Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Election 2020

We still have to talk about Paxton’s ridiculous and anti-democratic lawsuit

At least for one more day.

Best mugshot ever

President Donald Trump on Wednesday latched on to a longshot Texas lawsuit seeking to overturn a presidential election that handed the White House to Joe Biden.

Legal experts say Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s effort to contest election results of four key battleground states is all but certain to fail. But it has drawn support from the Republican attorneys general of 17 other states.

As the president’s legal team loses case after improbable case in federal district and appellate courts, the Texas lawsuit offers a major advantage: It goes straight to the top. Under a special legal avenue unique to states, Paxton filed the case directly with the U.S. Supreme Court, a body Trump has suggested could deliver him the victory that voters did not.

[…]

The Texas lawsuit takes issue with changes to election procedures in four battleground states: Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Paxton argues those changes were unlawful and call into question Biden’s victories in those states. He is asking the high court to block the critical battlegrounds from participating in the Electoral College.

Though the Supreme Court has a six-member conservative majority, including three justices appointed by Trump himself, it has so far shown no interest in siding with him in the election cases his campaign has lobbed. On Tuesday, it decisively rejected Pennsylvania Republicans’ effort to overturn Biden’s victory there in a one-sentence order with no dissents.

Legal experts and court watchers expect a similar outcome in the Texas case. The court has asked for a response from the four battleground states Texas is suing, setting a Thursday deadline, but has given no indication about how it will decide the matter.

“This is the Hail Mary with time running out the clock kind of play here,” said David Coale, an appellate attorney in Dallas. “This is really the last little window to sort of sneak in there and try to get a court involved.”

States have a special legal ability to take cases directly to the Supreme Court, though such cases are rare, and more typically involve boundary disputes like water rights. If the high court accepts Texas’ argument that it can sue the four battlegrounds in this case, Coale said, “then any state can sue any other state about just about anything.”

Even if the court gets past tricky procedural issues, Texas’ case faces an uphill battle.

Officials in the battleground states have roundly rejected Paxton’s argument, calling it “false,” “irresponsible,” “a publicity stunt,” “genuinely embarrassing,” “beyond reckless” and “beneath the dignity of the office of attorney general.”

They also point out that many of the claims Paxton makes about election irregularities in their states have already been litigated and roundly rejected. Experts, state election officials and U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr have all said there is no evidence of voter fraud on a scale that could have affected the outcome of the election.

“Texas alleges that there are 80,000 forged signatures on absentee ballots in Georgia, but they don’t bring forward a single person who this happened to. That’s because it didn’t happen,” said Jordan Fuchs, Georgia’s deputy secretary of state.

See here for the background, and please put aside any concerns you may have for Ken Paxton’s dignity. He sure isn’t concerned about it.

Honestly, the best way to deal with this kind of pure bullshit is through Twitter.

For more responses from people who are smarter and way more honest than Ken Paxton, Texas Lawyer collected a bunch more responses, a sample of which is here:

>> Raffi Melkonian, appellate lawyer at Wright, Close & Barger: “The new Paxton lawsuit is not worth a lot of your time, but I mean, it doesn’t make any sense and is bad and has no chance of success at all. Just want to be clear on that.” [Twitter]

>> Jonathan Adler, Case Western Reserve University law professor: “Here, Texas is not only asking the Supreme Court to hear the case, it is also asking for expedited consideration and extraordinary emergency relief, in the form of injunctions barring the defendant states from relying upon the election results to appoint electors and authorizing ‘pursuant to the Court’s remedial authority, the Defendant States to conduct a special election to appoint presidential electors.’ In effect, the suit is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to supervise the Presidential election in the four defendant states.” [Reason.com]

>> J. Scott Key, Georgia appellate attorney and Mercer University law professor: “This pleading is our book club’s next selection. Over wine, we will discuss whether the text is a coded love letter subtle to a jealous suitor with pardon power.” [Twitter]

>> U.S. Sen. Ted CruzR-Texas:  “Petitioners’ legal team has asked me whether I would be willing to argue the case before #SCOTUS, if the Court grants certiorari. I have agreed, and told them that, if the Court takes the appeal, I will stand ready to present the oral argument.” [Twitter]

>> John Q. Barrett, law professor at St. John’s University School of Law: “Kudos to Sen. Cruz for giving the Court another major reason, just in case it needed any more, to deny cert.” [Twitter]

>> Philadelphia election lawyer Adam Bonin, who has represented the Democratic Party in recent election litigation in Pennsylvania: “It is embarrassing to see argument like this from a state attorney general to the Supreme Court of the United States.” [Twitter]

>> Andrew Fleischman, appellate attorney, Ross & Pines, Atlanta: “Gonna go ahead and sue the Supreme Court to enjoin them from taking up this Texas challenge. That way they’ll all have to recuse. When the Supreme court rejects the suit after dismissing my petition and ordering sanctions, I’ll go on Fox News and say they were scared of me.” [Twitter]  “Ok the absolute trolliest thing Michigan could do right now is move to recuse Paxton because his desire for a pardon is a conflict of interest. We’re not even really doing law any more so why not?” [Twitter]

>> Eric Greenberg, Seyfarth Shaw: “Would the @Nate_Cohn @nytimes needle predicting a Biden win in GA at 3 am in the morning be sufficient evidence to combat the claim as to GA?  Just kidding — but maybe not.” [Twitter]

>> Adam VanHo, Ohio attorney, former state assistant attorney general: “@KenPaxtonTX should be ashamed of himself for this frivolous filing. And if states get to sue other states over their treatment of voters, when will states like New York and Ohio sue southern states over their treatment of former felons’ voting rights.” [Twitter]

>> Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman: “Can the Texas AG *also* sue their Lieutenant Governor for the handsome reward of $2M he owes me for reporting voter fraud?”  [Twitter]

>> Chris Geidner, The Justice Collaborative: “As others have noted, Texas Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins is not on the SCOTUS filing—despite him being the state’s lead SCOTUS lawyer. There is, however, a ‘special counsel’ noted.” [Twitter]

>>Joyce White Vance, former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama: “This lawsuit alleges defendant states took advantage of the pandemic to expand vote by mail. It’s the ultimate expression of Trump’s view the GOP can’t win … if all eligible Americans can vote. Tx AG, himself under criminal investigation, appears to be a fan of cheat to win.” [Twitter]

>>Jocelyn Benson, Michigan Secretary of State: “This lawsuit seems to suggest that the voters of Michigan messed with Texas. They didn’t. Case closed.” [Twitter]

SCOTUS requested responses from the four targeted states by this afternoon. Everyone with integrity believes the case will be summarily dismissed shortly thereafter. Stay tuned. The Chron, Daily Kos, the Current, Political Animal, and Slate have more.

