Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

absentee ballots

Cuellar officially wins CD28 runoff

All over now.

Rep. Henry Cuellar

A recount has confirmed U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, as the winner of his hard-fought primary runoff, according to the Texas Democratic Party.

The recount wrapped up Tuesday, and Cuellar picked up eight votes, defeating progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros by 289 votes overall, the party said.

“As I said on election night, ‘the margin will hold’- and it has not only held but grown,” Cuellar said in a statement earlier Tuesday. “I am proud to be your Democratic nominee for the 28th District of Texas.”

Cisneros conceded in a statement, saying she will “keep fighting to create a more progressive and accountable Democratic Party this year and work to turn Texas blue in November.”

Cuellar’s Democratic primary runoff was one of two in South Texas that had gone to recounts. In the other runoff, for the open seat in the 15th Congressional District, Michelle Vallejo remained the winner after a recount wrapped up last week.

Cuellar led Cisneros by 177 votes after election night nearly a month ago. His lead grew to 281 votes by the time the final ballots were counted.

Cuellar had repeatedly declared victory, starting on election night, and dismissed the notion that a recount would change the outcome.

See here for the previous update, and here for the TDP statement. Not much to add, so let’s get on with it for November.

Recount updates

We have a winner in CD15.

Today, after Wednesday’s manual recount of the votes in the CD-15 primary runoff election, the Texas Democratic Party announced that Michelle Vallejo has secured enough votes to earn the Democratic nomination for U.S. Congress from the 15th Congressional District.

“The Texas Democratic Party is fully behind our nominee, Michelle Vallejo, and we’re going to put in the hard work required to send her to Washington D.C. to represent South Texas,” said Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa. “We congratulate Michelle and her team for the work they put into this campaign to show voters that Democrats are fighting for them – and thank Ruben Ramirez and his campaign for their dedication to this community as well.”

See here for the background. Vallejo had already declared victory, while Ramirez said he would until the state officially canvasses the results next week before issuing a statement. I suspect that a concession will be forthcoming soon. In the end, Vallejo added seven votes to her total, while Ramirez picked up two, making the final margin 35 votes.

Meanwhile, in CD28, we’re still waiting.

A recount was underway Thursday in a Texas primary race between Democratic U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar and progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros following their tight runoff in May.

Before the recount, Cuellar had been leading Cisneros by 187 votes, or 0.4 percentage points, out of 45,429 ballots counted as of last week, according to an Associated Press count. The AP will not declare a winner until the recount is completed.

It was not clear Thursday when the recount would be finished.

I don’t expect anything different. I’ll let you know when I see a further update.

There was definitely an improvement in mail ballot acceptance for the primary runoffs

The last time I looked, I was largely unable to find any news stories about mail ballots and their rejection rates for the May primary runoff elections, with the exception of one story about Bexar County and how they were leading the field in getting rejection rates down to something akin to pre-SB1 levels. I still can’t find any stories about this, but it (finally) occurred to me that the new reconciliation reports that election officials now have to publish would contain the data I’m looking for. So with that in mind, off I went. I obviously don’t have the time to go looking everywhere, and some of those smaller county elections webpages are just awful, but I did have a look at a few places of interest.

Harris County, Democratic: 19,081 total mail ballots, of which 1,128 were rejected, for a rejection rate of 5.9%.

Harris County, Republican: 15,053 total mail ballots, of which 1,169 were rejected, for a rejection rate of 7.8%

That’s a clear improvement of the 20% rejection rate from March and the 12% rejection rate of the May special election. It’s still too high, but it’s not take-your-breath-away too high. And it pleases me no end to see Republicans have a harder time with it than Democrats. It’s unlikely to be enough to matter if that’s still the case in November, but it would be a rich piece of karma if more of their votes got tossed as a result of this malicious law.

Bexar County, Democratic: 11,919 total mail ballots, of which 15 (yes, fifteen) were rejected, for a rejection rate of 0.1%.

Bexar County, Republican: 5,856 total mail ballots, of which 33 were rejected, for a rejection rate of 0.6%.

Bexar is definitely the gold standard, the example for everyone else to emulate. And Dems did better here as well. Encouraging.

Travis County, cumulative: 10,224 total mail ballots, of which 222 were rejected, for a rejection rate of 2.2%.

Not all counties broke this out by party. The overall rate is low enough here to not sweat it too much. About 75% of the mail ballots overall were Democratic, so it’s likely that the Dem rejection rate was right around 2.2% – the Republican rate could have been a lot different without affecting the total too much.

Dallas County, cumulative: 10,708 total mail ballots, of which 176 were rejected, for a rejection rate of 1.6%.

Like Travis County, but slightly fewer rejections. Dems cast a bit less than 70% of the mail ballots.

Montgomery County, cumulative: 4,366 total mail ballots, of which 25 were rejected, for a rejection rate of 0.6%.

Republicans knew what they were doing here. They were 70% of mail ballots.

Fort Bend County, cumulative: 4,382 total mail ballots, of which 187 were rejected, for a 4.3% rejection rate.

Closest one yet to Harris. About two thirds of mail ballots were Democratic. Would have been nice to see the breakdown by party here.

Cameron County, Democratic: 1,323 total mail ballots, of which 3 were rejected, for a rejection rate of 0.3%.

Cameron County, Republican: 292 total mail ballots, of which 2 were rejected, for a rejection rate of 0.7%.

Wow.

So it’s clear there was a lot of improvement, and while Harris did a much better job there’s room for us to do better as well. It’s also important to remember that there are still a huge number of people who have not yet tried to vote by mail, so there’s no guarantee that the improvements will continue or be maintained. There’s still a lot of work to be done. But at least it looks like that work will have a payoff.

(PS – Not all counties had the reconciliation reports in a place that I could find. I looked for them for El Paso and Tarrant and came up empty. Might have just been me, but maybe their site design needs some work.)

SCOTx answers the Fifth Circuit’s questions

Some late-breaking SB1 lawsuit news.

The Texas Supreme Court issued a ruling Friday on the term “solicit” as it pertains to the state’s new election code.

[…]

Of three main issues, one raised several questions pertaining to the definition of “solicit.” The questions arose after the plaintiff, Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria, argued the vagueness of the term. In one argument, Longoria’s attorneys requested that the term “solicit” be tethered only to vote-by-mail applications sent to those ineligible voters.

State justices rejected that request.

“The statute does not prohibit solicitation merely of those ineligible to vote by mail. Its text leaves no doubt that the prohibition extends more broadly to the larger universe of persons who ‘did not request an application,’” the opinion read.

In a second request, Longoria’s team argued that “solicitation” in its broad definition could include terms that are less forceful in nature, including “encourage” or “request.

The defendant, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s team, said it defined “solicit” as beyond encouragement, but more so “importuning or strongly urging.” Paxton said that stating “please fill out this application to vote by mail” would constitute solicitation.

While justices refrained from defining “solicit,” stating they were not requested to, they agreed with Paxton that “solicit” is not limited to demands that a person submit an application to vote by mail, but includes statements such as “please fill out this application to vote by mail.”

But justices did find that telling potential voters they have the opportunity to apply for mail-in ballots does not constitute solicitation.

“The Legislature intended to distinguish between merely informing Texans of the option to vote by mail and soliciting them to submit an application to vote by mail when they have not requested one,” the opinion read. “Without expressing an opinion as to any particular statement plaintiffs may wish to make, we conclude that (the law) does not include broad statements such as telling potential voters that they have the opportunity to apply for mail-in ballots.”

See here and here for the background, and here for the opinion. As noted in the previous update, by this time both sides had agreed that Volunteer Deputy Registrars (VDRs) were not public officials and (I presume) not covered by SB1, and that the Attorney General did not have enforcement power for SB1 (not clear to me if District Attorneys might, however). I expect this means that the Fifth Circuit will rule that plaintiff Cathy Morgan, who is a VDR, has no standing to sue.

On the three-part question that SCOTx did have to answer, my reading is that under SB1 it would be illegal for a county elections administrator to pre-emptively send a vote by mail application to everyone who is eligible to vote by mail, as Chris Hollins did in 2020. Such applications can only be sent to people who ask for them. Providing general information about the vote by mail process, including how to apply, would not be barred. I still think the whole thing is a ridiculous over-reaction to what Hollins did in 2020, and that we should be making it easier to vote by mail in general, but all things considered, compared to where we were before SB1, this isn’t a major setback.

It should be noted that there’s still a lot of room for future disputes here, which likely will remain the case even after a final ruling in this lawsuit. From the opinion, on the matter of the definition of the word “solicit”:

The Fifth Circuit next asks whether “solicits” is “limited to demanding submission of an application for mail-in ballots (whether or not the applicant qualifies).” 2022 WL 832239, at *6. Plaintiffs suggest that the ordinary meaning of “solicit” includes speech that lacks the insistence normally associated with a demand. According to Plaintiffs, the term’s ordinary meaning includes speech that is far less forceful. Indeed, under their view, solicitation includes all the following: “requesting, urging, encouraging, seeking, imploring, or inducing.”

Paxton argues that the Legislature could not have intended to sweep so broadly. He argues, for example, that “solicits” cannot include mere encouragement of an action because the Legislature has used both “solicits” and “encourages” in many statutes, indicating that they have different meanings. See, e.g., TEX. EDUC. CODE § 37.152(a) (“A person commits an offense if the person . . . solicits, encourages, directs, aids, or attempts to aid another in engaging in hazing . . . .”); TEX. PENAL CODE § 7.02(a)(2) (holding a person criminally responsible for another’s offense if the person “solicits, encourages, directs, aids, or attempts to aid the other person to commit the offense”); cf. TEX. ELEC. CODE § 13.031(a) (stating that the purpose of appointing VDRs is “[t]o encourage voter registration”). Paxton urges us to define “solicits” to exclude mere encouragement and to require “importuning or strongly urging.” But Paxton also concedes that stating “please fill out this application to vote by mail” would constitute solicitation.

Whether a particular statement constitutes solicitation for purposes of Section 276.016(a)(1) will, of course, be informed by the precise words spoken and by surrounding context. We therefore do not endeavor to articulate today a comprehensive definition of “solicits” as the term is used in Section 276.016(a)(1). Nor do we express an opinion as to whether any of the general categories of statements Plaintiffs say they wish to make constitutes solicitation. We will leave for another case, with a more developed record, the task of defining the term’s outer reach. For today, we believe it is sufficient to hold that, for purposes of Section 276.016(a)(1), “solicits” is not limited to demands that a person submit an application to vote by mail. As Paxton acknowledges, “solicits” includes statements that fall short of a demand, such as “please fill out this application to vote by mail.”

So Isabel Longoria is arguing that SB1 is super-restrictive on this point, while Ken Paxton is saying, nah, not really. The Court is saying they don’t want to get involved just yet, better to see what happens in the real world rather than rule on hypotheticals, and work with a more complete set of facts. If the parties’ arguments seem backwards to you, the Court addressed that in a footnote:

In a criminal prosecution (or civil-enforcement action), one ordinarily might expect the government to take a broad view of the statute’s application and the defendant to take a narrow view. But to establish (or defeat) a plaintiff’s standing in a pre-enforcement challenge, the plaintiff has an incentive to argue that the statute does apply to her, while the government has an incentive to argue it does not. The unusual dynamic present here contributes to our reluctance to make wide-ranging proclamations on the issues of state law presented.

In other words, at this point in time before the law has really been applied to anyone, the plaintiffs want the Court to believe that the law is vast and (they claim) over-reaching and must be struck down, while the defense wants the Court to think that the law is more modest and thus not a threat to anyone’s Constitutional liberties. Needless to say, when the law is eventually enforced by someone, those arguments will be reversed.

