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November 5th, 2021:

So what happened with election night reporting this time?

The Chron turns its attention to how long it took for election results to get posted on Tuesday night.


Since last year, Harris County has purchased a new fleet of voting machines, created a new elections administration office and hired a new executive to run it.

Why then, many residents wondered, did Tuesday’s low-turnout election see the same delays in vote counting that plagued the county in the past?

By 1 a.m. Wednesday morning, just 60 percent of votes had been tallied for the ballot, which included state constitutional amendments, school board races and a handful of municipal contests. The county elections administrator’s office did not publish the final unofficial tally until 8:30 a.m., 13 ½ hours after the polls closed.

Election Administrator Isabel Longoria blamed the delay on an “extremely unlikely” glitch in the backup power supply at the vote count headquarters at occurred around 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon. That triggered a warning on the new voting system, which is sensitive to anything that may resemble a cyberattack, though it is not connected to the internet.

Longoria ordered a test of the system, which took about two hours and delayed the counting of ballots cast during the early vote period, which under Texas law cannot be counted until Election Day. That, in turn, caused delays when election judges began returning Election Day ballot boxes after polls closed at 7 p.m., she said.

“I get that it’s frustrating … but when you trip your new system, you want to be thorough,” Longoria said. “That’s the most responsible thing to do as an elections administrator, so there are no questions later about why you did not stop when you had the chance to double-check.”

Longoria said she does not anticipate the issue in future elections. Higher-turnout contests are no more difficult, she said, since they have the same number of polling places and memory cards that must be processed.

[…]

Tuesday’s delays were unacceptable to Republican Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle, who last year opposed the creation of an independent elections office and the hiring of Longoria as its first leader. Cagle said Wednesday the county should revert to the old model, in which the county clerk oversees elections and the county tax assessor-collector maintains the voter roll.

“We have an unelected bureaucrat who was appointed by three members of Commissioners Court,” Cagle said. “There’s no accountability to the public.”

Commissioners Court last year created the election administration office on a party-line vote. Longoria was hired by a committee that included Hidalgo, the county party chairs, tax assessor and county clerk.

Cagle said the three Democratic members of the court, County Judge Lina Hidalgo and commissioners Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia, bear responsibility for ensuring Wednesday’s delays do not happen again.

Marc Campos, a longtime Houston Democratic strategist, wrote on his blog Wednesday morning that he “expect(ed) outrage” out of the trio.

“This is not about every election watch party that was ruined last night across Harris County,” Campos wrote on his blog. “This is about botching the reporting of election results and the Harris County Elections Administrator’s Office folk’s epic failure.”

Hidalgo said in a statement that while running elections is never easy, the county needs to identify any issues with Tuesday’s elections and correct them for the future. Ellis echoed that sentiment, saying he trusted that Longoria’s team acted in the interests of security and accuracy.

Garcia said the elections office needs to improve communication with the public and anticipate problems before they occur.

“Not getting timely results is unfair to voters and the candidates, and I expect this will be a one-time glitch rather than a continuance of the reputation Harris County earned when elections were run by Republicans like Stan Stanart,” Garcia said in a statement.

See here and here for the background. I’m going to bullet point this one.

– Just as a reminder, the elections administrator idea was first put forward by Ed Emmett back in 2010. Most counties in Texas have them now. Harris was very much an outlier with its Tax Assessor/County Clerk approach to handling voter registration and running elections. Harris County followed state law in creating the position and putting oversight on it.

– The first thing we need is a clear and publicly-available explanation of what exactly happened, why it happened (if we can determine that), and what we are doing to prevent it from happening again. Was the complete reboot necessary, or could that have been skipped? That glitch in the backup power supply may have been extremely unlikely, but given that it did happen, will there be some further mitigation built in to the system now?

This is basic stuff, and speaking as someone who has worked for a big company for a long time, it’s a good way to learn from experience and maintain confidence in one’s own processes. Campos worries that this episode will cause voters to question the capability of Democrats to govern Harris County. Transparency about what happened and what is being done about it is the best antidote for that.

– Something that Commissioner Garcia mentioned but has otherwise been overlooked is that there was inadequate communication from the Elections Administrator’s office on Tuesday night, while we were all waiting for the results. There was the “go watch the Astros” tweet and a couple of Facebook Live videos on the Harris Votes Facebook page, but I went to bed Tuesday night not really knowing what was happening, and I believe that was true for a lot of people. That’s a failure on Isabel Longoria’s part, and I believe it has contributed to the continuing criticism.

