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Election 2018

We do need to find someone to run against Ted Cruz

I don’t know who that ought to be yet, but surely someone is out there.

Not Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz said on Saturday that he would seek a third term in the U.S. Senate in 2024, though he also did not rule out running for president.

“I’m running for reelection in the Senate, I’m focused on the battles in the United States Senate,” Cruz told reporters after addressing the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual leadership meeting in Las Vegas. He said he was also focused on the Senate runoff in Georgia on Dec. 6, according to a video of his discussion with reporters posted by Fox News.

The Texas Republican reiterated his disappointment that his party failed to take control of the Senate in this month’s midterm elections, a setback he blamed on a lack of determination within the party.

Cruz was one of 10 Republican senators who voted against the reelection of Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, as minority leader on Wednesday. McConnell easily fended off a challenge from Sen. Rick Scott, R-Florida, by a vote of 37-10.

I know I just said that I don’t want to engage in wischcasting for this, and I still don’t. But we do need to be prepared to think about who we want to see run for this nomination, and the sooner the better. It’s still the case that no Texas Republican has come as close to losing statewide this century as Cruz did in 2018, and it’s still the case that all decent people loathe Ted Cruz. I’m sure there are some people who will relish the opportunity.

I know we just came off a mediocre at best election, but the optimistic view is that Dems have been steadily gaining ground overall, and we’ve done better in Presidential years. The lunatic fringe of the Republican-majority House will make a very easy foil for President Biden, and Donald Trump will either be the Republican nominee – and nobody has done more for Democratic turnout efforts over the past three cycles than he has – or will be enraged and embittered over not being the nominee – and nobody has done more to sow division and turmoil in the Republican Party over the past six years than he has. There are any number of ways that things could be bad, and that’s before we consider whether Biden should be running for a second term, but there is a very plausible optimistic case to be made. Of course, I said the same thing about 2022 not long after Biden was inaugurated, so take all that into account. The point still is, at least at this time, there’s no need to fear running in 2024.

As to who, we can debate that as we see fit. Maybe Julian Castro, if he hasn’t reached his sell-by date. Maybe a current (Ron Nirenberg, Eric Johnson) or recent (Annise Parker) Mayor might want to take a step up. Maybe a State Senator who wins the draw to not be otherwise on the ballot in 2024. Who knows? My argument is simply that this is an opportunity that someone should want to take. We know we can raise enough money for whoever it is. Just think about it, that’s all I’m asking.

What to expect when you’re expecting a (larger) Democratic majority

I have three things to say about this.

Despite narrowly winning reelection against bruising campaigns by well-funded challengers, the Democratic majority on Commissioners Court has made clear it intends to continue its progressive remake of Harris County.

Though neither County Judge Lina Hidalgo, Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia or Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis invoked the word “mandate,” their public promises of four more years of what they have been doing leaves little doubt about their intentions.

Adding a fourth Democrat in Precinct 4, where former county court at law judge Lesley Briones ousted incumbent Commissioner Jack Cagle will only strengthen that resolve.

It also will prevent the lone Republican remaining on court, Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey from pulling off a quorum break as he did this year with Cagle to prevent the Democratic majority from passing its preferred property tax rate.

“Democrats will likely lean into a more progressive agenda now that they have uniform control of the court,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “They as much as campaigned on this promise.”

The question, Rottinghaus said, is how far Democrats should go in a progressive direction.

“Voters didn’t provide an overwhelming mandate for a major left shift and probably signaled some modest opposition to or, at least, different emphasis on priorities from the prior four years,” Rottinghaus said.

I’m old enough to remember the 2006 election, you know, the one where Rick Perry was elected with 39% of the vote. There was some Discourse at the time about how Perry should be humbled by his weak showing and should mend his ways and just somehow not be so Rick Perry-like. He did none of those things, was easily re-elected again in 2010, was briefly a Presidential candidate in 2012, and eventually became a Cabinet member. Mandates are what you make of them.

With the new stronger majority on the court, Harris County Republican Party Chair Cindy Siegel said she is concerned Democrats will be punitive toward those who have challenged them, pointing to Hidalgo’s victory speech delivered the day after the election.

In those remarks, Hidalgo spoke about her critics who have accused Democrats on the court of defunding police, including what she called “unscrupulous politicians of both parties.” She called out Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, a Democrat, without naming her directly.

“That was sort of what was implied with her statement addressed to those people who didn’t support her. So, does that mean she’s not going to be supportive of the constables and the DA’s office?” Siegel said. “Because it’s one thing saying that you’re for funding and you want to make crime go down, but now it’s time to deliver. That’s what she told people.”

Oh, Cindy. Have you seen what Republicans are promising to do in Congress now that they have a slim majority? That’s what being punitive looks like. There are some significant policy differences between Judge Hidalgo and Commissioners Court on the one hand and Kim Ogg and the Constables on the other. Judge Hidalgo has – I’m gonna say it – a mandate to use her office to implement the policies she and the Court campaigned on and think are best. If Ogg and the Constables, who are all up for election in 2024, disagree about that, they can make a campaign issue out of it and hope to get their own mandate at that time. If Hidalgo and the Court really do overstep, that can be ammunition in their fight.

Still, Rottinghaus said, the opposition Democrats faced during the election cycle reflected the difficulty they had messaging on crime issues.

“Governing a massive and ideologically diverse county like Harris means compromising,” he said. “So, despite a solid majority, the close election shows Democrats on the Court need to encourage Republicans to come back to the table.”

This is just your periodic reminder that Harris County Commissioners Court operated with a Republican majority for at least 40 years – I’m only able to verify the Court’s makeup via election results back to about 1974 – before Dems took it in 2019. We operated under Republican laws, rules, norms, and assumptions for a long, long time. Only so much of that can be changed to reflect the current political reality in four years’ time, especially when a Republican minority was still able to wield a budget veto. The fact is that this now-larger Democratic majority – which even with the benefit of redistricting was still hard won – will continue to modify, update, and undo some of the things that we had long done under Republican rule. Everyone needs to wrap their heads around that.

On comparing counties from 2018 to 2022

I started with this.

Voters in counties across Texas chose GOP leaders over Democrats at a higher rate than they did four years ago, a Dallas Morning News analysis shows.

The findings, based on data as of noon on Wednesday, reflect that an overwhelming number of counties — 205 out of 254 — favored Republicans. Those counties turned more Republican by an average of 2.87 percentage points, the data showed.

The analysis also showed urban areas are shifting toward Democrats, part of a continuing trend across the country.

All five North Texas counties experiencing population growth saw an uptick in the percentage of votes for Democrats, the analysis showed.

Collin County, a Republican stronghold anchored by suburban women, shifted its share of votes to Democrats by 4.45 percentage points compared to 2018, according to the analysis.

Tarrant County, another GOP-dominated region that has seen an increasing number of Democratic votes, increased support for Democrats by 3.04 percentage points; Dallas County, by 3.23 percentage points; Denton by 3.53; and Rockwall by 3.5, the analysis showed.

Political experts who reviewed The Dallas Morning News’ findings weren’t surprised by the shift. Though slow-moving, the changes can make an impact over the next decade, they said.

“We shouldn’t delude ourselves in any way that the Democrats are about to take over,” said James Riddlesperger, a professor of political science at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. “At the same time, election coalitions are dynamic and what we’re seeing is the competitiveness of the two political parties in this area is becoming more apparent.”

This Trib story has more of the same. And it set me off to do the thing I usually do, which is put a bunch of numbers into a spreadsheet and then try to make something interesting happen with them. If you were to do the same – copy county-by-county election results for the Governor’s races from 2018 and 2022 into Excel – you’d see what these stories say, which is that Beto generally did better than Lupe Valdez in the large urban and suburban counties, and generally did worse elsewhere. You’d also notice that the reverse is true, which is that Abbott did worse where Beto did better and vice versa. You might think this means something about maybe Dems closing the gap in some places, and maybe that’s true, but if so then you have to contend with the fact that the likes of Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton did better overall than they had done four years ago, and as such there’s a limit to this kind of analysis.

I got to that point and I just didn’t feel like putting more time into it. I’ll spend plenty of time looking at district-level numbers, to see how the assumptions of the 2021 redistricting have held up so far and where opportunities and dangers for 2024 might lurk. Much of that data won’t be available until after the next Legislative session begins, though some county data should be there after the votes are canvassed. But statewide, I think we already know what we might want to know, at least at a macro level. We Dems didn’t build on 2018. There’s nothing to suggest that the trends we saw over the last decade have reversed, but there was nothing to see this year to suggest that we have moved the ball any farther than it would have moved on its own. So I’m going to put my effort into places where I hope to find things to work for in the next election or two. I promise I’ll throw numbers at you in those posts.

A brief look at the judicial races

From a few days ago:

The advertisements rolled out with weeks to go until the November election. In one TV spot, the sister of Martha Medina urged Harris County voters in Spanish and another in English to honor her sister, killed in 2021 during a purse snatching, by electing new tough-on-crime judges.

Stop Houston Murders PAC made similar calls to action in TV ads and online, pleading with the public to rid the felony courts of Democratic judges. The action committee blamed Judge Hilary Unger for facilitating Medina’s death when she set bail for her accused assailant on an earlier capital murder charge. The group blasted other felony judges for similar bail decisions, implying that pretrial releases had led to a rise in violent crime.

Hours before the polls closed on Election Day, the Houston Police Officers Union joined the effort, tweeting a photo of the criminal courthouse stating there would be “zero sympathy” for the judges voted out of office.

By Wednesday morning, the damage to Democrats on the felony bench was contained. Seven incumbents, including Unger, narrowly survived the barrage of rhetoric — winning their races and seemingly validating their progressive approach to bail and punishment decisions.

[…]

Judge Josh Hill, an incumbent Democrat, addressed his win Thursday, saying he had feared voters would take the conservative messaging to heart. For months, he had been unable to response to misinformation in attack ads and news reports because judicial rules prohibit judges from speaking about pending cases.

But the ads didn’t sway enough voters to topple him or remove most of his colleagues.

“If it did anything — it was minimally effective at best,” Hill said.

The crime-focused PAC, with endorsements from loved ones of Harris County crime victims, began pouring more than $2 million into local races months before the November election. The committee blamed the wave of Democratic judges elected in 2018 and thereafter for what they described as a crime crisis in the region.

The PAC said it supported reducing the backlog of felony cases by forcing trials to take place within a year of arrest and prohibiting the release of defendants accused of crimes related to firearms.

I know this PAC spent a lot of money on this – you should definitely read that linked story about who the sources of the money were, and then go re-read that Endorsement Regrets editorial; good times, good times – but it was mostly invisible to me. I think maybe I saw one TV ad for them, there was one billboard on I-45 South just north of the I-10 exit, which was high up and hard to read, and a few yard signs around. No online ads that I can recall, which is usually where I get the most exposure. I’m sure it was different for others, but the joy I get imagining them setting all that money on fire is real.

Nothing new in this article about the numbers, which I wrote about on Monday. On Thursday, I got a mention in the Chron’s latest lament about judicial elections.

The lesson is clear: Texans’ compulsion to vote straight-ticket, even if we have to do so manually these days after lawmakers took away the quick option, is strong enough to ensure that the solidly Democratic counties remained blue. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke may have lost to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott — he won Harris County by half the margin he did when he ran for U.S. Senate in 2018 — but his coattails were just long enough to drag down-ballot candidates across the finish line.

And yet the narrow margins for Democrats in Harris County suggest that the money funneled by Republicans targeting certain candidates as soft on crime was effective and resonated with voters concerns about public safety. These ads singled out many felony judicial candidates for making bail decisions in cases where defendants were freed on bond and then were re-arrested on new violent charges — including, in some cases, murder.

As local politics blogger Charles Kuffner noted in a recent post, Democratic judicial candidates in Harris County typically outperform the statewide candidates. This year’s election broke with that trend: Only eight of the 61 Democrats running for criminal and civil district and county courts won more than 51 percent of the vote. The gap between the top of the ticket — O’Rourke with 54 percent — and the lowest vote-getter among Democratic judicial candidates — misdemeanor court candidate Je’Rell Rogers with 49.3 percent — was the largest since 2010.

“That shows you that there was a lot of defection,” Robert Stein, a political science professor at Rice University, told the editorial board. “With judicial candidates, I think people made rational choices. They thought Democrats were really bad, not bad enough to replace, but not good enough to give them the kind of margins they got in 2016, 2018 and again in 2020.”

There were, however, some down-ballot results that defied conventional wisdom. While there are still some provisional ballots to be counted in Harris County, as of Wednesday, District Court Judge DaSean Jones, a Democrat, trailed his Republican opponent, Tami Pierce, by 165 votes. In another district court race, Harris County public defender Gemayel Haynes, a Democrat, trailed Republican candidate Kristin Guiney by about 4,300 votes. In the misdemeanor courts, Democratic candidates Rogers and Porscha Brown, as well as incumbent Judge Ronnisha Bowman, also lost their election bids.

There may be a less sophisticated explanation for some results: Voters pay so little attention to down-ballot races that some pick their candidates based on nothing more than cosmetic biases. All five of these Democratic judicial candidates who lost are Black with non-traditional first names. That, combined with a tougher-than-usual political climate for Democrats, is a recipe for outliers.

First, thanks for reading. I recommend you also read the many posts I have about why non-partisan judicial elections aren’t such a great idea, at least not for the problem that the editorial board and various folks like former Justice Wallace Jefferson say they want to fix. You might also listen to Thursday’s What Next podcast, in which we find out that candidates in non-partisan judicial races don’t feel any compunction to be non-partisan themselves, and the big money interests that back candidates of a political party are also spending a bunch of money backing their preferred “non-partisan” judicial candidates. It’s like some local politics blogger once said, you can’t take the politics out of an inherently political process.

As for what Prof. Stein says, I mean I guess, to some extent. If Dems were wiped out in the judicial races then sure. But we still won 56 out of 61, which last I looked was a pretty good percentage. Also, the Chron quoted my post incorrectly – I said only 8 of the 61 got more than the 51.75% that the average statewide candidate got. By my count 38 of the 61 exceeded 51%, with there being two very near misses at 50.99% and 50.96%. My point is that the effect, for which I have said that the anti-Democratic ads likely was a factor, wasn’t very big – a few thousand votes overall. There may have been other factors, as the Chron points out. The range between the top-scoring Democratic judicial candidate and the low-scoring one was tight, more so than in other years. I mentioned the ad spending because it would have been ignorant and disingenuous not to mention it. We’ll never really know how much of an effect it had. We just can’t say it had no effect.

Finally, a bit of accountability for myself: I had also suggested that in past years weak Democratic statewide candidates lost fairly significant vote totals to third party candidates, which dragged down their percentages and made the local and judicial candidates, who were mostly in two-person races, look better by comparison. That’s true for some years, but to my surprise when I looked this year it was not the case, at least in percentage terms, when compared to 2018. The effect isn’t uniform and I’ll want to take a closer look, but I’m going to discount that now as a factor. Not quite enough Democratic turnout is the better suspect.

