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Brazos County

A trifecta of crap from the Fifth Circuit

It’s what they do.

A federal appeals court has ruled for Texas in three lawsuits challenging the state’s voting laws, including mail-in ballot provisions and the elimination of straight-ticket voting.

In a series of 2-1 rulings Wednesday evening, a panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the lawsuits by civil rights groups, political organizations and voters targeted the wrong state agency — the Texas secretary of state’s office — when they sought to overturn a string of voting laws and practices.

Because the secretary of state is not in charge of enforcing the challenged laws, the agency is protected by sovereign immunity in all three lawsuits, said the opinions written by Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan and joined by Judge Don Willett.

Judge Patrick Higginbotham dissented in all three cases, writing that he believed the majority was splitting hairs by narrowly interpreting which state officers enforce election laws.

The secretary of state is the chief election officer of Texas who is charged by law with protecting the voting rights of Texans “from abuse by the authorities administering the state’s electoral processes,” Higginbotham wrote.

“The allegation in these cases is that the Secretary is failing in that duty. This charge should satisfy our … inquiry,” he said.

Reporter Chuck Lindell first posted about this on Twitter, so if for some reason the Statesman link doesn’t work or gets paywalled, you can see the basics there. Let’s break down the three cases:

A challenge by the Texas Alliance for Retired Americans and two national Democratic organizations sought to overturn a 2017 law that ended straight-ticket voting, also known as one-punch voting because it lets voters select all candidates of a particular political party in one step.

A state district judge barred enforcement of the law, ruling in September 2020 that the change unconstitutionally burdened the right to vote.

See here and here for the background. This one confused me at first, because there had been a basically identical challenge filed earlier in the same court by a different set of plaintiffs that was later dismissed by that judge. I don’t know why the subsequent challenge, which fell under the Democracy Docket umbrella, was more successful, but there you have it. You may recall I was skeptical of this one, and of the three it’s the one I’m the least upset about. The Fifth Circuit’s ruling is here.

A lawsuit by the NAACP and Texas Alliance for Retired Americans sought to block mail-in ballot regulations that require voters to pay for postage and mandate that ballots be postmarked by 7 p.m. on Election Day and received by 5 p.m. on the next day.

The lawsuit also challenged signature-matching requirements and a law that makes it a crime to possess another voter’s mail ballot.

See here and here for the background. I thought this was an interesting suit that made a reasoned case and that in a fair world would have gotten a more thoughtful review by the Fifth Circuit, but that ain’t the world we live in. I don’t know if this subject was addressed in one of the many voting rights bills that Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema personally strangled (with the help of all 50 Republicans, of course), but if there’s ever another opportunity to address voting rights at a federal level, this should be an item on the to do list. The Fifth Circuit opinion is here.

A lawsuit by groups including the League of Women Voters of Texas and the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities challenged the process of verifying mail-in ballots by ensuring that the voter’s signature on the outside envelope matches the signature on the vote-by-mail application.

A trial judge granted a detailed injunction limiting the practice in September 2020, but again the 5th Circuit Court stepped in to halt the injunction until the appeal was decided. Wednesday’s ruling vacated the injunction.

See here, here, and here for the background. Remember when signature matching was our biggest concern about mail ballots? Boy, those were the days. Anyway, even though this suit was filed in 2019, that injunction was halted by a different Fifth Circuit panel because it was too close to the election. There’s always, always an excuse. The opinion for this one is here.

The first and third cases were reversed and remanded to the district court “for further proceedings consistent with this opinion”, while the second was reversed and remanded with instructions to dismiss. I’m not quite sure what further proceedings there may be, and it may be that the bigger problems caused by SB1 may make the third case not particularly relevant at this time, I dunno. I assume that since the issue cited by the Fifth Circuit was that the SOS was not the proper defendant, the cases could be refiled with some number of county election administrators as defendants instead. I don’t know how practical that would be, and I also don’t know if this is just a prelude to the Fifth Circuit (or later SCOTUS) ruling that actually you can’t sue those people either, because the whole idea that you can pursue redress in a federal court is just an illusion anyway or whatever. We’ll see if anything does get refiled, but I would not feel particularly optimistic about any of it.

UPDATE: And when I checked Twitter on Thursday, I saw that Prof. Vladeck had addressed my questions.

Always expect the worst from the Fifth Circuit. You’ll almost never be wrong.

Precinct analysis: Final 2022 primary vote totals from those counties of interest

At the end of early voting, I posted some totals from various counties around the state. I noted at the time it was an imprecise comparison since I included final 2018 turnout numbers as the comparison point for 2022 and said I’d update that table when voting was over. Well, voting is over, so let’s return to that table and see what we can see.


County       2018 Dem   2018 GOP  2022 Dem  2022 GOP
====================================================
Bell            7,282     18,149     9,089    20,912
Bexar          81,408     67,977    94,334    87,277
Brazoria       10,085     24,376    11,331    30,541
Brazos          5,131     12,365     4,611    16,430
Cameron        14,123      4,003    19,705    10,504
Collin         34,669     66,078    36,368    79,431
Comal           4,150     17,662     4,847    23,874
Dallas        123,671     80,583   126,203    86,551
Denton         27,025     49,474    27,340    68,104
El Paso        54,184     12,096    37,017    18,240
Ellis           4,243     15,906     5,376    18,536
Fort Bend      29,322     34,707    39,613    45,582
Hays           11,397     11,881    12,972    15,475
Hidalgo        37,739      7,050    37,309    15,042
Johnson         2,618     12,280     2,485    17,085
Lubbock         5,900     21,964     5,599    27,552
Maverick        6,300        111     6,653       623
Montgomery      9,701     48,921    10,585    71,451
Nueces         12,345     12,553    13,426    18,871
Smith           4,704     22,826     6,362    27,668
Starr           6,729         15     3,410     1,089
Tarrant        71,876    105,317    73,410   129,628
Travis        113,070     39,177   108,831    46,416
Webb           21,137      1,426    17,675     2,963
Williamson     25,681     35,675    26,067    47,431

The first thing you might notice is that the final numbers for Starr and Maverick counties are less than the final EV totals I had. How can that be? I double-checked the final EV totals on the SOS webpage, and they are now as they were then, 6,895 for Maverick and 5,188 for Starr. I may not know much, but I know that election totals go up, not down. How do I explain this?

I went and looked at the Starr County Elections page to see what I could find. What I found is that the turnout numbers they presented for the Democratic and Republican primaries are indeed different than what the SOS reported for the gubernatorial races, by a fair amount. While there were 3,410 votes cast in the Governor’s race on the Democratic side in Starr, and 1,089 on the Republican side, total turnout for Democrats was given as 6,456, with 1,444 as the total for Republicans. You can see if you scroll through that some races, like the CD28 Dem primary, got a lot more votes than the gubernatorial primary. I figured maybe the action was a bit heavier downballot, and that seemed to be true on the Dem side in that there were a lot more votes cast in the eight Justice of the Peace races. There were still undervotes, which were easier to comprehend as they were a lot closer to the “total votes” figures for each race, but if you added up all the votes in those eight JP precincts, you get the 6,456 and 1,444 figures cited.

Make of that what you will. The transition from the “actual total turnout regardless of who voted in what race” to the “total that actually voted in this race” was jarring, in this case because the undervote rate was so low. I have no idea what it might have been in 2018, so I can’t draw any conclusions. As for Maverick County, I couldn’t find a report from their website, just what the SOS had. Insert shrug emoji here.

Anyway. I didn’t have an agenda for this post, just an intention to keep the promise made before. I’ve got some other posts about primary voting in the works and will run those in the coming days.

2022 primary early voting statewide

Turnout information for early voting for all counties is available on the Secretary of State website. They used to only have this for the 30 most populous counties, which skewed things in a Democratic direction, but a law passed in 2019 required the data to be made available for all counties. Now that early voting has been completed, let’s see what the totals looked like in other counties of interest around the state.

Unfortunately, we can’t make a direct comparison for some of the counties I was interested in because as noted the SOS only has EV data for thirty counties. So what I did instead was collect the final turnout information for the 2018 Senate primaries in both parties. What that means is that the data below is a bit skewed, since we’re comparing EV turnout to overall turnout. Even there, “overall turnout” is a bit misleading since there are always undervotes, and the data I’ve captured for 2018 doesn’t include that. The 2022 numbers includes everyone who showed up, the 2018 data only has the ones who voted in their Senate races. It’s the best I can do. Here’s what it looks like:


County       2018 Dem   2018 GOP  2022 Dem  2022 GOP
====================================================
Bell            7,282     18,149     4,550     9,574
Bexar          81,408     67,977    60,033    50,025
Brazoria       10,085     24,376     6,809    20,323
Brazos          5,131     12,365     2,241     7,902
Collin         34,669     66,078    20,784    43,779
Comal           4,150     17,662     3,040    13,530
Dallas        123,671     80,583    66,109    38,928
Denton         27,025     49,474    14,683    37,288
El Paso        54,184     12,096    20,320     9,199
Ellis           4,243     15,906     2,479     8,136
Fort Bend      29,322     34,707    25,646    28,275
Hays           11,397     11,881     7,316     8,210
Johnson         2,618     12,280     1,224     8,175
Lubbock         5,900     21,964     3,267    17,184
Montgomery      9,701     48,921     6,052    41,596
Nueces         12,345     12,553     6,682     9,962
Smith           4,704     22,826     3,933    15,481
Tarrant        71,876    105,317    38,674    70,021
Travis        113,070     39,177    58,329    23,357
Williamson     25,681     35,675    14,558    26,672

For the most part, nothing terribly exciting. Overall Democratic turnout is about 627K, about 62% of the 2018 Senate race total of 1.04 million. Republicans are at about 1.02 million, or about 66% of the way to the 1.55 million they had in their Senate primary. While I talked about the “premier races” driving turnout statewide in the last entry, conditions in an individual county can vary. High profile and/or expensive races for Congress, County Judge, or other local offices can have an effect. Different counties have different patterns for how much of the vote is cast early versus on Election Day. We also have to consider the effect of SB1 on mail ballots. So far this year there have been 49,888 Republican primary ballots cast by mail, compared to 71,329 for the Dems. We don’t know the total figures for 2018, but a look at the top 30 county numbers makes it clear that Republicans used mail ballots a lot more four years ago.