TDP will review what happened in the 2020 election

I support this.

The head of the Texas Democratic Party has appointed a committee to take a “deep dive” on what went wrong in the November election after a group of executive committee members wrote to him demanding answers, reforms and a shakeup in senior staff.

The chair of the party, Gilberto Hinojosa, said he always intended to convene a formal effort to review the election results, but the news of the panel comes after 38 executive committee members sent him a letter urging sweeping changes at the party after what they described as an “electoral failure” in November.

“Even though we very much disagree with the allegations that are made in the letter, we think it is important to find out exactly what happened in this election because we were just as shocked as everyone else,” Hinojosa said in an interview Monday.

[…]

Democrats have since said they were misled by bad polling and lamented their decision to hold off on in-person campaigning during the coronavirus pandemic. Hinojosa cited both those factors in a letter responding to the executive committee members, while saying he agrees that a “complete analysis needs to be done on this to determine what really happened.”

“The Party is committed to conducting a ‘deep dive’ analysis of the election, using outside persons or entities, and partnering with other allied groups to fund it if necessary,” Hinojosa wrote.

The Tribune obtained a copy of the letter that was dated Friday. In it, the State Democratic Executive Committee members raise a host of issues related to the governing body’s relationship with party staff — which appear to predate this election cycle — as well as the party’s role in the November election.

“From messaging to organizing, political data to simple administration, the Texas Democratic Party has dropped the ball and it is becoming more and more apparent every day that our senior leadership is refusing to take responsibility or, more importantly, the actions necessary to resolve the many shortfalls of our party this election cycle,” the letter said.

The letter makes a dozen requests, including a change in senior staff, a “full accounting” of party finances, a “full roster” of party employees and consultants, a “10-year strategic plan,” an “overhaul” of the party’s approved vendors list, outreach to state parties in places like Georgia and Virginia, and a task force on the party’s headquarters.

The letter was organized by two SDEC members, Kendall Scudder and Jen Ramos. A copy of the letter obtained by the Tribune did not include the signees, but Scudder and Ramos said it was signed by 38 members of the 108-member executive committee.

The Texas Signal has a copy of the letter, as well as responses from Chair Hinojosa and other TDP staff. As a general matter, doing a post-election review of what happened just seems like a good idea, even in a year where everything goes your way. A few questions I’d want to see answered:

– How much did not doing in-person campaigning really matter? I actually don’t worry too much about this because it’s a one-time thing, but it would still be nice to try to quantify it in a reasonably rigorous way.

– Along those same lines, what of the not-in-person campaign practices that we adopted as our alternatives were good and useful and worth keeping in some fashion? How might they integrate with and enhance the old-school stuff?

– How did we do with the new voters we registered and the low-propensity voters we targeted? Did we hit the metrics we expected to hit? Where did we over-perform and where did we under-perform?

– Do we have a strategy for the medium-sized metro areas and the Black voters in rural areas? If not, why not?

Campos mostly credits Beto for the 2018 success. I agree with that to a point, but I’m hesitant to assign too much credit or blame to any one person for any large event. My hope for 2020 had been to build on what Beto had done, to learn from it and to adapt it to the next election. Did any of that happen?

– Do we have enough home-grown campaign managers and consultants, and do they have what they need to succeed? I know that a lot of folks come in from out of state when we have a big field like this year. Some of them are from here but moved elsewhere because elections are seasonal, others are just hired guns. Is there a disadvantage to using out of state campaign people?

I’m sure there are more, but that’s a good start for me. The response from the TDP has been generally well received so far from the letter writers as well. I’m less interested in some of the questions about staff and governance, but by all means let’s study those as well. At the bottom of it all, are we listening to the folks that are doing the real work? Are we learning from our experiences, or is every year its own story in a bottle? Let’s put this time and effort to good use, we have some more consequential elections coming up in 2022.

Precinct analysis: State Rep districts

Introduction
Congressional districts

We move now to State Rep districts, which is my usual currency since they provide complete coverage of the county with no partial pieces. You can also get a much more nuanced view of how things have shifted over time. There are more numbers here since there are more districts, so buckle up.


Dist    Trump   Biden    Lib    Grn  Trump%  Biden%   Lib%   Grn%
=================================================================
HD126  38,651  36,031    740    264  51.07%  47.61%  0.98%  0.35%
HD127  53,644  38,409  1,024    215  57.50%  41.17%  1.10%  0.23%
HD128  49,349  23,343    742    198  67.02%  31.70%  1.01%  0.27%
HD129  47,389  38,941  1,125    246  54.03%  44.40%  1.28%  0.28%
HD130  69,369  35,958  1,298    220  64.92%  33.65%  1.21%  0.21%
HD131  10,508  45,904    331    192  18.46%  80.63%  0.58%  0.34%
HD132  50,223  51,737  1,190    360  48.52%  49.98%  1.15%  0.35%
HD133  47,038  43,262    965    201  51.43%  47.30%  1.06%  0.22%
HD134  42,523  67,811  1,356    238  37.99%  60.58%  1.21%  0.21%
HD135  36,114  39,657    862    246  46.98%  51.58%  1.12%  0.32%
HD137  10,382  22,509    308    144  31.14%  67.51%  0.92%  0.43%
HD138  31,171  34,079    703    226  47.10%  51.50%  1.06%  0.34%
HD139  15,691  46,918    511    241  24.76%  74.05%  0.81%  0.38%
HD140  10,259  22,819    227    150  30.67%  68.21%  0.68%  0.45%
HD141   7,443  37,222    289    178  16.49%  82.47%  0.64%  0.39%
HD142  14,187  43,334    469    189  24.39%  74.48%  0.81%  0.32%
HD143  13,229  25,318    282    141  33.95%  64.97%  0.72%  0.36%
HD144  14,598  17,365    308    150  45.03%  53.56%  0.95%  0.46%
HD145  15,393  28,572    462    185  34.50%  64.05%  1.04%  0.41%
HD146  10,938  45,784    439    204  19.07%  79.81%  0.77%  0.36%
HD147  14,437  56,279    734    278  20.13%  78.46%  1.02%  0.39%
HD148  20,413  41,117    901    203  32.59%  65.65%  1.44%  0.32%
HD149  22,419  32,886    428    172  40.10%  58.82%  0.77%  0.31%
HD150  55,261  42,933  1,125    287  55.48%  43.10%  1.13%  0.29%