Christopher Busby: The Case for Texas Democratic Optimism

(Note: The following is a guest post that was submitted to me. I occasionally solicit guest posts, and also occasionally accept them from people I trust.)

The election came and went with a similar story. Texas Democrats just started to get their hopes up about the idea of finally breaking through for their first statewide win since their fall from voters’ graces in the early 90s. Then falling flat yet again in their efforts. 30 years in the wilderness can do a lot to sting the hopes of Democrats parched for any sign of success. In 2014 Wendy Davis sent shock waves among Texas Democrats in her voracious defense of abortion rights yet lost by 20 points. In 2018 Beto O’Rouke came within a three point margin of knocking off the firebrand Junior Senator from Texas Ted Cruz. In 2020 President Joe Biden lost by just 6 pts, the best Democratic Presidential performance since 1996.

Yet despite all the clear movement in Democrats favor, incumbent Republican Governor Greg Abbott decisively defeated Beto O’Rouke to win by approximately 11 points. My guess is that across the state Texas Democrats feel much like Charlie Brown lying on his back on the football field. Fool me once. Shame on you. Fool me for three decades?

The message I want Texas Democrats to take away from this however is counter intuitive. My message is: Y’all are still headed in the right direction.

Before you think I’m just Lucy with her football again, hear me out.

In political statistics it is often most useful to compare the final performance of a candidate’s party relative to the national environment. In 2000 then Texas Governor George Bush lost the national popular vote in his race for president yet won Texas by 21 points in the same year. In parlance of political statistics that would make Texas an R+21 state. 8 years later when President Obama was carrying the country by 8 points he lost Texas by 12 points, meaning that despite a facially 8 point improvement, Texas was still R+20 compared to the nation as a whole. Little relative movement.

Taking this in mind we shouldn’t be too surprised by political consultants who got excited about Hillary Clinton’s Texas performance where she lost the state by only 9 points despite winning the popular vote by 2 points. Suddenly Texas moves from an R+20 state to an R+11 state. Suddenly Texas moves from a pipe dream to just… a dream.

In the years after Clintons narrow loss Texas Democrats have started taking themselves seriously again. What have the numbers since then told us? Looking at the presidential race President Biden lost the state by 6 points while winning nationally by 4 points. Now R+10 Texas inches ever closer to being competitive. BUT we just got done with a midterm year. Midterm numbers are where data nerds’ minds will pour over for the next few months.

2018 was the Texas Democrats banner year. Beto O’Rouke was cast as a political rockstar for almost upsetting Texas Senator Ted Cruz. His 3 point loss during a year when Democrats were winning by 8 points was very much in line with the R+11 numbers that Clinton and Biden would achieve in the elections before and after. Yet let’s look at Governor Greg Abbott who also was on that same ballot. He defeated Dallas Sheriff Lupe Valdez by approximately 13 points, an R+21 performance. Many will want to argue that Beto’s performance at the top of the ticket was indicative of Democratic performance that year however looking at the data it’s clear that most statewide officials fell closer to Abbott’s performance. Abbott was one of the top performing officials on the ticket year of either party.

2022 tells a story for state Democrats that they should take some optimism in. Taking the 2018 top performer from each party would seem like a recipe for a competitive race. Easy math would have expected an Abbott victory of 6-8 points if the year was the same. However the midterm years were very different. Numbers are still slowly trickling in so the data here will be less precise than the historical numbers, yet the initial measure of national vote seems like it will likely land somewhere between an R+1-2 year, much different from the D+8 year of the previous midterm. Moving almost 10 points redder Abbott lost 2 points off his victory margin and his performance fell from a solid R+21 to an R+9-10. The message should be clear: When Texas Democrats put up strong candidates with a real performance they can draw down the Republican ceiling more than Republicans can push Democrats to their floor.

Let’s take a more detailed look at the national picture. Governors across the country went up for re-election. Republicans had been hoping to score a host of upsets in swing states. Instead Democrats held on and in fact gained 3 governor’s mansions in open races. The story however was different for Republican incumbents. In every single state where a Republican governor ran for re-election they gained more support as compared to 2018. Except one: Texas. I’ll say it again for effect Texas was the ONLY governor’s race in the nation where the Republican incumbent lost support in re-election compared to 2018. In fact only Nevada and Georgia had governors races where the winning Republican candidate did worse than Greg Abbott and both those states were states which President Biden won in 2020. And looking briefly at President Biden’s performance you would see that of all states won by former President Trump, the only state to vote to the left of Texas was Florida. Florida, for the record, completely fell off the map for Democrats this year with Senator Marco Rubio winning by 17 points and Governor Ron DeSantis winning by 19 points.

So if I haven’t lost you in all the numbers, what does this mean for Texas Democrats in 2024? It means that Texas may be on the precipice of a major shift. Or may not. It depends on whether national Democrats want to fight for it or not. Ted Cruz is no Greg Abbott. While partisan Democrats might find equal distaste in the two I think you would be hard pressed to find the same polarization around Governor Abbott that you do Senator Cruz. Ted Cruz simply falls flat with the same independent voters who have proved crucial Republicans past successes. On a ticket with the equally, if not more, polarizing former President Trump Texas Democrats have a real opportunity. If Texas Democrats put up a real candidate who can draw investment and has a proven track record of campaigning they might just create an opening. Most importantly President Biden’s campaign team needs to take a hard look at the hundreds of millions dumped in Florida cycle after cycle even as it drifts more and more red. 2022 saw Texas and Florida cross each other’s paths in terms of state partisanship. Texas sits to the left of every major red state at this point and only the population sparse Alaska might argue an opportunity for an easier flip. If national Democrats are looking to expand the map beyond the states won by President Biden in 2020 they have their best opportunity in the lone star state.

Christopher Busby is a lifelong Houstonian and independent political campaign consultant and policy advisor. He is a currently pursing a medical doctorate, is former K-12 educator, and has worked extensively on local campaigns. All views and opinions expressed are his own and not representative of any affiliated entities.

State and county election result relationships, part 4: What happened in 2022

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Now that the final totals are in, let’s go back and do the same exercise in comparing overall results for statewide candidates to the results they got in Harris County, and then from there comparing them to the local countywide numbers. I’m going to limit the comparisons to the last four elections, since as we saw things changed in 2016 and I don’t see any reason to go back farther than that. Here are the statewide numbers:


2016                   2018                   2020                   2022
State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff
43.24   53.95  10.71   48.33   57.98   9.65   46.48   55.96   9.48   43.81   54.00  10.19
38.38   47.35   8.97   42.51   52.11   9.60   43.87   52.90   9.03   43.44   53.41   9.97
38.53   47.96   9.43   46.49   56.07   9.58   43.56   52.90   9.34   43.62   53.40   9.78
41.18   50.78   9.60   47.01   56.90   9.89   44.49   53.16   8.67   40.91   50.56   9.65
39.36   48.28   8.92   43.39   52.74   9.35   44.08   53.49   9.41   42.10   51.08   8.98
40.05   49.86   9.81   43.19   53.71  10.52   44.76   53.76   9.00   43.63   53.15   9.52
40.20   49.53   9.33   46.41   56.68  10.27   44.35   52.97   8.62   40.51   49.92   9.41
40.89   50.72   9.83   43.91   53.25   9.34   45.18   54.45   9.27   41.81   50.40   8.59
                       46.83   56.68   9.85   44.70   54.72  10.02   42.87   51.44   8.57
                       46.29   56.48  10.19   45.47   54.00   8.53   43.55   52.13   8.58
                       46.29   55.18   8.89                          43.02   50.99   7.97
                       45.48   55.62  10.14                          42.74   50.46   7.72
                       45.85   54.90   9.05				
										
										
Min   8.92             Min   8.89             Min   8.53             Min   7.72
Max  10.71             Max  10.52             Max  10.02             Max  10.19
Avg   9.58             Avg   9.72             Avg   9.14             Avg   9.08

One could argue that the dip in the average difference between Harris County and the statewide results is a continuation from 2020, but I’m not so sure. I’m fascinated by the discrepancy between the executive office numbers and the judicial race numbers, which are the last five ones from 2022. The executive office average is 9.64, while the judicial average is 8.29. We have not seen anything like this in previous years – indeed, judicial races had some of the highest differences in all three previous cycles. My best guess for this is the same thing I’ve suggested before, that the multi-million dollar campaign waged against Democratic judges in Harris County had some modest but measurable success.

The point of this exercise was twofold. One was to show that Democrats don’t have to do all that well statewide to still carry Harris County. That’s been especially true in elections since 2016, but it was true before than. Barack Obama got 41.23% statewide, losing by 16 points, and yet Democrats won more than half of the races in Harris County. Wendy Davis got 38.90% in 2014 and lost by over 20 points; if she had lost by about 14 and a half points – which it to say, if she had done less than a point better than Obama – she’d have gotten to 50% in Harris County and Dems would have won at least some county races. Given this past history and the fact that Beto got to 54% in Harris County, the surprise is not that Dems won it’s that they didn’t sweep. I would have bet money on them taking everything with Beto at that level.

Which gets to the second item. In past elections, Democratic judicial candidates in Harris County have generally outperformed the statewide candidates. Most, and in some cases all, of the judicial candidates did better than the statewide candidates’ average in Harris County. That was the key to Dems winning as many judicial races as they did in 2008 (statewide candidate average 50.62%) and 2012 (statewide candidate average 48.59%). This just wasn’t the case in 2022. Let’s start with the numbers:


Havg	51.75
Jmin	49.29
Jmax	52.30
Drop	4.71

As a reminder, “Havg” is the average percentage of the vote in Harris County for statewide candidates. “Jmin” and “Jmax” are the lowest and highest percentages achieved by Harris County Democratic judicial candidates. “Drop” is the difference between the top score among statewide candidates (54.00% for Beto) and the low score among the judicial candidates.

The Harris average for the statewides was the third best it has ever been, behind 2020 and 2018. As noted in the past, weak statewide candidates have in the past lost a lot of votes to third party candidates, which has dragged down the “Havg” value in those years. While most years there have been judicial candidates that have scored worse than the Havg for the year (2006 and 2016 being exceptions), in previous years the bulk of the judicial candidates did better than the Havg number.

Not this year. By my count, only eight of the 61 district and county court Democrats scored better than 51.75% of the vote. Obviously, you don’t need that much to win, but the effect was that five candidates finished below fifty percent. The range between the top scoring judicial candidate and the bottom scoring one was right in line with historic norms, but because that range began at a lower point, there was a bigger gap overall between how the statewides did compared to the local judicials. That “Drop” of 4.71 points is the second biggest ever, and the only reason that the 2010 Drop was bigger was because Bill White was a huge outlier. If there’s one thing from this election that truly surprised me, it was the gap between the top of the Democratic ticket and the judicial races. That is something we had not seen before.

Again, I believe that the massive amounts of spending by the usual cadre of Republican oligarchs had an effect. It’s something we will have to take into account next time around. Not all of this spending was aimed at the judicial candidates, of course, There was an effect on the county executive office races as well, though thankfully it was smaller:


Havg	51.75	
CJ	50.79
DC	51.17
CC	51.59
CT	51.60

I haven’t calculated a judicial average score for Harris County yet, but my gut says that the three non-County Judge candidates came in above it, while Judge Hidalgo was probably a bit below it. Good enough to win, which is what matters most. County Judge is the only really visible one of these offices and it was very much Judge Hidalgo who was the subject of the ad blitzes. I’m not in a position to say why she persevered, but I will be very interested to see how she performs in the precinct data. In the UH Hobby Center poll of Harris County from October, their second poll of the county, they were pretty accurate about Beto’s performance – they pegged him at 50-42 over Abbott, an eight point lead, which I projected to Beto getting about 54%, dead on to where he was – but they had Hidalgo trailing Mealer among Latino voters by a 47-44 margin. I thought at the time that was inaccurate and I still do, but we’ll get a reality check when the precinct data is available. Let’s put a pin in this one.

I’ve made good on my promise to throw a lot of numbers at you. I hope this made sense, I hope it illustrated why I thought the pundits were likely to be wrong about Harris County, and I hope it will help inform this discourse going forward. Past performance may not predict future results, but it does help to at least know what that past performance was. The numbers are always there.

In which Harris County Republicans look for moral victories

Believe me, as a Texas Democrat and a longtime fan of the Rice Owls, I know what it looks like to search for moral victories in the face of defeat. It looks like this.

Feel the power…

Harris County Republicans on Tuesday posted their strongest showing in years, appearing to capture their first countywide race since 2014 and nearly unseating County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

In the end, though, Hidalgo eked out a narrow victory over Republican Alexandra del Moral Mealer, leaving the party all but empty-handed despite massively outspending Democrats and launching an all-out push to reclaim control of Harris County Commissioners Court.

Under new precinct boundaries crafted by Democrats last year to expand their court majority, Republican Commissioner Jack Cagle also came up short against Democrat Lesley Briones, whom he trailed by more than 3 percentage points with all voting centers reporting. Democratic Commissioner Adrian Garcia also held off Republican Jack Morman by more than 5 points in Precinct 2.

Mealer conceded early Wednesday morning, cementing a 4-1 majority for Democrats on Commissioners Court.

Even Republicans acknowledged this year could be their last realistic chance, and certainly their best shot in recent years, at winning a county that has seen pronounced demographic shifts over the last couple of decades. Harris County’s population is growing younger and more racially and ethnically diverse, while adding more college-educated residents — groups that all tend to favor Democrats, said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.

However, Harris County Republicans saw a confluence of factors — the felony indictment of three Hidalgo aidesa rise in homicidesDemocrats bracing for a Republican wave year nationally — that appeared to put the county judge race and other countywide seats in play. Also fueling their optimism was the removal last cycle of straight-ticket voting, meaning voters no longer can cast their ballots for every candidate from one party by pressing a single button.

“The best chance to unseat a Democrat in Harris County is when they’re new to office, when they’re somewhat vulnerable, and when national trends cut against the Democrats,” Rottinghaus said. “That’s the perfect storm.”

Typically a low-profile affair, this year’s county judge race unfolded into one of Texas’ marquee election battles. Republican and business community donors, sensing Hidalgo was vulnerable, poured millions of dollars into Mealer’s campaign and political action committees backing Republican candidates, leaving Hidalgo and other local Democrats financially overwhelmed in a race few expected to be truly competitive a year ago.

The conditions in Harris County’s high-profile races appeared to boost Republicans in down-ballot judicial contests, five of which swung in favor of the GOP. Through unofficial results, Democrats appeared to lose control of two criminal district courts and three county misdemeanor courts, marking the party’s first countywide defeats in eight years.

Republicans also held a number of Democratic judicial candidates under 51 percent, far narrower results than their recent courthouse sweeps.

“We are light years from where we were four years ago. Light years,” state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, said to a crowd at the Harris County Republican Party’s election night watch party.

