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Arizona

UIL still nixes NIL

Sorry, Texas high school athletes. You’re still not getting paid.

Even if state lawmakers change legislation to allow high school athletes in Texas to profit off their name, image and likeness, the University Interscholastic League may not be ready to give the green light.

“Given what we’ve seen across the country at the NCAA level, given what we’ve seen in some of those states that have allowed it at the high school level, I’m not sure there’s going to be much of an appetite for it,” UIL deputy director Jamey Harrison said Sunday at the Texas High School Coaches Association Convention.

Texas is among 26 states that prohibit high school athletes from benefiting from NIL, according to endorsement platform Opendorse. There are 13 states that allow high school athletes to profit: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota and Utah.

Any decision from the UIL’s legislative committee would have to wait until the Texas Legislature makes a change to current laws. Passed last summer, Senate Bill 1385 prohibits any individual or corporate entity to enter into any NIL arrangement with a student athlete “prior to their enrollment in an institution of higher education.”

“Until there is some movement there, there will be no change from the UIL,” Harrison said. “And even if there was movement there, we would have to see in what way it moves, what kind of guardrail they put around it.”

Guess the Quinn Ewers story didn’t move anyone. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, there’s plenty of money being made by other people, all adults, as a result of these athletes’ labor, and it seems logical that the athletes themselves should get a piece of that, as they now can in college. On the other hand, these high school athletes are for the most part still minors, and the potential for financial exploitation is higher. I would like to think there’s a regulatory scheme, with real enforcement powers, that could be put into place to allow at least some NIL payments to these athletes while still protecting their interests and not turning the whole enterprise into a free-for-all, I just have no idea what it might be. We could maybe check out what California is doing with NIL, if the thought of Texas emulating California in any way didn’t make some people’s heads explode. I dunno. I just don’t think that a blanket “No” is a sustainable answer, and the sooner we try to find something that is, the better.

Yes, mask mandates work

Not a surprise, but data is always nice.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new studies Friday that show enforcing masks in schools helps reduce the spread of COVID-19.

One study looked at data from schools in Arizona’s Maricopa and Pima Counties after they resumed in-person learning in late July for the 2021-22 academic year. The two counties account for roughly 75% of the state’s population.

The CDC found that the K-12 schools that did not have mask requirements at the beginning of the school year were 3.5 times more likely to have COVID outbreaks than schools that required all people, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a mask indoors from the first day of school.Of the 999 schools analyzed in the study, 21% had an early mask requirement, 30.9% enacted a mask requirement between nine and 17 days after the school year began, and 48% had no mask requirement. Of the 191 COVID outbreaks that occurred in those schools from July 15 to August 31, 113 were in schools that did not enforce masks at all. Schools with early mask requirements had the lowest number of outbreaks.

During that time frame, Arizona was experiencing an upward trend of weekly COVID cases, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Another study from the CDC looked at the impact of school mask mandates across the U.S.

Authors looked at data from 520 counties that started school between July 1 and September 4 this year and had at least a full week of case data from the school year. They only looked at counties where all the schools had the same mask policies. Of the 520 counties, 198 had a school mask requirement and 322 did not.

Researchers found that counties that had no mask requirements in their schools had a higher rate of pediatric COVID cases after the school year began than those schools that did have requirements. Schools that required masks, the study found, had 16.32 cases per 100,000 children in the first week of classes; schools without had 34.85 cases per 100,000 children.

Authors did note, however, that all children in the counties were included in the data and not just those who are school-age. They also noted that teacher vaccinate rates and school testing data were not controlled in the analyses, and that the sample size of counties is small.

Here’s the CDC press release for the studies. I’m sure you can guess why I posted about this. The data speaks for itself, so I’ll just leave it here.

So we have a fraudit

What a load of crap.

The Texas secretary of state’s office announced late Thursday that it has begun a “full forensic audit” of the 2020 general election in four Texas counties: Collin, Dallas, Harris and Tarrant. But the statement from that agency did not explain what prompted the move.

There has been no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Texas in 2020.

Sam Taylor, a spokesperson for the office, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. No elections officials in the four counties immediately responded for comment.

The announcement came hours after Republican former President Donald Trump requested Gov. Greg Abbott add an election audit bill to this year’s third special session. While Trump lost his reelection bid, he did win in Texas.

It was unclear if his request was related to the announcement from the secretary of state’s office. But Taylor’s press release said the agency has “already begun the process in Texas’ two largest Democrat counties and two largest Republican counties—Dallas, Harris, Tarrant, and Collin.” While Tarrant has long been a Republican stronghold, Democratic President Joe Biden narrowly beat Trump there, according to the county’s election results.

Former Secretary of State Ruth Ruggero Hughs, who oversaw the 2020 elections, resigned when the Texas Senate refused to confirm her appointment. A deputy for Hughs called the 2020 election “smooth and secure” earlier this year.

Who knows what any of this even means, or what safeguards are in place to ensure integrity and transparency. I’d say that this was a rogue official going off on their own, but I think we all know that when Donald Trump tells a weak leader like Greg Abbott to do something, Abbott will comply.

In the meantime, county officials have responded, for the most part appropriately.

Harris County leaders on Friday blasted the Texas secretary of state’s decision to conduct a comprehensive “forensic audit” of the 2020 election in four counties, including Harris, as a political ploy to appease conspiracy theorists and former President Donald Trump.

County Judge Lina Hidalgo accused Gov. Greg Abbott of trying to curry favor with the former president, who on Thursday called for an audit of the Texas results, despite comfortably carrying the state in his unsuccessful bid for re-election. She likened the effort to audits in Arizona and Pennsylvania, which have failed to find major errors in vote tallying.

There is no evidence of widespread fraud or irregularities in Harris County’s 2020 election, where a record 1.7 million voters participated.

“This does not deserve to be treated as a serious matter or serious audit,” Hidalgo said. “It is an irresponsible political trick. It is a sham. It is a cavalier and dangerous assault on voters and democracy.”

Precisely who ordered the audits of election results for Harris, Dallas, Collin and Tarrant counties, as well as what they would entail, remains a mystery. The Secretary of State’s Office distributed a news release Thursday evening, though the secretary of state post has been vacant since May and spokesman Sam Taylor did not respond to a request for comment.

I’d forgotten that we don’t actually have a Secretary of State right now. I guess that “audit” must have gotten started on its own. Probably a computer glitch somewhere.

County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria said she was surprised by the secretary of state’s announcement, noting she had spoken with that office’s staff hours earlier about an unrelated matter. Longoria said no state agency or department has provided her with any information about how the audit of Harris County’s election results will be conducted.

After the 2020 contest, Longoria said her office conducted a partial manual review of mail ballots and electronic records from voting machines. Eleven months later, Longoria said she has turned her attention toward preparing for future elections.

“I’m now being blindsided about an audit that we have no information on and no direction on,” Longoria said. “My job is protect the voters… not just open up the books to whoever has a new conspiracy of the day, and let you run rampant with confidential election records.”

County Attorney Christian Menefee said the Texas audit “is clearly being done in bad faith” since it was announced just hours after Trump requested it. All three Harris County officials said they will comply with the law and any potential rulings from judges, but would otherwise not take the audit effort seriously.

“The goal of this is to intimidate our election workers and the folks who volunteer in elections, to undermine our confidence in democracy and to pander to … a gentleman who lost an election 11 months ago,” Menefee said. “We’re going to continue to push back where appropriate.”

Commissioners Court is divided over party lines on the audit. The two Democratic commissioners, Adrian Garcia and Rodney Ellis, said they agreed with Hidalgo’s criticism. Republican Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey said despite county elections officials’ assurances that the 2020 contest was conducted securely, he does not know if that is accurate.

“I think there’s enough questions there,” Ramsey said. “Obviously, you need to go back and look at the numbers. Just because there hasn’t been anything (found) at this point, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. That’s why you do an audit.”

OK, I’m back on the “redistrict that guy into oblivion” train. Harris County deserves way better than that.

Not just our county officials, either.

“The conspiracy theorists who want to come up with all these ways or reasons why this election wasn’t right — they might very well find something else [to doubt],” said Republican Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley. “It’s time to move on.”

Whitley and officials in Harris also said they have not been told what the audits entail or what prompted them. They said they learned about them from a late Thursday press release sent by a spokesperson in the secretary of state’s office. Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee said an audit can have many forms, but Harris County elections administrator Isabel Longoria said her office hadn’t heard any details of what the state’s plans are as of noon Friday. Longoria said the county has already confirmed the results of the elections several times.

“If people want to hear it again and again and again and again, that nothing’s wrong — great,” she said. “But at what point are you going to be willing to hear the truth, that nothing was wrong with the November 2020 elections?”

[…]

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, a Democrat, echoed Hidalgo’s remarks.

“This is a weak Governor openly and shamelessly taking his orders from a disgraced former President. Governor Abbott is wasting taxpayer funds to trample on Texans’ freedom to vote, all in order to appease his puppeteer,” Jenkins said over text message.

Jenkins said in an interview that Dallas County will not resist the audit for now — but if the state asks for more than what the county thinks is suitable under the election code, he could see challenging it in court.

Collin County had no comment at the time. Courage, y’all.

I’m sorry, I don’t have anything coherent to say about this. It’s bullshit all the way down, and I have a hard time taking its premise seriously enough to engage with it. But I will say this much, these guys have amazing timing.

On Friday afternoon, the leaders of the unorthodox 2020 election audit in Arizona announced the results of their monthslong, Trump ally–sponsored hunt for voter fraud in Maricopa County, which Joe Biden won by fewer than 11,000 votes out of millions cast.

The timing of the release hints at the significance of the audit’s findings. For months, Donald Trump has been billing the investigation as the thing that will provide definitive proof of his victory in Arizona. If the audit was going to show that the election was stolen from Trump by Democratic goons in cactus-covered antifa ski masks, why release it late on a Friday afternoon at a time usually reserved for dumps of information people want to go uncovered?

leaked report on Thursday evening offered an answer. The ballyhooed and controversially conducted hand count of nearly 2.1 million Maricopa County ballots still showed Biden defeating Trump, and though the margin changed by 360 votes it was actually Biden whose margin of victory grew from 45,109 to 45,469.

“This is yet the latest in a string of defeats for Donald Trump saying the election was rigged and fraudulent,” longtime Republican election attorney Benjamin Ginsberg said in a press call with the elections group States United. “[This] was their best attempt. This was an audit in which they absolutely cooked the procedures, they took funding from sources that should delegitimatize the findings automatically. This was Donald Trump’s best chance to prove his allegations of elections being rigged and fraudulent and they failed.”

It turns out that not even a partisan-funded and -conducted recount using procedures out of a Pee Wee Herman film could change the outcome. “The Cyber Ninjas couldn’t do the thing they were on the hook to do,” said cochairman of States United Norm Eisen.

I look forward to a similar result in Texas. Daily Kos and NPR have more.

Feds officially investigating Texas mask mandate ban

Good.

The U.S. Department of Education on Tuesday launched a civil rights investigation into Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates in schools, making Texas the sixth state to face a federal inquiry over mask rules.

The investigation will focus on whether Abbott’s order prevents students with disabilities who are at heightened risk for severe illness from COVID-19 from safely returning to in-person education, in violation of federal law, Suzanne B. Goldberg, the acting assistant secretary for civil rights wrote in a letter to Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath.

The investigation comes after the Texas Education Agency released guidance saying public school systems cannot require students or staff to wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in light of Abbott’s ban on mask mandates.

[…]

Goldberg wrote that the Office for Civil Rights will examine whether TEA “may be preventing school districts in the state from considering or meeting the individual educational needs of students with disabilities or otherwise enabling discrimination based on disability.”

The department previously opened similar investigations into mask policies in Iowa, South Carolina, Utah, Oklahoma and Tennessee. But the agency had not done so in Texas because of court orders preventing the state from enforcing Abbott’s order. The new TEA guidance changed that, however.

See here and here for the background. The TEA’s new directive made me scratch my head.

In newly released guidance, the Texas Education Agency says public school systems cannot require students or staff to wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

A statement released by the agency Friday says Gov. Greg Abbott’s May executive order banning mask mandates precludes districts from requiring face coverings.

“Per GA-38, school systems cannot require students or staff to wear a mask. GA-38 addresses government-mandated face coverings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement reads. “Other authority to require protective equipment, including masks, in an employment setting is not necessarily affected by GA-38.”

The agency previously had said it would not enforce the governor’s ban until the issue was resolved in the courts.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has sued several school districts for imposing mask requirements on students and teachers, and some districts have sued the state over the governor’s order. The lawsuits have produced mixed results with some courts upholding districts’ mask mandates and some siding with the attorney general.

TEA officials on Tuesday did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the new guidelines and questions about how the agency would enforce the ban on mask mandates. The agency has not yet clarified what prompted the new guidelines, given that the legal battles regarding the order are ongoing.

Hard to know exactly what motivated this, but “pressure from Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton” would be high on my list of suspects. If I were to advise school districts that currently have mask mandates, as HISD does, or are thinking about imposing one, I would say go right ahead, and keep the mandates you have. This is a toothless threat, and the courts have not yet weighed in on the issue in a meaningful way. We know that having the mask mandates promotes safety, and if that isn’t the highest priority I don’t know what is. Do not waver.

