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Ann Harris Bennett

Harris County settles lawsuit about voter registration records

I’m not sure what to make of this.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

In a victory for government transparency, Harris County officials settled a lawsuit Tuesday with a conservative voting rights group, agreeing to disclose records of foreign nationals who voted in Texas elections and records documenting their attempts to register.

The Indianapolis-based Public Interest Legal Foundation behind the lawsuit is headed by J. Christian Adams, a voting-fraud crusader. He served in the Justice Department during the administration of President George W. Bush and was later tapped to serve on the Trump administration’s election integrity commission, which set out to clean up voting rolls around the country and prevent non-citizens from casting ballots.

Critics said his organization was hunting for a problem that didn’t exist, targeting low-income, left-leaning localities with a string of lawsuits that sought personal documents related to voters.

Adams characterized the agreement as “the best possible outcome for clean elections in Texas” and said his group intends to use the data to catalog and provide stakeholders with information on problems that allow foreigners to get on voter rolls.

Adams’ group PILF targeted Harris County in a March 2018 voting-rights lawsuit based on testimony from former voter registrar Mike Sullivan, a Republican, before the Texas House of Representatives alleging that for nearly two decades, officials had refused to comply with the federal law mandating inspection. The group’s presumption, according to internal briefs, was “not if, but how many aliens are getting onto Texas rolls, and voting?”

As PILF’s general counsel, Adams participated in the negotiated settlement with the county’s Democratic voter registrar, Ann Harris Bennett, in which the county agreed to provide records of people taken off the voter roll due to ineligibility and names of those who received “notices of examination” where their eligibility was questioned by election officials. The county also agreed to provide records dating back to 2013, including copies of voter registration applications with blank or negative responses to questions about their citizenship.

The county also said it would provide lists of registrants who were stricken from rolls after they were disqualified from jury service due to their non-citizenship as well as all communications between the registrar’s office and law-enforcement entities regarding registrants who were ineligible to vote.

What the county refused to provide were responses to jury summons from people who said they weren’t citizens. Instead, the county would provide the conclusions of its own findings about who shouldn’t be on the rolls.

See here for the background. I wish this story provided more context, because J. Christian Adams is a major bad guy, whom Rick Hasen calls “one of the Four Horsemen of voter suppression”. I don’t see a blog pot by Hasen about this lawsuit at this time, but you can see a list of his previous mentions of PILF here. I actually reached out to Hasen to ask him his thoughts, but with all that is going on right now he said he had not followed this story and wasn’t read up on it.

It’s clear that large parts of this story were lifted directly from a press release from PILF (I swear, it’s hard not to giggle when reading that name), with a bunch of their puffery left in for no obvious reason. Note that the settlement is about voter registrations and not actual votes cast, which is what Adams claimed to be searching for but didn’t get. Later on, Doug Ray of the County Attorney’s office noted that the plaintiffs wanted unredacted information from them, but were not given that, either. So, it’s a little hard to take this all that seriously, and I haven’t seen any chatter about this on Facebook from local Dems. Commissioners Court will have to approve this settlement as well (it’s possible they already have, it’s not clear from the story and I haven’t gone scanning through recent Court agendas), so I hope to see some reaction from the likes of the HCDP and Commissioners Ellis and Garcia. Unless I begin to hear otherwise, I’d say this is much ado about nothing much.

2020 primary results: Harris County

Let’s start with this.

Long lines combined with a lack of voting machines turned into frustration for voters at several election sites in Harris County on Super Tuesday.

Margaret Hollie arrived at the Multi Service Center on Griggs Road at 11 a.m. She finished just after 2:45 p.m.

“It was horrible,” she said. “The worst since I’ve been voting. And I’ve been voting for 60 years.”

She decided to stick around and vote at the location in the city’s South Union area. Others did not, opting to find polling sites that were less busy. Under recent changes implemented by county leaders, voters can now cast their ballot at any precinct.

In Kashmere Gardens, at another Multi Service Center, the line of voters stretched from the entrance of the voting room to the exit of the facility.

Bettie Adami was one of about 100 people in the line about 4 p.m. Healthcare, higher paying jobs and raising the minimum wage top the list of her concerns this election season.

She isn’t letting the line prevent her from voting. “I’ll stand as long as I have to to cast my vote,” she said.

[…]

The county’s political parties are in charge of deciding which polling places will be open for primary elections, said [Rosio Torres, a spokesperson for the Harris County] Clerk’s office.

DJ Ybarra, Executive Director of the Harris County Democratic Party , said the decision was made to not include some polling locations in negotiations with Republicans to keep countywide voting in the primary. The parties agreed on the final map of polling locations in January, said Ybarra.

“In that negotiation, we had to come up with what locations we wanted,” said Ybarra. “We wish we could have had more locations, but we had to negotiate and we had to keep countywide voting.

“In the future, we’re going to try our best to get all our polling locations we want earlier in the process, so we’re not put in a position where we don’t have all the locations we want,” Ybarra said.

To sum that up in a couple of tweets:

In other words, there were about twice as many Dems voting yesterday as there were Republicans, but there were an equal number of Dem and Rep voting machines, which is the way it works for separate primaries. Had this been a joint primary as Trautman’s office originally proposed and which the HCDP accepted, each voting machine at each site could have been used for either primary. Oh well.

I had asked if the judicial races were basically random in a high-turnout election like this. The answer is No, because in every single judicial election where there was a male candidate and a female candidate, the female candidate won, often by a large margin. That means the end for several incumbents, including Larry Weiman, Darryl Moore, Randy Roll, Steven Kirkland, and George Powell, some of which I mourn more than others. Alex Smoots-Thomas, who had a male challenger and a female challenger, trails Cheryl Elliott Thornton going into a runoff. I saw a lot of mourning on Twitter last night of Elizabeth Warren’s underperformance and the seeming reluctance many people had to vote for a woman for President. Well, at least in Harris County, many many people were happy to vote for women for judge.

Three of the four countywide incumbents were headed to victory. In order of vote share, they are Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, Tax Assessor Ann Harris Bennett, and DA Kim Ogg. In the County Attorney race, challenger Christian Menefee was just above fifty percent, and thus on his way to defeating three-term incumbent Vince Ryan without a runoff. I thought Menefee would do well, but that was a very strong performance. Even if I have to correct this today and say that he fell just short of a clear majority, it’s still quite impressive.

Commissioner Rodney Ellis easily won, with over 70%. Michael Moore and Diana Martinez Alexander were neck and neck in Precinct 3, with Kristi Thibaut a few points behind in third place.

Unfortunately, as I write this, Democrats were on their way towards an own goal in HCDE Position 7, At Large. Andrea Duhon, who is already on the Board now, was leading with just over 50%. If that holds, she’ll have to withdraw and the Republican – none other than Don Freaking Sumners – will be elected in November. If we’re lucky, by the time all the votes have been counted, she’ll drop below fifty percent and will be able to withdraw from the runoff, thus allowing David Brown, currently in second place, to be the nominee. If not, this was the single lousiest result of the day.

Got a lot of other ground to cover, so let’s move on. I’ll circle back to some other county stuff tomorrow.

Endorsement watch: Senate and Tax Assessor

I’ve been very interested to see what the Chron would make of the Senate primary. Now we know: Royce West is their choice.

Sen. Royce West

We believe that candidate is state Sen. Royce West of Dallas, an African-American trailblazer whose record over 26 years in the Legislature is full of accomplishments as well as moments of courage and vision.

He’s been a state leader on issues as diverse as finance, criminal justice, public education and civil rights..

When then-Gov. Rick Perry drew fire in 2011 for a sign at his family hunting ranch that included a racial slur, it was West who spoke against labeling Perry, then running for president, a racist. But that same year, when the Texas division of the Sons of the Confederacy sought to have Texas issue license plates with the Confederate battle flag, West demanded the Department of Motor Vehicles reject the plates, which it did on a razor-thin vote. The decision triggered a challenge that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court before West’s position was affirmed.

[…]

Our support for West meant bypassing some incredible contenders. Former Houston City Council member Amanda Edwards was an excellent public servant with a shining intellect whom we hope finds a way to continue in another role.

The front-runner in the race, Mary “M.J.” Hegar, showed why she has enjoyed early support. She was engaging, knowledgeable and told her remarkable story of bravery under fire as an Air Force pilot in Afghanistan. Michael Cooper, who ran for lieutenant governor in 2018, and Sema Hernandez, an activist in Houston making her second Senate run, , are also intriguing candidates. Among others in the race who have made a positive impression are former Houston council member and one-term Congressman Chris Bell, El Paso native Adrian Ocegueda and Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez.

But among the dozen candidates on the ballot, none has anything like West’s legislative experience. We strongly suggest Democrats back his bid to challenge Cornyn. He also has an inspiring story, and a record to match.

I think Royce West is a fine candidate with a long and distinguished record of accomplishment in the State Senate. In an earlier cycle, he’d have been hailed as a hero for taking on the challenge. Hell, that would have happened in 2018, even with Beto’s entry into the race. This year, he’s still a serious candidate with a known base of support, but he was the fourth serious candidate in the race, with Amanda Edwards stepping on his entrance. He’s been fine, and his Dallas base gives him a great shot at making the runoff, but I wouldn’t say he’s generated much excitement. Again, he’s fine and he’d be fine. This is who he is.

And back in Harris County, they endorse Ann Harris Bennett for Tax Assessor.

Ann Harris Bennett

In the summer of 2018, Harris County voters could have used a bulldog. That’s when the Harris County tax assessor-collector and voter registrar, Ann Harris Bennett, mistakenly placed more than 1,700 voters on a suspension list after a local Republican party operative challenged the registrations of 4,000 voters.

Bennett was criticized for confusing voters and not following the law, which allowed voters time to respond before they were placed on any suspension list. Bennett quickly corrected the problem and she told the Editorial Board during a candidate screening that the two employees who generated the erroneous notices are no longer with her office.

Her Democratic challenger, Jolanda Jones, says that’s not good enough. Being a criminal defense lawyer, Jones says she has the knowledge to make sure the office follows the law. Being a bulldog, the former Houston city councilwoman and “Survivor” contestant says she’d fight for voters, and for taxpayers, to protect their rights and their hard-earned dollars.

We have to admit, Jones made such an appealing case that we were almost willing to overlook her tumultuous political career, including her contributions to a fractious Houston ISD board known for petty squabbles and so much dysfunction that it’s in the process of being taken over by the state. Jones points out, correctly, that a Texas Education Agency investigation into wrongdoing on the board did not take issue with her.

“I’m going to use the same vigor, even when it’s not popular, like I did on the school board to fight for taxpayers,” Jones told us. “I’m going to be a taxpayer warrior.”

We love her spirit. We’re just not sure that the tax office, which oversees billions of dollars in property tax collections and processes millions of vehicle registrations and title transfers every year, needs a fighter as much as a diligent public servant.

I mean, that’s the choice in this race. Either option can be justified, and they each have their plusses and minuses. (A perennial crank is also in the race, and none of that last statement applies to him.) My interview with Ann Harris Bennett is here, and my interview with Jolanda Jones is here. You have the info you need, now make your choice.

Chron overview of Tax Assessor race

I wasn’t expecting an interesting race here, at least not going into the filing season, but we have one.

Ann Harris Bennett

Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Ann Harris Bennett is familiar with elections, appearing on the ballot five times in the last six election cycles and overseeing the office responsible for the voter rolls in Texas’ largest county.

She finds herself in new territory this year, however, with a feisty Democratic primary opponent — former Houston city councilwoman and HISD trustee Jolanda Jones — who is forcing Bennett to defend her record as an incumbent for the first time.

After unseating Republican Mike Sullivan in 2016, Bennett assumed elected office for the first time, taking control of the Harris County office responsible for overseeing billions of dollars in property tax collections and serving as voter registrar. The office also processes millions of annual vehicle registrations and title transfers.

As early voting begins, Bennett is battling for a second term against Jones and frequent local candidate Jack Terence. Though she has endured a few choppy moments during her first three-plus years, she argues that her voter registration outreach efforts and the creation of educational “property tax workshops” are among the reasons she deserves another term.

[…]

Jones, a criminal defense lawyer, said Bennett has missed opportunities to register more voters in Harris County, where the share of eligible voters who are registered to vote is below the state average and far lower than some other large counties.