Atop the ballot, Democrat Beto O’Rourke carried Harris County over Republican Gov. Greg Abbott by about 9 percentage points — far less than his 17-point margin over U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018.

That year, O’Rourke helped usher in a wave of Democratic wins in down-ballot county races. Under less favorable conditions atop the ticket this year, Democrats running for administrative countywide offices still narrowly retained the seats they had first captured four years ago.

I wrote three posts talking about the connection between statewide performance and Harris County performance for Democrats. This might be a good time to point out that when Republicans were running the table in Harris County in the off-year elections, they were also absolutely stomping Democrats statewide. This was a worse year for Dems statewide than 2020 and 2018 were, but it was (ahem) light years from where they were in 2014 and 2010. Light years.

I mean, I had plenty of moments of doubt and worry going into this race. Some of those late polls, the ones that had Beto down by 12 or 13 points, were in line with the expectation that Harris County would be at best a mixed bag for Dems, with the real possibility of not only losing Judge Hidalgo’s race but also the majority on Commissioners Court. Hell, having both Lesley Briones and Adrian Garcia also lose wasn’t out of the question if things were really going south. I would have preferred to not lose any of those judicial races, but I can live with it. At least now there will be benches to run for that don’t require primarying someone. Oh, and by the way, all five of the losing Democratic judges had a higher percentage of the vote than Mealer did. Just so you know.

I will say, and I’ll say it again when I write another post about the state-county connection to update it for 2022, I do think the campaign to blame Democrats for crime, and all the money spent on it, probably moved the needle enough to get at least a couple of those Republican judicial candidates over the hump. They still needed the good statewide showing to be in a position to take advantage, but every little bit helps. But crime has been declining, and the crime rate has basically nothing to do with who’s on the bench anyway, so good luck replicating that in 2026.

I must note, by the way, that some people (on Twitter and on the CityCast Houston podcast) have mentioned that the five losing Democratic judicial candidates were all Black and all had names that might suggest they are Black. On the podcast, Evan Mintz noted this and mentioned the 2008 election, in which several Democratic judicial candidates with uncommon names had lost. I will just say that if you scroll through the Election Day results you will see quite a few Democratic candidates who are Black and whose names might also suggest they are Black that won. I’ve said before, there is always some variation in the range of performance for the Democratic judicial candidates. I’ve never found a pattern that consistently explains it, and that includes this year. As such, I am very reluctant to offer reasons for why this happens. I do think as I have just stated that the millions of dollars spent on blaming crime on the judges had some effect, but if it did then the effect was an overall one, with the range of scores being a bit lower than it might have been. That was enough to push a handful of Dems below fifty percent.

By the way, the two Republican judicial candidates who lost by the largest margins were named “Geric Tipsword” and “Andrew Bayley”. Make of that what you will.

I guess the question I’d ask is how confident are you right now that things will be better for your team in 2024, and in 2026? I feel pretty confident right now that Dems will sweep Harris County in 2024. The track record in Presidential years is a bit longer and more decisive. For 2026, it’s much harder to say. The possibility of a bad year in what could be Year 6 of President Biden or Year 2 of President Some Other Democrat is one that can’t be dismissed. You couldn’t get me to wishcast a 2026 gubernatorial frontrunner right now for love or money. Current trends suggest Dems would be in a better position in four years even with those possibilities, but trends don’t always continue as they have in the past, and even when they do they can slow down or bounce around a bit. With all that said, I still like our chances. Ask me again in three years when it’s filing season for that election.

Judge Hidalgo celebrates her win

Winning is sweet. Victory laps are even sweeter.

Judge Lina Hidalgo

Fresh off a narrow reelection that was anything but assured, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on Wednesday held a news conference to praise colleagues, thank supporters and call out some members of her own party for not backing her campaign.

“There were some elected officials that weren’t there because they didn’t think it was convenient, those in my own party that wouldn’t do an ad for me, that wouldn’t have a fundraiser, that wouldn’t help when it got tough,” Hidalgo said. “And oh, I remember who they are.”

The Hidalgo campaign declined to specify which officials she was addressing.

Hidalgo also addressed critics during the election cycle who accused the Democrats on Commissioners Court of defunding police, including what she called “unscrupulous politicians of both parties.”

She called out Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, a Democrat, without naming her directly.

“This person who is supposed to represent justice in this county more than once said with a straight face ‘stop the defunding’ knowing full well that the budget had increased,” Hidalgo said.

[…]

Despite being significantly out-funded by Republican newcomer Alexandra del Moral Mealer, Hidalgo emerged from early voting ahead of her opponent and narrowly maintained that lead throughout the night as votes were counted. The final unofficial tally, released just before 9 a.m. Wednesday, put Hidalgo in front of Mealer by slightly more than 17,000 votes, or 50.8 percent of the nearly 1.1 million votes cast. That was a narrower margin of victory than her surprise election in 2018, when the then-27-year-old ousted popular Republican Ed Emmett.

Mealer tweeted her concession around 9:30 a.m.

“While we did not accomplish our goal of changing leadership in Harris County, we were successful in elevating the profile of critical issues like the need to appropriately resource our law enforcement and criminal justice system as well as the desire to eliminate corruption and increase transparency in local government,” Mealer said in a statement. “This campaign was always about good government and I am hopeful that we have played a role encouraging that going forward.”

Hidalgo acknowledged her opponent’s hard-fought campaign, much of which centered on crime, blaming policies championed by Hidalgo for rising numbers of homicides the past two years, and accusing the first-term judge of corruption, mostly related to a controversial COVID vaccination outreach contract that resulted in indictments against three of her aides.

Since July 1, Mealer raised more than $8.5 million, much of it from large donors like Gallery Furniture owner Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale, an early supporter of her campaign. Hidalgo, who has refused to accept campaign contributions from county vendors, raised $2.4 million in that period.

“She had almost $10 million in the bank and she had a U.S. senator and she had a furniture salesman,” Hidalgo said in her speech, taking a swipe at McIngvale who ran several campaign ads in support of Mealer.

“I want to thank Alex Mealer for running a hard fought campaign,” Hidalgo said. “I want to thank her for her concession. And I want to thank her again for her service to our country.”

Surrounded by union leaders and Democratic party elected officials, Hidalgo thanked her supporters for helping her block walk, raise money and host campaign events.

Much of her speech was of a celebratory nature, citing past accomplishments with current Commissioner Court colleagues Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia.

“We have done so much from the very first meeting,” Hidalgo said, citing countywide voting as one example of successes while she has been in office. “We did that at the first meeting in 2019.”

In re: the margin of victory, they are referring to the raw vote differential. In 2018, Judge Hidalgo won by 19,277 votes, while in 2022 it was 17,397 votes. Of course, there were more total votes cast in 2018 than in 2022, which has an effect. As it happens Judge Hidalgo’s margin of victory as a percentage of the vote is greater now than it was then: In 2018 she won 49.76% to 48.18% (there was a Libertarian candidate that took the rest). In 2022, it was 50.79% to 49.19%, with a write-in candidate getting the other 0.02%. That means she won this year by 1.60 percentage points, compared to 1.58 in 2018. Pick your preferred measure of expression.

As for what may be on the agenda for 2023, I’m not the first person to suggest this, but don’t be surprised if Commissioners Court looks at redrawing the Constable/JP precincts. Most counties just have the Constable and JP precincts be the same as the Commissioners Court precincts. Harris has its own weird precincts for them that don’t match up in population and (as I understand it haven’t been updated since the 70s. There’s also no shortage of bad blood between (at least some) Constables and the Court, so a bit of payback may be in order. I suspect this would be a complex matter and would surely invite litigation so I don’t think it will be undertaken lightly, but I will be surprised if it doesn’t at least come up.

Beyond that, I expect the Court to do more of what it’s been doing, with the freedom of knowing that their next budget can’t be busted by no-shows. The main obstacle will continue to be interference from the state and whatever new BS legislation may come down. This is where I remind you that Harris County was under a Republican majority on Commissioners Court going back to at least the mid-70s, which is as far back as I’ve been able to verify, up until 2019 when Dems finally achieved a 3-2 advantage. We’ve done things a certain way for a long damn time. Making changes to make things better will take time, too. For now, we can celebrate a bit as we look forward. Let it out, Judge Hidalgo. You’ve earned it. The Press has more.

Some opening thoughts on the 2022 election

Done in the traditional bullet-point style. There may or may not be a part 2 to this, depending on the usual factors.

– Obviously the overall result was disappointing. It was harder to see a Beto victory this year from the polling data than it was in 2018, but that doesn’t lessen the sting. There were polls that had the race at about five or six points and there were polls that had it at about 11 to 13. One of those groups was going to be more right than the other, and unfortunately it was the latter.

– I’m not prepared to say that turnout was disappointing. I mean sure, Beto didn’t get the margins he had gotten four years ago in the big urban counties, and that was partly due to lower turnout. But look, turnout was over 8 million, which up until the 2020 election would have been considered Presidential level. Indeed, more votes were cast in this year’s Governor’s race than in the 2012 Presidential race. We didn’t build on 2018, certainly not as we wanted to, and turnout as a percentage of registered voters is down from 2018, but this was still by far the second highest vote total in an off year election, not too far from being the first highest. There’s still plenty to build on. And for what it’s worth, election losers of all stripes often complain about turnout.

– That said, I think any objective look at the data will suggest that more Dems than we’d have liked stayed home. I don’t know why, but I sure hope someone with access to better data than I have spends some time trying to figure it out. How is it that in a year where Dems nationally outperformed expectations the same didn’t happen here? I wish I knew.

– Turnout in Harris County was 1,100,979, according to the very latest report, for 43.21% of registered voters. A total of 349,025 votes were cast on Election Day, or 31.7% of the total. That made the pattern for 2022 more like 2018 than 2014, and the final tally came in at the lower end of the spectrum as well.

– For what it’s worth, predictions of a redder Election Day than Early Voting turned out to be false, at least when compared to in person early voting; Dems did indeed dominate the mail ballots, with statewide and countywide candidates generally topping 60%. Those five judicial candidates who lost only got about 55-56% of the mail vote, and did worse with early in person voting than their winning peers. On Election Day, most Dems did about as well or a little better than early in person voting. The Dems who fell a bit short of that on Election Day were generally the statewides, and it was because the third party candidates did their best on Election Day; this had the effect of lowering the Republican E-Day percentages as well. Go figure.

– In answer to this question, no I don’t think we’ll see Beto O’Rourke run for anything statewide again. If he wants to run for, like Mayor of El Paso, I doubt anyone would stake their own campaign on calling him a loser. But his statewide days are almost surely over, which means we better start looking around for someone to run against Ted Cruz in 2024. We know he’s beatable.

– Before I let this go, and before the narratives get all hardened in place, one could argue that Beto O’Rourke was the most successful Democratic candidate for Governor since Ann Richards. Consider:


Year  Candidate       Votes    Deficit    Pct   Diff
====================================================
2002    Sanchez   1,819,798    812,793  39.96  17.85
2006       Bell   1,310,337    406,455  29.79   9.24
2010      White   2,106,395    631,086  42.30  12.67
2014      Davis   1,835,596    960,951  38.90  20.37
2018     Valdez   3,546,615  1,109,581  42.51  13.30
2022   O'Rourke   3,535,621    889,155  43.80  11.01

He got more votes than anyone except (just barely) Lupe Valdez, but he came closer to winning than she did. He got a better percentage of the vote than anyone else, and trailed by less than everyone except for Chris Bell in that bizarre four-way race. Like Joe Biden in 2020, the topline result fell short of expectations, but compared to his peers he generally outperformed them and you can see some progress. It will take someone else to move to the next steps.

– I’ll take a closer look at the State House data when it’s more fully available, but overall I’d say Republicans did pretty well compared to the 2020 baseline. That said, there are some seats that they will have a hard time holding onto. Getting to 75 will probably take continued demographic change and the continuation of the 2016-2020 suburban trends, and a lot of work keeping up with population growth. All that will take money and wise investment. That’s above my pay grade.

– In Harris County, I was swinging back and forth between confidence and panic before Tuesday. In the end, I’m pretty happy. Getting to that 4-1 margin on Commissioners Court is huge, and that’s before savoring the end of Jack Cagle’s time in power and the enormous piles of money that were set on fire to oust Judge Hidalgo. I may have made a few rude hand gestures at some houses with Mealer signs in my neighborhood as I walked the dog on Wednesday. One of the pollsters that was close to the target statewide was the UH Hobby Center poll, but they botched their read on the Harris County Judge race, finding Mealer in the lead and underestimating Hidalgo by six points. Hope y’all figure that one out.

– In the end there were 59,186 mail ballots counted, after 57,871 mail ballots were returned at the end of early voting. These took awhile to be fully counted – as of the 5 AM tally, only 55,393 mail ballots had been tabulated in the Governor’s race, with fewer in the others. In the past, we have seen the mail ballot total go up by quite a bit more in the days between the end of early voting and the Tuesday results – for example, in 2018 there were 89,098 ballots returned as of the end of the EV period and 97,509 mail ballots tabulated. I have to assume this is about the rejection rate, which if so I’ll see it in the post-canvass election report. If not, I’ll try to ask about it.

– By the way, since there were more mail ballots counted at the end, they had the effect of giving a small boost to Democratic performance. There was a slight chance that could have tipped one or more of the closest judicial races where a Republican had been leading, but that did not happen. It almost did in the 180th Criminal District Court, where incumbent Dasean Jones trails by 465 votes – 0.04 percentage points – out of over a million votes cast. If there are any recounts, I’d expect that to be one. Unless there are a ton of provisional ballots and they go very strongly Democratic it won’t change anything, so just consider this your annual reminder that every vote does indeed matter.

I do have some further thoughts about Harris County, but I’ll save them for another post. What are your initial impressions of the election?

UPDATE: There were still votes being counted when I wrote this. I think they’re done now. Turnout is just over 1.1 million as of this update.

Fewer mail ballots rejected in November

Good, but still could be better.

Local election officials in Texas are reporting a drop in the percentage of mail ballots that have so far been flagged for rejection during the ongoing midterm elections, as compared with a spike earlier this year.

During the state’s primary in March, state officials said 24,636 mail-in ballots were rejected in that election. That’s a 12.38% rejection rate — far higher than in previous contests. According to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, Texas’ mail ballot rejection rate during the 2020 general election was 0.8% and it was 1.5% in 2018.

The surge in the rejection rate in March followed a voting law passed by Republicans in the state legislature in 2021 that created new ID requirements for mail ballots. Local officials said confusion created by the law, known as Senate Bill 1, tripped up many voters. In many cases, voters completely missed the field on the ballot return envelope that requires either a partial Social Security number or driver’s license number.

According to the Texas secretary of state’s office, however, the ongoing general election isn’t experiencing the same high rate of ballot rejections so far.

State officials have reported that 1.78% of mail ballots returned to county election officials have been rejected so far — 8,771 ballots out of 491,399, as of Friday afternoon.