Dist   Cornyn   Hegar    Lib    Grn Cornyn%  Hegar%   Lib%   Grn%
=================================================================
HD126  39,298  33,618  1,343    535  52.54%  44.95%  1.80%  0.72%
HD127  54,433  35,689  1,690    543  58.94%  38.64%  1.83%  0.59%
HD128  48,646  22,029  1,323    447  67.15%  30.41%  1.83%  0.62%
HD129  48,318  35,924  1,715    603  55.82%  41.50%  1.98%  0.70%
HD130  70,329  32,961  1,933    551  66.49%  31.16%  1.83%  0.52%
HD131  10,557  43,670    938    621  18.92%  78.28%  1.68%  1.11%
HD132  50,865  48,460  2,011    774  49.81%  47.46%  1.97%  0.76%
HD133  51,111  38,148  1,232    471  56.19%  41.94%  1.35%  0.52%
HD134  48,629  61,015  1,408    489  43.60%  54.70%  1.26%  0.44%
HD135  36,728  37,050  1,427    628  48.43%  48.86%  1.88%  0.83%
HD137  10,617  20,914    629    343  32.66%  64.34%  1.94%  1.06%
HD138  31,993  31,508  1,183    486  49.09%  48.35%  1.82%  0.75%
HD139  15,984  44,273  1,168    647  25.75%  71.33%  1.88%  1.04%
HD140   9,771  21,167    630    423  30.54%  66.17%  1.97%  1.32%
HD141   7,409  35,278    820    511  16.83%  80.14%  1.86%  1.16%
HD142  14,269  41,061  1,055    562  25.06%  72.10%  1.85%  0.99%
HD143  12,535  23,679    737    511  33.46%  63.21%  1.97%  1.36%
HD144  14,107  16,246    629    374  44.99%  51.81%  2.01%  1.19%
HD145  15,236  26,758    899    490  35.12%  61.68%  2.07%  1.13%
HD146  11,598  43,259    938    563  20.58%  76.76%  1.66%  1.00%
HD147  15,359  53,237  1,359    707  21.74%  75.34%  1.92%  1.00%
HD148  22,087  37,707  1,303    489  35.86%  61.23%  2.12%  0.79%
HD149  22,329  30,630    888    471  41.11%  56.39%  1.63%  0.87%
HD150  56,019  39,872  1,959    650  56.87%  40.48%  1.99%  0.66%

Dist   Wright   Casta    Lib    Grn Wright%  Casta%   Lib%   Grn%
=================================================================
HD126  38,409  32,979  1,562    942  51.98%  44.63%  2.11%  1.27%
HD127  53,034  35,348  1,948  1,026  58.05%  38.69%  2.13%  1.12%
HD128  47,576  22,153  1,382    605  66.34%  30.89%  1.93%  0.84%
HD129  46,707  35,326  2,084  1,095  54.81%  41.46%  2.45%  1.29%
HD130  69,295  31,825  2,387    981  66.32%  30.46%  2.28%  0.94%
HD131   9,786  43,714    930    899  17.69%  79.01%  1.68%  1.62%
HD132  49,947  47,483  2,288  1,389  49.40%  46.96%  2.26%  1.37%
HD133  50,069  36,455  1,636    998  56.16%  40.89%  1.83%  1.12%
HD134  47,504  57,938  2,155  1,239  43.65%  53.23%  1.98%  1.14%
HD135  35,845  36,487  1,706    988  47.78%  48.63%  2.27%  1.32%
HD137  10,168  20,606    695    589  31.72%  64.28%  2.17%  1.84%
HD138  31,201  30,796  1,377    859  48.57%  47.94%  2.14%  1.34%
HD139  15,235  44,188  1,166    895  24.78%  71.87%  1.90%  1.46%
HD140   8,840  21,955    515    509  27.78%  69.00%  1.62%  1.60%
HD141   6,885  35,470    766    654  15.73%  81.03%  1.75%  1.49%
HD142  13,584  41,134  1,041    788  24.02%  72.74%  1.84%  1.39%
HD143  11,494  24,467    657    563  30.91%  65.81%  1.77%  1.51%
HD144  13,250  16,851    603    417  42.58%  54.15%  1.94%  1.34%
HD145  14,246  27,135    903    703  33.14%  63.12%  2.10%  1.64%
HD146  10,964  42,686  1,034    947  19.71%  76.73%  1.86%  1.70%
HD147  14,711  52,289  1,554  1,199  21.09%  74.96%  2.23%  1.72%
HD148  21,527  36,656  1,580    869  35.50%  60.46%  2.61%  1.43%
HD149  21,458  30,419    976    727  40.05%  56.77%  1.82%  1.36%
HD150  55,111  38,995  2,186  1,127  56.57%  40.03%  2.24%  1.16%

There’s a lot here, and I’m going to try to limit the analysis in this post to just what’s here, since I will have a separate post that looks back at previous elections. I’m going to pick a few broad themes here and will continue when I get to that subsequent post.

It’s clear that the big districts for Republicans crossing over to vote for Biden were HDs 133 and 134. Biden basically hit Beto’s number in 134, and he made 133 nearly as competitive as 126. The same effect is visible but smaller in 126, 129, 138, and 150, but it’s more noticeable in the lower downballot Democratic total than the Republican number. Some of those votes migrate to third party candidates, some may be people just voting at the Presidential level – it’s hard to say for sure. In 2016, there were bigger third party totals at the Presidential level, but this year those numbers were more like prior norms.

However you look at this, the fact remains that Republicans don’t have a lot of areas of strength. Only HDs 128 and 130 performed consistently at a 60% level for them; as we will see with the judicial races, some candidates reached that number in HD127 as well. Spoiler alert for my future post: That’s a big change from 2012. We’ll get into that later, but what that means for now is what I was saying in the Congressional post, which is that there’s little spare capacity for Republicans to distribute. There’s some red they can slosh into HDs 132, 135, and 138 if they want, but it’s going to be hard to make more than a few Republican incumbents feel safe.

