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Cameron County

Redistricting litigation update

Reform Austin shows that the state’s legal defense strategy against the various redistricting lawsuits is “You can’t sue us!”

Because of the clear racial gerrymandering, multiple groups are launching legal challenges under the Voting Rights Act. The state has now responded to the one being brought by the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Mi Familia Vota, the Mexican American Bar Association, and others, asking for a dismissal. Among many other claims, the state alleges that private citizens do not have standing to sue under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

“The Supreme Court has never decided whether Section 2 contains an implied private cause of action,” reads the filing.

Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act makes it illegal to gerrymander a district for the purpose of suppressing voting power based on race. Strictly political gerrymandering was deemed acceptable in a 2019 Supreme Court case, but the two intentions are often intermingled. The majority of minorities tend to vote Democrat, making any political gerrymandering also racial almost by definition.

The filing by the state does admit that some legal opinions have implied that Section 2 does give private citizens standing to sue but says that these implications are inconsistent with other Supreme Court decisions. The case specifically cited is Alexander vs. Sandoval, which found that regulations enacted under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not confer the right to legal action in a case of non-intentional discrimination. The filing also claims that the Voting Rights Act did not actually create a right to vote in spite of the discrimination, and therefor there is no right to be contested under its statute.

Not a whole lot to say here, as Texas has employed a variation on that strategy in a whole host of lawsuit defenses lately. I don’t know what the district and appeals courts will make of that, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it get a warm welcome at SCOTUS. Hey, have I mentioned lately that a new and updated federal voting rights law would be a good idea? Just checking.

Reading that article made me go Google news hunting for anything else I could find on redistricting litigation, since not all developments make their way into the sources I read regularly. In doing so I found that all but one of the existing federal cases against the redistricting maps have been consolidated into one, the LULAC v Texas case, as it was the first one filed. You can see all of the filings related to this omnibus case here. When I read the order combining the cases, the motion for which had been partially opposed, I learned that there were two other lawsuits that I had missed the first time around. Let me sum up here. The cases that I knew about that are now under this banner: The LULAC/MALDEF suit, the Voto Latino suit, the federal MALC suit, the Senator Powell lawsuit over SD10, and the Fair Maps Texas Action Committee lawsuit.

The cases that I missed the first time around: The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, representing the Texas State Conference of the NAACP, and Damon James Wilson, formerly an inmate in Dallas County, representing himself as he was counted in one Congressional district while incarcerated but intends to return to his actual domicile in another CD when released, and says he should have been counted in that district.

The one federal case that remains separate from the others is the Gutierrez/Eckhardt suit, which the court rejected for consolidation on the grounds that about whether the Lege was allowed to draw maps at all, and not about the composition of the new maps.

So, for those of you keeping score at home, we now have two federal lawsuits challenging different aspects of Texas redistricting, and one state lawsuit that focuses on the county line rule and how it was allegedly violated in Cameron County in the drawing on HDs 35 and 37. You’ll be quizzed on this at a later date, so please make sure you take good notes.

A redistricting lawsuit twofer from MALC

One federal, one state.

The Mexican American Legislative Caucus in the Texas House has opened a second front in the legal war over the state’s new political maps.

The caucus on Wednesday turned to the state courts to challenge the constitutionality of the new state House map, arguing it violates state requirements for breaking county lines in drawing up the chamber’s 150 districts. The move comes on the heels of two lawsuits filed against the newly approved maps in federal court. The caucus on Wednesday simultaneously filed another federal lawsuit alleging the state’s new maps were drawn with discriminatory intent and violate the federal Voting Rights Act.

Texas redistricting fights have typically played out in federal courts, which decade after decade have found that lawmakers, often intentionally, flouted federal protections for voters of color in redistricting. Filed in Austin, MALC framed its federal lawsuit as an effort to “redress once again Texas’s sordid pattern of racial discrimination.”

However, the lawsuit filed in state district court in Travis County is tied to language in the state Constitution, which states that legislators drawing 150 districts for the Texas House are supposed to keep whole counties that have sufficient population to make up one House district.

MALC’s challenge centers on the reconfiguration of Cameron County in the Rio Grande Valley, which breaks the county line twice to create three different districts — only one of which is wholly contained within the county. The state’s “county line rule,” MALC argues, would require two districts to be drawn within Cameron with the remaining population connected to a single neighboring district, as was the case under the map the state used for the last decade.

The new lines in Cameron, drawn over the objections of lawmakers who represent the affected areas, would afford Republicans a newly competitive state House seat in an area currently dominated by Democrats. In its federal lawsuit, MALC alleges the lines would also “severely dilute” the ability of Latinos and the Spanish-speaking community in the area to elect their preferred candidates.

The swap and the objections to it are noted in this post. This is the first state court lawsuit against the redistricting effort, though the Gutierrez/Eckhardt suit will find its way there as well. The claim seems pretty straightforward. According to the population report for the State House map, HD37 has 164K voters in Cameron County and 20K in Willacy, while HD35 has 70K in Cameron and 123K in Hidalgo. All 186K voters in HD35 are in Cameron. The suit claims that according to the county rule in the state constitution, HD37 should be entirely within Cameron County, and those Willacy County voters would need to be swapped out, presumably to HD35 where about 20K of its voters would have to be in HD37. Here’s a quote from the lawsuit:

A key principle in both the plain language of the Texas Constitution itself and the Texas Supreme Court’s interpretation of the county line rule in light of Reynolds, is that for any county which has enough population for one or more representatives and also has a left-over surplus that cannot be wholly contained in the county, that surplus may only be joined in one single representative district with area from another contiguous county or counties.

Emphasis mine. I will note that HDs 35 (57-42 for Biden in 2020 and 38 (62-37 Biden) are reasonably Dem-friendly, while HD37 (51-48 Biden) is less so. Now, Willacy County was roughly 56-44 for Biden, so how Dem-friendly the HD35 portion of Cameron County is makes a difference here. I have to assume it’s better for Dems than the Willacy portion is, because otherwise the Republicans wouldn’t have bothered. Maybe they could still squeeze HD37 in a favorable way for themselves if it had to be entirely within Cameron, but in the end they didn’t. So this could be a difference maker, if the plaintiffs win.

On the federal side:

In its federal lawsuit, MALC challenges the new maps for Congress, the Texas House and the State Board of Education, saying they are intentionally discriminatory and mired in illegal racial gerrymanders. The caucus also raises specific claims on a litany of districts where they allege the Legislature packed and cracked communities of color to limit their electoral impact.

“The plans adopted by the State not only failed to increase Latino and minority opportunities for representation, they actually decreased them while increasing the number of districts in which Anglos form a majority of the eligible voter population,” the MALC complaint reads. “This turns the concept of representative democracy on its head.”

Echoing the two federal lawsuits already in the pipeline, MALC is also challenging the Legislature’s refusal to create additional districts in which Hispanic voters would control elections. Republicans, who had complete control over the redistricting process this year, declined to create those districts even as they reconfigured the congressional map to include the two additional U.S. House seats the state gained, the most of any state in this year’s reapportionment, because of its explosive growth.

See here and here for the other federal lawsuits. I don’t know what new MALC is bringing to the table, and as discussed I don’t have much faith in the federal courts on this matter, but I welcome all comers. The Statesman has more.

The mask rebellion

Sweet, sweet music to the ears.

The local mask rebellion, coupled with the fresh threat of legal action from President Joe Biden’s administration, poses the most serious challenge yet to [Gov. Greg] Abbott’s emergency powers, which he has wielded in unprecedented ways that have drawn intense criticism both from Democrats and from some conservatives.

[…]

Many school boards and superintendents are stuck between conflicting requirements from the governor and their local health departments, while others feel that masks are essential and that they have the authority to control their own schools, regardless of the governor’s wishes.

“I don’t think the governor has an MD next to his name,” said Conrado Garcia, superintendent of West Oso Independent School District in Corpus Christi. “We’re just trying to help our kids, and maybe what’s missing is some of that kind of thinking.”

West Oso is one of 58 school districts deemed “noncompliant” with Abbott’s order by Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is publishing a list of the rogue government entities.

At last count, the list also included three charter school groups, one city and eight counties — Bexar, Cameron, Dallas, Harris, Hays, Hidalgo, Nueces and Travis — for a total of 70 entities. Paxton, who is also suing to overturn some of the local mandates, encouraged the public to notify his office of any “violator” that was not included on the list.

Garcia said he hopes Abbott will come around on the local mask mandates.

“Our intention is not to fight the governor, our intentions are that he will realize that there’s so many parents, and the list is growing of the number of school districts that are passing more and more resolutions,” Garcia said. “So I think eventually, somewhere, somehow, common sense dictates to me that if you’re hearing from that many people, I hope that he will compromise and let us continue with our work.”

The cases pose a new legal test for Abbott, whose emergency orders withstood early challenges from the right, filed by conservative groups that argued against business closures and the governor’s own mask mandate.

The Texas Supreme Court decided last year that it didn’t have standing to take up those cases, though Justice John Devine nonetheless issued an opinion in which he critiqued a portion of state law that allows the governor to suspend certain laws and rules during emergencies.

“I find it difficult to square this statute, and the orders made under it, with the Texas Constitution,” Devine wrote, noting that only the Legislature — not the judiciary or executive branches — has constitutional power to suspend laws.

In the latest mask challenges, local officials are citing the same portion of state law, but with the opposite intent: to stop Abbott from blocking local action aimed at blunting the spread of COVID. In cases involving San Antonio’s and Dallas’ mask mandates, local officials have argued that Abbott may suspend only local orders that would “in any way prevent, hinder or delay necessary action in coping with a disaster.”

Ron Beal, an attorney and former administrative law professor at Baylor University, sided with the local officials in an amicus brief submitted to the state Supreme Court on Monday.

“It is wholly inconsistent with the legislative intent for the governor to consciously and knowingly not meet or prevent the dangers, but to enhance them,” Beal said. “There is simply no language in the statute that empowers the governor to give citizens permission to prolong the disaster. It is thereby void.”

[Dale Carpenter, a constitutional law professor at Southern Methodist University], said the case raises difficult constitutional questions for the conservative jurists on the court.

“That cuts a number of ways in this case, both for and against the governor, because he’s acting in a way that many conservatives believe is reinforcing individual rights to choice, choice about wearing masks specifically,” Carpenter said. “But I think the court certainly doesn’t want to issue an opinion that says the governor’s the commander-in-chief and he can do what he wants, and not qualify that opinion a lot.”

[…]

Paris ISD, in Northeast Texas, has taken a novel approach to its own mask mandate. While other districts have argued that health data or conflicting local requirements required them to ignore Abbott’s order, Paris ISD’s board simply amended its dress code to include a mask.

The lawyer for the district, Dennis Eichelbaum, argues that so long as the state’s education law remains in place, school districts have the exclusive right to govern themselves. Unless Abbott decides to use his emergency powers to suspend that law, Eichelbaum argues, school districts can institute mask mandates.

“We’ve always had dress codes. It’s very common in Texas. And this is no different, really, than saying we’re requiring our students to wear shoes,” he said. “I can’t explain why other law firms weren’t as creative, but it seems pretty simple to me.”

Eichelbaum argued that Abbott’s executive order is vague and inconsistently enforced, pointing to requirements that students wear face masks during welding class or that baseball catchers and football players wear face protection. Amending a dress code to include masks to protect against COVID is no different, Eichelbaum said.

Obviously, I am delighted by the resistance to Abbott’s shameful demagoguery on this issue. Abbott, who has made a career out of defying federal laws and directives he doesn’t like, deserves no sympathy for any of this. I don’t know what the Supreme Court will do, though their refusal to just call an end to all the litigation is moderately heartening, and I appreciate the legal analysis in this story. There’s at least a chance that common sense can prevail, and that’s more than we’ve had around here in awhile.

I will say, it’s been this kind of resistance to Abbott’s anti-mask mandate, which as noted has come from some red areas as well as the cities, that makes me give some credence to that Spectrum/Ipsos poll. Abbott may only care about the most fervid of Republican primary voters, but mayors and school boards have to answer to a broader electorate, and some of them will be facing that music this year. Maybe one of the HISD Trustee candidates, especially one in a district formerly held by a Republican, will base their campaign on an anti-mask platform, but if so I haven’t seen any evidence of it yet. If nothing else, this is a big campaign issue for next year, when we finally get a candidate for Governor out there.

Precinct analysis: State House district changes by demography

Introduction
Congressional districts
State Rep districts
Commissioners Court/JP precincts
Comparing 2012 and 2016
Statewide judicial
Other jurisdictions
Appellate courts, Part 1
Appellate courts, Part 2
Judicial averages
Other cities
District Attorney
County Attorney
Sheriff
Tax Assessor
County Clerk
HCDE
Fort Bend, part 1
Fort Bend, part 2
Fort Bend, part 3
Brazoria County
Harris County State Senate comparisons
State Senate districts 2020
State Senate district comparisons
State House districts 2020, part 1
State House districts 2020, part 2
Median districts

I return once again to doing cycle-over-cycle comparisons in vote turnout, in this case for State House districts. There are a lot of them, and I’m not going to do them all but I am going to do enough of them that I will split this into two parts. Part One, this post, will group districts by demographic groups. Part Two, to come later, will be to group them by counties of interest.

First up, just to ease ourselves in, are the four big urban districts that are Anglo, wealthy, highly college-educated, and swung hard towards the Democrats since 2012:


Dist  12-16R  12-16D  16-20R  16-20D  12-20R  12-20D Dem net
============================================================
134  -10,943  15,312   6,540  17,771  -4,403  33,083  37,486
047   -2,005  14,218  13,145  27,678  11,140  41,896  30,756
108   -5,942  12,553   8,628  17,929   2,686  30,482  27,796
121   -4,020   6,534   6,059  15,078   2,039  21,612  19,573

As discussed before, the columns represent the difference in vote total for the given period and party, so “1216” means 2012 to 2016, “1620” means 2016 to 2020, and “1220” means 2012 to 2020. Each column has a D or an R in it, so “1216R” means the difference between 2016 Donald Trump and 2012 Mitt Romney for the Presidential table, and so forth. In each case, I subtract the earlier year’s total from the later year’s total, so the “-9,951” for SD114 in the “1216R” column means that Donald Trump got 9,951 fewer votes in 2016 in SD14 than Mitt Romney got, and the “56,887” for SD14 in the “1216D” column means that Hillary Clinton got 56,887 more votes than Barack Obama got. “Dem net” at the end just subtracts the “1220R” total from the “1220D” total, which is the total number of votes that Biden netted over Obama. Got it? Good.

Despite the large swings, only the top two are now Dem-held. HD108 managed to remain in the hands of Rep. Morgan Meyer despite being carried by statewide Dems all the way down the ballot, while HD121 still remains somewhat Republican-leaning. I don’t know what magic Republicans have in mind for redistricting, but their hold on these voters is slipping away rapidly. I can’t emphasize enough that Mitt Romney got 60% of the vote in HD134 in 2012, and look at where it is now.

I’ve written plenty about these districts, and I could have included more of them in this table. Most of those you will see later. There’s not much to add except to say that this particular demographic shift has been a huge driver in the overall blue-ing of Texas, and especially of its most populated areas. I don’t know what the future holds, but I don’t see that changing in the near term.