About 314,000 ballots still had to be processed by local officials, according to the secretary of state. Voters have until Election Day on Tuesday to turn in mail ballots.

Many ballots that have been flagged for rejection will be remedied before voting ends next week, because SB 1 also created a ballot cure process in Texas. That means voters will have an opportunity to fix their mistakes.

Sam Taylor, assistant secretary of state for communications, attributes the decrease in the mail ballot rejection rate to updates to the return ballot in some Texas counties, as well as additional voter information included in mail ballots by local officials.

He says various voter education campaigns following the March primary have also helped. Taylor said his office, along with county election officials, focused on educating older voters in the state about new ID requirements. In Texas, voters over 65, voters with disabilities, people out of town and people in jail but not convicted can cast a mail ballot.

Taylor also said rejection rates were always likely to improve as “voters got used to” the new mail ballot process.

“I think it is moving in the right direction and more education never hurts,” he said.

Harris County — which is home to Houston, and is the state’s most populous and diverse county — so far has a higher rejection rate than the state average.

According to Harris County officials, about 9% of returned mail ballots were flagged with a rejection or exception code, as of Wednesday. Officials said most of those preliminary ballots were flagged specifically with ID issues, which are a result of the state’s new voting law.

We’ve discussed this before, and I’ve been generally optimistic that the downward trend we saw from May would continue. I give a lot of credit to county election administrators, who have worked very hard to mitigate the problem. What all of this tells me is that yes this will continue to improve over time, and that the fact that this was imposed for the primaries without giving the counties or the SOS the chance to figure it out and develop training and communication materials just shows how little the Republicans in the Lege cared about disenfranchising people. They were willing to do the beta test in real time without there ever having been any dry runs, and too bad for anyone affected. Not much we can do about it now, but never forget the attitude.

As for the Harris County figure, I can’t find any other information at this time. I do hope that these are the correctible kind of error and that the final rejection totals will be lower. For what it’s worth, these are the totals through the end of early voting for elections from 2012 for the percentage of mail ballots accepted:


Year    Mailed   Counted   Pct
==============================
2012    92,290    66,310  71.8
2014    89,073    67,967  76.3
2016   123,999    94,699  76.4
2018   119,742    89,098  74.4
2020   250,434   170,410  68.0
2022    80,416    57,871  72.0

This is mail ballots that have been accepted and counted, which are listed as Returned on the daily total files. The large majority of other ones are those that weren’t returned, but some of them were returned and rejected for whatever the reason. The point here is that we don’t have an abnormally low number of returned and counted ballots. So unless the accounting for this has changed, it looks pretty normal. We’ll know more after the election, but this is reassuring. Did you vote yet?

Final November 2022 EV totals: Catching up

First, some slightly outdated numbers from the Chron.

Fewer Harris County voters cast ballots during this year’s early voting period than in the 2020 and 2018 elections, according to unofficial voter counts released after polls closed on Friday night.

From Oct. 24 to Nov. 4, about 736,000 people had voted at Harris County’s 99 early voting locations. They accounted for about 28 percent of Harris County’s 2.6 million registered voters.

Local voters are taking to the polls to elect dozens of local offices, including Harris County judge, as well as to vote on $1.2 billion in bond proposals and on statewide races for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and others.

But so far, the number of voters has lagged behind the turnout in recent November elections.

In 2020, which was a presidential election year, more than 1.4 million people, about 57 percent of registered voters in Harris County, voted early. In 2018, early voting turnout was 855,711 people or 36.6 percent of registered voters.

There was an uptick in recent days of voter turnout. On Friday, more than 95,000 people voted in person, the highest daily total during the two-week early voting period. The second-highest voting day was Thursday, when more than 75,000 people voted. Long lines and waits of more than 2 hours were reported at some locations on Friday. After polls closed at 7 p.m., there were still 200 people in line to vote at some locations, including NRG Stadium, according to the Harris County Election Administrator’s Office.

I’ll get to the numbers in a minutes, but this story has a publication time of 9:14 PM and refers to a tweet posted at 7 PM by the Elections office. The final in person vote count for Friday was actually 105K, so waiting till later to publish (the voters file with the final count hit my mailbox at 11:24 PM) might have been advisable. Be that as it may, this is what we got when all was said and done. Final EV totals from 2018 are here and from 2014 are here. The final totals for 2022 are here.


Year     Mail    Early    Total
===============================
2014   67,967  307,280  375,247
2018   89,098  766,613  855,711
2022   57,871  692,478  750,349

In the end, early turnout for 2022 was 87.7% of what it was in 2018, while in person turnout was 91.6% of the 2018 number. That’s down, but as noted on Friday, the gap has narrowed. All three final days of early voting had higher in person totals this year than in 2022. Comparisons to 2020 are not particularly interesting – this is a non-Presidential year, and in case you forgot there were three weeks of early voting in 2020, thanks to the pandemic. We may be hard pressed to match 2020 EV totals in 2024.

The question is, what might final turnout look like? The trend in Presidential years is that fewer votes are cast on Election Day. In 2012, 35% of votes were cast on Election Day, in 2016 it was 26% of the vote, and in 2020 – again, in a year with three weeks of early voting, and also a record number of votes by mail – just 12% of the vote was on Tuesday. That trend is much less pronounced in off years. In 2010, 44% of all votes were cast on Election Day, in 2014 it was 45%, and in 2018 it was 29%.

What that means is that if Election Day in 2022 is like it was in 2018, we’ll get about 307K votes cast (*) for a final total of about 1.057 million. If it’s more like 2014, we’ll see 614K votes cast, for 1.364 million total. Going by the estimate of about 2.53 million total voters in Harris County, that would be 41.8% turnout of registered voters on the low end, and 53.9% on the high end. That compares to 41.7% in 2010, 33.7% in 2014, and 52.9% in 2018.

My high end scenario, in other words, would mean that 2022 exceeds 2018 both in absolute numbers as well as in turnout percentage. That feels a bit exuberant to me, but not out of the question. I think the 29% turnout on Election Day is probably too low – I’ll get into that more in a minute – so let’s split the difference and say 37% of the vote happens on Tuesday. If that’s the case, then 1.191 million votes will be cast, or 47.1% turnout. That’s down from 2018 but not by much. It feels plausible to me, with the proviso that we’re all just flat-out guessing here.

One argument for why we might get a larger portion of the vote cast on Tuesday than we had in 2018 is that more voters came out in the final days of early voting this year. The last three days of early voting in 2018 accounted for about 27% of the final in person early vote total. This year, about 35% of the in person vote came out on the last three days. That at least suggests the possibility that more people are taking their time to get to the polls. Does that necessarily carry over to voting on E-Day instead of voting early? Maybe, I don’t know. We’re dealing with the tiniest possible sample sizes here, so you can read anything you want into this stuff. That’s why I try to talk in terms of ranges of possibility. Different years are, well, different. It’s plausible to me that the Election Day share of the vote this year could be higher than it was in 2018, but that doesn’t mean it will be, nor does it mean that if it is it will be as much as it was in previous years. Pick your adventure here. Have you voted yet?

(*) – Just a reminder that some number of mail ballots come in between Friday and Tuesday, which means that the mail totals you see on the official Election Night returns don’t match what I’ve got here from the daily EV tallies. In 2018, there wound up being just over 100K mail ballots, which means there were another 11K that came in after the “final” totals posted above. My guess is we’ll get between 65-67K total mail ballots this year. All this means that my calculations for the Election Day vote share are slightly off, but it’s not worth worrying about. The basic contour is still whether we get an Election Day more like 2018 or more like 2014/2010.

November 2022 Day Ten EV totals: Two to go

This is the data from Wednesday. It came in a little later than usual. Since yesterday was the vote-till-10PM day, I thought I’d provide this update now, and will give the final EV totals on Sunday. Final EV totals from 2018 are here and from 2014 are here. The Day Ten totals for 2022 are here.


Year     Mail    Early    Total
===============================
2014   63,857  220,505  284,362
2018   82,009  605,869  719,878
2022   52,608  513,398  566,006

About 58K in person voters Wednesday, which was in line with the dailies from week one, plus another 6K mail ballots. The second Wednesday of week two early voting in 201 had a weird dip, to 48K in person votes – maybe it rained all day that day, I dunno – so the gap between 2018 and 2022 was slightly closed. About 122K in person votes over the last two days will make the 2022 early vote exceed the entire total from 2014. We won’t catch up to 2018 barring a huge surge, but closing the gap a bit more is possible. Have you voted yet?

November 2022 Day Nine EV Totals: Still lagging

Nine days down, three to go: Final EV totals from 2018 are here and from 2014 are here. The Day Nine totals for 2022 are here.


Year     Mail    Early    Total
===============================
2014   60,400  191,432  251,832
2018   80,279  557,264  637,543
2022   46,417  454,309  500,726

Not off to a fast start in week 2, as both Monday and Tuesday had lower turnout than the weekdays of Week 1. I wasn’t expecting 2018-level turnout, even with the larger number of registered voters, but it’s lagging farther behind than I expected at this point. I’d like to see this turn around, but we’re running out of time for it to happen. Have you voted yet?

November 2022 Day Seven EV totals: On to Week 2

Fresh from Sunday night: Final EV totals from 2018 are here and from 2014 are here. The Day Seven totals for 2022 are here.


Year     Mail    Early    Total
===============================
2014   57,546  137,137  194,683
2018   77,347  429,009  506,356
2022   44,163  354,100  398,263

Saturday’s in person total of 41K was surprisingly low, while Sunday’s 25K was much more in line with expectations. Because Saturday in 2018 was much busier, the 2022 pace has fallen off a bit, though the in person total is still about 82.5% of what it was four years ago. The early vote for 2022 after seven days has now exceeded the entire early vote from 2014. An average of about 59K per day for this week, not much higher than the average for the first seven days, would make the 2022 early total be greater than the final turnout for all of 2014. Obviously, we want to aim much higher than that, and we have many more voters now than we did eight years ago – and also four years ago. We’ll see what this week holds. Have you voted yet?

What will Tarrant County do this year?

Hoping for a blue result at the top and at least closer races below it, but we’ll see.

Eight years after voting for Gov. Greg Abbott, Angela Martinez found herself waiting in line Tuesday to snap a photo with Beto O’Rourke, his challenger in this year’s nail-biting gubernatorial contest.

Martinez, a 33-year-old marketer for a pediatric home health agency, has never identified as strictly liberal or conservative, she said, and sometimes feels like “a walking contradiction.” If there’s a spot for her on the traditional political spectrum, she hasn’t found it. When she voted for Abbott in 2014, Martinez identified with what she saw as the then-attorney general’s Christian family values.

But since then, Martinez has soured on Abbott. She feels Abbott didn’t do enough in the wake of the deadly winter freeze in February 2021 to prevent the state’s electrical grid from collapsing should a similarly catastrophic weather event hit Texas in the future. As someone who values “the sanctity of life,” Martinez is uneasy about the state’s blanket ban on abortions that took effect after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade earlier this year.

“My mother had the freedom (to seek an abortion), my aunts had the freedom,” Martinez said while waiting to meet O’Rourke at the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth. “Why shouldn’t we?”

Voters in Tarrant County, the state’s last major urban county dominated by Republicans, just barely broke for Democrats at the top of the ticket in the last two elections — O’Rourke won there during his 2018 Senate bid and so did President Joe Biden two years ago — stoking Democrats’ hopes that the path to the governor’s mansion, and the end of their decadeslong exile from statewide office, goes through Tarrant. Boosting those hopes is infighting this year among Tarrant County Republicans — who insist the party is united.

The year that O’Rourke carried Tarrant during his near-miss bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, Abbott won the county by more than 66,000 votes and nearly 11 percentage points — outperforming every other statewide Republican on the ticket.

Four years later, Abbott’s team is “confident” the governor will win Tarrant County once more, Abbott’s chief strategist Dave Carney told reporters last week while acknowledging the county is competitive. “It’s going to be a battle,” Carney said.

At his campaign stop at the UNT Health Science Center, O’Rourke expressed optimism that 125,000 people who have been added to the county’s voter rolls since he ran in 2018, combined with discontent over the power grid failure during last year’s winter storm, the state’s abortion ban and Abbott’s response to school shootings would help deliver him the county.

“Abbott has given us a huge, huge opening” in Tarrant County, O’Rourke said. “So many people are looking for the common ground and the common sense that’s been missing from our state government.”

But as Democrats express optimism because of O’Rourke and Biden’s victories, Republicans continue to dominate down-ballot races in Tarrant County — a sign of the GOP’s enduring dominance here.

“They have now a little bit of history that suggests that Democrats might be able to win in Tarrant County,” said James Riddlesperger, a political science professor at Texas Christian University. “On the other hand, there has not been a countywide Democrat elected for county office in Tarrant County in this century.”

Statewide Democratic candidates in 2018 and 2020 slightly outperformed their cumulative margins in Tarrant County. In 2018, the small number of local countywide candidates did a tad better than the statewide slate as a whole, scoring in the 47-48% range. In 2020, the same slight improvement was still there among a larger collection of local countywide candidates, but they finished in the 46-47% range for the most part.

Tarrant, as noted before, had been a reliable bellwether of the state as a whole through the 2016 election, but as with the other large urban counties, and several of the large suburban counties, it became more Democratic than the state. It’s just that Tarrant started in a redder place than the others, so they still lag behind by a bit. I suspect they will again be slightly bluer than the state as a whole, but if there’s a step back from 2018 or 2020, that will be reflected in Tarrant’s numbers as well. I believe the larger trends will continue, whether this year is in line with that or not. I hope that means a blue Tarrant sooner rather than later – as we know, there are a plethora of State House districts that were drawn to be modestly red, and CD24 looms as the best future pickup opportunity – but whether that’s this year or not I couldn’t say.

November 2022 Day Five EV totals: A closer look at mail ballots

The numbers are what they are.

Nearly half as many people have so far voted by mail in Harris County as in 2018 during the same period, state data show.

About 31,000 voters submitted mail-in ballots by the end of the day Thursday, compared with 56,000 at this point four years ago. A similar trend is taking shape at the statewide level, where Republican voters who previously relied on mail ballots are likely opting to vote in person early or on Election Day, political analysts say.

Overall, turnout during early voting has also trailed slightly behind 2018. In the 30 counties with the most registered voters, about 11.1 percent have cast a ballot so far, though four counties had not yet submitted updated tallies as of Friday morning. About 16.1 percent had voted by this time four years ago.

The 31,000 mail ballots in Harris County make up about 1.2 percent of its registered voters. But in 2018, about 2.4 percent of registered voters’ ballots had been shipped off and counted by now.

Republicans in the past have had a 2-to-1 advantage in the vote-by-mail category, and the practice expanded in the 2020 election as the coronavirus spread. But as the pandemic waned, and after former President Donald Trump cast doubt on the integrity of the method, data shows Democrats now have the edge.