So it’s now back to the Fifth Circuit. I wish there had been more coverage of this – I grant, the opinion dropped on Friday afternoon and some people have lives – but so far all I’ve seen is this story from a site in Greenville (?) and one from a partisan site; I also found paywalled stories at Law.com and Bloomberg Law, but couldn’t read them. Maybe next week one of the regulars will have something, which I hope will include a bit of analysis from someone with actual law knowledge. Until then, this is what I think I know.

Early voting is underway in the HCC2 runoff

Apparently, I missed the start of it, which was on Monday.

See here for the background. Early voting will run through next Tuesday, June 14, having started this Monday the 6th. You can find locations here and the map here. Polls are open every day from 7 to 7 except for Sunday, when they will be open from 12 to 7. According to the daily EV report I got yesterday, 264 in person ballots have been cast so far, 84 of which were at the Nassau Bay location. That report doesn’t show any mail ballots being returned, but I have to assume that’s an error of some kind. Regardless, as I suggested before, this will be a very low turnout affair. If you live in HCC district 2, your vote counts for a whole lot.

Here come the recounts

As expected.

Progressive candidate Jessica Cisneros announced Monday she will request a recount in the hard-fought Democratic primary runoff against U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, after she finished 281 votes behind him.

Another Democrat in a key South Texas congressional race, Ruben Ramirez, also said Monday he will ask for a recount. He finished 30 votes behind Michelle Vallejo for the open seat in the 15th District.

The recount announcements came shortly after the Texas Democratic Party certified its primary runoff results, confirming the margins for Cuellar and Vallejo that counties finalized last week.

“Our community isn’t done fighting, we are filing for a recount,” Cisneros said in a statement. “With just under 0.6 percent of the vote symbolizing such stark differences for the future in South Texas, I owe it to our community to see this through to the end.”

[…]

The recounts mean it will be at least weeks before an undisputed winner emerges in each runoff. Any runoff candidate can request a recount as long as their margin is less than 10% of the number of votes received by their opponent. The deadline to request a recount is 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Both Cuellar and Vallejo have claimed victory, and I do not expect these recounts to change that. They’ll just take time off the clock. Both Cisneros and Ramirez have the right to request these recounts, and I’d do the same in their position. The elections are close enough that you can imagine there being some possibility of the result being in question. I’m not them, and all I care about is November, so I’d prefer we not go down this path. That’s not my call, so here we are. I hope this doesn’t take too long.

Cuellar claims victory in CD28

He has a bigger lead now than he did on Election Night.

Rep. Henry Cuellar

With every vote counted in a fiercely contested South Texas Democratic primary runoff, longtime congressman Henry Cuellar was 281 votes ahead of progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros.

Cuellar declared victory last week, after coming in 177 votes ahead of Cisneros on Election Day. The remaining uncounted ballots expanded his lead by another 104 votes, final results from each county in the district showed.

“As I said on election night, the margin will hold — and it has not only held but grown,” Cuellar said in a statement.

Cuellar called for those who voted against him in the runoff to back him in the general election, when Republicans hope Cassy Garcia, a former staffer for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, will flip the long blue district.

“While we may differ on certain positions, we share a common ground on many issues to improve our communities and strengthen families,” Cuellar said.

The final tally is still well within the bounds of a possible recount, however. Texas law allows candidates to request one if the vote difference is less than 10 percent of the leading candidate’s vote total; Cuellar finished with 22,895 votes.

Cisernos’s campaign, which did not immediately comment on the final tally, spent the last week raising money for a “recount fund” and telling supporters that “a recount is looking more and more likely.”

Cuellar’s lead is considerably larger than Michelle Vallajo’s in CD15, though as noted both races are subject to recount. On that subject, among the thousands of emails I get each day are several from Cisneros asking for donations to her “recount fund”, which is silly since her campaign would not have to pay for a recount due to the closeness of the election. Such appeals do work, though, so here we are. As I said with CD15, either ask for a recount (which is Cisneros’ right under the law) or don’t, but either way it’s time to wrap this up and move on to November. Whatever you think of Cuellar (and as you know, I’ve never liked him), he’s always a strong performer in November and should be in decent shape to win even in a non-favorable environment. Big picture, y’all. The San Antonio Report has more.

Vallejo claims victory in CD15 runoff

Her opponent demurs, but it probably doesn’t matter.

Michelle Vallejo

Michelle Vallejo declared victory Wednesday in the Democratic primary runoff for the national battleground 15th Congressional District in South Texas.

Her declaration came eight days after election night, when she emerged with a 23-vote margin over opponent Ruben Ramirez. Her margin grew to 33 votes as the largest counties in the district began to report their final unofficial results Wednesday.

But Ramirez was not ready to concede. His campaign said in a statement that “it is essential that every voter has their say before a final call is made.” The statement suggested the campaign still saw a path to victory.

“South Texas politics has a long tradition of upset victories,” the statement said.

Counties have until the end of day on Thursday to report their final numbers to the state, and even then, candidates can still request recounts. Since election night, counties have been counting mail-in ballots that were postmarked in the 11th-hour, military and overseas ballots that were due Tuesday and provisional ballots.

It was one of two key Democratic runoffs in South Texas that were unsettled coming out of election night. The other is the runoff for the 28th Congressional District, where the moderate nine-term U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, faced progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros. He led by 177 votes after election night, but as most counties reported their final unofficial results Wednesday, his margin widened to at least 192 votes.

[…]

Candidates can request recounts if their margin is less than 10% of the number of votes their opponent received. Ramirez and Cisneros are currently well within that range.

See here for some background. I would expect both Ramirez and Cisneros to request recounts – the races are close, the recounts won’t cost them because they’re close – though as discussed many times I don’t expect that to make any difference. I’d like to get these settled quickly because they’re the two of the closest districts in the state, with CD15 redrawn to be 51-48 Trump in 2020, and we have our work cut out for us. Let’s get to the November part of the race, we don’t have time to lose.

A better mail ballot

I’m glad someone’s working on this.

After thousands of mail-in ballots were rejected in Texas’ statewide primaries in March, election officials and voting rights groups are stepping up efforts to make sure voters don’t run into the same problems with ballot rejections going forward.

Nearly 25,000 mail ballots were rejected for the March 1 primaries — a far higher rate than prior elections.

Some ballots were rejected because identifying data didn’t match what was on file. But election officials and voting groups say a design issue with the envelope that Texas voters use to return their mail ballots was most responsible for the rejections.

Grace Chimene, president of the League of Women Voters of Texas, says voters missed important instructions located right under the flap of the mail ballot return envelope. That is where voters have to provide either a partial Social Security number or their driver’s license number.

“Voters wouldn’t see [the section] if the flap is down,” she says. “It’s only visible if the flap is up. And the reason behind that was to keep it secret so people couldn’t get that [information] when it was going through the mail.”

Sam Taylor, assistant secretary of state for communications with the Texas secretary of state’s office, says election officials are also convinced that the new voter ID field on the envelope is what led to mass rejections.

“Based on the number of people who just missed it completely, I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch to think that some people thought it was just an optional section,” Taylor says.

A lot of these changes were prompted by a voting law Republican state leaders enacted last year. Taylor says that among the changes, more information was required to be on the return envelope. That affected the envelope’s design.

“There’s more language that’s required, and as a result there is more language and text competing for the same amount of real estate,” he says.

Just so we’re clear, this is the Assistant Secretary of State for Communications confirming that the Republican voter suppression law did in fact suppress votes by making the process sufficiently confusing that thousands of regular voters cast ballots that had to be rejected. They could have ameliorated this problem by delaying implementation of the law until 2023, which would have given the SOS and county officials enough time to design a better mail ballot (which includes the envelope and any supplemental materials) as well as giving the SOS enough time to properly communicate the changes and anything else that county officials needed to know. But they didn’t, and this was the result. Again, I just want to be clear on that.

Chimene says the League of Women Voters of Texas has been working with the Center for Civic Design to create a pamphlet for Texas voters that breaks down everything they need to do to make sure their ballot is counted.

“And that involved simplifying the words and using images and graphics and using bolding and other methods that they specialize in to make voter information that makes sense,” Chimene says.

The plan is to get county election officials to include these pamphlets with vote-by-mail materials. Chimene says hopefully their easy-to-read guides will clear up any confusion.

I certainly hope that county election officials pay heed to this. I continue to maintain that the Texas Democratic Party, the county parties, the candidates and elected officials and affiliated groups and so on, also had and have a responsibility to communicate to their voters what they need to know and do to vote by mail. This is just too important to leave to anyone else, even if it is their job.

The good news is that we know that making changes like this can work, because Bexar County has proven it.

The mail ballots of Bexar County voters in the primary runoff are being returned at a significantly lower rate when compared to the March primary election earlier this year.

About one in five mail ballots for the March Primary were being rejected by the elections office under rigorous new standards set by the Texas Legislature under SB1, the state’s new controversial voting law. However, as of the day before the May primary runoff election, the rejection rate has dropped to less than 1% according to the Bexar County Elections Administrator.

About 16,000 mail ballots have been received by the office so far and the rejection rate is drastically lower than the 22% seen in March.

“The rejection rate for the Democrats is 0.9% and the rejection rate for the Republicans is 0.4% so we are genuinely thrilled,” said Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen.

There are twice as many Democratic Primary ballots that have been received compared to Republican Primary ballots, Callanen added.

[…]

In March, out of the 18,000 ballots received, about 4,000 were rejected.

After that, Callanen said her office made adjustments.

“Just from looking at the raw numbers right now, it looks like it worked,” she said.

That included an insert that was in both English and Spanish.

“We came up with an insert to put in there to assist the voters so they don’t miss on the envelopes with the very tiny print that they need to put on their (Texas Drivers License), or the last four of your social, so we are really excited and now at this point now we’re looking forward to November,” she said.

Another adjustment was increasing the font size on the envelope relating to the new SB1 requirements.

“What we basically did was, we took the area under the flap with all the legalese and we blew it up,” she said referring to the font size which she said was boosted to 12 point font.

We’ve discussed the Bexar County success story before, and I will bang the drum for their example again. I will also note that even within that, there’s room for improvement on the Dem side, which is why it’s important for the Texas Democratic establishment to take their own initiative. I can’t say this often or loudly enough: It is too important to do anything less.

These were the stories I found when I did my latest Google News search for mail ballot rejections. We should have final vote canvasses on Tuesday, so maybe we’ll get some numbers – and some reporting – from other counties as well. I will follow up and let you know.

The national trend is for less voting by mail

Of interest.

The great vote-by-mail wave appears to be receding just as quickly as it arrived.

After tens of millions of people in the United States opted for mail ballots during the pandemic election of 2020, voters in early primary states are returning in droves to in-person voting this year.

In Georgia, one of the mostly hotly contested states, about 85,000 voters had requested mail ballots for the May 24 primary, as of Thursday. That is a dramatic decrease from the nearly 1 million who cast mail ballots in the state’s 2020 primary at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

The trend was similar in Ohio, Indiana and West Virginia, which held primaries this month; comparisons were not available for Nebraska, another early primary state.

A step back in mail balloting was expected given easing concerns about COVID-19, but some election officials and voting experts had predicted that far more voters would seek out the convenience of mail voting once they experienced it.

Helping drive the reversal is the rollback of temporary rules expanding mail ballots in 2020, combined with distrust of the process among Republicans and concerns about new voting restrictions among Democrats. And a year and a half of former President Donald Trump and his allies pushing false claims about mail voting to explain his loss to Democrat Joe Biden has also taken a toll on voter confidence.

“It’s unfortunate because our election system has been mischaracterized and the integrity of our elections questioned,” said Ben Hovland, a Democrat appointed by Trump to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. “Mail ballots are a safe and secure method of voting used by millions of Americans, including myself.”