When I mentioned that this post was a look at the districts by demographic groups, I assume your first thought was that I’d take a closer look at Latino districts. Well, here you go:


Dist  12-16R  12-16D  16-20R  16-20D  12-20R  12-20D Dem net
============================================================
051      425  10,783   4,422  19,073   4,847  29,856  25,009
102   -4,430   5,333   2,511  10,832  -1,919  16,165  18,084
148   -1,481   8,555   5,598  10,113   4,117  18,668  14,551
107   -3,023   4,566     718   7,532  -2,305  12,098  14,403
103      -96   7,314   3,535  10,357   3,439  17,671  14,232
116     -583   6,014   3,546  10,281   2,963  16,295  13,332
117    4,532   8,828  14,927  22,921  19,459  31,749  12,290
105   -2,249   4,377   2,900   8,547     651  12,924  12,273
078   -1,129   6,723   6,731   9,618   5,602  16,341  10,739
124      330   5,077   5,877  11,756   6,207  16,833  10,626
125   -1,081   4,378   4,753   9,350   3,672  13,728  10,056
079     -453   7,038   4,976   6,495   4,523  13,533   9,010
075    1,734  11,011   9,747   8,599  11,481  19,610   8,129
104     -777   3,881   2,743   6,042   1,966   9,923   7,957
077   -1,530   5,080   3,539   3,936   2,009   9,016   7,007
119    1,062   3,428   6,041  10,507   7,103  13,935   6,832
145   -1,306   5,575   5,291   5,038   3,985  10,613   6,628
090     -180   2,391   3,170   5,496   2,990   7,887   4,897
118    1,391   3,719   6,633   7,790   8,024  11,509   3,485
076     -260   5,039   3,826   1,635   3,566   6,674   3,108
140     -733   4,433   4,140   1,810   3,407   6,243   2,836
144   -1,051   3,577   4,044   1,480   2,993   5,057   2,064
041    1,664   6,820   8,617   5,201  10,281  12,021   1,740
143   -1,038   3,244   4,483   1,446   3,445   4,690   1,245
022   -1,261  -2,280   1,510   2,254     249     -26    -275
034      620     799   6,012   3,759   6,632   4,558  -2,074
038    1,533   4,706   9,344   2,945  10,877   7,651  -3,226
040    2,384   3,753   8,981   3,433  11,365   7,186  -4,179
037      969   3,764   7,324      36   8,293   3,800  -4,493
036    1,482   5,527   9,847    -480  11,329   5,047  -6,282
039    2,071   3,256   8,411     836  10,482   4,092  -6,390
035    2,007   2,358   8,961   2,163  10,968   4,521  -6,447
042      882   2,195   7,908    -323   8,790   1,872  -6,918
043    2,532     162   8,001   1,059  10,533   1,221  -9,312
080    1,959   1,789   9,567     127  11,526   1,916  -9,610
074    1,127   2,708   9,454  -2,185  10,581     523 -10,058
031    3,017  -1,816  13,479    -412  16,496  -2,228 -18,724

A couple of notes here. Defining “Latino district” is subjective, and I make no claim that my way is optimal. What you see above is almost all of the districts that are represented by a Latino member, plus HD80, which despite being majority Latino is still represented by Democrat Tracy King. I skipped HDs 49 (Gina Hinojosa) and 50 (Celia Israel) because the’re much more Anglo than Latino. HDs 102, 105, and 107 were held by non-Latino Republicans before being flipped by Democrats in 2016 and 2018. HD43 is held by the one Latino Republican in the House, JM Lozano, who won originally as a Democrat in 2008 and then changed parties after the 2010 election. HDs 79 and 90 were held by Anglo Democrats in 2012; Lon Burnam was primaried out by Rep. Ramon Romero in 2014, and Joe Pickett resigned following the 2018 election due to health challenges.

There’s a lot of data here, and I’ll try to keep this manageable. All the districts that showed a net gain for Dems over both elections are in Bexar, Dallas, El Paso, Harris, Travis (HD51), and Tarrant (HD90), plus HD41 in Hidalgo County. In Bexar, Dallas, and Tarrant, there were net gains in each cycle. In El Paso, there were big gains in 2016 and more modest gains in 2020, with the exception of HD75, which had a slight gain for Republicans in 2020. HD75 is the easternmost and thus most rural of the El Paso districts. It also still voted 66.5% to 31.9% for Biden in 2020, just for some perspective.

In Harris, all five districts gained in 2016, but only HD148 also gained in 2020. HD145 came close to breaking even, while HDs 140, 143, and 144 all moved towards Republicans; we saw this when we looked at the Harris County Senate districts and talked about SD06. This is the first of several places where I will shrug my shoulders and say “we’ll see what happens in 2022”. Honestly, I don’t know what to expect. We’ve discussed this topic numerous times, and as there are forces moving urban and college-educated voters towards Democrats, the same forces are moving rural and non-college voters towards Republicans. The biggest of those forces is Donald Trump, whose presence on the ballot helped Republicans in 2016 and 2020 but whose absence hurt them in 2018. We just don’t know yet what 2022 will bring.

Of the districts that had net Republican gains, HD22 is in Jefferson County (basically, it’s Beaumont; Dade Phelan’s HD21 has the rest of JeffCo plus Orange County) and HD34 is in Nueces County. Jefferson County has been slowly losing population over time, and I think that was a big driver of what happened with HD22. It’s also much more Black than Latino, and thus maybe is a better fit with the next data set, but it has long been represented by Rep. Joe Deshtotel, and this is the decision I made. Nueces County also has the Republican-held HD32 in it, and it showed a net Democratic gain of 1,576 votes over the two cycles, with most of that in 2016 but still a small Dem net in 2020. Its Latino voting age population is about 46%, nearly identical to its Anglo VAP. HD34 was one of the tighter districts even before 2020, and I figure it’s on the target list for Republicans in redistricting.

Most of the other districts are in Cameron, Hidalgo, and Webb counties, and while 2020 was a better year for Republicans in all of them, I don’t think that will necessarily be the case in 2022, a belief driven in part by the incumbency theory and in part by my own wishfulness. That said, as noted before the shifts were more muted downballot, with Trump outperforming other Republicans in those districts. I had my doubts about the durability of Democratic gains in 2016 because of the disparity between the Hillary numbers and the rest of the numbers, and I think it’s fair to have those same doubts here. We do know how it went in 2018, but as before Trump is not on the ballot in 2022. Which force is stronger? Have the underlying conditions changed? I don’t know and neither does anyone else at this time.

HDs 31, 74, and 80 are all cobbled out of smaller counties, and I have much less hope for them, but who knows what the combined effects of the freeze and the Abbott Wall will have. The main thing I took away from analyzing this data is that there was already a Republican shift in 31 and 74 in 2016 with a near miss in 80, though they all rebounded in a Democratic direction in 2018. How much of this was caused by new voters, and how much by swapping allegiances, those are big questions to ponder.

Let’s move on. These are the predominantly Black districts:


Dist  12-16R  12-16D  16-20R  16-20D  12-20R  12-20D Dem net
============================================================
046     -331   7,462   4,363  20,080   4,032  27,542  23,510
027     -461   4,708   6,324  13,724   5,863  18,432  12,569
147   -1,282   3,575   4,571   9,831   3,289  13,406  10,117
109     -914    -500   1,853  11,161     939  10,661   9,722
111   -1,449  -1,155   1,627   8,981     178   7,826   7,648
120     -184     863   4,503  10,856   4,319  11,719   7,400
100     -840    -537   2,107   7,799   1,267   7,262   5,995
142      294   2,093   4,685   8,804   4,979  10,897   5,918
131     -642   2,681   4,289   6,642   3,647   9,323   5,676
146   -1,653    -923   2,438   6,798     785   5,875   5,090
139   -1,290   1,216   4,826   6,786   3,536   8,002   4,466
095     -613  -2,745   2,727   7,752   2,114   5,007   2,893
141      218    -721   2,594   4,405   2,812   3,684     872
110     -101  -3,010   1,820   3,362   1,719     352  -1,367

HD27 is in Fort Bend, HD46 is in Travis (it’s also much more Latino than Black but has long been represented by a Black legislator, with Dawnna Dukes preceding Sheryl Cole; it is the inverse of HD22 in that way), HD95 is in Tarrant, and HD120 is in Bexar. HD101 in Tarrant County has a higher Black percentage of its population than either HDs 46 or 120, but it’s held by the Anglo Dem Chris Turner, so I skipped it. All the rest are in Harris and Dallas. The range of outcomes here is fascinating. I think what we see in the 2016 results, at least in some of these districts, is a bit of a letdown in enthusiasm from Obama to Clinton, with perhaps a bit of the campaign to dampen turnout among Black Democrats finding some success. Some districts in Harris County like HD141 have had pretty modest growth in population and voter registration as well. I don’t know what the story may have been in HD110, but if one of my Dallas readers would like to offer a few words, I’d be interested in hearing them.

There was some evidence around the country of Trump making modest gains with Black voters, mostly Black men, in 2020. I do see a case for that here, because even as Dems had net gains in 2020 – significant gains, in some of these districts – their share of the total new turnout is smaller than you’d otherwise expect. For example, HD131 voted 80.6% to 18.5% for Biden, but only 60.8% of the extra voters in 2020 voted for Biden. HD131 had voted 84.1% to 13.3% for Hillary in 2016, meaning that Trump cut almost ten points off of his deficit from 2016. This is your reminder that a shift in vote share towards one party is not the same as a shift in total votes towards one party. We’ve had this conversation about Democrats making percentage point gains in some heavily Republican areas while still falling farther behind, and this is that same conversation from the other side.

Finally, here are the four districts represented by Asian American legislators:


Dist  12-16R  12-16D  16-20R  16-20D  12-20R  12-20D Dem net
============================================================
026   -4,573   9,082   7,327  13,556   2,754  22,638  19,884
112   -2,140   4,427   5,086  10,634   2,946  15,061  12,115
137     -848   2,147   2,435   4,099   1,587   6,246   4,659
149   -2,592   3,504   8,134   4,645   5,542   8,149   2,607

This grouping is even more tenuous than the Latino districts, mostly because there’s no such thing as a plurality Asian district. Indeed, only HDs 26 and 149, which are the two most Asian districts in the state, are in the top five; HDs 66, 28, and 67 are the next three in line. They will all be covered in the next post in this series. HD137 is mostly Latino and HD112 is mostly Anglo. Like I said, these are the decisions I made. HD26 is in Fort Bend and was won in 2020 by Republican Jacey Jetton, after years of being held by Rick Miller. It was carried by Biden in 2020 and as you can see it has moved pretty heavily Democratic, but it was still Republican enough to be held by them in an open seat race. HD112 is in Dallas and is held by Angie Chen Button, and like HD108 it was otherwise Democratic in 2020. Good luck with redistricting, that’s all I can say. The other two are in Harris County, with HD137 being held by Gene Wu since 2012. It was 63-34 for Obama in 2012 and 67-31 for Biden in 2020. The most curious case for me is HD149, which as you can see followed a pattern similar to the Latino districts in Harris County; I noted this before when I did the Harris County numbers way back when. I’m not quite sure what to make of those totals, but they don’t keep me awake at night. As with the rest, we’ll see what 2022 has in store for us.

Next time, a closer look at some counties of interest. Let me know what you think.

ACLU warns counties to stay away from the Abbott wall

From the inbox:

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas sent letters today to 34 counties informing top officials that implementing Gov. Greg Abbott’s unlawful plan to engage in immigration enforcement would violate the U.S. Constitution.

The letters, sent to the counties targeted by Abbott, advise against local law enforcement participation in Abbott’s unilateral efforts to set federal immigration policy, arrest and detain immigrants, and deter people from seeking protection in the United States. Noncitizens in the U.S. have the legal right to seek asylum and other protections. Arresting and detaining immigrants due to their immigration status or as a result of enforcing or altering federal immigration law is unconstitutional.

“Gov. Abbott cannot seek to enforce his own version of immigration policy,” said Kate Huddleston, attorney at the ACLU of Texas. “County officials will be in violation of the law if they enforce the governor’s plan. The federal government, not states or local governments, sets immigration policy and enforces immigration law. Yet again, the governor is targeting immigrants and inciting fear and xenophobia in our state. These moves are a cruel distraction from the real problems facing the state, such as fixing the failing state electrical grid.”

The letters also request under the Texas Public Information Act information about guidance that local officials have received from the state, as well as local cooperation with state efforts to arrest immigrants to date, including any arrests or prosecutions by their locality.

In addition, the letters advise localities to train local law enforcement officers to ensure they do not violate the Constitution or federal law when interacting with immigrants. The ACLU of Texas is asking agencies to adopt policies that comply with constitutional policing and limitations on immigration enforcement, including training officers to refrain from making stops based on perceived immigration status, race, ethnicity, or language.

The 34 counties that received the letter are: Brewster, Brooks, Cameron, Crockett, Culberson, Dimmit, Duval, Edwards, El Paso, Goliad, Gonzales, Hidalgo, Hudspeth, Jeff Davis, Jim Hogg, Kenedy, Kinney, La Salle, Lavaca, Maverick, McMullen, Pecos, Presidio, Real, Reeves, Starr, Sutton, Terrell, Uvalde, Val Verde, Webb, Willacy, Zapata, and Zavala.

See here and here for the background. A copy of the letter is here. It seems clear that this is a precursor to a lawsuit, serving both as a warning to the counties that if they follow along with Abbott’s folly they will be named in the suit as well, plus an early effort to gather evidence. The Public Information Act request in this letter specifically asks for the following:

1. Any and all records regarding the May 31, 2021 disaster declaration and its implementation;

2. Any and all records regarding Operation Lone Star and its implementation;

3. Any and all records regarding your locality’s participation in or cooperation with Texas Department of Public Safety officials engaged in Operation Lone Star or any other immigration enforcement efforts; and

4. Any and all records regarding arrests and/or prosecutions pursuant to Operation Lone Star, the May 31 disaster declaration, or for immigration-related enforcement purposes by your locality from March 6, 2021, to the present, including but not limited to arrests and prosecutions for criminal trespass, smuggling, or human trafficking.

We’re unlikely to get any of that information from Greg Abbott, so no matter what else happens this should be valuable.

An alternate route to Medicaid expansion

I’m okay with this.

Texas Democrats have tried for years to convince Republican state leaders to increase access to Medicaid. Now they think they have found a way to do it with or without their help.

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett and lawmakers from 11 other GOP-led states introduced a measure this week that would give money directly to local governments that want to provide coverage for hundreds of thousands of low-income Texans who currently fall into what is known as the “coverage gap.”

The Cover Outstanding Vulnerable Expansion-eligible Residents (COVER) Now Act would allow counties to apply for the money directly with the federal government, and it would prohibit state leaders from retaliating against them if they do.

Doggett said his aim is to avoid conflict with Republicans.

“You have your ideological objections to Medicaid expansion — I don’t agree, but I accept your position,” he said. “At least let those local leaders who want to take advantage of this and who recognize both the health and economic advantages of doing it, at least let them do that, and walk away and see how it works.”

[…]

Doggett estimated that if Houston, San Antonio and Dallas alone signed on to the proposal, half of the state’s eligible uninsured population would gain access. All three cities are led by Democrats and have pushed for Medicaid expansion.

Statewide, more than 1.2 million Texans would be eligible for Medicaid if state officials were to expand the program, according to a study by the The Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University

More than two million people are thought to be in the coverage gap today, meaning they make too much to qualify for traditional Medicaid but not enough to qualify for subsidized insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Most are people of color, and the biggest group is in Texas, a state that has long had the highest uninsured rate in the country.

Anne Dunkelberg, a policy analyst for the left-leaning think tank Every Texan, said the new legislation would also increase funding to state health officials for any added administrative costs.

“Congressman Doggett’s bill really recognizes how entrenched the ultra conservative opposition to expansion is in Texas and the need to really connect the dots about what it’s going to take for us to get possibly a million and a half uninsured adults — the vast majority of them working — coverage,” she said.

I don’t know if the reconciliation process that Rep. Doggett envisions for this would be part of the infrastructure package or as a later budget bill, but either way there will be opportunities. I think the odds of it avoiding conflict with Republicans is basically zero, so the more important consideration is how well-defended it will be from Republican attempts to screw with it or obstruct it. We have seen too many examples in recent times of the state having control over federal money intended for local governments that have resulted in all kinds of bad outcomes, from the delays in appropriating COVID relief to the GLO’s screw job against Houston and Harris County. Cut the state completely out of it, and then hope it’s too difficult for a future Republican Congress or President to mess with it.

