happens a tiny fraction of the time — literally with only a bit more than half a dozen of the over 179,000 mail ballots we processed.

For provisional ballots, we are fact finders. For the vote to be accepted, the voter who cast the provisional ballot must have been registered to vote on time and must have not already cast another ballot in the election. So again in bipartisan pairs, we review each provisional ballot affidavit completed at the polling location and check them against county records. We work closely with the voter registrar to determine registration status and with the county clerk to determine whether or not the voter has already voted. As with mails ballots, each provisional ballot is subject to a multi-tiered bipartisan review process and 99 percent of the time, Republican and Democrat EVBB members agree.

See here for more on the Early Voting Ballot Board. It should be noted, the signature they review on the mail ballots are on the envelope, before it is opened, so there’s no indication how the person in question voted. And if you’re wondering how it is they got their work completed so quickly, the answer is they didn’t – they had an early start, on October 14. The whole process took four weeks, but three of those weeks were before Election Day. Makes all the difference. Go read the rest.

A different kind of COVID tracking

Hope this works.

Harris County Public Health will survey residents for COVID-19 antibodies in an effort to determine how many people already have been infected with the novel coronavirus, the department said.

Beginning Sunday, health workers will visit randomly selected homes and ask residents to answer questions and provide blood samples.

Humans produce antibodies, proteins in the immune system, to fight infections from viruses and other pathogens. It can take days or weeks for antibodies to develop following exposure to the coronavirus, and it remains unclear how long they remain in an individual’s blood.

The Houston region has recorded 236,704 COVID-19 cases since the virus arrived here in March, according to a Houston Chronicle analysis, but health officials estimate this is only a fraction of the total number of infections.

Health officials hope the antibody tests will help the county determine how COVID-19 spread in certain communities, how transmission rates differ between neighborhoods, how effective containment strategies have been and how many residents contracted the virus but never exhibited symptoms.

“This survey is a very important way that local residents can help public health workers fight this virus,” Harris County Public Health Executive Director Dr. Umair A. Shah said in a statement. “By finding out how widespread the illness is, we can develop strategies that will help us control the spread of COVID-19.”

Participation in the program is voluntary, and only selected households are eligible. Teams of health workers wearing yellow vests will make their rounds from Nov. 15 through Dec. 15, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The point of this survey is to find the people who have COVID but didn’t know it and never got tested for it. This will help us know what the real level of infection is in the county, since the official stats are almost certainly too low. It may also help identify previously unknown hot spots, in the way that wastewater testing can do.

And speaking of official statistics:

Please wear your mask and stay socially distant, y’all. There’s only way one way out of this until that vaccine is ready.

The last whistleblower

Nothing like a fully cleaned house.

Best mugshot ever

The Texas attorney general’s office has fired the last remaining whistleblower who alleged Ken Paxton broke the law in doing favors for a political donor — just days after aides had sued the agency alleging they suffered retaliation for making the report.

Deputy Attorney General for Legal Counsel Ryan Vassar — who had already been placed on paid leave — was fired Nov. 17, according to internal personnel documents obtained by The Texas Tribune, making him the fifth whistleblower to be fired from the agency in less than a month. The three others who reported Paxton to law enforcement have resigned.

On Nov. 12, Vassar and three of his former colleagues filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the Texas attorney general’s office, claiming they had suffered retaliation after they told law enforcement they believed Paxton broke the law by using the agency to serve the interests of a political donor and friend, Nate Paul.

Joseph Knight, Vassar’s attorney in the lawsuit, said the justification Vassar was given for his termination amounted to “made-up, nonsense reasons” — and that he believes the firing was an act of retaliation. Vassar was hired by the agency in 2015.

Neither the attorney general’s office nor Ian Prior, a political spokesman for Paxton, returned requests for comment on why Vassar was terminated, though Prior has said previous terminations were not acts of retaliation but rather related to policy violations.

See here for more on the whistleblowers’ lawsuit. As we know, the FBI is investigating Paxton for the allegations that have been leveled against him regarding Nate Paul. Nothing else new to report here, so just let the anticipation wash over you.