A record 43% of voters in the U.S. cast mail ballots in 2020, compared with 24.5% in 2016, according to the commission’s survey of local election officials. The number of voters who used in-person early voting also increased, although the jump was not quite as large as in mail ballots, the survey found.

Before the November 2020 election, 12 states expanded access to mail ballots by loosening certain requirements. Five more either mailed ballots to all eligible voters or allowed local officials to do so, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. This year, eight states will mail ballots to every eligible voter.

[…]

Requesting a mail ballot is significantly harder now in Georgia than in 2020, when voters could go online to request a ballot be sent to them without a printed request. Part of the 2021 voting law pushed by Republicans required voters to print or obtain a paper form, then sign it in ink before sending it in by mail, email or fax.

Voters also must include their driver’s license number or some other form of identification after Republicans decided that the process of matching voter signatures was no longer enough security for an absentee ballot application.

“I couldn’t even figure it out,” said Ursula Gruenewald, who lives in Cobb County, north of Atlanta. “Before, I used to just click a button on a website, and they’d send me my ballot. I don’t know what they want now.”

Gruenewald said she usually votes by mail but decided last week to seek out a nearby early voting center, recalling she had waited in line for two hours to vote in person in 2016.

I’m not surprised that voting by mail is down from 2020. Lots of people just like voting in person, I think. I know I do, though I’m a weirdo who actually knows a lot of the candidates and their campaign staffs. I’m also not surprised that it’s down this much given how much harder it is now to vote by mail and how much abuse and disinformation has been heaped on the practice. I think longer term it will tick back up, if only because a significant portion of the population is heading into senior citizen territory and those are the biggest mail ballot users, but who knows how long the Trump/GOP damage will last.

I would be remiss if I didn’t once again harp on the mail ballot rejection issue here in Texas, which wasn’t noted in that story. I have no doubt that there are now people who would have voted by mail, who may have tried to vote by mail in March, who will instead vote in person because of the significant risk of their mail ballot not being counted. I’m still waiting to see if voting by mail in May was any less messy than it was in March. Keep your fingers crossed.

We won’t know the official status of the two super close runoffs until next week

The CD28 race is not done with us.

Jessica Cisneros, the progressive immigration attorney trailing longtime Laredo congressman Henry Cuellar by 177 votes in a blockbuster South Texas runoff, said Thursday that ballots are still being counted and a final tally likely will not be available until after Memorial Day.

“We are within reach to go on and win this thing,” Cisneros said. “There’s still a lot up in the air right now.”

Cisneros said her campaign has been told by elections offices that there are still “hundreds” of uncounted mail-in and provisional ballots across the district and that many will not be counted until after the holiday weekend.

Her campaign has also urged voters who mailed in ballots to check whether they were rejected and has set up a call for those whose were. Cisneros said the hotline has been “ringing nonstop all day since yesterday when we put out that call.”

“Because the race is so, so close and the margin is very close, we need to make sure that everyone who casted a ballot gets their ballot counted,” she said.

Cuellar declared victory Tuesday night in the race, which drew national attention and millions of dollars in political contributions.

“The votes are in, the margin will hold,” Cuellar tweeted at the time. His campaign did not respond to a request for comment on Cisneros’ claims that hundreds of ballots are still out.

I’d like to hear the status of the vote counting from election officials rather than one of the candidates, but I can believe that there are still mail votes being counted. I don’t know if it’s still possible to do something about a rejected mail ballot at this point. I’m sure the lawyers will sort that one out.

Meanwhile, in CD15:

It’s been a nail-biting race for the congressional District 15 runoff election between Democrats Ruben Ramirez and Michelle Vallejo.

More than 24 hours after polls closed, it’s unclear who will face off against Republican Monica De La Cruz in November.

Both Ramirez and Vallejo have sent statements saying it’s too soon to consider a virtual winner.

For now, election departments in counties within District 15 have to count mail-in ballots, votes from abroad and provisional ballots.

“In 15, without question, we’re going to have to wait until at least next week to have a good idea about who the winner is,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University.

As noted before, the vote will be canvassed on Wednesday, and the official final result will be posted on Thursday. That may not be the end of it, of course.

On that subject:

In the 15th District, Vallejo came out of election night with a 23-vote lead, and both she and Ramirez agreed it was too close to call. At least two counties — Hidalgo and Jim Wells — have since updated their results, changing her lead to 27 votes. But like in Cuellar’s race, a final resolution likely will not come into focus until early next week.

[…]

A timeline is now playing out at the county level where outstanding ballots can still be counted. Mail ballots that were postmarked by 7 p.m. Tuesday could still be counted by 5 p.m. Wednesday. The deadline for military and overseas ballots is Tuesday, May 31, a day later than usual due to Memorial Day. And then counties have until Thursday to finalize their results and report them to the state.

A candidate can request a recount if their margin is less than 10% of the votes received by their opponent. Both Cisneros and Ramirez are well within that, though candidates typically wait until all the outstanding ballots are counted before deciding whether to pursue a recount.

Not much to do now except have patience.

A few remaining threads from the runoffs

It was, as noted, a smooth and easy night in Harris County, despite the folderol from earlier in the day.

Harris County election drama in the courts did not prevent voting officials from what could be a record speedy count.

At midnight, only two of the 520 ballots boxes used for Tuesday’s election were outstanding, meaning the vast majority were in the hands of officials who were rapidly counting them.

“I will be a happy girl if we get everything in by 1 a.m.,” said Isabel Longoria, Harris County elections administrator. “This is what happens with a well executed plan.”

By 11:30 250 Democratic and 246 Republican polling sites had turned in their ballots, while about 20 more were on site and awaiting a procedural check before officials signed off on the receipt. Each party had 260 locations, which they shared, meaning election counters at NRG Arena had 189 of the needed 520 ballot boxes.

About 150 cars snaked through the NRG parking lot earlier in the night, Longoria said, moving “slow and steady.”

On the official count, five ballot boxes were listed as outstanding at 11:45 p.m., which quickly ticked down.

See here for the background. Still no word from SCOTx as far as I know. It sure would be nice if this “easy night, returns posted in a timely fashion” became the new narrative.

There are still a couple of unresolved elections. CD15 is way too close to call.

With all precincts reporting on Tuesday night, Democratic primary candidate for Congressional District 15 Michelle Vallejo led the race ahead of Ruben Ramirez by only 23 votes. Of the 12,063 total votes reported on Wednesday morning, Vallejo received 6,043 votes and Ramirez received 6,020 votes district-wide.

Hilda Salinas, assistant director of the Hidalgo County Elections Department, said that the race was too close to call on Wednesday morning, with a final result expected on Thursday, June 2.

“We still have to wait for all the out of county ballots and mail-in ballots to come in,” Salinas said. “The Ballot Board will be meeting on Wednesday to finalize everything so that everything can be canvassed on Thursday.”

The canvassing process is the final step before certification of results, and it includes a careful tally of all ballots.

“As per Texas election code, there’s certain ballots that still have time to come in and be counted by our ballot board,” Salinas added.

Both campaigns declined to comment on Wednesday morning on whether a call for a recount could occur over the next week.

Vallejo issued a statement late Tuesday night: “Though the race is too close to call, we are heartened by the clear path to victory.”

A statement from the Ramirez campaign Wednesday morning stated, “Our campaign trusts in the democratic process and integrity of this election. We know that our election workers are doing all they can to get us a result, and we thank them for their tireless work.”

We’ll see what happens. CD15 is the closest district based on the new map and the 2020 returns, and it’s a big target for Republicans, with their candidate already rolling in cash. It would be nice to get this resolved quickly so the nominee can move forward.

And of course, there’s CD28, which is almost as close.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, the last anti-abortion Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives, boldly declared victory just before midnight in his nail-biter primary runoff race. But his progressive challenger, Jessica Cisneros, refused to concede, as the race was separated by less than 200 votes with all counties reporting their votes.

“This election is still too close to call, and we are still waiting for every ballot and eligible vote to be counted,” she said in a tweet, shortly after Cuellar declared himself the winner.

Just before midnight in Texas, Cuellar led Cisneros by a mere 177 votes.

At the time he declared victory, no major news organization had called the race.

“Tonight, the 28th Congressional District spoke, and we witnessed our great Democratic system at work,” he said in a statement. “The results are in, all the votes have been tallied — I am honored to have once again been re-elected as the Democratic Nominee for Congress.”

With such a narrow margin, it is likely the race may not be decided for days. Mail-in votes from domestic voters can still be counted if they were postmarked by Tuesday and are received by counties by 5 p.m. Wednesday. The race is also within the margin that Cisneros can request a recount.

I’m ready for this race to be over. Just tell me who won so we can move on with our lives. I fully expect there will be a recount, however.

Runoff results: Around the state

After the primary, I rounded up the Democratic runoffs we’d have in May. I’m going to use that post to round up the results from last night, as best as I can tell as of when I gave up the ghost and went to bed. I started filling this in around 10 PM.

Statewide Dem

Lite Guv – Mike Collier vs Michelle Beckley.
AG – Rochelle Garza vs Joe Jaworski.
Comptroller – Janet Dudding vs Angel Vega.
Land Commissioner – Sandragrace Martinez vs Jay Kleberg.

Garza and Dudding were both up 61-39 as of 9:30 PM, with Garza being declared the winner. Collier (54.8 – 45.2) and Kleberg (52.2 – 47.8) were leading but it was too soon to say with them. Kleberg was up 62-38 in Harris County, and Collier was up 60-40, so that bodes well for them.

Congressional Dem

CD01 – JJ Jefferson vs Victor Dunn.
CD15 – Ruben Ramirez vs Michelle Vallejo.
CD21 – Claudia Zapata vs Ricardo Villarreal.
CD24 – Jan McDowell vs Derrik Gay.
CD28 – Rep. Henry Cuellar vs Jessica Cisneros.
CD30 – Jasmine Crockett vs Jane Hope Hamilton.

Jefferson (75%), Zapata (62%), and Crockett (75%) all had huge leads and were on their way to victory. Henry Cuellar (52.75 – 47.25) had a smaller lead but looked to be in pretty good shape. The other two races were ridiculously close – Ramirez was up by 78 votes, McDowell up by 20 votes. You’ll want to check them again today, and don’t be surprised if they wind up in recount territory.

SBOE Dem

SBOE1 – Melissa Ortega vs Laura Marquez.
SBOE2 – Victor Perez vs Pete Garcia.

Ortega (58%) and Perez (56%) looked to be in good shape.

State Senate Dem

SD27 – Morgan LaMantia vs Sara Stapleton-Barrera. LaMantia was at 57% and appeared to be in good shape.

State House Dems

HD22 – Joseph Trahan vs Christian Hayes.
HD37 – Ruben Cortez vs Luis Villarreal
HD70 – Cassandra Hernandez vs Mihaela Plesa.
HD76 – Suleman Lalani vs Vanesia Johnson.
HD100 – Sandra Crenshaw vs Venton Jones.
HD114 – Alexandra Guio vs John Bryant.

Lalani (64%), Jones (70%), and Bryant (62%) looked to be headed to victory. Lalani would be the first Muslim to serve in the Lege. Jones is openly gay and HIV positive and was the subject of a bizarre homophobic rant by his opponent, so his win is especially sweet. Bryant, who is 75 and served in Congress 30 years ago, wins one for the old white guys.

As of 10 PM, the other races were too close to call, with Hayes (50.86%), Villarreal (52.44%), and Plesa (52.91%) holding the advantage.

Republicans

Ken Paxton easily beat George P. Bush, which launched multiple (likely written in advance) eulogies to the “Bush dynasty” in Texas. Good riddance, if P is what that had fallen to. Dawn Buckingham (Land Commissioner) and Wayne Christian (RR Commissioner) were also cruising to victory.