I’m still not comfortable calling HD134 a Democratic district – which is a bit meaningless anyway as we head into redistricting – but the numbers are what they are. There’s still some volatility, mostly in judicial races as you’ll see, but this district just isn’t what it used to be. After the 2016 election, when Greg Abbott went hard at Sarah Davis and the Trump effect was already obvious, I wondered what Republicans would do with that district, since they didn’t seem to care about Davis. Abbott subsequently rediscovered his pragmatic side, but Davis is now history, and this district is at least as blue as Harris County is overall, so they have a whole different problem to contemplate. If anyone reading this is of a mind to mourn Davis’ demise, I say put 100% of the blame on Donald Trump and the degeneracy he has brought forward in the GOP. Sarah Davis never took my advice to leave the Republican Party, but a lot of her former voters did. The future is always in motion, but at this point I would not expect them to come back.

On the flip side, Trump and the Republicans saw some gains in Democratic areas. The two that stand out to me are HDs 144 and 149 – Dems were well above 60% in the latter in 2016. Note how Chrysta Castaneda was the best performer in this group among Dems – her numbers in HD144 were comparable to Rep. Mary Ann Perez’s totals. As for 149, it was the inverse of HD133, more or less, without anyone making it look competitive. Here, Biden did about as well as Rep. Hubert Vo. I think this is more likely to be a Trump-catalyzed fluke than the start of a trend, but we’ll just have to see what the next elections tell us.

Finally, I should probably do a separate post on third party voting by State Rep district this cycle, but for now let me state the obvious that there was a whole lot less of it than in 2016, for a variety of reasons. I didn’t bother naming the Libertarian and Green candidates in the column headers above because honestly, even with the kerfuffle over both Republicans and Democrats trying to force them off the ballot for filing fee non-payment, there just wasn’t any attention on them this year. HD148 was the high-water mark for the Libertarian candidate in 2016 at the Presidential level, and HD134 topped the chart for Railroad Commissioner levels, with 4.53% in the former and an eye-popping 12.18% in the latter; the Chron endorsement of Mark Miller for RRC in 2016 surely helped him there. HD148 was the “winner” this year for each, though at much tamer 1.44% and 2.68%, respectively. For the Greens in 2016, it was HD137 for President (1.30%) and HD145 for RRC (6.49%), and this year it was HD144 (0.46%) for President and HD137 (1.84%) for RRC. You can say what you want about which third party affects which major party – I will note that Chrysta Castaneda outperformed Grady Yarbrough in HD134 by fifteen points, while Wayne Christian was four points better than Jim Wright in the same district. HD134 shifted strongly Dem in 2020, but the quality of the Dem also mattered.

Next up is a look at County Commissioner and JP/Constable precincts, and after that we’ll get that deeper look at 2020 versus 2016 and 2012. Let me know what you think.

Ken Paxton sues other states to overturn their election results

It’s as stupid and pernicious as it sounds.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is suing four battleground states — Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — whose election results handed the White House to President-elect Joe Biden.

In the suit, he claims that pandemic-era changes to election procedures in those states violated federal law, and asks the U.S. Supreme Court to block the states from voting in the Electoral College.

The last-minute bid, which legal experts have already characterized as a longshot, comes alongside dozens of similar attempts by President Donald Trump and his political allies. The majority of those lawsuits have already failed.

There is no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election, officials in most states and U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr have said. Biden won in all four states where Paxton is challenging the results.

In a filing to the high court Tuesday, Paxton claims the four battleground states broke the law by instituting pandemic-related changes to election policies, whether “through executive fiat or friendly lawsuits, thereby weakening ballot integrity.”

Paxton claimed that these changes allowed for voter fraud to occur — a conclusion experts and election officials have rejected — and said the court should push back a Dec. 14 deadline by which states must appoint their presidential electors.

“That deadline, however, should not cement a potentially illegitimate election result in the middle of this storm,” attorneys for Texas wrote.

[…]

Notably, Paxton himself is listed as the agency’s lead attorney on the case — a highly unusual role for the state official, who rarely plays a hands-on role even in the state’s major cases. Paxton’s new chief deputy, Brent Webster, signed onto the filing, but conspicuously absent is the agency’s top lawyer for appellate work, Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins, who typically argues the state’s cases before the Supreme Court and did so as recently as last month. None of Hawkins’ deputies is listed as contributing to the case, nor are any of the agency’s hundreds of other attorneys.

The agency instead appears to have hired an outside attorney, Lawrence Joseph, to contribute to the case.

The agency did not answer questions about its staffing choices for the lawsuit, nor did Hawkins himself.

Gov. Greg Abbott, a former Texas attorney general, signaled support for the lawsuit, telling a reporter the case “tries to accelerate the process, providing certainty and clarity about the entire election process. The United States of America needs that.”

We’ll discuss motives in a minute, but first, a few tweets.

You should also read this thread from Steve Vladeck, and this post from Rick Hasen, in which he calls this “a press release masquerading as a lawsuit” and “utter garbage”. And now you know all you need to know about the legal merits of this case, which by the way was filed on the legal deadline for states to certify the Presidential election.

Now then. Why would multiply-accused felon Ken Paxton do this? Two obvious reasons:

1. It’s a signal to George P. Bush and any other potential primary challengers that no one is going to out-wingnut him in 2022. We are at “drinking hemlock to own the libs” levels of depravity here. Maybe Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins will speak up and contradict the speculation about why Paxton was on his own for this, but the fact that Paxton did this on his own is surely a message to any wannabe kingslayers.

2. It’s also a message to Donald Trump, and that message is “PARDON ME! PAAAAAAAARDON MEEEEEEEEE!” Why fight an FBI investigation if you can be pre-emptively declared not guilty of any crimes you may have committed?

My guess is that Greg Abbott’s “well, we should just let the process play out” numbskullery is also an attempt to placate the seething hordes that now think he’s a liberal squish crossed with Joseph Stalin. I doubt it will work, but this is where Abbott is these days.

Anyway. On the one hand, we have already wasted too many brain cells on this. On the other, we should never forget that the official stance of way too many Republican officials is that they cannot lose elections and will do anything at all to prevent that from happening, law and decency and democracy be damned. I can only imagine the freakout they will have when Dems finally break through at the state level. For more reading than you should have time for, see the Chron, TPM, Daily Kos, Mother Jones, Reform Austin, and the Press.