Anyway. The Trib has an explainer about the state of mask mandates and lawsuits around them, but it doesn’t indicate when the legal cases may be having hearings, which admittedly would be a big task to track. The federal lawsuit will have a hearing on October 6, and we may get some clarity out of that. In the meantime, keep the mask mandates. We need them, and (a couple of district court judges aside) no one is stopping school districts from having them. The Trib has more.

Feds take first steps in the mask mandate fight

Coming attractions.

The U.S. Department of Education is opening civil rights investigations to determine whether five states that have banned schools from requiring masks are discriminating against students with disabilities, the agency said on Monday.

The department is targeting Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah, all Republican-led states, in its investigations. It said it was concerned that their bans on mandatory masking could leave students with disabilities and underlying health conditions more vulnerable to COVID-19, limiting their access to in-person learning opportunities.

“It’s simply unacceptable that state leaders are putting politics over the health and education of the students they took an oath to serve,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement.

“The Department will fight to protect every student’s right to access in-person learning safely and the rights of local educators to put in place policies that allow all students to return to the classroom full-time in-person safely this fall.”

[…]

Florida, Texas, Arkansas and Arizona are four other Republican-led states that have banned mandatory masking orders in schools. The Education Department left those states out of its inquiry because court orders or other actions have paused their enforcement, it said in a news release.

The department says it is monitoring those states and would take action if local mask-wearing policies are later barred from going into effect.

See here for the background, and here for the press release. It’s too early to say how this might go, and that’s before we get a resolution in the reams of mask mandate-related lawsuits that are still working their way through our system. Suffice it to say that the good guys have a lot of fight left in them.

Sure, let’s have a fraudit here in Texas

What could possibly go wrong?

Unfair to clowns, honestly

Republican House members are seeking a forensic audit of the November election results, but only in Texas’ largest counties that mostly went for Democrat Joe Biden.

Legislation filed by Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, requires the state’s Republican leadership to appoint an “independent third party” to carry out the audit. Among the bill’s 15 GOP co-authors are Deer Park Rep. Briscoe Cain, who chairs the House Elections Committee, and Cypress Rep. Tom Oliverson, vice chairman of the House Republican Caucus.

“Texans want to know more about the claims of voter fraud and deserve to have confidence in their elections,” Toth said in a statement about House Bill 241. “Voters want to know that their legal vote counts and matters.”

The legislation will likely go nowhere in the 30-day special session, since Democrats’ walkout stopped the GOP-led House from conducting any business. But the push shows how, despite no evidence of widespread fraud and in a state Donald Trump carried, some Republicans are still raising questions about the 2020 election results six months after Biden took office.

[…]

Rep. Chris Turner, who chairs the Texas House Democratic Caucus, said Tuesday that the legislation sounds like “it’s all based on the lie that there’s widespread voter fraud and Donald Trump really won the election.”

“I don’t know if these folks are aware of it, Trump actually did carry Texas,” said Turner, D-Grand Prairie. “So I’m not sure what they’re trying to find in their audit.”

The same thing they’ve been looking for from the beginning, which is strategies, methods, and justifications for delegitimizing Democratic votes and voters, especially non-white votes and voters. The tell is in the way the size of the counties that are in scope for this is defined: Counties with at least 415,000 people, which as noted are the top 13 counties by population in Texas. Why stop there, and why such a weird population cutoff number? Well, if you take the next 13 counties, 11 of them were carried by Trump. If you go down to the next 13 on the list, which gets you to all counties with at least 100,000 people (a much nicer, rounder number than 415,000), all 13 were won by Trump. It’s just that simple – maximize the scrutiny on Democratic counties and find ways to make them look suspicious, while minimizing it on Republican counties. It’s genius, in its malicious way. And by the way, this isn’t just my inference. It’s what Steve Toth has explicitly said.

Now some of these counties not-top-13 counties were close – Jefferson and Nueces were just barely won by Trump – and some others are (as we have seen) clearly trending Democratic, like Brazos and Brazoria. But still, they were won by Trump and thus are not of interest to anti-democrats like Toth and Cain. Ken Paxton, who knows a thing or two about making egregiously false claims about the 2020 election, has signed on to this farce as well. Does anyone think Greg Abbott will resist? Hope he’s distracted by some other shiny object, or that someone reminds him of how these audits have caused tons of election equipment to be decertified as a result of being mauled by the incompetent frauditors. As with everything else at this point, if they want to do it and a quorum exists, there’s precious little Dems can do to stop them.

SCOTUS takes another knife to the Voting Rights Act

The red carpet for voter suppression has been rolled out.

The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld two Arizona voting restrictions that a lower court had said discriminated against voters of color.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote the opinion in the 6 to 3 ruling, which divided the court along ideological lines. Voting rights experts said the decision could make it harder to challenge some of the new voting restrictions being passed by state legislatures around the country. The Texas Legislature is expected to convene next week to consider legislation that would impose new restrictions on voting.

The court was considering the shield provided by the Voting Rights Act (VRA), first passed in 1965 to forbid laws that result in discrimination based on race.

The cases involved two voting regulations from Arizona that are in common use across the country. One throws out the ballots of those who vote in the wrong precinct. The other restricts who may collect ballots cast early for delivery to polling places, a practice then-President Donald Trump denounced as “ballot harvesting.”

I would advise you to read Slate, Vox, Rick Hasen, The 19th, and Daily Kos for the analysis and effect. The short answer is that there’s nothing in the Republicans’ way, and any subsequent court action will be really hard to win. I wish I had something more positive to say, but here we are. The challenge remains the same – we have to win enough elections to pass the laws we want to pass, and repeal the crap that needs to be thrown out. It’s just going to be harder to do now.

Abbott’s border wall

I have many questions about this, but for this post I will limit myself to three.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced Thursday that Texas will build a border wall along the state’s boundary with Mexico — but provided no details on where or when.

Abbott declared his plans during a press conference in Del Rio. He said he would discuss the plans next week. The Biden administration issued a proclamation that stopped border wall construction on his first day of office.

Abbott announced the news while discussing a slew of border initiatives, such as a $1 billion allocation for border security in the state budget lawmakers just passed and a plan to establish a Governor’s Task Force on Border and Homeland Security with public safety and state government officials.

“It will help all of us to work on ways to stem the flow of unlawful immigration and to stem the flow of illegal contraband,” Abbott said, while seated next to officials from the National Guard, Texas Department of Public Safety and Texas Division of Emergency Management.

At the conference, Abbott also announced plans to increase arrests along the border — and increase space inside local jails.

“They don’t want to come to across the state of Texas anymore because it’s not what they were expecting,” Abbott said before being met with applause from those at the conference. “It’s not the red carpet that the federal administration rolled out to them.”

He also announced an interstate compact with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey to resolve the border “crisis,” and called on other states to do the same.

1. How exactly is any of this going to be paid for? I know Abbott has promised more details next week, but we just had an entire legislative session, with a budget being passed, and I don’t remember “building a border wall” being part of it. Also, arresting however many people and putting them in jail – who will be paying for that? Even if one can claim that there is a line item in the budget for this, does anyone believe it’s enough?

2. How many lawsuits do you think this will generate? There’s federal-state issues, such as whether states can arrest migrants for trespassing, likely questions about how various funds may be spent on this ill-conceived idea, and who knows what else. Some number of lawyers are going to make a lot of bank on this.

3. We’re totally going to start seeing “Abbott for President 2024” speculation because of this, aren’t we? Time to find a nice Internet-free cabin in the woods, I suppose. More from the Trib here.

Census apportionment numbers are in

Texas will gain two seats in Congress, which is one fewer than had been expected based on population growth estimates.

Texas will continue to see its political clout grow as it gains two additional congressional seats — the most of any state in the nation — following the 2020 census, the U.S. Census Bureau announced Monday.

Thanks to its fast-growing population — largely due to an increase in residents of color, particularly Hispanics — the state’s share of votes in the U.S. House of Representatives will increase to 38 for the next decade. The new counts reflect a decade of population growth since the last census, which determines how many congressional seats are assigned to each state. Texas is one of six states gaining representation after the census. The other five states are each gaining one seat.

The 2020 census puts the state’s population at 29,145,505 — up from 25.1 million in 2010 — after gaining the most residents of any state in the last decade. More detailed data, which lawmakers need to redraw legislative and congressional districts to reflect that growth, isn’t expected until early fall. But census estimates have shown it’s been driven by people of color.

Through 2019, Hispanics had accounted for more than half of the state’s population growth since 2010, a gain of more than 2 million residents. And although it makes up a small share of the total population, estimates showed the state’s Asian population has grown the fastest since 2010. Estimates have also shown the state’s growth has been concentrated in diverse urban centers and suburban communities.

With its gain of two seats, the state’s footprint in the Electoral College will grow to 40 votes. But Texas will remain in second place behind California for the largest congressional delegation and share of Electoral College votes. California is losing a congressional seat but will remain on top with 52 seats and 54 votes in the Electoral College. The other states losing seats are Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Florida, Colorado, Montana, North Carolina and Oregon will each gain one seat.

[…]

Texas ultimately fell short of the three congressional seats it was projected to gain based on population estimates. Census Bureau officials on Monday indicated the state’s 2020 population count was slightly lower — a difference of about 1% — than the estimates.

In the lead-up to the census, Republican Texas lawmakers shot down any significant funding for state efforts to avoid an undercount in the 2020 census, leaving the work of chasing an accurate count to local governments, nonprofits and even churches. Texas is home to a large share of residents — Hispanics, people who don’t speak English, people living in poverty and immigrants, to name a few — who were at the highest risk of being missed in the count.

I’ve been blogging about this for a long time, so go search the archives for the background. We’ll never know if some effort from the state government might have yielded a higher population count, but other states with large Latino populations like Florida and Arizona did not get the apportionment gains they were expected to, while New York only lost one seat and Minnesota didn’t lose any. California grew by over two million people over the past decade, by the way, but its share of the total population slipped, and that cost it a seat. Yes, I know, it’s crazy that the US House has the same number of members it has had since 1912, when each member of Congress represented about 30,000 people (it’s about 760,000 people now), but here we are.

The Chron goes into some more detail.

“We’ll have to wait for more granular data, but it certainly looks like the Texas Legislature’s decision not to budget money to encourage census participation combined with the Trump administration efforts to add a citizenship question cost Texas a congressional district,” noted Michael Li, an expert on redistricting who serves as senior counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

Census Bureau officials said Monday they were confident in the results, noting the state’s actual population was within 1 percent of the estimates.

The new population figures come as lawmakers in Texas prepare to redraw political boundaries, including for the state’s congressional delegation, which will remain the second-biggest in the nation as it adds two more members, for a total of 38. That trails California, which is set to lose a seat for the first time in state history, and will have 52 members.

Republicans will control the redistricting process and are expected to use it to reinforce their control of the delegation.

[Mark] Jones at Rice University said the party now just has to decide how safe or risky it wants to be with the new seats. Republicans can play it safer by tossing the new districts to Democrats while shoring up GOP votes in the 22 seats they hold now, which would keep them in control of the delegation. Or they could use the new seats to break up Democrat districts and try to gain ground.

[…]

Li expects the two additional seats to bring “demands for increased representation of communities of color, which will be at odds with the party that will control redistricting.”

Li said chances are high that the maps Texas Republicans draw will end up in court for that exact reason, something that has happened each of the last five decades.

“That’s almost a certainty,” Li said. “Every decade, Texas’s maps get changed a little or a lot because it’s never managed to fairly treat communities of color.”

Of course, we have a very hostile Supreme Court now, and no Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. It would be very, very nice if the Senate could find a way to pass the two big voting rights bills that have been passed by the House, but until that happens we’re looking at a lot of sub-optimal scenarios. I’ve been saying what Prof. Jones says here, that the approach the Republicans take will depend to a large degree on their level of risk aversion, but never underestimate their desire to find advantage. There will be much more to say as we go on, but this will get us started. Daily Kos, Mother Jones, and the Texas Signal have more.

The Big Lie

I was glad to see the Chron run a week-long series of editorials on The Big Lie of “voter fraud”, and how the Republican Party has been pushing it for a lot longer than 2020, and how it has been used to justify all kinds of draconian restrictions on voting. Here’s how they started it off last Monday.

So, if voter fraud is the scourge of our democracy, if it’s capable of stealing a presidential election, as some claim, if it’s widespread enough to qualify for “emergency” status in the state Legislature to ratchet up voting restrictions, then surely, the proof of its magnitude lies in Texas.

Indeed it does. After 15 years of looking for election fraud among the 94 million votes cast in Texas elections since 2005, the Texas Attorney General’s office has dutifully prosecuted all of 155 people. Add to that 19 cases cataloged by the conservative Heritage Foundation, which include federal and county prosecutions, and you get a grand total of 174.

That’s not a typo. It’s not 174,000 or 17,400 or even 1,740.

It’s 174 little ol’ Texas souls.

Together, they represent .000185 percent of the total votes cast — or 1 in 540,000 voters. Statistically, voters are more likely to get struck by lightning than to be prosecuted for voter fraud.

And yet, 174 isn’t nothing. If even one of these individuals perpetrated wide-scale fraud that robbed other Texans of their electoral voice or stole a major election or even resulted in a hefty prison sentence, that might provide a whiff of excuse for the zealous pursuit of fraudulent voters.