“Prior to 2018, voting by mail was really the bread and butter for Republican candidates,” said Derek Ryan, a GOP strategist whose company produces election data analyses. “And then (Trump) started discussing how potentially unsafe voting by mail could be, and I think that message has resonated with the Republican base.”

As of Wednesday in Harris County, 52 percent had previously voted in a Democratic primary, and 36 percent of mail voters had previously voted in a Republican primary, according to Ryan’s analysis. Yet, Republican voters have the upper hand in person, 41 percent to 34 percent.

[…]

Ryan, who’s been involved in politics in Texas since 2000, said this is the first election cycle he can remember in which most Republican candidates have not sent out mail ballot applications to registered voters.

Harris County elections spokeswoman Leah Shah said the county received far fewer applications that came from campaigns in this election — about 27,000 compared to 57,000 in 2018. Overall, the county received about 78,000 applications, compared with nearly 120,000 in 2018, she said.

“We’ve done a significant amount of education through the summer to ensure people feel confident in voting by mail,” Shah said. “It’s still an extremely important option for people who can’t come in person. We certainly want to encourage people to do so if needed and if they’re eligible.”

As noted, the in person early voting totals for Harris County right now are quite close to the 2018 numbers. The vote by mail totals are down quite a bit, and for sure that’s mostly Republican dropoff. For what it’s worth, in the 2018 general election in Harris County, Republicans had a slight lead in straight ticket votes on the mail ballots, though the Dem candidates for the most part had a modest edge overall. In 2020 Dems had a solid lead i mail votes, and I expect the same this year though with a smaller number of total mail votes cast. In the end, as I’ve said before, I would expect most of the former mail voters to turn out in person.

As for the Republican voters having an edge so far with in person voters, remember three things: One, the earliest voters tend to be the most faithful ones, so they’re disproportionately the strongest partisans. Two, going back to 2012 there have generally been more votes cast in Republican primaries than in Democratic primaries. The high water total for both parties in a primary is about 329K, with Dems hitting that mark in 2020 and Republicans in 2016. Not everyone votes in a given year’s primary so you can’t just add up the votes for each year, but my point is that to a first order approximation, the total number of people with an R primary history and the people with a D voting history are roughly the same.

(Yes, there were 410K Dem primary voters in 2008. That was 14 years ago. People move, people die, and we have about 700K more registered voters now in Harris County than we did then.)

Finally, there are a lot of people with no primary voting history. In 2018, when Dems had 159K primary voters and Republicans had 167K, every Dem other than Lina Hidalgo got at least 606K votes in November, while Republicans of the non-Ed Emmett variety got at most 560K (Hidalgo beat Emmett 595K to 575K). In 2020, with 329K Dem primary votes and 195K Republicans, it was at least 814K votes for Dems and at most 740K for Republicans. There are a lot of votes still to be cast.

Here are the totals through Friday. Final EV totals from 2018 are here and from 2014 are here. The Day Five totals for 2022 are here.


Year     Mail    Early    Total
===============================
2014   54,300  104,147  158,447
2018   65,232  315,030  380,262
2022   37,810  287,185  324,995

There were about 55K in person voters on both Thursday and Friday. Given the rains on Friday, it’s possible that total might have been higher otherwise. The 2022 in person tally continues to run at a bit more than 90% of the 2018 total (91.2%, if you want to be more precise), while the mail ballot total is about 80% of what it was in 2018. A simple and dumb extrapolation would suggest about 698K in person early voters plus 52K mail voters for a total of 750K, compared to 855K in 2018. I still think we wind up closer than that. The Trib has a nice daily tracker that as of last night was updated through Thursday, if you want to follow that along. I’ll post the next update Monday morning.

We hit a new peak in voter registrations

It’s good to see, whatever it “means”.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas now has almost 17.7 million voters — 1.9 million more than four years ago, when Gov. Greg Abbott won re-election.

New voter registration totals from the Texas Division of Elections show the state’s voter rolls are continuing to grow even faster than the population. While the state’s population has grown about 7 percent since 2018, voter registrations have grown about 12 percent.

Nowhere has the surge been bigger than in Harris County, where 230,000 people have been added to the voter rolls since 2018. Tarrant and Bexar counties are next, with more than 130,000 more voters than four years ago. All three counties voted Democratic in the 2020 presidential election.

The result is that at least 1 of every 5 voters in Texas never cast a general election ballot in the Lone Star State prior to 2014 — a remarkable wild card in a state that had stable politics and a slow stream of new voters for a generation before that.

Some of the biggest percentage increases in voter registrations are coming from booming counties that voted Republican in 2020.

Comal County, just north of San Antonio, saw a 29 percent increase in voter registrations from four years ago — the highest growth percentage of any county in the state. Not far behind was Kaufman County, east of Dallas, which also grew by about 29 percent.

[…]

Since 2014, Texas has added 3.6 million voters — roughly equivalent to the populations of Wisconsin and Minnesota.

The increase can be traced to 2014, when a group of campaign strategists from President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign launched an effort they called Battleground Texas to build an army of volunteer registrars.

See here and here for some background, and here for historic data. It’s wild that this has accelerated so much in recent years – we’ve talked about how Harris County was basically flat for years prior to 2012. This will have to slow down, at least to equalize to the rate of population growth, but today is not that day.

The increase in voter registration is absolutely a factor in the recent surge in turnout. In 2014, with 14 million voters and 33.7% turnout, there were 4.7 million total ballots. With 17.7 million voters, 33.7% turnout would be almost 6 million votes. Needless to say, we expect a higher percentage turnout than that this year. If we get the 8.3 million voters we got in 2018, that’s 47% this year, while it was 53% in 2018. I don’t know what we’ll get and I’m not trying to make a projection, I’m just noting that we have a higher floor now.

November 2022 Day Three EV totals: A lot like Day Two

Sorry, the days are long and my mind is full and I don’t have anything interesting to say. I will at some point. For now, this is what we get. Final EV totals from 2018 are here and from 2014 are here. The Day Three totals for 2022 are here.


Year     Mail    Early    Total
===============================
2014   46,293   61,150  107,443
2018   55,506  190,455  245,961
2022   28,536  176,964  205,500

There were 56K in person voters yesterday, and a bit over 4K returned mail ballots. At this point, 2022 is running about twice as high as 2014, and that gap will grow, while at about 80% of 2018 overall but more than 90% of 2018 in person. The 2018 dailies stay pretty flat though the last day, with an odd dip on the second Wednesday. I think 2022 will catch up, at least for the in person totals. Have you voted yet?

November 2022 Day Two EV totals: Just the facts

I’m just going to get into it, I don’t have anything to add to the numbers. Final EV totals from 2018 are here and from 2014 are here. The Day Two totals for 2022 are here.


Year     Mail    Early    Total
===============================
2014   42,752   40,595   83,347
2018   53,947  127,963  181,910
2022   23,630  120,402  144,032

There were about 59K in person voters yesterday, compared to 63K for 2018. Obviously, the overall mail ballot total is down as noted before, but in the end I expect those votes to mostly show up as in person votes. I’m sure I’ll have more to say going forward, but for now we’re up to date.

November 2022 Day One EV totals: The in person experience

Here’s your Chron story about Day One of early voting.

More than 60,000 registered voters Harris County decided Monday they couldn’t wait any longer to cast a ballot for their choices in the 2022 midterm election.

Monday was the first day of early voting in Texas, and more than one out of every 50 Harris County turned out to cast their ballots, according to the Harris County Elections Administration office. Voters this year are casting votes for Texas governor and Harris County judge, along with dozens of other state and local races. In Harris County, a printed-out ballot would be 20 pages long, officials said

Few problems were reported at the county’s 99 early voting locations Monday, but voters did find themselves standing in line waiting to cast their votes.

[…]

Texas now has nearly 17.7 million voters, which is 1.9 million more than four years ago, according to the Texas Division of Elections.

Harris County alone has about 2.6 million registered voters. Since 2018, about 230,000 people have been added to the rolls in Texas’ most populous county.

Most people across the state are expected to vote early, which has been the trend for Texas elections since 2008.

Whether this year’s midterm will have record turnouts remained to be seen. Elections officials in the largest counties outside of Harris County said turnout appeared to be slightly lower on the first day of early voting, compared to the 2020 and 2018 elections.

Here’s the story about voter registration totals, which I’ll get into separately. You’re here for the daily EV totals, and I aim to please:


Year     Mail    Early    Total
===============================
2014   41,520   20,215   61,735
2018   52,413   63,188  115,601
2022   21,779   60,834   82,613

I’m just focusing on midterm elections this time. The third week of early voting in 2020 makes any comparisons there hard to do. Final EV totals from 2018 are here and from 2014 are here. The Day One totals for 2022 are here.

Two things to note. One is that the mail ballots are way down, not just from 2018 but also from 2014. I saw some speculation about this on Twitter, as statewide mail ballots are also way down, that it’s mostly Republicans giving up on voting by mail due to the constant brainwashing about it by their lord and master The Former Guy. We can’t be sure about that, but it’s a reasonable hypothesis. We’ll know for sure when the votes get tallied. I’d guess that some number of other mail voters have also decided just to vote in person and not mess with that hassle now.

Two, the in person total for today is pretty close to what we had in 2018. Remember how much we freaked out about the turnout that year? I suspect in the end we’ll be pretty close, and may very well surpass it. Remember, we have a lot more voters now, so for a similar percentage of turnout the absolute total will be higher, and I also think we may have more Election Day voting, with probably more Republicans waiting till then. I’ll feel better about making pronouncements after a few days of actual voting.

I will try to post these daily, but may fall a day behind depending on how busy my evenings are. For now, this is where it is. Have you voted yet?

State and county election result relationships, part 3: Other county races

Part One
Part Two

Last time we looked at judicial races, which for all of the complaints about not knowing the candidates and just going by partisan labels have produced a consistent range of outcomes over the years. Some people are picking and choosing among judicial candidates – it’s not a huge number, and there doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason to it, but it’s happening. With candidates for county offices, especially higher profile ones like County Judge, District Attorney, and Sheriff, there’s even more of a range of outcomes, as these candidates are better known and the reasons for crossing over are clearer. Let’s get to the data.


2006          2008          2010          2012	
CJ      N/A   DA    49.79   CJ    39.40   DA    47.66
DC    46.09   CJ    46.85   DC    46.15   CA    51.48
CC    44.69   CA    51.39   CC    44.58   Sh    52.95
CT    48.34   DC    51.06   TA    45.27   TA    48.73
HCDE  48.63   TA    46.18   CT    43.01   HCDE  51.34
              Sh    56.28							
              HCDE  52.51								
              HCDE  52.58								

2014          2016          2018          2020	
DA    46.78   DA    54.22   CJ    49.78   DA    53.89
CJ      N/A   CA    53.72   DC    55.09   CA    54.66
DC    44.82   Sh    52.84   CC    54.60   Sh    57.46
CC    45.71   TA    50.31   CT    54.21   TA    53.07
CT    44.95	            HCDE  56.71   CC    53.76
HCDE  46.85                               HCDE  55.64
HCDE  46.79                               HCDE  54.65

Abbreviations:

CJ = County Judge
DC = District Clerk
CC = County Clerk
CT = County Treasurer
DA = District Attorney
CA = County Attorney
TA = Tax Assessor
Sh = Sheriff
HCDE = At Large HCDE Trustee

Note that in some years, like 2008 for County Judge, 2010 for Tax Assessor, and 2014 for District Attorney, there were special elections due to the death or resignation of a previously-elected official. There are three At Large HCDE Trustees, they all serve 6-year terms, and in a given election there may be zero, one, or two of them on the ballot. All of the numbers are the percentages achieved by the Democratic candidate for that office. In 2006 and 2014, there was no Democrat running for County Judge.

The first thing to note is that in all but two years, the Dem disaster year of 2014 and the Dem sweep year of 2020, the range of outcomes was at least four points. In four of the eight years, the range was at least five points. Beverly Kaufmann was a trusted long-serving name brand in 2006, the last year she ran for re-election. Adrian Garcia destroyed scandal-plagued incumbent Sheriff Tommy Thomas in 2008, while Ed Emmett rode his performance during Hurricane Ike to a chart-topping Republican vote total. (There was a Libertarian candidate in the Tax Assessor race that year, so the percentages for Paul Bettencourt and Diane Trautman were lower than they would have been otherwise.) Emmett continued to overperform in subsequent years, though it wasn’t quite enough for him in the 2018 blue landslide. The late Mike Anderson got to run against the idiot Lloyd Oliver in the 2012 DA race; four years later Kim Ogg won in a second try against Devon Anderson after her office imploded. Candidates and circumstances do matter in these races in a way that they don’t quite do in judicial races.

I find it fascinating that the At Large HCDE Trustees are consistent top performers for Dems, year in and year out. Note that this remained the case in 2020, following the abolition of straight ticket voting. The Republicans have run some lousy candidates in those races – their precinct HCDE trustee candidates have generally been stronger – but I doubt that accounts for too much. Honestly, I’d probably chalk that up to the Democratic brand, especially given that it says “Education” right there in the position’s name.

Minus the outliers, and I will have one more post in this series to take a closer look at them, the ranges for the county executive office candidates are basically in line with those of the judicial candidates, and as such are usually ahead of the statewides. As with the judicial candidates, there were mixed results in the close years of 2008 and 2012, and sweeps one way or the other otherwise. While the potential is there for an exceptional result – which in the context of statewide candidates still carrying Harris County means “a Democrat unexpectedly losing” – the conditions to avoid that are clear. If Beto is getting to 54% or better, I’ll be surprised if it’s not another Dem sweep.

State and county election result relationships, part 2: Judicial races

In Part One of this series, we looked at the relationship between statewide results and Harris County results for statewide candidates. In the last three elections, statewide Democratic candidates have done on average more than nine points better in Harris County than they did overall. In the next two posts, we’re going to look at the county candidates, to see how those results compare to the statewides and what if anything we can infer about this year.

Two things should be noted up front, one of which I touched on in the previous post. First, nearly all of the statewide races have at least one third party candidate in them, and in those races the third party candidate(s) can take three to five percent of the total vote. That has the effect of lowering the percentages of both D and R candidates in those races. County candidates, on the other hand, rarely face a third or fourth contestant. In county judicial races, third party candidates are unheard of. Because of this, county Democratic candidates tend to do better than statewide Democratic candidates.

It is also the case, as noted before, that there have been a lot of, shall we say, less than compelling statewide Democratic candidates. They lack money and name recognition and that in turn helps contribute to the vote totals that the third party contenders get, where that effect tends to be greater in the lower-profile races. Harris County candidates aren’t always the highest profile, but I believe the local organizing efforts have helped them outperform the less well-known statewide candidates. All of this comes wrapped in the usual “in general, with some exceptions, some years are different than others” qualifiers. I’m just setting the table.

With all that, I will present the numbers for judicial races. I’m starting this time in 2006 – like I said, the 2002 election is just not relevant to anything anymore, and the 2004 election was marked with a large number of uncontested races.