Precinct analysis: Congressional districts

Introduction

All right, let’s get this party started. In the past I’ve generally done the top races by themselves, but any race involving Trump provides challenges, because his level of support just varies in comparison to other Republicans depending on where you look. So this year it felt right to include the other statewide non-judicial results in my Presidential analyses, and the only way to do that without completely overwhelming you with a wall of numbers was to break it out by district types. That seemed to also pair well with a closer look at the competitive districts of interest, of which there were more than usual this year. So let’s begin with a look at the Congressional districts in Harris County. Only CDs 02, 07, 18, and 29 are fully in Harris County – we won’t have the complete data on all Congressional districts until later – so just keep that in mind.


Dist    Trump    Biden    Lib    Grn  Trump%  Biden%   Lib%   Grn%
==================================================================
CD02  174,980  170,428  4,067    969  49.93%  48.63%  1.16%  0.28%
CD07  143,176  170,060  3,416    903  45.09%  53.55%  1.08%  0.28%
CD08   25,484   16,629    520     87  59.65%  38.93%  1.22%  0.20%
CD09   39,372  125,237  1,066    589  23.68%  75.32%  0.64%  0.35%
CD10  101,390   65,714  2,023    431  59.80%  38.76%  1.19%  0.25%
CD18   57,669  189,823  2,382    962  22.99%  75.68%  0.95%  0.38%
CD22   21,912   21,720    522    137  49.47%  49.04%  1.18%  0.31%
CD29   52,937  106,229  1,265    649  32.86%  65.95%  0.79%  0.40%
CD36   83,710   52,350  1,558    402  60.65%  37.93%  1.13%  0.29%

Dist   Cornyn    Hegar    Lib    Grn Cornyn%  Hegar%   Lib%   Grn%
==================================================================
CD02  180,504  157,923  6,215  2,164  52.37%  45.82%  1.80%  0.63%
CD07  152,741  154,670  4,939  2,161  48.90%  49.52%  1.58%  0.69%
CD08   25,916   15,259    846    221  61.67%  36.31%  2.01%  0.53%
CD09   39,404  118,424  2,725  1,677  24.54%  73.76%  1.70%  1.04%
CD10  102,919   60,687  3,168    939  61.71%  36.39%  1.90%  0.56%
CD18   60,111  178,680  4,806  2,468  24.68%  73.35%  1.97%  1.01%
CD22   21,975   20,283    898    377  50.92%  47.00%  2.08%  0.87%
CD29   51,044   99,415  3,022  1,969  33.26%  64.77%  1.97%  1.28%
CD36   83,614   48,814  2,598    913  61.92%  36.15%  1.92%  0.68%

Dist   Wright    Casta    Lib    Grn Wright%  Casta%   Lib%   Grn%
==================================================================
CD02  176,484  153,628  7,631  4,122  51.62%  44.94%  2.23%  1.21%
CD07  149,114  149,853  6,276  3,974  48.22%  48.46%  2.03%  1.29%
CD08   25,558   14,796    992    394  61.23%  35.45%  2.38%  0.94%
CD09   37,090  117,982  2,764  2,570  23.12%  73.55%  1.72%  1.60%
CD10  101,414   58,873  3,758  1,793  61.15%  35.50%  2.27%  1.08%
CD18   57,783  177,020  5,021  3,846  23.71%  72.65%  2.06%  1.58%
CD22   21,026   20,231  1,007    675  48.97%  47.12%  2.35%  1.57%
CD29   46,954  102,354  2,802  2,334  30.40%  66.27%  1.81%  1.51%
CD36   81,424   48,619  2,880  1,300  60.66%  36.22%  2.15%  0.97%

Dist      GOP      Dem    Lib    Grn    GOP%    Dem%   Lib%   Grn%
==================================================================
CD02  192,828  148,374  5,524         55.61%  42.79%  1.59%
CD07  149,054  159,529  5,542         47.75%  50.79%  1.76%
CD08   25,906   15,212    926         61.62%  36.18%  2.20%
CD09   35,634  121,576  4,799         22.00%  75.04%  2.96%
CD10  103,180   60,388  3,496         61.76%  36.15%  2.09%
CD18   58,033  180,952  4,514  3,396  23.51%  73.29%  1.83%  1.38%
CD22   20,953   19,743  2,291         48.74%  45.93%  5.33%
CD29   42,840  111,305  2,328         27.38%  71.13%  1.49%
CD36   84,721   46,545  2,579    985  62.84%  34.52%  1.91%  0.73%

The first three tables are the Presidential, Senate, and Railroad Commissioner results, in that order. Subsequent presentations with State Rep and JP/Constable precincts will be done in the same fashion. For this post, I have also included the actual Congressional results – each Congressional race had both a Dem and a Republican, which doesn’t always happen, so they provide a good point of comparison. The candidate labeled as “Green” in CD18 was actually an independent – only CD36 had an actual Green Party candidate. In the other Congressional races, there were only three candidates.

How competitive CD02 looks depends very much on how you’re looking at it. On the one hand, Joe Biden came within 1.3 points, with Trump failing to reach fifty percent. On the other hand, Dan Crenshaw won by almost thirteen points, easily exceeding his marks from 2018 while clearly getting some crossover support. In between was everything else – MJ Hegar and Chrysta Castaneda trailed by about six and a half points each, with third-party candidates taking an increasing share of the vote. As we’ll see, most of the time the spread was between seven and nine points. That doesn’t tell us too much about what CD02 will look like going forward, but it does tell us that it doesn’t have a large reserve of Republican votes in it that can be used to bolster other Republicans. One possible outcome is that the map-drawers decide that Crenshaw will punch above his weight – he certainly fundraises at a very high level – which will allow them to leave him in a seemingly-narrow district while tending to more urgent matters elsewhere. The downside there is that if and when Crenshaw decides he’s made for bigger things, this district would be that much harder to hold with a different Republican running in it.

