May 2024 special election early voting, Day One: Why are we doing this again?

The Houston Landing has another look at the HCAD elections and just how weird this all is.

The county Democratic and Republican parties have endorsed and are campaigning for candidates in each of the three races. Accusations of nefarious intentions on the part of conservatives are being leveled by local Democrats jaded by years of state meddling in Houston and Harris County’s governments.

“The appraisal process has worked well. There was no demonstrated need for this,” Harris County Democratic Party Chair Mike Doyle said. “I don’t buy the argument this was simply intended to give the public more input.”


By creating the elected positions, the appraisal board is politicized by default, said Hunt County Chief Appraiser Brent South, who chairs the Texas Association of Appraisal District’s legislative committee.

South said he is concerned elected board members with an anti-tax agenda or distaste for the appraisal review process could veto any appointment to the appraisal review board in perpetuity.

“It could kill an appraisal review board,” South said. “I see that as taking away a right from the citizens to protest their appraisal and have an input in this process.”

Bettencourt acknowledged the possibility, but said it was unlikely. The legislature is committed to reviewing the changes to appraisal boards and reworking the law as needed in the years to come, he said.


While Harris Democrats oppose the elections, dozens of canvassers have been activated to campaign for Democratic-aligned candidates, Doyle said.

Democrats are not endorsing one candidate for each seat, instead encouraging voters to support any of seven candidates: Kathy Blueford-Daniels, Janice W. Hines, Melissa Noriega, Jevon German, Austin Pooley, James Bill and Pelumi Adeleke.

For its part, the Harris County GOP has thrown its weight behind three conservative candidates – Bill Frazer, Kyle Scott and Ericka McCrutcheon – and organized a block walk for them on Saturday.

“Anytime you have people who are elected and responsible directly to the voters and the taxpayers, that’s a positive thing versus an appointee or a bureaucrat,” Harris County Republican Party Chair Cindy Siegel said.

The sudden change to the board’s makeup, the expected low turnout and perceived lack of justification for the elections have convinced Doyle this is another example of state Republican leadership’s interference in the local control of Texas’ Democratic cities and counties.

“I haven’t seen any evidence to demonstrate this is being done for the reasons claimed,” Doyle said.

Citing the state’s takeover of Houston ISD last year, a recent law that abolished Harris County’s elections administrator’s office and the so-called “Death Star” law aimed at blocking cities from enacting progressive policy, Doyle said Houstonians have no reason to trust policy from the Republican-led Legislature.

Emphasis mine. I highlight this because it’s a question I’ve been asked, and a concern that some Dems definitely have. The short answer is that by the rules that the HCDP as an entity have agreed upon, the party does not as a rule make endorsements in races with more than one Democratic candidate running (*). This is a result of past fights, quite bloody in nature, over the perception (if not the actual presence) of the party favoring one candidate over another in primaries for sometimes petty or nefarious reasons. One can understand the party’s position on this issue – it’s one that precinct chairs have voted to adopt, after all – while also feeling like this is an example of it giving an advantage to the Republicans, who have no such restriction (and who only have one race with more than one of their candidates anyway).

I would point out that the Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation, which endorsed Blueford-Daniels, Noriega, and Adeleke and which is actively canvassing in these races, is serving as a bit of a proxy for the HCDP, and that I would expect the HCDP to be fully involved in any runoff that features a Dem and a Republican. There are obviously risks to that approach, and as such I would just say that this situation is one that perhaps merits a closer look by the party, which is to say us precinct chairs. We have a Rules Committee, I’m sure they’re open to input. I don’t know offhand how to craft a rule that might cover a situation like this without inviting comparisons to the old back room days, but I’m sure someone is up to it. I’m open to suggestion.

In the meantime, here’s the Day One early voting report for this crazy election. I don’t have anything to compare it to so I’ll just report the numbers straight. There were 10,857 mail ballots returned and 1,288 in person votes, for a total of 12,145. Pretty good, I guess, but those daily in person totals are going to be pretty low. On the other hand, there were 38,050 mail ballots sent out as of yesterday, so those will provide a floor. Like I said, nobody really knows what this will end up as.

One more thing:

Roughly half of the 50 counties required to hold the appraisal board elections have canceled their elections because not enough people filed to run for the seats, according to data collected by South.

In the Houston area, Galveston County canceled its appraisal district elections because only one person filed for each of the three seats. The three candidates will now join the board without facing voters.

Boy, that sure is letting the sunshine in. At least an appointment process is a process, one in which perhaps some vetting may occur. Here, for all we know three yokels off the street – or, much more likely, three connected insiders who have a motive to be on that Board – are now on these appraisal boards without anyone getting to raise a question about it. What a great system that is.

(*) There is some discretion allowed in situations where one of the Dems is not in good standing. An example would be the 2010 and 2012 Commissioners Court primaries in which Dave Wilson – yes, that Dave Wilson – filed as a Democrat. He was disqualified in 2010 and defeated in 2012 after the HCDP supported his opponent. No one had any problems with that. The question as always is where do you draw the line, as most cases are not this clear-cut. “Because it would help our chances to win” is both practical and at least a little anti-democratic. Thus are pie fights started.

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