So overall I don’t see too much that stands out. The one place that is a bit remarkable is El Paso, where Democratic voting is down quite a bit from 2018. We know that Beto was a big draw overall in El Paso, more so in the general, but remember that in 2018 there was also the primary to succeed Beto in Congress, and it was a fairly expensive race that featured then-County Judge and now Rep. Veronica Escobar. I suspect that drove some people to the polls as well.

What about the South Texas/Rio Grande Valley counties that shifted red in 2020? Here’s the same sample I looked at before, updated for the 2022 numbers:


County       2018 Dem   2018 GOP  2022 Dem  2022 GOP
====================================================
Cameron        14,123      4,003    14,500     6,455
Hidalgo        37,739      7,050    31,924    10,398
Maverick        6,300        111     6,895       440
Starr           6,729         15     5,188       969
Webb           21,137      1,426    13,384     1,499

Definitely more participation on the Republican side, exceeding the final 2018 totals in all five counties, though overall those numbers are still quite low compared to the Dems. Democratic numbers in Cameron and Maverick have also topped their 2018 counterparts, and are not far behind in Hidalgo and Starr. I’m a little puzzled by Webb, since that’s the center of the CD28 primary battle, but maybe that’s a mostly-vote-on-Election-Day place. We’ll see tomorrow. Have you voted yet?

Precinct analysis: The new State House map

Like it or not, we have new State House districts. We may as well acquaint ourselves with them. The coverage we’ve had so far has focused on the 2020 election numbers to say whether a district will be red or blue or (in a limited number of cases) purple. I think that we need to see more data than that to get a full picture. I’ve spent a bunch of time on this site looking at how districts changed over the course of the past decade. This post will do the same for the new State House districts. I may do the same for the other types of districts – we’ll see how busy things get once filing season opens – but for now let’s look at how things are here.

We now have a full set of election data for the new districts. All of the data for the new State House districts can be found here. I am using election data for these years in this post: 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018, and 2020

If you want to remind yourself of what the map looks like, use the district viewer, which allows you to zoom in all the way to street level. What would have happened in the last decade if we had had this map in place following the 2011 session?

2012 – 59 seats won by Obama
2014 – 51 seats won by Davis
2016 – 64 seats won by Clinton
2018 – 66 seats won by Beto
2020 – 65 seats won by Biden

This shows a couple of things. One is just how bad a year 2014 was. Two, how effective the 2011/2013 map was for the conditions that existed at the time. Note that with this map, the big shift towards the Democrats happened in 2016, not 2018. I have to wonder how things might have played out in 2018 and 2020 if that had been our experience. After that, it gets a lot more static. I’ll tell you which districts were won by Beto but not Clinton, and which district was won by Beto but not Biden, later in this post.

Enough setup. You’re ready for some numbers, right? I know you are. I’ve broken this down more or less by region, and am including districts that are within 20 points in the 2020 results.


Dist  Obama  Romney Obama%Romney%    Biden   Trump Biden% Trump%
================================================================
014  14,134  29,676  31.5%  66.1%   30,840  38,146  43.5%  53.8%
020  19,803  40,618  31.9%  65.4%   44,651  58,876  42.2%  55.6%
045  20,079  21,248  47.0%  49.8%   48,915  32,987  58.4%  39.4%
052  16,708  28,942  35.7%  61.8%   44,974  49,046  46.7%  51.0%
054  18,164  22,668  43.9%  54.7%   26,960  31,067  45.5%  52.4%
055  17,348  26,906  38.5%  59.8%   30,054  36,826  43.9%  53.8%
118  21,895  25,284  45.7%  52.8%   36,578  34,584  50.6%  47.9%
121  25,850  47,798  34.5%  63.8%   50,133  52,533  48.1%  50.4%
122  21,516  48,130  30.4%  68.1%   50,094  59,855  44.9%  53.7%

Call this the “Central” region – HD14 is Brazos County, HDs 20 and 52 are Williamson, HD45 is Hays, HDs 54 and 55 are the infamous “donut” districts of Bell County, and the other three are Bexar. Couple things to note, as these themes will recur. One is that if there’s a district you think might belong but which isn’t listed, it’s probably because it just doesn’t qualify as a “swing” district any more. A great example is HD47 in Travis County, which was a 52-47 district for Mitt Romney in 2012. In 2020, however, it was won by Joe Biden by a 61-36 margin. HD45 is more or less the same, but I included it here as a borderline case.

Looking at the shifts, it’s not too hard to imagine the two Williamson districts moving into (back into, in the case of HD52) the Dem column, in a future election if not this year. Note also that HD118 was once a red district. It’s one of the two that Beto flipped and which Biden held. Sure, it’s accurately described in all of the coverage of the special election runoff as being more Republican than the current HD118, but one should be aware of the direction that it has traveled. I won’t be surprised if it outperforms the 2020 number for Dems in 2022. (No, the result of this special election runoff doesn’t change my thinking on that. It’s not the first time that Republicans have won a special election in HD118.)

Not all districts moved so dramatically – that parsing of Bell County looks like it will be durable for the GOP, at least at this time. The other two Bexar districts were a lot more Democratic at the Presidential level than they were downballot, so one has to wonder if the splits we see here are entirely about Trump, or if they will be the leading edge for Dems as the 2016 Trump numbers were in places like CD07 and all of the Dallas House districts that Republicans once held.


Dist  Obama  Romney Obama%Romney%    Biden   Trump Biden% Trump%
================================================================
034  28,030  19,409  58.4%  40.4%   32,171  26,232  54.4%  44.3%
035  19,519   5,678  76.7%  22.3%   22,629  16,478  57.3%  41.7%
036  21,416   7,022  74.5%  24.4%   26,905  19,328  57.6%  41.4%
037  21,580  17,109  55.2%  43.7%   27,740  26,576  50.6%  48.4%
039  23,219   8,076  73.5%  25.6%   27,861  18,679  59.2%  39.7%
041  20,882  15,585  56.6%  42.2%   33,385  25,616  56.1%  43.0%
074  25,903  16,270  60.5%  38.0%   31,415  28,538  51.7%  46.9%
080  26,122  16,344  60.9%  38.1%   27,099  29,572  47.3%  51.6%

Here we have South Texas and the Valley, where things are not so good for the Dems. Again, the districts you don’t see here are the ones that are not swing districts; check out the linked numbers to see for yourself. HD41 was pretty stable, and I will note that the current version of HD74 was carried by Trump, so the new map is a bit friendlier to the Dems, at least for now. HD80 is the Beto district that Biden lost, and as with every other Latino district we’re just going to have to see how it performs in a non-Trump year. If State Rep. Alex Dominguez, the incumbent in HD37, does indeed primary Sen. Eddie Lucio, that puts another Dem seat squarely in the danger zone. (Modulo the pending litigation, of course.)


Dist  Obama  Romney Obama%Romney%    Biden   Trump Biden% Trump%
================================================================
033  16,134  40,104  28.2%  70.1%   35,618  53,384  39.3%  58.9%
057  13,506  30,350  30.3%  68.0%   36,387  47,660  42.6%  55.8%
061  15,178  34,157  30.3%  68.1%   43,274  50,795  45.2%  53.0%
063  20,983  40,571  33.5%  64.8%   42,303  47,444  46.4%  52.0%
065  18,851  36,946  33.3%  65.2%   43,265  51,231  45.1%  53.4%
066  19,348  41,191  31.5%  67.0%   43,902  51,608  45.2%  53.1%
067  16,268  32,870  32.6%  65.7%   39,889  47,769  44.6%  53.5%
070  23,926  36,395  38.9%  59.2%   45,111  35,989  54.7%  43.6%
084  17,622  30,644  35.8%  62.3%   25,604  36,144  40.7%  57.5%
089  18,681  39,334  31.6%  66.6%   39,563  49,499  43.5%  54.5%
093  13,971  29,638  31.6%  67.0%   34,205  45,799  42.0%  56.2%
094  23,934  46,010  33.6%  64.6%   37,985  45,950  44.4%  53.8%
096  22,912  42,668  34.5%  64.2%   39,472  48,073  44.4%  54.1%
097  21,540  40,721  34.0%  64.4%   38,218  46,530  44.3%  53.9%
099  17,899  33,551  34.2%  64.2%   31,245  43,999  40.8%  57.5%
106  12,893  30,578  29.2%  69.3%   38,447  50,868  42.4%  56.2%
108  26,544  58,932  30.7%  68.1%   54,481  55,364  48.9%  49.7%
112  24,601  44,320  35.2%  63.4%   44,881  45,370  48.9%  49.4%

So much action in the Multiplex. HD33 is Rockwall and a piece of Collin. HDs 61 and 70 are Collin, HD57 is Denton. I have lumped HD84 in here as well, even though it’s Lubbock and it remains on the fringe, but I don’t care. We will make a race out of that district yet! HDs 108 and 112 in Dallas are also much more Republican downballot than they were at the top, and while I think they will eventually fall, it’s unlikely to be in 2022. HD70, by the way, is the other district that flipped Dem in 2018.

Everywhere else I look, I see districts that are about as competitive as the formerly Republican-held districts of Dallas County were circa 2012. (Note how none of them have made an appearance in this post.) Look at how huge those splits were a decade ago. A decade in the future, either we’re going to be grimly hailing the evil genius of this gerrymander, or we’re going to be chuckling about Republican hubris and how if they’d maybe thrown another district or two to the Dems they could have saved themselves a bucketful of losses.