Assuming this does go through, I would expect quite a few more counties than those three cited would jump at this. Travis, El Paso, Fort Bend, Cameron, Webb, some other South Texas counties, probably Hays, would certainly take advantage. Nueces, Tarrant, and Williamson would be interesting to watch, and I bet this would add some spice to county races in Collin and Denton and maybe Brazoria. It’s possible that some Republican counties, especially ones with hospitals teetering on the brink of financial disaster, might decide to put aside politics and grab the money, as several Republican states have done. I could definitely see this making a huge dent in the uninsured population, and providing some fodder for the 2022 elections as well. It’s mostly a question of how durable it is, and that’s something that Rep. Doggett can work on. Here’s hoping.

Starbase, Texas

If you read that title and you thought that Elon Musk must somehow be involved, you would be correct.

Elon Musk is attempting to create a city in south Texas.

He wants to incorporate Boca Chica Village, where his company SpaceX is developing and launching prototypes of its Starship spacecraft, into a city.

It would be called Starbase, Texas, Musk announced via Twitter on Tuesday.

Boca Chica Village, not far from Brownsville, is a tiny unincorporated area of Cameron County. County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. confirmed the news, saying Cameron County had been officially approached by SpaceX over the past few days.

“If SpaceX and Elon Musk would like to pursue down this path, they must abide by all state incorporation statutes,” Treviño said in a statement. “Cameron County will process any appropriate petitions in conformity with applicable law.”

There’s a process to creating a city. First, the area must have at least 201 inhabitants, said Kellen Zale, associate professor at the University of Houston Law Center who specializes in land use and local government law.

For areas with fewer than 2,000 inhabitants, the city cannot be larger than 2 square miles — that’s 1,280 acres.

“The steps for incorporation are pretty minimal,” she said. “It’s just that population requirement and the territorial requirement, and then you need to get a certain number of signatures and then hold an election.”

It’s interesting to get a peek at the process for incorporating a city in Texas. I have no idea how often that happens these days, but I’d guess it’s relatively rare. Musk and SpaceX have been in Boca Chica Village for a few years now, and it’s been a mixed bag for the locals. Maybe this will be better for them. Assuming it happens before Musk’s attention span runs out, anyway.

SCOTUS rejects TDP petition on vote by mail

Back to the lower court, I think.

The U.S. Supreme Court turned away a Democratic bid to force universal vote-by-mail in Texas, leaving intact a state law that lets people cast no-excuse absentee ballots only if they are 65 or older.

The Texas Democratic Party and its allies argued unsuccessfully that the law violates the Constitution’s 26th Amendment, which says the right to vote “shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of age.”

Voting by mail became a sharply partisan issue amid President Donald Trump’s unsupported contentions that the practice led to widespread fraud in the November election. Texas’s Republican governor and attorney general urged the Supreme Court to reject the Democratic appeal.

A divided federal appeals court in September rejected the 26th Amendment claim, saying the Texas law didn’t make it more difficult for anyone to vote. The panel left open the possibility the law could be challenged as a violation of the Constitution’s equal protection clause.

The Supreme Court also rejected Texas Democrats in June, when the justices refused to reinstate a trial judge’s order that would have let any voter request an absentee ballot to avoid the risk of contracting Covid-19. That order, which was blocked by the appeals court, was designed to govern the 2020 election and might have boosted Democrats’ prospects.

See here for the last update, which was a petition for review of the Fifth Circuit ruling that kept intact the existing law on vote by mail in Texas as the original lawsuit that claimed the existing law violated the 26th Amendment is litigated. If I understand this correctly, the original case needs to be re-argued, with guidance from that Fifth Circuit ruling, and then once there is a ruling on the merits, we’ll go through the appeals process again. Or maybe not, if Congress and President Biden can pass a new Voting Rights Act that would allow for this nationally. I don’t see that particular provision in there now, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t or wouldn’t be there. Anyway, it’s kind of a non-starter now, since the effort was to make that happen in 2020, but it’s never too late to make it easier to vote. Just don’t expect anything to happen in the short term, outside of what Congress may do. Reuters has more.

TDP asks SCOTUS to review age discrimination claim in mail voting

From the inbox:

Today, the Texas Democratic Party and voters filed their final brief with the U.S. Supreme Court, seeking its review of the case filed last Spring which challenged the constitutionality of Texas’s law that limits voting by mail, without excuse, to voters age 65 and older. The 26th Amendment prohibits “denying or abridging” the right to vote based on age, which Texas law does. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled in September that so long as all voters can vote in person, it does not abridge the right to vote if the state provides some voters with additional voting options. The Texas Democratic Party and voters argue this ruling runs contrary to the 26th Amendment and is inconsistent with U.S. Supreme Court precedent.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to confer regarding this case on January 8, 2021. On January 11, 2021, at 10:00 am ET, the Court will issue its orders list for the 2021 term. At that point, the Court may grant review of the case, deny review, or hold the case over for further consideration at a later time. If the Court grants review, the case could be heard this term, with a decision before Summer or it could decide to hear the case in its term beginning Fall of 2021. If the court denies review of the case, it will return to the U.S. District Court in San Antonio, where it will proceed to the final trial and, thereafter, potentially go back through the appeals process.

See here for my last update on this case, and here for a copy of the filing, which in fancy lawyer-speak is a “petition for a writ of certiori”. SCOTUSblog has a concise summary of the case so far. The brief makes three arguments, of which the first two are technical and boring to non-lawyers, but the third is a straightforward claim that the Fifth Circuit erred in its ruling:

The error in the Fifth Circuit’s reasoning was powerfully illustrated by the statement respondents’ counsel made at oral argument: “[I]f a state were to pass a law saying that White people must vote by personal appearance but Black people can vote by personal appearance or by mail-in balloting, …. the Fifteenth Amendment would not prohibit that law because that law does not deny or abridge the right to vote within the meaning of the Fifteenth Amendment.” Or. Arg. Rec. at 41:27-42:07. To state that position is to show its indefensibility.

1. The Fifth Circuit treated “abridge” as solely a temporal restriction: In its view, a state’s law does not “abridge” the right to vote when it adds voting opportunities for some, so long as one manner of voting remains in place for those not given the new voting opportunity. See BIO App. 38a. That holding is inconsistent with this Court’s precedents that the concept of abridgement “necessarily entails a comparison” of “what the right to vote ought to be.” Reno v. Bossier Par. Sch. Bd., 528 U.S. 320, 334 (2000).

Contrary to the Fifth Circuit’s arid resort to dictionary definitions of “abridgment,” BIO App. 33a34a, the proper baseline under the Fifteenth, Nineteenth, Twenty-Fourth, and Twenty-Sixth Amendments is given in the text of those amendments themselves. Those amendments provide that the right to vote shall not be abridged “on account of” or “by reason of” specific characteristics: “race,” “sex,” taxpaying status, or “age.” By their plain terms, those amendments call for a comparison between the law’s treatment of voters of different races, sexes, taxpaying statuses, or ages—not between the scope of the right a particular voter enjoyed yesterday and the scope of the right he or she enjoys today. It cannot be that the Fifteenth Amendment would have nothing to say if a jurisdiction gave white voters an early voting period, as long as it left untouched a preexisting ability for Black voters to cast a ballot in person on election day. But that perverse consequence is exactly what the Fifth Circuit’s logic commands.

The reason why the voting amendments use the word “abridge” is not to create a temporal comparison, but to make clear that any race-, sex-, taxpaying-, or age-based suffrage rule, and not only categorical denial of the right to vote, is covered. The Voting Rights Act, which was enacted to enforce the Fifteenth Amendment, illustrates this point. While Section 5, the provision at issue in Bossier Parish involved a statute with language explicitly requiring a temporal comparison, Section 2 echoes the Fifteenth Amendment text and requires an inter-voter comparison. Section 2(a) prohibits practices that result “in a denial or abridgement” of the right to vote on account of race or color or membership in a specified language minority. 52 U.S.C. § 10301(a). Section 2(b) declares that a violation of that prohibition occurs, among other things, when the plaintiff group has “less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice.” 52 U.S.C. § 10301(b) (emphasis added). That understanding of abridgment is also, as the petition explains, more consistent with this Court’s decision in Harman v. Forssenius, 380 U.S. 528 (1965). See Pet. 20-22.

Basically, the Fifth Circuit said that giving one set of voters (in this case, voters over the age of 65) something extra (no-excuses absentee ballots) was fine and not a form of discrimination against other voters, who were still able to vote. The TDP argues that the correct interpretation of the 26th and other amendments to the constitution is that not giving the under-65 voters the same benefit as the 65-and-older crowd is an abridgement of their rights, and thus unconstitutional. I think the plaintiffs have a solid argument, but as we know I Am Not A Lawyer, and also this particular Supreme Court is nobody’s friend when it comes to voting rights. We’ll know in January if we’ll get a short-term resolution or if this goes back to the trial court for a do-over.

More early data from State Rep districts

From Derek Ryan on Twitter:

Couple of things, as we wait for the rest of the data – I hope to get at least a draft canvass from Harris County soon, and may look at some other counties’ data as I can; the full state data will likely be published in March or so.

– I have covered some of this, all from Harris County. Ryan’s data is around the state.

– I previously noted that HDs 31 and 74 were pretty purple already; I would expect HD34 to join them when that data is available. I should note that despite those Trump numbers, the Dems in those districts did just fine – Rep. Ryan Guillen won HD31 with 58%, Rep. Abel Herrero took HD34 with over 59%, and Eddie Morales won the open HD74 with 54%. If we’re going to argue that Democrats were too ambitious in 2020 – I would not make that argument, but I have seen others at least suggest it – then one might also argue that Republicans were not ambitious enough.

– I have no doubt that Republicans will take these numbers under serious consideration, and I won’t be surprised if they try to draw another Republican-friendly district in the Valley, to accompany HD43.

– Which doesn’t mean they’ll succeed. Someone reminded me on Twitter that Cameron County voted for George W. Bush in 2004. He also got almost 45% in Hidalgo County, and almost 57% in Nueces County. Republican Presidents running for re-election have done well in South Texas before. Perhaps we all forgot about that. We know now that was not the start of a trend.

– That said, I believe that a county or district electing a candidate from one party while supporting Presidents and Senators from another party is an unstable situation, one that sooner or later topples over. See: all of the rural districts that used to elect Democrats to Congress and the Lege while voting 60-70% Republican otherwise, and Sarah Davis in HD134. If statewide Dems do well in these districts again in 2022 and 2024, we can go back to thinking of them as blue. If not, then we do indeed have a whole new ballgame.

(The same is true, of course, for the urban/suburban districts that Republicans won but Biden carried. In those at least we have more than one election’s worth of data to contemplate.)

– And again, we should remember that the Biden/Trump numbers are just one data point. As noted, it’s entirely possible in some of these districts that Trump’s numbers will be well above, or well below, the norm. We’ll need to consider the entire range.

– The implied question in all of this is, what does this data mean for 2022? The answer is, we just don’t know. We haven’t had two elections in a row that looked the same in this state. There are plausible scenarios that make 2022 potentially good for Dems, and that make 2022 bad for Dems. Hard to believe, I know, but we have to let the things happen that will affect those possible outcomes.

More to come as we get more data. Reform Austin is also on this.

So what happened in the Latino counties?

Let’s go to the data:


County       Trump  Clinton    Trump    Biden
=============================================
Bexar      240,333  319,550  303,871  440,823
Cameron     29,472   59,402   48,834   63,732
Dimmit         974    2,173    1,384    2,264
El Paso     55,512  147,843   81,235  168,801
Frio         1,856    2,444    2,812    2,421
Hidalgo     48,642  118,809   89,925  127,391
Jim Hogg       430    1,635      831    1,197
Jim Wells    5,420    6,694    7,077    5,094
Maverick     2,816   10,397    6,881    8,324
Nueces      50,766   49,198   64,467   60,749
Presidio       652    1,458      721    1,463
Starr        2,224    9,289    8,224    9,099
Webb        12,947   42,307   18,985   32,442
Willacy      1,547    3,422    2,437    3,097
Zapata       1,029    2,063    2,032    1,820
Zavala         694    2,636    1,490    2,864

Total      453,643  779,320  641,116  931,555

County      Trump% Clinton%   Trump%  Biden%
============================================
Bexar        42.9%    57.1%    40.8%   59.2%
Cameron      33.2%    66.8%    43.4%   56.6%
Dimmit       31.0%    69.0%    37.9%   62.1%
El Paso      27.3%    72.7%    32.5%   67.5%
Frio         43.2%    56.8%    53.7%   46.3%
Hidalgo      29.0%    71.0%    41.4%   58.6%
Jim Hogg     20.8%    79.2%    41.0%   59.0%
Jim Wells    44.7%    55.3%    58.1%   41.9%
Maverick     21.3%    78.7%    45.3%   54.7%
Nueces       50.8%    49.2%    51.5%   48.5%
Presidio     30.9%    69.1%    33.0%   67.0%
Starr        19.3%    81.7%    47.5%   52.5%
Webb         23.4%    76.6%    36.9%   63.1%
Willacy      31.1%    68.9%    44.0%   56.0%
Zapata       33.3%    66.7%    52.8%   47.2%
Zavala       20.8%    79.2%    34.2%   65.8%

Total        36.8%    63.2%    40.8%   59.2%

Webb County totals are early voting only – they have taken their sweet time getting those results. I have no prescriptions to offer, and even if I did, I’d be the wrong person to listen to for them. I’m just reporting what happened. As others have observed, in some counties Biden met or exceeded Hillary Clinton’s numbers from 2016, but Trump greatly increased his numbers from that election. You may recall that in the last NYT/Siena poll, Nate Cohn observed that higher turnout, at least beyond a certain point, didn’t actually benefit Biden, because sufficiently high Latino turnout wasn’t in his favor. Starr County was a particularly shocking example of that, but we see that in some larger counties like Hidalgo and Cameron, and to a lesser extent El Paso as well. In some counties – Maverick, Jim Hogg, Jim Wells, Willacy – it appears some Clinton voters may have switched to Trump, or not voted while non-participants from 2016 came in. Bexar County was the only clear improvement for Biden. If you had to pick only one county for that, Bexar would be the one, but there’s only so much it can do.

You can look at this two ways. Hillary Clinton netted 346K votes, while Biden netted 290K. That’s not all that much, but there’s the ground we could have gained given the higher turnout as well as the ground we lost. If Biden had performed at exactly the same level as Clinton, he’d have netted 415K votes. Adjust the final score to account for that, and Biden would have lost by four and a half points, instead of almost six. Wouldn’t have mattered in this case, but it wouldn’t have taken much. Plus, you know, better to make your task easier rather than harder.

Like I said, I have no solutions to offer. Plenty of smart people have plenty of ideas, and quite a few of them were raising issues before the election. Might be a good idea to listen to them. All I’m saying is that whatever happened here, it wasn’t what we wanted. If we want to avoid a repeat, we better get to work.

Fifth Circuit rejects age discrimination claims in vote by mail lawsuit

This is pretty much the end of the line, at least as far as the courts are concerned.

A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that Texas can keep its strict eligibility rules for voting by mail.

Siding with the state’s Republican leadership, the appellate judges rejected the Texas Democratic Party’s effort to expand eligibility for voting by mail to all registered voters based on their argument that the state’s age restrictions for such voting violate the 26th Amendment’s protections against voting rules that discriminate based on age.

The panel of appellate judges ultimately found that “conferring a privilege” to some voters — in this case the option of voting by mail to voters 65 and older — does not alone violate the 26th Amendment.

“In sum, the plaintiffs based their Twenty-Sixth Amendment claim on the argument that differential treatment in allowing voters aged 65 and older to vote by mail without excuse constitutes, at least during the pandemic, a denial or abridgment of a younger citizen’s right to vote on account of age,” the panel wrote. “This claim fails because adding a benefit to another class of voters does not deny or abridge the plaintiffs’ Twenty-Sixth Amendment right to vote.”