Another possibility is that Republicans will decide that they’re better off turning CD07 into a more Dem-friendly district, and using the space Republican capacity from CD07 to bolster CDs 02 and maybe 10. Lizzie Fletcher didn’t win by much, though I will note that Wesley Hunt’s 47.75% is a mere 0.28 points better than John Culberson in 2018. (There was no Libertarian candidate in 2018; do we think that hurt Hunt or Fletcher more in this context?) But other than Biden, no Dem came close to matching Fletcher’s performance – Hegar and Castaneda were among the top finishers in CD07, as we will see going forward. Like Crenshaw, Fletcher got some crossovers as well. It’s a big question how the Republicans will approach CD07 in the redistricting process. In years past, before the big blue shift in the western parts of Harris County, my assumption had been that the weight of CD07 would continue to move west, probably poking into Fort Bend and Waller counties. I’m less sure of that now – hell, I have no idea what they will do. I have suggested that they make CD07 more Democratic, which would enable them to shore up CD02, CD10, maybe CD22. They could try to add enough Republicans to tilt CD07 red, and at least make Fletcher work that much harder if not endanger her. Or who knows, they could throw everything out and do a radical redesign, in which case who knows what happens to CD07. Harris is going to get a certain number of full and partial Congressional districts in it no matter what, and there are Republican incumbents who will want to keep various areas for themselves, and the Voting Rights Act is still in effect, so there are some constraints. But there’s nothing to say that CD07 will exist in some form as we now know it. Expect the unexpected, is what I’m saying.

None of the other districts had as large a variance in the Trump vote. He trailed Cornyn and Wright in total votes in every district except CDs 29 and 36 (he also led Wright in 22). He trailed the Republican Congressional candidate in every district except 09, 18, and 29, the three strong D districts. Conversely, Joe Biden led every Democratic candidate in every district except for Sylvia Garcia in CD29; Garcia likely got about as many crossover votes as Lizzie Fletcher did. I’m amused to see Trump beat the designated sacrificial lamb candidate in CD18, partly because he was one of the co-plaintiffs on the state lawsuit to throw out all of the drive-through votes, and partly because I saw far more yard signs for Wendell Champion in my mostly-white heavily Democratic neighborhood (*) than I did for Trump. Maybe this is what was meant by “shy Trump voters”.

One more point about redistricting. Mike McCaul won the Harris County portion of CD10 by 43K votes; he won it by 46K in 2012 and 47K in 2016. He won overall by 30K, after squeaking through in 2018 by 13K votes. He had won in 2012 by 64K votes, and in 2016 by 59K votes. Now, a big driver of that is the ginormous growth in the Travis County Dem vote – he went from a 14K deficit in Travis in 2012 to a 57K deficit in 2020. The point I’m making is that there’s not a well of spare Republican votes in CD10 that could be used to redden CD07, not without putting CD10 at risk. Again, the Republicans could throw the current map out and start over from scratch – there will be new districts to include, so to some extent that will happen anyway – it’s just that Harris County is going to be of limited, and decreasing, use to them. They have to work around Harris, not with it. It’s going to make for some interesting decisions on their part.

I’ll have a look at the State Rep districts next. Let me know what you think.

(*) The two main precincts for my neighborhood went for Biden over Trump by a combined 68-28.

2020 precinct analysis: Introduction and overview

So I finally got a full canvass of the 2020 election in a nice and convenient spreadsheet form. I spent a fair amount of the Thanksgiving week doing what I usually do with it, to generate totals for all of the political districts. I also managed to find the spreadsheets I had done in 2012 and 2016, and generated some year-over-year comparisons. I also used the city proposition data from 2012 to separate out city of Houston returns from non-Houston Harris County for 2020.

There’s a lot of data here, is what I’m saying. Generating it is actually the easy part. I’ve been doing this for a long time – in this format, since at least 2008 – and it’s just a matter of lining everything up and applying the same Excel formulas as before. (I make heavy use of the “sumif” function, if you’re curious.) The challenge for me is in how to present what I generate. Well, the first challenge is in trying to figure out what it means, what is interesting or notable, what will make for a readable blog post, and then I have to figure out how to present it.

Again, the challenge here is not technical – I’ve done this before, many times – but philosophical. What pieces belong together? What comparisons do I want to make? What’s worth my time and effort, and yours?

You can judge for yourself how well I answer those questions. Here’s a list of the topics I intend to cover, in something approximating the order in which I’ll present them:

– Results by Congressional district, for President, Senate, and Railroad Commissioner. I’m using those three races in part because they’re the top of the ticket, in part because they’re the races most affected by the presence of third-party candidates, and in part because they offer some interesting points of comparison with 2012 and 2016. I will do separate posts on the judicial races, separating out the statewide, appellate, and district/county court races. I’ve often used the averages of local judicial races to measure partisan levels in various districts, but I want to see what differences exist when we look at the other types of judicial races.

I’ve always done Congressional district results in the past, but they were more ornamentation than substance. In part that’s because there wasn’t much to say about the Congressional districts before 2016, as none of them were drawn to be competitive, and in part because only some of them are fully within Harris County. With CDs 02 and 07 becoming multi-million dollar battlegrounds (also true for CDs 10 and 22, though as noted we only have partial data for these), and with redistricting on the horizon, I wanted to take a closer look at these districts.

– Results by State Rep districts, by Commissioners Court precincts, and by JP/Constable precincts. Same as above in terms of format and intent. The State Rep districts are my main currency in these analyses, because they are entirely contained within Harris County (something I hope will still be true post-redistricting) and because there have been some massive changes in them over time. I already know I’ll have a lot to say here.

– Judicial races as noted above, by type (state, appellate, local), and for all district types. While I use the local judicial averages as my overall expression for a given district’s partisan numbers, there’s some real variance in these races, and I want to examine that in some detail.

– Comparisons with 2012 and 2016. I’ve talked about this some before, but if the only point of comparison we emphasize this year is with 2018, we’re missing a lot of the forest for the trees. I can’t stress enough how much things have changed since 2012, but I’m going to try to show you. I will focus most of this on the State Rep districts, but will include some Congressional comparisons to highlight where the redistricting challenges will be.

– Whatever else comes up along the way. I’ve got city/county numbers, which will get its own post. I’ve looked at undervoting and third-party voting in the past, and may do something on that. I always find things I didn’t notice at first when I really dig into the data. If there’s something you’d like me to try to analyze, please let me know.

That’s what I’ve got so far. This will be several weeks’ worth of posts, so sit back and relax, it’s going to take some time. Let me know what you think.

Counties of interest, part seven: West Texas

Part 1 – Counties around Harris
Part 2 – Counties around Dallas/Tarrant
Part 3 – Counties around Travis
Part 4 – Counties around Bexar
Part 5 – East Texas
Part 6 – Central Texas

Last entry in this series, and like the East Texas entry, there’s a whole lot of negative numbers to look at.