She said she would make aggressive efforts to register voters, including former felons and high school students, and would have Harris County buy into the “National Change of Address” database, which helps voter registrars keep track of registered voters when they move to new addresses.

Jones argued that Harris County’s voter registration has lagged behind that of other Texas counties that use the database, though Bennett has said her office already uses it to find residents in “suspense” status. Bennett said her office has done “everything that we could possibly do to do outreach,” including partnering with nonprofit groups and holding some 200 trainings for deputy voter registrars.

As a reminder, my interview with Ann Harris Bennett is here, and my interview with Jolanda Jones is here. They’re worth listening to if you haven’t yet. Bennett has had a fairly placid first term, with that SOS purge attempt being the main drama. She’s not a visionary, but she has gotten things done. Jones is smart and has bold ideas that she would aggressively fight for, but she had a tumultuous tenure on City Council and hasn’t been an administrator. Which path do you want to take?

Interview with Ann Harris Bennett

Ann Harris Bennett

As I said before, I wasn’t originally expecting to do interviews in the Democratic primary for Harris County Tax Assessor, but once that became a contested race then of course I had to fit it into the schedule. We all interact with the Tax Assessor in various ways – property taxes, vehicle registration, and of course voter registration. (The full title for the office is Tax Assessor Collector & Voter Registrar.) Ann Harris Bennett is serving her first term as Tax Assessor. She had run for the office before, in 2012, and had run for County Clerk in 2010 and 2014, and finally got her chance after the 2016 election. She tends to keep a low profile, and given the well-publicized failures of several of her predecessors, that’s not at all a bad thing. I’ve interviewed her several times before, most recently in the 2016 primary, and you can listen to this interview right here:

The Erik Manning spreadsheet is back! You can track information for candidates on the Harris County ballot here.

    PREVIOUSLY:

Elisa Cardnell – CD02
Travis Olsen – CD02

Michelle Palmer – SBOE6
Kimberly McLeod – SBOE6
Debra Kerner – SBOE6

Chrysta Castañeda – RRC
Kelly Stone – RRC

Vince Ryan – Harris County Attorney
Ben Rose – Harris County Attorney
Christian Menefee – Harris County Attorney

Jolanda Jones – Harris County Tax Assessor

Ann Johnson – HD134
Ruby Powers – HD134
Lanny Bose – HD134

Akilah Bacy – HD138
Josh Wallenstein – HD138
Jenifer Pool – HD138

Sarah DeMerchant – HD26
Lawrence Allen – HD26
Rish Oberoi – HD26
Suleman Lalani – HD26

Rodney Ellis – Commissioners Court, Precinct 1

January 2020 campaign finance reports: Harris County

As you know, New Year’s Day brings a new round of campaign finance reports, for all levels of government. I’m going to be working my way through these as I can, because there’s lots to be learned about the candidates and the status of the races from these reports, even if all we do is look at the topline numbers. Today we start with Harris County races, as there’s a lot of action and primary intrigue. With the Presidential primary and of course the entire Trump demon circus dominating the news, it can be hard to tell where the buzz is in these races, if any buzz exists. The July 2019 reports, with a much smaller field of candidates, is here.

Kim Ogg, District Attorney
Carvana Cloud, District Attorney
Audia Jones, District Attorney
Curtis Todd Overstreet, District Attorney

Lori DeAngelo, District Attorney
Mary Nan Huffman, District Attorney
Lloyd Oliver, District Attorney

Ed Gonzalez, Sheriff
Jerome Moore, Sheriff
Harry Zamora, Sheriff

Joe Danna, Sheriff
Paul Day, Sheriff

Vince Ryan, County Attorney
Christian Menefee, Harris County Attorney
Ben Rose, Harris County Attorney

John Nation, County Attorney

Ann Harris Bennett, Tax Assessor
Jolanda Jones, Tax Assessor
Jack Terence, Tax Assessor

Chris Daniel (SPAC), Tax Assessor

Rodney Ellis, County Commissioner, Precinct 1
Maria Jackson, County Commissioner, Precinct 1

Diana Alexander, County Commissioner, Precinct 3
Erik Hassan, County Commissioner, Precinct 3
Michael Moore, County Commissioner, Precinct 3
Morris Overstreet, County Commissioner, Precinct 3
Kristi Thibaut, County Commissioner, Precinct 3

Tom Ramsey, County Commissioner, Precinct 3
Susan Sample, County Commissioner, Precinct 3
Brenda Stardig (SPAC), County Commissioner, Precinct 3


Candidate     Raised     Spent     Loan     On Hand
===================================================
Ogg          106,572    83,276   68,489     385,908
Cloud         33,881    17,382        0      16,889
Jones         49,186    29,177        0      29,973
Overstreet         0     1,250        0           0

DeAngelo         500     2,012        0         500
Hoffman            0    41,089        0           0
Oliver             0         0        0           0

Gonzalez      95,636    47,317        0     317,264
Moore         28,595    15,896        0      12,698
Zamora         4,500    18,177        0           0

Danna         78,820    39,274    7,000       9,857
Day                0         0        0           0

Ryan          33,655    18,779        0     101,039
Menefee      135,579    41,249        0     128,547
Rose          89,476    80,932   20,000      53,341

Nation             0     1,369        0           0

Bennett       20,965     8,734        0      39,845
Jones         16,320     1,250        0      16,320
Terence        1,000     1,400        0           0

Daniel            35         1        0         454

Ellis        122,631   396,998        0   3,881,740
Jackson      110,230    71,241    8,000      19,353

Alexander
Hassan          750      4,442        0           0
Moore       209,391     13,248        0     199,052
Overstreet   17,950      2,025        0      15,925
Thibaut      51,180      4,536        0      45,761

Ramsey      154,315     24,281        0     126,619
Sample       26,624      1,828        0      26,620
Stardig      43,700     39,985        0      75,930

I guess I expected more from the District Attorney race. Audia Jones and Carvana Cloud have raised a few bucks, but nothing yet that would lead me to believe they will be able to effectively communicate with a primary electorate that could well be over 500,000 voters. Kim Ogg is completing her first term, but this will be the third time she’s been on the ballot – there was an election for DA in 2014 as well, following the death of Mike Anderson and the appointment of his widow, Devon Anderson, to succeed him. Neither of those primaries had a lot of voters, but a lot of the folks voting this March will have done so in one or both of the past Novembers, and that’s a boost for Ogg. On the Republican side, you can insert a shrug emoji here. I assume whoever wins that nomination will eventually be able to convince people to give them money. If you’re wondering how Mary Nan Hoffman can spend $41K without raising anything, the answer is that she spent that from personal funds.

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez is the only incumbent here without a serious primary challenger. I’d never advise anyone to coast in an election where they have an opponent, but he doesn’t need to have the pedal to the metal. More than half of the amount Joe Danna raised was in kind, so don’t spend too much time thinking about that.

Both County Attorney challengers have done well, though again the question will be “is it enough?” I actually got a robopoll call the other day for the County Attorney race, but I didn’t stay on the line till the end – they started asking “if you knew this about this candidate” questions, and since they didn’t say up front how long the survey might take, I didn’t want to stick it out. As above, the main challenge for Christian Menefee and Ben Rose is that Vince Ryan has been on the ballot multiple times, going back to 2008. The voters know who he is, or at least more of them know who he is than they do who the other candidates in that race are. That’s the hill they have to climb.

The one challenger to an incumbent who can claim a name ID advantage is Jolanda Jones, who is surely as well known as anyone on this ballot. That has its pros and cons in her case, but at least the voters deciding between her and Ann Harris Bennett won’t be guessing about who their choices are.

I didn’t mention the Republicans running for County Attorney or Tax Assessor for obvious reasons. Chris Daniel could be a low-key favorite to surpass the partisan baseline in his race in November, but after 2016 and 2018, he’ll need a lot more than that.

In the Commissioners Court races, Maria Jackson has raised a decent amount of money, but she’s never going to be on anything close to even footing there. Precinct 1 is one-fourth of the county, but a much bigger share of the Democratic primary electorate. In 2008, there were 143K votes in Precinct 1 out of 411K overall or 35%. In 2012, it was 39K out of 76K, or 51%, and in 2016 it was 89K out of 227K, or 39%. My guess is that in a 500K primary, Precinct 1 will have between 150K and 200K voters. Think of it in those terms when you think about how much money each candidate has to spend so they can communicate with those voters.

In Precinct 3, Michael Moore and Tom Ramsey stand out in each of their races so far. For what it’s worth, the three Dems have raised more (270K to 224K) than the three Republicans so far. I don’t think any of that matters right now. Steve Radack still has his campaign money, and I’d bet he spends quite a bit of it to help the Republican nominee hold this seat.

All right, that’s it for now. I’ll have state offices next, and will do Congress and US Senate later since those totals aren’t reliably available till the first of the next month. Later I’ll go back and fill in the city numbers, and maybe look at HISD and HCC as well. Let me know what you think.

Where the primary action is

It’s on the Democratic side in Harris County. This should come as a surprise to no one.

The crowded Harris County Democratic primary field reflects a new reality in Houston politics: With the county turning an even darker shade of blue in 2018, many consider the real battle for countywide seats to be the Democratic primaries, leading more candidates to take on incumbent officeholders.

“This is the new political landscape of Harris County. Countywide offices are won and lost in the Democratic Primary,” said Ogg campaign spokesperson Jaime Mercado, who argued that Ogg’s 2016 win “signaled a monumental shift in county politics” and created renewed emphasis on criminal justice reform now championed by other Democratic officials and Ogg’s opponents.

In the March 3 primaries, Ogg, Bennett, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez and County Attorney Vince Ryan — all Democrats — face at least two intra-party opponents each, while Democratic Commissioner Rodney Ellis has a primary challenger in former state district judge Maria Jackson.

Excluding state district and county courts, 10 of 14 Harris County Democratic incumbents have at least one primary foe. In comparison, three of the seven county GOP incumbents — Justice of the Peace Russ Ridgway, Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman and education department trustee Don Sumners — have drawn primary challengers.

At the state level, Republicans from the Harris County delegation largely have evaded primary opponents better than Democrats. All but three GOP state representatives — Dan Huberty, Briscoe Cain and Dennis Paul — are unopposed.

On the Democratic side, state Sen. Borris Miles and state Reps. Alma Allen, Jarvis Johnson, Senfronia Thompson, Harold Dutton, Shawn Thierry and Garnet Coleman each have primary opponents.

Overall, the 34 Democratic incumbents seeking re-election to federal, state and county seats that cover at least a portion of Harris County — not including state district and county courts — face 43 primary opponents. The 22 Republican incumbents have 10 intra-party challengers.

It should be noted that a few of these races always draw a crowd. Constable Precincts 1, 2, 3, and 6 combined for 22 candidates in 2012, 21 candidates in 2016, and 17 this year. Three of the four countywide incumbents – DA Kim Ogg, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, and Tax Assessor Ann Harris Bennett – are in their first term, as is County Commissioner Rodney Ellis. There are fewer Republican incumbents to target, so Dem incumbents get to feel the heat. The bigger tell to me is that Republicans didn’t field candidates in nine District Court races. As I’ve said ad nauseum, it’s the judicial races that are the best indicator of partisan strength in a given locale.

The story also notes that the usual ideological holy war in HD134 is on hold this year – Greg Abbott has endorsed Sarah Davis instead of trying to primary her out, and there’s no Joe Straus to kick around. Republicans do have some big races of their own – CD07, CD22, HD26, HD132, HD138, County Commissioner Precinct 3 – but at the countywide level it’s kind of a snoozefest. Honestly, I’d have to look up who most of their candidates are, their names just haven’t registered with me. I can’t wait to see what the finance reports have to say. The basic point here is that we’re in a new normal. I think that’s right, and I think we’ll see more of the same in 2022. Get used to it.

All have filed who are going to file

Barring any late challenges, disqualifications, or lawsuits, what we have now is our lineup for the March primary. Most of what there is to say was covered in yesterday’s post, but here are the highlights and there is some big news.