2006          2008          2010          2012
Havg  42.90   Havg  50.62   Havg  43.46   Havg  48.59
Jmin  46.90   Jmin  48.58   Jmin  42.57   Jmin  48.19
Jmax  50.12   Jmax  52.48   Jmax  45.70   Jmax  51.38
Drop   1.09   Drop   2.93   Drop   7.66   Drop   1.20

2014          2016          2018          2020
Havg  44.76   Havg  49.80   Havg  55.25   Havg  53.83
Jmin  43.64   Jmin  50.93   Jmin  53.83   Jmin  52.56
Jmax  47.16   Jmax  54.11   Jmax  57.16   Jmax  55.51
Drop   3.44   Drop   3.02   Drop   4.15   Drop   3.40

“Havg” is the average percentage by Democratic statewide candidates for that year – you can go back and look at the first post for the list, I didn’t want to overwhelm this post with numbers. “Jmin” and “Jmax” are the lowest and highest percentages achieved by non-statewide Democratic judicial candidates that year. In other words, for the county, district, and appellate (1st and 14th Circuit) courts. “Drop” is the difference between the highest scoring statewide candidate and the lowest scoring local judicial candidate.

I have used average vote totals among judicial candidates in years past as a simple measure of partisanship in the county. I’m using percentages here because I want a quick visual representation of winning and losing. I am using the range here rather than an average because I want to figure out at what level of statewide performance am I comfortable saying that all local countywide Dems are likely to win, and at what level do I think some, most, or all may lose. I think this conveys the information I wanted to get across in a fairly straightforward manner.

The first thing to notice is that consistently there is a three to four point range between the top-performing Democratic judicial candidate and the low performer. I’ve studied this for years and have no idea why. I can’t see any obvious correlation to candidates’ gender, race, position on the ballot, endorsements, anything. It’s just random, as far as I can tell. The point is, there is a range. Conditions need to be such that the top candidates are at 54% or higher for the bottom ones to win. Maybe 53% is enough – you will note that the range was tighter in 2020 than in previous years, and it’s a hair less than three percentage points. But really, for me to feel comfortable, I’d want the toppers at 54%.

You may also notice, as I mentioned above, that the local judicial candidates tend to outperform the statewide candidates. 2016 is a stark example of this, as more than half of the statewides finished below fifty percent, though all of them ended up carrying the county. Yet all of the judicial candidates won easily, with the low judicial performer outdoing all of the statewides except Hillary Clinton. In 2018, a much stronger year for Dems, the bottom scorer among judicial candidates still did better than the Dem candidates for Governor, Comptroller, Land Commissioner, and Railroad Commissioner. Nearly all judicial Democrats won in 2008, while more than half of them won in the weaker year of 2012. My expectation is that even in a mediocre year like 2012, at least some Dems would make it across the finish line. It would take a bad year to sink them all. I just don’t see that happening.

You might look at the 2010 numbers, and maybe even the 2018 numbers, and worry that if the top of the ticket is defined by a real outlier, the gap between that candidate and the bottom rung of the judicial ladder could be too far apart. I absolutely do not expect a “Bill White in 2010” scenario, where someone gets at least six points more than any other statewide Dem. Beto in 2018 was barely one point ahead of Justin Nelson, and less than two points ahead of four other candidates. Two judicial candidates came even closer to Beto’s performance than Nelson did. It’s my opinion that if there’s a significant gap between the top and bottom of the statewide ticket, it’s because the one(s) at the bottom tanked, not because the top dog was so dominant. Bill White was a unicorn. The closest analog to him is Adrian Garcia in 2008, and he was running against a thoroughly scandal-plagued incumbent.

How much of an effect is there with the lack of straight ticket voting? It’s a little hard to say since we just have the one election to analyze, but my view in 2020 was that a lot of people did a fine job of voting all the way down the ballot. I expect that to be largely true this year as well. When the numbers are in, I’ll look at them and see if there’s a reason to change my mind.

To me, the main concern is that the statewide Dems will not do as well as the current polling suggests they might. We need the base level to be sufficiently high, that’s pretty much the ballgame. There is also a range in the county executive office elections, and there have been a couple of outliers over the years – I’ll be examining those phenomena in future posts – and every year is different. My bottom line remains that if the baseline at the state candidate level is 53-54% for Harris County, it will be another sweep year. I think the statewides will perform more like the locals this year, as they are overall better and better-funded than most other years. If we get a decent poll of Harris County, I’ll review and if needed revise my thinking. Until then, this is where I am.

State and county election result relationships, part 1: How Harris compares

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the relationship between how statewide Democratic candidates do in Harris County versus how they do overall, and what that might tell us about the state of play in Harris County. Since I started blogging in 2002, Harris has gone from all red to a bluish purple or still red depending on what year it was to all blue. I get the sense a lot of folks don’t know how to contextualize this. The trends are clear, but we’ve only had three actual all-blue elections, and only one of them was in a non-Presidential year. We’ve had precious little polling in Harris County, none of which I’d consider useful or reliable. So if all we have is statewide polling, what if anything can that tell us?

In this post, I’m going to go through the numbers at the statewide and Harris County level and see what that can tell us. Let’s begin with the first three elections since I began blogging.


2002                   2004                   2006
State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff
43.33   45.99   2.66   38.22   44.56   6.34   36.04   41.26   5.22
39.96   43.22   3.26   40.94   44.56   3.62   29.79   34.46   4.67
46.03   46.92   0.89   40.77   45.56   4.79   37.45   41.69   4.24
41.08   43.06   1.98   42.14   46.73   4.59   37.23   40.69   3.46
32.92   36.32   3.40                          37.01   41.85   4.84
41.48   43.02   1.54                          40.96   44.13   3.17
37.82   41.59   3.77                          41.79   45.14   3.35
41.49   42.38   0.89                          41.73   44.81   3.08
40.51   43.39   2.88                          44.89   47.99   3.10
41.54   44.42   2.88                          43.35   47.02   3.67
41.89   44.05   2.16								
43.24   45.48   2.24								
45.90   50.14   4.24								
39.15   42.61   3.46								
42.61   45.14   2.53								
40.01   43.32   3.31								
										
Min   0.89             Min   3.62             Min   3.08
Max   4.24             Max   6.34             Max   5.22
Avg   2.63             Avg   4.84             Avg   3.88

The first number for each year represents the statewide percentage for each Democratic candidate. The numbers are in the order that the candidates appear on the ballot, so for a Presidential year you get President, then Senate if there was a Senate race (there was not in 2004), then Railroad Commissioner because there’s always an RRC race, then the Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals races. I only reported the races that included a Democratic candidate, so this will vary from year to year. For non-Presidential years it will be Senate if there is such a race (there were in 2002 and 2006), then Governor and the state executive offices, and SCOTx and the CCA. Again, only the races with Dems so there will be variation.

The second column is the Harris County percentage for that candidate, and the third column is the difference between the two. So, for 2002, that first row is Ron Kirk’s statewide and Harris County percentages, and the fact that he did 2.66 points better in Harris. In 2004, that first row is for John Kerry, and in 2006 it’s for Barbara Radnofsky, with the second row being Chris Bell in that weird four-way gubernatorial race.

With me so far? The section at the bottom is a simple summary. It shows the minimum, maximum, and average differences between the statewide and Harris County percentages. In all cases, the Dem candidate did better in Harris than overall, though in 2002 that wasn’t very much. For Lt. Gov. candidate John Sharp and RRC candidate Sherry Boyles, it was less than a point. (If you’re wondering who it was that carried Harris County in 2002, it was CCA candidate Margaret Mirabal.) It begins to grow in 2004 but takes a step back in 2006, and in either case still isn’t very much.

I almost didn’t go all the way back to 2002 because that election was so wildly different from this one it’s like visiting another planet to look at its results. In the end I think it was useful to include all of these elections to show what conditions used to be like. If nothing else, these three years provide a nice bit of contrast to the next four election years.


2008                   2010                   2012                   2014
State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff
43.68   50.45   6.77   42.30   50.23   7.93   41.38   49.39   8.01   34.36   42.10   7.74
42.84   50.71   7.87   34.83   42.13   7.30   40.62   48.03   7.41   38.90   47.08   8.18
44.35   50.02   5.67   33.66   41.00   7.34   39.60   46.89   7.29   38.71   46.85   8.14
43.79   49.14   5.35   35.29   42.32   7.03   41.91   49.21   7.30   38.02   45.82   7.80
45.88   51.34   5.46   35.80   42.86   7.06   41.24   49.41   8.17   37.69   45.80   8.11
44.63   51.51   6.88   36.24   43.59   7.35                          35.32   43.75   8.43
45.53   51.29   5.76   37.26   43.67   6.41                          36.84   43.71   6.87
43.75   50.50   6.75   37.00   44.10   7.10                          37.25   44.16   6.91
                       35.62   41.73   6.11                          36.49   43.64   7.15
                       36.62   42.99   6.37                          37.60   45.54   7.94
                                                                     36.54   43.92   7.38
														
														
Min   5.35             Min   6.11             Min   7.29             Min   6.87
Max   7.87             Max   7.93             Max   8.17             Max   8.43
Avg   6.31             Avg   7.00             Avg   7.64             Avg   7.70

Same setup as before, but you can already see how things are different. For one thing, obviously, we now have Democrats winning Harris County. That was true at the county candidate level as well – we’ll look more closely at that in the future. I believe we have this step up in part because Democrats finally began to get their act together organizationally in 2008. It was a big election nationally of course, with a ton of Democratic activist energy, but that had been the case elsewhere in 2006 as well. It just didn’t translate here, and I would chalk that up to the amount of organization at the county level.

I have long believed that if we had had better organizing in 2006, Dems could have won a couple of judicial races at least. We had one candidate crack 49%; it wouldn’t have taken much. Indeed, Jim Sharp got 50.12% in Harris County in 2006 in his race for an appellate court seat, but as that covered multiple counties he fell short that year. (He went on to win in 2008.) Instead, we got the narrative of Dallas County Dems breaking through and sweeping in 2006, setting up the notion that 2008 would be Harris’ year. Maybe that had a positive effect on the engagement level, I don’t know. I do know that it didn’t have to be so all-or-nothing.

Note that while 2008 was a high point for Dems in this grouping, the boost to candidates in Harris County continued to grow. Even with the disasters of 2010 and 2014 and the slight step-back in 2012, Dems kept performing better in Harris County compared to the state as a whole. Again, I credit better organizing locally and the fact that Harris County was becoming more Democratic relative to the state. The point here is that this gap hasn’t shrunk in bad years for Dems. The trend has been in one direction.

That trend continued through the next two elections before a minor reversal in 2020:


2016                   2018                   2020
State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff
43.24   53.95  10.71   48.33   57.98   9.65   46.48   55.96   9.48
38.38   47.35   8.97   42.51   52.11   9.60   43.87   52.90   9.03
38.53   47.96   9.43   46.49   56.07   9.58   43.56   52.90   9.34
41.18   50.78   9.60   47.01   56.90   9.89   44.49   53.16   8.67
39.36   48.28   8.92   43.39   52.74   9.35   44.08   53.49   9.41
40.05   49.86   9.81   43.19   53.71  10.52   44.76   53.76   9.00
40.20   49.53   9.33   46.41   56.68  10.27   44.35   52.97   8.62
40.89   50.72   9.83   43.91   53.25   9.34   45.18   54.45   9.27
                       46.83   56.68   9.85   44.70   54.72  10.02
                       46.29   56.48  10.19   45.47   54.00   8.53
                       46.29   55.18   8.89				
                       45.48   55.62  10.14				
                       45.85   54.90   9.05				
										
										
Min   8.92             Min   8.89             Min   8.53
Max  10.71             Max  10.52             Max  10.02
Avg   9.58	       Avg   9.72             Avg   9.14

Despite several candidates failing to reach fifty percent in 2016, every statewide Dem carried Harris County; there were third party candidates getting about five percent in the judicial races and almost ten points in the RRC race between Wayne Christian and Grady Yarbrough, which accounts for the difference. We’ll get into this later, but it was pretty common for local Dems to outperform statewide Dems in many of these years. I chalk that up to a combination of weak statewide Dems and that strong local organizing along with some pretty good county candidates.

The main takeaway from this is that even statewide candidates with pretty poor overall showings were able to win Harris County by fairly comfortable margins. Look at Lupe Valdez in 2018, the second candidate listed, for a prime example. Valdez got 42.51% statewide in 2018, the lowest showing among Dems, but finished with 52.11% in Harris County. This is the context I think about when I look at statewide polling. If Beto O’Rourke finishes with 44 or 45% statewide, he’s probably going to get 53 or 54 percent in Harris County. A 44-45% finish for Beto statewide implies that he lost by 9-11 points, whereas nearly all of the polls we have seen have had him down between six and eight points.

The flip side is also of interest. There was a poll of Harris County released a few days back by a wingnut former legislator that claimed Lina Hidalgo was losing by four points while Beto was carrying Harris County by only two points. For Beto to be winning Harris by two points – in other words, for him to be getting at most 51% in Harris County – means he’s losing statewide by at least 15 points – 57-42 is the number I’ve had in mind. To say the least, there is no polling evidence to support that.

Now, could the polls be wrong? Could Beto crater? Could this advantage Dems have had in Harris County decline further? Sure, any or all of those things could happen. We saw it decline a bit in 2020. I give some of the credit to that for better Republican organizing, though the loss of straight ticket voting and just the general conditions for 2020 could also be factors. It’s impossible to say if that’s a one-off or the start of a new trend based on the one data point. It would have to be a big step back for it to make me adjust my expectations. At this time, at least, I don’t feel the need to do that. Those things could happen, but that doesn’t mean they’re likely to do so.

So this is where I am, mentally and emotionally right now. I had the chance to talk about this thesis with some folks over the weekend, and none of them looked at me like I was crazy. (They may have just been polite.) I’ve got some more data to present in the next couple of days, and we can see how we all feel at the end of that. But this is where I am. What do you think?

Marist: Abbott 49, Beto 45

Another new pollster for this election.

In the Texas governor’s race, Republican incumbent Governor Greg Abbott has a 4-point edge over Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke among registered voters statewide. However, Abbott’s advantage over O’Rourke doubles to 8 points among those who say they definitely plan to vote.

  • Four points separate Abbott (49%) and O’Rourke (45%) in the Texas governor’s race among registered voters statewide, including those who are undecided yet leaning toward a candidate. Abbott receives majority support (52%) against O’Rourke (44%) among those who say they will definitely vote.
  • O’Rourke (49%) has a 10-point lead over Abbott (39%) among independents.
  • Close to eight in ten Texas registered voters with a candidate preference for governor (78%) strongly support their choice. 81% of O’Rourke’s supporters and 75% of Abbott’s supporters report they are strongly committed to their candidate.
  • Neither Abbott nor O’Rourke are popular among Texans. 43% have a favorable opinion of Abbott while 46% have an unfavorable view. O’Rourke’s favorable rating is 39% while 44% have an unfavorable impression of him.
  • The Republicans (48%) running for Congress edge the Democrats (44%) on the ballot among Texas registered voters. The Republicans advantage over the Democrats widens to 5 points among those who say they definitely plan to vote.