Alas, most crimes were so minor that only 33 of the 174 perpetrators went to jail, most for less than a year. An analysis of media accounts and the attorney general’s prosecution records obtained by this editorial board through the Texas Public Information Act shows that most cases ended with plea agreements — pre-trial diversion deals or probation. Of the 33 people who were sentenced to any jail time, none were the criminal masterminds conjured up to instill fear in the hearts of freedom-loving Americans.

We’re all familiar with the numbers, if not these specific numbers. However you look at it, the total number of incidents – which by the way tend to be wildly exaggerated by the likes of Ken Paxton – is ridiculously small. As I’ve said, for going on twenty years now we’ve had the most fanatical vote fraud hunters on the planet operating in our state government, and all they’ve ever been able to find is the weakest of sauces, yet they continue to insist that fraud continues unabated and undetected. I don’t know, maybe the real problem here is that these guys truly suck at their jobs, and that if we had more competent and honest people in those positions we’d be able to have a greater sense of security in our elections. Just a thought.

Anyway. The subsequent editorials in the series:

The Big Lie – Is Crystal Mason proof of Texas election fraud – or of a political ploy? I think we know the answer to that one.

The Big Lie – Texas has been crying ‘election fraud’ since it blocked ex-slaves from voting. However far back you think this goes, you’re underestimating it.

The Big Lie – For 20 years, GOP has groomed their voters to believe in fraud. The big change in recent years has been the attack on the voting process itself, and with proposed legislation in Georgia and Arizona and elsewhere the ability for a partisan body to explicitly overrule local and state election officials who count and verify the results. If a state legislature can say basically “we don’t care who the voters elected, we’re going to declare the candidate we like the winner”, that doesn’t say much for our democracy.

The Big Lie – What happens when a GOP state tells the truth about voter fraud? Ask Kentucky. Good luck finding a current Republican elected official who’s willing to tell the truth, in public, about this.

Are people leaving the Republican Party?

Some people are, in at least some states, if you go by voter registration data.

In the days after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, the phone lines and websites of local election officials across the country were jumping: Tens of thousands of Republicans were calling or logging on to switch their party affiliations.

In California, more than 33,000 registered Republicans left the party during the three weeks after the Washington riot. In Pennsylvania, more than 12,000 voters left the G.O.P. in the past month, and more than 10,000 Republicans changed their registration in Arizona.

An analysis of January voting records by The New York Times found that nearly 140,000 Republicans had quit the party in 25 states that had readily available data (19 states do not have registration by party). Voting experts said the data indicated a stronger-than-usual flight from a political party after a presidential election, as well as the potential start of a damaging period for G.O.P. registrations as voters recoil from the Capitol violence and its fallout.

[…]

The biggest spikes in Republicans leaving the party came in the days after Jan. 6, especially in California, where there were 1,020 Republican changes on Jan. 5 — and then 3,243 on Jan. 7. In Arizona, there were 233 Republican changes in the first five days of January, and 3,317 in the next week. Most of the Republicans in these states and others switched to unaffiliated status.

Voter rolls often change after presidential elections, when registrations sometimes shift toward the winner’s party or people update their old affiliations to correspond to their current party preferences, often at a department of motor vehicles. Other states remove inactive voters, deceased voters or those who moved out of state from all parties, and lump those people together with voters who changed their own registrations. Of the 25 states surveyed by The Times, Nevada, Kansas, Utah and Oklahoma had combined such voter list maintenance with registration changes, so their overall totals would not be limited to changes that voters made themselves. Other states may have done so, as well, but did not indicate in their public data.

Among Democrats, 79,000 have left the party since early January.

But the tumult at the Capitol, and the historic unpopularity of former President Donald J. Trump, have made for an intensely fluid period in American politics. Many Republicans denounced the pro-Trump forces that rioted on Jan. 6, and 10 Republican House members voted to impeach Mr. Trump. Sizable numbers of Republicans now say they support key elements of President Biden’s stimulus package; typically, the opposing party is wary if not hostile toward the major policy priorities of a new president.

“Since this is such a highly unusual activity, it probably is indicative of a larger undercurrent that’s happening, where there are other people who are likewise thinking that they no longer feel like they’re part of the Republican Party, but they just haven’t contacted election officials to tell them that they might change their party registration,” said Michael P. McDonald, a professor of political science at the University of Florida. “So this is probably a tip of an iceberg.”

But, he cautioned, it could also be the vocal “never Trump” reality simply coming into focus as Republicans finally took the step of changing their registration, even though they hadn’t supported the president and his party since 2016.

A more detailed case against this thesis is made by G. Elliott Morris, who notes that voter registration is not the same as voter behavior – in states where people register by party, they don’t necessarily vote that way – and that at least some of these former Republicans have changed their affiliation because the establishment GOP didn’t support Trump enough following the election and the insurrection. In other words, some number of these folks aren’t any more likely to vote for a Democrat. Finally, the total numbers here are really small in terms of overall voter registration, well less than one percent. In other words, what we have here looks more like a drip than a stream.

On the other hand, the public now has a very low opinion of the Republican Party and a significantly more favorable view of the Democratic Party. Republicans also have issues with corporate donors, which may be a drag on them at least through 2022. And while President Biden’s current approval ratings are extremely polarized, I note that he’s basically the inverse of Trump with independents, getting 60% of approval there where Trump had 40% at this same point in their presidencies. Who knows where any of this will go from here, but right now, you’d rather be on Team Biden than on his opposition.

None of this applies directly to Texas, since of course we don’t register by party. We measure affiliation by primary voting, so we will have much more limited data until whenever we get to have primaries in 2022. That said, the forthcoming special election in CD06, to fill the seat left vacant by the passing of Rep. Ron Wright, may provide a yardstick as well. Trump carried the district in 2020 by a 51-48 margin, basically the same margin by which Ted Cruz carried it in 2018. Rep. Wright won by a more comfortable 53-44, and Trump won it 54-42 in 2016. A Democratic win in what I presume would be a June runoff would surely be a big deal, while a Republican victory would be seen as evidence that nothing much has changed. It’s super early and we have no candidates yet, so hold onto your hot takes for now.

Will Spring Training start on time?

Maybe, maybe not.

Less than a month before pitchers and catchers are set to report, the Cactus League released a letter it sent to Major League Baseball in which it called for spring training to be delayed, a move it hopes would allow Arizona’s situation to improve as it relates to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The letter, addressed to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and dated Friday, was signed by Cactus League executive director Bridget Binsbacher, representatives of each of the Cactus League’s eight cities — including six mayors and two city managers — as well as a leader from the tribal community that is home to the league’s other facility.

“In view of the current state of the pandemic in Maricopa County — with one of the nation’s highest infection rates — we believe it is wise to delay the start of spring training to allow for the COVID-19 situation to improve here,” the letter stated. “… As leaders charged with protecting public health, and as committed, longtime partners in the spring training industry, we want you to know that we stand united on this point.”

The Cactus League does not have the power to unilaterally change the season’s Feb. 27 start date. That authority is collectively bargained between baseball’s owners and players. With multiple reports indicating the owners are in favor of a delay, the Cactus League’s letter could be interpreted as an attempt to ratchet up pressure on the players.

Despite acknowledging the league had been in regular contact with MLB — and that MLB was not caught off guard by the letter’s contents or its public release — Binsbacher said it was not meant to create leverage.

“Honestly, this letter was a sincere representation of our local leaders to encourage the safest possible scenario,” she said. “… Any (additional) time is going to improve the situation — and that’s truly the focus. If there is an opportunity to do this, we would support it. If they come back and say they want to continue on with the schedule as it is, we’re going to prepare for whatever the outcome is.”

[…]

The Athletic reported that in December MLB “floated” the idea of delaying spring training and the season by a month, but it would not assure the players of a full 162-game schedule or of paying them for any games missed. The conversation went nowhere, according to the report.

The players’ union issued a statement on Monday in which it said it was aware of the Cactus League’s letter, though had not been involved in direct communication with the league.

“While we, of course, share the goals of a safe spring training and regular season, MLB has repeatedly assured us that it has instructed its teams to be prepared for an on-time start to spring training and the regular season and we continue to devote all our efforts to making sure that that takes place as safely as possible,” the statement said.

You may recall there was a fair bit of friction between the league and the players last year over how many games were played, which had an effect on the amount of salary the players ultimately got. Not surprisingly, the players want to play a full season, and the owners would like to not pay them for a full season. Given that the NFL successfully completed a full season, and that the NBA and NHL are back to a more-or-less regular schedule, it’s hard to see MLB using the pandemic as a reason not to play, but the owners want to have fans in the stands as much as possible. Delaying the start of the season until more people are vaccinated, and local limits on crowd sizes are lifted, is a goal they may find attractive. My guess is that the season ultimately starts on time and it’s business mostly as usual, but it will be noisy along the way. ESPN has more.

Univision: Trump 49, Biden 46

Always time for one more poll, apparently.

The race for the White House in Texas is so close in the Nov 3 presidential election that it’s beginning to look uncharacteristically like a swing state, according to a new Univision News poll, which also surveyed voters in Florida, Pennsylvania and Arizona.

Donald Trump and Joe Biden are only separated by a slight margin (49% for the president and 46% for the Democrat) among registered voters in Texas, according to the poll carried out with the collaboration of the University of Houston and conducted between October 17 and 25. The difference falls within the margin of error, making it a virtual tie.

[…]

In all four states, the Hispanic vote largely favors Biden, although Trump has managed to maintain significant support from the Latino community (particularly in Florida, where 37% of Hispanics said they have already voted or will vote for Trump’s reelection).

At the national level (where the poll was conducted with UnidosUS/SOMOS), Hispanics voters favored the Democratic candidate by a margin of 41 points (67% vs. 26%).

The following are some of the highlights of the polls conducted for Univision by Latino Decisions and North Star Opinion Research in four of the states that could decide the Nov. 3 elections.

In the Lonestar state, the number of Hispanics who back Trump is 28%, which is a slight increase compared to September, when an Univision poll showed Trump had 25% of the Hispanic vote. Analysts agree that a larger increase in his Latino base could tip the balance in favor of the president’s reelection.

In Texas, and generally in every state where the polls were conducted, voter preferences clearly reflect the nation’s deep political polarization. Beyond the figure of the candidates, what the polls show is a clearly partisan vote. In Texas, 91% of Republicans said they voted or will vote for Trump and 91% of Democrats will vote for Biden.

More so than in previous elections perhaps, younger voters could be decisive, and this time clearly lean towards the Democrats. In Texas, 65% of those under the age of 29 express their support for Biden. But among those over 50 Trump leads by 10 points (53% to 43%).

In the Senate race, Republican candidate John Cornyn leads his race for re-election against the Democratic party challenger, MJ Hegar, by only 3 points (44% to 41%,) which is also within the margin of error. In this case, the support of younger voters for the Democrat is significantly lower, dropping from 65% to 55%.

For Texas voters, the coronavirus is the biggest concern (46%). Among Latinos, who have been hit especially hard by the pandemic, that number rises to 56%.

Overall, 54% of voters disapprove of Trump’s handling of the pandemic. But in a further sign of polarization, 83% of Republicans approve and only 31% consider the virus a priority, although 64% approve of the mandatory use of face masks.

In Texas, Trump’s attacks on Democrats seem to have wide acceptance, and “stopping the agenda of Pelosi and the Democrats” is a priority for 30% of Republicans, which is similar to support for defeating the coronavirus pandemic.

Early voting in Texas is very high: at the time of the survey it was 48% overall and 51% among Latinos; while only 16% have voted by mail, compared to 34% in Arizona and 26% in Florida. Texas is one of the few states that requires an excuse to vote absentee.

You can click over to see more on the other states and to see the graphics, and you can click here for an incredibly dense set of crosstabs. I noted the September Univision poll here. Their assertion that higher turnout among Latinos is likely to be a boon for Biden is what I’d call generally accepted wisdom, but I will note that the recent NYT/Siena poll does not concur with that.

In the Hegar-Cornyn contest, Hegar leads among Latinos by a more modest 52-30. The poll does not break out Black voters as a subsample, but there is an “Other” along with “White” and “Latino” that may literally be everyone else; in many polls, it usually means Asian-American and maybe Native American, but here it may also include African-American. This poll lands on the “big Latino support for Biden” side of that debate, but – plot twist! – it shows Trump with a 44-35 plurality among independents, adding yet another complication to that debate. As the old cliche goes, The Only Poll That Matters is going on right now, and in a few days we’ll (probably) know who was right. See this Twitter thread by Brandon Rottinghaus for more.

Two more data points about Latino voting preferences in Texas

On the one hand:

On the eve of the first presidential debate of the 2020 electoral season, Univision News publishes its latest electoral polls: the National Latino Voter Poll, a survey that interviewed a representative sample of all Latino registered voters nationwide, and the Arizona, Texas and Florida Latino Voter Polls, which interviewed a representative sample of all Latino registered voters in each state.

These new polls reveal the diversity and complexity of the Latino electorate current political preferences, voting intention, concerns, opinions on recent developments, views on President Trump, Joe Biden and much more.

Complete results of the polls are now available at UnivisionNoticias.com and via all Univision News digital and social media platforms. Additionally, highlights of the findings will be featured in Univision’s programming, from its morning show “Despierta América, to the different editions of its daily “Noticiero Univision” newscasts and its public affairs program “Al Punto”.