– Pretty much all of the “not yet filed” people did indeed file. There are three notable absences that I can see, though do keep in mind that the SOS page may be behind and shouldn’t be considered final until we have confirmation. Be that as it may, two people I don’t see are Judge Elaine Palmer (215th Civil Court; no one is listed on the Dem side for this court as of Monday night) and Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen. Hold those in mind, because there are news stories about some of the other interesting bits. Until I hear otherwise, the absence of any mention of those two suggests to me there’s no news, just a not-fully-updated SOS filing page.

– News item #1: Commissioner Steve Radack retires.

Steve Radack will not seek a ninth term as Harris County commissioner for Precinct 3, vacating a powerful position he has held for three decades that Democrats hope to flip next year.

Radack, 70, said he plans to invest his time and significant campaign account into helping Republicans regain seats after disastrous elections in 2016 and 2018.

“I’m not through being involved in public service, and I felt that there’s a lot I can do to help the Republican Party,” Radack said.

[…]

Radack and Harris County’s other Republican commissioner, Jack Cagle, endorsed Spring Valley Village Mayor Tom Ramsey for the seat.

Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, said Radack’s impending retirement speaks to the shifting county electorate, which has helped Democrats sweep every countywide race since 2016.

“It is getting harder and harder for Republicans to compete in a rapidly changing county,” Rottinghaus said.

[…]

Several candidates from both major parties have joined the race. Ramsey, City Councilwoman Brenda Stardig and former West University Place Mayor Susan Sample will run in the Republican primary. The Democratic race will feature Michael Moore, chief of staff to former Mayor Bill White, former state Rep. Kristi Thibaut, educator Diana Martinez Alexander and three other candidates.

I wish Commissioner Radack well in his retirement. And I am very much looking forward to seeing a Democrat elected to succeed him.

– News item #2: Council Member Jerry Davis will challenge State Rep. Harold Dutton in HD142.

Houston City Councilman Jerry Davis filed Monday to run as a Democrat for House District 142, a northeast Harris County seat long represented by state Rep. Harold Dutton.

Davis, who has represented District B since 2011, is prevented from seeking re-election due to Houston’s term limits. His council district overlaps part of the House district, which includes the Fifth Ward and runs east and then north to FM 1960.

The move ensures Dutton, D-Houston, will have his most challenging primary in years. He was first elected to the Legislature in 1984 and frequently has coasted to victory without primary opposition. Last cycle, he beat primary challenger Richard A. Bonton, 65 percent to 35 percent.

Bonton is running for the seat again this cycle.

I always figured CM Davis would run for something else when his time on Council ended, it was just a matter of what opportunity there would be. I’ll have more to say about this later, but for now this is an exciting race.

– News item #3:

Well, I did hear that a “big name” was set to enter this race. Now we know.

– News item #4:

And now Beto has endorsed Sima. I’ve already published one interview in CD02, and I have another in the works. I’ll figure out something for this.

– Five Democratic incumbents in Congress do not have primary opponents: Reps. Lizzie Fletcher (CD07), Vicente Gonzalez (CD15), Veronica Escobar (CD16), Sylvia Garcia (CD29), and Colin Allred (CD32). Everyone else needs to be gearing up for March. As was the case in 2018 and for the second time ever, Dems have at least one candidate in all 36 districts.

– All of the statewide offices except CCA Place 9 are contested, with several having three candidates. Already, the potential for multiple primary runoffs is high.

– According to the TDP, in the end Dems have candidates in all but one of the Senate districts that are up (only SD28 is uncontested), and they have candidates in 119 of the 150 State House races. HD23 drew a candidate, but HDs 43 and 84 apparently did not. In Harris County, only HD127 is uncontested.

– There is now a third candidate for HD148, an Emily Wolf. I cannot conclusively identify her – maybe this person? – so it’s impossible to say more than that.

– And on the Republican side, State Rep. Mike Lang in HD62 is your promised surprise retirement. Dems do have a candidate in this not-swing district.

– Looking at the Republican filings, quite a few Democratic judges have no November opposition. We have officially come full circle.

Again, remember that the SOS page may not be complete. The parties have five days to notify the SOS of their candidates. It’s possible there are still surprises lurking, to be confirmed and reported. If you’re not sure about a particular candidate, google them or find them on Facebook, to see if there’s been an announcement. I’ll have more as we go this week.

Filing update: Focus on Harris County

One more look at who has and hasn’t yet filed for stuff as we head into the final weekend for filing. But first, this message:


That’s general advice, not specific to Harris County or to any person or race. With that in mind, let’s review the landscape in Harris County, with maybe a bit of Fort Bend thrown in as a bonus. Primary sources are the SOS candidate page and the Patrick Svitek spreadsheet.

Reps. Sylvia Garcia and Lizzie Fletcher do not have primary opponents, though the spreadsheet does list a possible opponent for Garcia. As previously discussed, Rep. Al Green has a primary opponent, and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee has three so far, with at least one more to come. Elisa Cardnell and Travis Olsen have filed in CD02. Mike Siegel and Shannon Hutcheson have filed in CD10, and none of the three known contenders have filed yet in CD22. (Before you ask, no, I don’t know why some candidates seem to wait till the last minute to file.)

In the Lege, the big news is that Penny Shaw has filed in HD148, so the voters there will get their third contested race in a four month time period. At least with only two candidates so far there can’t be a runoff, but there’s still time. Ann Johnson and Lanny Bose have filed in HD134, Ruby Powers has not yet. Over in Fort Bend, Ron Reynolds does not have an opponent in HD27, at least not yet. No other activity to note.

Audia Jones, Carvana Cloud, and Todd Overstreet have filed for District Attorney; incumbent Kim Ogg has not yet filed. Christian Menefee and Vince Ryan have filed for County Attorney, Harry Zamora has entered the race for Sheriff along with incumbent Ed Gonzalez, and Jack Terence, last seen as a gadfly Mayoral candidate in the late 90s and early 2000s, has filed for Tax Assessor; Ann Harris Bennett has not yet filed. Andrea Duhon has switched over to HCDE Position 7, At Large, which puts her in the same race as David Brown, who has not yet filed. Erica Davis has already filed for Position 5, At Large.

In the Commissioners Court races, Rodney Ellis and Maria Jackson are in for Precinct 1; Michael Moore, Kristi Thibaut, Diana Alexander and now someone named Zaher Eisa are in for Precinct 3, with at least one other person still to come. I will note that Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen has not yet filed for re-election, but three other candidates, two of whom filed within the first week of the period, are in for that position. Rosen’s name has been bandied about as a possible Commissioners Court challenger to Steve Radack, and if he is planning to jump to that race it makes sense that he’d take his time, since he’d have to resign immediately afterward. I have no inside scoop here, just a bit of idle speculation. There are no Dems as yet for either Constable or JP in Precincts 5 or 8.

This brings us to the District Courts, and there’s some interesting action happening here. There are a couple of open seats thanks to retirements and Maria Jackson running for Commissioners Court. Herb Ritchie is retiring in the 337th; two contenders have filed. One person has filed in Jackson’s 339th. Someone other than George Powell has filed in the 351st, and someone other than Randy Roll has filed in the 179th. I’m not sure if they are running again or not. Steve Kirkland has a primary opponent in the 334th, because of course he does, and so does Julia Maldonado in the new 507th. Alexandra Smoots-Thomas does not yet have a primary opponent.

Fort Bend County went blue in 2018 as we know, but Dems did not have a full slate of candidates to take advantage of that. They don’t appear to have that problem this year, as there are multiple candidates for Sheriff (where longtime incumbent Troy Nehls is retiring and appears poised to finally announce his long-anticipated candidacy for CD22, joining an insanely large field), County Attorney, and Tax Assessor (HCC Trustee Neeta Sane, who ran for Treasurer in 2006, is among the candidates). The Dems also have multiple candidates trying to win back the Commissioners Court seat in Precinct 1 that they lost in 2016 – one of the candidates is Jennifer Cantu, who ran for HD85 in 2018 – and they have candidates for all four Constable positions.

There are still incumbents and known challengers who have been raising money for their intended offices who have not yet filed. I expect nearly all of that to happen over the weekend, and then we’ll see about Monday. I’ll be keeping an eye on it all.

Time for the 2019 outrageous and dishonest mailer

There’s at least one every cycle.

A handful of black Democratic elected officials are expressing outrage over a campaign mailer that appears to have used photos of the politicians without consent to falsely suggest they endorsed a slate of City Council candidates — including two backed by the Harris County Republican Party.

The mailer, circulated by a group called the Harris County Black Democratic News, features photos of former President Barack Obama, U.S. Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green, and several state legislators and county officials, along with Mayor Sylvester Turner.

On the other side of the mailer are photos of nine City Council candidates, including Willie Davis and Eric Dick — who are endorsed by the Harris County Republican Party — under the banner text “Endorsement Announcement.” It also purports to endorse Turner and two Harris County Department of Education board candidates.

“I have never been contacted by the Harris County Black Democratic News, nor am I sure that they are a legitimate news or community organization,” said state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, who is pictured on the mailer. “I did not consent to being included in the Harris County Black Democratic News and am appalled that a group would go to this extent to mislead voters.”

The mailer does not disclose which person or political committee funded it, an apparent violation of state law.

Dick, a Harris County Department of Education trustee who is in a runoff for the At-Large, Position 5 seat against former City Council staffer Sallie Alcorn, contributed $8,500 to the Harris County Democratic News in September and October, according to his campaign finance records.

You can see a picture of the mailer, front and back, here. It’s almost admirable in its shamelessness. John Coby has been all over this. The news coverage will of course reach more people than would have ever seen the mailer itself, which is a two-edged sword, as some of them will just remember the images and not the truth about them. The thing about stuff like this is that it’s fundamentally a sign of weakness. No one who is confident in their ability to win needs to claim phony endorsements. This isn’t Eric Dick’s first campaign. He knows what he’s doing and he knows why he’s doing it. I’d say he should be ashamed of himself, but that ship sailed a long time ago.

Filing period preview: Harris County

Previously: Congress, Statewide, and SBOE/Senate/House.

For County races, I cannot use the Patrick Svitek spreadsheet, as it doesn’t include local races. I am instead using the Campaign Contribution and Expenditure Reports for Various County Offices link on the County Clerk webpage, as it includes Appointments of Treasurer. I set the filter for a time frame beginning July 15, and including all offices. Not perfect, and may miss candidates who filed Appointments of Treasurer, but it’s close enough. Earlier candidates will have been included in my roundup of July finance reports for county candidates.

So with all that said, here we go. I’m not looking for incumbents’ campaign webpages, we already know about them. I’m trying to identify the party for each of the candidates I found, but some are not easy to determine, so I left them as “unknown”. Feel free to correct me if you know more.

District Attorney

Note: I used some information in this Life at the Harris County Criminal Justice Center post in the following.

Kim Ogg (D)
Audia Jones (D). Has been running for several months.
Carvana Cloud (D). Former division chief within the DAO (see link above).

Mary Nan Huffman (R) Former ADA in the Montgomery County DA’s office, now working for HPOU.

Lori DeAngelo (Unknown) Another former assistant DA (see link above again). I can’t find much else about her.
Todd Overstreet – (Unknown). I have no new information about him since the July post.

Finally, rumor has it that our old buddy Lloyd Oliver is running for DA as a Republican. I don’t see any filings for him so I can’t readily confirm that, but 1) I’m sure he has an appointment of treasurer always on file, and 2) Lloyd Oliver is a barnacle on the body politic, so it pays to always expect something annoying from him.

Sheriff

Ed Gonzalez (D)
Harry Zamora (D). I have no new information on him since the July post.
Jerome Moore (D). Ran in the Dem primary in 2016. No new info on him, either.

Paul Day (R). He is a “Pro-Life, Christian Conservative”, and he ran in the Republican primary for Sheriff in 2008, against then-incumbent Tommy Thomas, getting 17% of the vote.
Joe Danna (R). As noted in July, a multi-time candidate for Constable in Precinct 1.

Lawrence Rush (Unknown). Current employee of the HCSO.

County Attorney

Vince Ryan (D)
Christian Menefee (D)
Ben Rose (D)

Nothing new here, both of these challengers have been running for months. I don’t see any evidence of a Republican candidate for County Attorney as yet.

Tax Assessor

Ann Harris Bennett (D)

Chris Daniel (R)

Daniel is the former District Clerk, elected in the 2010 wave and then un-elected in the 2018 assertion of Democratic dominance. His Appointment of Treasurer was filed on Wednesday but not yet viewable. His Friends of Chris Daniel PAC reported $438 on hand and $25K in outstanding loans as of July.