UPDATE: All of the Dem statewide candidates that were leading when I signed off won. Michelle Vallejo (50.1%) edged ahead in CD15, while Jan McDowell (51.15%) increased her lead. It got super tight towards the end, but yes, Henry Cuellar (50.2%) once again came out ahead. All of the state office candidates that were leading last night were still ahead this morning.

Hey look! Some info about mail ballots in the May election!

It’s not much, but I’ll take what I can get.

For the second time in less than two weeks, Texans are heading back to the polls to decide on a host of statewide and local elections.

Voters are deciding who should come out on top in primary runoff elections. However, issues with election counting in Harris County have led to some frustration, but some widespread issues of the past may be corrected during this primary runoff.

“So far it’s been a really busy day, we’re really pleased with the turnout,” Nadia Hakim, Deputy Director of Communication and Voter outreach for Harris County elections said.

[…]

Those voting by mail are reminded by officials to complete the identification fields to avoid the ballot being rejected.

“So what we saw during March 1st was a high rate of rejection for mail ballots. Of course, it was our first large election with SB1 put into place and unfortunately, we saw a similar trend for the May 7th election. It was about a 20 percent rejection rate again,” Hakim said.

Voters are urged to contact the Harris County election office with any questions regarding issues they may face at 713-755-6965.

Disappointing, but not surprising. I have mentioned speaking with the elections office a couple of times, and this was something I inquired about as well. At a closer look, the rejection rate for the May 7 election was closer to 15% than 20% as cited in the story, but still too high and almost as high as it had been in March. As we’ve discussed, the people who voted in the May election likely included a lot of people who hadn’t voted in March, so this was their first experience with the new voter suppression law. The statewide rate of mail ballot rejection from March was about 12-13%, and it was about 19% in Harris County. I still want to know what the statewide rate was for the May election, and of course I care a lot about what it will be for the runoff, where there should be a greater percentage of voters who now do know what to do.

I will have more questions about this for after the runoff, but in the meantime I came across this story from Bexar County, which is my nominee for the cutting edge leader in doing this right.

After a rocky first election under new requirements for voting by mail, Bexar County Elections officials are celebrating a sharp decline in rejection of mail ballots.

Though more Bexar County voters voted by mail in the May 7 election than had in the Mar. 1 primary, the preliminary mail ballot rejection rate of 3% was far lower than the 21.7% that left thousands of ballots uncounted two months earlier.

[…]

“Those [March] numbers – it was a tragedy. It was personal. It was personal to us. Everything is personal to us,” said Elena Guajardo, a mail clerk for the Bexar County Elections Department.

Trying to avoid a repeat of the issues in the primary, Bexar County Elections officials highlighted the new requirement on the elections department website ahead of the May 7 election.

They also included an informational insert in every mail ballot, alerting voters to the new ID requirement and recommended writing both numbers, in case one of them wasn’t linked to their voter registration.

Their efforts appear to have paid off.

“We had a success story in this election,” said Elections Administrator Jacquelyn Callanen, who previously said a typical election would “probably” have a 2% to 3% rejection rate.

That story was from May 13, before the official canvass and the deadline for curing deficient ballots, so the numbers may have changed a bit. Regardless, this is damned impressive. Some of it was just learning from the initial experience and being able to be prepped from day one, which was not the case in March due to slowness in providing information by the Secretary of State, and part of it is clearly this strategy of pointing the voters in the right direction up front. Bexar County was talking about this at the time, and now that we can see how well it worked, every other county should look to emulate them. It’s a pain that they have to do this, but it is what it is. Kudos to Bexar County for showing the way.

Tomorrow is Primary Runoff Day

You know the drill, this is your last chance to vote in the primary runoffs. We will finally have the 2022 lineup set for November and can concentrate all of our attention and attacks on the other guys. The map of Tuesday voting locations in Harris County is here – there will be 263 locations, you can vote at any of them, but remember that this map only shows 50 at a time, so if you don’t see something close to you either go to the next 50 or search by your address. An alphabetized list of all locations is here.

I continue to be obsessed by mail ballots and their rejection rates, which was a huge story in March and (very annoyingly) has largely dropped off the radar since. I have some info about mail ballot rejections in the May election in the next post, and in the same search for news that I did on Sunday I found this story from El Paso about their primary runoff experience so far.

More than one of every seven mail ballots cast in El Paso for the primary runoff elections were rejected, mostly because of failure to comply with new steps required this year, the county’s election administrator said.

That rejection rate is much higher than in previous years, when fewer than 10% of mail ballots were thrown out, but down from the 45% rejection rate in the first week of early voting for the March 1 primary.

[…]

Through Wednesday, 562 mail-in ballots — or about 15% of the more than 3,800 cast — had been returned to voters, most because they did not include a driver’s license number or last four digits of their Social Security number on the ballot envelope, El Paso County Elections Administrator Lisa Wise said.

Wise said 165 of the returned ballots had been “cured” as of Wednesday, meaning voters had fixed the error. The 397 remaining rejected mail-in ballots — and any others that might be rejected before Tuesday’s runoff elections — can only be counted if they’re cured by next week.

[…]

Wise said the elections office has been proactive in trying to reduce the number of rejected ballots.

“This election, we began highlighting the carrier envelope from the beginning, alerting voters to the required information. That happened about halfway through with the primary election,” she said. “I believe that is helping with the percentage (of rejected ballots), and many of these voters are getting a second look at the new requirements as well.”

In the March primary, more than 1,000 mail-in ballots were rejected in the first week of early voting. Many voters were able to cure their ballots, but more than 700 mail-in ballots in El Paso County were discarded after election officials found non-compliance with state law and the voters failed to fix the problem. An El Paso Matters analysis found that the vast majority of rejected ballots were from regular voters, many of whom had been registered to vote in the county for decades.

That last sentence is why I’ve been beating the drum about this, and emphasizing that the Democratic Party and its candidates, groups, clubs, and volunteers need to be leading the effort to educate their voters. (The rejection rate in Harris County was at about twelve percent, better than March but still too high.) Some county election offices have been doing a good job of this, but we can’t count on that. This is fixable, but people have to know what they need to do. And if you have received a mail ballot but for whatever the reason decide you want to vote in person, bring the mail ballot with you and turn it in when you go to vote in person.

So what did happen with the HD147 special election?

I was alerted by a comment on an earlier post to this.

Danielle Bess

Things are getting heated in the race to replace State Representative Garnet Coleman in District 147.

Jolanda Jones narrowly won the race in Saturday’s special election with 202 more votes than Danielle Keys Bess, according to Harris County.

But Bess is calling for an audit of Saturday’s special election results with a focus on mail-in ballots.

In an open letter to the Harris County Elections Board Administrator Thursday, Bess questioned the number of mail-in ballots counted.

She said the there were twice as many mail ballots Saturday compared to the March primary. But the early voting and election day turnout numbers were much lower Saturday than during the primary.

Jones responded by accusing Bess of “taking a page straight out of Donald Trump’s playbook.”

“Just like Donald Trump, and with absolutely no evidence whatsoever, my opponent is trying to overturn the results of a valid election with a bogus audit of mail ballots,” Jones said in a statement. “I expect she will next announce the hiring of Rudy Giuliani to lead the effort and organize a riot at Commissioners Court on the day the valid election results are certified.”

You can see the open letter on Instagram. I know what an election contest is, and I know what a recount is, but this was new to me. So I asked the elections office, and I was told that this was a reference to the post-election audit, also known as the Partial Manual Count. This audit is required for all elections that have paper ballots. It’s not something a candidate can request or specify a race for. The SOS selects a number of precincts and races to review, and the elections office has to hand count the paper ballots to ensure they match the digital records. Local election officials do not have any control over what is asked to be audited or what precincts are chosen for the audit.

I am told that the SOS selected ten precincts from the State Proposition 2 election for the Partial Manual Count. The deadline for the results of the PMC to be reported is May 28.

I also called Danielle Bess and asked her if she was requesting a recount or filing an election contest, and she said not at this time. Unless that changes, this is the end of the story for the HD147 special election.

Is there something unusual about the mail ballot totals in the HD147 special election? Bess’ open letter talks about how much greater a portion of the final vote total mail ballots were in the May special election than they were in the March primary. In the May special election, HD147 mail ballots were 29.4% of all ballots cast. But mail ballots were 26.0% of all ballots cast in Harris County in the May election (31,157 mail ballots cast in May out of 119,721 total). If that had been the proportion in HD147 there would have been 1,273 mail ballots instead of 1,440, a difference of 177. Jolanda Jones won by 205 votes, so you can’t make up the difference this way.

Mail ballots in HD147 in March were 9.58% of the total. Mail ballots overall in Harris County in the Democratic primary were 10.59% of the total. So mail ballots were proportionally a larger share of the total in HD147 in May than in March, but not by enough to raise my eyebrows. These were different elections, and Team Jolanda clearly had an incentive to push mail ballots, since she did so well with them in March. As I said before, this looks like the successful execution of a strategy to me. Mail ballots are clearly a big part of the vote in the primary runoff right now, but that can change as there’s still Runoff Day to be had, and there will surely be a push by all candidates to get people out to vote on Tuesday. I’ll check and see what those numbers look like afterwards.

2022 primary runoff Day Five EV report: Yes, I have some info about mail ballots

Early voting has concluded for the primary runoffs. Here’s the final EV report, and here are the final totals:


Party    Mail   Early    Total
==============================
Dem    16,767  25,294   42,061
GOP    13,187  50,498   63,685

You can compare to Day Three. As is always the case, the last day was the busiest for in person voting. Republicans have already exceeded their runoff turnout from 2018, but they only had four races then, and only one of them was countywide, for a District Court position. The runoff in CD02 generated more than half of their total votes. Dems had a runoff for Governor, for all of the countywide executive positions, and for CD07. We will end up with more votes in this runoff than in 2018, though given the different nature of each, for each party, I don’t know how much it matters. I’ll put it to you this way: Dems had 35K turnout in the 2006 primary runoff, which was almost the same amount as the 2006 primary. Republicans drew all of 10K for their runoff, which consisted of one appellate court position and the open seat in HD133. You have to look past the topline numbers, because the races themselves matter.

Anyway. At a wild guess, I’d say Dems end up with 60-70K, Republicans with 85-100K. I’m told (because I asked) that mail ballot rejections were running at around 12% and trending slightly down after the initial batch. Still way too high, but at least it’s down from where we were in March. I’ll be on the lookout for totals from around the state. Have you voted yet?

2022 primary runoff Day Three EV report: Not quite as many mail ballots

Let’s get right to it. Here is the Day Three EV report for the primary runoffs. Here are the vote totals through Wednesday:


Party    Mail   Early    Total
==============================
Dem    15,675  10,993   26,668
GOP    12,735  26,794   39,527

And as a reminder, here they were for Day One:


Party    Mail   Early    Total
==============================
Dem    20,357   3,050   23,407
GOP    20,735   8,049   28,782

You may be wondering, as was Campos and as was I, what happened with the mail ballot totals? I called the Election Office to ask. The short answer is that they accidentally combined the Dem and GOP mail ballot totals in putting together the Monday report. They realized the error Tuesday morning, found where they had gone wrong, and fixed it for the Tuesday evening report. If you compare the numbers in the daily report to those in the unofficial ballot by mail report, the totals will match – I checked that on Wednesday before the Day Three report came out, and both it and the early voting roster numbers synched up. That’s all there was to it.