County       Romney    Obama    Trump  Clinton    Trump    Biden    Shift
=========================================================================
Ector        24,010    8,118   25,020   10,249   32,586   11,310   -5,384
Jones         4,262    1,226    4,819      936    5,621      989   -1,596
Kerr         17,274    4,338   17,727    4,681   20,858    6,510   -1,412
Lubbock      63,469   26,271   65,651   28,023   78,560   39,757   -1,605
Midland      35,689    8,286   36,973   10,025   45,463   12,258   -5,802
Potter       18,918    7,126   19,630    7,657   22,732    9,867   -1,073
Randall      41,447    7,574   43,462    7,657   50,597   12,750   -3,974
Taylor       32,904    9,750   33,250   10,085   39,439   14,489   -1,796
Tom Green    26,878    9,294   27,494    9,173   32,129   12,106   -2,439
Wichita      29,812   10,525   27,631    8,770   31,930   13,024      381

Just as a reminder, Ector County is Odessa, Jones and Taylor are Abilene, Potter and Randall are Amarillo, Tom Green is San Angelo, Kerr is Kerrville, and Wichita is Wichita Falls. Lubbock and Midland, I think you can figure out.

It’s important to keep in mind that these are some decent-sized metropolitan areas, with some fairly populous cities. Lubbock has over 250K people, Amarillo has 200K, Abilene 170K, and all of the others except Kerrville have over 100K. I obsess over this fact because I believe that we can make progress in this part of the state by working on these mid-sized urban areas. I tend to focus more on Lubbock because it’s the biggest city, with a big public university in it, and there’s already the beginning of a Democratic-friendly State Rep district in it, but I don’t believe it ends there.

Of course, the numbers themselves put a damper on my enthusiasm. Midland and Ector had big increases for Trump after moving closer to Dems in 2016. Maybe that was an oilpatch thing, it’s as good an explanation as any. Most other counties had decent increases for Biden over Clinton, they just had larger increases for Trump the second time around. It’s a start, and I’ll take it where I can find it. If you had forced me to pick one, I would not have guessed that Wichita would be the one county to move in a Democratic direction 2012, however modestly.

I don’t have any bright ideas to add to what I’ve been saying over the course of this series. Each part of the state is different, and they all have their challenges and opportunities. This part has reasonably populous metro areas, and I have to believe that if we can eventually flip Tarrant County, we can begin to make progress in at least some of these counties. That’s going to take resources, it’s going to take investment in local races (which the TDP has begun doing in recent years), and it’s going to take messaging and strategy. I’m just trying to get the conversation started. As I’ve said many times, either we figure out a way to bend the curve outside of the big metro areas, or we make the task in those big metro areas that much harder. The rest is up to us. I hope this series has been useful. As always, let me know what you think.

How is the Lege going to operate?

It’s going to be an interesting session.

Rep. Charlie Geren

In the most detailed public glimpse yet at how the 2021 legislative session might play out during a pandemic, the chair of the committee that handles administrative operations in the Texas House told a group of lobbyists Tuesday that masks may be required in all public parts of the Texas Capitol and that a limit could be placed on the number of people allowed inside the building.

State Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, listed a number of details during a presentation to the Professional Advocacy Association of Texas, a lobbyist and government affairs group. He also said that the House was looking at remote voting options for the chamber’s 150 members, which would allow lawmakers to vote on bills from elsewhere inside the building if they decide to not be present on the floor.

Geren said people entering the Capitol during the session will likely be tested and that lawmakers might require visitors to schedule appointments before arriving. They can limit the risks, he said, but can’t expect to completely prevent COVID-19 cases.

“We’re going to plan for an outbreak in the Capitol,” he said. “I think we have to.”

The Senate, he said, is having its own chamber-specific conversations over what protocols should be in place. Spokespeople for Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Later Tuesday, Geren told The Texas Tribune that details he shared at the event are not set in stone — and emphasized that “there’s nothing in concrete yet, and there won’t be for a while.”

Geren is a member of a workgroup tapped by state Rep. Dade Phelan, the next likely House speaker, to make recommendations on legislative operations during the coronavirus pandemic. He said the ideas were being shared with a separate group Phelan recently created to solicit input on potential changes to the lower chamber’s rules.

“We won’t know until we adopt the rules,” Geren said, “and the rules are being talked about now.”

There’s more, and you should read the rest. What the Lege can do may be constrained by the state constitution, which among other things mandates that the session be open to the public. You can already watch the legislature online, as each day’s events are streamed live, but would that pass muster if it’s the only option? I’m sure there are lawyers pondering that now. You can expect mask wearing to be a tiresome flashpoint, as professional jackasses like Briscoe Cain have already stated their intention (repeated in this story) to not wear masks or require any visitors to their office to wear them. We’ll see how contentious the rule-setting process is.

(I should note, by the way, that Charlie Geren’s bio page says that he is 71 years old. Preparing for a COVID outbreak at the Capitol is going to be a bigger deal for some folks than for others. And let us not forget the staffers, the security guards, the maintenance and cafeteria and groundskeeping and other workers who will also be affected by the rules the Lege adopts, and the shameful indifference of the likes of Briscoe Cain.)

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Capitol:

Nine months before the November election, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick made headlines by suggesting that if Republicans lost their supermajority in the Senate, he would pursue a bold procedural move: further lowering the threshold that is required to bring legislation to the floor.

Now that the election has come and gone — and the GOP indeed lost its supermajority — it remains to be seen how serious Patrick is about the idea, which would strip Senate Democrats of the one tool they have to block legislation they unanimously oppose.

The lieutenant governor, who presides over the Senate, has not made any known public comments since the election about the potential rule change, and senators are being tight-lipped or saying they have not heard anything. The uncertainty comes less than a month and a half before the Legislature gavels in for the 2021 session — and each chamber takes up its rules as one of the first orders of business.

Right now, Senate rules require 19 members, or three-fifths of the body, to vote to bring legislation to the floor. With the reelection loss of Sen. Pete Flores, R-Pleasanton, this November, Republicans are set to begin the session with 18 members.

Patrick already led the charge to decrease that threshold from 21 members — two-thirds — during his first session as lieutenant governor five years ago.

Since the election, Patrick’s office has not responded to requests for comment on whether he plans to push a rule change that would lower that threshold so Republicans can keep steamrolling Democrats. Such a change would happen at the beginning of the legislative session and only require the support of a simple majority in the chamber, or 16 members.