Dist  Obama  Romney Obama%Romney%    Biden   Trump Biden% Trump%
================================================================
025  16,141  33,014  32.4%  66.2%   29,441  43,675  39.7%  58.9%
026  14,574  36,701  32.4%  66.2%   37,863  47,532  43.7%  54.8%
028  15,831  33,229  31.9%  67.0%   36,213  46,580  43.1%  55.4%
029  18,280  37,848  32.1%  66.5%   32,787  46,758  40.6%  57.9%
126  18,574  47,202  27.9%  70.7%   35,306  50,023  40.8%  57.8%
127  19,674  45,760  29.7%  69.1%   38,332  53,148  41.3%  57.3%
129  21,321  45,292  31.5%  66.9%   38,399  51,219  42.2%  56.2%
132  13,399  31,974  29.1%  69.5%   35,876  46,484  42.9%  55.6%
133  21,508  45,099  31.8%  66.7%   40,475  42,076  48.4%  50.3%
134  34,172  42,410  43.7%  54.3%   66,968  38,704  62.5%  36.1%
138  20,133  40,118  32.9%  65.6%   37,617  42,002  46.6%  52.0%
144  17,471  16,254  51.1%  47.6%   25,928  20,141  55.6%  43.2%
148  20,954  19,960  50.4%  48.0%   34,605  24,087  58.1%  40.5%
150  14,511  34,552  29.2%  69.6%   34,151  45,789  42.1%  56.5%

Finally, the Houston area. HDs 25 and 29 are Brazoria County, HDs 26 and 28 are Fort Bend. The now-in-Fort-Bend HD76 slides in here as another former swing district, going from 51-48 for Romney to 61-38 for Biden. I threw HD134 in here even though it’s obviously not a swing district by any reasonable measure in part because it was once the epitome of a swing district, and because damn, just look at how far that district shifted towards Dems. The open HD133 is unfortunately another one of those redder-downballot districts, so even though it’s an open seat don’t get your hopes up too much for this cycle. Maybe later on, we’ll see.

I’m fascinated by HD144, which like HD74 is now slightly more Dem than it was under the existing map. I guess Republicans had other priorities in the area. As for HD148, it’s a little jarring to see it as a genuine swing district from 2012, though it barely qualifies as of 2020. Rep. Penny Morales Shaw has complained about the changes made to her district, not just geographically but also by reducing that Latino CVAP by almost ten points. Finally, I will note that while the GOP shored up HD138, it’s another district that used to be a lot redder than it is now. Again, we’ll just have to see how resilient that is. That “genius/hubris” divide will largely come down to places like that.

I hope this helped shed some light on what these districts may be going forward. As always, let me know what you think.

Counties of interest, part six: Central Texas

Part 1 – Counties around Harris
Part 2 – Counties around Dallas/Tarrant
Part 3 – Counties around Travis
Part 4 – Counties around Bexar
Part 5 – East Texas

We move on now to counties in Central Texas, which for these purposes will include a number of places along I-35, but also a couple of places that aren’t East Texas or West Texas. Try not to take these designations too seriously and just go with it.


County       Romney    Obama    Trump  Clinton    Trump    Biden    Shift
=========================================================================
Bell         49,574   35,512   51,998   37,801   67,113   56,032    2,981
Brazos       37,209   17,477   38,738   23,121   47,436   35,242    7,538
Coryell      11,220    5,158   12,225    5,064   15,397    7,542   -1,793
Grayson      30,936   10,670   35,325   10,301   43,776   14,223   -9,287
Hood         18,409    3,843   21,382    4,008   26,243    5,605   -6,072
McLennan     47,903   25,694   48,260   27,063   59,432   36,550     -673
Nueces       48,966   45,772   50,766   49,198   64,467   60,749     -524
Victoria     19,692    8,802   21,275    8,866   23,244   10,271   -2,083

There’s some clear good news here. Bell County, home of Killeen, Temple, and Belton, is part of that I-35 Corridor success story. Brazos County isn’t on I-35, but it’s an even bigger mover. Bell is 21.5% Black and has been the center of a deep-cut Dem opportunity district for some time – there were a couple of maps drawn in 2011 that would have created a Democratic State Rep district, and the current HD54 has been a potential target for a couple of cycles. Brazos, home of Bryan and College Station, was more of a surprise to me and has gone from being a fairly deep red county to a moderately purple one. I’m guessing the presence of Texas A&M is the driver of that, but I’m guessing.

McLennan County is Waco, and while it looks to have more or less held steady since 2012, it had improved in 2016 and then fell back in 2020, which is not a good sign. You know how I feel about building up Dem infrastructure in cities, including and especially the medium and smaller cities that have not yet been a key component of the resurgence. Coryell is next door and moving a little farther in the wrong direction.

The tough nuts to crack here are Grayson (home of Sherman) and Hood (home of Granbury). Both are on the outskirts of the Metroplex, with Grayson north of Collin and Denton, and Hood south and west of Parker and Johnson. They’re not close enough to the blue parts of the Metroplex to benefit from spillover. I don’t have an answer here, just noting the problem.

Nueces County is of course Corpus Christi, and it’s been more or less what it is for some time. Like McLennan, it moved towards blue in 2016, then slid back in 2020. As with McLennan, we need to figure that out and get it back on track. I included Victoria County in this collection mostly because it’s a population center and it’s a geographic fit, but it’s kind of an island, its own MSA on the way from Houston to Corpus.

Your handwriting should not jeopardize your vote

Jesus Christ.

Texas election officials may continue rejecting mail-in ballots if they decide the signature on the ballot can’t be verified, without notifying voters until after the election that their ballot wasn’t counted, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Monday.

The appeals court halted a lower court’s injunction, which had not gone into effect, that would have required the Texas secretary of state to either advise local election officials that mail-in ballots may not be rejected using the existing signature-comparison process, or require them to set up a notification system giving voters a chance to challenge a rejection while their vote still counts.

Requiring such a process would compromise the integrity of the mail-in ballots “as Texas officials are preparing for a dramatic increase of mail-in voting, driven by a global pandemic,” reads the Monday opinion issued by U.S. Fifth Circuit Judge Jerry E. Smith.

“Texas’s strong interest in safeguarding the integrity of its elections from voter fraud far outweighs any burden the state’s voting procedures place on the right to vote,” Smith wrote.

Before mail-in ballots are counted, a committee of local election officials reviews them to ensure that a voter’s endorsement on the flap of a ballot envelope matches the signature that voter used on their application to vote by mail. They can also compare it to signatures on file with the county clerk or voter registrar that were made within the last six years.

The state election code does not establish any standards for signature review, which is conducted by local election officials who seldom have training in signature verification.

Voters must be notified within 10 days after the election that their ballot was rejected, but state election law does not require affording them an opportunity to challenge the rejection, the appeals court ruling noted.

[…]

Plaintiffs said they will now push counties to voluntarily give early notice to voters whose ballots are rejected for signature-match issues, allowing them a chance to rectify the situation and let their vote count.

“It will affect this 2020 election, so voters will not be notified in time, and so I think the main thing we’re trying to do now is notify counties that ballot boards are not required to give pre-election day notice, but they can,” said H. Drew Galloway, executive director of MOVE Texas, a plaintiff. “We encourage them to follow the original intent of the lower courts here so folks (whose ballots were rejected) can go vote in person, or contest that decision.”

See here for the background. That ruling had been stayed pending this appeal, so in that sense nothing has been lost. It’s another typical hatchet job from the country’s worst court. Let me bullet-point this, because I’m tired and this shit needs to stop.

– We all know that if this had a disproportionate effect on white voters, the concern about “safeguarding the integrity of its elections from voter fraud” would be a mere footnote. Some voters are more equal than others.

– On the very same day that this turd was handed down, a state court in North Carolina ruled that “voters whose absentee ballots have problems with their envelopes can now expect contact from board of elections offices in order to fix their ballots by Election Day”. We need uniform national standards that prioritize and protect the rights and ability of all citizens to vote. That needs to be very high on the to do list of the next Congress.

– Can we please give some serious consideration to packing the Fifth Circuit? Quite a few Trump-appointed judges are there because vacancies were not allowed to be filled during Obama’s terms. This court is in serious need of reform.

– On a more practical note, Drew Galloway is correct: We need to be talking to local election officials to get them to agree to try to fix these problems in advance. The court didn’t say that they couldn’t do this, just that they didn’t have to. Well, if it’s a choice, then let’s make sure they make the right choice.

That’s all I’ve got. This effing court. The Chron has more.

A win for those with lousy signatures

Some good news on the voting litigation front.

As Texas prepares for an expected deluge of mail-in votes in November, a federal judge has found that one facet of the state’s signature verification rules for those ballots is unconstitutional and must be reworked for the upcoming election.

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia ruled Tuesday that the state’s process for determining whether there is a mismatch between a voter’s signature on their ballot envelope and the signature the voter used on their application to vote by mail “plainly violates certain voters’ constitutional rights.”

In his order, Garcia ordered the Texas secretary of state to inform local election officials within 10 days that it is unconstitutional to reject a ballot based on a “perceived signature mismatch” without first notifying the voter about the mismatch and giving the voter a “meaningful opportunity” to correct the issue.

Additionally, to “protect voters’ rights” in the upcoming election, Garcia said the Texas secretary of state must either advise local election officials that mail-in ballots may not be rejected using the existing signature comparison process, or notify them that they are required to set up a rejection notification system that would allow voters to challenge a rejection.

[…]

Before mail-in ballots are counted, a committee of local election officials reviews them to ensure that a voter’s endorsement on the flap of a ballot envelope matches the signature that voter used on their application to vote by mail. They can also compare it to signatures on file with the county clerk or voter registrar that were made within the last six years.

But because the state election code does not establish any standards for review, the plaintiffs argued that the law is applied unequally, with each county “necessarily” developing “its own idiosyncratic, arbitrary, and ad hoc procedure to determine that a ballot should be rejected” with no requirement to notify voters about the rejections until 10 days after Election Day.

To correct course ahead of the November general election, Garcia ordered the Texas secretary of state to either halt all rejections based on a “perceived signature mismatch” or implement an “immediate remedial plan” that requires local election officials to notify a voter within one day of determining a perceived mismatch and allow the voter to challenge the rejection.