Overseen by Dr. Sergio García-Ríos, Director of Polling for Univision News, the surveys were conducted by the polling firms Latino Decisions and North Star Opinion Research from September 17 – 24, 2020. The Latino Texas Voter Poll was commissioned through a partnership between Univision News and the Center for Mexican American Studies (CMAS) at the University of Houston.

  • 46% of Latinos oppose moving forward with appointing a replacement to the Supreme Court before the election, while 41% are in favor.
  • Biden leads Trump by 42 points among registered Hispanic voters, but in the key state of Florida that advantage has dropped to only 16 points.
  • Trump’s overall approval among Hispanics is 30%, but in Florida it’s 39%.
  • The coronavirus is the biggest concern for 40% of Hispanics, while 73% disapprove of Trump’s management of the pandemic and 61% believe that Biden would have handled it better.
  • About half of Hispanics (48%) plan to vote by mail, although in Texas, where not all voters have that option, the number is only 33%.
  • 76% of Hispanics support the protests that have occurred in recent days over the death of African Americans at the hands of the police, and 58% would welcome a reduction in funding for the police.
  • 59% of Hispanics believe that Biden would do better on the subject of law and order, which is one of Trump’s main slogans.
  • In contests for the Senate in the key state of Arizona, 55% of Latinos favor Democrat Mark Kelly over 21% for Martha McSally. In Texas MJ Hegar leads with 47% against 30% for John Cornyn.


To see full cross tabulations and methodology of the National Latino Voter Polls, click here.

To view the complete results of the polls, please go to UnivisionNoticias.com.

Here’s a more detailed writeup, and here are the questions and crosstabs. The topline numbers are 66-25 for Biden among Latinos in Texas. For MJ Hegar, it’s 47-30 against John Cornyn, but with a significant undecided contingent, which if you dig through those crosstabs is much more Democratic.

On the other hand, we have this:

President Donald Trump has an apparent lead over former Vice President Joe Biden in a close contest for Texas’ 38 electoral votes according to a new poll of likely voters in the state released today.

Trump has the support of 49 percent of Texas likely voters, Biden is at 46 percent, other candidates on the ballot are at 4 percent and 1 percent are undecided. The poll of 882 likely voters carries a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percent.

While male poll respondents are more likely to vote for Trump (52 percent Trump, 42 percent Biden), Trump is polling nearly even with Biden among women in Texas (49 percent Biden, 47 percent Trump); Biden likely needs to widen the gender gap in order to carry the state.

More on voters’ support by party, age and education is available at www.uml.edu/polls.

While Trump is slightly ahead of Biden with likely voters, 50 percent say they approve and 49 percent disapprove of the president. Among those who approve, 37 percent do so strongly and 13 percent somewhat. Among Trump disapprovers, 40 percent strongly disapprove of the way he is handling his job as president. Among Democrats, 95 percent disapprove of Trump’s job performance, including 83 percent who strongly disapprove. Among independents, 60 percent disapprove of his job performance, including 39 percent who strongly disapprove. Among the 92 percent of Republicans who approve of Trump’s job performance, 69 percent strongly approve.

“Trump is hanging onto a lead in Texas, but Republicans shouldn’t be celebrating. Once a stronghold, statewide races continue to tighten and a loss in Texas would not only guarantee a Biden presidency, it would signal a landslide. The fact that Biden is keeping it close is cold comfort,” said Joshua Dyck, director of the UMass Lowell Center for Public Opinion and associate professor of political science.

[…]

In the closely watched U.S. Senate race in Texas, Republican incumbent John Cornyn leads Democratic challenger MJ Hegar 50 percent to 40 percent with 1 percent saying they will vote for another candidate and 9 percent undecided.

While Cornyn leads by a comfortable margin, his lead also does not necessarily project strength, rather that he is running against a relatively unknown challenger. Cornyn is leading among Republicans 91 percent to Hegar’s 3 percent, while Hegar leads among Democrats 83 percent to 7 percent. However, Hegar also leads among independents by 9 points, 44 percent to 35 percent. Notably, 10 percent of Democrats and 11 percent of independents remain undecided, compared to only 6 percent of Republicans.

As a challenger, Hegar’s relative anonymity among Texas voters shows up in her favorables. She has a net favorability rating of +13 (35 percent to 22 percent), but a large number of Texas voters either have no opinion of her (26 percent) or have never heard of her (17 percent). Cornyn, by contrast, is not a particularly popular incumbent. His favorability rating is net neutral (38 percent favorable, 38 percent unfavorable), while 19 percent of likely voters have no opinion of the senator and 5 percent have never heard of him.

Links to more about the poll can be found here. Why am I grouping this with the Univision/Latino Decisions poll? Because if you look in the crosstabs, Latinos support Biden in this poll by the shockingly small amount of 49-45, with Cornyn leading Hegar among Latinos 44-41. UML also has Black voters giving Trump 16% support, so as with some other polls this may just be some small sample weirdness. But as we’ve discussed before, modeling what Latino voters will do this election, especially in Texas, has produced some wildly divergent results.

This Chron story about that first poll captures what I’m talking about:

Tuesday’s results also aligns with previous polling that has Biden up over Trump among Latinos, though by how much has varied depending on the poll.

An August poll by the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation and Rice University’s Baker Institute put Biden up by 9.5 points among Texas Latinos. A Quinnipiac University poll last Thursday had Biden up by 8 points, and a smaller survey by the New York Times and Siena College had Biden up 25.

[UH poli sci professor Jeronimo] Cortina attributed the variation in poll results to small sample sizes that don’t fully encompass the breadth of types of Latino voters.

I mentioned the Quinnipiac poll and the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation poll earlier in this post, with the latter including a roundup of other polls that had this subsample data in it at the time. My quick scan of all the results suggests that maybe three fourths of polls of Texas have Trump’s level of support among Latinos in the 20-30 range, mostly 25-30, and the rest have him around 40. Needless to say, they can’t both be right. I tend to believe the former group, and the results of a large Latinos-only poll like this one and its predecessor carry more weight since they have much larger sample sizes, but we just don’t know for sure. I’m just trying to highlight the evidence that we have.

Morning Consult: Trump 48, Biden 47

We’re already starting to get a ton of new polls now that the conventions are over, and with that I expect some more Texas-specific polls. In the meantime, there’s this.

Despite two weeks of party conventions and amid civil unrest prompted by the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., the state of the race between President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden stands largely unchanged from its pre-convention numbers in some of the country’s most-contested states — with the notable exception of Arizona.

While Biden was trailing the president in the Southwestern battleground by 2 percentage points in an Aug. 7-16 Morning Consult poll conducted before the Aug. 17 start of the Democratic National Convention, the former vice president has improved his margin over Trump by 12 points.

According to the Aug. 21-30 survey of 943 likely Arizona voters, which has a 3-point margin of error, Biden leads Trump, 52 percent to 42 percent, driven by a 10-point increase in support among Arizona men, statistically tying him with Trump (49 percent to 45 percent), and a 7-point increase in support with suburban Arizonans, who now favor Biden by 9 points, 51 percent to 42 percent. He also leads among women (55 percent to 40 percent) and independents (51 percent to 37 percent) in the state.

[…]

Nationally, Biden continues to be on more solid polling ground than Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton was four years ago, when she led Trump by 3 points following the conclusion of the national conventions.

The latest survey, conducted Aug. 28-30 among 12,966 likely voters, found Biden 8 points ahead of Trump, 51 percent to 43 percent. That includes a 12-point lead among women (53 percent to 41 percent), an 11-point lead among independent voters (48 percent to 37 percent) and an 11-point lead among voters in the suburbs (52 percent to 41 percent).

The figures, which are nearly identical to polling conducted Aug. 14-16, come after daily tracking of the head-to-head contest showed a narrow improvement in Trump’s standing against Biden on Friday. That post-convention bump proved to be fleeting, with daily tracking on Saturday showing Trump trailing Biden 43 percent to 51 percent and Sunday’s responses putting Biden back to a 9-point lead and 52 percent of the vote. The Saturday and Sunday polling came with respective 2- and 1-point margins of error.

Similarly, movement away from Biden and toward Trump that was detected on Friday among white voters and suburbanites was short-lived, with the three-day survey showing no significant national shifts among those groups.

Compared to 2016, voters are 11 points less likely to be undecided (6 percent now vs. 17 percent then) heading out of the conventions, with just 2 percent of voters saying they’d choose “someone else” over either Biden or Trump.

You have to look at the graphic to see the Texas numbers, which were apparently Trump 47, Biden 46 before the conventions. Morning Consult has had Biden in the lead before, but consistently at 47%, while the Trump number has ranged from 45 to 48. Likely doesn’t mean all that much other than the obvious that this is a close race. Which we’ve known for some time now. Let’s hope we get more poll numbers soon.

NBA agrees to offer its arenas as voting centers

Nice.

“What was the plan?” was always the wrong question to ask of striking NBA players; what they wanted was to not play basketball, and they got it. But they used that time not playing to talk, to think and to make their voices heard.

But the players did get a significant commitment from their bosses: turning as many NBA arenas as possible into voting sites for November.

The league and union announced Friday that the playoffs will resume Saturday. That announcement included a concrete promise from the league. Every team-owned arena will turn into a polling place for the November election in locations where that’s still legally possible in order for voters to have a large, COVID-safe place to vote in person.

Three teams had already committed to this earlier in the summer — Bucks, Pistons and Hawks — and the Rockets made the announcement on Thursday.

Chris Paul, the Thunder point guard and longtime union president, gave an emotional interview to bubble media after the announcement.

“In 15 years in the league, I’ve never seen anything like it,” Paul said. “Everyone expects us to go out and play. I get it. But we needed some time,” he said, adding that he had spoken to Jacob Blake’s father.

We knew about the Toyota Center. I had not been aware of the other three arenas, which was apparently something that happened in early July. Here’s some more details about what this announcement means:

On Friday, the NBA and NBPA announced a three-point plan to promote social justice and racial equality, which includes converting NBA arenas into voting centers for the 2020 presidential election. The NBA playoffs will resume on Saturday in Orlando.

“1. The NBA and its players have agreed to immediately establish a social justice coalition, with representatives from players, coaches and governors, that will be focused on a broad range of issues, including increasing access to voting, promoting civic engagement, and advocating for meaningful police and criminal justice reform.

2. In every city where the league franchise owns and controls the arena property, team governors will continue to work with local election officials to convert the facility into a voting location for the 2020 general election to allow for a safe in-person voting option for communities vulnerable to COVID. If a deadline has passed, team governors will work with local elections officials to find another election-related use for the facility, including but not limited to voter registration and ballot receiving boards.

3. The league will work with the players and our network partners to create and include advertising spots in each NBA playoff game dedicated to promoting greater civic engagement in national and local elections and raising awareness around voter access and opportunity.”

In theory, that could mean voting centers in battleground states like Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Arizona in addition the four that are already signed on. Maybe Dallas and San Antonio will join in as well. How many of these actually happen, and what kind of response the players will have if they feel the effort fell short for whatever the reason, remains to be seen. But in terms of direct action resulting from the wildcat strike the players engineered this past week, it’s pretty impressive. Well done.

(A more recent article than the NPR story I linked above suggests some other NBA teams, as well as teams in the NFL, NHL, and MLB, are taking similar action to allow their stadia to be used for voting. Not clear to me what relation these two efforts have. For sure, there are plenty of stadia, including hundreds of college stadia and arenas, that could also be used in this capacity, in all 50 states. It would be nice to say we’re just limited by our imagination, but of course we are very much limited by the ferocious opposition to this idea that those who don’t want to make voting easy and convenient would bring. What the NBA players have done is a great start. There’s a lot more that could and should be done.)

How about an Arizona/Florida/Texas plan for MLB?

Call it the MLB Plan 3.0 for having a season.

With the spread of the novel coronavirus threatening Major League Baseball’s 2020 season, the league and the union continue to seek ways to salvage the year as best they can. Predictably, that has entailed any number of proposals and contingency plans, including those that would see teams either all isolated in Arizona, or split between Arizona and Florida. On Monday, multiple league sources informed CBS Sports about a different idea that has been discussed in recent days.

In this arrangement, the league would have teams stationed in one of three hubs: Florida, Arizona or Texas. The clubs would then make use of the local major- and minor-league (or spring training) facilities and play regular season games behind closed doors without fans.

One source even expressed guarded optimism about the idea’s chances of coming to fruition.

Ballparks in St. Petersburg (Florida), Phoenix (Arizona), and Arlington (Texas) each have roofs, retractable or otherwise, that would safeguard against rainouts and other extreme weather, allowing for multiple games to be hosted at those sites per day. Theoretically, MLB could also ask teams stationed in Florida and Texas to drive three-plus hours to other MLB parks (Houston’s Minute Maid Park and Miami’s Marlins Park).

It’s unclear if MLB would assign 10 teams to each metropolitan area, or if it would opt for an unbalanced approach that would see 12 teams in one area and eight in another.

[…]

“From our perspective, we don’t have a plan, we have lots of ideas,” [MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred] told Fox Business. “What ideas come to fruition depends on what the restrictions are, what the public health situation is, but we are intent on the idea of making baseball a part of the economic recovery and sort of a milestone on the return to normalcy.”