Commissioners Court, Precinct 1

Rodney Ellis (D)
Maria T. Jackson (D). We know about this one. I could not find any web presence for her – her personal Facebook page still lists her occupation as a Judge – but I did find this Houston Style article about her campaign launch. I will be very interested to see what her January finance report looks like.

Commissioners Court, Precinct 3

Steve Radack (R)
Brenda Stardig (R)

Diana Alexander (D)
Michael Moore (D)
Kristi Thibaut (D)
Erik Hassan (D)
Luis Guajardo (D)

The first three Dems, we know about. Alexander was the first candidate in. Moore is the former Chief of Staff to Mayor Bill White. Thibaut served one term in the Lege in HD133. Erik Hassan was a candidate in the 2016 Dem primary for Precinct 3, losing to Jenifer Pool. Luis Guajardo is a very recent filer whose personal Facebook page lists him as an urban planner. As for Brenda Stardig, soon to be former Council Member in District A, she filed her Appointment of Treasurer on November 8. Chron reporter Jasper Scherer says that Radack is running for re-election, so there’s another contested primary for you. Radack has a pile of cash on hand, and he may have to spend some of it in the next couple of months. As with Maria Jackson, I will be very interested to see what Brenda Stardig’s January finance report looks like.

I’m going to stop here, in part because this is long enough and in part because I’m not prepared to do the same exercise on Constables and Justices of the Peace. Just remember that Beto carried all eight Constable/JP precincts in 2018, so ideally every Republican incumbent should have a challenger, this year and in 2022 as well. I may take a stab at this next week, but for now this wraps up my look ahead at the filing period. I’m sure I’ll have more to say as actual filings pile up.

The need for voter registration never ends

A small step back, but I expect a big step forward next year.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Democrats in Texas see registering new voters as crucial to winning statewide elections in 2020, but the number of registered voters in Harris County, the state’s largest, has declined since last year.

Harris County’s voter roll has shrunk by 4,146 voters since Election Day in November 2018, when Democrats swept every countywide and judicial post.

The deadline to register for next month’s municipal elections is Monday.

Two of the state’s five largest counties this week reported fewer registered voters than 11 months ago. Dallas County lost 19,400, while Bexar County increased by 7,554. Tarrant County gained 1,406 voters and Travis County added 13,454. Texas as a whole added just more than 30,000 voters between November 2018 and September, according to the most recent tally by the secretary of state.

Voter registration officials in Dallas and Bexar counties said voter rolls typically dip after general elections in even-numbered years. They said that period is when counties remove inactive voters, who have not participated in two consecutive federal elections nor responded to a letter from the voter registrar, from the rolls. The number of registered voters usually rebounds as new voters submit applications, they said.

“That’s why you see numbers fluctuate,” Bexar County Elections Administrator Jackie Callanen said. “We may purge 40,000.”

[…]

Harris County removed 127,852 voters from the roll between November 2018 and August, according to a cancellation list published by the secretary of state. Bennett’s office did not respond to a request to disclose how many voters have registered in the county since this past November.

Bennett shared a slideshow presentation with the Chronicle that noted her office had signed up a record 4,100 volunteer deputy voter registrars this year and has held registration drives at local high schools and colleges.

The Harris County voter roll has grown in each annual November election since 2012, according to election reports published by the Harris County Clerk. The last year-over-year decrease was in 2011, when there were 48,000 fewer voter than the previous year.

Here are the yearly totals since 2012, which marks the beginning of the modern registration expansion period:


Year   Registered
=================
2012    1,942,566
2013    1,967,881
2014    2,044,361
2015    2,054,717
2016    2,182,980
2017    2,233,533
2018    2,307,654

The big gains are in the even years, but even this year there’s been a lot of activity. If 128K people were removed but the rolls only dipped by 4K, that’s a lot of new and renewed registrations. People do move and they do die, it’s just that now we have a chief voter registrar who’s interested in building things up rather than holding them down. You want to do your part, sign up to be a volunteer deputy voter registrar and get us on the road to 2.5 million for 2020.

July 2019 campaign finance reports: Harris County

Before we get to the numbers, please read this.

El Franco Lee

The widow of former Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner El Franco Lee has emptied most of her late husband’s $3.8 million campaign account by donating to community groups and charities.

Ethel Kaye Lee, the campaign treasurer, said Thursday she chose the recipients based on the intentions of her husband’s donors.

“The campaign monies were given for two reasons, for support of existing Precinct 1 programs and keeping him elected, so that’s the formula,” she said.

The account donated $3.01 million to 12 groups, including $500,000 to the Precinct 1 Aquatics Program, $200,000 to the St. Paul Scholarship Foundation and $150,000 to the Julia C. Hester House in Houston’s Fifth Ward, according to the campaign’s July finance report. The report covers the period from Jan. 1 to June 30.

The largest expenditure was $1.5 million to the Precinct 1 Street Olympics, a program Lee founded in 1986. The summer event serves thousands of children annually and includes swim lessons, a basketball tournament and career fair. It also supports the North East Adolescent Program, created by Lee in 1989, which seeks to lower rates of teen pregnancy, birth defects and sexually transmitted diseases in poor Houston neighborhoods.

[…]

The Lee campaign also donated to $200,000 to the Baylor College of Medicine’s teen health clinic and $50,000 to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Two Catholic groups, the Dominican Sisters of Houston and Dominican Friars, Province of St. Martin De Porres, received $50,000 each.

According to the finance report, the campaign had $791,140 remaining on hand as of June 30, which Ethel Kaye Lee has been allocated. Under state law, the campaign has until 2022 to close the account.

See here for the last update, from April. I had noticed all of the activity when I looked at Lee’s report. I’m glad to see this money going to good uses.

Now, on with the show…

Lina Hidalgo, County Judge
Diane Trautman, County Clerk
Dylan Osborne, County Treasurer
Marilyn Burgess, District Clerk

Kim Ogg, District Attorney
Ed Gonzalez, Sheriff
Vince Ryan, County Attorney
Ann Harris Bennett, Tax Assessor

Lloyd Oliver, District Attorney
Audia Jones, District Attorney
Curtis Todd Overstreet, District Attorney

Harry Zamora, Sheriff
Joe Danna, Sheriff

Ben Rose, County Attorney
Christian Menefee, County Attorney

Rodney Ellis, Precinct 1
Adrian Garcia, Precinct 2
Steve Radack, Precinct 3
Jack Cagle PAC, Precinct 4

El Franco Lee
Diana Alexander, Precinct 3

George Moore, HCDE Position 1, Precinct 2
Eric Dick, HCDE Position 2, Precinct 4
Richard Cantu, HCDE Position 3, At Large
Josh Flynn, HCDE Position 4, Precinct 3
Michael Wolfe, HCDE Position 5, At Large
Danny Norris, HCDE Position 6, Precinct 1
Don Sumners, HCDE Position 7, At Large

Andrea Duhon, HCDE Position 5, At Large
David Brown, HCDE Position 7, At Large


Candidate     Raised     Spent     Loan     On Hand
===================================================
Hidalgo      318,967   162,328    1,400     192,572
Trautman      11,325     5,778        0      22,450
Osborne        1,000       155        0       1,201
Burgess        9,626     9,681        0       7,263

Ogg          135,860    22,773   68,489     330,425
Gonzalez     178,024    14,344        0     276,714
Ryan          41,925    15,417        0      85,318
Bennett       21,925    19,205        0      37,313

Oliver
Jones         23,669    11,234        0       9,967
Overstreet
Zamora             0     3,026        0           0
Danna        111,268    66,442    3,500      38,338
Rose          22,345     2,257        0      11,605
Menefee       34,869       326        0      34,542

Ellis        715,266   240,145        0   3,823,509
Garcia       552,590   289,169        0     810,149
Radack         5,000    96,250        0   1,634,106
Cagle        398,900   240,512        0     361,787

Lee                0 3,095,767        0     791,139
Alexander      4,210       445        0       1,982

Moore
Dick               0         0        0           0
Cantu          1,250     1,132        0         337
Flynn
Wolfe              0         0        0           0
Norris
Sumners

Duhon            155       262        0         389
Brown            700       406        0         313

County Judge Lina Hidalgo isn’t taking money from vendors, but that hasn’t stopped her from doing well in the fundraising department. At this rate, she’ll be well funded for her first re-election campaign. On the other end of the spectrum…what’s up with Steve Radack? He knows he’s up for election next year, right? I mean, he does have plenty of money, so one low-activity reporting period is no big deal. It still looks weird.

More aware of their ballot status next year are DA Kim Ogg and Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, and both responded as you’d expect. I’ll get to their situations in a minute, but the person I’ve got my eye on at this time is County Attorney Vince Ryan. He’s never been a big fundraiser, but he brings in a few bucks. If there’s a cycle where he’s going to need them, it’s this one.

And that’s because Ryan now has two primary opponents, Ben Rose and Christian Menefee, and while he has a cash on hand lead, it’s hardly insurmountable. In this high-turnout environment that the 2020 primary will be, Ryan’s biggest advantage will be the name recognition he has after 12 years in office. With a half million people or so likely to vote, it will take a pile of money to reach enough of them to make an impression. In a more typical year, you could hit the club and CEC meetings and hope to interact with enough of the old reliables to have a shot. In 2020, you’re going to have to do much broader outreach. That takes money, and it’s not clear that kind of money exists in the County Attorney race. We’ll see.

And speaking of opponents, we have them in the DA and Sheriff races. If your reaction to seeing Lloyd Oliver’s name wasn’t basically this, I don’t know what to say to you. Audia Jones we know about; she doesn’t appear to have gotten much traction yet, but there’s still time. I can’t tell from the limited information I have seen about Curtis Todd Overstreet to discern whether he’s running as a D or an R. I’m sure that will be clear enough soon. I can say the same about Harry Zamora running for Sheriff, I can’t tell his party just yet. Joe Danna is a Republican who has run for Constable in Precinct 1 a couple of times. His amount raised is not as impressive as it looks – about half of the total is in-kind donations for a fundraiser, and nearly half of the actual cash he got was a single $25K donation from Janice McNair.

Beyond that, not much we didn’t already know. I’m sure there will be a lot more raised in Commissioners Court Precinct 3, and for sure there will be more candidates. At some point I need to take a closer look at the Constable and JP races, because those are another good source of Dem takeover opportunities. For now, this is where we are.

Three times a lawsuit

Hat trick!

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A group of civil and voting rights organizations is suing the state’s chief election officers and local election officials in five counties, claiming Texas’ voter citizenship review efforts are unconstitutional because they intentionally target naturalized citizens and voters of color.

In a lawsuit filed Monday in a Galveston federal court, the MOVE Texas Civic Fund, the Jolt Initiative, the League of Women Voters of Texas and the Texas NAACP allege that the state’s move to flag tens of thousands of voters for review using faulty data violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. They claim the effort places an undue burden on the right to vote and treats naturalized citizens differently than those born in the county.

The groups also allege that the state violated the Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act by acting at least in part with the goal of discriminating against voters of color when it advised counties to verify the citizenship status of the voters it flagged.

The lawsuit against Texas Secretary of State David Whitley, Director of Elections Keith Ingram, and local election officials in Galveston, Blanco, Fayette, Caldwell and Washington counties is the third one filed against state officials since Jan. 25, when the state announced that it was sending counties a list of approximately 95,000 registered voters who told the Texas Department of Safety they were not citizens when they obtained their driver’s licenses or ID cards.

[…]

In their complaint, the plaintiffs — represented by the ACLU of Texas, the national ACLU, the Texas Civil Rights Project, Demos and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law — argue that Whitley “declined to include safeguards” in the process that would ensure naturalized citizens weren’t erroneously included on the list.

“The right to vote is a fundamental and foundational right, possessed equally by U.S. born and naturalized citizens,” the complaint reads. “The Secretary of State’s purge treats those who have been naturalized as second-class citizens whose right to vote can be uniquely threatened and burdened solely because at some point in the past, these individuals were not U.S. citizens.”