The federal panel vacated a lower court’s sweeping ruling that found Texas voters would face irreparable harm if existing age eligibility rules for voting by mail were in place for elections held while the new coronavirus remains in wide circulation. On Thursday, state Democrats indicated they would push forward with their challenge at the lower court, where the appellate court sent the case for further consideration of the party’s remaining arguments against the state’s restrictions.

[…]

“Rejecting the plaintiffs’ arguments, we hold that an election law abridges a person’s right to vote for the purposes of the Twenty-Sixth Amendment only if it makes voting more difficult for that person than it was before the law was enacted or enforced,” the judges wrote.

The panel was made up by Judges Carolyn Dineen King, who was appointed to the bench by President Jimmy Carter; Carl Stewart, who was appointed by Bill Clinton; and Leslie H. Southwick, who was appointed by George W. Bush.

Dissenting in part to the majority opinion, Stewart wrote that the state’s eligibility rules fail to “treat members of the electorate equally with regard to mail-in voting.”

“This unequal treatment is discriminatory in normal times and dangerous in the time of a global pandemic,” Stewart wrote. “Though all individuals can seemingly vote in person, those without the opportunity to vote by mail have less opportunity to participate than others.”

See here for the background, and here for a copy of the opinion. Michael Hurta has a good brief analysis of it. As to what happens next, Rick Hasen thinks the original trial judge will find for the plaintiffs again, which will trigger another appeal. As such, this isn’t really the end of the line as I’ve suggested above, but it seems very unlikely to me that there will be a ruling that favors the plaintiffs any time before the November election. Whatever ultimately happens with this will not happen until at least 2021. I don’t care for this ruling, and this was about as friendly a three-judge panel as we were gonna get. It’s hard for me to see how the outcome changes.

Which means, as I have been saying over and over again, the ultimate fix rests within the legislative process. Just add this to the ever-increasing list of things that a Democratic Legislature, in conjunction with a Democratic Governor, will need to fix. The Republicans have made their position crystal clear. There’s no bipartisan solution. The only way out is through, and that means electing a better government. The Chron has more.

Fifth Circuit hears arguments on vote by mail case

One more try before it’s too late to make a difference for this year.

The Texas Democratic Party’s lawyer argued today before a federal appeals court that the state is unlawfully discriminating against the majority of the voting-age population by requiring only those under the age of 65 to have an excuse to receive a mail-in ballot.

It’s one of several last-minute battles playing out in the months leading up to the 2020 election, which is expected to yield historic turnout despite the coronavirus pandemic.

[…]

The Democrats’ federal case is expected to make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the clock is ticking. The deadline to request a mail-in ballot in Texas is October 23, leaving just about seven weeks for the appellate court and high court to rule on it.

At Monday’s hearing, Chad Dunn, representing the Texas Democratic Party, told the court that the Texas mail-in voting law violates the 26th Amendment, which says the right to vote can’t be “denied or abridged” on account of age.

Dunn said previous elections have shown that voters will likely be waiting in long lines in November.

“We’re asking voters — certain ones of them get excused from that endurance test and others, based purely on their age, are to suffer through it,” Dunn said. “The fact of the matter is that when individuals’ characteristics are used by the government to divvy up who gets to vote, those are prohibited” by the Constitution.

The state, represented by Texas Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins, argued that Supreme Court precedent exists to show that the Texas law does not violate the 26th Amendment.

“It does not deny or abridge the right to vote to make voting more available to some groups as opposed to others,” Hawkins said. “To abridge the right to vote does not mean giving other groups more options; it means taking away something from a certain group.”

See here for the previous update. As noted, the other vote by mail-related lawsuit recently survived a motion to dismiss. We should get a ruling of some kind in this lawsuit before the deadline to mail out overseas ballots, which is September 18. I have no idea if there’s time for any action on the other one.

This Statesman story from earlier in the day on Monday has some more background info on the case.

Monday’s arguments will focus on the U.S. Constitution’s 26th Amendment, which was ratified in 1971 to lower the voting age to 18, saying the right to vote cannot be denied or restricted “by any State on account of age” for those 18 and older.

Just as other constitutional amendments ensure that voters cannot be treated differently based on race or gender, the 26th Amendment uses identical language to extend voting protections based on age, said Chad Dunn, who will argue Monday on behalf of Democrats before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“I am confident that we will ultimately ensure that everybody, regardless of age, has the right to vote by mail,” Dunn told the American-Statesman.

[…]

The age question has drawn the interest of at least one influential observer: Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

When Texas Democrats raised the issue at the high court this summer, the nine justices declined to accept the case. Sotomayor was the only one to discuss the reason.

The Democrats’ challenge, she wrote in late June, “raised weighty but seemingly novel questions regarding the 26th Amendment.”

However, justices balked at addressing those questions for the first time at the high court, and Sotomayor urged the 5th Circuit Court to make a speedy decision in the matter.

Many others hope for a quick resolution as well. In Texas, voting for the November election begins in less than seven weeks.

[…]

The case before the 5th Circuit Court will determine the fate of a May order by U.S. District Judge Fred Biery, an appointee of President Bill Clinton who required mail-in ballots to be sent to any registered Texas voter who requested one while “pandemic circumstances” continue.

“One’s right to vote should not be elusively based on the whims of nature. Citizens should have the option to choose voting by letter carrier versus voting with disease carriers,” Biery wrote.

Paxton appealed, and the 5th Circuit Court responded by blocking enforcement of Biery’s order until the appeal can be decided.

That ruling by a three-judge panel at the 5th Circuit was notable for its harsh criticism of Biery for wading into election decisions that belong to “politically accountable officials,” not judges.

“The spread of the virus has not given unelected federal judges a roving commission to rewrite state election codes,” wrote Judge Jerry Smith, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan.

A different three-judge panel, however, will hear Monday’s oral arguments and decide whether the 26th Amendment bars Texas from denying mail-in voting to those under age 65. Two of the judges on the new panel were appointed by Democratic presidents — Carolyn Dineen King and Carl Stewart — while the panel’s third member, Leslie Southwick, was appointed by President George W. Bush.

A ruling won’t come Monday, but with the election looming, the appeals court has placed the matter on an expedited schedule.

The Texas Democratic Party’s challenge has drawn considerable interest, with additional legal briefs filed by liberal and conservative public interest groups, health professionals, advocates for the disabled, other states and local political parties.

Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir also submitted a brief with election officials from Harris, Cameron and Fort Bend counties that begged the 5th Circuit Court to accept the 26th Amendment arguments and expand mail-in voting.

“Unless access to vote by mail is increased significantly, providing a safe election will be impossible because of the expected high volume of in-person voters this presidential year,” their brief said.

On the one hand, almost 30 doctors and nurses, including epidemiologists and front-line health workers, told the court that it is essential to reduce the number of people gathering on Election Day to protect voters, poll workers and the community from COVID-19, while the Texas NAACP argued that the state’s Republican leaders adopted a needlessly restrictive interpretation of mail-in voting law to impose a severe and unacceptable burden on the right to vote.

On the other hand, a brief from conservative legal interest groups argued that Biery improperly interfered with the state’s authority to regulate the time, place and manner of elections in favor of widespread mail-in voting, which should be allowed in only limited circumstances because it is more vulnerable to fraud than traditional voting.

Originally, there were two lawsuits, one filed by the TDP that argued COVID vulnerability was sufficient to be considered a “disability” and allow anyone who claimed that to get a mail ballot, and one filed by other groups that argued the existing limit of vote by mail to those 65 and over (plus those who claim a disability, which as we know was not clearly defined and is being argued about in other venues) violates the 26th Amendment, which is the one that lowered the voting age to 18. Both were combined into this lawsuit, and as you can see the 26th Amendment claim is the main thrust from the plaintiffs. We’ll see what we get.

Fifth Circuit flips the switch

It’s what they do.

A federal appeals court has temporarily put on hold a lower court’s sweeping ruling that would have allowed all Texas voters to qualify to vote by mail during the coronavirus pandemic.

Siding with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday blocked a preliminary injunction issued just a day before by U.S. District Judge Fred Biery. The move could prove to be a temporary win for the state. The appellate panel granted what’s known as an administrative stay, which only stops Biery’s ruling from taking effect while the court considers if it will issue an injunction nullifying it during the entire appeals process.

Also on Wednesday afternoon, Paxton’s office tried to convince the Texas Supreme Court to issue an order blocking local election officials in Texas from facilitating efforts by voters obtain absentee ballots if they fear getting sick from voting in person. The court did not issue a ruling, but it grappled with the question of who gets to decide if a voter has a disability under Texas election law.

[…]

In issuing the preliminary injunction, Biery cited the irreparable harm voters would face if existing age eligibility rules for voting by mail remained in place for elections held while the new coronavirus remains in wide circulation. In his request to the 5th Circuit, Paxton argued that Biery’s injunction threatened “irreparable injury” to the state “by injecting substantial confusion into the Texas voting process mere days before ballots are distributed and weeks before runoff elections.”

The appeals court ordered the Democrats to file a response to the state’s request to block the ruling by Thursday afternoon.

See here for the background. I mean, this was to be expected, so let’s move on to the other thing that happened yesterday, also from this story.

In a virtual hearing Wednesday, the justices’ interrogations of Paxton’s lawyer and those representing the counties returned frequently to a gaping hole in Paxton’s request — when voters cite disability to request an absentee ballot, they’re not required to say what the disability is. The voters simply check a box on the application form, and if their application is properly filled out, locals officials are supposed to send them a ballot.

Texas Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins conceded to the court that officials cannot deny ballots to voters who cite a disability — even if their reasoning is tied to susceptibility to the coronavirus. Hawkins said the state was only arguing for applications to be rejected if a voter wrote in extraneous information on their application that indicated they feared infection but were “otherwise healthy.”

Local election officials can reject an application if they know the applicant is ineligible, but they’re unable to require voters to substantiate their disabilities. They argued as much in briefs filed to the court ahead of the hearing.

“These officials move the Court to mandamus local election officials to do something the Legislature has never required of them: police voter disability claims for mail in balloting,” El Paso County argued in its brief.

Conducting an inquiry into individual voters’ reasons for checking the disability box could violate both state and federal law, Cameron County officials argued in their brief. In its brief, Dallas County argued Paxton’s request would force election administrators to look “behind the claimed disability in each case” or require a voter to include information the nature of their disability in their applications — both of which would go beyond the Texas Election Code.

Still, the solicitor general asked the court to order election officials to abide by the state’s direction that fear of the virus or lack of immunity to the virus cannot constitute a disability under the election code, and they cannot encourage voters to request a mail-in ballot on that basis.

Barbara Nichols, an attorney representing Dallas County, argued it was unnecessary for the Supreme Court to order anything of the county’s election administrator because she had not indicated she would go beyond existing laws for voting by mail.

“As we sit here right now, your honor, the election administrator has not take any action whatsoever in which to justify the exercise of jurisdiction over her,” Nichols said. “And the state cannot point to any such evidence in the record.”

See here for the previous update. Harris County was also a respondent in this hearing – I have a copy of their brief here. I mean, the law here is pretty clear, so much so that even the Solicitor General had to admit it. The question is, what will the Supreme Court do about it? I will note that this is a writ of mandamus, not an appellate action, so they could just swat it away and let the lower courts do their thing before they weigh in. Remember, the state lawsuit hasn’t even been heard yet, we’ve just had a ruling on the motion to allow people to apply for mail ballots while the litigation is in progress. Just take a pass, that’s all I’m saying. We’ll see what they say. The Chron and the Signal have more.

Supreme Court sticks its nose in

I suppose this was to be expected.

The Texas Supreme Court on Friday temporarily put on hold an expansion of voting by mail during the coronavirus pandemic.

Siding with Attorney General Ken Paxton, the Supreme Court blocked a state appeals court decision that allowed voters who lack immunity to the virus to qualify for absentee ballots by citing a disability. That appellate decision upheld a lower court’s order that would have allowed more people to qualify to vote by mail. The state’s Supreme Court has not weighed the merits of the case.

It’s the latest in an ongoing legal squabble that in the last three days has resulted in daily changes to who can qualify for a ballot they can fill out at home and mail in.

Federal and state courts are considering legal challenges to the state’s rules for voting by mail as Democrats and voting rights groups ask courts to clarify whether lack of immunity to the coronavirus is a valid reason for people to request absentee ballots. A resolution to that question is gaining more urgency every day as the state approaches the July primary runoff elections.

[…]

The court also set oral arguments for May 20 on Paxton’s request for it to weigh in on whether the appeals court erred and abused its discretion when it allowed Sulak’s order to go into effect.

See here and here for the background. I just want to remind everyone, early voting for the July primary runoffs begins on June 29, and mail ballots are already being sent to voters who requested them. People are going to have to start making decisions about how they’re going to vote. And whatever the state courts ultimately say, there are those federal lawsuits out there as well. This is going to be a whirlwind of uncertainty for some time. The Chron has more.

Appeals court upholds vote by mail order

Second round goes to the plaintiffs.

A state appeals court upheld a temporary order Thursday from a state district judge that could greatly expand the number of voters who qualify for mail-in ballots during the coronavirus pandemic, rebuffing Attorney General Ken Paxton’s effort to have the ruling put on hold while he appeals it.

In a 2-1 split along party lines, a panel of the 14th Court of Appeals of Texas said it would let stand state District Judge Tim Sulak’s ruling from last month that susceptibility to the coronavirus counts as a disability under state election law and is a legally valid reason for voters to request absentee ballots. Paxton has been fighting that ruling and had argued that his pending appeal meant the lower court’s ruling was not in effect.

[…]

“Eligible voters can vote by mail during this pandemic,” Chad Dunn, the Texas Democratic Party’s general counsel, said in a statement Thursday. “It is time for a few state officers to stop trying to force people to expose themselves to COVID-19 in order to vote.”

In response to the appeals court’s ruling, a spokesperson for Paxton said his office will “look forward to the Texas Supreme Court resolving this issue.”

See here, here, and here for the background. A copy of the court’s order is here, and of the dissent is here. If you believed that Paxton went to the Supreme Court even before the 14th Court ruled on this motion for the purpose of gaining political advantage, the 2-1 partisan split in this ruling is not going to dissuade you. The Supreme Court’s gonna do what the Supreme Court’s gonna do, but that seems to me to not be a great sign. Sorry to be a party pooper, but it’s hard to miss the symbolism of that. The Chron has more.

Speaking of the Supreme Court, they have requested a response from the counties named in Paxton’s writ of mandamus no later than 4 PM on Monday the 18th. I don’t think we’ll have to wait much longer to hear from them.

I should note that despite my pessimism in that first paragraph, there are some Republicans who are fine with pushing mail ballots to anyone who wants them. Like Kathaleen Wall, for example:

[Wall] has sent out mailers in recent weeks telling voters they have the “green light” to vote by mail and that the secretary of state has cleared them to do so if they are worried about contracting or spreading the virus by voting in person.

[…]

The controversy in the 22nd District has caught the attention of state officials. The secretary of state’s office says it “has been made aware of the mailings that have been sent out and have been in touch with representatives of the Wall campaign.”

“We have informed them that certain statements attributed to the Secretary of State’s office are categorically false, instructed them to update voters who have already been contacted, and to immediately cease further distribution,” a spokesman for the office, Stephen Chang, said in a statement.

Wall’s campaign says she is doing her best to keep voters up to date on the fast-changing developments around voting by mail, pointing to posts on her website and social media that have come in addition to the mailers. In a statement, the candidate defended sending out the vote-by-mail applications.

“I’ve distributed over 60,000 face masks to first responders and businesses in CD22 to make sure they have the tools they need to stay safe,” Wall said. “Sending out ballot by mail applications is the same thing. I’m making sure voters know they have options if they want to exercise it and meet the qualifications.”

However, Wall’s questionable vote-by-mail efforts go back to mid-April, when she sent out a mailer with the state seal telling the voters that they had received the “green light” to vote by mail and that their applications would be arriving soon. (Federal candidates are exempted from state law that prohibits the use of the state seal in political advertising.) The mailer also said, “Recently, the Texas Secretary of State ruled that voters’ concerns over contracting or spreading the COVID-19 virus and endangering their health by visiting a public polling place meet the election law requirements to be deemed eligible to vote absentee.”