Under that plan, voters must be mailed notices of rejection within one day of a mismatch determination by the local review board. Those who provided phone numbers on their applications must be called at least once within one day of the decision.

See here for the background, and observe how adorably optimistic I was that this shouldn’t be a partisan issue since both parties use voting by mail. What can I say, it was 2019, you had to be there. I don’t have much to say now that I didn’t say then – this ruling makes total sense, the “standard” that was used was arbitrary and needlessly harsh, and it really is in everyone’s interests to make an effort to count these ballots. I assume Ken Paxton will appeal this because that’s what he does, but until then let’s be happy we got what we got. The Chron has more.

Despite it all, voter registration keeps increasing

You love to see it.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Not even the worst pandemic to hit Texas in a century was enough to stem the surge in voter registrations that has remade the state’s electorate over the past four years.

Just since March, Texas has added nearly 149,000 voters even as the political parties and voter registration groups face new obstacles in signing up people in a world of social distancing and stay-at-home orders.

The state now has a record 16.4 million voters, 2.1 million more than it had just over four years ago — a 15-percent increase in registrations that is nearly equivalent to the voter rolls of the entire state of Connecticut.

“It is a totally different electorate than it was in 2016,” said Luke Warford, voter expansion director for the Texas Democratic Party.

Harris County and Bexar County have led the way in the last three months with voter registration efforts. In Harris County, voter rolls have grown by 16,000, while in Bexar they are up almost 14,000. Combined, the two counties account for one-fifth of the increase in registrations statewide.

Texas voter registration rolls historically have grown very slowly. From 2002 to 2012, the rolls grew by 800,000. But now, registration is in hyperdrive. Just since November of 2018, Texas has added almost 600,000 voters.

Some of the change is coming from transplants moving from other states, while many others are coming from minority communities that voter registration advocacy groups have targeted over the last four years.

In short, Brandon Rottinghaus, a University of Houston political science professor, said 2020 is setting up as a real shootout in regions of the state that have become more competitive because of the diversification and growth of the electorate.

“It’s another step toward Texas being a true battleground,” Rottinghaus said.

[…]

In Texas voters don’t register by party affiliation like many other states, making it unclear exactly how many Republican or Democratic voters are in the state.

But about one-third of the 1.3 million new voters since November 2018 come from three counties: Harris, Travis and Bexar — all deeply blue since 2016.

Harris and Bexar being at the top of the list doesn’t surprise Antonio Arellano, who is the leader of Jolt, a voter advocacy group focused on registering young Latino voters and getting them involved in politics. He said his group has been on the ground in those two counties.

While the coronavirus made registration drives impossible in traditional locations such as libraries, county fairs and large events, younger voters can still be found with direct messages on social media, text messages, and digital ads. The virus hasn’t affected those efforts at all.

“We harness culture, art and technology to get it done,” Arellano said.

Each year in Texas, 200,000 Latinos turn 18 — a population that is Jolt’s main focus.

Nice. The March voter registration figures are here, the January figures are here, and the November of 2018 figures are here. Harris County is right at 2.4 million, and I think we have a shot at getting to 2.5 million for November. As the story notes, average monthly voter registration figures are actually up since April, about double what it had been from November of 2018 through March. People have been working it, with Jolt, Battleground Texas, and Beto’s Powered by People all doing a lot of heavy lifting. You want to make a difference, get trained as a volunteer deputy voter registrar – the Harris County Tax Assessor has online ZOOM training sessions to become a VDVR – and join up with one of these groups. Every new voter matters.

I actually drafted this about a month ago, just before the primary runoffs, then as is sometimes the case kept putting off publishing it. Because I procrastinated, you can now see the state and county-by-county voter registration figures by looking at the contest details for the Senate runoff. But this post is even more of a delayed special than that. In the Before Times, I had drafted a story about where a lot of voter registrations were coming from – short answer, the I-35 corridor from San Antonio to D/FW – but between the primary and the world falling apart, I never got around to publishing it. I’m repurposing it for this post, so read on for what I had written a couple of months ago.

(more…)

Primary precinct analysis: Who did what in the RRC race

The Railroad Commissioner primary was a bit like the Senate primary – multiple candidates (though not nearly as many), not a whole lot of money, but the candidate who did best in fundraising was also the leading votegetter. Here’s a look at the top 25 counties in terms of votes cast for the Railroad Commissioner’s race:


County    ALONZO   CASTAÑEDA    STONE   WATSON      Total
=========================================================
All        503,666   592,770  380,236  277,578  1,754,250
HARRIS      77,618    85,166   59,552   40,428    262,764
DALLAS      56,824    57,822   48,718   36,255    199,619
TRAVIS      30,199    97,284   37,641   20,290    185,414
BEXAR       50,228    62,708   22,880   16,583    152,399
TARRANT     35,318    36,767   28,238   25,021    125,344
COLLIN      15,227    22,793   18,487    9,250     65,757
EL PASO     25,353    21,426    6,750    7,065     60,594
FORT BEND   12,550    14,895   16,826   12,685     56,956
DENTON      10,804    21,541   14,966    6,851     54,162
WILLIAMSON  11,031    19,375   10,852    9,924     51,182
HIDALGO     24,057    15,382    6,617    3,699     49,755
CAMERON     11,849     9,267    3,691    3,558     28,365
WEBB        13,080     7,841    2,455    1,850     25,226
HAYS         5,161     6,451    6,152    4,059     21,823
MONTGOMERY   4,820     5,963    5,248    3,898     19,929
NUECES       7,364     5,914    3,146    2,424     18,848
BRAZORIA     4,643     4,659    4,961    4,502     18,765
GALVESTON    4,020     5,225    4,914    3,127     17,286
BELL         4,818     4,619    4,056    3,577     17,070
JEFFERSON    4,640     3,132    3,704    4,813     16,289
LUBBOCK      3,462     3,858    2,741    2,081     12,142
MCLENNAN     2,308     3,078    3,623    2,290     11,299
SMITH        2,536     2,512    2,466    2,985     10,499
BRAZOS       3,000     3,429    2,571    1,488     10,488
ELLIS        2,524     2,266    2,410    1,737      8,937

Chrysta Castañeda

Chrysta Castaneda, who led the pack with nearly 34% of the total vote, also led the way in 13 of these 25 counties, including the top six and eight of the top ten. That’s a pretty good recipe for success in the runoff as well. She led in Dallas County, which is the home of runnerup Roberto Alonzo, who represented a State House district in Dallas County for 26 years. Alonzo led in the five big predominantly Latino counties – El Paso, Hidalgo, Cameron, Webb, and Nueces – plus Bell and Ellis Counties. Castaneda leads Alonzo by five points going into the runoff, which is hardly insurmountable, and other than Travis County her lead over him in the biggest counties was small. I feel like Castaneda’s big lead in Travis County is a significant advantage for her for the runoff. It’s hard to project anything based on past primary runoffs because the data set is so small, but given that there will be a Senate runoff as well, and given that Travis County was also a strong performer for MJ Hegar, it could deliver a decent margin for Castaneda in May. If that happens, it may be hard for Alonzo to make up the ground elsewhere.

Of the other candidates, Kelly Stone led in Fort Bend, Brazoria, and McLennan Counties, while Mark Watson topped the field in Smith and Jefferson. There’s another similarity to the Senate race – everyone got to be a leader of the pack. I have no idea how their voters might go in the runoff – neither has made any endorsement, as far as I can tell, and in all honesty that likely would be just a marginal factor. Turnout always drops quite a bit in primary runoffs, and with the coronavirus situation happening now, who knows what effect that may have. I see Castaneda as the solid favorite in this race, but Alonzo can pull it off if he can get his own message out.

Primary precinct analysis: Everyone did something in the Senate primary

MJ Hegar

So while we wait for actual precinct data from the primary, I thought I’d take a look at some county-level data from the non-Presidential races, as they have the county-by-county breakdown on the SOS election night pages. The US Senate primary, with its twelve candidates overall and five topping ten percent seemed like a good spot to do a deeper dive. The main problem is just presenting that much data, as my usual style of doing a table of numbers isn’t going to work well – it’ll be much too crowded and will be hard to spot the interesting bits. So what I thought I’d try was to focus on the counties with the most voters, and to see who did the best in them. I put everything in a spreadsheet, and sorted by total number of voters for each county. I settled on the top thirty to report on, which gave me a good geographic spread and included some big counties that don’t have many Democrats and some smaller counties where nearly everyone voted Democratic. From there, I pulled out the five top performers in each county, to see what story that could tell me.

Rather than try to present that in some form of table here, which would have taken a lot of tedious text formatting on my part, I just put the result into its own spreadsheet, which you can see here. For each of these counties, I reported the top five candidates and gave their vote totals and vote percentage. The top five performers change from one county to the next, so the five selected are listed above each county’s numbers. I think it makes sense, but have a look and let me know if it’s confusing. I’m now going to summarize what I found from this exercise.

MJ Hegar finished first 15 times and second seven times. Only in Webb and Maverick counties did she not finish in the top five. She was especially strong in the Central Texas area as expected, but also finished first in places like Harris, Collin, Denton, Fort Bend, and Montgomery. To me, her performance versus everyone else’s is the difference between having a campaign that has sufficient funding to actually do advertising and other voter outreach, and not having it.

Sen. Royce West

Royce West finished first five times and second four times. He finished outside the top five ten times, including in such large counties as Bexar and El Paso. He won big in Dallas and won Tarrant, but he trailed Hegar in Collin and Denton and finished fifth in Travis. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure what his path to winning the runoff is.