See here and here for the previous iterations of this idea. The DMN adds more details.

While teams would need to drive as much as two or three hours in Florida to visit certain sites, Texas can offer two Major League stadiums: Globe Life Field in Arlington and Minute Maid Park in Houston. There are also numerous minor league facilities such as Dr Pepper Ballpark in Frisco and The Dell Diamond in Round Rock. There are also numerous top-tier college facilities, if those are made available.

[…]

Among things to be decided if Texas becomes more realistic: How would MLB temporarily realign from two 15-team leagues to three 10-team leagues? Under the Arizona/Florida idea, rather than having teams divided into the National and American Leagues, they would compete in the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues.

Also, which teams would be asked to give up the relative comforts of their own spring training facilities to temporarily plan in Texas? If MLB moves towards a league that is geared simply to be TV-friendly without fans, it might make sense to have leagues set up based on time zones, with East Coast teams in Florida, teams in the Central in Texas and the rest of the teams in Arizona.

There are eight teams with Central Time Zone home bases: Both Chicago teams, St. Louis, Kansas City, Minnesota, Milwaukee, Houston and the Rangers. Colorado is a Mountain Time Zone-based club, an hour behind the Central. A team from the Eastern Time Zone, perhaps Detroit, might need to be added.

Another question: Would the Rangers be able to use all of the numerous state-of-the-art amenities afforded them in Globe Life Field? Or would teams playing in their home stadiums have to give up some access to major league amenities if the majority of teams are playing in minor league stadiums?

Teams would also need some secondary bases for depth options since the minor league season is becoming more and more unlikely. That’s where minor league and college facilities could become more of a point of conversation.

As the Chron notes, Texas A&M has expressed interest in letting its stadium be used in this scenario. I’m sure other colleges would as well. Normally, even the biggest college stadium would be far too small for an MLB game, but with there being no spectators, that’s not an issue. So who knows? One other obstacle, as the CBS story notes, is that some prominent players, like Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw, have said they don’t want to be separated from their families for the four months this would take (assuming no return to regular stadium action in the interim). I feel like that is surmountable if this ever gets past the “there are no bad ideas” stage of the discussion. For now, MLB is just making sure that it has something it can try to execute in the event that things have improved enough to move forward with a season.

The Arizona/Florida Plan

Let’s call this the MLB Plan 2.0 for playing a season.

Major League Baseball, assessing myriad proposals, has discussed a radical plan that would eliminate the traditional American and National Leagues for 2020, a high-ranking official told USA TODAY Sports, and realign all six divisions for an abbreviated season.

The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the proposal is one of several being discussed.

The plan would have all 30 teams returning to their spring training sites in Florida and Arizona, playing regular-season games only in those two states and without fans in an effort to reduce travel and minimize risks in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The divisions would be realigned based on the geography of their spring training homes.

The plan would allow teams to return to the comforts of their spring training sites for three weeks of training, which would also include exhibition games, before opening the regular season and playing a schedule with wholly different divisional opponents.

[…]

The Arizona-Florida plan has several advantages, including allowing teams to establish home bases with facilities they are familiar with. There would be 26 ballparks available to be used, including three major league domed stadiums – Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, Marlins Park in Miami and Chase Field in Phoenix.

Financially, it could be a huge boon for the TV rights holders. You could have a captive TV audience the entire day. Games in Florida could begin at 11 a.m. ET and still have games in prime-time for East Coast teams and their fans. The time slots still would permit West Coast teams to play prime-time games in Arizona.

Baseball, even with the realignment, could still play 12 games apiece against their new divisional opponents and six games apiece against the other teams in the state. There would be at least one doubleheader a night when all teams are scheduled to play because of the odd number of teams in each state.

The DH would likely be universally implemented as well.

There could still be division winners and wild-card winners, perhaps adding two more wild-card teams to each league, or a postseason tournament with all 30 teams.

The winner of the Cactus League in Arizona would play the winner of the Grapefruit League in Florida for the World Series championship, utilizing the domed stadiums in late November.

See here for the previous, Arizona-only idea.Plan 2.0 followed pretty quickly, which suggests MLB heard the criticisms of that scheme and either had this in its back pocket or came up with it quickly. One potential problem with this idea is that each of the two “leagues” has 15 teams in it, and since there won’t be any travel between Florida and Arizona, that would lead to scheduling challenges. Those challenges can be overcome in a variety of ways, some more conventional than others. Again, we don’t know what’s truly realistic right now, and we don’t know what will actually work in the real world, but it’s a worthwhile exercise to try and figure out something that could work. It costs nothing to brainstorm, and who knows, we might be in a better position than we think. May as well be ready for it if that happens.

MLB begins to contemplate its return

Well, this is interesting.

Major League Baseball and its players are increasingly focused on a plan that could allow them to start the season as early as May and has the support of high-ranking federal public health officials who believe the league can safely operate amid the coronavirus pandemic, sources told ESPN.

Though the plan has a number of potential stumbling blocks, it has emerged above other options as the likeliest to work and has been embraced by MLB and MLB Players Association leadership, who are buoyed by the possibility of baseball’s return and the backing of federal officials, sources said.

The plan, sources said, would dictate that all 30 teams play games at stadiums with no fans in the greater Phoenix area, including the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Chase Field, 10 spring training facilities and perhaps other nearby fields. Players, coaching staffs and other essential personnel would be sequestered at local hotels, where they would live in relative isolation and travel only to and from the stadium, sources said. Federal officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the National Institutes of Health have been supportive of a plan that would adhere to strict isolation, promote social distancing and allow MLB to become the first professional sport to return.

The May return date depends on a number of concerns being allayed, and some officials believe a June Opening Day could be more realistic, sources said. Most important would be a significant increase in available coronavirus tests with a quick turnaround time, which sources familiar with the plan believe will happen by early May and allow MLB’s testing to not diminish access for the general public.

While health officials see MLB players as low-risk candidates for COVID-19-related issues because of their age and health, putting protocols in place to ensure the health and safety of older managers, coaches, umpires and other personnel would be paramount to the plan working, sources said.

The logistics to pull off such a plan would be enormous and cumbersome on the league side and require the buy-in of players, who sources expect to be skeptical of separating from their families for an indefinite amount of time — perhaps as long as 4½ months, if the inability to stem the coronavirus outbreak keeps teams from playing in their home stadiums in 2020.

Still, there is hope among leadership on both sides that the combination of receiving paychecks for playing and baseball’s return offering a respite to a nation beset by the devastation of COVID-19 would convince players to agree to the plan, sources said.

[…]

While the possibility of a player or staff member testing positive for the coronavirus exists, even in a secured setting, officials do not believe that a positive test alone would necessarily be cause to quarantine an entire team or shut down the season, sources said. The plan could include teams carrying significantly expanded rosters to account for the possibility of players testing positive despite the isolation, as well as to counteract the heat in Phoenix, which could grow problematic during the summer, sources said. The allure of more players potentially receiving major league salaries and service time would appeal strongly to the union, according to sources.

Both sides acknowledge the uniqueness of the season would not be limited to stadium location or roster size. Among the possibilities that have been discussed among people from both sides, though not in the talks on Monday, according to sources:

• Implementing an electronic strike zone to allow the plate umpire to maintain sufficient distance from the catcher and batter

• No mound visits from the catcher or pitching coach

• Seven-inning doubleheaders, which with an earlier-than-expected start date could allow baseball to come closer to a full 162-game season

• Regular use of on-field microphones by players, as an added bonus for TV viewers

• Sitting in the empty stands 6 feet apart — the recommended social-distancing space — instead of in a dugout

Each option, though far from certain, is likely to be bandied about in the coming days as the viability of the plan for everyone involved takes shape.

That’s a lot, and MLB has subsequently clarified that pretty much everything is still under discussion. A June start date may be more feasible, for one thing. I’m glad they’re willing to consider all kinds of outside-the-box ideas, and I’m glad that they are in discussion with the NIH and not just winging this, but there are plenty of reasons to be concerned about this. I mean, if the goal is to avoid having no baseball at all in 2020 – which, let’s face it, is a real possibility – then this is the sort of thinking that will be required. Nothing is sacred other than the health of everyone involved. If that can be managed, then let’s make something work. I’ll be very interested to see where these negotiations go. Fangraphs has more.

UPDATE: The Ringer is dubious:

But one crucial element necessary for the enactment of any “Baseball Biodome”–style plan is missing from these early drafts. It’s the Maldivian resort workers waiting on one couple, trapped by someone else’s flouting of the COVID-19 danger.

Baseball games don’t just need players and coaches and umpires. They also need grounds crews. They need trainers. They need janitors and laundry workers and security, and clubhouse attendants and team chefs and equipment personnel. Team hotels need almost all of those people, too. And games will likely need some sort of scouting or front office framework, and media members. They’ll certainly need television crews on site—even if announcers might be able to call games remotely, camera operators and producers would have to penetrate the biodome—if the goal is to provide entertainment for the masses without fans in the stands.

Thus, two possibilities present themselves. Either all those hundreds (thousands?) of workers spread across 15 stadiums and numerous hotels in Arizona would come into contact with the otherwise completely isolated players and coaches, risking an immediate piercing of the COVID-free bubble, or else all those hundreds (thousands?) of workers would need to be sequestered as well, in which case the logistical nightmare would amplify exponentially.

Yeah, the sheer numbers involved make it seem much less likely to work. And of course, all these other people are paid much less, and thus have much less incentive to go along with this four-months-of-isolation idea. I don’t know how you make this all work. I still think it’s worth thinking about, but we can’t lose sight of reality.

2019 election results: Elsewhere

I think we can all agree that this was the most important race on anyone’s ballot.

Shelley Sekula-Gibbs

One of the most contested elections in the brief history of The Woodlands Township Board of Directors came to a close Tuesday night, as Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, Ann Snyder and Bob Milner claimed unofficial victories over challengers for the three open seats on the seven-member board.

[…]

The battle for the Position 5 seat to replace retiring director John McMullan featured the most money raised by candidates of any of the three seat races in 2019, with both Shelley Sekula-Gibbs and Rashmi Gupta spending more than $20,000 each on the race while Walter Cooke spent more than $11,000 on his campaign.

At the end of early voting, Sekula-Gibbs has a sizable lead over both Gupta and Cooke with more than 1,600 vote lead over both before Tuesday’s ballots were counted.

With the results from Tuesday counted, Sekula-Gibbs easily nabbed an unofficial victory despite having only resided in the township for less than 20 months compared to her opponents, who combined have lived in The Woodlands more than 53 years.

A former three-term member of the Houston City Council, Sekula-Gibbs also holds the dubious distinction of being a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for one of the shortest time periods in U.S. History, serving about seven weeks but having only less than 10 days of duty in office. Her term in Congress was result of being elected in a special election in late 2006 to replace outgoing former Speaker of the House Tom Delay. Sekula-Gibbs is listed as having served seven weeks in the House of Representatives.

sniff The great ones always have one more run in them. We missed you, Shelley. I know we can expect big things from you.

In all seriousness, the big news nationally were the Democratic sweeps of the Virginia legislature, a result that may ultimately mean new life for the long-dormant Equal Rights Amendment, and the amazing victory in the Kentucky Governor’s race by Andy Beshear over extreme Trumpite Matt Bevin. Other results of interest came from Tucson, AZ, which just elected its first female and first Latinx Mayor, Regina Romero, Plymouth, NC, which just elected its first black Mayor, and Delaware County, PA, a suburb of Philadelphia, which elected a Democratic county government for the first time before the Civil War. And last but not least, there’s this:

Juli Briskman, who famously flipped off President Donald Trump’s motorcade in a viral 2017 photo, won her race Tuesday night for a seat on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors in Virginia.

God bless America.

Here come the driverless trucks

Coming soon to a freeway near you.

Self-driving 18-wheelers will soon cruise next to you down Interstate 10 and other major Texas freeways.

TuSimple, a California-based autonomous truck start-up, has been mapping routes and plans to haul commercial loads from Arizona to San Antonio, Houston and other Texas cities. The company will likely make a major announcement next month, Chief Product Officer Chuck Price told me.

Safety drivers will initially sit behind the wheel, but Price hopes to take them out by the end of next year. The age of autonomy has arrived.

“We’re probably going to spend $1 billion to make this happen, and we have investors that are committed to deliver the funds over time,” he said before showing off his technology at the recent SXSW Interactive Conference in Austin.

Price’s confidence comes in stark contrast to most of the news about self-driving technology over the past year. Uber, Waymo and independent analysts have adopted a more pessimistic tone about how soon autonomous passenger cars will hit the road.

The trucking business, though, is different. Companies dispatch thousands of loads a day along the same fixed routes, from one distribution center to another. Big trucks spend most of their time on the highway, not negotiating tight urban intersections. That makes training the algorithms easier.

Most importantly, the trucking industry is motivated. The age of the average driver keeps rising and finding new ones willing to spend lonely nights on the road is difficult.

[…]

The company plans to grow its fleet to 50 trucks by June to test its software.

“By the time we get to the end of 2020, we’re going to have tens of millions of miles that are proving the system out on fixed runs from Arizona all the way down to Houston,” Price said.

Here’s a couple of stories about the company, which I’d not heard of before. I actually think they’ll be fine for the most part on the freeways – they better be, that’s for sure – but color me skeptical about how these things will handle once they’re on city streets. You can take the company’s optimism however you like, I think those safety drivers will be necessary for longer than they think they will. And now that I know these trucks exist, I’ll be on the lookout for them while I’m driving on I-10.