See here and here for the scoop on the other lawsuits, and here for a copy of the complaint. I had speculated in yesterday’s post about Lawsuit #2 that we could get this one as well, as the groups representing these plaintiffs had had specifically said they would sue if the SOS didn’t back all the way off. Gotta follow through when you say stuff like that, so folks will know you don’t mess around. At this point, we’re waiting to see what the courts will say. In an ideal world, they will force the state to do what these plaintiffs asked in the first place, which is to get their crap together before they put out baloney like this. Here’s hoping. On a related note, Mayor Turner released a statement urging Harris County Tax Assessor Ann Harris Bennett to reject the SOS advisory, which you can find here.

Trying again with online voter registration

Fingers crossed.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas voter registration might be heading to the internet if any of several bills filed for the upcoming legislative session finds its way to the governor’s desk.

Five bills, all filed by Democratic legislators, would require the state to create an online voter registration system if passed into law. Texas is one of just 10 states without such a system.

“This is not a partisan issue. This is a good government issue,” said Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, who filed House Bill 361 to create an electronic voter registration system in Texas. “I’m pledging to continue the fight, because now it’s embarrassing that so many states have it and Texas doesn’t.”

[…]

[Anthony Gutierrez, the executive director of Common Cause Texas] said he thought there was a lot of bipartisan support building behind the idea of an online registration system. Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, agrees.

“Just about everything in our lives has been enveloped with the digital age, and I don’t know why voting would be any different,” said Larson, who shares a seat on the House Elections Committee with Israel. “I think a lot of it is unwarranted fear,” he said of concerns that online registration could welcome fraud. “People are banking online, paying bills online. Everything is online and digital, and I think the state needs to evolve so our registration is the same way.”

Other states with online registration include Georgia, which adopted the practice in 2012, and Alabama, which made the change administratively in 2016. Arizona was the first state to create an online voter registration system, in 2002. Larson said he thinks other conservative southern states’ use of an online system provides a strong case to the Texas Legislature to pass a similar law.

“If we were the first large Republican state to try this, I could understand the snail’s pace to implementing this — but we’re not pioneering, we’re following,” Larson said.

Despite her previous efforts, Israel is confident the upcoming legislative session, which starts Jan. 8, will be different.

“Texas has a sad and tortured history of making it harder to vote, not easier,” Israel said. “One enthusiastic freshman (legislator) was not going to change the world, but that enthusiastic freshman is now a revived and rejuvenated, enthusiastic junior, who has found I can make friends and make a case for this bill.”

I don’t want to oversell this, but one other difference is that now the Harris County Clerk’s office will favor such a bill instead of opposing it. The Harris County Tax Assessor’s office also now favors such a bill, and has done so since the last session. This is one of those “elections have consequences” situations. That may not be enough – if Dan Patrick doesn’t want an online voter registration bill to pass, it will not get a vote in the Senate – but it can only help. And as always, now is a good time to contact your legislators and let them know that you support online voter registration.

There are reasons why “suspect addresses” may be legit

Real talk here.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas law requires voters to register where they live. At the same time, state law requires counties to take voters at their word that their voter registration applications are truthful.

Registrars who suspect an address may be invalid can send letters to voters asking them to confirm where the live. If residents re-submit the same address, however, registrars must process the application. Sam Taylor, spokesman for the Texas secretary of state, said the only other remedy registrars have is to refer cases to district attorneys for prosecution.

“The Texas Election Code does not grant any sort of additional investigative authority to a voter registrar in that situation,” Taylor said. “That’s where investigators and/or law enforcement get involved.”

Taylor said the secretary of state’s office has received complaints about the issue in the past, but said instances in which voters insist they live at an address that appears commercial are not a widespread problem.

“It does occur occasionally and we do occasionally hear frustrations from county voter registrars,” Taylor said.

See here for some background. Let’s state up front again that elected officials routinely game the “home address” requirement, with far less scrutiny. Let’s also state that the election process for many utility districts is a sham, again with far less attention and outcry than a few votes with PO box addresses. We could be a little more consistent about this sort of thing, is what I’m saying.

Having said all that, let’s talk about why some people might legitimately not want to put their residential address on their voter registration. Some people are dealing with stalkers and abusive exes, and thus do not want their home locations to be publicly searchable. Some people are homeless, or in transitional situations. Some people may be on temporary assignments out of state or out of the country. I have a friend from college who spent several years as a road-warrior employee for a company that provided software and training services for law firms. She literally lived in hotels or at friends’ houses year-round, and used her employer’s New York office as her mailing address. Some people live in Winnebagos and drive around the country.

I would argue that all these people have a right to vote that should not be challenged by some busybody party apparatchiks. It may be that some folks have dishonorable reasons for not using a “true” residential address on their registrations, but let’s keep some perspective here. Four thousand of them may sound like a lot, but there are 2.3 million registered voters in Harris County, so we’re talking less than 0.2% of the total. It’s basically a rounding error, even if you refuse to grant that there are any legitimate reasons for doing this. Maybe instead of obsessing over this tiny number of technical violations, we could grant ordinary voters the same deference we insist on giving elected officials when it comes to where they say they live.

(If instead we want to crack down on elected officials with dubious residential situations, I know who I’d start with. But we both know that’s not going to happen.)

Harris County 2018 voter registration numbers

From the inbox:

Thank you Harris County Voter Registration Division and Harris County Volunteer Deputy Voter Registrars for your passion, dedication, and commitment in registering eligible voters!


Current number registered:   2,291,037
Voters registered in 2017:      67,753
Voters registered in 2018:      41,369

That was from a couple of weeks ago, just before the registration challenge debacle. The registration deadline for this November is October 9, so there’s still time for that number to increase. Here’s how it looks over the past few cycles:


Year   Registered   Change
==========================
2002    1,875,777
2004    1,876,296      521
2006    1,902,822   25,526
2008    1,892,656  -10,166
2010    1,917,534   24,978
2012    1,942,566   25,032
2014    2,044,361  101,795
2016    2,182,980  138,619
2018    2,291,037  108,057

It’s crazy that in the first ten years of this century, the total number of registered voters in the county only increased by a net of 67K. In the next six years after that, up 350K and counting. Having a Tax Assessor that thought registering voters was more important than purging them sure makes a difference, doesn’t it? To be clear, while Ann Harris Bennett gets the credit for this cycle, Mike Sullivan was in the office for the 2014 and 2016 periods, so he gets his props as well.

As you know, I believe the increases in registration are directly related to the improved Democratic performance in 2016, and key to our chances this year. So to everyone who’s out there registering people, I say “thanks”, and “keep up the good work”. The numbers tell the story.

County Attorney declares registration challenges invalid

That’s one word for it.

The Harris County Attorney’s office said Tuesday that the 4,000 voter registrations challenged by a county Republican Party official were invalid, and the voter registrar should not have sent suspension notices to more than 1,700 county voters.

“The voter challenge they received was not in compliance with the law,” Assistant County Attorney Douglas Ray said. “If somebody doesn’t respond to that notice, we advise (the registrar) not to place voters on the suspension list.”

[…]

Ray explained to Commissioners Court at its Tuesday meeting that to challenge a voter’s registration under state law, the challenger must have personal knowledge that the registration is inaccurate. Ray concluded that Alan Vera, the chairman of the Harris County Republican Party’s Ballot Security Committee who brought the challenges in July, could not possibly know each of the 4,037 voters on his list. Therefore, the challenges cannot be considered, he said.

Vera said Tuesday afternoon he disagrees with that interpretation and will “take follow-up actions.”

He previously said he and volunteers had combed through the rolls looking for voters who had listed the locations of post offices, parcel stories or places of business as their address.

State law requires voters to register at the address where they live.

See here and here for the background. The actual standard for voter registration is not where you actually live but where you intend to live, as Karl Rove and a long list of elected officials going back to the first days of the Republic could tell you. If we really want to enforce this standard, there’s going to be an awful lot of politicians hiring moving vans.

There’s another class of voter that this invalid challenge went after as well.

A detailed look at the list of challenges to the voter registration rolls filed by Harris County Republican Party Ballot Security Committee Chairman Alan Vera reveals that individuals using facilities dedicated to the homeless as residency addresses were among the 4,000 people targeted.

[…]

In addition, the challenge list had a startling number of facilities used by homeless people in the Houston area. The Beacon at 1212 Prairie had 15 such challenges. When contacted, The Beacon said that they partner with COMPASS, a group dedicated to helping the disadvantaged through employment and other means, to allow people staying at the shelter to receive their mail, including government documents such as voter registration paperwork. The Beacon is also where many of the people temporarily staying with the Salvation Army on North Main Street are referred to. The Salvation Army was listed in 23 challenges, despite the fact that the organization does not allow people to use it as a mail service.

Star of Hope Mission, Healthcare for the Homeless and The Hope Center were also among the challenged addresses. Aable Bail Bonds had 18 challenges, likely because they formerly ran a bunkhouse for homeless clients on the second floor.

Patients listing substance abuse and mental health care center addresses were included as well. The Houston Recovery Center, which attempts to divert individuals caught intoxicated in public away from incarceration, had 12 challenges on Vera’s list. Patients may reside at the facility for 18 months according to their media relations department.

As the story notes, just last year VoteTexas.gov was assuring people who had been displaced by Harvey that they could register to vote at a shelter if that’s where they were staying. How things change in a year, eh? It’s unfortunate that the Tax Assessor’s office took action on these registrations, even if was the result of a software glitch, before consulting with the County Attorney. But at least it has all come to light. If we use this as a catalyst to improve our voter registration process, so much the better.

Vote suspension update

The situation gets more complicated.

Harris County mistakenly placed more than 1,700 voters on its suspension list in response to a local Republican official’s challenge of nearly 4,000 voter registrations, county Tax Assessor-Collector Ann Harris Bennett said Wednesday.

The situation quickly spun into a partisan spat with the Harris County Democrats accusing the GOP of targeting Democratic voters, and the Harris County Republican Party blasting Bennett, who also is the county’s voter registrar, for the suspensions and for confusing voters.

“Democrat Voter Registrar Ann Harris Bennett should not have jumped the gun by suspending those voters’ registrations,” Harris County Republican Party Chairman Paul Simpson said in a statement. “We urge Democrat Ann Harris Bennett to follow the law and quit violating voters’ rights.”

The suspensions came to light after Bennett’s office mailed letters to the voters whose registrations were challenged, asking them to confirm their addresses.

Assistant County Attorney Douglas Ray said counties are required to give voters 30 days to respond to those requests before placing them on a suspension list, but Bennett’s office took that action prematurely in some cases.

“They were following procedure they believed was the correct procedure, but after they consulted with us, they realized that the correct procedure was to wait 30 days,” Ray said.

Bennett blamed the mistake on a software glitch. She said her office discovered the error after three or four days, and immediately fixed the 1,735 suspended registrations.

The suspension list is poorly named, Ray said, because voters whose registrations are placed on suspension remain eligible to cast ballots. Voters are purged from the rolls, he said, only if they are placed on the suspension list, fail to respond to letters from the county and fail to vote in two consecutive federal elections.

See here for the background. It’s good that the suspensions were undone, but it’s annoying that Bennett’s office got the law wrong in the first place. It’s also annoying that the law allows people to make such challenges based on flimsy evidence, which as we saw in this case caused problems for real people who done nothing to warrant it. Even if their registrations being put into suspense was premature and incorrect, the fact that they were sent a letter they had to respond to in order to avoid any future issues was needlessly intrusive. Thus, I still believe that law needs to be revised, and we all need to be on guard for shenanigans like this, since the increase in voter registration in Harris County is a big threat to the Republicans. For now at least we can dial down that alarm a bit. That goes for me, too. The Press has more.

If you can’t win, cheat

This is some bullshit.

Harris County residents keen to vote in the upcoming midterm elections should be very careful about checking their mail. Recently, some residents of Third Ward received letters informing them of an address change they had not actually filed and which, if not answered, would put their franchise into suspension. It looks to be the result of a Republican-led challenge to thousands of Houston voters.

Lynn Lane, the well-respected Houston photographer who does a lot of theater and dance photography, almost threw the envelope away, thinking it was junk mail. Instead, it was from Ann Harris-Bennett, Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector & Voter Registrar. Though Lane has lived at his address for the past five years, his letter said otherwise. Furthermore, lack of response would cost him the right to vote.

It reads:

“If you do not respond at all to this notice, your registration will be canceled if you have not confirmed your address either by completing the response form or confirming your address when voting before November 30 following the second general election for state and county officers that occurs after the date the confirmation notice is mailed.”