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez had five firsts (Bexar, El Paso, Cameron, Nueces, Brazos) and five seconds (Travis, Webb, Guadalupe, Maverick, Bastrop), but finished outside the top five ten times, including in places like Harris and Hidalgo where you’d think she’d have done better. She finished behind Sema Hernandez at least nine times, and behind Annie Garcia at least ten times. (I say “at least” because there were a few instances in which neither was in the top five, and I didn’t go back to see where they fell.) I thought Tzintzún Ramirez had the potential to be a force, and I still hope she runs for something in the future, but someone who can’t consistently top no-money, no-organization candidates like those two is not exactly encouraging. Tzintzún Ramirez was the Bernie candidate, and you have to ask what good that did her. Actually, if you’re a Bernie person, you really should ask why it is that the larger Bernie movement didn’t provide any noticeable fundraising support for her, and clearly didn’t give her much of a boost in the polls. If you want to see candidates like that actually win races, you really ought to think about those questions. She has endorsed Royce West in the runoff, but I’m not sure how much that will matter.

Did I mention that Annie Garcia, a candidate who had raised less than $22K as of February 12, finished fourth in this race, ahead of people who had run and won elections before like Chris Bell and Amanda Edwards? I have to think that being called “Annie ‘Mama’ Garcia” on the ballot probably helped her in places where people didn’t know that much about the slate. It also makes me wonder why she got to be “Mama” but Carole Keeton Strayhorn didn’t get to be “Grandma”. What exactly are the rules for that, anyway? Be that as it may, Garcia won Webb, Lubbock, and Maverick counties, while finishing second in El Paso, Williamson, Cameron, Hays, and Nueces. She finished in the money in 22 of the 30 counties, more than either West or Tzintzún Ramirez. If you had bet me that a month ago, you would have won my money.

Sema Hernandez won Hidalgo County and Chris Bell won Brazoria, so there are all your first place winners. Hernandez, for those few people who insisted her showing in 2018 made her a legitimate candidate this time around despite raising even less money than Garcia and failing to file any finance reports until Q3 this year, shows up in 18 of these 30 counties, but was mostly shut out of the top ten, finishing fifth in Harris, fifth in Bexar, and fourth in El Paso, failing to break ten percent in any of them. She did finish second in Brazoria County, while Bell was runnerup in Harris, Fort Bend, Galveston, and Lubbock. Amanda Edwards (Montgomery, Bell, Comal) and Michael Cooper (Jefferson) also had second place finishes. Edwards had ten third-place finishes, three fourths, and four fifths, while Cooper also finished fourth in Webb and Maverick, and fifth in Smith.

So that’s six candidates with at least one first place finish, and eight with at least one first or second place finish. Believe it or not, the other four candidates – go ahead, name them right now, I double dog dare you – also had at least one top five finish:

Victor Harris – Hidalgo County, third
Adrian Ocegueda – Cameron County, fifth
D.R. Hunter – Nueces County, fifth
Jack Daniel Foster – Maverick County, fifth

Let’s just say we’ll probably never have an election quite like this one again. I’ll have more of this analysis/trivia for you in the coming days. I’m still waiting for a canvass from Harris County.

It’s even harder to prosecute pot cases now

Such a shame.

What if lawmakers writing one of the most consequential laws to come out of last year’s legislative session, legalizing hemp in Texas, forgot to include a small, but crucial detail that could get your marijuana possession charges dropped?

That’s what happened last week, after a Brazos County court judge concluded the new law omitted a date typically included in state crime legislation. As a result, misdemeanor charges against a Texas A&M University student arrested on the day of his 2018 college graduation were summarily tossed.

The decision is the latest stumbling block that Texas’s nine-month-old hemp law has presented for police and prosecutors committed to pursuing low-level marijuana possession cases. Although the decision does not bind other judges, attorneys said the successful tactic had the potential to change the course of hundreds of pending cases across the state.

[…]

New state crime laws always include a clear dividing line, typically written as a date, said Shannon Edmonds, director of governmental relations for Texas District and County Attorneys Association. Before the date, the old law applies; after, the new law does.

Yet the hemp bill, which was passed through the Agriculture and Livestock Committee instead of the regular criminal justice panels, neglected to specify when the new pot definition started. A little-known provision of Texas law says that without clear transition instructions, if a new law lowers the penalty for a crime it can be applied retroactively.

The district and county attorneys association noted the missing language early on. “The law went into effect on June 10, 2019, but it is unclear whether it applies to previously-filed marijuana cases pending on that date,” it warned In a June letter to member prosecutors.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Tracy King, D-Batesville, did not return a call to his office seeking comment on the AWOL date.

Criminal defense attorneys noticed it, too, and began seeking cases to test if the new law could also be used to challenge older possession charges.

Long story short, they found a defendant in College Station who wanted to have his day in court, and their argument that the new law applied resulted in the dismissal of the case because the cops hadn’t tested the pot they said they found. Testing is another problem for prosecutors, and the DPS has said they don’t have enough money to handle the demand from the locals, leaving them in limbo. Which is fine by me. Let’s keep this natural experiment going and see for ourselves once and for all how little there is to fear from not being hardasses about weed.

Primary early voting: Comparing 2020 to 2016

The Chron looks into the early voting numbers around the state.

Experts cautioned that early voting data should be taken with a grain of salt — for one because the subset of people who vote early aren’t necessarily representative of the entire state.

Texans who vote early tend to be older, economically well-off and better educated and tend to live in urban and suburban areas as opposed to rural ones, according to a 2010 study by Austin Community College.

A lot could change by Super Tuesday, March 3 — in particular how South Carolina’s primary on Saturday might affect undecided Democratic voters in Texas. An untold number of Texans declined to vote early as they held out for those results; others who may not have voted otherwise may be spurred into action by a shift in the race.

“Let’s put it this way: So much happens every day in politics, voters want to wait until the last minute to decide,” Rottinghaus said. “So we could see turnout bigger on election day because you’re going to see more things happen between the end of early voting and election day.”

Voting has also become more accessible for a wider swath of Texans after four of the top five largest counties in 2019, including Harris and Bexar, moved to allow countywide vote centers, meaning polling places are open to all voters no matter where they live. That switch could also boost turnout.

Republican strategist Derek Ryan said the high numbers of voters casting Republican ballots early surprised him, especially with a noncompetitive presidential primary.

“There isn’t really anything necessarily motivating people at the top of the ticket,” Ryan said. “But turnout right now on the Republican side is above what it was in 2008 and 2012. It’s actually closer to what turnout was at this point in 2016 with a contested presidential primary.”

Ryan said he attributes that to the strength of Trump supporters who are “trying to send a message that they’re behind him,” as well as the number of competitive congressional races across the state.

While Democrats’ numbers are high, Ryan said he expected to see the presidential race propel even greater turnout, and he noted that they are still nowhere near the explosive turnout of 2008 when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were going head-to-head for the presidential nomination. That year, turnout in the primary was at about 23 percent for Democrats, with 2.8 million casting ballots, compared to about 11 percent for Republicans, or 1.3 million votes.

Rottinghaus, however, said that year may not be the best comparison point, considering that an unknown number of Republicans were said to have voted in the Democratic open primary as part of “Operation Chaos” to hurt Obama’s chances. Obama and Clinton were also much different candidates, both very well-known and with strong establishment support, compared with the assortment of candidates available to 2020 voters, he said.

With all due respect, I’m not sure how much stock I’d put in a 2010 study of early voting patterns, as we’ve had quite a bit more data since then. Remember, in the November 2008 election, projections of final turnout in Harris County and statewide were wildly optimistic because early voting wound up being a much bigger percentage of final turnout than expected, and that was because we had been used to it being a small share of the electorate. That’s no longer the case, though as we’ve discussed here which type of election it is factors greatly into the calculation. I would expect that a 2020 version of that 2010 study would find different patterns now.

As for the claims about Republican voting in the 2008 Democratic primary, surely by now we can approach a more objective answer to this question. How many people who had a previous Republican primary history but voted Democratic in 2008 then went on to vote in the Republican primary again, in 2010 or 2012? My guess is that it’s a relatively small number, but my point is that someone can actually calculate that number, so no one has to guess any more. In his final email on the primary early vote, Derek Ryan takes a crack at it. I think there’s still work to be done there, but at least he made the attempt, which I appreciate.

We know two things going into Tuesday. One is that overall, nearly as many people voted in the Democratic primary as the Republican primary: 1,085,144 on the Republican side and 1,000,288 Democratic, in each case with a few small counties not having reported yet. And two, where each party’s votes come from is very different.

Let’s take a closer look at that latter statement. Here’s how the top 15 counties performed in 2020 primary early voting:


County   Republican  Democratic
===============================
Harris      104,787     139,256
Dallas       40,996      94,048
Tarrant      68,485      69,508
Bexar        47,101      90,162
Travis       22,901     108,721
Collin       41,400      40,664
Denton       41,366      33,672
El Paso       9,119      33,071
Fort Bend    37,812      34,146
Hidalgo       7,093      46,327
Williamson   23,555      29,621
Montgomery   35,936      10,673

Total       480,551     729,869

Democrats got 73.0% of their total early vote from these big 15 counties. For Republicans, it was 44.3% from the big 15. That’s a significant difference, and I’d say a continuation of the trends we saw that began in 2016 and really blossomed in 2018 where the vote shifted very heavily in the cities and suburbs towards Democrats and in the rural areas towards Republicans. We don’t have early voting information for the other counties in 2016 so we can’t say how big this effect is for the primaries, but we certainly saw it in action in November of 2018.

Now here are the same top 15 counties in 2016:


County   Republican  Democratic
===============================
Harris      131,145      85,793
Dallas       64,274      57,436
Tarrant      95,088      44,308
Bexar        61,139      54,651
Travis       32,350      61,014
Collin       59,739      17,662
Denton       46,298      13,420
El Paso       8,242      17,799
Fort Bend    28,999      14,518
Hidalgo       9,542      43,458
Williamson   31,745      12,981
Montgomery   41,491       4,606

Total       610,052     427,946

It’s important to remember that Republican primary turnout in 2016 was 2.8 million, and for Democrats it was 1.4 million, so we should expect to see bigger Republican totals in almost any subgroup from 2016. To me, the most interesting bit is the big increases in Democratic early voting numbers in Tarrant and the big, historically red suburbs. I would not call what we are seeing here as a clear indicator of continued Democratic growth in these places, but it sure beats the alternative of being stagnant from 2016. I’ll take a much closer look at these numbers after the election.