Driverless taxis have arrived

In Phoenix.

Google offshoot Waymo announced it is launching the nation’s first commercial driverless taxi service in this and other Phoenix suburbs. The 24/7 service, dubbed Waymo One, will let customers summon self-driving minivans by a smartphone app, a la Uber or Lyft.

Waymo’s move comes after nearly a decade of development, more than a billion dollars in investment and 10 million miles of testing on public roads. The project was embraced by top state and local officials even as questions have been raised here and elsewhere about the speed of the technology’s rollout.

“In Arizona, we still do enjoy a bit of wild, wild West mentality. We have this great desire to be exploring and conquering this frontier,” said Rob Antoniak, chief operating officer of Valley Metro, which helps oversee the metropolitan area’s 500-square-mile transit system and next year will begin paying some Waymo fares for the elderly and people with disabilities, as part of a pilot. “And we enjoy a regulatory environment that embraces that attitude.”

Waymo, part of Alphabet, is starting small, rolling out the service first to hundreds of the company’s local volunteer testers, and only in part of this sprawling region of almost 5 million people. But the move is a major – and potentially revealing – step in the tightly controlled and hype-filled realm of self-driving vehicles.

“It’s a big leap between testing this stuff and booking and transporting a passenger who’s paying money for a service,” said Costa Samaras, an automation and infrastructure expert at Carnegie Mellon University who worked as an engineer on a New York subway expansion early in his career. “This is real.”

Waymo will now be putting its technology through the public wringer, with cellphone-toting customers – freed from nondisclosure agreements – ready to capture and tweet every miscue, just as they might with a bad airline flight, Samaras said.

“The trajectory of the industry, not just at Waymo, is going to depend on a lot of these early experiences. Do people feel safe? Do people feel comfortable? Is it seamless?” Samaras said. “If it is, we’ll see more of it. If not, people will go back to the engineering room.”

[…]

There is significant public skepticism about self-driving cars, and polls find that most people don’t want to ride in them. Earlier this year, a driverless Uber SUV killed a pedestrian pushing a bike across a dark street in nearby Tempe. The emergency braking system had been shut off for driverless testing, and the backup driver did not start slowing down until after the vehicle struck Elaine Herzberg, 49. That safety driver had looked down more than 200 times and her smartphone was streaming NBC’s “The Voice” in the run-up to the deadly collision, according to investigators.

Waymo CEO John Krafcik said in March that his team’s vehicles “would be able to handle situations like that.”

We’ll see about that. I’m not ready to ride in one of those things on the real streets. A fixed-route shuttle in a low-traffic area, sure. Beyond that, I’ll let others do the beta testing. I’m not the only one who’s leery of this. How about you? TechCrunch has more.

CBS/YouGov: Cruz 44, O’Rourke 36 (RVs)

Time for another poll.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

In Texas’ Senate race, incumbent Republican Ted Cruz has a 10-point lead over Democrat Beto O’Rourke among likely voters. Cruz benefits from strong support from his own party and has an advantage among independents as well. O’Rourke is supported by Democrats, leads with Hispanics and has an edge with women. Cruz performs well with whites and men.

Cruz also has an overall job approval rating of 54 percent in Texas among registered voters, a bit higher than President Trump’s (50 percent) in the state.

On the matter of separating families specifically, both Cruz and O’Rourke get net positive ratings (largely driven by support from their own parties), although three in 10 voters do not have an opinion about O’Rourke on this, as he may be less known to voters than Cruz.

Poll data is here. They also did Arizona and Florida’s Senate races, if those interest you. For the Texas Senate race (question 6), the result from the full 1,025-person sample of registered voters was 44-36 as indicated in the headline. It was in the smaller (821 respondents) “likely voter” group that Cruz was up 50-40. I’m skeptical of likely voter screens at this early point in time, and all of the other poll results I have on the sidebar are for RVs, so for comparison purposes that’s the one I’m going with. The average of the six polls I’m using (all but the WPA one from January 5) now has Cruz at 47.2, with 40.2 for O’Rourke.

Waymo moves forward on a self-driving car service

Get ready, because they’re coming.

Waymo, the driverless-technology company spun out of Google, has agreed to purchase as many as 62,000 minivans from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles for use in a ride-hailing service set to begin commercial operations later this year.

The announcement on Thursday is the latest sign that Waymo is counting on a rapid liftoff for the service. In March, it agreed to purchase up to 20,000 compact cars for the service from Jaguar Land Rover beginning in 2019.

Both the Chrysler Pacifica minivans and the Jaguar cars will be equipped with the radars, cameras and sensors that Waymo has developed to enable the vehicles to drive themselves on public roads. Waymo plans to start its service in Phoenix, then expand to the San Francisco area and to other cities across the country.

Waymo began working with Fiat Chrysler in 2016 and has built a fleet of driverless minivans that it has been testing in Phoenix; Mountain View, Calif.; Austin, Tex.; and Kirkland, Wash.

According to the Associated Press, Waymo aims to have an automated vehicle rideshare service in Phoenix by the end of this year, so look out for that if your travel plans include Phoenix. We could begin to see them in Texas following that – one presumes initially in Austin, since that’s where the tests have taken place – as a bill to regulate automated vehicles passed the Lege last year. Waymo appears to have taken the lead in getting this technology to work, so we’ll see how this goes. Would you ride in a driverless car if one is available in the next few months? I gotta say, I’ll probably wait till version 2 is available, but maybe I’m just being a wuss. What about you?

The crossover question

From G. Elliott Morris, reviewing the recent AZ-08 special Congressional election:

The second thing to learn from AZ-08 helps explain the first: if Democrats aren’t winning because of differential turnout (or, not solely because of differential turnout), why are they? The only explanation is that Republicans are crossing over to vote for Democrats](https://twitter.com/geoffreyvs/status/988982464524750853). This is clear as day in the early voting numbers from Arizona’s 8th.

Here are the data: In the 155,000 early/absentee mail-in ballots cast in last night’s contest, Republicans ran a 21-point margin in party registration. One would assume (perhaps naively, as candidates from one party aren’t wed to that candidate) that this would give them a 21-point margin in actual ballots cast for either ticket. As I explained on my blog this assumption could go wrong for many reasons:

Early voting data are not “real results,” per se, despite what some analysts would have you believe, since partisanship does not equal vote choice. Though they are very correlated in modern America it is not a safe bet to assume all GOP ballots are for GOP candidates, and vice versa for Democratic voters and candidates. Such assumptions would have led us quite astray in the Texas primaries where Democrats cast more early votes than Republicans for the first time since 2010, but cast just 40% of total votes in the D or R primaries.

Indeed, the early vote did mislead. Debbie Lesko won these “R+21” early votes by just a 6-point margin, meaning there was enough persuasion of Republicans to Tipirneni’s side to move the needle fifteen points. That is certainly (or, at the very least, it ought to be) enough to make many Republican elected officials shake in their boots.

There is an extra point to be made here: even in a contest where 75% of ballots are cast early, our analysis of those results can often go wrong. Stick (though not exclusively) to the polls, folks; Emerson College pegged Lesko’s lead at 6 points. She won by 6.

Hold that thought, because Harry Enten was thinking along similar lines.

Republicans turned out in this election. The relative difference between Democrats and Republicans in registration among those who voted was about equal to overall registration figures. The number of people who voted in the special is fairly close to the number who voted in the the district during the last midterm election, in 2014. That’s not surprising because it is easy to vote early and by mail in Arizona. This allowed Republicans, who perhaps might have be been uninspired, to cast ballots without too much hassle.

It also means, however, that poor turnout is not an excuse for Republicans in this race. One common reason to be cautious of the special election results so far has been low turnout. Yet this election, like Pennsylvania 18 last month, saw turnout close to or exceeding 2014 levels, and Republicans trailed greatly behind the partisan baseline of these districts.

Finally, Republicans had a good candidate in Lesko. She had no major scandals and raised plenty of money. One of the excuses in previous elections that Republicans lost like Alabama US Senate (with Republican Roy Moore) and Pennsylvania 18 (with Republican Rick Saccone) was that the Republican was either scandal plagued or didn’t know how to raise funds. Lesko wasn’t either of those, and there was still a significant shift to the left.

Martin Longman and Ed Kilgore also discuss this evidence from the special elections that some non-trivial number of people who had identified (or registered, in the states that do that) as Republicans have not been voting for Republican candidates. Kilgore notes that national polling indicates that independents are pretty heavily negative on Donald Trump, which I will note is in line with that Quinnipiac Texas poll that had some people loudly complaining.

Now as always, it’s hard to say how much the national atmosphere applies to Texas, though it’s pretty clear that the state was an accurate reflection of said mood in 2006 and 2010 and 2014. To the extent that Democrats have a shot at winning races here that they haven’t won before, the formula starts with a boost in base turnout, because being outvoted by a million people statewide is not a good recipe for success. But if more Democrats showing up can put certain candidates in range, then a sufficient number of crossovers could put them the rest of the way over the top. To cite two recent examples, about 300,000 people who otherwise voted Republican voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and for Bill White in 2010. Neither candidate won, but in a context where base Democratic voting was higher, they could have.

How much of this happens this November, statewide and in the various specific districts of interest, is anyone’s guess right now, but may become clearer as we get more polling results. The point I’m making here is that there is evidence of it happening with Republicans elsewhere, and that this has been a part of the Democratic improvement in recent elections. In the absence of more polls like that Q-pac poll we can’t assume it’s happening here, but in the absence of more polls that aren’t like that Q-pac poll we can’t assume it’s not happening, either.

State to help defend county bail policies

Of course it will.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and the top lawyers in five other states are backing Harris County in its protracted battle over money bail for poor low-level defendants, as the tally of those released on no-cash bail nears 1,000.

Paxton and the lead attorneys in Arizona, Hawaii, Kansas, Louisiana and Nebraska filed a joint brief late Monday supporting the county’s appeal of a federal court order that took effect three weeks ago eliminating cash bail for indigent misdemeanor defendants.

[…]

At a tense Harris County Commissioners Court meeting on Tuesday, officials provided the clearest picture yet of the people released from impact of Rosenthal’s ruling. Nearly 980 people have been released by the sheriff under Rosenthal’s ruling as from June 6 through Friday, according to county’s office of budget management.

Of those, 40 people who were released on personal bonds had been arrested again by Friday and charged with new crimes, a rate of about 3 percent.

In the group of people who were able to afford cash bond — either through a bail bondsman or by posting cash — during the same time period, only about 1 percent had been re-arrested, county officials said.

The county’s arguments were countered in a lengthy hearing before Rosenthal that led to her order.

[…]

Paul Heaton, academic director of the University of Pennsylvania Law School’s Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice and co-author of a study on Harris County’s criminal justice system, said the brief rehashes old arguments.

“The brief does demonstrate, however, that there are still important constituencies that have yet to be convinced of the need for bail reform,” he said. “Despite the significant progress in this area in states like New Jersey, Maryland, and Kentucky, and the mounting empirical evidence that cash bail systems can generate unwanted disparities and harm public safety — particularly when applied to low-level offenders — there are still many jurisdictions satisfied with the status quo that don’t want to change.”

Alec Karakatsanis, director of Civil Rights Corps, who represents ODonnell and the others who couldn’t afford bail, said Monday’s filing by the states’ attorneys echoed that stance.

“The amicus brief is a repeat of bail industry talking points that are entirely untethered to law and to fact,” he said.

I couldn’t find a copy of the Paxton brief, so you’ll have to rely on the story for what we know. Hard to know what else to make of this, or if the amicus brief will have any effect. Some days I wonder what it would be like to have an Attorney General who fights on the right side of an issue, any issue. Must be nice.

SB4’s day in court

Sparks were flying.

Opponents of Texas’ state-based immigration law told a federal judge Monday that allowing the controversial measure to stand would pave the way for a nationwide police state where local officers could subvert the established immigration-enforcement powers of the federal government.

But the state’s attorneys argued in tandem with their colleagues from the U.S. Department of Justice that the issue was settled in 2012 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a state-based immigration-enforcement provision passed in Arizona.

The day marked the first skirmish in what could be a lengthy battle over Texas’ law, Senate Bill 4, which has been billed as the toughest state-based immigration bill in the country. Known as the “sanctuary cities” law, SB4 allows local law enforcement officers to question the immigration status of people they detain or arrest and seeks to punish local government department heads and elected officials who don’t cooperate with federal immigration “detainers” — requests by agents to turn over immigrants subject to possible deportation. Punishment could come in the form of jail time and penalties that exceed $25,000.

Opponents of the measure, including the cities of Houston, Austin, San Antonio and El Cenizo, as well as Maverick and El Paso counties, have argued the law violates several provisions of the U.S. Constitution, including guarantees of equal protection and freedom of speech. They are seeking a temporary injunction of the rule, which is scheduled to go into effect Sept. 1.

Lee Gelernt, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union representing the city of El Cenizo, a small municipality in Webb County, argued that the law, as written is vague and provides such little guidance to officers that they will be forced to use a heavy hand when detaining or arresting someone. That, he said, will lead to a broad assumption that they need to ask nearly every minority their immigration status for fear of violating the provision of the law — the aftereffect of which would be an across-the-board erosion of Texans’ rights.