As for turnout so far, obviously the Republicans have more. The AG race is probably the main driver, but runoffs are funny, with a shorter timeframe for voting and fewer races of interest. In 2018, Dems went from 167,982 in the primary to 57,590 in the runoff. Republicans went from 156,387 in their primary to 50,959 in their runoff. I expect both to be exceeded this time around. Beyond that, not much to say. I’ll be voting today. Have you voted yet?

2022 primary runoff Day One EV report: Lots of mail ballots

No news story yet as I write this, so let’s just jump right in. Here is the Day One EV report for the primary runoffs. Note that there are only five days of early voting in the runoff – as of this morning, there are now four days left – so I won’t be doing any comparisons with March, and since every runoff is its own little universe I won’t compare with previous years. You can see the final EV report for March here, though do note that several thousand more mail ballots arrived between the Friday and the following Tuesday – in total, there were about 29K total mail ballots returned as of the final results. Just over 50K mail ballots were sent out to the primary voters – we know what happened to a bunch of them, but however you want to think about it a bit less than sixty percent of all mail ballots were successfully returned.

Here are the totals so far after the first day of early voting for the runoffs:


Party    Mail   Early    Total
==============================
Dem    20,357   3,050   23,407
GOP    20,733   8,049   28,782

That’s 41K mail ballots returned, with just under 55K ballots being sent out, for a successful return rate close to 80% so far, and that will go up as more ballots come in. Maybe, just maybe, that’s a sign that the problems of March have been at least somewhat ameliorated. To be sure, these are people who almost certainly voted in March and thus have learned their own lessons from that experience. This is why I was so keen to see numbers from the May election, because that had to include a lot more first-timers. This is still an encouraging sign, even if it’s for a smaller population.

This also means that the main thing to watch for going forward is the in person voting population, as there aren’t that many mail ballots left to return and there won’t be any more sent out. I don’t feel like trawling through the past to see what the pattern for these five-day EV periods looks like, but I’d bet a dollar that Friday will be the busiest day. It’s probably not too busy now, so take advantage of the shorter lines while you can.

Primary checkup

Let me start this post off by once again noting that I cannot find any reporting, like at all, about how many mail ballots were rejected for the May elections. Just nothing. It’s as if interest in the subject by anyone but me disappeared after all of the March stories. Maybe that will change with the primary runoffs, I don’t know. But man, am I discouraged by the lack of curiosity about this.

In searching for such stories, I came across this instead.

Texas lawmakers returned to the state Capitol on Wednesday to examine the reasons for election result delays and the effectiveness of new requirements for poll watchers.

When Texans took to the polls on March 1 for the first primary of the 2022 midterm elections, it was the first time statewide voting had taken place under a controversial new law that made several changes to the state’s voting system. Senate Bill 1 was passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature last September, after months of Democrats rallying and using procedural measures to block any action from being taken on it.

The Texas House Elections Committee began Wednesday’s meeting by asking state and county election officials why election results were delayed for the March primary election.

Speaking first before the committee was Isabell Longoria, elections administrator for Harris County, the state’s largest county and home to Houston. Longoria said that many challenges larger counties face in reporting election results quickly are caused by the state’s new paper ballot system and rigid requirements on when to report results.

“This paper ballot system that we are moving to, I think has some, let us call it, paper challenges that have not yet been contemplated by the Texas Election Code,” Longoria told the lawmakers.

The challenges she cites include issues keeping track of and recording ballots that could be up to two pages long. In Texas, a person’s ballot is first inserted into a machine that records the choices made and prints them out on a physical copy. After that, the ballot is inserted into another machine where the votes are recorded and the paper ballot is stored before being transported to a central counting facility.

When asked by Representative John Bucy, D-Cedar Park, what else could be done to alleviate challenges for election workers, Longoria responded that defining what timely reporting means would be helpful. She pointed to the time needed to ensure every voter in line by 7 p.m. has an opportunity to vote, the time it takes to transport ballots through traffic and the time required to correct human errors. All of these factors lead to delays, Longoria said, stressing that the best solution could be to give larger counties more leeway, so they are not held to a strict time requirement.

The Chron also covered this. I get the concern, and I agree that Harris is an outlier, though the other big urban counties are also geographically large and have bad traffic, too. As I said, I thought Harris County’s reporting on the May election was basically fine, with the posting of regular updates going a long way towards alleviating anxiety about how it was going. Final results were available by the time most people would have been getting ready to begin their day on Sunday. I don’t see why anyone should freak out about that.

Which again isn’t to say we can’t or shouldn’t try to do better. I strongly suspect Harris County could crib a bit from other counties’ processes. If there is some change that could be made to SB1 to make it easier on them, that should be considered as well – if we all care about getting results in a timely fashion, that should be an easy sell. But we should also note that in some states, like the ones that actually promote and widely use mail ballots, sometimes final results are not known for a few days. I don’t remember there being much discussion about the effect that adding paper ballots might have on election reporting as SB1 was being passed. Harris is also one of the newcomers to using printed ballots along with their electronic voting machines. There have been a lot of changes – maybe we just need to let things work themselves out a bit.

This story did at least mention the topic that now obsesses me:

Notably absent from the committee’s agenda was the increased number of rejected mail-in ballots as a result of a new Identification requirement in SB 1. The law requires voters who fill out a mail-in ballot to provide their driver’s license or Social Security number, depending on which was used to register to vote in the state.

Of the over 3 million ballots cast in the March primary, 24,636 mail-in ballots were not counted due to the new requirements. In many instances, voters failed to include the identification number on their ballot and others put a number that did not match the form of identification they used to register to vote, leading to their ballot being rejected.

[James Slattery, senior staff attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project] said that the issues discussed during the committee hearing should not have been their primary focus.

“The most important issue facing our elections right now is the catastrophic rate of vote-by-mail rejections that SB 1 caused,” said Slattery. “The committee is not facing this crisis of democracy that they caused.”

The absence of this issue was also noted by Representative Bucy before the meeting came to a close.

“We have 24,000 vote-by-mail ballots thrown out this last primary, did you say we will have a hearing to address that?” Bucy asked committee Chairman Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park. “I just think that is a crisis and I want to make sure this committee is on top of it.”

“Yes,” Cain responded. “The chair intends to do so.”

Cain said that after the May 24 runoff election, the committee will have more information to better examine the issue, leaving the impact of SB 1 still under the watchful eye of lawmakers, election officials and voters.

I mean, there’s still no reason why reporters at the newspapers can’t ask their local election admins about this. Surely there are some numbers out there to be had.

SCOTx ponders the questions the Fifth Circuit asked it about SB1

Seems like there’s not that much in dispute, but there’s always something.

Texas Supreme Court justices questioned during oral argument if they should answer certified questions from a federal appeals court about challenges to an election law that created penalties for soliciting voters to use mail-in ballots.

The case, Paxton v. Longoria, concerns a First-Amendment issue over how provisions in Senate Bill 1, a 2021 law, could lead to civil penalties and or criminal prosecution of county election administrators and volunteer deputy registrars.

During a Wednesday hearing before the court, the foremost issue that appeared to concern the justices was whether they should provide an advisory opinion to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals at all.

Since the case has progressed from federal district court to the Fifth Circuit and on to the state Supreme Court, the parties positions have changed and the justices find themselves in the unusual position of being asked to answer three questions where there is very little if any disagreement between the parties.

The Fifth Circuit asks the justice to answer whether a volunteer deputy registrar, or VDR, is a public official under the Texas Election Code; whether speech the plaintiffs intend to use constitutes “solicitation” within the context of the state code; and whether the Texas Attorney General has the power to enforce that code.

The plaintiffs are Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria and Cathy Morgan, a volunteer deputy registrar who assists people with mail-in ballots in Travis and Williamson counties.

The state, represented by Lanora Pettit, a principal deputy solicitor general with the Office of Attorney General, acknowledged in her brief that volunteer deputy registrars are not public officials subject to prosecution; the term “solicit” does not include merely providing information but instead requires “strongly urging” a voter to fill out an application that was not requested; and the Attorney General is not a proper official to seek civil penalties.

Sean Morales-Doyle of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law submitted a brief that was in line with Pettit on the first and third questions, but had a nuanced distinction on the question of solicitation’s meaning.

Justice Jeff Boyd asked Morales-Doyle, “I’m just not sure why the dispute matters. If everybody agrees that the VDR is not a public official, so therefore has no standing, everybody agrees that Ms. Longoria has not … indicated any intent to violate in Williamson County, and everybody agrees the attorney general has no enforcement authority , where’s the case or controversy?”

Morales-Doyle said that Morgan began the case with a reasonable fear of prosecution and while the state has indicated a disinclination to prosecute she does not know the position of the Travis County district attorney, nor what future district attorneys would do.

If the questions are not answered, she would therefore still need to have the temporary injunction in place, he said.

On defining solicitation, because a felony criminal prosecution is possible, Justice Jane Bland asked if the state should limit its meaning to the penal code’s definition, which would restrict the term to situations where a public official induces someone to commit a criminal act.

Morales-Doyle supported that approach, noting that every criminal solicitation statute that he is aware of applies only to solicitation of criminal conduct.

“What is troubling everybody—and apparently troubling the attorney general who wants to give a definition of solicitation that I’m not aware existing in any criminal code—is the absurd result that someone could be held criminally liable for encouraging their fellow citizen to vote,” Morales-Doyle said.

On rebuttal, Pettit argued that sanctionable solicitation is not limited to criminal inducement. She cited the example of barratry, where lawyers unlawfully solicit clients for profit.

See here for the background. The bottom line is that the plaintiffs have asked for a temporary injunction against the provision of that law that makes it a crime for election officials and election workers to encourage voters to vote by mail, whether or not those voters are eligible under Texas law to do so. The motion was granted by a district court judge and then put on hold by the Fifth Circuit. I think the Fifth Circuit is evaluating whether to put the injunction back in place while the rest of the initial lawsuit is litigated, but we are in the weeds here and I don’t have certainty about that. Let’s see what SCOTx says first and maybe that will clue me in. (Any lawyers out there that want to help, by all means please do.)

Early voting for the May 24 primary runoffs starts tomorrow

You know the drill. Primary runoffs are on, with early voting going on this week, Monday to Friday May 16 to May 20. Because it’s a runoff, you only get those five days. Voting happens from 7 AM to 7 PM each day, and you can find your EV locations here with the PDF here. As with the May special election it’s a smaller list of EV locations – it looks to me like there’s a handful more, but definitely fewer than it was for March and will be for November. Look to see if your favorite place is in use before you head out.

I’ve talked about the Chron’s lack of endorsements in the three judicial races they skipped for March till I’m blue in the face, for all the good it did me. The Chron chose instead to just re-run their original endorsements instead of considering the other races, which is not what I would have had them do. You can find all the judicial Q&As and interviews I did for the primary here, plus the ones I did for Janet Dudding, Staci Childs, and Coretta Mallet-Fontenot. The Erik Manning spreadsheet is still there, too.

We still have no idea how mail ballots went in the May election. Maybe if we’re good and we eat all our vegetables someone will report on that for this election. If you are a mail voter or know someone who is, please let us know if the experience was any different this time around versus in March. These were our chances to get it (more) right. It sure would be nice to know if that was successful. In the meantime, go vote.

Is there anything to say about Jolanda Jones’ win in the HD147 special election?

First, here are the facts.

Jolanda Jones

Democrat Jolanda Jones edged out her opponent Danielle Keys Bess in a special election on Saturday to finish the term of former state Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston.

According to unofficial returns, Jones got 52% of the vote, with 48% going to Keys Bess. They were separated by a difference of 202 votes, which means the election is eligible for a recount if Keys Bess petitions for one. Keys Bess did not respond to a request for comment.

Jones is a former member of the Houston City Council and Houston ISD board. Keys Bess is a real estate agent with a background in political campaigns.

Coleman resigned in February after announcing last year that he would not seek reelection due to health reasons. His Houston-area district favors Democrats in November.