For grins, I looked at nine more counties, mostly larger, mostly Republican though Dems made gains in 2016 and especially 2018. Many of these feature at least one competitive State House race for November. Here are the EV numbers for these counties in 2020:


County   Republican  Democratic
===============================
Brazoria     24,318      10,163
Nueces        7,865       9,531
Bell         10,964       7,668
Lubbock      18,848       7,047
McLennan     11,430       5,213
Hays          9,315      12,818
Brazos        8,333       4,571
Comal        12,156       4,879
Guadalupe     9,759       4,356

Total       112,988      66,246

Here are those same counties from 2016:


County   Republican  Democratic
===============================
Brazoria     18,313       4,882
Nueces       11,234      11,344
Bell         14,398       3,554
Lubbock      22,919       5,120
McLennan     12,282       2,624
Hays          9,213       6,629
Brazos        9,535       2,328
Comal        13,067       2,370
Guadalupe     8,704       2,321

Total       119,665      41,172

Again, some growth on the Democratic side, with a small decline for Republicans, as before with the caveat about overall turnout. I don’t really have a point to make here, I just got curious and wanted to see this for myself. If nothing else, it’s given me some things to look at again once all the voting is over.

After-deadline filing review: The Lege

Now we come to the State House, which is where most of the action will be in 2020. In 2018, much of the energy and focus was on Congressional races, to the point where some hand-wringing articles were written about the lack of focus and resources on the legislative races. Dems managed to win 12 seats anyway, and by now we all know of the goal of winning nine more to take the majority. Both parties, and a lot of big-money groups, are locked in on this. That’s where we are as we enter the primary season.

So with all that, see here, here, and here for previous entries. The top target list, or at least my version of it, is here. As before, I will skip over the Houston-area races and focus on the ones I haven’t been talking about. Finally, one correction to that post on Houston-area races: I have been informed, and a look at the SOS candidate info page confirms, the two would-be primary challengers to Rep. Hubert Vo in HD149 have been disqualified.

The top targets: I will start with the districts that Beto carried, then move to the next tier.

HD64Angela Brewer, adjunct professor of communication studies at UNT and Collin College. You can see a short video of her talking to a local journo here. This district is in Denton County, where HD65 flipped in 2018.

HD66Sharon Hirsch, a retired Plano ISD employee who came agonizingly close to winning in 2018 (she lost by less than 400 votes, 0.6 percentage points), will try again. Physician Aimee Garza Lopez is also running to take on lousy incumbent Matt Shaheen.

HD67 – Four candidates are running (a fifth withdrew) in a Collin County district that Beto carried by five and a half points (incumbent Jeff Leach held on by 2.2 points). Attorney Tom Adair, attorney and El Salvador native who fled its civil war in the 80s Rocio Gosewehr Hernandez, former teacher and legislative director Anthony Lo, and real estate agent Lorenzo Sanchez are your options.

HD108 – Another heartbreaking loss, as 2018 candidate Joanna Cattanach fell short by 220 votes, 0.2 percentage points. This was the most Republican district in Dallas County – in some sense, still one of the two most Republican districts, since there are only two left held by Republicans – and yet Beto took 57.2% here in 2018. Cattanach, a teacher, is running again, and she has company, from Tom Ervin and Shawn Terry, both businessmen.

HD121 – I feel like this district, which used to be held by Joe Straus, is a bit of an illusion. It looks less red than it is. Beto won it, but only with 49.7%, while new Rep. Steve Allison (who beat a wingnut in the 2018 GOP primary) took it by eight and a half points. I feel confident the Democratic Presidential candidate will carry it, and it may be Dem in some county races downballot, but much like HD134 has done I expect it to stick with its moderate Republican State Rep. Yeah, I know, I’m a buzzkill. Anyway, 2018 candidate Celina Montoya, founder of an educational non-profit, is back, and she’s joined by consultant and Moms Demand Action state leader Becca DeFelice and Jack Guerra, listed on the SOS page as a “small business owner”.

HD96 – We’re now in the districts Beto didn’t carry, though he only missed this one by 91 votes. I’ll be doing these in decreasing order of Beto’s performance. HD96 is one of five – count ’em five – target districts in Tarrant County, mostly thanks to Beto’s performance in 2018. This is now an open seat thanks to a last-minute decision not to file by Bill Zedler, one of the main anti-vaxxers in the Lege. Attorney Joe Drago has the task of flipping this one.

HD54 – Most of the pickup opportunities for Dems are in the urban and big suburban counties, where you would expect them to be. HD54 is one of three that are not. It’s in Central Texas, split between Bell (blue) and Lampasas (red) counties, it’s been a low-key swing district for some time, and Beto got 49.0% there in 2018. Likeithia “Keke” Williams is listed as the candidate – SD24 candidate Clayton Tucker had originally filed for HD54 but switched to the Senate race following her filing. I can’t find any online presence for her – Tucker mentions she’s a veteran, so we know that much – but I sure hope she gets the support she needs to run a serious campaign, because this is a winnable seat.

HD97 – Get ready for a lot of Tarrant County, with one of the other non-traditional targets thrown in. HD97 (Beto 48.6%) was blue for five minutes in 2008, after Dan Barrett won a special election to fill out Anna Mowrey’s term, then lost that November when Republican turnout returned to normal levels. It’s not been on the radar since, and incumbent Craig Goldman won by nine points last year. No one ever said this would be easy. Attorney and veteran Elizabeth Beck and Dan Willis, listed on the SOS page as an eye doctor, fight it out in March to take their shot in November.

HD14 – The second on the three “wait, where is that district again?” seats (it’s in Brazos County, for the record), HD14 put itself on the list by having Beto (48.4%) improve on Hillary Clinton’s performance (38.1%) by over ten points. Was that a fluke, either in 2016 or in 2018? I have no idea, but any district where Beto can get 48.4% is a district where we need to compete. Certified public accountant Janet Dudding and Raza Rahman, a senior at Texas A&M, have the honors of trying to do that competing.

HD92 – This is – or, thankfully and more accurately, was – Jonathan Stickland’s district. Need I say more? The air is fresher already. Steve Riddell, who lost by less than two points to Stickland in this 48.3% Beto district, and attorney and Air Force veteran Jeff Whitfield, are in it.

HD93 – Staying in Tarrant County, we have yet another anti-vaxxer’s district, this one belonging to Matt Krause. What’s in the water out there, y’all? It’s Beto at 48.2%, and Lydia Bean, sociology professor and non-profit founder and 2018 Dem candidate in the district, is back.

HD94 – Tarrant County has punched way above its weight in the Idiot Legislators department lately, thanks to a cluster of loudmouth anti-vaxxers. That group contains HD94 incumbent Tony Tinderholt, who entered the Lege by knocking out a leading pro-public education Republican incumbent, and who is a dangerous lunatic for other reasons. Tarrant County will be less toxic next session with Jonathan Stickland and Bill Zedler retiring, and taking out Tony Tinderholt would also help. Alisa Simmons, who does not have a campaign presence yet, has that task.

HD32 is a weird district. Located in Nueces County, it was a swing seat in the previous decade, finally flipped by then-rising star Juan Garcia in 2008, when Dems held a total of 74 seats. Todd Hunter, who had represented it in earlier years, won it back in 2010 and hasn’t faced a Democratic opponent since. With Beto taking 47.0% there, it’s again in the mix. Eric Holguin, the Democratic candidate in CD27 in 2018, is running in HD32 this cycle.

HD106 – We’re now very much into “stretch” territory, as the last four districts are all under 45% for Beto; this one, which was rehomed from Dallas to Denton County in the 2011 redistricting, scored at 44.2% for Beto and was won by first-term incumbent Jared Patterson with 58.3%. But if 2018 taught us anything, it’s that things can move in a hurry, so I don’t want to overlook potential possibilities, even if they’re more likely to be of interest in the longer term. Jennifer Skidonenko, who identifies herself as a mother and grassroots activist and who is clearly motivated by gun violence, is the candidate.

HD89 – This is the district that used to be held by Jodie Laubenberg. Remember Jodie Laubenberg? She was the author of HB2, the omnibus anti-abortion bill that Wendy Davis filibustered and the Supreme Court eventually rejected. Have I elevated your blood pressure just a little? Good. Laubenberg went off to do whatever horrible things people like her do after they leave the Lege, and Candy Noble is her replacement in this Beto 43.5% district. Sugar Ray Ash, the 2018 Dem nominee who is a veteran, former postal worker, tax attorney, DMN endorsed, and all around interesting guy, is back for another shot, and he has company in the person of Jon Cocks, whose website is from a prior race for Mayor of Fairview.

HD122 – The most Republican district in Bexar County, held by Greg Abbott frenemy Lyle Larson, Beto got 43.4% here, while Larson himself was getting almost 62 percent. Claire Barnett is a consultant for adult education programs and was the Democratic nominee here in 2018. She’s making another run in 2020.

HD84 – Last but not least, this is in some ways my favorite district on the list because it’s where you might least expect it – HD84 is in Lubbock County. Calling it a swing district is certainly a stretch – Beto got 43.1% in 2018, a big improvement over Hillary Clinton’s 34.8% in 2016, and incumbent John Frullo won by 20 points. But the direction is encouraging, and we’ve known since the 2011 redistricting cycle that one could build a Dem-leaning district in Lubbock if one were so inclined. If nothing else, keep that in mind as a thing to work for in the 2021 session. John Gibson, attorney and the Chair of the Lubbock County Democratic Party, announced his candidacy on Monday, deadline day, which made me happy because I’d been afraid we were skipping that race. I’m so glad we’re not.

I’ve still got judicial candidates and maybe a look at Fort Bend County candidates to look at. Stay tuned.