Wall’s campaign used the same language in the subsequent mailer with the application, which featured the “Disability” box pre-checked.

As the story notes, that’s not exactly what the SOS said in that advisory, and indeed this is basically the Democratic plaintiffs’ position in the nine million current lawsuits that have been filed on the topic. Kathaleen Wall is an idiot who maybe doesn’t fully grasp the politics here. Or who knows, maybe this is a sincere statement of her beliefs, in which case all I can say is welcome aboard. I will admit, it’s still a little weird to me that this has become such a partisan issue, since one would think there are plenty of Republican voters who aren’t over 65 that might like to have this option as well. But here we are anyway, and now we have Kathaleen Wall on our side. Hooray?

Paxton tries a Supreme shortcut

They sure are keeping busy.

In a bit of judicial leapfrog, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is asking the Texas Supreme Court to weigh in on his interpretation of how voters can qualify for absentee ballots during the coronavirus pandemic.

Various lawsuits are pending over whether eligibility for mail-in ballots can be expanded to voters who risk contracting the virus by voting in person. Paxton believes it can’t, and Wednesday asked the state’s highest civil court to issue a relatively rare writ of mandamus preventing local election officials from doing so.

In a motion filed Wednesday, the Republican attorney general asked the Texas Supreme Court to order election officials in some of the biggest, largely Democratic counties in the state to follow his reading of existing eligibility requirements for absentee voting, arguing the court must step in quickly because those county officials intend to apply an “incorrect reading” of state law.

[…]

The election officials Paxton is targeting — county clerks or election administrators in Harris, Dallas, Travis, El Paso and Cameron counties — have generally indicated they will process mail-in ballots that cite a disability in accordance with the law and court rulings.

In his filing, Paxton argued that county election officials are refusing “to discharge” their duty to reject applications to vote by mail from voters who don’t qualify under the state’s existing eligibility criteria.

“They have instead determined that the coronavirus pandemic allows them to unilaterally expand the Legislature’s determination of who is eligible to vote by mail,” Paxton wrote. “To the local election officials of Travis, Harris, Cameron, Dallas, and El Paso Counties —all Respondents here —a ‘disability’ does not mean a ‘sickness or physical condition.’ Instead, it means a generalized fear common to all voters of contracting disease.”

It’s unclear how election officials would be able to reject applications from voters who use the disability category of eligibility as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Voters who cite a disability to receive a mail-in don’t have to provide any information beyond checking a box on the application form. Election officials can reject applications if they know the applicant is ineligible, but they’re unable to require voters to substantiate their disability.

Paxton argued the election officials’ actions were “not only unlawful; they are also unnecessary” because the state is already making changes to the voting process during the pandemic. Earlier this week, Gov. Greg Abbott doubled the early voting period for the July 14 primary runoff.

This is of course in reference to the state lawsuit. As we know, Paxton had previously threatened county election officials who might be accommodating to people requesting mail ballots on the grounds that the original ruling only applied to Travis County and was stayed pending appeal. The TDP, the plaintiffs in the suit, filed a motion with the Third Court of Appeals opposing Paxton’s actions. I should note that this case has been transferred to the 14th Court of Appeals, which includes Harris County. The Trib story about the complaint filed against Paxton in Dallas County contains a reference to this. Here’s a copy of the briefing schedule for the 14th Court of Appeals, which looks to be set for a ruling in mid-June. Assuming the Supreme Court doesn’t take this out of their hands.

This is basically Paxton getting a second bite at the apple. It’s a writ of mandamus – you may remember, the thing that they acted on in 2015 when they ordered the city of Houston to allow the anti-HERO referendum to go forward – and not an appeal, since the appeals court hasn’t been heard from yet. They don’t have to do anything with this, they could just let the appellate court do its job. As the story notes, there’s no way for clerks to vet or verify anyone’s disability claim. I suppose either court could order clerks to shut up and not tell people that they have the right to ask for a mail ballot if they have a disability. I’m not exactly sure how that would work, but the law can be a funny thing. And of course, there are all those federal suits, over which the State Supreme Court has no jurisdiction. So who knows? I don’t know what else to say, we’ll just have to wait and see what they do. The Chron has 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.

From South Texas to the moon

That’s the plan, anyway.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk expects to one day launch people from South Texas to the moon, Mars or beyond — with an update late Saturday that confirmed the company’s long-term presence in a remote area outside of Brownsville where SpaceX this year started testing a prototype of its Starship vehicle.

Founder Elon Musk said SpaceX is planning to launch its latest prototype 12 miles into the sky within the next month or two. And, ultimately, the Starship vehicle would be paired with the Super Heavy Rocket to escape Earth’s gravity and help make humans a multi-planetary species, Musk said.

“This is the most inspiring thing that I’ve ever seen,” Musk said, standing by the 165-foot-tall Starship prototype that was just assembled Friday.

[…]

To better watch the tests and launches in Texas, Cameron County officials built a new amphitheater on the southernmost tip of South Padre Island. The venue, which will also host concerts and other events, was slated to have a ribbon-cutting ceremony Saturday, though that was delayed by the SpaceX event, said Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr.

The county thought SpaceX would bring tourism dollars as people came to watch its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rocket launches. But now that SpaceX has switched its focus, Treviño is waiting to see what the economic impact could be for the region. He’s hopeful that SpaceX can attract other space companies and help develop a local aerospace workforce.

Musk on Saturday said he expects the area will be built up more by the time SpaceX is launching people into space. He would also like to see local propellant production.

“I grew up here,” Treviño said. “I don’t think anybody in their wildest dreams would have thought we’d have potential rocket launches taking place in our backyard. So the fact we’ve gotten to this point … it’s really a heck of an opportunity for us.”

See here for some background. This is a post I’d drafted some time ago, so please overlook the references to recent dates. The relationship between SpaceX and South Texas has been a bit strained at times, but perhaps now things are better. It’s always reasonable to be a bit skeptical of Elon Musk, but we’ll see how this goes. KUT has more.

Early voting Day 5: It’s been a long week (in a good way)

Did I mention it’s been busy?

Voters across the state have come out in massive numbers during the first five days of early voting, and soon, more Texans will have voted early in 2018 than in all of 2014’s early voting period, according to data from the secretary of state’s office.

The state’s five largest counties have all nearly doubled the turnout compared to the same point in 2014. By the time the polls closed Thursday, 13.2 percent of registered voters in Harris County, the state’s largest county, had voted, compared to 6.4 percent at the same time in 2014. That number comes close to the 16.4 percent voter turnout seen at the end of the fourth day of early voting in 2016, a presidential year.

The story is similar in Dallas County, which recorded a voter turnout of 16.9 percent at the end of Thursday, compared to 5.9 percent at the same point in 2014, and in Tarrant County, which recorded a voter turnout of 16 percent at the end of Thursday, compared to 7.3 percent at the same point in 2014.

In Travis County, where the Austin Fiesta Mart polling location is, Tax Assessor-Collector and Voter Registrar Bruce Elfant reported on Facebook that as of 4 p.m. Friday, 22 percent of registered voters had cast their vote. The number hovered around 7 percent at the same point back in 2014.

“After just five days of early voting, the 2018 voter turnout will likely have passed the entire Early Vote turnout for the 2010 and 2014 elections,” Elfant wrote.

Some counties — like El Paso, Williamson and Cameron — have already surpassed the overall voter turnout during the entire two-week early voting period in 2014. Overall, by the time the polls closed on Thursday, 16.3 percent of the 12.3 million registered voters in the 30 counties with the most registered voters had cast ballots.

“It’s pretty remarkable to double or triple voter turnout,” said Renée Cross, the associate director of the Hobby Center for Public Policy at the University of Houston.

[…]

Mark Jones, a fellow in political science at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, said the long lines at polling places are “notable,” but he said that “almost any voter turnout should be above 2014.”

Jones also said it is too early to draw conclusions about whether strong early voting turnout will mean strong overall turnout. Early voting could be “cannibalizing Election Day turnout, ” he said.

“More and more people are voting early,” said Jones, who estimates that between 60 and 75 percent of registered voters will cast their vote before Election Day. “People have gotten used to it, and campaigns have been encouraging it.”

He noted that a greater proportion of voters this year will be under the age of 35.

“Beto O’Rourke has spent quite a bit of money and time targeting millennials and post-millennials with the correct belief that they support him more than any other age group,” Jones said.

I agree that some of the frenzied activity is people shifting behavior, but it’s quite a bit more than that. We’re on pace in Harris County to blow past not just the early voting totals from past years, but the final totals as well. Close to one million just in early voting remains on the table. Say it with me now: We’ve never seen anything like this before.

Here are the totals for Friday, and here are the daily totals from 2010, from 2014, and from 2016, as well as a spreadsheet with totals from 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016. The running tallies:


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2010  29,702  134,488  164,190
2014  54,300  104,099  158,399
2018  65,232  315,034  380,266

2008  40,059  220,046  260,105
2012  53,131  260,274  313,405
2016  77,445  374,679  452,124

As I expected, after the slight dip on Thursday, in person voting ticked up and was, by about 900 votes, the busiest in person day so far. We have now officially exceeded the entire final early vote total from 2014, and we have seven days of early voting to go. We haven’t even gotten to the really heavy days yet.

Harris County Attorney files amicus brief in SB4 lawsuit

Good.

Last week, Harris County Commissioners Court opted not to join a lawsuit challenging the state’s controversial “sanctuary cities” law as unconstitutional.

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan, however, has filed a brief asking a federal court to halt its implementation on Sept. 1.

“S.B. 4 will do irreparable damage to this State’s child welfare process, place county attorneys charged with representing DFPS in an irreconcilable conflict, and do further trauma to children who have been placed in the State’s care. Further, there is no legitimate state purpose in treating children who have an unauthorized immigrant parent or other potential care giver differently in child welfare cases,” states Ryan’s brief, which was filed this month in federal court.

[…]

Special Assistant County Attorney Terry O’Rourke said that come Sept 1., with no injunction stopping SB4’s implementation, the county attorney’s office does not know how it will handle certain child welfare cases.

“That’s an ethical hell that we do not want to experience, and that’s why Vince Ryan has asked the federal court for guidance,” O’ Rourke said.

You can see the specific objections in the story. This is not as good as if Commissioners Court had voted to join the litigation, but it’s something. In the meantime, Cameron County and the city of Laredo have joined the plaintiffs, and there are a couple of bills to repeal SB4 that have been filed for the special session, though of course neither of them will get anywhere. It’s still important to make the stand, and in the better-late-than-never department, business interests are weighing in as well. It’s hard to overstate how much damage the Republicans in charge have done to Texas’ reputation this year, and there’s still more to come. Stace has more.

Statewide review: 2016 was like 2008, but not in a good way

vote-button

There’s no point in beating around the bush, so I’ll just come out and say it: Despite the excitement about increases in voter registration and heavy early voting turnout. statewide Democratic candidates outside of Hillary Clinton generally did not do any better than their counterparts in 2008. Republican statewide candidates, on the other hand, were generally setting new high-water marks for vote totals. Every statewide Republican other than Wayne Christian topped Donald Trump’s 4,681,590 votes, with all of them but one besting it by at least 100,000. Meanwhile, only Dori Contreras Garza’s 3,598,852 votes exceeded President Obama’s 2008 tally. Overall turnout was up in Texas (in absolute numbers, though not in percentage), but while Dem turnout was better than 2012, it didn’t hit any new heights. I fear we may be at a plateau, as we have been in the off years since 2002.

Why am I not more encouraged by Hillary Clinton’s 3.8 million-plus total? Because I estimate at least 100,000 of her votes came from people who supported Republicans in other races, and because the dropoff from her total to downballot candidates was enough to show no visible growth. For these purposes, I’m using judicial races as my metric, as I believe it is a better proxy for partisan intent. I used as a baseline for comparison between 2012 and 2016 two Court of Criminal Appeals races – the 2012 Sharon Keller/Keith Hampton race, and the 2016 Mike Keasler/Robert Burns race. I believe these contests are low enough profile to draw a relatively small number of crossovers, and in this particular case they were the only such races each year to have just a Libertarian candidate in addition, thus allowing for a more apples-to-apples comparison. I put all the county totals into a spreadsheet and then calculated the difference between the two. From a Democratic perspective, there’s good news, so-so news, and bad news.

I’ll get to the news in a second. You can see the spreadsheet here. I’ve put a list of the 62 counties in which Democrats gained votes from 2012 to 2016 beneath the fold. Take a look and then come back, and we’ll talk about what I think this means.

Ready? Democrats really killed it in the big urban counties. Harris, Bexar, Travis, El Paso, and Dallas combined for nearly 240,000 more Democratic votes in 2016, compared to 83,000 for the Republicans, a net of over 150K. Dems took such a big step forward in Harris County that HD144 might not really be a swing district any more, while HDs 132, 135, and 138 are now in the picture as pickup opportunities, with HD126 a little farther out on the horizon. I’ll have more to say about Harris County beginning tomorrow, but I feel like maybe, just maybe, we’ve finally turned a corner. I know that the off-year turnout issue is a problem until we can demonstrate that it’s not, but I believe it’s getting hard to dispute the assertion that there are just more Democrats in Harris County than there are Republicans. I also believe that national conditions will be different in 2018 than they were in 2010 and 2014. Doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily be better, but they will be different, and when you’ve consistently been on the short end of the stick, having conditions change – even if you don’t know how they will change – is a risk you ought to be willing to take.

Democrats also showed a nice gain in the big Latino counties (Hidalgo, Cameron, and Webb), while netting over 9,000 votes in Fort Bend. I’ll be looking at Fort Bend data later as well, and while this wasn’t enough to push any non-Hillary Dems over the top there, it’s a step in the right direction.

The so-so news is that Dems more or less held steady in most of the big suburban counties, by which I mean they mostly lost a little ground but not that much. Other than Fort Bend, Dems posted a solid gain in Hays County and barely gained more votes in Brazoria County than the GOP did. They had modest net losses in counties like Tarrant, Collin, Denton, and Williamson, such that one might feel we are at or near an inflection point in those counties. In math terms, the second derivative is approaching zero. This is a genteel way of saying that we’re falling behind at a slower pace. Better than falling behind in huge chunks, but still not good news.

The bad news is that in several other suburban counties, and basically all the non-Latino rural ones, Democrats got crushed. Montgomery County continues to be a sucking chest wound, with 21,087 more Republican votes and 8,432 more Dems. Comal County is Montgomery’s little brother, with continued steady growth and a deep red tint that shows no signs of abating. And if you’re old enough to remember when Galveston County was reliably Democratic, well, the score here is 10,335 more votes for the GOP, and 1,521 more for the Dems. So, yeah.

It’s the rural counties where things really become dreary. I said the Dems gained votes over 2012 in 62 counties. That means they lost votes in 192 others. Now, most of these are small counties, and the losses themselves were small in most of them; the average loss was 323 votes. But Republicans gained an average of over 700 votes in each of those counties, and as they say after awhile it adds up. Plus, some of these counties are now more exurban than rural, and like the suburbs are seeing steady growth. Two examples for you are Johnson County, northwest of Travis and home of Cleburne, and Parker County, west of Tarrant where Weatherford is. Those counties saw a combined voter registration increase of about 20,000. Of that, 17,201 were Republican and 449 were Democratic. That right there is enough to negate the Democratic net gain in Dallas County.

The single most eye-catching item in here is Polk County, up US59 between Houston and Lufkin; Livingston is the county seat. Unlike Johnson and Parker, it has about the same number of voters as it did four years ago. The difference is that in 2012 fewer than half of registered voters bothered, while this year nearly everyone did. Turnout in the Presidential race in Polk County was an mind-boggling 89.48%, and nearly the entire increase came from Republicans. In this CCA comparison, Mike Keasler got 12,183 more votes than Sharon Keller did, while Robert Burns improved on Keith Hampton by only 1,845 votes. All this with only 38,530 total registered voters. OMG, to say the least.