People have a reasonable expectation to see at least the early voting results at 7 PM or shortly thereafter. When that doesn’t happen, for whatever the reason, there has to be a clear and easy to find explanation for it. A message on the HarrisVotes website and at the top of the Election Day results page would have sufficed. I looked to Twitter because that’s usually where the breaking news is, but there was nothing to really answer my questions. Maybe those Facebook Live videos would have told me what I wanted to know, but who wants to sit through a video like that when a couple of lines of text that can be readily shared elsewhere will do? I’m sure the Elections office was busy trying to work through the problems so they could get the results out, but they really needed to be letting the rest of us know what was going on and when we might expect an update of the situation. It was the lack of relevant information that made the Tuesday night experience as frustrating as it was. That’s an error that cannot happen again.

– Also, why was there a location that was still voting at 8 PM? What happened there? That needs to be explained as well.

We need to know what happened. We should have known more on Tuesday night, but regardless of that we need to know it now. I hope that process has begun with the Commissioners Court meeting from yesterday. It won’t be done until I can find and link to a report about it.

Sen. Powell sues over SD10

Number six and counting.

Sen. Beverly Powell

Tarrant County state Sen. Beverly Powell filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against the state Senate redistricting plan, marking the latest court challenge to Texas’ Republican-drawn political maps that secure the GOP’s grip on power for the next decade but blunt the voting strength of nonwhite voters who fueled the state’s population surge.

The legal team for Powell and six other Tarrant County citizens argued the Texas Senate redraw dilutes minority voting strength in the Democrat’s district, in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act and U.S. Constitution, according to the suit filed in federal court in Austin.

The Senate’s redistricting plan dramatically transforms Powell’s Senate District 10 into a district favorable for a Republican candidate by moving much of the nonwhite population into a large swath of rural areas, including Parker and Johnson counties. Others are packed into the nearby Senate District 23 represented by Dallas Democrat Royce West.

“The adopted Senate map is a brutal attack on Tarrant County voters,” Powell said in a news release. “The map cracks historic Tarrant County minority neighborhoods and submerges hundreds of thousands of Tarrant County voters into rural counties and suburban districts. It is an intentional racially discriminatory scheme to undermine and destroy the voting rights of those I am elected to serve.”

[…]

The previous iteration of Senate District 10 was drawn by courts after a judge found it in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The GOP-led redistricting effort this year put in place a district that changed District 10 from a Fort Worth-centric district inside Tarrant County to a sprawling district that increased in geographic size by at least tenfold.

It previously favored President Joe Biden by eight points, according to election returns. But the redrawn district would have gone for Republican Donald Trump by 16 points, a 24-point swing that likely dooms Powell’s hopes for re-election.

The remap shrinks the share of Hispanic, Black and Asian eligible voters in District 10 while increasing the share of white eligible voters, from 54% to 62%.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys asked the federal court to block the map, with respect to Powell’s district, from being used in any elections and to set in motion a plan for new boundaries. The suit names Gov. Greg Abbott and newly appointed Texas Secretary of State John Scott as defendants.

You can see a copy of the lawsuit here. The other litigation so far includes the Gutierrez/Eckhardt suit, the LULAC/MALDEF suit, the Voto Latino suit, and the two MALC suits. As a reminder, the current map with SD10 entirely in Tarrant County can be seen here, and the new map with SD10 sprawling out into multiple rural counties can be seen here. The question for the short term is whether one or more of these plaintiffs can get a temporary restraining order against one or more maps, thus potentially delaying the primaries. I don’t think that is likely to happen – there may be a TRO, but I would expect it to be stayed by the appeals court – but we’ll see. A press release from the Lone Star Project is here, and the Star-Telegram has more.

Sen. Eddie Lucio will retire

Can’t say I’ll miss him.

Sen. Eddie Lucio

State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, announced Thursday that he is not seeking reelection after three decades in the upper chamber.

He made the announcement during a news conference in Harlingen, saying he was retiring “because a lot of wonderful things are yet to come in my life.” He said he wanted to spend more time with family “and to do some of the things that I’ve been wanting to do like my own personal ministry to help the less fortunate in our community.”

“I want to continue to fight for what’s right in our community for our families,” Lucio said.

Lucio’s decision comes as a surprise — earlier this year he announced he was running for reelection, and his office confirmed that remained his plan during the redistricting process this fall.

Lucio, vice chair of the Senate Education and Finance committees, has served in the Senate since 1991, making him the third most senior member. He became known as a stalwart advocate for the needs of the Rio Grande Valley — and for breaking with his party on some major issues, making him easily the most moderate Democrat in the Senate.

Lucio opposes abortion and voted in support of Texas’ new abortion restriction law that went into effect in September. He supports school choice, putting him at odds with fellow Democrats who believe it harms public schools. And he infuriated the LGBTQ community in 2017 when he voted for the “bathroom bill” that would have restricted transgender Texans’ access to certain public facilities.

Lucio’s independence has endeared him to GOP Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who regularly compliments him and has even campaigned for him.