Early voting in the “next” 15 counties

As you know, there’s been a lot written about primary turnout in the top 15 counties by voter registration in Texas. Much has been said about the large increase in Democratic turnout, accompanied by the much milder increase – and in some counties, decrease – in Republican turnout when compared to 2014 and 2010. This is great, but Texas has 254 counties, and there are a lot of decent-sized metro areas that are not represented in the coverage we’ve seen, Moreover, while the top 15 counties include many blue and purplish counties, the next 15 are much more tilted to the red side. Here, by my reckoning, are those counties:

Bell (Killeen/Temple/Belton)
Lubbock
Jefferson (Beaumont)
McLennan (Waco)
Smith (Tyler)
Webb (Laredo)
Hays (San Marcos)
Brazos (Bryan/College Station)
Ellis (Waxahachie)
Guadalupe (Seguin)
Comal (New Braunfels)
Johnson (Cleburne)
Parker (Weatherford)
Randall (Amarillo)
Midland

Webb is strong Democratic; Hays and Jefferson are quasi-Democratic; the rest are varying shades of red. I wanted to know how voting was going in these counties, so off to Google I went. The best story I found in my searches came from Smith County:

Early voting ticked up among Smith County voters for the March primary, and about half of the increase came from people casting ballots for Democrats.

A total of 12,926 early ballots were cast in Smith County, according to the county’s elections division. By party, there were 10,994 ballots cast for Republicans and 1,932 cast for Democrats.

Overall, the numbers represent a 9.5 percent increase in early voting overall as compared with 2014, the last time there was a primary election for local and statewide offices but no candidate for president.

By party, the 2018 early voting numbers represent a 5.6 percent increase for Republicans, who cast 10,409 early ballots in 2014, and a 38.5 percent increase for Democrats, who cast 1,395 early ballots in 2014.

Early voting lasted approximately two weeks, from Feb. 20 through Friday. Polling places were open in five locations in Tyler, Lindale, Whitehouse and Noonday. The primary election is Tuesday.

Mark Owens, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Tyler, said much of the increase in early voters in 2018 could be attributed to an increasing population in Smith County.

The number of registered voters in Smith County is 131,007 in the 2018 primary, a 5.8 percent increase over the 123,867 registered voters at the time of the 2014 primary, according to Owens.

Owens called the early voting turnout “just on par for a growing area.” However, he credited Democrats for having an impact on the increase in early voters in conservative Smith County.

In raw numbers, 1,122 more Smith County residents voted in 2018 over 2014. Republicans accounted for 585 of those ballots, and Democrats accounted for 537 of them.

“To the Democrats’ credit, the voter mobilization efforts are stronger in the fact that this isn’t a primary with as many leading elections at the top of the ticket, so they would see it, from their perspective, of people wanting to vote for (their candidates),” Owens said.

“A really big part of it is candidates coming out to East Texas to listen and encouraging people to go vote,” Owens said. “I think if you look at the numbers, that means something to people.”

I’d call that encouraging. Dems are still vastly outnumbered, but they showed up and increased their totals over 2014. Indeed, the total number of votes cast in the Democratic primary in 2014 was 2,328, so early voting turnout there came close to matching that by itself.

That’s about as good as it gets in terms of being specific. This Lubbock story is pretty representative:

Heading into the last day of early voting for the 2018 primaries, the Associated Press reported that Texas had already set a non-presidential cycle record for the number of people turning out. Before Friday, more than 583,000 Texans in the 15 largest counties had cast early ballots in person, which was already more than the then-record of nearly 510,000 who did so during early voting for 2014′s midterm election.

In Lubbock County there were 15,430 total ballots cast during the 11 days of early voting. That means about 9 percent of registered voters took advantage of the early voting period.

About 400 more votes in Lubbock county were actually cast this year than during early voting in 2014, the last midterm election. This year’s total is about 8,700 votes less than in 2010. During the last primary in 2016, more than 25,000 votes were cast in early voting.

[…]

The Lubbock County Elections Office hasn’t yet released the separate vote totals for the Republican and Democratic primaries.

Some of these places make you downright wistful for Stan Stanart. Here’s Hays County:

As of Feb. 26, 4,658 early votes have been accounted for at seven different locations spread across the county. This does not account for the nearly 2,000 votes submitted to the county by mail.

In total, around 6,600 have been counted for, shattering the numbers from previous election cycles in 2014 and 2016.

According to Hays County numbers, roughly 4,500 people voted early in the November Presidential 2016 election, while only 1,768 early votes were counted in November 2014 race.

“We’ve had a very high turnout considering the political season we are in,” said Jennifer Anderson, elections administrator for Hays County. “Democratic turnout has been good and that is to be expected considering the national swing we had with the Presidential election.”

[…]

So far, roughly 53 percent of the early voting population voted in the Republican Primary, while 46 percent of the early votes took part in the Democratic Primary.

At least that’s something to go on. In 2014, 8,521 votes were cast in the Republican primary for Governor (this isn’t the same as turnout, since people do undervote in individual races, but I can’t get to the Hays County elections page as I write this, so it will have to do), compared to 3,131 votes in the Dem primary for Governor. If the split this year is something like 53-46, then the Dem share is up by a lot. That’s very good to see.

From Comal County:

Registered voters in Comal and Guadalupe counties have their last chance to cast early ballots today for candidates competing in Tuesday’s Republican and Democratic primary elections.

Voters in both counties flocked to the polls during the 12-day early voting period, which began Feb. 20. Through last Tuesday, 5,654 Comal County residents — about 6 percent of the county’s 95,353 registered voters — had cast early ballots, running ahead of the number and percentage of registered voters who turned out in the 2014 midterm elections.

The rest is behind a paywall. Comal is deep red – think Montgomery County-deep red – so this will be worth watching. In 2014, there were 14,458 Republican primary gubernatorial votes, and 1,647 Democratic votes, so you can see what I mean. Neighboring Guadalupe County has a bit more detail:

Guadalupe County Elections Administrator Lisa Adam said area residents have slowly begun increasing their presence at the polls.

“Our numbers this week have already been higher than in the 2014 gubernatorial primary,” she said. “The first week’s numbers for this year were a little lower than they were in 2014. This week we are actually ahead than the second week of early voting in 2014; not by leaps and bounds, but we are ahead.”

[…]

“In the 2014 primary, we had 81,217 registered voters,” she said. “Right now, as of Feb. 1 we have 95,717. We’ve come a long way. We’re adding 300 to 400 registered voters a month. The growth our county is experiencing is incredible.”

In that election cycle, the county saw 14.2 percent of the voting population turn out for the Republican Primary and 2.1 percent for the Democratic Primary, Adam said.

1,688 Dem gubernatorial primary votes, 11,196 Republican. Again, there’s lots of room to grow here.

Brazos County:

Early voting before the March 6 primaries wrapped up Friday with 5,933 Brazos County voters casting ballots.

Most of those, 4,144, came from Republicans, and 1,789 Democrats voted early. The total for the two-week early voting period was helped by a push of 1,467 voters Friday. There are about 105,000 registered voters in the county.

That’s burying the lede here. In the 2014 gubernatorial primary there were 1,927 total Dem votes, and 10,665 total Rep votes. In other words, Dems are way up. Republicans, not so much.

For McLennan County, I turn to my friend Carmen Saenz:

Final numbers for 2018 early voting in McLennan County primary:
Dems: 3054 – 28% of total
GOP: 7778 – 72% of total

Relative to 2014 early voting in the McLennan County primary:
Dems 1085 – 18% of total
GOP 4940 – 82% of total

Although there is a 181.5% increase in the number of Dems voting and only a 57.5% increase in GOP, with an overall increase of 80% these numbers say a lot about the McLennan County Democratic Party.

In a lot of the counties, we’ve seen Dem numbers up a lot with Republican numbers not up much if at all. Both are up here, which makes McLennan a bit of an outlier.

The city of Amarillo is in both Randall and Potter counties. I didn’t find a good story for Randall County, but I did find this for Potter:

In Potter County, there have been 4,940 votes in-person and mail-in since Feb 27. That number is expected to increase by seven tonight, at the end of early voting.

In the 2016 Presidential Primaries, there were 5,284 early votes cast in Potter County.
Breaking down the numbers even further, 4,128 Republicans cast their vote in Potter County, during early voting.

That has surpassed the numbers from the 2016 election, which topped out at 4,031 votes. The Democrats have cast 821 votes, slightly less than 2016 early voting at 988.

That’s 2016. If you look at 2014, there were 810 total votes cast in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. So yeah, it’s up.

Last but not least, Midland County:

The elections offices in Midland and Ector County has seen a dip in voter turnout this early voting season.

As of Friday afternoon in Ector County, election officials counted 5,300 voters.

There are over 74,000 registered voters in Ector County.

[…]

As of Friday morning in Midland County, the total number ballots counted was a little over 6,200.

There are over 81,000 registered voters in Midland County.

2014 gubernatorial primaries:

Ector County – 1,320 Dems, 7,778 Republicans
Midland County – 960 Dems, 12,640 Republicans

If there’s a downward trend in these places, it’s probably not because of the Dems.

I’ll return to this later in the week. For now, this is where we stand.

New map, new opportunities: Outside the urban areas, part 1

Here’s the first post in my series of analyses of the new districts. I’m using 2008 electoral data, since the next election is a Presidential year, and I feel confident that the districts were drawn with an eye strongly towards protecting Republican gains in such a year. Without further ado, here we go.

HD12

District: 12

Incumbent: None

Counties: McLennan (part), Limestone, Falls, Robertson, Brazos (part)

Best 2008 Dem performance: Sam Houston, 46.67%

This district contains parts of Jim Dunnam’s old district, with the eastern part of the old HD57 being chopped off and reconstituted to accommodate Marva Beck. Lack of an incumbent is a big part of the draw here. A big downside is the eight point spread from the top of the ticket – neither Obama nor Noriega cracked 40% – to the Sam Houston number, which suggests that any Democratic candidate may have to swim against the tide. Lack of an incumbent also means you can’t accuse the other guy of voting to gut public education. Not a top priority, and may never be on the radar, but deserves a decent candidate for the first go-round at least.