So what should we be doing about this? Well, we should keep doing what we’re doing in the urban counties, because it definitely bore fruit this year. I’d like to think we’re starting to maybe get a little traction in the suburbs, at least some of them, but it’s going to take a lot more resources and an effort that doesn’t just gear up at campaign time to really get that going. Mostly, we need to have a way to make sure we’re being heard in these places, because I don’t think we are, not outside of the faithful who are there. If I were a fabulously wealthy person who wanted to move the needle outside the urban counties, I’d throw a bunch of money at the Texas Organizing Project and ask them to figure out (and execute) a way to do for these suburbs and exurbs what they’ve been doing in Pasadena. It’s slow and methodical and just one piece of the puzzle, but we have got to start somewhere.

Data on the counties where Dem turnout grew is beneath the fold. More to come over the next week or so.

(more…)

State settles birth certificate lawsuit

Good.

After undergoing mediation, the state of Texas has reached an agreement with undocumented families in a lawsuit over its denial to issue birth certificates to children born in the U.S. to undocumented immigrants.

The state will clarify and expand the types of secondary forms undocumented immigrants can use to prove their identity, according to attorneys representing the group of undocumented parents and their U.S-born children who filed a lawsuit against the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Previously, immigrants in Texas could request birth certificates for their children if they had two secondary forms of ID, including Mexican voter registration cards and foreign IDs with a photo.

In the agreement, the state said it would accept voter ID cards received by undocumented immigrants in Texas by mail under recent changes to Mexican law, the attorneys said. Until earlier this year, the Mexican voter registration cards could only be obtained in Mexico.

The state also agreed to accept certain documents Central American parents can obtain from their consulates in the U.S. as secondary forms of ID if they are signed and stamped by consular officials. Under the agreement, the list of acceptable secondary documents was also expanded to include other supporting documents, such as copies of utility bills, paycheck stubs and letters relating to public assistance benefits, according to the families’ lawyers.

“We feel confident that undocumented parents with children born here will be able to access their children’s birth certificates,” said Marinda van Dalen, a staff attorney with Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid.

See here and here for the background. The plaintiffs’ argument was that the state had no basis for changing its rules for what ID it would and would not accept, and the state’s defense to that argument didn’t resonate with the judge, so given all that a settlement seems like the best outcome all around. With the exception of the immigration executive order lawsuit, it hasn’t exactly been a great month in the courts for the state of Texas, has it? A statement from the Senate Hispanic Caucus is here, and the NYT and the Observer have more.

Oral arguments in birth certificate lawsuit

Here we go.

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman heard oral arguments in a lawsuit filed by a group of undocumented parents and their U.S.-citizen children against the state Department of State Health Services, which has effectively blocked the children from obtaining birth certificates.

The families allege that the department has violated the children’s constitutional rights by ordering local county registrars to stop recognizing Mexican consular IDs — known as a matrícula consular — and foreign passports without valid visas, as proof of identification that the parents may use to obtain the vital records. The state argues the documents are susceptible to fraud.

“Is this a solution in search of a problem?” Pitman asked assistant attorney general Thomas Albright, representing the agency, health Commissioner Kirk Cole and State Registrar Geraldine Harris. “What makes this burden necessary?”

Pitman’s remarks came after he told the state’s attorneys he would not allow them to debate the importance of birth certificates, a document he said was “the primary evidence of U.S. citizenship.”

The hearing came after the families asked for an emergency injunction ordering the health department to identify two acceptable forms of identification parents can use to obtain birth certificates.

Attorney Jennifer Harbury, representing the families, reiterated her belief that Texas changed its policies without warning in reaction to the national debate over illegal immigration that reached a fever pitch in 2011. After that, she said, Texas became the only state in the country to prevent undocumented immigrants from getting birth certificates.

But Albright said the families haven’t proven their case enough for Pitman to grant the emergency order, and instead said the issue should play out through a regular trial.

“There is no burden on us to say ‘We’re great. Our rule is perfect,’” he told Pitman. “Today is just one step in what is a longer process. I don’t think they’ve argued the proof that you need.”

Albright also focused on the Mexican matrícula, conceding it has been made more secure and tamper proof but saying it is still susceptible to fraud.

Harbury said the families would be amenable to a ruling that excluded that document from a list of approved items. Her argument, she said, is that nothing else is currently acceptable.

“Forty-nine other states accept another form [of ID],” she said.

Though he seemed to question more than one of the state’s claims, Pitman also appeared hesitant to make a decision without more information. It’s unclear when he will rule.

See here, here, here, and here for the background. If you get the impression that the state didn’t have the strongest argument for its defense, you wouldn’t be alone.

Judge Robert Pittman did not offer many clues about his feelings on the case during the three-hour hearing, but he did grill Albright about the extent of birth certificate fraud, asking several times whether the new state policy was a “solution in search of a problem.”

“If you’re asking if there’s some statistical analysis … I don’t have that,” Albright conceded.

He was quick to add, however: “That’s not my burden.”

Still, the judge did not grant the emergency order, and it is not clear when he will rule. So until then, things will continue to be as they were. The Observer has more.

The dark side of SpaceX

Be careful what you wish for.

People who live in Boca Chica Village, all 26 of them, knew Elon Musk’s SpaceX company would put the South Texas town on the map after it was selected last year as the world’s first commercial rocket-launch site. Now, many want SpaceX gone and their obscurity back.

The residents say SpaceX representatives told them recently they would be required to register with the county, wear badges and pass through checkpoints on launch days, which will occur about once a month beginning as soon as next year. During a 15-hour launch time frame, their movement around the village could be restricted. If they happen to be picking up groceries past a designated “point of no return,” forget about going home.

SpaceX’s proposed methods to enforce the safety rules — sweeping the beach with drones and video surveillance — aren’t helping matters. While the rules still might change, all this makes residents wish SpaceX would go away, with some even talking about acts of civil disobedience or maybe a lawsuit.

“I’m like, ‘Are you out of your mind?’ ” said Cheryl Stevens, 55, who settled in Boca Chica Village a decade ago in search of quiet, rustic beauty. “It’s like Nazi Germany.”

[…]

Boca Chica Village, in one of the state’s poorest counties, sits on a dusty fleck of land between wind-swept sand dunes, emerald marshes and a desolate white beach. It’s officially called Kopernik Shores, after the famous Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, which now seems a small irony. The community of about three dozen houses, filled with mainly seasonal blue-collar workers and retirees, originally was built by a Chicago real-estate developer in the 1960s.

Experts say the safety issues are real. David Kanipe, an associate professor in the aerospace-engineering department at Texas A&M University and retired NASA engineer, said that during Cape Canaveral shuttle launches, viewers typically were required to be at least three miles away from the site. Boca Chica Village is less than two miles away. Residents could be exposed to dangerous chemicals used during launches, such as hydrazine, and falling debris in the event of an explosion, he said.

In June, an unmanned SpaceX rocket burst into flames minutes after it left Cape Canaveral. In the following days, beachgoers were warned to stay away from any toxic rocket debris that washed ashore.

“I’m not sure I’d be comfortable living that close to it,” Kanipe said.

Read the whole thing, it’s kind of an amusing story if you’re not on the business end of it. I suppose this issue will come up again, as more private space launch companies emerge and need places to do their thing. Let Boca Chica Village serve as a cautionary tale and a starting point for negotiations about the procedures for launch days. See this 2007 Austin Chronicle story if you want to know a bit more about the history of this little town.

Lawsuit filed over state refusal to issue birth certificates

I’m sure this won’t be contentious at all.

For nearly 150 years, the United States, under the 14th Amendment, has recognized people born here as citizens, regardless of whether their parents were citizens.

But Texas has other plans. In the last year, the state has refused to issue birth certificates to children who were born in Texas to undocumented parents. In May, four women filed a civil rights lawsuit against the Texas Department of State Health Services alleging constitutional discrimination and interference in the federal government’s authority over immigration.

Jennifer Harbury, a lawyer with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, who is representing the women, said the deluge of birth certificate refusals began last winter. “I’ve never seen such a large number of women with this problem,” she says. “In the past someone might be turned away, but it was always resolved. This is something altogether new.”

According to the lawsuit, the women who requested birth certificates for their children at the state’s vital statistics offices in Cameron and Hidalgo counties were turned away because of insufficient proof of their identities. State law allows the use of a foreign ID if the mother lacks a Texas driver’s license or a U.S. passport.

But employees at the offices, which are run by the Texas Department of State Health Services, told the women they would no longer accept either the matricula consular, which is a photo ID issued by the Mexican Consulate to Mexican nationals living in the U.S., or a foreign passport without a current U.S. visa. Undocumented Central American women are also being turned away because they only have a passport without a U.S. visa. “They are locking out a huge chunk of the undocumented immigrant community,” says Harbury.

[…]

James Harrington, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, is also representing the undocumented families. The legal team is seeking a court order to reinstate the use of the matricula consular and foreign passports as valid proof of identity for undocumented mothers.

“Even in the darkest hours of Texas’ history of discrimination, officials never denied birth certificates to Hispanic children of immigrants,” said Harrington in a written statement. “Everyone born in the United States is entitled to the full rights of citizenship.”

Here’s the Express-News story from May that the Observer post references; it has some more detail so read it as well. Just as a reminder, the 14th Amendment grants birthright citizenship, so I have no idea on what ground the Department of State Health Services thinks it has to stand. Here’s a bit from a press release from MALC that expands on that:

Recently, several parents were denied birth certificates for their U.S. born children by employees at offices administered by the Department of State Health Services, after administrators declined to accept their foreign government forms of identification. This is a major departure from prior practice, as parents had been able to obtain a copy of their child’s birth certificate by providing their passport or a consular ID from their country of national origin in lieu of a US-issued ID.

“The legal standing for this prerequisite is questionable. No section under Texas’s Health and Safety Code mandates that the Department require verification of immigrant status or national original before the issuance of a birth certificate to the parents of an American-born child. This practice also runs counter to the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution, which grants citizenship to all children born in the United States, regardless of whether their parents are citizens.

The full statement is here. I’d hope this would spur a quick reversal, but I know better than to expect it. We’ll see what the courts have to say. TPM has more.

Abbott and the Latino vote

The Trib drops a number on us.

I guess I need to find a new Abbott avatar

Along with his 20-point margin of victory, Gov.-elect Greg Abbott accomplished something on Election Day that many naysayers doubted the Republican could: He took 44 percent of the Hispanic vote.

For Texas conservatives, Abbott’s performance indicated that Republicans are making headway among this increasingly crucial voting bloc, which tends to lean Democratic. But upon taking office, Abbott will find himself in turbulent political waters.

[…]

But election results show that despite Republican outreach efforts, Abbott does not have a strong hold on areas of the state where most of the population is Hispanic, particularly the border counties Abbott repeatedly visited during his campaign.

In Cameron County, which Abbott had set out to win, he garnered 42 percent of the vote while Davis took 55 percent. He fared worse in Hidalgo County, with only 35 percent of the vote to Davis’s 63 percent.

The results could prove troublesome for a party looking to hone its outreach efforts as the state’s Hispanic population swells. Although they make up less than a third of eligible voters in the state, Hispanics are expected to make up a plurality of Texas’ population by 2020.

Abbott outpaced his predecessors in winning support among Hispanics, but navigating the crosscurrents of appealing to a far-right base and conservative Hispanics continues to prove difficult for Republicans when it comes to immigration.

The article is about how Abbott is going to try to balance his madrina-friendly image with the ugly xenophobia of his party. I’m not going to prognosticate about that – lots of people have been opining about what the Abbott-Dan Patrick dynamic is going to be like – but I am going to focus on those numbers. I presume that 44% figure comes from the exit polls we were promised. I know they were done and I’m aware of some complaints about their methodology, but I’ve seen basically no reporting or other analysis on them. Be that as it may, I’m going to do three things: Check the actual results to see if they line up with the 44% figure given, compare Abbott to Rick Perry in 2010, and I’ll hold the third one back till I’m ready to show you the numbers.

Comparing Latino voting performances is always a bit dicey, since the best we can do at this level is use county and State Rep district data, which is a reasonable enough rough approximation, but which can be distorted by the presence of non-Latino voters, especially if Latino turnout is lower than expected. But it’s what we’ve got, and we can at least draw some broad conclusions. A full comparison to Rick Perry in 2010 won’t be possible until all the legislative district data is published by the TLC in early 2015, but we’ll use what we do have. Here’s a look at county comparisons:

County Perry Abbott White Davis ========================================== Cameron 40.82% 42.01% 57.30% 55.46% El Paso 36.76% 37.25% 61.29% 60.32% Hidalgo 31.75% 34.79% 66.82% 62.70% Maverick 26.83% 26.27% 71.86% 70.27% Webb 22.92% 28.86% 75.60% 68.03%

So yes, Abbott did improve on Rick Perry, but not by that much. In Cameron County, which as the Trib story notes Abbott was claiming he wanted to win, he beat Perry by a bit more than one point. He did do three points better in Hidalgo and six points better in Webb, but only a half point better in El Paso and a half point worse in Maverick. Again, this is incomplete data – the State Rep district data will tell a better story – but if Rick Perry was scoring in the low thirties in 2010, it’s hard for me to say that Abbott did any better than the mid-to-upper thirties. It’s an improvement, and he gets credit for it, but I don’t see how you get to 44% from there.

I do have State Rep district data for Harris County, so let’s take a look at that:

Dist Perry Abbott White Davis Dewhurst LCT ============================================================ HD140 27.9% 32.2% 70.7% 66.3% 31.6% 65.9% HD143 29.6% 35.0% 68.9% 63.7% 33.4% 63.9% HD144 45.2% 51.7% 52.7% 46.3% 50.8% 46.0% HD145 36.3% 40.8% 62.0% 57.2% 41.6% 54.8% HD148 36.3% 39.1% 61.6% 58.7% 45.0% 50.8%

The caveat here is that the Hispanic Citizen Voting Age Populations (Hispanic CVAPs) are lower in these districts than in many other Latino districts. HD140 is the most Latino, at 60.6%; by comparison, the lowest CVAP in the six El Paso districts is 59.4%, with the other five all being greater than 70% and three of the six topping 80%. Be that as it may, Abbott clearly beat Perry here, by four to six points. That also comes with an asterisk, however, since as we know Bill White outperformed the rest of the Democratic ticket on his home turf by about six points. I included the David Dewhurst/Linda Chavez-Thompson numbers as well here to serve as a further point of comparison. Add it all up, and Abbott got 39.6% of the vote in Latino State Rep districts in Harris County. That’s impressive and a number Democrats will have to reckon with, but it’s still a pretty good distance from 44%.

I’ll revisit this question later, once the TLC has put out its data. In the meantime, there’s one more dimension to consider: How well Greg Abbott did in 2010 versus how well he did in 2014:

County Abb 10 Abb 14 ========================== Cameron 48.21% 42.01% El Paso 42.43% 37.25% Hidalgo 37.72% 34.79% Maverick 26.31% 26.27% Webb 29.12% 28.86% Dist Abb 10 Abb 14 ========================== HD140 35.1% 32.2% HD143 37.2% 35.0% HD144 54.0% 51.7% HD145 46.4% 40.8% HD148 48.6% 39.1%

Now of course this isn’t a real apples-to-apples comparison. Abbott was running for Attorney General in 2010 against a candidate who had no money and a self-described “funny name”. That’s a formula for him to do better. Of course, one could say that voters in these places liked him more when he had a lower profile. The more they heard about him, the less likely they were to vote for him. Make of that what you will.

2014 Day Three EV totals

But first, a little angst.