A win for Jones means she would hold the seat through the end of this year, but the Legislature is not set to meet again until January.

Jones and Keys Bess are also candidates in the May 24 primary runoff for the next full term in the seat, which begins in January. Jones got 42% of the vote in the crowded March primary, while Keys Bess received 20%.

As the story notes, both candidates got some endorsements from various elected officials. What was potentially of interest was how Jones won. Campos explains.

Commentary is kind of surprised that former H-Town city council member and HISD Trustee Jolanda Jones only squeaked by in the special election this past Saturday with a 52% to 48% win. She won by 202 votes over Danielle Keys Bess.

Jones won mail ballot voting by 364 votes. Bess won in person voting by 162 votes.

[…]

Mail ballots for the runoff have already been sent to voters so Jones will probably maintain that advantage. Early voting in person begins next Monday and only lasts for five days.

I am curious to know why mail ballot voters who for the most part are 65 and older would support Jones. Just like I would like to know why in person voters would favor Bess. Could it be that momentum was swaying toward Bess toward the end?

A lot of folks said this race was supposed to be a slam dunk for Jones. It wasn’t.

Here’s a chart for the votes by type each candidate got:


Candidate  Mail  Early  E-Day
=============================
Jones       845    769    691
Bess        481    817    805

Does it matter? Mail votes count as much as any other kind. When a race has this shape it can look like one candidate has late momentum, which I get and am subject to myself, but I feel it’s an illusion. You could argue that if there has been more time to vote, maybe Bess would have eventually caught up to Jones. You could also argue that if Bess had done better in mail voting, she wouldn’t have needed more time. Woulda, coulda, shoulda.

For what it’s worth, Jones dominated mail voting in the March primary, too. She had 56% of the mail vote, and she led in both the early and e-day voting, though by smaller percentages each time. Looks to me like this is a successful strategy so far.

The March primary had 11,800 voters, the May 7 special election had 4,400 voters; I’d guess the runoff will be in between the two. Jones won in each, in the same way. Unless there is something to suggest that the May 7 election actually took a turn late in the race, I’d say she’s in solid shape for May 24. We’ll know soon enough. The Chron has more.

Tomorrow is May Election Day

Vote if you haven’t, then get ready to vote again in the primary runoffs.

Texas’ constitutional amendment election will take place on Saturday, May 7.

There are local propositions on the ballot, too, which vary by region. But at the statewide level, Texans will decide on two measures aiming to cut property taxes.

Proposition 1 would approve the tax cuts for elderly and disabled homeowners beginning in 2023, while a second measure seeks to raise the state’s homestead exemption from $25,000 to $40,000, lowering school property taxes by about $176 a year, on average.

Find your polling place here.

Polls will be open from 7 AM to 7 PM as usual. In Harris County you have the interactive map of polling locations and the PDF listing, which has them all in alphabetical order. I strongly suspect you will not have much of a line wherever you go.

I remain terribly disappointed with the Chronicle’s lack of coverage of these races. I can understand skimping on the HD147 special election, as the stakes there are low, but not paying any attention to the HCC special election is a travesty. As before, you can at least listen to the interviews I’ve done with the candidates and make up your own mind based on them. For HD147:

Jolanda Jones
Danielle Bess

For HCC2:

Charlene Ward Johnson
Baby Jayne McCullough
Kathy Lynch Gunter
Terrance Hall

I’m disappointed that the Chron never endorsed in that latter race or in the Constitutional amendment races. I’m comfortable saying that a Yes vote on the two propositions is fine, but go read the resources in this post, or watch this video I did with Diana Martinez Alexander and Michelle Palmer. It covers more than just the amendments on the ballot, and I’m mostly cribbing from the League of Women Voters info, but if you’d rather hear me say it than read about it, there you go. I’ll have results on Sunday, and we’ll shift gears to the primary runoffs after that. Early voting for those begins on May 16, which is to say a week from Monday, and because it’s a runoff it only lasts five days. You will definitely run into longer lines for that one.

May 2022 special election Day Nine EV report: I still have no idea what’s happening with mail ballots

Yesterday was the last day for early voting in the May 7 special statewide election and other races. This Chron story rather belatedly gives an overview of the various contests on the ballot. You know what it doesn’t even mention in passing? How many mail ballots have been rejected this time around. I did a similar search for news stories as before about mail ballots this time around and found nothing. Problem solved, I guess. Insert massive shrug emoji here.

It’s true that there are some consequential and contentious school board races out there, with plenty of frothing at the mouth about “critical race theory” and banning books. I’m glad the Chron has devoted some coverage to that, though I’d argue that there should have been more and there definitely should have been at least one full article dedicated to the HCC special election. But here we are, so go educate yourself as best you can if you haven’t voted yet.

I should note, I did find this article about how the current wave of voter suppression laws has really made things harder for folks with disabilities, especially after all of the pandemic accommodations that were made and that helped them in 2020. Maybe someday SCOTUS will have a little more sympathy for the disability community than they have had for voters of color (which is an extremely low bar to clear), but that’s firmly in “I’ll believe it when I see it” territory.

Here is the final EV report for this election. At the end of early voting, there were 48,130 in person ballots, about 22K of which were cast Monday and Tuesday. It’s nice to know that even for a weird election like this, the usual pattern of early voting turnout still holds. There were 24,604 mail ballots, for a total of 72,734. I still don’t see any stories addressing, or even asking, the question of the rejection rate. Maybe that will come up again for the primary runoff. Until then, who knows.

May 2022 special election Day Seven EV report: Hey, this thing is almost over

As of today, there are just two days of early voting left for the May 2022 election, whether regular or special depending on who you are and what you may have to vote for. Election Day is on Saturday, so early voting ends on Tuesday, leaving the usual three days in between. I can just about guarantee you that if you show up to vote – you do have the two constitutional amendments on your ballot, no matter where you are – you will be in and out promptly. How do I know? This was my experience at the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center on West Gray on Saturday:

I was in and out in less than two minutes. Seriously, this will take you no time at all.

I expect these amendments to pass without any difficulty, so it’s not of vital importance what you do there. What is of greater importance for Harris County voters are the special elections, the school board and school bond elections. There’s the HD147 special election and the HCC special election, and I’ve seen diddly squat in terms of coverage for them. The Chron hasn’t even bothered to endorse in the HCC special election, which to me is a real dereliction of their duty. You can at least listen to the interviews I’ve done with the candidates and make up your own mind based on them. For HD147:

Jolanda Jones
Danielle Bess

For HCC2:

Charlene Ward Johnson
Baby Jayne McCullough
Kathy Lynch Gunter
Terrance Hall

There will be a runoff for HCC, so at least there will be a second chance to get to know who’s running. But really, why wait?

Here’s the EV daily report through Saturday, which is Day Six despite what the title of this post says. I didn’t feel like waiting until the Sunday report came in last night to finish this post, so there you have it. As of Saturday, 47,503 people had voted in Harris County, with 24,482 of those being in person and 23,021 by mail. Saturday was the tipping point for more in person votes than mail votes. I still have no idea how many mail ballots have been rejected. I will continue to keep an eye out for that. Have you voted, and if not do you intend to?

May 2022 special election Day Four EV report: Checking in on the mail ballots

In my first look at early voting for the May special election, I noted the fairly large number of mail ballots that had been cast so far in Harris County and wondered if we would hear about mail ballot rejections as we had so much during the primaries. Maybe things are better, maybe they’re not. I did a little Google News searching yesterday to see if I could find any coverage of mail ballot rejections for this election. The first story I saw was from a month ago.

It’s been nearly one week since the Lubbock County Elections Office sent out mail-in ballots for the city and school board elections in May and some have already been rejected.

Some voters are forgetting to include their ID information underneath the flap of the mail-in ballot envelope, the same issue Lubbock County saw during the March primaries.

Changes to the Texas Election Code require voters to include ID information on their mail-in ballot envelope. It’s a change Lubbock County Elections Administrator Roxzine Stinson says voters aren’t quite used to. Lubbock County had an 11 percent rejection rate in the March primaries. For the election on May 7, voters are considering two constitutional amendments, city offices, and making decisions for the future of their schools. Stinson says this election’s rejection rate is higher so far, but she thinks that will change.

“This one right now, because we haven’t had a whole lot, it’s at about 18 percent. But as ballots come back and as we get those corrected, it won’t be that high. I know as we all get familiar with the processes, and especially the voters, the numbers will go down as far as rejection rate. And we’ve always had a fairly low one, so, it’ll get there. It’s just it’s something new and we’re all learning,” she said.

Stinson says you must remember to put either your driver’s license or last four digits of your social security number under the flap of your mail-in ballot envelope. She says to fill out the section, seal the envelope, sign it and then it’s ready to mail. If your ballot is rejected, the Elections Office will notify you to make changes.

“What happens at that point, we try to contact them. Our Signature Verification Committee will reach out by phone call, we may email. If we catch it in time before it goes to them, we will mail it back to you with a new envelope so you can correct that under the flap and just send it back,” Stinson said.

The city and school election envelopes are green on one side, so they can be distinguished from other election envelopes. If you still need to request a mail-in ballot, you have to include your ID information that matches what’s on your voter registration record. Stinson says to play it safe and write down both your driver’s license and social security info. If you need help, Stinson says to give the Elections Office a call at 806-775-1338.

After all the preparation that goes into holding an election, Stinson hates rejecting a ballot.

“That hurts, I’m going to be honest, that hurts. I’ve been here 18 years and we’ve worked so hard all that time, really trying to keep clean voter rolls and I think we have one of the cleanest in the state,” Stinson said.

I’m sure other election offices are going through similar things right now. The question, for which I still don’t have a good answer, is how or if things have changed since March. Certainly, there are people working on it, but change takes time.

After tens of thousands of mail-in ballots were rejected for the March 1 primary election, advocates are raising concerns while seeing what they can do to avoid a repeat of this under the state’s new election security law that increased limits on mail-in voting.

[…]

AARP Texas Director Tina Tran said she was worried this means the votes of Texans 65-years-old and older were disproportionately tossed, since this group is traditionally the biggest percentage of voters who vote by mail.

“We do know of eligible voters who are able to vote by mail, voters 65 and older make up a huge percentage of those eligible. Those are our members. That’s our demographic. That’s who we fight for,” Tran said. “To see nearly 25,000 mail-in ballots rejected, I can glean from that it is a significant number of folks who are 65 and older. That’s why AARP is concerned. Of course, we have an interest in making sure people who want to vote are able to vote.”

Critics that included elections workers had raised alarms this could happen in the months leading up to the March 1 primary election.

[…]

Looking ahead, all eyes will be on the rejection rates for the May runoff election and November general election.

Tran said it will be on advocates and groups, like AARP Texas, to inform voters of the new measures that have thus far tripped up thousands of voters.

“Clearly, we have to step up our game. We’re not reaching certain people. There might be other trip-ups. One of the things we really need to pay attention to right now is why these ballots are getting rejected,” Tran said. “The numbers are deeply troubling. If we don’t change our strategy, if we don’t change our tactics, we could see numbers higher. Leading up to the general, if we get 12 % of mail-in ballots rejected, that’s a really significant number.”

From my perspective, it’s very much on the Texas Democratic Party, every county Democratic Party, and all of their affiliated clubs and organizations and volunteers as well. Remember, there are a whole lot of people who haven’t experienced the new law yet, and won’t until November. We have just a few months to get this right.

Election administrators are doing what they can as well.

As early voting in the May 7 election gets underway, Bexar County elections officials are taking steps to ensure they don’t have a repeat of the March 1 Primary elections in which nearly 22% of mail ballots were ultimately rejected.