HD17

District: 17

Incumbent: Tim Kleinschmidt (first elected in 2008)

Counties: Lee, Bastrop, Caldwell, Gonzales, Karnes

Best 2008 Dem performance: Susan Strawn, 48.27% (plurality)

Big change in this district, which used to contain Burleson, Colorado, Fayette, and parts of Brazos. Basically, it shifted south. Bastrop is the population center, and it was a purple county in 2008, with Strawn and Sam Houston scoring pluralities there. The more it becomes an Austin suburb a la Hays and Williamson, the better the prospects for a win. This district was on the radar for Dems in 2008 as an open D seat and in 2010, and I expect it will continue to be.

HDs 32 and 34

District: 32
District: 34

Incumbent: Todd Hunter (HD32, first elected in 2008); Raul Torres and Connie Scott (HD34, first elected in 2010)

Counties: Nueces

Best Dem performance in 2008: For HD32, Sam Houston, 46.20%. For HD34, Sam Houston, 58.83%

HD32 can charitably be described as a reach if Hunter runs for re-election. Nueces County has been trending away from the Democrats, the three counties that were removed from HD32 (Aransas, Calhoun, and San Patricio) were a net winner for Juan Garcia, whom Hunter defeated in 2008, and Hunter has done very well both in terms of fundraising and moving up the ladder in his two terms. However, it’s the worst kept secret in the state that Hunter wants to run for Congress, and if that map is at all favorable to him this seat may be open in 2012. So keep that in the back of your mind.

I’ll be honest, I’m not really sure why Torres and Scott were paired, unless they were considered to be hopeless cases for salvation. This is the more Democratic part of Nueces, with all Dems in 2008 winning a majority, up to 20 points in their favor downballot. This has got to be one of the easiest pickup opportunities for the Dems in 2012.

HD35

District: 35

Incumbent: Jose Aliseda (first elected in 2010)

Counties: Atascosa, LaSalle, McMullen, Live Oak, Bee, San Patricio, Duval

Best 2008 Dem performance: Sam Houston, 50.77%

Republicans have been trying to carve out a South Texas district for themselves for awhile, and this one may be their best shot going forward. The good news for them is that McCain and Cornyn scored solid wins in 2008, with McCain getting nearly 55% and Cornyn 51%. The bad news is that Dems carried the rest of the races, with Houston, Strawn, and Linda Yanez all getting majorities. Aliseda got into one of the more entertaining kerfuffles during the House debate over HB150; I don’t know if he got what he wanted or not, but what he got is a very swingy district that may be a battleground through the decade.

HD41

District: HD41

Incumbent: Aaron Pena (first elected as a Democrat in 2002, switched parties after the 2010 election)

Counties: Hidalgo (part)

Best Dem performance in 2008: Sam Houston, 60.15%

I can’t think of a single seat the Democrats would like to win more than this one. Technically, Pena is the incumbent in HD40, and Veronica Gonzales is the incumbent in HD41, but as the Legislative Study Group noted:

CSHB150 also radically changes Hidalgo County districts in an effort to squeeze a partisan performing district out of the existing population. The incumbent in HD 40 would only represent 1.5 % of his current district, and the incumbent in HD 41 would only represent 1.1 % of her district. The gerrymandered map in Hidalgo County takes great pains to draw the incumbents in HD 40 and 41 into almost entirely new districts, narrowing down to one city block at times.

For this reason, the district numbers were swapped, thus giving Pena and Gonzales most of their previous constituents back. Despite being on the Redistricting Committee and drawing what one presumes was the best map he could for himself, Pena isn’t exactly sitting pretty. The low score among Democrats was Obama’s 54.83%, with everyone but Jim Jordan getting at least 56%. Do his constituents love him enough to overcome the party label or not? Assuming he does run for re-election, that is.

Peña said he is in employment negotiations with a law firm that would require him to move out of the Valley. If he does take the job, he said, he won’t seek office in 2012.

In other words, he’s got a graceful way out if he decides that he can’t win his custom-designed district. We’ll find out soon enough. More non-urban areas coming up next.

Ike Dike update

As the first Atlantic tropical storms of the year make their appearance, we get an update on the proposed Ike Dike.

One of Hurricane Ike’s legacies may be the hardening of the upper Texas coast against hurricane storm surges.

Within weeks, a post-Ike committee appointed by Gov. Rick Perry will recommend that six Texas counties band together to form a storm surge suppression zone.

In effect, this would empower the counties — Harris, Galveston, Brazoria, Orange, Chambers and Jefferson — to seek state and federal funding and identify the best system of dikes, gates and seawalls to protect coastal communities — including the city of Houston and its Ship Channel industries — from devastating surges.

“We would like the counties to work together to study the potential of protective measures, whether it’s a levee system, a dike, an offshore barrier or something else,” said former Harris County Judge Robert Eckels, who chaired the Ike committee.

Ultimately, such a project is likely to cost billions, with funds coming primarily from the federal government.

Oh, that evil, evil federal government and its dirty, dirty money! Always doing things for us that we’re unable to do for ourselves. Why must we suffer under the burden of their yoke?

The recommendation will come amid a growing discussion in the area on whether Ike’s primary lesson should be to harden the Texas coast against storm surges, or to pull back from development in threatened areas such as Bolivar Peninsula.

The committee appears to back the “Ike Dike” approach advocated by oceanographer William Merrell of Texas A&M University at Galveston.

[…]

“We viewed the Ike Dike as an interesting idea, but not necessarily the solution,” Eckels said. “It’s a good starting point.”

He said area county judges are receptive to studying the idea further. But some, including Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, are skeptical.

“It’s an expensive proposition for a potential protection from one hurricane factor — storm surge — while doing nothing to protect us from wind, which was obviously a great problem here in Harris County,” said Emmett’s spokesman, Joe Stinebaker.

Additionally, many environmentalists and scientists believe more coastal development — which a dike could encourage — is not the best public policy.

In June the Houston Endowment gave $1.25 million to Rice University’s Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters center, in part to study coastal development and storm surges.

The money will allow environmental attorney and coastal expert Jim Blackburn and others to explore alternative visions to simply hardening the coast as part of a report due in two years.

Blackburn says dike alternatives include turning much of Bolivar Peninsula into a national seashore and expanding wildlife refuges in Chambers and Jefferson counties.

“Perhaps the coast should just be a place to visit,” Blackburn suggested. “Everyone who goes there wants to move in. I understand that, but maybe unfettered development right on the beach is not the best public policy.”

I have a lot of sympathy for that position. I also have a lot of doubt that the political support to go that route. Is there a viable non-dike solution if you assume that the current level of development will remain as is? I could maybe see that happening. Alternately, I could see putting some restrictions on new development, which maybe you could get through as an accompaniment to an Ike Dike. I’ll be very interested to see what their proposed alternatives are, but I have my doubts as to their prospects.

Challenging Chet

Via Eye on Williamson, I see the national GOP is once again looking to try to beat Rep. Chet Edwards in CD17.

There’s little question Republicans are looking to target Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Texas), who could face yet another tough re-election in his solidly conservative Waco-based seat. The question is who his opponent will be.

Both experienced and inexperienced Republicans are preparing their Federal Election Commission forms in Texas’ 17th district, encouraged by a strong showing by poorly funded 2008 nominee Rob Curnock.

Curnock held Edwards to 53 percent of the vote, despite receiving almost no support from the national party. Curnock, a small-business owner from Waco, plans to run again and hopes this time he’ll receive more support from national and local party leaders.

I think the key here is to compare Edwards’ 2004 performance with his 2008 performance, since I believe the non-Presidential year will be more favorable to him as it was in 2006. Here’s a Google spreadsheet that compares Edwards’ performance in each of CD17’s counties to John Kerry in 2004 and to Barack Obama in 2008. What I did in each was compare Edwards’ performance to that of the Democratic presidential candidate, and then compared the ratio from 2004 to that of 2008.

I think the story of these two elections is in the three biggest counties: Brazos, Johnson, and McClennan. In 2004, Edwards barely eked out a plurality in Brazos, got clobbered in Johnson, and won big in McClennan. In 2008, Edwards won a solid majority in Brazos, improved noticeably in Johnson, and won a smaller majority in McClennan.

His improvement in Brazos, I believe, can be largely attributed to an overall improvement in Democratic performance there. John McCain got almost exactly as many votes as George Bush did, while Barack Obama added over 4000 votes to John Kerry’s tally; meanwhile, Curnock did almost as well as Arlene Wohlgemuth while Edwards increased his total by 5000 votes. While there were probably a few Wohlgemuth voters who switched to Edwards in 2008, for the most part there were just a lot more people voting Democratic.

By contrast, Edwards’ improvement in Johnson is all him. McCain gained 1800 votes over Bush, and Obama added 600 to Kerry’s total, leaving their percentage almost identical to 2004, while Curnock lost 1500 votes and Edwards added 4200. Clearly, Curnock was a weaker candidate than Wohlgemuth, who was also from Johnson County and surely benefited from being a hometown girl, but Edwards did more than just take advantage of that difference.

Finally, McClennan presents an interesting case. Edwards won it by 23,000 votes in 2004, and was in net negative territory everywhere else. In 2008, he would have won even if all of McClennan’s votes were thrown out, but he only carried McClennan by 16,000 votes, and that was with Obama getting 37% to Kerry’s 33%. Here, Curnock’s residency in Waco likely helped him. Similarly, a local issue having to do with water rights that Edwards tied around Wohlgemuth’s neck back in 2004 was not on the table this time around. Unlike Johnson County, not being Arlene Wohlgemuth, especially not being Arlene Wohlgemuth in 2004, worked to the GOP’s advantage.

Based on all this, I’d venture that Edwards will likely do fine in 2010, barring any national headwinds against the Dems. If the NRCC dream candidate of State Sen. Steve Ogden jumps in, that would make for a hell of a race, but Ogden is up for re-election himself in 2010, so he’d have to give up his Senate seat and his powerful spot as chair of the Finance Committee to do that. I don’t know that a chance to maybe be in the House minority is worth that, but we’ll see.