EarlyVoting

I feel a bit uncomfortable after Day Two of Early Voting in Person. Here are a couple of concerning tweets from yesterday:

Scott Braddock ‏@scottbraddock 2h2 hours ago
Those Harris County early vote totals are not good for Democrats. *If* Texas is a battleground, #Houston is ground zero #TxLege

And:

Teddy Schleifer @teddyschleifer • 5h 5 hours ago
Dems excited by big vote-by-mail numbers here in Harris County, but in-person down 25%. Not good for them. #HOUNews | http://blog.chron.com/houstonpolitics/2014/10/in-person-early-vote-turnout-still-down-in-harris-county/ …

Here is from Chron.com:

The number of voters showing up at Harris County’s 41 early-vote locations was down by 25 percent for the second straight day on Tuesday, according to tallies released by the County Clerk.

A total of 20,380 registered voters cast a ballot on Tuesday, more than 7,000 fewer voters than cast one on the first Tuesday of early voting during the last midterm election in 2010. While Monday’s results revealed a massive increase in the number of mail ballots received this fall, the number received on Tuesday slightly trailed those seen on the corresponding Tuesday in 2010. A majority of the vote-by-mail ballots typically arrive on the first day.

A total of 21,612 votes were cast Tuesday, 1,232 of them mail ballots. On Monday, the first day of the two-week early-voting period, 61,735 total votes were cast.

A Commentary review of Early Voting locations likely frequented by African American and Latino voters shows a slight decrease in voter turnout as compared to the 2010 numbers after Day Two. Sure Dems are doing better with the mail ballots but we have to increase the Early Voting in Person numbers – or else. What is happening out there?

Here are your Day Three totals, and here are the full 2010 EV totals. As was the case with Day Two, in person totals are below what they were in 2010, though there were more absentee ballots received. The grand total so far for 2014 is 107,433, while the comparable total for 2010 was 107,782, so we are now officially a smidgen behind 2010. Does that mean we’re doomed?

Well, that depends on who is turning out. We’ve been through this before, but let’s remember, “turnout” doesn’t just mean Democrats. Republican voters count towards “turnout” too, and as you may recall they turned out like gangbusters in 2010. One of the prerequisites for Democrats doing well, or at least doing better, this year was for Republican turnout to come back down to earth. If what we’re got here is a Democratic increase combined with a Republican decrease, that would be pretty good, no?

Now bear in mind, the early vote gap – both in person and mail ballot – from 2010 in Harris County was pretty massive. A review of the 2010 numbers suggests it was about 59-39 in favor of the GOP, with mail ballots going 68-31 and in person early votes being 58-40. There’s a lot of room for Ds to go up and Rs to go down without the leader changing.

There are two indicators to suggest that the gap has narrowed considerably, though not all the way. One is that while Campos’ observation about Latino EV locations is accurate, it’s not the whole story. Here are the three day totals for the heaviest EV locations in GOP districts, then and now:

Location name SRD 2010 2014 ===================================================== Champion Forest Baptist Church 126 4,110 3,206 Kingwood Branch Library 127 4,075 2,823 Freeman Branch Library 129 4,190 3,044 Cypress Top Park, Cypress 130 3,548 3,052 Trini Mendenhall Community Center 138 3,839 3,048

Those are some pretty steep declines. Some of this I would attribute to the large increase in absentee votes, as I believe some of that represents people changing their behavior from voting early in person to voting by mail. Some of it I would (hopefully) attribute to the surge of 2010 Republican voters abating. Greg’s Day Two analysis, which suggests mail ballots are running about 50-50 and overall turnout being about 46% Dem, supports that. No question, we’d like to see Dem in person performance improve, but those mail ballots count, too, and they’re clearly making a difference. The usual pattern is that Dems turn out big on Saturday and generally participate more in Week 2, so we’ll see if that holds. Right now, all signs clearly point to Dems doing considerably better than they did in 2010. Doing better than 2010 is not that high a bar to clear, of course, so there’s still room to go up. Just don’t fixate on the “total turnout” number without at least considering where that turnout is coming from.

At the state level, the picture is interesting. The two day EV results for 2014 on the SOS webpage show an overall increase over 2010, fueled entirely by the massive uptick in mail ballots. Democratic counties like Dallas, Travis, El Paso, Hidalgo, and Cameron are up a bit. So are Republican counties like Montgomery, Collin, Williamson, and Denton, but Galveston is down and Fort Bend is flat. Tarrant is way up, but that’s Wendy Davis’ home turf. Again, it’s a function of who is showing up. I don’t have enough information to make any guesses.

Bottom line, keep calm and keep working to turn out our voters. There’s a Walk2Vote event at UH-Downtown tomorrow, to turn students out there. If you really want to make a difference, consider helping out with Drive for Democracy, which aims to help people who need a ride to the polls get them. I’m told they have identified around 1000 voters who need a ride to the polls and are recruiting volunteers to help with those rides. I can’t think of a better way to get involved. Check ’em out, and sign up to help if you can.

Gallup’s poll of Latinos in Texas

I have four things to say about this.

Texas Hispanics are decidedly Democratic in their political party preferences, 46% to 27%, but that 19-percentage-point Democratic advantage is much smaller in Texas than the average 30-point gap Democrats enjoy among the Hispanic population in the other 49 states. And white Texas residents are decidedly more Republican (61%) than the average among whites residing in other states (48%), complicating whether Texas will turn into a “blue” Democratic state in future elections.

Political Preferences by Race

With an increasingly large minority population, including the second-largest Hispanic population of any state, Texas has the potential to see a once-in-a-generation political re-alignment, which could transform the nation’s largest reliably Republican state.

These latest results come from 2013 Gallup Daily tracking poll data, which consists of 16,028 Hispanics nationwide, including 2,536 Hispanics residing in Texas. The Lone Star state is experiencing significant changes in its population — it is one of the top destinations for state to state migration — and these data provide a crucial, updated look into Texan Hispanics’ political preferences over the past year.

Texas holds a gubernatorial race this year, and some Democratic operatives are hoping Texas’ evolving demographic makeup will allow them to more effectively compete for the governor’s mansion. In 2010, Gov. Rick Perry was re-elected handily, defeating his Democratic opponent by 13 percentage points.

In Texas, GOP Making Small but Meaningful Gains With Hispanics

Relative to 2008 — the year of President Barack Obama’s landslide presidential victory — Texan Hispanics have gradually become more Republican, even as the percentage of Hispanics identifying with or leaning toward the Republican Party has remained relatively stable nationwide. The six-percentage-point gap between the percentage of Texan Hispanics and Hispanics living in all other states who identify or lean GOP is the highest it has been in over six years.

Hispanic Party Identification, Republican Party

Meanwhile, Hispanics living in Texas have followed the broad national trend in terms of primarily identifying as Democrats. The 46% of Texan Hispanics who now lean or identify Democratic is seven points below the 2008 crest; by contrast, U.S. Hispanics living in the other 49 states report support of the Democratic Party that has declined by a slightly smaller four points between 2008 and 2013.

Hispanic Party Identification, Democratic Party

1. I presume this was a poll of registered voters. It would have been interesting if they had also asked about how often they voted in recent elections. There’s polling evidence that suggests lower-propensity Hispanics are almost as strongly Democratic when they do vote as African-American voters, while higher-propensity Hispanics are considerably less Democratic than Hispanic voters as a whole. Would have been cool to have gotten another data point on that. Be that as it may, it remains the case that Latinos heavily favor Democratic candidates, and even if the gap is smaller than it is nationally, there’s nothing to suggest that boosting turnout among them would be anything but an unalloyed good for Dems. And on a side note, at least this poll may mean that it will be cited as the “official” level of Latino support for the GOP in Texas, and not whatever figure Mike Baselice retrieves from his nether regions. For that and that alone, this is a good result.

2. I’m deeply suspicious of that 20% “Independent/No Lean” number. There’s scads of evidence nationally to show that the number of true could-go-either-way indies is tiny, and they’re usually a proxy for the less engaged folks that just plain don’t vote much. Again, an additional question or two about recent voting history, broken out by R/D/I would have been instructive. If I had to bet, I’d say some of these respondents don’t vote much, and some others may just be mad at their party for whatever the reason and refuse to identify with them. Self-declared party ID moves around a lot more than actual voting behavior.

3. As far as the poll result goes, I think the level of Latino support for Republicans is about right, but I’m not sure about the trend. I’ve discussed this topic ad nauseum, so let me just cut to the chase and say that by every indicator I’ve examined, the level of support for Democratic candidates in Latino areas went up from 2008 to 2012, not down. I’ll repeat myself one more time and say that some questions about actual voting behavior would have shed a lot more light on this survey. Being me, I couldn’t leave it at this and got to wondering if there were some other way to corroborate or contradict the evidence from this poll. What I came up with was to look at the level of Republican primary voting in some heavily Latino counties. Here are the numbers:

GOP primary turnout County 2008 2010 2012 ===================================== Cameron 4,822 4,601 5,311 El Paso 18,727 15,386 11,556 Hidalgo 5,753 5,015 6,401 Webb 1,232 1,224 1,189 Total 30,534 27,221 24,457 Registered voters County 2008 2010 2012 ===================================== Cameron 167,656 171,024 174,077 El Paso 372,000 375,128 371,321 Hidalgo 290,454 290,097 291,724 Webb 100,606 105,012 106,579 Total 930,716 941,261 921,701

Let’s be clear, this is an extremely crude measure. I wouldn’t use this to make a point, I’m just looking to see if there’s any correlation to the Gallup charts. The answer appears to be “not really”. The numbers ticked up in Cameron and Hidalgo, and declined in El Paso and Webb. Note that even in these predominantly Latino counties, the people casting these GOP primary votes could still be majority Anglo. We just don’t know. All I can say is that this tidbit of anecdotal evidence neither corroborates nor refutes the hypothesis. I’d need a much more precise measuring tool to be able to say.

4. While the Latino support for Republicans feels about right to me in this poll, the Anglo support for Republicans feels a little low. I’d have pegged it closer to 70%, based on polls and results from 2012. I have a hypothesis that will drop a couple of points post-Obama, but that’s just intuition, not based on any empirical evidence. I do think Wendy Davis et al will need to chip into that if she/they want to have a shot at winning this fall. I think if the Rs are getting only 61% of the Anglo vote in November, they could be in trouble.

More counties for Medicaid expansion

All of these are from last week. Bexar County:

It’s constitutional – deal with it

On a bipartisan vote, Bexar County commissioners Tuesday urged Texas lawmakers to expand the state’s Medicaid program and take advantage of federal matching funds under the Affordable Care Act.

“From 2014 to 2017, expansion will bring $27.2 billion in federal revenue to Texas for just over $3 billion in state investments,” said County Judge Nelson Wolff.

In Bexar County, the expansion “would provide insurance for more than 200,000 currently uninsured” residents, Wolff said.

The court’s resolution noted that Texas has the nation’s highest percentage of uninsured residents, 24 percent, and Bexar County has 396,000 uninsured.

Unanimous approval of the resolution came after the head of the University Health System said the county stands to gain $53 million a year.

[…]

Precinct 3 Commissioner Kevin Wolff, the court’s lone Republican, said it was difficult to support the resolution but did so because significant funds were at stake.

“I will support this even though philosophically our governor is right” in opposing expansion, Wolff said.

“This has got to be fixed at a different level than ours,” he added.

Hidalgo County:

Hidalgo County Commissioners Court has become the first governmental entity in the Rio Grande Valley to pass a resolution in support of expanding Medicaid to include coverage for adults.

The resolution, which was supported both by the RGV Equal Voice Network and Valley Interfaith, passed unanimously on Tuesday.

“We are very grateful county commissioners have supported this resolution to expand Medicaid, particularly since Hidalgo County has the highest rate of uninsured people,” said Ann Williams Cass, chair of the RGV Equal Voice Network’s health working group.

“This will allow the parents in a family of four that makes less than $14 an hour to qualify for Medicaid coverage.”

Cass said Hidalgo County needs healthy families and a healthy workforce. “This is opportunity to get over $400 million a year in federal money for the first three years for Adult Medicaid in Hidalgo County,” she said.

Cass paid tribute to the work of Texas Well and Healthy, Center for Public Policy Priorities, the Children’s Defense Fund. All three are supporting the expansion of Medicaid to include adults. “They have offered us so much help. They deserve credit for all the hard work they have done,” Cass said.

Travis County:

With more than $200 million a year at stake, the Travis County Commissioners Court is urging the Legislature to expand Medicaid coverage to more needy people in Texas, the state with the highest rate of uninsured residents.

The court spent time Tuesday tweaking the resolution that it passed last week to satisfy its lone Republican member, Gerald Daugherty. It was approved unanimously, 5-0. Austin Interfaith leader Oralia Garza Cortes called the bipartisan support “absolutely critical” and said that sister organizations of the advocacy group in Dallas and Bexar counties helped pass similar resolutions this month.

Austin Interfaith and its allies hope those efforts put pressure on the Legislature to expand Medicaid, a central but now optional part of the federal health care law.

See here for the original story. Cameron County joined in last week as well. A long and getting longer list of organizations that support Medicaid expansion, put together by Progress Texas and Texas Well & Healthy, can be found here. Despite Harris County Judge Ed Emmett’s support of Medicaid expansion, I am not currently aware of any action on Harris County Commissioners Court’s part to pass a resolution. It should be noted, however, that while counties are the ones that are on the knife’s edge for this, other government entities can call on Rick Perry and the Legislature to act as well. Both Austin City Council and Waco City Council have passed resolutions or legislative agendas in support of Medicaid expansion. It would be great if Harris County Commissioners Court got in the game, but there’s no reason for Houston City Council to sit out.

One more thing. PDiddie, who was at the big rally for Medicaid on Tuesday, reminds us that Medicaid expansion isn’t just about saving lives, it’s also about making them worth living.

Then there are the personal stories. For example: my father, 86, who had a good job all his working life and then a comfortable retirement, is at medium-to-end-stage dementia and has essentially outlived his assets. So it’s humiliating enough for seniors like him who find themselves at the prospect of spending the very end of their lives on the government dole (when they are even capable of understanding that). But because health care providers are refusing new Medicaid patients — in large part because the state pays its Medicaid bills very slowly — people like him are falling straight from middle class all the way through the shredded safety net.

And people like him have no advocates. My dad can’t write a letter or an e-mail; can’t make a phone call, can’t go to a townhall meeting to speak to his state rep, can’t march at a rally. You know what’s even worse about his situation, though? If he lived in Arizona, or New Jersey, or Florida, he would be getting covered. Because their conservative governors can see the benefits of expanding Medicaid. Not our governor, though.

Everyone who is in a position to do something about expanding Medicaid but refuses to do so should be required to look Perry and his dad in the eye and explain themselves to them. Maybe that would finally break the grip of whatever madness it is that envelops them. BOR has more from the rally.

Did Ted Cruz do better in Latino areas than other Republicans?

Lisa Falkenberg drops the following tidbit in her post-election column on why the GOP in general and in Texas needs to figure out how to appeal to Latino voters.

In Texas, the best data so far show a 70-30 split for Obama among Hispanic voters, according to Rice University political science chairman Mark Jones. Romney performed several points worse than Sen. John McCain did in 2008. At the same time, Jones points out, Hispanics became a larger share of the vote in Texas, going from 20 percent in 2008 to 25 percent in 2012.

Republican Ted Cruz, who will become the first Hispanic U.S. senator from Texas, may have received a boost linked to his surname. Exit polling showed he outperformed Romney and Republican congressional candidates by 6 percent.

In the long run, Republicans can’t rely on surnames to appeal to Hispanics, although a few more on the ballot wouldn’t hurt.

“They’re going to have to reach out and do more than say that ‘Hispanics have values that are similar to ours.’ That’s an old refrain, which apparently is not bearing any fruit with the Hispanic population,” says Tatcho Mindiola, associate sociology professor and director of the Center for Mexican American Studies at the University of Houston.

Falkenberg doesn’t say what exit polls she was looking at. The Latino Decisions poll of Texas only asked about the Presidential race and Democrats in general, so it’s of no help here. Be that as it may, we can approach this question by comparing how Cruz did in heavily Latino counties to how Romney did. Here’s how he fared in the five counties I looked at last week.