I checked through their past polls and can confirm they haven’t sampled this race before now. They did a poll of the Senate race in 2018 and had Ted Cruz up by the same 49-45 margin; they also had Abbott leading Lupe Valdez 56-37. They did not do any kind of “likely” voter screen as far as I can tell.

This poll’s data is here. The difference in the results is that the “all voters” sample is 30% Dem and 39% GOP, while the “definitely voting” sample is 30% Dem and 41% GOP. Independents are 29% of the former and 28% of the latter. Make of all that what you will.

They do ask a “How likely are you to vote” question, with “Definite” and “Likely” as possible choices. The former is 84% and 11% for Dems, or 95% at least Likely, and 90% and 6% for Republicans, or 96% at least Likely. Why they didn’t go with Likely – why so many pollsters are also going with an Extra Super Duper Likely choice – remains a mystery to me.

Also of interest, this poll has Beto’s strongest performance among Anglo voters, getting 37% to Abbott’s 57%, but it also has Beto just barely winning among Latino voters, 49 to 49. I feel like a full-on shrug GIF would be the better choice here than the shrug emoji. I’ll leave it to you to find your preferred version. Black voters go for Beto 78-13, similar to other polls.

So overall one of the best topline results Beto has seen, and also very weird under the surface. That’s polling these days for you.

Voter registration update

However you look at it, we have a lot of registered voters now.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

With three weeks before the Oct. 11 deadline for the November elections, nearly 80% of the state’s voting age population is registered to vote, putting the number of people eligible to cast ballots to more than 17.5 million and counting, according to the Austin American-Statesman. 

Records maintained by the Texas Secretary of State’s Office, show that the new-registration numbers are higher than they were during the midterm cycles of 2014 and 2018, however, the percentage of people of voting age registered has increased only marginally.

This means the addition of new voters is offset by the number of people who have left the registration rolls. Democrats believe the sudden surge of new voter registration is largely due to the Supreme Court’s decision in June to overturn Roe v. Wade’s landmark abortion ruling.

“It’s not just that younger voters are surging in TX since Dobbs,” tweeted Tom Bonier, CEO of the firm, TargetSmart, in reference to the high court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling. “It’s clear that those younger voters who are registering now (men and women) are far more Democratic.”

Apart from being motivated by the loss of abortion rights, new voters might have been inspired by the inaction of Texas Republican leaders on gun safety issues in the wake of the May 24 massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.

On the other hand, Republicans are skeptical about that conclusion. Derek Ryan, a Texas Republican researcher, and consultant, examined data from the three most recent midterm cycles and said the demographic characteristics of new registrants are remarkably consistent, as reported by Austin American-Statesman.

We’ve discussed the voter registration figures and the reasons to maintain some perspective before. I will say that if we get the same turnout percentage in 2022 that we got in 2018, we’ll get about 9.3 million voters in this election, or about 900K more than we got four years ago. That’s also almost exactly double what we got in 2014, when registration was considerably lower and the turnout percentage was almost comically small. The last couple of elections have shown that higher turnout elections are not inherently favorable to one party or the other, but I would still claim that low turnout elections are generally bad for Democrats, at least in Texas.

Let’s not go overboard about these voter registration numbers

Sure it’s nice to see, but a little perspective is in order.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

In Texas, it’s not just women who are fired up about access to abortion and registering to vote in large numbers following this summer’s historic Supreme Court decision striking down Roe v. Wade.

A new analysis from political data and polling firm TargetSmart found that while Texas’ new voter registrants are evenly split between men and women, they are younger and more Democratic than before the June ruling.

“It’s not that we’re not seeing a surge from women but that in Texas, we’re somewhat uniquely also seeing a surge from men, particularly younger, more progressive men, who are matching the surge from women,” said CEO Tom Bonier, whose firm works with Democratic and progressive candidates.

“I would expect to see that trend develop more in other states as we get closer to the election, but it was interesting to see Texas as first in that sense.”

According to TargetSmart, Democrats now have a 10-percentage point advantage among new registrants since the high court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, making up 42 percent to Republicans’ 32 percent. Prior to Dobbs, Republicans had a five-point advantage.

The state’s young voters — defined as those under age 25 — are also leaning more blue, the analysis found. Democrats now make up 47 percent of young Texas voters, up from 34 percent. The Republican share has remained the same at just under 30 percent.

That’s in line with what TargetSmart is seeing in 25 states that report party registration. In Texas, the firm uses a variety of data, including past primary participation and consumer demographic data, to identify likely Democratic and Republican voters.

Whether the registration trend will translate to high turnout of young voters is still yet to be seen. The group had tended to turn out at low rates compared to other age groups, but that trend started to turn around nationally and in Texas in 2018.

That midterm election year, with the rise in popularity of Democrat Beto O’Rourke amid his campaign for U.S. Senate, turnout among 18- to 29-year-olds more than tripled from about 8 percent in 2014 to about 26 percent.

“No one knows if that’ll be the case in 2022,” Bonier said. “But there is reason to be optimistic that these younger voters are much more highly energized than they have been in past.”

Bonier added that new voter registrants tend to have a higher turnout rate than those already registered.

I believe this story is based on this recent tweet thread from Bonier; there’s a link to an earlier Chron story about voter registration as well. It’s a cardinal rule to me that anytime you see a story about numbers that are solely expressed in percentages, you have to think about what the actual numbers are. Big percentages of small numbers are still small numbers, and vice versa. Here, the main thing we don’t know is how many voter registrations we’re talking about. We won’t have official numbers on that until October, after the registration deadline. Here’s what the registration figures since November of 2020 look like – you can find the state data here:

November 2020 – 15,279,870
January 2021 – 15,757,825
November 2021 – 16,007,280
January 2022 – 16,150,258
March 2022 – 15,944,184

This is a reminder that voter registration does not always go up. As we well know, voters also get removed from the rolls, sometimes for legitimate reasons like death or moving out of state, sometimes not. Whatever the case, we were just under 16 million in March. We’ve probably added a couple hundred thousand since then, so maybe we’re up around 16.2 or 16.3 million or so; I’m just guessing.

Now go back and look at what Tom Bonier said. Before the Dobbs ruling in June, Republican-profiled people were leading the new registrants. We don’t know how far back that goes, my guess is to March but who knows. Point being, we don’t know how many net new presumed Republicans this represents. We also don’t know how many new registrants there have been since June, when Dems showed the advantage. Maybe that’s enough to overcome the earlier deficit. I couldn’t tell you from the information I have available to me.

Let’s just focus on the post-Dobbs voters. Let’s say we get 100K new voters from then until October. If Dems have a ten-point lead in voter registrations during this time, that’s a net 10K potential voters for them. That number will be less than that in the end, as not everyone votes, so maybe it’s a 6K or 7K advantage. Not nothing, to be sure, but very likely not enough to tip any election.

I don’t say all this to be a bummer. It’s great that we’re doing well with voter registration! Keep it coming! I’m just saying it’s not going to magically carry us to victory. There are a lot more pieces to the puzzle than that. Don’t get distracted by the shiny object.

More evidence of misdemeanor bail reform’s success

Lower costs, fewer wrongful incarcerations and guilty pleas, less recidivism. What more do you want?

Fewer misdemeanor defendants went on to commit crimes in Harris County after federal litigation in 2017 aimed at curtailing the jailing of low-income people charged with low-level offenses, according to a recent study.

A 13 percent rise in pre-trial releases within 24 hours of a defendant’s arrest also followed the judicial injunction, the court order that researchers found led to positive reforms in Houston’s criminal justice system. Judicial jurisdictions elsewhere have watched the progress of Harris County’s reforms to create their own, researchers with the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at the University of Pennsylvania said.

“I think that it shows that misdemeanor bail reform, when implemented properly, can work,” said Paul Heaton, academic director for the Quattrone Center — a research and policy institute with the University of Pennsylvania. “It led to less costly punishment for the defendants and tax payers — it didn’t increase crime.”

The findings come amid years of tense debate over the bail reform’s implications and whether it has any connection to the local rise in homicides and other violent crimes, which increased nationwide during the pandemic. Prosecutors, law enforcement, bail bondsmen and victims’ rights advocates are among the opponents of the changes.

Houston police on Wednesday said that non-violent crime had decreased by five percent since this time in 2021 — and violent crime had dropped 10 percent during the same time frame.

Researchers went through about 517,000 misdemeanor and felony cases in Harris County filed from 2015 until last May, but focused on the months surrounding the start of the injunction — prior to the havoc that Hurricane Harvey and the pandemic caused in the courts. Unresolved cases increased later in 2017 — likely because of court closures in the storm’s wake, according to the study.

Conviction rates dropped by 15 percent, and the length of jail sentences for those low-level offenses also declined by 15 percent after the injunction, the study found. The injunction stemmed from several defendants lodging a federal lawsuit arguing that the bail practices in Harris County were unconstitutional. The county settled the lawsuit in 2019 with the arrival of Democratic judges and a federal jurist issued a landmark opinion, prompting the O’Donnell consent decree and independent monitoring group to issue reports on the effects.

Misdemeanor Judge Darrell Jordan, who helped shaped the consent decree, said the Quattrone study, mirrors the progress noted in the mandated monitor reports. He commended the decision for having allowed some defendants in his courts and others to get out of jail within 24 hours of their arrest. The alternative was worse, he said.

“They lose their house, car, families, jobs and they come out of jail in a state of chaos,” said Jordan, who oversees the Criminal Court of Law No. 16. “They have to find a way to get back on their feet and make a living.”

If the reforms are working in Harris County — one of the most populous counties in the U.S. — they can be implemented elsewhere, the judge said.

[…]

A report issued in March by Brandon Garrett, a professor for Duke University’s School of Law tasked with overseeing the decree oversight, found that repeat offenders, those arrested for misdemeanor offenses, “remained largely stable in recent years.” The same study also found that, from 2015 to 2019, convictions declined and the number of dismissals and acquittals doubled.

The fifth report from Garrett’s team is slated to be released Saturday.

You can see the UPenn report here. Brandon Garrett has been issuing reports as the overseer for the past two years. We’ve had two years of data on this now, and the findings are clear. I suppose it could change tomorrow, but unless that happens there’s just no reason take the critics of misdemeanor bail reform seriously. Bloomberg News has more.

Harris County officially gets its $750 million from the GLO

With hopefully more to come, as well as something for Houston.

Harris County Commissioners Court unanimously approved an agreement Wednesday with the Texas General Land Office to receive $750 million in federal flood mitigation funding, and called on the agency for an additional $250 million the county had expected to receive.

The funding from the Texas General Land Office — the state agency charged with distributing Hurricane Harvey relief from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — comes more than a year after the GLO awarded the county and the city of Houston zero dollars in its first round of grants even though the area accounted for half the damage from Hurricane Harvey.

The county last year revealed a $1.4 billion gap in funding to supplement the $2.5 billion flood bond approved by voters in 2018. County officials attributed the shortfall to expected funding from state and local partners that had not materialized.

The new funding from GLO will help narrow that gap, which now is down to $400 million, according to Harris County Budget Director Daniel Ramos. However, Ramos said the county’s plans were based on the assumption it would receive $1 billion from the GLO.

“We’re building billions of dollars worth of new infrastructure and it costs money to maintain it,” Ramos said.

County officials said they will continue negotiating with the GLO for the remainder of the money they expected.

[…]

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo called the $750 million allocation good news, but not enough.

“When the bond was passed, it didn’t account for increases in cost,” Hidalgo said. “It didn’t account for increases in maintenance costs. So, we need additional funds to make sure we can complete everything.”

See here for the previous update. As noted in the Tuesday preview story, this is the same $750 million that the GLO offered to Harris County after initially allocating zero to both Harris and Houston. Houston is still getting a goose egg – to their credit, all of the Commissioners spoke about the need for Houston to get what it’s due, about $1 billion – but there is still money to be disbursed, and there is still that HUD finding that the GLO used a discriminatory process to screw the city. I don’t know when the next appropriations are to be made, but if we’re very lucky Jay Kleberg will be in charge of the process by then.

Harris County looks to sue over Comptroller’s BS “defunding” claim

Tell it to the judge.

Harris County Commissioners Court this week is expected to hire an outside law firm to take legal action against the state and Comptroller Glenn Hegar, who accused the county of defunding law enforcement in violation of state law.

The accusation by Hegar, delivered in a letter to county Judge Lina Hidalgo last week, blocks Harris County from approving its proposed $2.2 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

The court will hold a special meeting Wednesday to consider hiring the law firm of Alexander Dubose & Jefferson LLP to pursue legal action against Hegar and other state officials.

Hegar threw the curveball just before county officials presented their proposed spending plan last tuesday, saying the county should reconsider its budget plan or gain voter approval for it. The letter, however, was sent on Monday, the last day the county could get a measure onto the November ballot.

Senate Bill 23, passed by the Texas Legislature and signed by Gov. Greg Abbott last year, bars counties with a population of more than 1 million from cutting law enforcement spending without the approval of voters.

The defunding accusation was sparked by two Republican Harris County constables — Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman and Precinct 5 Constable Ted Heap — who had complained to Gov. Greg Abbott after the county changed its policy last year to do away with “rollover” budgeting that had allowed departments to save unspent funds and use them in future budget cycles.

Herman and Heap did not respond to requests for comment.

In his letter, Hegar said doing away with the rollover funds resulted in a loss of $3 million previously dedicated to the constables office in fiscal 2021. However, by preventing the county from adopting its proposed budget, the letter could cost the sheriff, constables and district attorney’s office an additional $100 million in funding included in the new spending plan, county officials said.

On Wednesday, Commissioners Court could vote to authorize two outside law firms to file a lawsuit against the comptroller. If the county does pursue legal action, other state officials could be named, as well.

See here for the background on this completely ridiculous claim. The vote in Commissioners Court is today; I’ll be interested to see if it’s unanimous or not. I also have no idea what to expect from the courts, but I sure hope they get it right, because this is a terrible precedent to set otherwise. Finally, a special shoutout to Constables Herman and Heap for going radio silent after leaving this bag of poop on the Court’s front porch. Mighty courageous of you two there.

What do we expect from CD23?

It was the perennial razor-close high-dollar swing district all last decade. Will Hurd won it three times, but never reached 50% in any of the three elections. It moved a few points towards the GOP in 2020 when Tony Gonzales won it, and redistricting made it a bit redder still, but it remains the closest Republican-held seat and may never fade as a perennial battleground. But that may depend on this year, when Gonzalez will have an easier time of it at least financially. I don’t know yet what I expect from that race.

Gonzales remains the favorite for a second term — given the new political makeup of the district and his stark financial advantage — but he said he is taking the race “extremely seriously” and treating it like he was still running under the famously competitive boundaries that were in effect before redistricting.