This time around, every mail ballot is sent out with an informational insert reminding the voter about a new, ID number requirement that tripped up many people in the primary. That election was the first to be conducted under the requirements of the controversial state voting law, Senate Bill 1.

SB 1 requires voters to write an ID number associated with their registration on the outside of their mail ballot’s carrier envelope in a spot covered by the flap. Many either missed that requirement entirely, or wrote down the wrong number – writing in their driver’s license number, for example, when their registration was under their Social Security Number.

“It was like a tsunami,” Elections Administrator Jacquelyn Callanen said of the rejected ballots.

[…]

The Bexar County Elections Department is now including an insert in every mail ballot it sends out, Callanen said, reminding voters to include the required ID numbers – preferably both of them.

“We’re asking for both numbers because then we stand a better chance, depending on which one we have on file,” Callanen said.

The elections department website also includes detailed information on the changes to the mail ballots at the top of its main page.

Callanen is aiming for a rejection rate under 5% for the May 7 elections and says, so far, things are looking better.

That’s encouraging. I have not seen any reporting from Harris County yet, but hopefully there will be something soon. The HarrisVotes webpage has this FAQ about voting by mail that talks about the new requirements, but doesn’t explicitly say to put in both numbers. That’s a gap that needs to be addressed.

Anyway. The Day Four EV report is here. I’m not going to do any other comparisons as there’s not really anything to compare it to, but we do have 36,354 total votes cast so far, 14,951 in person and 21,403 by mail. At some point, maybe we’ll know how many tried and failed to vote by mail.

May 2022 special election Day One EV report: There were how many mail ballots?

Hey, it’s early voting time for the May 2022 special election. You know what that means, so here’s your Day One EV report for it. And here’s a comparison for Day One with the two most recent countywide elections:


Election  InPerson    Mail   Total    Sent
==========================================
Nov21        2,622  29,005  31,627  83,909
Mar22        9,815   4,053  13,868  39,366
Apr22        2,800  17,717  20,517  57,342

You can find the final EV reports for these here: November 2021 and March 2022. I’m calling this election “April 2022” above so it will be less confusing, since “Mar22 and “May22” are so similar.

I admit to being somewhat flabbergasted by the mail ballot numbers for this election. It’s a lower profile election than the one last November, but all things considered it’s off to a pretty good start. I’m keeping my eyes open for any stories about mail ballot issues, whether it’s the ballot applications, about which we had already heard plenty by this time in February, or the returned ballots. I am hopeful that at least the worst of the problems have been resolved – for sure, the county election offices should know what they’re doing, and the SOS should have its act together – but there will undoubtedly be people voting for the first time under the new law, so there will still be friction. If we’re lucky and we’ve learned from the experience, there will be less of it. That’s what I want, and that’s what the goal needs to be for November. This is the first test run, so we need to know how it goes.

On a side note, on the matter of endorsements, the following was in the Monday morning email newsletter from Progress Texas:

Vote YES on State Props 1 and 2. Prop 1 provides property tax relief to elderly homeowners and homeowners with disabilities, many of whom live on fixed incomes. Prop 2 would provide property tax relief to homeowners at a time when housing costs and property taxes have skyrocketed in our state.

Some people have asked me about the two propositions. I’d been planning to vote for Prop 2 and was ambivalent about Prop 1. I’m willing to follow this advice, but if you think otherwise please leave a comment.

Early voting for the May 7 elections begins tomorrow

We all have at least one election to vote in, so get ready to get out there.

On May 7, Texas voters will have the opportunity to weigh in on two proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution, as well as a number of other contests, from local propositions to city council seats.

Early voting for the May 7 elections runs from Monday, April 25, through Tuesday, May 3. As always, polls will be open on Election Day, Saturday, May 7, from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.

[…]

To vote by mail in Texas, you must be 65 years old or older, sick or disabled, out of the county on Election Day and during the early voting period or confined in jail but otherwise eligible.

The last day to apply for a mail-in ballot for the May 7 election is Tuesday, April 26 (received, not postmarked).

This will be a good chance to see if any counties have learned from the March mail ballot debacle and taken steps to reduce the number of rejected ballots. That responsibility very much falls on the political parties as well, and the May 24 primary runoffs will be the bigger test for them. I will be keeping a close eye on this.

(By the way, tomorrow is also the deadline to register to vote for the primary runoffs, if somehow you are not currently registered to vote.)

A list of early voting locations for Harris County for the May 7 election is here and the interactive map is here. Note that fewer locations than usual are available, as this is going to be a low turnout affair, so check to ensure your regular spot is open. I note that the West End Multi-Service Center, on Heights Blvd just south of I-10, which I’ve been using lately as it’s a reasonable bike ride from my house, is not available this time. Check before you head out and save yourself some trouble.

What’s on your ballot for this election? Everyone gets to vote on the two constitutional amendments that were placed on the ballot during the last special session. Prop 2, which increases the homestead exemption from $25K to $40K, is worth a Yes. Prop 1, which approves a property tax cut for elderly and disabled homeowners, is your call. Wherever you are and whatever other races there may be, this one is for all of us to vote on.

In Harris County there is the special election for the remainder of the term in HD147, which is between Jolanda Jones and Danielle Bess. Those two are also in the primary runoff on May 24 – yes, I know, this is weird and confusing – and it really only matters if the same person wins both races. For higher stakes there is the special election in HCC District 2, with four candidates running to replace Rhonda Skillern-Jones. You can listen to the interviews I did with each candidate. For HD147:

Jolanda Jones
Danielle Bess

For HCC2:

Charlene Ward Johnson
Baby Jayne McCullough
Kathy Lynch Gunter
Terrance Hall

Also in Harris County, there are several school bond referenda:

In Fort Bend County, there are two races for Fort Bend ISD, in District 3 and District 7. Note that one of the candidates for District 7 is a problem.

In Montgomery County, there are a bunch of special purpose district elections. If you live in Montgomery, check very carefully to see if one of those includes you.

There are undoubtedly plenty of others, but I’ve only got so much space and time. Check your local elections office webpage for further details, and get out there and vote.

We have a final count of rejected mail ballots

About one in eight got canned. That’s a lot.

The votes of more than 24,000 Texans who tried to cast ballots by mail were thrown out in the March primary — a dramatic increase in rejected ballots in the first election held under a new Republican voting law.

Roughly 12.4% of mail-in ballots returned to the state’s 254 counties were not counted, according to figures released Wednesday by the Texas secretary of state. Just over 3 million people voted overall in the low-turnout primary.

Of 24,636 rejected mail-in ballots, 14,281 belonged to voters attempting to participate in the Democratic primary, and 10,355 belonged to voters in the Republican primary. But the rejection rate by party was fairly aligned; 12.9% of Democratic ballots were rejected and 11.8% of Republican ballots were rejected.

Put another way, 1 in every 8 mail-in voters lost their votes in their primary. The rate amounts to a significant surge in rejections compared with previous years, including the higher-turnout 2020 presidential election, when less than 1% of ballots were tossed.

Data previously collected by The Texas Tribune found rejection rates ranging from 6% to nearly 22% in 16 of the state’s 20 counties with the most registered voters, which overall rejected 18,742 mail-in ballots. In most cases, county officials said, ballots were rejected for failing to meet new, stricter ID requirements enacted by the Republican-controlled Legislature last year that require voters to provide their driver’s license number or a partial Social Security number to vote by mail.

By contrast, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission found less than 2% of mail-in ballots were rejected statewide in the 2018 midterm election. The statewide rejection rate in the 2020 presidential election was less than 1%. In the higher-turnout 2020 election, 8,304 ballots were tossed statewide. In the 2022 primary — for which turnout fell shy of 18% — roughly three times as many ballots were rejected.

The data released by the secretary of state is the most official measure of the fallout of the tighter restrictions on voting by mail, which have so far proven the most frustrating aspect of Republicans’ voting law in its first test.

See here for the previous update. A little back of the envelope math says there were about 200K total mail ballots submitted for the primaries. That suggests maybe 600-800K mail ballots for the general, and about 75-100K rejections if nothing changes. Like I said, that’s a lot. I will say again, we can do something about this to reduce that number, and for all the obvious reasons we need to make that a top priority. The May runoff will hopefully give us a progress report on that. I suppose now that we have actual real world data of this effect of SB1, it may help make the case against it in the litigation, as the harm is now real and not theoretical. We’ll know when we hear about updated filings. In the meantime, make a priority of educating everyone you know about the new requirements so that they can be prepared for the next time they vote.

Judge rules against Prairie View students in 2018 voting rights case

There was a lot of legal activity last week, so it took me a minute to get to this story.

A federal judge ruled Thursday that Waller County did not discriminate against student voters at Prairie View A&M University during the 2018 general election when it granted them fewer days and hours for early voting, the latest chapter in a history of voting rights struggles in the southeast Texas county.

In a 128-page ruling and summary of the case, U.S. District Judge Charles R. Eskridge said there wasn’t evidence to “establish a concern” over the lack of any early voting location on campus or in the city of Prairie View during the first week of early voting that year. The county commissioners court, Eskridge found, allocated early voting locations and hours on an “objective and reasonable basis” that did not run afoul of the federal Voting Rights Act or the U.S. Constitution.

The case dates to 2018, when a group of Prairie View A&M students sued the county, alleging it set up an unlawful lopsided schedule that offered students — most of them Black — fewer opportunities to vote early than the county’s white residents. But the fight over student voting rights on the historically Black campus, built on a former plantation, stretches across decades and generations of students.

[…]

The legal fight emerged in the fall of 2018 when students realized the county’s early voting schedule left Prairie View residents with far fewer days and hours for voting than other population centers in the county, and zero opportunity to vote in the city during the first half of the early voting period.

Prairie View, where the vast majority of residents are Black, had five days of early voting. In two of the three other towns that serve as population hubs in Waller County, with many more white residents than Prairie View, early voting would run during all 12 days of the early voting period. In the third town, early voting would be available for 11 days.

The students pressed for better access at a commissioners court meeting five days before the start of early voting in 2018, at which Waller County Judge Trey Duhon noted there was “an inequity” in the number of overall hours among commissioners’ precincts. But the court ultimately voted to make no changes.

Students sued days later, asking a federal judge to order the county to set up an early voting site on campus that would offer weekend hours. This prompted an emergency meeting in which the commissioners court instead voted to extend hours on the three days an on-campus location was previously scheduled to host voting during the second week of early voting. And in a city without public transportation and where many students don’t have cars, the court added five hours of weekend voting at Prairie View City Hall — a two-and-a-half-mile walk one way from some student housing.

At a roughly two-week trial in 2020, Duhon cast the commissioners court’s 2018 decisions as a balancing act to provide early voting access to everyone in the county “to the best of our ability.” He reasoned that because the on-campus voting location was in a student center frequented by students — some passing through multiple times a day — hosting early voting there for two or three days “affords them multiple opportunities” to cast their ballots.

But the county also argued students were seeking preferential access over the community, including residents who have to travel longer distances to vote.

[…]

In listing the various reasons for why he sided with the county, Eskridge noted that Prairie View had more voting hours than smaller population centers and that the two precincts in Waller County with the most allocated hours were majority-Black districts.

He also wrote that the initial early voting plan was adopted following normal procedures, including a joint agreement by the local party chairs. The county previously explained that the local chair of the Democratic Party had asked to push early voting at Prairie View to the second week of the early voting period, noting concerns that voting would conflict with homecoming events.

And students were offered a “convenience of hours” at an on-campus location they frequented that others in the county did not have, he wrote.

“At best, Plaintiffs establish a mere inconvenience imposed on PVAMU students with respect to the early voting schedule for the 2018 general election,” Eskridge said. “In reality, it’s rather doubtful that the early voting locations and hours provided by Waller County to PVAMU students can be understood as creating any incremental inconvenience at all.”