County Obama Romney Sadler Cruz ========================================== Cameron 49,159 24,955 41,930 27,881 El Paso 112,273 56,517 101,467 59,237 Hidalgo 97,879 39,786 88,316 41,591 Maverick 8,302 2,171 6,550 2,674 Webb 37,592 11,074 30,431 14,943

Some of Paul Sadler’s dropoff in votes from President Obama can be attributed to the usual downballot effect, but clearly Cruz outperformed Romney, and given his higher vote totals there had to be some Obama/Cruz voters in each of these counties. In fact, if you look at all of the counties in Texas where Cruz received more votes than Romney, you get the following list: Webb, Cameron, Ellis, Hidalgo, Maverick, Willacy, Starr, Zapata, Zavala, Dimmit, Kleberg, Jim Hogg, Brooks, Jim Wells, Frio, Culberson. So yes, he did do better in heavily Latino areas, and I’m sure I’ll find the same effect in Harris County when I get precinct data.

There’s a bit more to this, however. It wasn’t just Cruz who benefited from being Latino and having a non-Latino opponent in these counties. For example, the Libertarian candidate running against Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman was a Latino. Take a look at how he did versus how other non-Latino Libertarians did in statewide races where the Republican had no Democratic opponent. Here’s Cameron County, for example.

Railroad Commissioner - Unexpired Term Barry Smitherman REP 25,866 48.72% Jaime O. Perez LIB 23,875 44.97% Josh Wendel GRN 3,347 6.30% Justice, Supreme Court, Place 2 Don Willett REP 32,963 62.76% Roberto Koelsch LIB 19,555 37.23% Justice, Supreme Court, Place 4 John Devine REP 30,797 58.42% Tom Oxford LIB 17,212 32.65% Charles Waterbury GRN 4,707 8.92% Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals Place 7 Barbara Hervey REP 32,107 61.09% Mark W. Bennett LIB 20,448 38.90% Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals Place 8 Elsa Alcala REP 36,619 68.72% William Strange LIB 16,664 31.27%

The same pattern holds for El Paso, Hidalgo, Maverick, and Webb counties. In the latter two, Libertarian candidate Perez scored a majority of the vote against Smitherman, which just blows my mind, and you will see the same effect for Latino Democratic candidates for the Fourth Court of Appeals, all of whom wound up winning. These were all low-profile, low-information races – even the Senate race was mostly below the radar, with Cruz avoiding debates and not running many ads, while Sadler barely had the money to do any advertising – so it’s not too shocking. Because of all this, I’d be careful about drawing any firm conclusions regarding Cruz and Latino voters. Latino voters have a stronger belief in the role of government and by a sizable majority support the Affordable Care Act and believe that the federal government should ensure that all people have access to health insurance. Needless to say, these views are incompatible with those of Ted Cruz. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait till 2018 to see how these voters will behave when they have a fuller understanding of what Ted Cruz is about.

UPDATE: Latino Decisions did ask about the Senate race specifically, and you can see the result here, which shows Sadler leading Cruz 65-35. I didn’t see that at the time I wrote this post.

First pass at analyzing the 2012 results

This is kind of a brain dump, based on the information available now. I’ll have plenty more to say once precinct data has been released.

– The current tally in the Presidential race on the Secretary of State webpage, with comparison to 2008, is as follows:

2008 Votes Pct =========================== McCain 4,479,328 55.45% Obama 3,528,633 43.68% 2012 Votes Pct =========================== Romney 4,542,012 57.19% Obama 3,285,200 41.36%

Slight uptick for Romney over McCain, slightly larger downtick for Obama. My sense is that this is mostly a turnout issue, that Obama’s coalition was mostly intact but not quite as fired up as in 2008, much like what we saw nationally. I think that’s fixable, but it’s going to take the same thing to fix it (money money money) as it has always been. I mean, Team Obama invested millions in a turnout operation in various parts of the country, and by all accounts it was successful. What effect might that have had here? I hope someday to find out.

– For all my skepticism of the polling in Texas, the pollsters were fairly in the ballpark on Romney’s margin of victory. I have to say, had you told me on Monday that Romney was going to win here by 16 points, I would never have believed that Wendy Davis and Pete Gallego would have won, and I would have doubted Dems’ ability to win the four contested seats in the Lege that they did. But they did, which is both a tip to the skill of the redistricters and a reminder that things could have been better. Overall, I’d grade it as a B- for Texas Dems – the Davis, Gallego, and Craig Eiland wins were huge, but there were missed opportunities, especially in Harris and Dallas Counties, where too many judges lost in the former and two Democratic legislative challengers fell just short in the latter.

– I don’t want to dwell too much on the legislative races, since we’re going to get a new map once the San Antonio court incorporates the DC Court’s ruling into their lawsuit, but there will clearly be more opportunities in 2014. Still, it should be apparent by now just how steep the hill is. Dems came close to parity in the Lege last decade in large part to a sizable rural contingent and an ability to win seats in otherwise-Republican districts. Well, the rural Dems are virtually extinct, and outside of Davis and maybe Eiland I doubt there were any crossover stars this time around; I’ll know for sure when I see precinct data. I still think there will be opportunities for both based on the forthcoming school finance ruling and 2013 legislative session, but we’re a long way from each and candidates still need to be found.

– One question I had going into this race was how well Obama would do in predominantly Latino areas. In 2008, Obama lagged behind the rest of the Democratic ticket in these areas, possibly due to lingering resentment over Hillary Clinton’s loss to him in the primary, but as we know Democrats nationally and Obama specifically have seen Latino support go up since then. Here’s a quick and dirty comparison to 2008 in some heavily Latino counties that will have to do until I get precinct data:

County 08 Obama 12 Obama 08 turnout 12 turnout ======================================================== Cameron 64.08% 65.72% 43.37% 41.46% El Paso 65.87% 65.63% 47.67% 44.58% Hidalgo 69.01% 70.42% 42.83% 45.59% Maverick 78.20% 78.60% 40.43% 37.84% Webb 71.44% 76.56% 44.40% 44.28%

Nice gain in Webb, modest gains in Cameron and Hidalgo. It’s a start.

– Congressional loser Quico Canseco is whining about fraud.

Gallego finished 13,534 votes ahead of Canseco early Wednesday morning.

“The race is not over, and it won’t be until all votes are properly and legally counted,” Canseco said in a statement the morning after the election.

Gallego campaign spokeswoman Rebecca Acuna said there is “no way” voter fraud occurred. “This just shows a lot about [Canseco’s] character, because he chose to go this route” rather than concede and congratulate Gallego, she said.

Canseco’s campaign alleges that officials in Maverick County double- or triple-counted some of the early vote sheets. A complaint to the Secretary of State indicates that Canseco’s campaign found a minimum of 57 duplicate votes when reviewing a list provided by the Maverick County Elections Office. The campaign also alleges that another county used photocopied ballots, a criminal offense, and that an extended delay in counting votes from other counties left “other questions unanswered.”

“There are too many disturbing incidents to declare this race over,” Scott Yeldell, Canseco’s campaign manager, said in a statement. “During the next several days we will be looking into these reports to assure only legal votes have been counted in this election.”

But Acuna said even if all the votes from Maverick County — where Gallego received 6,291 more votes than Canseco — were excluded, Gallego still would have come out ahead. “His argument — it’s not at all valid,” she said. “We won this race; it’s simple math.”

I don’t expect this to go anywhere.

– In Harris County, those last nine precincts were finally counted. Obama’s margin of victory in the county inched up to 585 votes, but as far as I can tell none of the downballot races were affected. Obama’s total was down about 6000 votes from 2008, while Romney improved on McCain by about 13,000 votes. Still, as noted in the comments yesterday, provisional ballots have not yet been counted, and overseas ballots are still arriving, Judges Kyle Carter (1,499) and Tad Halbach (2,786) had the smallest margins in those races, while Mike Sullivan also had a close shave, winning by 2,498 votes and a 48.94% plurality thanks to the presence of a Libertarian candidate that received 2.34%. I still don’t think any races are likely to change, but I daresay all three of these gentlemen will not rest easy until the counting has truly ceased.

– I have to mention a couple of national stories. First, Tuesday was a great day for marriage equality.

Voters in Maryland and Maine legalized same-sex marriage by popular vote Tuesday, the first time in U.S. history that gay marriage has been approved at the ballot box.

In Maryland, voters approved marriage equality 52 percent to 48 percent with 93 percent of precincts reporting, according to the Associated Press. The state government passed legislation legalizing same-sex marriage, but opponents succeeded in putting the issue on the ballot in November.

“Over these past few weeks, Marylanders joined together to affirm that for a free and diverse people of many faiths — a people committed to religious freedom — the way forward is always found through greater respect for the equal rights and human dignity of all,” Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), a champion of marriage equality in the state, said in a statement late Tuesday.

The AP also declared Maine voters had approved same-sex marriage Tuesday after defeating a referendum on it just three years ago, a sign of how quickly Americans’ views on the issue are evolving. With 57 percent of precincts reporting, the ballot measure led 54 percent to 46 percent.

In a third victory for gay rights advocates, Minnesota voters defeated a state constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage, according to CNN and the AP. Thirty other states have gay marriage bans on the books, including North Carolina’s, approved as recently as May 2012.

Proponents of marriage equality were still hoping Wednesday for a fourth victory in Washington, where a measure to approve gay marriage was still too close to call as of Wednesday morning.

Remember when this was an issue used to bludgeon Democrats? Never again, and thank goodness for it.

Poor John Cornyn. At the beginning of this year, you could have gotten lower odds on the Astros winning the World Series than the Democrats not only holding the Senate but making gains. Yet that’s exactly what happened.

“It’s clear that with our losses in the presidential race, and a number of key Senate races, we have a period of reflection and recalibration ahead for the Republican Party,” the Texas Republican said in a statement released by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which he directs. “While some will want to blame one wing of the party over the other, the reality is candidates from all corners of our GOP lost tonight. Clearly we have work to do in the weeks and months ahead.”

As of early Wednesday morning, Democrats (with an assist by an Independent in Maine) had picked up four Republican seats while losing just one of their own. Not a single Democratic incumbent was defeated.

Cornyn, who hopes to win a party leadership position in the new Congress, is now explaining the reasons for the 2012 failure.

“We know that our conservative vision is the right one to secure a stronger America for future generations,” Cornyn said in his statement. “We know that we are the party of big, bold ideas with the courage to fight for what’s right even if it’s not politically expedient. It was that courage and that vision that led to important gains for our party in 2010. But all of us should continue to learn from both our victories and our defeats, and work together to build an even stronger Republican Party.”

Basically, the Republicans had first and goal at the one yard line. Then, after a false start, two quarterback sacks, and an intentional-grounding penalty, their 50-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Elizabeth Warren, and returned for a touchdown by Joe Donnelly. The Democrats then added insult to injury by going for two and converting successfully. You just cannot overstate the degree and the stunningness of the turnaround in fortune. And if Big John thinks that the Republicans should just keep doing what they’ve been doing, well, I won’t try to persuade him otherwise.

– Other results of interest: The city of Austin will adopt City Council districts, while League City banned red light cameras. At least some things never change.

That’s all for now. PDiddie, Mark Bennett, Murray Newman, Harold Cook, and TM Daily Post have more, while Texas Parent PAC takes a victory lap.

That other guy in the Senate runoff

Meet Grady Yarbrough.

Grady Yarbrough

At 75, retired educator Grady Yarbrough finally has achieved some statewide notoriety.

With a low-budget campaign targeting Hispanics and fellow African Americans, Yarbrough finished second in the Democratic primary race for U.S. senator, qualifying for a July 31 runoff.

Next comes the hard part for Yarbrough, an East Texas native who’s lived in San Antonio since 2000: Trying to outpoll hard-charging lawyer Paul Sadler from Henderson, who served in the Texas House from 1991 to 2003.

But Yarbrough sees no disadvantage in possibly being a newcomer to elected office.

“It’s people with legislative experience who got us in this predicament we’re in financially. Experience is not always the key,” Yarbrough said Thursday.

[…]

Yarbrough got 127,971 votes on Tuesday, compared to 173,947 for Sadler; 113,412 for Addie Dainell Allen and 79,981 for Sean Hubbard. It was the fourth statewide race for Yarbrough, a Tyler County product who ran unsuccessfully in 1986 and 1990 for the GOP nomination for land commissioner, and in 1994 as a Democrat for state treasurer.

Yarbrough bristles at any suggestion that he’s capitalized on his familiar surname, similar to that of two statewide office-holders decades ago and one frequent candidate.

“They equate my familiar name to someone who was a senator 30-40 years ago. That’s the mainstream media trying to sabotage my campaign,” Yarbrough said.

Gene Kelly hasn’t run for anything since 2008, but his legacy lives on. I have no idea if anyone might have mistaken this guy for Ralph Yarborough or anyone else. My contention is that in a race of mostly unknowns you’re likely to get a random result, and that’s what we have here. And I personally would say that it’s the Republicans who got us into this financial predicament. What exactly would Grady Yarbrough do to help fix that predicament? I wish I could tell you, but he doesn’t say. There is no discussion of his position on any issue in this story, and Yarbrough doesn’t have a web page, so you’re kind of on your own. Thankfully, the Texas Trib posted a copy of a TV ad that apparently ran once in the Waco area, in which Yarbrough says he supports the DREAM Act and favors forgiving part of the interest on student loans, and also vows to never support cuts for Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security. So at least now we know that much.

Having eyed the Senate seat for several years, Yarbrough paid a $5,000 filing fee to join this year’s fray. Eschewing contributions, he said he’s spent about $20,000 in retirement savings on billboards, mail and travel — mainly to target minority voters.

Through April, Sadler raised about $90,000 and spent about $69,000, according to the Federal Election Commission.

With the two-month runoff campaign, “I’m going to have to invest quite a bit more,” he said. “I do it all myself,” without consultants or volunteers, he added.

“I am doing selective campaigning. When there is a heavy Hispanic and African American population in those counties, I go directly to those places. That’s how I’ve gotten to where I am now,” he said, adding that he’s campaigned in Kingsville, Laredo and Brownsville.

You’re not going to be able to reach many voters with twenty grand. I mean, a State Rep candidate would have a hard time getting his or her name out on that kind of budget. As for Yarbrough’s contention that he did well in Cameron (Brownsville), Kleberg (Kingsville), and Webb (Laredo) Counties because he selectively campaigned there, let’s check the numbers and see:

Cameron County


Candidate               Votes      Pct
======================================
Addie Dainell Allen     4,587   25.63%
Sean Hubbard            3,016   16.85%
Paul Sadler             6,292   35.16%
Grady Yarbrough         3,998   22.34%

Kleberg County


Candidate               Votes      Pct
======================================
Addie Dainell Allen       347   21.34%
Sean Hubbard              210   12.91%
Paul Sadler               579   35.60%
Grady Yarbrough           490   30.13%

Webb County


Candidate               Votes      Pct
======================================
Addie Dainell Allen     5,445   30.43%
Sean Hubbard            3,547   19.82%
Paul Sadler             4,997	27.92%
Grady Yarbrough         3,904   21.81%

Yarbrough got 25.83% statewide, to Sadler’s 35.11%. As such, we see that he did do better than his baseline in Kleberg, but did worse in Cameron and Webb. Indeed, had he done as well statewide as he did in those two counties, Sadler would be running off against Addie Dainell Allen. Maybe sticking a bit more closely to the Gene Kelly playbook would be the better choice. As for me, my choice remains Paul Sadler.

(In case you’re wondering, here also are the results for Bell, Coryell, and McLennan counties, which is my interpretation of “the Waco area”, where that ad ran once. Yarbrough didn’t mention that in the story, and I didn’t come across that link till after I’d written this entry, so I didn’t work these results into the ones above. Not that it really matters, I don’t see any evidence it made a difference, but I’m including this afternote here for completeness.)