[…]

As a senator, Lucio faced his first real primary opposition in a while in 2020 and got forced into a runoff, which he won by a comfortable margin. Lucio was facing the prospect of another competitive primary next year, with state Rep. Alex Dominguez, D-Brownsville, exploring a run for the seat in Senate District 27.

Redistricting made SD-27 less safe for Democrats, changing it from a district that President Joe Biden won by 16 percentage points to one he would have carried by 6 points.

I noted the potential Dominguez candidacy a couple of days ago. Reform Austin, going by a story on the Quorum Report, mentions a couple of other potential candidates:

First is Morgan LaMantia, an attorney and daughter of Steve and Linda LaMantia, who has been making calls about a bid. Because of her family’s decades-long roots in the Rio-Grande Valley and her ability to self-finance a campaign, an observer told Braddock she could clear the field of any opposition. Also considering would be Sara Stapleton-Barrera, who previously challenged Lucio in the Democratic primary and took him to a runoff in 2020. Lastly, there is state Rep. Alex Dominguez (D-Brownsville), who has been mulling a congressional bid but may also seek Lucio’s seat. On Wednesday, he sent out an email to supporters attacking Sen. Lucio as a tool of Republicans.

Morgan LaMantia is an attorney in McAllen. I don’t know anything else about her. I doubt anyone can truly clear the field, but it may well be that one person can dominate the finance reports. We’ll see about that.

As for the redrawn SD27, Biden actually carried it by 4.7 points in 2020, easily making SD27 the closest Senate district on either side. That said, it was a little bluer in other races – Chrysta Castaneda won it by ten points, and the Democratic statewide judicial candidates won it by a range of six to 11 points. As we have discussed elsewhere, this is a district that moved towards Republicans in 2020, and who knows what 2022 and beyond will bring. Lucio’s retirement will surely make this an attractive target for the Republicans.

I’m not going to miss Eddie Lucio. He’s been a pain in the rear for a long time. I expect there to be a big field to try to succeed him. I’ll be keeping an eye on it.

The fight for free speech continues at Collin College

What awful leadership that place has.

A year ago, Texas history professor Lora Burnett fired off an angry tweet from her private social media account about then-vice president Mike Pence. It landed during the vice presidential debate, prompting news coverage from conservative media, an angry response from at least one Texas lawmaker and a series of disciplinary actions from her employer, the publicly funded Collin College in North Texas.

This week, Burnett, who was eventually terminated from her job at Collin College, a community college in McKinney, filed a federal lawsuit against the college, its president, H. Neil Matkin, and the board of trustees.

In the Tuesday filing, she claims that the school’s decision not to renew her three-year contract was retaliation for those comments, as well as her public criticism of the school’s COVID-19 reopening plan, and violated her First Amendment rights.

In her lawsuit, Burnett argues that Collin College leaders use “a custom or practice of terminating professors who speak out on matters of public concern” and that the school’s practices are unconstitutional.

“Government employees have the right to have their own politics,” Burnett told The Texas Tribune in an interview this week. “I express my views on Twitter on my own time on a personal account and it has nothing to do with my job. I was not speaking for the college. I was not teaching at the time.”

Burnett is the second former professor to file a free speech lawsuit against the college in federal court in the past two months. In September, another former professor, Suzanne Jones, filed a lawsuit claiming the school did not renew her contract because of her comments about the school’s COVID-19 reopening plan and her involvement in a local chapter of the Texas Faculty Association, a statewide group that has no collective bargaining rights like a union.

[…]

The two lawsuits are the culmination of more than a year of conflict between Collin College administrators and a total of four professors who have also publicly criticized the school for its COVID-19 response throughout the last school year. Only Burnett and Jones opted to sue.

A third professor, Audra Heaslip, also did not receive a contract renewal last year. She told the Tribune that she made a “difficult personal decision” not to sue the college.

A fourth professor remains employed at the school but received a disciplinary warning from the college in August for criticizing its response to the pandemic on social media, Burnett’s filing states.

Collin College, a community college that serves more than 52,000 students northeast of Dallas, has faced criticism for disciplining the professors for their public comments of the school’s COVID-19 response over the past year.

Burnett and others had criticized Matkin for downplaying the severity of the pandemic and for leadership’s lack of transparency about positive cases on campus. The school did not publicly post the number of COVID cases on campus until after the death of an employee and a student from the virus.

I briefly mentioned the past cases at the end of this post. The Dallas Observer has been following this saga closely, and you should read their related stories for the background. It’s a big reminder that whenever you hear the likes of Ted Cruz or Greg Abbott whine about “cancel culture” or how social media is so mean to conservatives, they never ever refer to or give a damn about people like Lora Burnett or Suzanne Jones or Audra Heaslip. Indeed, it was a wingnut member of the House that initially led the charge against Burnett. This kind of thing is not just happening here, and it’s getting increasingly scary. But hey, someone said something mean about Mitch McConnell once, so it really is a both-sides thing. The DMN has more.