“The overriding point is that the penalties are so harsh that it’s simply unrealistic for any police officer to take a chance” of violating the law, Gelernt told U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia. “[The lawmakers] knew what they were doing when they crafted the legislation.”

There’s a lot more, so go read the rest. The state’s argument, among other things, was that SB4 was less strict than Arizona’s infamous SB1070, and that it adhered to the parts of SB1070 that were upheld by SCOTUS. The plaintiffs’ argument, also among other things, was that the law was so vague and broad it was hard to even say what it did and did not allow and require law enforcement agencies to do; they also noted that while the Arizona law punished agencies, SB4 targets individuals who fail to comply with it. The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction to prevent the law from taking effect while the matter is being litigated; you can read the ACLU’s application for an injunction here. Judge Garcia did not say when he might rule, but he did note that he’s also one of the judges in the redistricting litigation, so maybe don’t expect anything till after those hearings in July. The Observer, the Chron, and the Current and Current again have more.

The Arizona experience

This is what Texas has to look forward to post-SB4.

Seven years in, Arizona’s experience hints at what Texas, with the nation’s largest Hispanic population after California, might expect. Supporters of Arizona’s legislation say it has worked, helping to reduce the number of immigrants illegally in the state by 40 percent between 2007 and 2012, according to the Pew Research Center, a think tank in Washington, D.C. More than 200,000 left. Since then, the population has stayed about the same.

“Enforcement does work and even the threat of enforcement makes a difference,” said the bill’s Republican sponsor, former state Sen. Russell Pearce, who became Arizona’s first legislator to be removed from office in a 2011 recall election shortly after the passage of what’s known as SB 1070. “As long as you got the bird feeder out, the birds are going to come and eat. You gotta take the bird feeder down.”

Many of Trump’s supporters see it the same way at a time when the issue has arguably never been more rancorous. But business leaders in Arizona warn that such a reduction came at a cost.

“No one stops to think that, when you eject people from an economy, you’re not going to feel it,” said Todd Landfried, executive director of Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform. “It’s a dramatic impact. People aren’t buying food, clothes, gas. They’re not going to baseball games or buying soccer uniforms, they’re not going out and socializing. Business owners have to cut back and lay people off. It’s a snowball effect.”

Some economists have found that the exodus reduced Arizona’s gross domestic product by roughly 2 percent a year. Proponents of the law say that loss was bolstered by savings in education, medical care and the costs of incarceration. A 2004 study by the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a Washington, D.C., group seeking to reduce immigration, argued those services cost the state more than $1 billion annually.

But Landfried called that a red herring, noting that all of Arizona’s residents, no matter their legal status, contribute to property taxes paying for education, whether they own homes or rent. Immigrants illegally in the state don’t qualify for any public benefits, although their American children do.

The overall impact to the state’s convention and tourism industry alone was $752 million in completed and potential cancellations and booking declines, Landfried testified to the U.S. Senate judiciary committee in 2012. That involved more than 4,200 lost jobs.

[…]

Some executives say that even the perception of the law as anti-Hispanic casts a shadow that they are still struggling to overcome. The city of Oakland, Calif., declined Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton’s invitation to a Governing Magazine summit this month, reportedly citing an ongoing travel ban due to the 2010 legislation. Stanton’s office, meanwhile, has been working to improve relations with the state’s largest trading partner of Mexico, recently opening a second office there.

“This was a complete disaster for our state from an image perspective and from an economic perspective,” said Lisa Urias, the president of a large advertising agency and a member of the boards of the Greater Phoenix Leadership Council and the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “There is still lingering damage that is there, and we are still a state that feels very raw about this issue.”

Of course, Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick have clearly shown via their support of a bathroom bill that they don’t really care about the state’s image and economy, since everyone with any credibility has told them that it would be bad for those things. The same is true for the so-called “sanctuary cities” law, with law enforcement added in for good measure. At this point, it’s hard to imagine anything that would change their minds. All that remains is to change who’s in power. Easier said than done, obviously, but it’s the only way.

Get ready for the “sanctuary cities” lawsuits

It’s just a matter of time.

Now that Senate Bill 4 is on its way to becoming law, opponents are looking to the courts for relief – and a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court case is giving them hope.
The high court struck down parts of a controversial 2010 immigration law in Arizona on the grounds that Congress, not the states, has the power to create immigration law. Experts say that argument could come into play with Texas’ SB 4, which requires local jails to comply with immigration detention requests that federal officials have said are voluntary.

“My opinion is the state is regulating in the immigration field,” said Barbara Hines, senior fellow at the immigration reform group the Emerson Collective. “What the state of Texas is doing is they are creating their own detainer program. That is pre-empted. Immigration is a federal area.”

Among other things, SB 4 would create civil and criminal penalties for officials who disregard requests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to extend the detention of jail inmates suspected of being in the country illegally. Those detention requests, or detainers, help facilitate possible deportation proceedings.

State Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, predicted that the bill will follow the same course as Arizona’s SB 1070, better known as the “papers please” law because it required law enforcement officers in Arizona to demand the documentation of anyone they believed was in the country illegally.

Texas’ SB 4 doesn’t require officers to ask, but it prohibits sheriffs or police chiefs from keeping their officers from doing so.

“It allows local law enforcement to ask anybody on the street for their immigration status,” said Anchia, who chairs the Democrat-dominated Mexican American Legislative Caucus, which is fighting the state in court over redistricting maps it says are racially discriminatory.

[…]

Critics have argued the bill would separate families, deport well-meaning immigrants and create a fear in immigrant communities that might undermine their safety.

They picked up a legal argument this week after a group of mayors, including Austin Mayor Steve Adler, met with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions for clarity on the ramifications for so-called “sanctuary cities.”

Sessions confirmed Tuesday to the mayors that compliance with the federal immigration detention requests sent to local jails — the central requirement of SB 4 — isn’t mandated under federal law. Rather, the jails can choose whether to hold inmates longer at the request of ICE, Sessions said.

That the comments came from such a high-ranking Trump administration official deflated the notion often associated with SB 4: that local officials like Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez are breaking federal law by choosing to ignore some ICE detention requests.

It also raised questions over whether the state could step in and create an immigration law making the detainers mandatory.

“It is inevitable that you will see cities and counties across the state suing the state. The overreach is unprecedented,” Austin City Council Member Greg Casar said. “I don’t know who died and made Greg Abbott (into) Putin, but our cities are going to fight back.”

See here for the background, and here for more on what Mayor Adler said about his meeting with Sessions. I hope opponents of this lousy bill flood the zone with lawsuits. It’s clear from the HB2 experience that setbacks in court will not stop the Lege from trying the same things again in the future, but it’s still necessary. Also, I say Greg Abbott has always had authoritarian inclinations, he’s just more comfortable expressing them in public now.

There will also be many headaches for law enforcement agencies, which strongly opposed SB4.

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo spoke vehemently against Senate Bill 4 Thursday afternoon, calling it a dangerous move by the state Legislature because it would redirect limited HPD resources from crime fighting efforts to an initiative that does not improve public safety.

Acevedo did not share if HPD would alter its policies if SB 4 were to become law. However, he made it clear during the afternoon presser he would make public safety a priority over policies he believe are unrelated.

“I am carrying out my sworn duty and moral duty to speak out on matters of public safety. And I’m not here to keep a job to do it,” he said.

[…]

The legislation would force police to honor all federal requests to detain people suspected of being in the country illegally until federal authorities can investigate the person’s status. It also would prohibit local jurisdictions from passing or enforcing an ordinance that prohibits police officers from inquiring about a detained person’s immigration status, which would nullify the Houston Police Department’s 1990 policy on the matter.

“If that language does not get removed … we’re going to have some negative consequences,” Acevedo said.

Police departments across the state, including Houston, are understaffed, he said. And the bill would diminish those already limited resources, he added. Just this year Acevedo announced plans to target high-crime areas and violent documented gang members.

He also announced a joint effort with the Texas Department of Public Safety to decrease violent crime in the area by creating two squad assigned to the initiative.

However, he believes SB4 may affect those plans.

“We don’t have the resources, nor do we have the bandwidth nor the desire to be ICE agents. If I wanted to work for ICE, I would’ve applied for ICE,” he said.

Acevedo’s worry is that a police officer’s duty and the proposed policy will create a divide among departments throughout the state. While police officers are sworn to protect, he says the bill could open the door for harassment.

“I will lose my ability and authority to direct (my officers) workflow,” he said. “ … And all of sudden I’ll have a police officer that wants to go off and play ICE agent all day.”

He went on to add he hopes that isn’t the case, but that perception would be damaging for Houston – particularly on immigrant communities.

It’s not about what local officials want, it’s about what Greg Abbott wants. Sorry, Chief. The Chron, ThinkProgress, and the Press have more.

Uber moves driverless car pilot to Arizona

This happened right before Christmas, so I’m just catching up to it now.

The day after California regulators shut down Uber’s self-driving car program in San Francisco, Uber on Thursday packed up its autonomous vehicles and hauled them to Arizona, vowing to resume testing there.

The move was a quick rebound by Uber after its pilot program in San Francisco fell apart after just one week. Instead of giving in to California regulators and applying for a $150 permit to test its self-driving cars on public roads, Uber on Thursday once again signaled it doesn’t need to play by its home state’s rules.

“Our cars departed for Arizona this morning by truck,” an Uber spokeswoman wrote in an emailed statement Thursday. “We’ll be expanding our self-driving pilot there in the next few weeks, and we’re excited to have the support of Governor Ducey.”

The company released photos showing its silver Volvo SUVs loaded onto the back of a semi truck owned by Otto — the autonomous trucking startup that Uber acquired in August.

[…]

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey on Thursday welcomed the self-driving Ubers to his state, where they will not need a special permit to drive on public roads, and positioned California’s neighbor as a welcoming alternative for Uber and other disruptive innovators.

“While California puts the brakes on innovation and change with more bureaucracy and more regulation, Arizona is paving the way for new technology and new businesses,” he wrote in a statement. “California may not want you, but we do.”

Ducey last year signed an executive order supporting the testing and operation of self-driving cars and establishing a Self-Driving Vehicle Oversight Committee to advise officials on how to advance the progress of autonomous vehicles.

Self-driving cars are treated the same as any other vehicle in Arizona, Arizona Department of Transportation spokesman Timothy Tait wrote in an emailed statement.

“We hope this cooperation and common-sense approach, combined with this state’s favorable climate, encourage even more companies to test autonomous vehicles in Arizona,” he wrote.

See here for the background. Arizona’s permissive approach is certainly one way to do this, though one wonders what their response will be if Uber decides that even their rules are too restrictive and so it will just ignore them as they had done in California. It should also be noted that there are some twenty (!) other companies testing driverless cars in California now, following the rules Uber refused to comply with. One presumes Uber will eventually want their cars to operate in CA, so either they’ll have to suck it up or get the US Congress to pass a law requiring all states to allow them to operate as they see fit, much like they want the Lege to do to cities in Texas. I wonder if Ken Paxton will file a lawsuit over the egregious federal interference with states’ rights if that happens. The Fiscal Times, Engadget, the Guardian, and the Washington Post have more.

A new way to attack gerrymandering

From Think Progress:

America’s anti-gerrymandering law is an incoherent mess.

Thirty years ago, in Davis v. Bandemer, the Supreme Court held that a partisan gerrymander may be struck down as unconstitutional upon proof of “both intentional discrimination against an identifiable political group and an actual discriminatory effect on that group.” Yet the Court struggled to determine where to draw the line between lawful and unlawful maps.

Nearly two decades later, in Vieth v. Jubelirer, the justices seemed even more confused. Four of them called upon federal courts to simply give up on solving the problem of partisan gerrymanders. Four others splintered into a maze of dissenting opinions, altogether proposing a total of three different standards for weighing alleged gerrymanders. In the middle, Justice Anthony Kennedy threw up his hands in frustration. “The failings of the many proposed standards for measuring the burden a gerrymander imposes on representational rights make our intervention improper,” Kennedy wrote. Nevertheless, he concluded that “if workable standards do emerge to measure these burdens . . . courts should be prepared to order relief.”

Now, a dozen years after Kennedy despaired for want of a workable way to uncover partisan gerrymanders, two young scholars may have cracked the code. In a paper published in the University of Chicago Law Review last year, law professor Nicholas Stephanopoulos and political scientist Eric McGhee propose a mathematical formula judges can use to identify suspect maps. This formula is now the subject of a federal lawsuit, Whitford v. Nichol, which has survived two motions, submitted by defenders of Wisconsin’s Republican-drawn maps, that sought to kill the case. Moreover, because of a quirk of federal law, the case is overwhelmingly likely to wind up in the Supreme Court.

[…]

The test offered by the plaintiffs in Whitford, which is based on Stephanopoulos and McGhee’s scholarship, is not a perfect solution to the problem of gerrymandering. For one thing, it effectively gives lawmakers a free election where they can enact gerrymandered maps and not need to worry that a court will strike them down in advance of the election. This is because the only way to calculate a map’s efficiency gap is to first run an election under that map and then add up the wasted votes.