Lane subsequently checked his voter registration and found that his voting rights were indeed listed as suspended. He says that a neighbor and others he had spoken to – who declined to be named in this story – had received similar letters.

“Something is definitely fishy with them trying to cancel voters registration stating our addresses have changed and if we don’t return these forms completed they will remove us from the registration it we will not be able to vote in November,” says Lane.

Archie Rose in Harris-Bennett’s office said that he suspected voter registration challenges were to blame when contacted for comment. According to Section 16 of the Texas Election Code, “a registered voter may challenge the registration of another voter.” Alan Vera, Chairman of the Harris County Republican Party’s Ballot Security Committee, has delivered 4,000 such challenges to Harris-Bennett’s office.

[…]

Lane’s letter is indicative that Vera and the Harris County Republican Party’s Ballot Security Committee’s movement has resulted in some lawfully registered voters in minority neighborhoods seeing their right to vote jeopardized. As the current system allows any registered voter to initiate such challenges against anyone they suspect or wish to accuse of improper registration, it is open to coordinated mob misuse.

“This is voter suppression at its finest,” says Lane. “And it’s also a waste of taxpayer dollars to send out all of these forms and then have us send them back to make sure we’re okay when we were okay before.”

Voters are encouraged to check their mail carefully in case they have also been challenged, and to make regular checks of the Secretary of State website to confirm their voter registration status. Anyone who receives a letter like Lane’s should respond promptly as instructed.

So, three things here. One, check yourself (choose “VUID and date of birth” for the Selection Criteria; your VUID is right there on your voter registration card) and tell everyone you know to check themselves. Two, the law in question being used to challenge these voters’ registrations needs to be tightened up. The person making the challenge must “state a specific qualification for registration that the challenged voter has not met based on the personal knowledge of the voter desiring to challenge the registration”, which seems awfully broad. Let’s define a standard of evidence here, and let’s include a penalty for making false claims. And three, while there may not be a prescribed remedy for someone who has been fraudulently challenged, I’m thinking a lawsuit against the perpetrators is in order anyway. Maybe file four thousand of them in JP court, for a bit of cosmic balance.

Be that as it may, this story deserves to be more thoroughly reported and widely known. It’s been all over Facebook among local Democrats, and the HCDP took notice as well. From an email sent out by HCDP Chair Lillie Schechter:

We were alerted yesterday that the voter registrations of nearly 4,000 democratic voters had been challenged by Republicans. Taking advantage of a loophole that allows challenged voter registrations to be placed on a suspense list requiring them to either update their address information online or complete a Statement of Residence at their polling place.

Making it harder to vote is one of the oldest tactics in the playbook of Republicans who are right now shaking in their boots at the thought of the expanding electorate and the coming blue wave.

HCDP is working to identify every democratic voter affected and alert them to this change in their registration status. We plan to contact them by mail and phone to ensure they have all the information needed to exercise their right to vote in November and beyond.

Good, and exactly what they need to do. It sucks that they have to do this, but that’s the world we live in, where people who have lived at the same address for years can have their voter registrations challenged by random assholes. Know what’s going on, and don’t let anyone disenfranchise you or someone you know.

The Ohio voter purge case

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

I refer to the Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute case that was decided by SCOTUS on Monday. Here’s a long reading list if you want to get up to speed on it:

SCOTUSBlog
Pema Levy
Mark Joseph Stern
Kira Lerner

Daniel Nichanian
Josh Douglas
Dahlia Lithwick
Rick Hasen
Ian Millhiser
Ari Berman
Kevin Drum

Go ahead and peruse. I’ll wait.

All right. The coverage and analysis of this ruling focuses on Ohio, for the obvious reason that this is where the case came from, and also because, as Dahlia Lithwick puts it, Ohio is the “purgiest of all the purgey states”. There’s some discussion about how this ruling paints a roadmap for other states that are inclined to do what Ohio has been doing to follow, though as the Rick Hasen piece notes there’s also a potential roadmap for blocking such efforts in the courts. What I want to know, of course, is how this will and may affect Texas. To the best of my knowledge, this kind of voter roll updating/purging is done at the county level. We certainly saw various underhanded tricks here in Harris County, like sending notices to update one’s voter registration information to known old addresses, back in the Paul Bettencourt/Leo Vasquez/Don Sumners days, but with Ann Harris Bennett in office now it’s less of a concern.

So my question is, what role does our Secretary of State play in all this, and what opportunities does our SOS have to “assist” the county election admins/voter registrars in “cleaning up” their voter rolls? What does the SOS do now, and what could our Lege enable or direct it to do now that Husted is law? I don’t have the expertise to say, and the election law-minded folks on Facebook that I rely on have not had anything to say about this. It sure would be nice if one of our professional news-gathering organizations put someone on to this question.

Today is the last day to cure a provisional ballot

If you voted provisionally during the primary because you did not have an accepted form of ID in your possession when you voted, you need to “cure” your provisional ballot in order for it to be counted. From the inbox:

If a voter possesses an acceptable form of photo ID but does not have it at the polling place, the voter will still be permitted to vote provisionally. The voter will have six (6) days to present an acceptable form of photo identification to the county voter registrar, or fill out the natural disaster affidavit referenced in the Exemption/Exceptions section below, or the voter’s ballot will be rejected.

Alternatively, a voter who possesses an acceptable form of photo ID but does not have it at the polling place may choose to leave the polling place and return before the close of the polls on election day with said acceptable form of photo ID to, if the voter would otherwise qualify, vote a regular ballot at that time.

If you need more information on the cure process

CLICK HERE

or contact the Harris County Tax Office Voter Registrar Division at 713-274-VOTE (8683) for assistance.

Simply put, if you cast a provisional ballot, you need to get yourself to one of the Harris County Tax Assessor offices and show an accepted form of ID there for your ballot to count. Today is the deadline for that. To find a location, go to the Tax Assessor webpage and scroll down to the map of branch office locations. If you’re in a county other than Harris, do the same thing at your county’s elections office –
find your county’s elections page for that information. Today is the deadline for this, so act now if you voted provisionally. This only applies if you did not have an accepted form of ID when you voted. If you have any questions, call the Harris County Tax Office Voter Registrar Division at 713-274-VOTE (8683) for assistance.

You can still vote if you have been displaced by Harvey

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Ann Harris Bennett

Nikki Thomason, one of hundreds of people displaced when her Thornwood neighborhood filled with water, never thought her right to vote could be swept away too.

“Angry, angry, you know it’s kind of funny the people who are angriest with the government right now, are the people whose votes have been suspended,” she said.

Thomason and other displaced flood victims checking their voter registration online were shocked to see messages their registrations were in suspense. Many were not sure if they would be able to vote in the highly anticipated March primaries.

“What went through my mind is, why am I am suspended and why has nobody told me, surely thousands of people are in the same position,” said Kimberly Truitt-Turner, another flood victim from the west side.

Turns out, state law requires each county’s tax assessor-collector to send a voter registration cards to each voter every two years. If the post office can’t deliver the card for whatever reason and they are returned, the registration is automatically suspended.

[…]

The Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector’s office says suspended voters can still vote, they just have to fill out a form at their polling location.

“You are still eligible to vote in the March primary, you just have to fill out the statement of residency form when you go and vote,” said Mike Lykes with the Assessor-Collector’s office.

Per state law, suspended voters can not update their addresses online. They either have to mail in a change of address or fill out a form when they go vote. Therefore, elections experts are urging worried flood victims to vote early so any confusion can be sorted out. But for those struggling to recover, this is one more hurdle they didn’t expect.

It’s not really a hurdle, in the sense that if you show up to vote you will be able to vote. You will just need to fill out the change of address form. It would be advisable to vote early, because you can vote anywhere and because having a few days before the election to ensure any problems are smoothed out is a good idea, but you could go to your original precinct location on March 6 if you want to. Yes, it’s another thing to think about, but all you really need to know is that you can still vote. Just show up as usual and the rest will be taken care of.

Now if you’re thinking “But why can’t I just update my voter information online?”, well, by all means you should be able to do that. The Lege needs to pass a law to make that happen first, and you know who’s been against such a law in the past? The Republicans, of course. Previous Tax Assessors have testified against online registration bills at the Lege. That obstacle has been cleared, but there’s still the whole Republican-majority-in-the-Legislature thing to deal with. You know what might help? A few thousand displaced-by-Harvey voters making a lot of noise about this, both in the 2018 election and the 2019 session. Channel that anger into something productive, and see what happens.

Here come the Dems

All the newly-elected county officials have now been sworn in.

The new Harris County officials sworn in New Year’s Day had something in common: They were all Democrats.

The swearing-in ceremony at 2 p.m. Sunday followed the Democratic Party’s sweep of every countywide office in November’s general election, including closely watched contests against incumbent Republicans for DA and sheriff.

The blue wave in a normally purple county where President Barack Obama won by just one-tenth of a percent in 2012 was driven largely by the unpopularity of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who polled just 42 percent in Harris County compared to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 54 percent, according to the county clerk’s official election results. Trump’s unpopularity here helped spur the Democrats’ 11-point advantage in straight-ticket voting.

[…]

County Judge Ed Emmett, Harris County’s top elected official, addressed the officials and their families.

“Don’t let your ego get in your way,” he told them. “The election is over and none of us is really that important. We are part of a governmental machine that’s been going a long, long time. … The ego of the campaign goes away. You’re not the office. You just occupy the office.”

Though Emmett mostly repeated his remarks from the 2015 swearing-in, he added a few comments this time around.

“This has been a heck of a year. … There’s been a lot of talk of divisiveness, ‘us’ versus ‘them,’ ” he said, citing partisan echo chambers and the dangers of fake news. “Everyone should be ‘us,’ ” he said.

Here’s a slightly different version of the story that mentions Fort Bend and Montgomery Counties as well. I appreciate Judge Emmett’s words about unity, but it will be interesting to see how that plays out in practice on Commissioners Court, which is still 3-1 Republican. Steve Radack had no qualms about slapping around Adrian Garcia while he was Sheriff, and he was already mixing it up with his now-colleague Commissioner Rodney Ellis even before Ellis was formally nominated to the office. Neither Ellis nor Kim Ogg will shy away from a fight, and the county is going to have to deal with both the Legislature and likely the Congress working to make things more difficult. It’s going to be an interesting year, let’s just leave it at that.

Precinct analysis: Bennett v Sullivan

Ann Harris Bennett was the only countywide Democratic candidate to be trailing on Election Day as the early voting totals were posted, but as the night went on she cut into the deficit and finally took the lead around 10 PM, going on to win by a modest margin. Here’s how that broke down:


Dist  Sullivan  Bennett  Sullivan%  Bennett%
============================================
CD02   168,936  105,778     61.50%    38.50%
CD07   147,165  106,727     57.96%    42.04%
CD09    29,855  103,511     22.39%    77.61%
CD10    83,213   34,795     70.51%    29.49%
CD18    53,558  148,586     26.49%    73.51%
CD29    41,555   88,942     31.84%    68.16%
				
SBOE6  357,083  249,953     58.82%    41.18%
				
HD126   37,003   24,186     60.47%    39.53%
HD127   50,028   23,460     68.08%    31.92%
HD128   42,659   16,238     72.43%    27.57%
HD129   44,072   24,777     64.01%    35.99%
HD130   60,429   20,277     74.88%    25.12%
HD131    8,121   37,906     17.64%    82.36%
HD132   39,094   29,321     57.14%    42.86%
HD133   50,116   25,241     66.50%    33.50%
HD134   49,352   39,410     55.60%    44.40%
HD135   33,528   26,112     56.22%    43.78%
HD137    9,664   17,099     36.11%    63.89%
HD138   28,827   22,096     56.61%    43.39%
HD139   13,707   38,266     26.37%    73.63%
HD140    7,556   19,790     27.63%    72.37%
HD141    5,934   32,109     15.60%    84.40%
HD142   11,599   33,182     25.90%    74.10%
HD143   10,372   22,294     31.75%    68.25%
HD144   11,810   15,188     43.74%    56.26%
HD145   12,669   21,519     37.06%    62.94%
HD146   11,323   36,903     23.48%    76.52%
HD147   14,119   43,254     24.61%    75.39%
HD148   20,434   26,999     43.08%    56.92%
HD149   16,639   26,389     38.67%    61.33%
HD150   50,472   25,358     66.56%    33.44%
				
CC1     82,916  231,040     26.41%    73.59%
CC2    134,067  117,084     53.38%    46.62%
CC3    202,128  149,943     57.41%    42.59%
CC4    220,415  149,294     59.62%    40.38%
Ann Harris Bennett

Ann Harris Bennett

This was Bennett’s fourth try for office. She had run for County Clerk in 2010 and 2014 against Stan Stanart, and for Tax Assessor in 2012 against now-incumbent Mike Sullivan, losing by fewer than 2,500 votes out of over 1.1 million cast. She becomes the fifth Tax Assessor since 2009, following Paul Bettencourt (who resigned shortly after being re-elected in 2008), Leo Vasquez (appointed to replace Bettencourt), Don Sumners (defeated Vasquez in the 2010 primary and won in November to complete the term), and Sullivan (defeated Sumners in the 2012 primary and then Bennett in November).