See here and here for some background. A copy of the opinion, which I have not read, is here. It seems like Waller County did try to make some accommodations, which the judge accepted as sufficient, though why the PVA&M locations couldn’t have been there for the duration of early voting remains a question to me. I’m sure Waller County would say they were just doing the best they could with the resources they had, and since the judge bought it, there had to be some merit to that. I would say this is an argument for the state to put up more money for counties to provide more voting locations, as well as an argument for making it easier to vote by mail and allowing more people to vote by mail, instead of the ridiculous system we have now. That would be a very cost-effective way to accommodate people who would otherwise have a difficult time getting to a voting location. For obvious reasons, we’re not getting any of that with the state government we have now.

Fifth Circuit asks SCOTx for help on some SB1 issues

The Twitter summary:

To recap the history here, back in September a group of plaintiffs including Isabel Longoria filed one of many lawsuits against SB1, the voter suppression law from the special sessions. In December, a motion was filed to get a temporary injunction against the provision of that law that makes it a crime for election officials and election workers to encourage voters to vote by mail, whether or not those voters are eligible under Texas law to do so. A federal district judge granted the motion, which would have applied to the primaries, and I’m willing to bet would have helped ease the confusion that led to all of those rejected mail ballots, but the Fifth Circuit, as is their wont, put a hold on the injunction.

It’s not clear to me where things are procedurally with this litigation – and remember, there are a bunch of other cases as well – but in this matter the Fifth Circuit wanted to get some clarity on state law before doing whatever it has on its docket to do. Let me just show you what that second linked file says:

The case underlying these certified questions is a pre-enforcement challenge to two recently enacted provisions of the Texas Election Code: section 276.016(a) (the anti-solicitation provision) and section 31.129 (the civil-liability provision) as applied to the anti-solicitation provision. The anti-solicitation provision makes it unlawful for a “public official or election official” while “acting in an official capacity” to “knowingly . . . solicit[] the submission of an application to vote by mail from a person who did not request an application.” The civil-liability provision creates a civil penalty for an election official who is employed by or an office of the state and who violates a provision of the election code.

Isabel Longoria, the Harris County Elections Administrator, and Cathy Morgan, a Volunteer Deputy Registrar serving in Williams and Travis counties, sued the Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton, to enjoin enforcement of the civil liability provision, as applied to the anti-solicitation provision. And in response to the recent Court of Criminal Appeals case holding that the Texas Attorney General has no independent authority to prosecute criminal offenses created in the Election Code, they also sued the Harris, Travis, and Williamson County district attorneys to challenge the criminal penalties imposed by the anti-solicitation provision. The plaintiffs argue that the provisions violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments because the risk of criminal and civil liability chills speech that “encourage[s] voters to lawfully vote by mail.

After an evidentiary hearing, the district court granted the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction, enjoining the defendants from enforcing and prosecuting under the provisions. Paxton and one of the district attorneys (Shawn Dick of Williamson County) appealed. Because the Harris and Travis County district attorneys did not appeal, only Longoria’s challenge to the civil penalty permitted by the civil-liability provision and the Volunteer Deputy Registrar’s challenge to the criminal liability imposed under the anti-solicitation provision were at issue in the appeal.

On its own motion, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has certified the following questions to the Court:

(1) Whether Volunteer Deputy Registrars are “public officials” under the Texas Election Code;

(2) Whether the speech Plaintiffs allege that they intend to engage in constitutes “solicitation” within the context of Texas Election Code § 276.016(a)(1). For example, is the definition narrowly limited to seeking application for violative mail-in ballots? Is it limited to demanding submission of an application for mail-in ballots (whether or not the applicant qualifies) or does it broadly cover the kinds of comments Plaintiffs stated that they wish to make: telling those who are elderly or disabled, for example, that they have the opportunity to apply for mail-in ballots?; and

(3) Whether the Texas Attorney General is a proper official to enforce Texas Election Code § 31.129.

The Court accepted the certified questions and set oral argument for May 11, 2022.

You now know everything I know. Let’s see what happens in May.

Bexar County looks for ways to reduce future mail ballot rejections

Good luck. I hope if they learn anything useful they share it with the rest of us.

Bexar County Commissioners on Tuesday directed local officials to come up with a plan to reduce the number of rejected mail-in ballots in upcoming elections after the county — and Texas — saw record high rejection rates in the March primary.

As many as 22% of mail-in ballots were rejected in Bexar County. Before the new election law took effect, the rejection rate was 2-3%, Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacquelyn Callanen has said.

A statewide analysis by the Associated Press showed about 13% of mail ballots sent to election offices across Texas were thrown out for various errors, many tied to the new, stricter voting rules backed by Republican lawmakers.

“We want to get some feedback from our lawyers in terms of what we can and can’t do in terms of a public outreach campaign,” said Commissioner Justin Rodriguez (Pct. 2), who initiated the process that was approved by the court Tuesday. “The important thing is we want … their votes to count, we want it to be safe and secure.”

The county will have to walk a fine legal line in any awareness campaign, as public officials are now not allowed to promote voting by mail.

“We want to be within the confines of the law, but I think a thorough legal analysis will be helpful,” Rodriguez said.

The Bexar County Elections and District Attorney’s offices will make recommendations ahead of the November election, he said. That may involve hiring more election staff, a coordinated awareness campaign or other mechanisms that may require funding.

See here for the previous entry. Bexar County hopes to have something in place for the May elections, which makes sense. It is of course ridiculous that they have to consult their lawyers before they can attempt to pursue a voter education message – “easier to vote and harder to cheat”, my ass – but that’s where we are. As a reminder, private entities like the Bexar and Harris County Democratic Party can do this as well, without the bizarre legal restraints. I do believe that a concentrated wave of voter education can make a difference, but it needs to be all hands on deck and it needs to start now. Harris County, I hope you’re paying attention.

Still more on the mail ballot rejections

The Associated Press moves the ball forward now that the votes have been canvassed.

Texas threw out mail votes at an abnormally high rate during the nation’s first primary of 2022, rejecting nearly 23,000 ballots outright under tougher voting rules that are part of a broad campaign by Republicans to reshape American elections, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.

Roughly 13% of mail ballots returned in the March 1 primary were discarded and uncounted across 187 counties in Texas. While historical primary comparisons are lacking, the double-digit rejection rate would be far beyond what is typical in a general election, when experts say anything above 2% is usually cause for attention.

“My first reaction is ‘yikes,’” said Charles Stewart III, director of the Election Data and Science Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “It says to me that there’s something seriously wrong with the way that the mail ballot policy is being administered.”

Republicans promised new layers of voting rules would make it “easier to vote and harder to cheat.” But the final numbers recorded by AP lay bare the glaring gulf between that objective and the obstacles, frustration and tens of thousands of uncounted votes resulting from tighter restrictions and rushed implementation.

In Texas, a state former President Donald Trump easily won although by a smaller margin than 2016, the trouble of navigating new rules was felt in counties big and small, red and blue. But the rejection rate was higher in counties that lean Democratic (15.1%) than Republican (9.1%).

[…]

The AP counted 22,898 rejected ballots across Texas by contacting all 254 counties and obtaining final vote reconciliation reports. Some smaller counties did not provide data or respond to requests, but the 187 counties that provided full numbers to AP accounted for 85% of the 3 million people who voted in the primary.

Last week, AP reported that 27,000 ballots had been flagged in Texas for initial rejection, meaning those voters still had time to “fix” their ballot for several days after the primary and have it count. But the final figures suggest most voters did not.

The most rejections were around Houston, a Democratic stronghold, where Harris County elections officials reported that nearly 7,000 mail ballots — about 19% — were discarded. During the last midterm elections in 2018, Texas’ largest county only rejected 135 mail ballots. Harris County elections officials said they received more than 8,000 calls since January from voters seeking help, which they attributed to “confusion and frustration” over the new requirements.

In the five counties won by Trump that had the most mail-in primary voters, a combined 2,006 mailed ballots were rejected, a rate of 10% of the total. In the counties won by Biden with the most mail-in voters, which include most of Texas’ biggest cities, a combined 14,020 votes were similarly rejected, which amounted to 15.7%.

[…]

It is unknown how many Texas voters whose mail ballots were rejected may have still had their vote count by deciding to just show up in person instead.

Sam Taylor, a spokesman for the Texas secretary of state, said the office did not yet have its own final comprehensive numbers on ballot rejections. He said a “significant portion” of their efforts this year will be awareness about the new mail-in rules.

“We are confident we will have all the information we need to apply any lessons learned during the primary to an even more robust voter education campaign heading into the November general election,” he said.

See here and here for the background. Saying that “the rejection rate was higher in counties that lean Democratic than Republican” is suggestive but not conclusive. We don’t know how many counties are included in that tally, how many of them were blue and how many red, how blue and how red they were, and most importantly how many ballots from each primary were rejected. Republican counties, especially the smaller ones, are a lot more red than Democratic counties are blue, though the Dem counties have a lot more voters in them. A lot of those Republican counties also have many more Republican primary voters than Democratic primary voters. We still need to have a total number of ballots rejected for each party to get a better idea of how this actually played out.

The Statesman adds on.

In the Austin-area counties, the overwhelming majority of the rejections were due to the law’s stricter ID requirement, which has caused confusion for voters since counties opened applications for absentee ballots earlier this year.

“It’s typical to see ballots rejected because they’re received after a statutory deadline — and we still had many ballots that were rejected for that reason — but the more prevalent cause in this case was ballots rejected for lack of the proper ID number, or ID issues,” said Chris Davis, elections administrator for Williamson County.

“It led to much higher numbers than we’ve ever seen, in terms of rejected ballots,” he said.

Mail-in ballot rejection rates in the primary election ranged from 7% to 11% in Austin-area counties, with more than 1,500 votes tossed out across Travis, Williamson, Bastrop and Caldwell counties.

Those rates far exceed previous elections. In the 2018 primary, the rejection rate for mail-in ballots in Travis County was about 2%.

[…]

In Travis, Williamson, Bastrop and Caldwell counties, rejection rates ranged from 7% to 11% in the most recent election. The elections administrator in Hays County, Jennifer Doinoff, did not return multiple requests for information.

Official tallies for Travis County showed 948 absentee ballots were rejected out of 11,602 turned in to the county. Victoria Hinojosa, spokeswoman for the Travis County election administrator, said 72% of the rejected ballots were cast in the Democratic primary and 28% in the Republican primary.

Hinojosa said a majority of the rejected ballots were denied due to ID issues. Originally, at least 16% of absentee ballots received by the county were rejected, but Hinojosa said that number was cut in half as voters corrected ID errors after being notified by the county of the mistake.

The new election law requires counties to contact voters who made mistakes on their ballot to let them rectify problems before election day.

By comparison, Hinojosa said, in the 2018 primary 9,000 ballots were returned and about 2% were ultimately rejected.

In Williamson County, 11.6% of mail ballot voters had their ballots rejected. That rate was slightly higher among Republican voters (260 ballots out of 1,883 at a 13% rate) than Democratic voters (261 ballots out of 2,627 ballots at a 10% rate.)

Travis County had about 111K Democratic ballots overall, and about 48K GOP ballots. Which is to say about 70% of all ballots were Democratic, so if 72% of the mail ballots rejected were Democratic, that’s more or less in proportion.

Still, the basic outline is clear. This was a disaster, and it’s not at all a surprise that Greg Abbott et al have refused to comment on any of it. The one piece of good news is what I’ve been saying, that now that we know the scope of the problem we can work to overcome it. It’s going to take money and effort, and we shouldn’t have to do this, but we can. We really don’t have any choice. The Chron editorial board and Vox have more.