“The [elected officials] that don’t have to fight, that are just there as long as they want it — they’re like declawed indoor cats that get fancy meals when the bell rings out,” Gonzales said in an interview. “I think Texas [District] 23 — you’re like an alleycat that has to scrape and claw and fight for everything, and I think that just makes you just different. Like, you’re fighting for your life.”

This cycle, Gonzales said, he wants to “run up the score” and “take this seat off the table completely.”

A former Navy cryptologist, Gonzales won the seat in 2020 by 4 percentage points, a wide margin by the razor-thin standards of the 23rd District. He was the successor backed by U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, a moderate who had built his own reputation for breaking with his party, perhaps most notably opposing former President Donald Trump’s push for a border wall.

Trump carried the 23rd District by 2 points in 2020. But redistricting morphed it into a district that Trump would have won by 7 points, and in March, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee officially removed the seat from its list of targeted races.

[Democratic candidate John] Lira argued redistricting “didn’t do Gonzales that many favors,” noting the Cook Political Report, an election forecaster, only increased the Republican advantage of the district by 3 percentage points. And he said he is encouraged by the cracks in Gonzales’ Republican support, the political fallout from the Uvalde shooting and the strength of Beto O’Rourke’s gubernatorial campaign at the top of the ticket.

As for the case against Gonzales, Lira said, “he’s got Will Hurd’s playbook in his back pocket and he’s trying to see how he can play both sides.”

While national attention has faded from the race, Lira recently got the backing of O’Rourke, who rarely issues formal down-ballot endorsements. Lira also has the support of the political arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which endorsed him after the district was redrawn.

[…]

“I do think the district is going to be a little more competitive than most people anticipated — now how competitive, I don’t know,” said Jeff McManus, chair of the Bexar County GOP. “We sort of have a three-way race going,” with the independent challenger from the right.

McManus said he wishes Gonzales “were a stronger conservative.” The two were on opposite sides of the county party chair election in May, when Gonzales backed the incumbent, John Austin, that McManus defeated.

The independent candidate is Frank Lopez Jr., a former U.S. Border Patrol agent who had to give up his position as chair of the Val Verde County GOP to run. He and Gonzales are very familiar with one another: Lopez was the campaign manager for Raul Reyes, Gonzales’ bitter rival in the 2020 Republican primary runoff for the 23rd District.

Lopez said he ran as an independent, not in the GOP primary, after seeing “the way Raul lost” at the hands of the party’s establishment, which had coalesced behind Gonzales.

“Texans are tired of these dangerous Democrat policies,” Lopez said in an interview, “but they’re also tired of the pandering and games from the RINOs, establishment and globalists in the Republican Party. I had to give Texans a true choice.”

Lopez added that he sees a “perfect storm” for his candidacy, citing the recent intraparty blowback Gonzales has faced and Democrats he meets who say they are looking for a new political home.

Gonzales jokingly asked “Who?” when asked about Lopez in an interview. More seriously, he said the 23rd District has always had a third candidate in November who gets 3% to 5% of the vote and that he expected Lopez would be no different. Still, he said he is not taking Lopez for granted and that it “helps me stay sharp.”

Most of the rest of the story is about Gonzales’ votes in favor of the Cornyn gun control bill and the House bill to protect same-sex marriage, both of which has drawn him some criticism and two censure votes from aggrieved county GOPs (a third, in Bexar County, failed to pass). Good for him and all, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about. I’m here for the numbers.

For what it’s worth, Trump carried CD23 by seven points in 2020. The next two closest districts are both Dem-held (CD15, Trump +3; CD28, Biden +7), and after that it’s all double digits, with CDs 24 (Trump +12), 03 (Trump +14), 22 (Trump +16), 26 (Trump +18), and 38 (Trump +18) next in line. The main difference between CD23 and these other districts is that the latter all moved strongly towards Dems since 2012, with Mitt Romney carrying them by 38 to 44 points. It would not shock me if Beto does about as well in CDs 03 and 24 as he does in CD23. I don’t think Gonzales is going to achieve his goal of taking CD23 off the table, but I could easily see him winning by 10-12 points and discouraging any serious competition in the near term future. I could also see him winning by about the seven points that Trump won it by and remaining in the same position. He has some big advantages, but this is officially a Very Weird Year, and I’m not making any predictions about it. Long term I think this district remains on the radar, but maybe not at the front of the pack. We’ll see.

CC4 poll: Briones 44, Cagle 42

From the inbox:

Lesley Briones

Lesley Briones, candidate for Harris County Commissioner, Precinct 4, released the results of a new poll today that shows her in the lead: Briones 44% / Cagle 42%.

The poll was conducted August 9-13 by the national firm, Lake Research Partners, and surveyed 400 likely 2022 general election voters in Precinct 4.

Click here to read a summary memo prepared by the polling firm.

Among the key findings:

• Briones leads Cagle by a margin of 44% to 42%

• After positive information about both candidates was provided, Briones’ lead grew to 47% to 42%

• The new Precinct 4 has a 7-point Democratic advantage: 41% Democrats / 34% Republicans / 15% Independents

It’s an internal poll, so adjust your expectations accordingly. The only other Harris County data we have so far was that UH/Hobby poll that had Judge Hidalgo up by a point over Alexandra Mealer. We’re in a new Commissioners Court map, and Judge Hidalgo was an atypical candidate in 2018, with a lot of Dems crossing over to vote for then-Judge Ed Emmett, so I have no sense of the correlation between the two races at this time. Maybe one can win if the other loses, maybe not, I just don’t know. I will say I found this bit from the memo heartwarming:

Cagle is uniquely vulnerable to attacks on abortion and birth control. Of all the tested negatives against Cagle, his anti-choice views and extreme actions to deny women health care in the past generate the most serious doubts about him (39% serious doubts, 47% total doubts). Meanwhile, 41% of voters are very convinced, and 57% are convinced overall, to support Briones due to her commitment to fight to protect abortion access.

You know how I feel about this. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

The Constables’ and Comptroller’s ridiculous complaint

This is transparent bullshit.

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar this week accused Harris County commissioners of defunding local constables and threatened to prevent the county from implementing its proposed 2023 budget if the county does not reverse course.

In a letter sent late Monday, Hegar said the county’s move to do away with “rollover” budgeting led to more than $3 million dedicated to the constables last year being returned to the general fund.

“If the county proceeds with the Constable budget as proposed without obtaining voter approval, the county may not adopt an ad valorem tax rate that exceeds the county’s no-new-revenue tax rate,” Hegar wrote.

Harris County Administrator David Berry on Tuesday afternoon said Hegar’s position would prevent the county from adopting a budget that increases funding to Harris County Constables’ and Sheriff’s offices by “millions of dollars.”

“The Comptroller’s position would keep us from making these new investments,” he said, “which is contrary to the intent of SB 23. … I hope the Comptroller’s position does not prevent us from achieving our goal, and we look forward to working with the state to resolve this matter.

Berry said that in the past, county departments could “roll over” their unspent budget from one year to the next “with no questions asked.”

“This practice was unique to Harris County and is not the practice of other local governments,” he said. “Under the current policy, departments, including the Constable’s Offices, can request the use of unspent funds on vehicles, equipment, and other one-time expenses. The County has continued to support these investments.”

Paradoxically, by preventing Harris County from adopting the new tax rate, Hegar’s actions would prevent the county from implementing $96.7 million in increases to the sheriff and constable offices, and a proposed $10 million increase to the District Attorney’s Office.

Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman — one of the two constables who first raised the issue with Abbott — said he was “thankful” to the governor and to Hegar for looking into the matter.

“We look forward to a resolution one way or another,” he said, explaining that he and other constables had used their rollover funds to purchase new patrol cars and safety equipment, and in some cases, to pay employees’ salaries.

“All that’s been taken away from us,” he said. “What it’s come to is an elected official has no say in his own department, basically, and it’s jeopardized public safety and officer safety.”

[…]

Hegar said his investigation began after Harris County Precinct 4 and Precinct 5 Constables Mark Herman and Ted Heap wrote to the governor complaining about losing their “rollover” funds last year. Prior to County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s election in 2018, county commissioners had allowed county agencies to keep unspent funds, which “rolled over” into the following year’s budget. Constables used the money for a variety of projects and other issues — including paying for some staff.

Eva DeLuna Castro, who oversees budget and fiscal policy analysis for Every Texan, said that within state agencies, rolling over unspent money from one budget cycle to the next was permitted only in a very limited number of circumstances, and generally required the specific approval of the legislature.

After Hidalgo’s election, the county did away with the unusual budgeting technique and adopted more traditional budgeting practices — similar to what the state requires of its own agencies and their funding.

Hegar sent the letter to commissioners late last night — the deadline for when the county would potentially be able to add any voter initiatives to the ballot.

County officials disputed Hegar’s claims, noting that the decision to do away with rollover funds took place before SB23 went into effect. They also disputed Hegar’s numbers.

A review of county records show that the county allocated $205,290,000 to its constables in 2020. This year, its proposed budget includes a 13 percent increase to the constables budget, for a total of $231,491,249.

The two constables who first complained to Gov. Greg Abbott about losing their rollover funds have also seen increases to their budget. In 2020, Precinct 4 received about $57 million in funding; Precinct 5 received $44 million. This year, county commissioners have proposed giving Pct. 4 $65 million, while Pct. 5 is slated to receive more than $48 million.

I mean, come on:

1. Harris County is increasing its spending on public safety across the board.

2. The two Constables in question are each getting more money in this budget than in the previous one. The Constables overall are getting more money.

3. “Rollover budget” means unspent funds from the previous cycle. These two Constables didn’t even spend all the money they had been allocated before!

4. The practice of not rolling over funds is exactly how the state does its own budgeting, including for DPS.

From every angle this is ridiculous, and clearly driven by partisan motives – the two Constables in question are Republicans. I don’t expect to get better arguments about public policy from these clowns, but I am insulted that they can’t come up with a better pretext for their crap than this. Shame on everyone involved. The Trib has more.

Commissioners Court approves its bond package

But not without some bitching and griping.

Harris County Commissioners Court voted Thursday to put a $1.2 billion package on the November ballot this year, with the vast majority aimed at road construction.

Tensions flared when Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo cut off questions and moved forward with a vote over the protests of the two Republican commissioners, who were in the midst of arguing the bond measure lacked transparency and the plan for distributing the funds was unclear.

The debate grew heated after Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey raised his voice demanding transparency, earning loud applause from members of the public in attendance.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle insisted Hidalgo explain how the county would decide where the money goes, and what it meant for the county to prioritize areas deemed most in need: “What is ‘worst first’? What is the definition?”

“I am voting for this because I believe your precinct needs this money,” Hidalgo shot back, arguing the money would benefit all precincts.

When Hidalgo abruptly moved ahead with the vote, leaving Cagle uncertain about whether he had missed the opportunity to oppose the measure, the commissioner asked, “Do I not even get to vote on calling this?”

Faced with Ramsey and Cagle’s rising frustration, Hidalgo insisted members of the court “have had hours of discussion on this” at previous meetings.

The two Republicans criticized Hidalgo for cutting off further debate to take the vote.

“When those who are elected with the responsibility of delving into questions to be asked aren’t even allowed to debate those issues at the table, that’s wrong,” Cagle said.

The decision to place the debt issue before voters required the court to vote on three separate bond issues. Each was approved along party lines with the three Democrats voting in favor and the two Republicans opposed.

Likewise, the November ballot will include three separate bond requests: $900 million earmarked for roads; $200 million for parks; $100 million for public safety bonds.

See here for the background. I’m sure you’ll be shocked to hear that I don’t give Commissioners Ramsey and Cagle’s complaints much weight. I don’t trust them to be acting in good faith. What I hear in their words is a demand for reassurance that their needs will be given priority, as this had been the way of the world for however many decades of bond issuances before now. Any indication otherwise, that more neglected areas will come first, or that people will be given equal or greater value than property values, is unacceptable. They may have some legitimate objections in there. That’s not what I’m hearing from them.

Commissioners Court plans to put a bond issue on the ballot

First one in seven years.

Harris County voters will have more on their November ballot, after a divided commissioners court Tuesday took the first step toward a $1.2 billion bond package for police, parks, drainage and roads.

Common with many votes, the court was split 3-2 on the matter, with County Judge Lina Hidalgo, Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia in favor and Tom Ramsey and Jack Cagle opposed.

Tuesday’s debate reiterated much of what divided county officials leading up to the vote, including the ability to put a robust plan in front of voters by November, concerns about future needs such as flood control and how exactly officials would split the windfall of money should voters approve.

The plan would likely lead to three bond votes on the ballot — $100 million for public safety, $200 million for parks and $900 million for transportation and drainage projects ranging from street maintenance to sidewalks and safety-related road repairs.

“People want to see that money spent yesterday,” Garcia said, noting the litany of improvements county residents are demanding.

Tuesday’s vote moved the county closer to a bond referendum, but did not finalize it. To call the election and set it for the November election, commissioners court must meet and call for the election between Aug. 12 and Aug. 22, per state law. They must also approve ballot language, which will guide the terms of the bond.

[…]

Though split on the plan, no one disputed Harris County has massive needs across a host of categories.

“I think people are clamoring for more capital investments,” Ellis said.

Local roads are in disrepair, drainage worries dot unincorporated communities who remember rising waters from Tropical Storm Harvey and Tropical Storm Imelda all too well and sheriffs operate out of outdated and crumbling buildings.

Voters “don’t need to be sold on flood control, roads and public safety,” said State Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, who spoke Tuesday in favor of the bonds.

Commissioners, however, struggled to find common ground on how they would share the money. Ellis and Garcia pressed for a “worst-first” approach that would focus funding in areas they said were previously neglected in their Precinct One and Precinct Two areas, and away from doling the money based on population and lane miles of road. Ramsey and Cagle, concerned about the inequity of that plan, said some equal divisions were needed so Precinct Three and Precinct Four could make needed repairs.

To satisfy her own concerns that funds needed to address problem areas but fairly include projects in each commissioners’ area, Hidalgo proposed the $100 million in public safety remain countywide, but that the road and parks money be divided in a way by the county that assured each precinct at least $220 million — leaving another $220 million to be spent where needs are greatest.

“Everybody has a base level of revenue from this bond,” she said.

Despite that compromise, other doubts remain, Ramsey said, citing the lack of project specifics provided by county staff.

Here’s the Tuesday morning version of the story, which in turn references that 2015 bond package. A total of four propositions that year passed easily, with percentages ranging from 61 to 74. I don’t have a strong opinion at this time about how the funds should be divvied up – I don’t recall that particular debate coming up in the past, for what it’s worth, but Commissioners Court was a lot clubbier in those days – nor am I particularly worried about a detailed project list at this time. We should have one, to be sure, but I think most people don’t get too far into those details when casting their vote. It’s for law enforcement/roads/bridges/parks/flood control/etc etc etc? That’s likely enough info for most voters. We’ll see what details we get when the final ballot language is proposed.