Incumbent Tax Assessors tend to do pretty well in re-election efforts. Bettencourt was the top votegetter in 2004, leading even George W. Bush by over 20,000 votes. He trailed only Ed Emmett in 2008, finishing 16K votes ahead of John McCain. Despite his loss, Sullivan was the high scorer among Republicans, beating all the judicial candidates by at least 19K votes. Only Sullivan in 2012 and Sumners in 2010, both first-timers on the November ballot, failed to make the upper echelon. Assuming she runs for re-election in 2020, it will be interesting to see if that same pattern holds for the Democrat Bennett as it has done for her Republican predecessors.

It’s instructive again to compare these results to the judicial races, as they provide a comparison to the base level of partisan support. While Sullivan finished well ahead of the Republican judicial candidates, Bennett wasn’t below the Democratic judicials; she was near the bottom, but did better than four of them. Looking at the numbers across State Rep districts, Bennett was usually a couple hundred votes below the Democratic judicial average, while Sullivan beat the Republican norm by a thousand votes or more. In HD134, he topped it by over 3,000 votes, though interestingly he wasn’t the high scorer there – Lunceford (50,193), Mayfield (49,754), and Bond (49,407) were all ahead of him, with Guiney (49,209), Halbach (49,173), and Ellis (49,081) right behind.

My general hypothesis here is that fewer Republicans skipped this race. I observed in the Sheriff’s race overview that Democratic judicial candidates had more dropoff than Republican judicial candidates did, while the non-judicial Democrats did a good job of holding onto those votes. Bennett performed more like a judicial candidate, while Sullivan overperformed that metric. I assume that the exposure Tax Assessors get, since every year everyone who owns a car and/or a home has to make at least one payment to that person, helps boost their numbers in elections. Again, we’ll see if Bennett benefits from that in her next election.

This concludes my review of Harris County races. I have one more post relating to Harris County in my queue, and I plan to take at least a cursory look at Fort Bend and Dallas Counties. Again, if you have any particular questions you want me to examine, let me know. I hope you have found this all useful.

Dems sweep Harris County

Hillary Clinton had a 100K lead in early voting in Harris County, and increased her lead as the night went on. The only countywide Republican who was leading early on was Mike Sullivan, but later in the evening, at the time when 80% of the Election Day vote was in, Ann Harris Bennett caught and passed him. Kim Ogg and Ed Gonzalez won easily, Vince Ryan was re-elected easily, and all Democratic judicial candidates won.

The HISD recapture referendum went down big, the Heights referendum to update the dry ordinance won, and Anne Sung will face John Luman in a runoff for HISD VII. Statewide, Clinton was trailing by about nine points, and with a ton of precincts still out was already at President Obama’s vote level from 2012. Dems appear to have picked up several State House seats, though not the SBOE seat or CD23. Clinton also carried Fort Bend County, though she had no coattails, and Commissioner Richard Morrison unfortunately lost.

I’m too stunned by what happened nationally to have anything else to say at this time. I’ll be back when I recover.

Chron overview of Harris County Tax Assessor race

It’s deja vu all over again.

Mike Sullivan

Mike Sullivan

Republican Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Mike Sullivan once again faces a challenge from Democrat Ann Harris Bennett, a rematch from four years ago for an office that oversees billions of dollars in property tax collections, maintains voter rolls and registers more vehicles than any other county in the state.

Bennett lost to Sullivan in the 2012 election by about two-tenths of a percent, or less than 2,400 votes.

Now, she is back, with a mission to unseat Sullivan and end the succession of Republican tax assessor-collectors, including Don Sumners and now-state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, that she said represents the establishment.

“They have used (the office) in ways that I don’t think the taxpayers of Harris County would be pleased with,” the former court coordinator said.

[…]

Ann Harris Bennett

Ann Harris Bennett

Sullivan has made “customer service” his motto. He was a former city council member before becoming the county taxman, and was on the Humble ISD school board before that.

In almost four years in office, he has launched initiatives that he said touches virtually every resident of Harris County.

Among them, he said, were workshops to help people challenge their property appraisals and training sessions for high school principals in Houston ISD on how to register students as voters.

He pointed to his work with the county budget office to upgrade the office’s computers and software, and touted his creation of a military help desk to aid soldiers and their families navigate what can be complex tax rules. He said he also instituted an employee recognition program to improve morale.

He also points to decisions to allow people to pay for registration renewals or other transactions with credit cards and put televisions in the lobbies of all of his offices.

“For me, it’s all about serving the public,” Sullivan said.

For Bennett, a big part of what separates her from Sullivan centers on how and when to use the office’s soapbox to advocate for issues beyond its immediate control.

Last year, Sullivan was part of a delegation of county officials whose lobbying in Austin helped torpedo a bill that would have allowed Texas voters to register online.

Sullivan said that the process already is fraught with irregularities, adding that his office regularly has to deal with discrepancies between Department of Public Safety records and information on the voter rolls, discrepancies he said would only grow with online voter registration.

Sullivan pointed to a record number of registered voters in the county this fall – close to 2.2 million – as evidence that current methods are working.

There’s two ways of looking at this race. One is that Sullivan has unquestionably been an upgrade over the two clowns that preceded him, Don Sumners and Leo Vasquez. He’s also been less political than Paul Bettencourt was. The big strike against him, which led to the Chron endorsing Bennett, is his opposition to online voter registration. He has his stated reasons, and it is true that registrations are at a record high for the county. It’s also true that this is contrary to his generally modern approach to technology in other aspects of his office, that he could have pledged to work with the DPS to fix the problems he says they have with their data, and that even if people have been able to overcome the existing obstacles to getting registered, they shouldn’t have had to overcome them when a much easier solution was available. Like the other countywide races, the partisan tide will be the biggest factor in who wins and who loses. I think Sullivan has the best chance of the three Republican incumbents to survive if the Democrats have the overall advantage. Whether he does or he doesn’t, the issue of online voter registration is not going to go away.

Endorsement watch: A bit of a surprise

The Chron endorses Ann Harris Bennett for Harris County Tax Assessor.

Ann Harris Bennett

Ann Harris Bennett

When Mike Sullivan first ran for Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector, he promised that he would: “Bring the office into the 21st century by embracing new technology.”

By Sullivan’s standard, we look forward to Apple releasing the Post Card 7, complete with four easy-to-handle sides and a convenient stamp location. Because if you want to register to vote in Harris County, or anywhere in the state of Texas, you have to do it by snail mail – and state legislators point to Sullivan as the reason why.

A majority of the state House had co-sponsored a bill to allow online voter registration during the last legislative session. However, testimony by Sullivan redirected the sure-fire bill into the garbage.

Whatever his other accomplishments in the office, whatever the deficits of his challenger, Sullivan’s failure to bring voter registration into the 21st century should disqualify him in the minds of voters. There is no excuse.

[…]

That is why we endorse Ann Harris Bennett for Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector. An experienced administrator with more than 14 years’ service as a district court coordinator, Bennett, 63, has long advocated for better registration and election processes. She also recognizes how our property tax system treats homeowners unfairly in contrast to commercial property owners.

I say this is a bit of a surprise for three reasons. One is that this means the Chron endorsed all Democrats for countywide offices. Given the dynamics of the other three such races, this was really the only one in which they might have endorsed the Republican and thus achieve some partisan balance, if that was a consideration. The Chronicle did not endorse Bennett in the primary, and they were not very complimentary to her at the time. Given those facts, and given that Mike Sullivan has been a considerable improvement over the two clowns that preceded him, I figured he would be an easy call for them. I did not expect them to put that much weight on the electronic voter registration issue. I’m glad they did, because this is easily my biggest point of disagreement with Sullivan. I fear that the moment may have passed for online voter registration – whatever consensus there was for it in 2015, I have a hard time imagining it being there in 2017. I hope I’m wrong, and for sure we should try again. Online voter registration would certainly be easier to make happen if the state’s biggest county officially supports it. Ann Harris Bennett is the one candidate who would offer that support.

July finance reports for county candidates

Most of the interesting race in Harris County this year are the countywide races. Here’s a look at how the candidates in these races have been doing at fundraising.

District Attorney

Friends of Devon Anderson PAC
Kim Ogg


Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
================================================
Anderson   253,670   55,392         0    368,907
Ogg        143,311   34,417    69,669    108,872

Devon Anderson received a $60K contribution from Richard Anderson; I have no idea if there’s any family connection there. She’s a strong fundraiser, but she’s also had her share of bad publicity, and I suspect it’ll take more money than what she has in the bank to wipe that away. As for Ogg, her biggest single contribution was $13,500 from Nancy Morrison. I feel like Ogg’s totals don’t quite work, since she reported $30K on hand for her February 20 eight-day report, but it’s not that big a deal. This is also a reminder that the totals listed above for Ogg were from the period February 21 through June 30, while Anderson’s are for the full six months.

Sheriff

Ron Hickman
Ed Gonzalez, May runoff report
Ed Gonzalez, July report


Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
================================================
Hickman    127,153  175,247         0    135,868
Gonzalez    38,435   35,587         0     20,117

Hickman had primary opposition, so his report is from February 21 through June 30. He got $21,700 from Suzanne and Keith Moran for his biggest donation. He also spent a bunch of money – $59K to Strategic Media Services for TV ads, $41K too Neumann and Co for mailers, and (my favorite) $10K to Tom’s Pins for “promo items and Golf Promo items”. I bet that’s a lot of pins and little pencils. As for Gonzalez, he had raised $130K from Feb 21 to May 14, during the primary runoff period. His July report is only for May 15 through June 30. In other words, don’t freak out at the disparity in amount raised.

Tax Assessor

Mike Sullivan
Ann Harris Bennett


Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
================================================
Sullivan    70,300   39,196         0    101,564
Bennett     26,190   11,536         0      1,837

Both Sullivan and Bennett were in contested primaries, so both reports cover February 21 through June 30. You could call Sullivan an efficient fundraiser – he raised that $70K from 55 total donors, 52 of whom gave $250 or more, and three of whom gave $100 or less. Bennett has never been much of a fundraiser, and this report bears that out. Some $17K of her raised total was in-kind, which contributed to the extra low cash on hand amount.

County Attorney

Vince Ryan
Jim Leitner


Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
================================================
Ryan         72,400  33,652         0    171,677
Leitner      12,550  10,225     9,500      8,765

Leitner had to win a primary, while Ryan was the one Dem who had a free ride. Ryan is also the one Democratic incumbent, and he built up a bit of a cushion over the past four years. Leitner wins the award for being the one guy to fill out his form by hand rather than electronically. Not a whole lot to see here otherwise.

Commissioners Court, Precinct 3

Steve Radack
Jenifer Pool


Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
================================================
Radack     747,500  177,604         0  1,616,948
Pool        13,750   13,054         0          0

This is the one contested County Commissioner’s Court race. Radack’s Precinct 3 is redder than Jack Morman’s Precinct 2 but less red than Jack Cagle’s Precinct 4. In a normal year, I’d expect Radack to get around 60% of the vote, though downballot candidates have done better than that in recent years; Adrian Garcia topped 47% there in 2008. This is obviously not a normal year, though whether the effect of that is primarily at the top of the ticket or if it goes all the way down remains to be seen. To the extent that there is an effect, Precinct 3 ought to serve as a good microcosm of it.