Additionally, it may not catch the most devious gerrymanders. In a nod to Davis‘ holding that plaintiffs must show “both intentional discrimination against an identifiable political group and an actual discriminatory effect on that group” in order to prevail in a gerrymandering case, theWhitford plaintiffs explain that a high efficiency gap is not enough to prove gerrymandering, or even to establish a reputable presumption that a map is gerrymandered. Rather, to win their case, plaintiffs challenging a gerrymander must also show that the mapmakers acted with discriminatory intent when they drew the maps.

That’s probably not going to be a high bar to clear in Whitford where it is uncontested that Wisconsin Republicans “hired a law firm and a political scientist to design an Assembly plan that would maximize the electoral advantage of Republicans.” In other cases, however, lawmakers may learn to do a better job of covering their tracks.

Whatever its flaws, however, the plaintiffs’ proposed standard in Whitford does have one important virtue: it may have a better likelihood of prevailing in court than any other standard previously proposed by litigators. In federal litigation, defendants typically can make multiple attempts to convince a court to kill a case before it goes to a full trial. Whitford has now survived two of the most potent weapons in the Wisconsin defendants’ arsenal — a motion to dismiss and a motion for summary judgment. Significantly, they’ve done so despite the fact that the three-judge panel hearing this case includes a Reagan appointee and a George W. Bush appointee (the third judge was appointed by President Jimmy Carter).

The fact that two Republican appointees believe that Whitford deserves a full trial suggests that some conservative justices, like Kennedy, might be convinced that Stephanopoulos and McGhee have found the solution to the problem of partisan gerrymandering. Moreover, though the Supreme Court normally has discretion to turn away cases it does not want to hear, it has far less ability to ignore cases heard by three-judge district courts. So even if Kennedy (or, for that matter, a newly constituted Court that could soon include Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland) would prefer not to wade into the fraught waters of partisan gerrymandering, it is far from clear that he’ll be able to avoid doing so.

The basics of the standard is measuring the number of “wasted” votes in each single-member district. Above a certain threshold, the evidence suggests that one party or the other has an unfair advantage. You can read the story and follow the links to see what you think about this proposed standard, the point is that if the courts buy it, it would greatly change how redistricting litigation is done. Among other things, it would apply equally to a map drawn by Democrats to screw Republicans. The plaintiffs in Wisconsin would have to win first, and then SCOTUS would have to take the case for this to be on the radar. Just keep it in mind, because it could be a factor in 2021 and beyond.

In other news, SCOTUS ruled on a redistricting case, too.

The Supreme Court upheld an Arizona redistricting commission’s right to draw legislative districts in a way that ensures minority representation, delivering a crushing rebuke on Wednesday to a group of Arizona tea party activists who’d sought to strike down the state’s redistricting maps in order to increase the voting power of rural white voters.

In Harris v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, the plaintiffs were taking on Arizona’s Independent Election Commission, a body created through a 2000 ballot initiative intended to make redistricting less partisan. The commission produced its first legislative maps after the 2010 census. Its work came under fire almost immediately, primarily by Republicans. At one point, then-Gov. Jan Brewer (R) attempted to impeach the commission’s chair in what was seen as a power grab. When that failed, in 2012, the Republican-led state legislature filed a lawsuit arguing that the ballot measure that created the commission was unconstitutional because it deprived the legislature of its redistricting power. The lawsuit went all the way to the US Supreme Court, which last June ruled 5-4 in the commission’s favor.

In the current lawsuit, filed in 2014, the plaintiffs, all Republicans, argued that the commission diluted their voting power by packing more people into Republican districts while underpopulating Democratic ones. They wanted the court to mandate that all district have almost exactly equal populations; the current ones vary by 4 to 8 percent. The commission, in turn, responded that it drew the districts in such a way as to win approval from the Justice Department, in compliance with the Voting Rights Act. Due to Arizona’s long history of suppressing minority voting, it was one of the jurisdictions required under the Voting Rights Act to clear any changes to legislative districts with the Justice Department before implementing them. The Supreme Court gutted this requirement in Shelby County v. Holder in 2013, but it was in place when Arizona redrew its legislative maps.

If the Harris plaintiffs had been successful, the case could have opened the floodgates to lawsuits challenging how states around the country draw their legislative districts. But in an opinion written by Justice Stephen Breyer, the court ruled unanimously that Arizona’s maps were indeed designed to comply with federal law in ensuring minority representation, and that the minor population deviations were acceptable.

SCOTUSBlog explains what this unanimous decision means.

In his opinion for the Court, Breyer explained that the Constitution requires states to try to distribute residents evenly among legislative districts, but it “does not demand mathematical perfection.” In particular, states can draw districts with populations that aren’t perfectly equal if there is a good reason to do so – for example, to draw districts that are compact or to ensure that a city or county is not split up. And the fact that districts aren’t perfectly equal, standing alone, does not mean that a redistricting map violates the Constitution, Breyer explained, if the largest deviation from perfect equality is less than ten percent.

When, as in this case, the deviation is less than ten percent, plaintiffs like Wesley Harris and his fellow voters must meet a more difficult standard: they must show that “it is more probable than not” that the deviation is attributable to some other, illegitimate reason. And, the Court concludes, Harris cannot do so here. When the commission was drawing the maps after the 2010 census, its primary consideration was whether the maps would comply with the federal Voting Rights Act. Among other things, that act prohibits new redistricting plans that would decrease the number of districts in which minority groups can elect candidates of their choice. The evidence in the case, the Court reasons, reflects that any deviations from equally populated districts were largely attributable to the commission’s efforts to make sure that the plan contained enough of these “ability to elect” districts to pass muster under the Voting Rights Act.

But, the voters had protested, party politics must have entered (improperly) into the mix: after all, virtually all of the Democratic districts have populations that are lower than they would be if all districts contained the same number of people – which would give more voting power to the residents in those districts – while most of the Republican districts have populations that are greater than they would otherwise be, giving those residents less voting power. The Court seemed to regard this as a matter of correlation, rather than causation, though. Noting “the tendency for minority populations in Arizona in 2010 to vote disproportionately for Democrats,” it suggested that, in its efforts to ensure that it had enough “ability to elect” districts to comply with the Voting Rights Act, that the commission may have had to move “other voters out of those districts, leaving them slightly underpopulated.”

Both stories reference the recent Evenwel decision, since the plaintiffs in both cases were conservative activists. There’s some tension between this case and the Wisconsin one, since the Court ruled here that compliance with the Voting Rights Act is an acceptable reason for population variances in the service of drawing minority “ability to elect” districts, and a lot of these districts are going to show up as outliers in the wasted-vote test. I presume there’s a way to harmonize these two competing interests, either in the standard for calculating “wasted votes” or in a legal standard the courts will eventually devise. Just a reminder that redistricting is often messy no matter how it’s done. Daily Kos has more.

Get out of solar’s way

Keep an eye on this.

“Hawaii is a postcard from the future,” said Adam Browning, executive director of Vote Solar, a policy and advocacy group based in California.

Other states and countries, including California, Arizona, Japan and Germany, are struggling to adapt to the growing popularity of making electricity at home, which puts new pressures on old infrastructure like circuits and power lines and cuts into electric company revenue.

As a result, many utilities are trying desperately to stem the rise of solar, either by reducing incentives, adding steep fees or effectively pushing home solar companies out of the market. In response, those solar companies are fighting back through regulators, lawmakers and the courts.

The shift in the electric business is no less profound than those that upended the telecommunications and cable industries in recent decades. It is already remaking the relationship between power companies and the public while raising questions about how to pay for maintaining and operating the nation’s grid.

The issue is not merely academic, electrical engineers say.

In solar-rich areas of California and Arizona, as well as in Hawaii, all that solar-generated electricity flowing out of houses and into a power grid designed to carry it in the other direction has caused unanticipated voltage fluctuations that can overload circuits, burn lines and lead to brownouts or blackouts.

“Hawaii’s case is not isolated,” said Massoud Amin, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Minnesota and chairman of the smart grid program at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a technical association. “When we push year-on-year 30 to 40 percent growth in this market, with the number of installations doubling, quickly — every two years or so — there’s going to be problems.”

The economic threat also has electric companies on edge. Over all, demand for electricity is softening while home solar is rapidly spreading across the country. There are now about 600,000 installed systems, and the number is expected to reach 3.3 million by 2020, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

The Edison Electric Institute, the main utility trade group, has been warning its members of the economic perils of high levels of rooftop solar since at least 2012, and the companies are responding. In February, the Salt River Project, a large utility in Arizona, approved charges that could add about $50 to a typical monthly bill for new solar customers, while last year in Wisconsin, where rooftop solar is still relatively rare, regulators approved fees that would add $182 a year for the average solar customer.

This story doesn’t have a direct connection to Texas, but our state has a tremendous potential for solar, high electric bills in many cities, and a Legislature that isn’t all that friendly to renewable energy, but very much is friendly to the entrenched status quo. That’s a combination that makes this all worth keeping an eye on.

Online voter registration bills advance

Some good news.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

House Bill 313, which received praise from committee members in a Monday hearing, and Senate Bill 315, which was voted out of committee Thursday, propose allowing voters to register online and have that application automatically authenticated rather than having to wait on local election officials to reenter the data in their systems and confirm it.

Arizona, which was the first state to create a completely online registration system in 2002, now receives more than 70 percent of its applications digitally, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, introduced HB 313 with a higher authentication standard than seen in Arizona and other states.

Users would have to prove their identity by providing the last four digits of their social security number, driver’s license number and driver’s license audit number, which is specific to the physical card and would prevent someone from stealing a license to register online.

“That is such a high threshold of authorization that in Texas law it constitutes notarization,” Strama said.

The Texas Association of Counties reported in the bill’s fiscal note that the proposal would yield considerable savings associated with the expedited process and not having to hire temporary staff to handle an increased influx of paper registrations near deadlines — often increasing the margin of human error.

[…]

A study by the Pew Charitable Trusts noted that in Arizona’s Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, that online registrations cost the state three cents to offer and process while paper applications cost 83 cents.

Albert Cheng, manager of voter registration for Harris County tax-assessor collector’s office, initially listed himself on the witness list as opposing the bill, but said he would support the bill if the author would work with him to address some concerns about security and voter identification.

SB315 is by Sen. Carlos Uresti, and it was approved 7-0 by the Senate State Affairs Committee. As noted, the bills would save counties money while making it easier to register voters in a way that also helped avoid the kind of basic, fixable errors that can lead to registration forms being summarily rejected by some registrars – you know, like what we’ve seen the past few years in Harris County. Like many other things, filling out a voter registration form is something that could easily be done on a smartphone if only the law would allow it. Well, these bills could be that law. I can’t think of any good reason to oppose them. Texpatriate has more, while Texas Redistricting recaps the action in the Elections Committee.

In case you didn’t have enough Supreme Court business to worry about

Here’s Texas Redistricting to give you more to worry about, in the form of Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona.

Although the case has gotten far less attention than challenges to the constitutionality of section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, it could profoundly reshape the power of the federal government to regulate elections by narrowing what traditionally has been a broad interpretation of the scope of the Constitution’s Elections Clause (Article I, sec. 4, clause 1).

That clause provides that:

The TImes, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing [sic] Senators.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

In 1993, Congress used the clause to enact the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which set nationwide standards for voter registration.

In 2004, however, the state of Arizona passed legislation to require that new voters in Arizona provide proof of citizenship when registering to vote and instructing election to reject all applications, even those approved under the NVRA, that were not accompanied by that proof.

In subsequent litigation, Arizona argued that the NVRA could not be read in a way to limit a state’s right to set voter qualifications under different clauses of the Constitution.

[…]

Indeed, the Supreme Court’s interpretation could well affect litigation in Texas currently at the Fifth Circuit over application of the NVRA to Texas’ voter registration regime.

Back in August 2012, U.S. District Judge Gregg Costa cited conflicts with the NVRA when he entered an order enjoining enforcement of Texas laws that prohibit deputy voter registrars from photocopying completed applications and that require that completed applications be delivered to county elections officials in person. The Fifth Circuit heard an expedited appeal in the case back in December, and a decision is expected any day now.

The act also served as one of the bases used in 2012 to challenge what LULAC contended were unacceptable voter purges being conducted by Harris County.

Meanwhile, in Austin, State Rep. Rick Miller (R-Sugar Land) has filed a bill, HB 3074, that would require proof of citizenship before new registrants are added to the voter rolls.

As set out in a detailed amicus brief at the Fifth Circuit in the Texas NVRA case, Texas has a long and complicated voter registration history. And voter registration remains a highly charged issue in the state. Just look at the back and forth 2008 allegations about the processing and rejection of applications in Harris County or allegations that Waller County improperly rejected applications of African-American students.

This may be a sleeper case, but, given the numerous and continuing voting-related battles in Texas, it’s one to watch.

See here, here, and here for background on the Texas litigation. Oral arguments were heard on Monday. SCOTUSBlog, TPM, and Rick Hasen have previews. In the end, based on the reports from SCOTUSBlog and TPM, it’s not clear how this might shake out. The hearing wound up being less than an hour in total, and as the SCOTUSBlog report noted, it seemed to hang on a pretty narrow legal distinction, which may mean that the decision will be narrowly tailored. It’s even possible, I suppose, that this could strengthen the case against restrictive voter registration procedures like the ones Texas passed in 2011. That’s not going to stop me from sweating it out until the ruling. See the transcript, via Texas Redistricting, for more.