And for completeness’ sake:

Commissioners Court, Precinct 1

El Franco Lee – Still has $3,774,802 on hand.
Rodney Ellis – $1,959,872 on hand. Same as his state report.
Gene Locke – Raised $258K, spent $182K, still has $115K on hand.

I’m going to step out on a limb and suggest that Gene Locke has run his last campaign. Very little money has been spent from El Franco Lee’s account – one presumes his campaign treasurer hasn’t given the matter any more thought since he was first asked about it in January. Rodney Ellis has promised to give $100K to the HCDP coordinated campaign. I say Gene Locke and J. Kent Friedman (El Franco Lee’s campaign treasurer) should do something like that as well. This year presents a huge opportunity for Harris County Democrats, and it’s not like that money is doing anyone any good sitting in the bank. It’s not my money and I don’t get to say how it gets spent, but I do get to say what I want, and this is it. Put some money into this campaign, guys. There’s absolutely no reason not to.

UPDATE: Just to be clear, Commissioner Locke has nothing to do with the late Commissioner Lee’s finance account. I was under the impression that Lee’s campaign treasurer controls that purse, but it has been suggested to me that (at least by now) that may have passed to his widow. Be that as it may, and again to be clear, Commissioner Locke has no involvement in anything but his own finance account.

2016 primaries: Harris County

Though this will be the first entry published in the morning, it was the last one I wrote last night, and I’m super tired. So, I’m going to make this brief.

Harris County Dem resultsHarris County GOP results

Democratic races of interest, with about 86% of precincts reporting

District Attorney: Kim Ogg with 51%, so no runoff needed.

Sheriff: Ed Gonzalez (43%) and Jerome Moore (30%) in the runoff.

Tax Assessor: Ann Harris Bennett (61%) gets another crack at it.

Judicial races: Some close, some blowouts, some runoffs. Jim Sharp will not be on the ballot, as Candance White won easily, while the one contested district court race that featured an incumbent will go to overtime. Elaine Palmer in the 215th will face JoAnn Storey, after drawing 43% of the vote to Storey’s 28%. Those who are still smarting from Palmer’s unlovely ouster of Steve Kirkland in 2012 will get their chance to exact revenge on May 24.

Turnout: For some reason, Dem results were reporting a lot more slowly than GOP results. As of midnight, nearly 150 precincts were still out. At that time, Dem turnout had topped 200,000, so the final number is likely to be in the 210,000 to 220,000 range. That’s well short of 2008, of course, but well ahead of projections, and nobody could call it lackluster or disappointing. As was the case in 2008, some 60% of the vote came on Election Day. I think the lesson to draw here is that when there is a real Presidential race, fewer people vote early than you’d normally expect.

Republican races of interest, with 92% of precincts reporting

Sheriff: Ron Hickman, with 72%.

Tax Assessor: Mike Sullivan, with 83%. Kudos for not being that stupid, y’all.

County Attorney: Jim Leitner, with 53%.

Strange (to me) result of the night: GOP Chair Paul Simpson was forced to a runoff, against someone named Rick Ramos. Both had about 39% of the vote. What’s up with that?

Turnout: With 67 precincts to go, just over 300,000 total votes. Interestingly, that was right on Stan Stanart’s initial, exuberant projection. He nailed the GOP side, he just woefully underestimated the Dems.

Bedtime for me. I’m sure there will be plenty more to say in the coming days. What are your reactions?

Endorsement watch: Dudley and Sullivan

The Chron makes its endorsements in the Tax Assessor primaries.

Brandon Dudley

Brandon Dudley

It is the time of year when the Harris County tax assessor-collector gains sudden prominence: Jan. 31 is the due date to pay property taxes, and Feb. 1 is the last day to register for party primary elections. Both of those duties are handled by the tax assessor-collector’s office, in addition to vehicle registrations and title transactions. These basic services demand that the office be run with customer satisfaction and ease as the highest goals. With these priorities in mind, we endorse incumbent Mike Sullivan in the Republican primary and Brandon Dudley in the Democratic primary.

This year’s Republican primary for Harris County tax assessor-collector is a rematch from four years ago, when Mike Sullivan ousted incumbent Don Sumners. At the time, Sullivan offered a customer-focused alternative to Sumners’ office, which faced accusations of being overly politicized. The battlelines haven’t changed since. Sumners, 76, says he is running to serve as a self-proclaimed taxpayer advocate and watchdog.

“If you want an administrator, Sullivan is your man,” Sumners told the Houston Chronicle editorial board.

Mike Sullivan

Mike Sullivan

That’s exactly what we want. An administrator can ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent efficiently and effectively, and focus on the duties of office.

[…]

When she met with the editorial board, Democratic candidate Ann Harris Bennett, 62, had no difficulty listing the litany of problems she saw with the current incumbent tax assessor-collector. Brandon Dudley, however, listed the solutions. Dudley currently serves as chief of staff and general counsel for state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and that experience in the state Legislature is apparent. A graduate of the University of Houston Law Center with a background in social work, Dudley is a regular policy wonk. He is quick to point out the ways that wealthy commercial landowners can exploit loopholes in the property appraisal system, which shifts the tax burden onto average homeowners. Dudley, 42, has even reached out to other tax assessor-collectors across the state in search of innovative ideas and best practices for the office.

Bennett has run for this office once before, and she has a firm grasp of where it is today. Dudley has a vision for the future.

The Chron is far too kind to Sumners, who wasn’t just an overly political Tax Assessor, but also a massively incompetent Tax Assessor. I mean, any random third grader in HISD would do a better job than Sumners did in his two-year reign of error. To call this a no-brainer is to greatly understate the matter.

As for the Democratic side, my interview with Brandon Dudley is here and my interview with Ann Harris Bennett is here. One suspects that the Chron would be happy to endorse a random third grader over Don Sumners in November if he manages to win the GOP primary, but they will have a tougher choice if Mike Sullivan prevails. They did slap him on the wrist for not supporting online voter registration, so that may be the fulcrum on which their decision turns for the fall. But please, Republicans, don’t make it easy on them. You know as well as the rest of us what an idiot Sumners is. Let’s not take any chances that he could get his old job back.

Interview with Ann Harris Bennett

Ann Harris Bennett

Ann Harris Bennett

As I said in my earlier entry, Democrats came close to winning the office of Harris County Tax Assessor in 2012. The candidate who turned in that performance is Ann Harris Bennett, who is back this year to try again. She was also a candidate for County Clerk in 2010 and 2014; see here for my 2012 interview with her, and here and here for 2014 and 2010. Bennett worked for Harris County for a number of years as the Court Coordinator for the 55th and 152nd District Courts. Here’s what we talked about:

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2016 Election page.

Morris Overstreet to run for DA

I know we’re all still recovering from Tuesday, but the 2016 filing season is almost upon us, and the Democratic race for Harris County DA just became a contested race.

Morris Overstreet

Former appeals court judge Morris Overstreet announced Thursday that he would seek the Democratic nomination for Harris County District Attorney.

Overstreet, a former judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals who has been a licensed attorney since 1975, said he wanted to bring integrity to the state’s largest DA’s office, currently helmed by Republican Devon Anderson.

“I want to instill integrity, so that the people of Harris County have public trust in the office of the district attorney,” Overstreet said. “As a trial judge and a prosecutor involving hundreds of jury trials and thousands of non-jury trials, I’ve never had any criminal conviction reversed because of any error committed by me.”

Here’s a post of Facebook from Overstreet’s announcement. He had released a video on YouTube on October 28 teasing the announcement. Overstreet was a candidate for Chief Justice, 1st Court of Appeals in 2010, and more recently was appointed by the Waller County Sheriff to an independent panel of civilians to evaluate his department in the wake of Sandra Bland’s death. Overstreet joins Kim Ogg in the race, presumably against incumbent DA Devon Anderson, who has not yet announced but is expected to run and who as far as I know has not attracted a primary opponent. I look forward to the debate in this race, Lord knows there’s plenty to talk about.

As far as the rest of the primaries go, County Attorney Vince Ryan, the sole Democratic countywide officeholder, is expected to run again, and I have not heard word of a primary opponent nor of a Republican challenger yet, though I’m sure there will be the latter. Brandon Dudley, chief of staff to Sen. Rodney Ellis and 2010 judicial candidate, is running for Tax Assessor against Mike Sullivan; Ann Harris Bennett, who ran for Tax Assessor in 2012 and County Clerk in 2010 and 2014, is also running. So far, no one has announced on the Democratic side for Sheriff. The name people bring up when I ask about it is Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen, who would be up for re-election this year. He himself has not said anything, for the same reason former Sheriff Adrian Garcia couldn’t talk about running for Mayor – he’d have to resign as soon as he did say something. There’s some speculation around outgoing CM Ed Gonzalez as well, but Rosen is the name I keep hearing. Incumbent Sheriff Ron Hickman should have at least one primary opponent, 2012 candidate Carl Pittman, but beyond that I don’t know. I’ll do a roundup on judicial and legislative and other races another time. If you have a name and some reasonably informed scuttlebutt to add to this, by all means please do.

Endorsement watch: The clerks

Two more endorsements from the Chron, one of which may be the least enthusiastic endorsement they’ve ever given.

District Clerk: Chris Daniel

The Harris County district clerk’s office runs behind the scenes in our judicial system. It maintains records for district and county courts at law, accounts for legal fees and deposits and administers the jury summons system. For all the drama and justice that goes down in courtrooms, there is nothing particularly exciting about this managerial position. Over the past four years, Republican Chris Daniel has served as a steady hand and deserves another term.

[…]

Daniel is a common presence at community and political events across the county – from heritage festivals to tea party meetings – yet never brings the nonpartisanship of his office into question. With youth and ambition matched by effective governance (he’s 31 years old) Daniel has served as an impressive administrator in an office that had previously suffered from constant turnover.

His Democratic challenger, Judith Snively, 59, works as a lawyer-turned-entrepreneur. You may have seen her at Spec’s promoting the Kardámili line of olive oils, which she imports. In running for the office, Snively points to problems of high turnover among individual district court clerks. That’s a challenge that Daniel needs to investigate in his next term, all while managing the rollout of electronic filing in criminal courts and electronic subpoenas. There is little doubt, however, that Daniel will do his job well.

Daniel had a rough start four years ago after defeating the well-regarded Loren Jackson in the 2010 landslide. I haven’t heard much grumbling about him lately, and the Chron’s assessment of him and his term in office is accurate. Judith Snively made some good points in her interview with me, and she unquestionably has a wealth of experience with the courts. She would certainly make a fine District Clerk, but I’m not surprised the Chron recommended Daniel.

This one, however, was a big ol’ head-scratcher.

County Clerk: Stan Stanart

If you’re an interested voter in Dallas County, then you have the simple pleasure of being able to look at the upcoming November ballot on DallasCountyVotes.org. If you live in Harris County, as of Friday, you get nothing more on HarrisVotes.com than a vague splash page stating that information will be posted “as Soon as it is Available.”

That’s par for the course under Republican County Clerk Stan Stanart.

The county clerk’s office maintains property records, court documents and marriage licenses, but is best known as the office that administers elections. Under Stanart, 58, Harris County elections have been marred by numerous problems and errors. The results of the 2012 primary runoffs were delayed due to technical errors, and the original numbers had to be corrected. His office published an inaccurate manual for election judges during the November 2011 election. And it feels like election information arrives at the last minute in Harris County. Stanart has pointed to human error outside his office as the reasons for delay. There may be truth in that claim, but the buck should stop at the top. After four years of questionable service, Stanart would be a vulnerable target for a strong challenger.

And yet they went ahead and endorsed him anyway, in spite of all that and in spite of the fact that they endorsed Ann Harris Bennett in 2010. This time they decided they didn’t like her, and without seeing a recording of their endorsement interview it’s hard to know exactly why. I will note that despite slapping some Family Court candidates on the wrist for their hostility to same sex couples, the Chron didn’t even mention Stanart’s front and center prominence with the HERO repeal effort. When is this a factor in your endorsements and when is it not, y’all? Some guidance would be appreciated. If they didn’t like Ann Harris Bennett this year for whatever the reason, then they didn’t like her. But that doesn’t mean they needed to endorse Stanart, who has been a mess as County Clerk. They would have been advised to go with “none of the above” instead.