Four GOP senators’ offices said Tuesday they were unavailable to discuss the topic of Senate rules going into the session.

Sen. Paul Bettencourt of Houston, chairman of the Senate Republican Caucus, said Tuesday he is completing his term as chairman and cannot comment “in advance of the caucus taking a position or not” on a rule change. The caucus is holding a retreat this week.

I am on record as being in support of ditching anti-majoritarian traditions like the two-thirds rule, which is now the three-fifths rule. I wasn’t always this way – when the two-thirds rule was first threatened, I stood in defense of it, because I knew it was the only real tool Democrats had at their disposal to stop bills they hated. I’ve since abandoned that thinking, because we’ve seen far too much minority rule in our federal government, and when the blessed day comes that Democrats have control in Austin, I want them to be able to use it. If that means giving up our best tool for obstruction now, then so be it. I know that puts me at odds with current Senate Democrats, several of whom are quoted in that story. I totally get where they’re coming from, and I have no doubt that an unfettered Dan Patrick is a fearful thing. But I can’t defend that practice any more, and I won’t. Majority rule is the better way, and the day is coming when that will be in our favor. Hold tight until then.

Birds of a feather

Sweet.

A pro-Trump group that promised to challenge the Nov. 3 election results and expose fraud was sued by a North Carolina money manager who donated $2.5 million to the cause but says he didn’t get his money’s worth.

Fred Eshelman, founder of Eshelman Ventures LLC, wants his money back, saying he “regularly and repeatedly” asked for updates on the project but his “requests were consistently met with vague responses, platitudes, and empty promises,” according to the lawsuit filed Wednesday in Houston federal court.

Houston-based True the Vote Inc. had promised a multi-pronged plan to “investigate, litigate, and expose suspected illegal balloting and fraud in the 2020 general election,” according to the lawsuit.

In the weeks after the election, True the Vote filed four lawsuits, but it dropped them all last week. “While we stand by the voters’ testimony that was brought forth, barriers to advancing our arguments, coupled with constraints on time, made it necessary for us to pursue a different path,” the group announced on its website on Nov. 17.

[…]

True the Vote called its effort to reverse the election results Validate the Vote. The plan included filing lawsuits in seven swing states, collecting whistleblower complaints, galvanizing Republican legislative support in key states, and conducting “sophisticated data modeling and statistical analysis to identify potential illegal or fraudulent balloting,” according to Eshelman’s lawsuit.

The money manager said he agreed to support the plan and wired the group $2 million on Nov. 5 and $500,000 a week later after the group’s president told him that more money might be needed to achieve their goals, according to the suit.

When True the Vote failed to provide any reports on its progress and with certification deadlines approaching, Eshelman said it became obvious the group wouldn’t be able to execute the plan he agreed to support. So, he asked for his money back.

True the Vote had offered him $1 million if he would drop any plans for a lawsuit, he said in the complaint.

Hilarious. True the Vote oozed up from the local firmament a decade ago, and were involved in some highly questionable activities that centered around allegations of vote fraud, none of which ever came to pass. Juanita had some experience with them. I had honestly forgotten they were still a thing until I saw the stories of their aborted litigation a few days earlier. The little coda to that story is just delightful. Grifters gonna grift.

Counties of interest, part six: Central Texas

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Commissioners Court rejects Paxton allegation about Elections Administrator

Straight to the point.

Best mugshot ever

The Democrats on Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday rejected an opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in which he said they illegally created an independent elections office and hired an administrator.

The move invites a potential lawsuit from the attorney general, which Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis said he was confident the county would win.

“This is another example of (Attorney) General Paxton using his office to attack the voting rights of Texans,” Ellis said.

He noted that Paxton sued to prevent counties from installing more than one drop box for mail-in ballots during this fall’s general election. The attorney general also convinced the Texas Supreme Court to block Harris County’s plan to send mail ballot applications to all 2.5 million registered voters. Paxton also had issued an opinion suggesting the county’s drive-thru voting arrangements violated the state election code.

[…]

In a written response to Paxton Tuesday, [County Attorney Vince] Ryan acknowledged that Harris County had not promptly informed the state of those actions. He said, however, that Texas law says the delays do not change their validity.

Harris County joined more than 100 other Texas counties in creating an independent elections office, which combines the election management role of the county clerk with the voter registration duties of the tax assessor-collector.

The three Democrats on Commissioners Court voted in favor of the change, arguing it is more efficient. The two Republicans were opposed, saying it created an administrator who is unaccountable to voters.

The court was similarly divided in Tuesday afternoon’s discussion. Democratic County Judge Lina Hidalgo dismissed Paxton’s threat as a distraction and said Longoria must be able to do her job.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle, a Republican, said Ellis’s criticism of Paxton was unfounded. The attorney general has a duty to ensure the law is followed, he said.

“When Paxton says we didn’t follow the rules, I don’t think there is some evil intent,” Cagle said.

See here for the background, and let’s put aside for the moment the laughable idea that Ken Paxton has any moral authority when it comes to telling people to obey the rules. I dismissed Paxton’s threats as mere bluster, but I’m an Internet smartass. There are no real consequences when I’m wrong about something. I certainly hope Vince Ryan is right about this – and as a side matter, I hope incoming County Attorney Christian Menefee was consulted and is on board with this, because it will be his mess to clean up if Ryan and the rest of us are wrong. I guess we’ll find out soon enough if we’re about to be dragged into a prolonged court battle, or if this was indeed just hot air. The Texas Signal and the Chron’s Erica Greider have more.

Counties of interest, part five: East Texas

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

The next three entries in this series will look at regions, and counties of interest within them. For the sake of simplicity, I’ve labeled these regions East Texas, Central Texas, and West Texas, though in a strict sense some of the counties I’m including in them would be called something else – Jefferson County, for example, is usually considered Southeast Texas. Try not to take that too seriously, and just assume I’ve split the state into three vertical sections.

Within those sections I’ve identified counties that have enough voters in them to be worthwhile. Again, this is all arbitrary, but I’ve generally aimed for places with cities or other features of interest. We begin with East Texas:


County       Romney    Obama    Trump  Clinton    Trump    Biden    Shift
=========================================================================
Angelina     20,303    7,834   21,668    7,538   25,070    9,136   -3,465
Bowie        24,869   10,196   24,924    8,838   27,053   10,692   -1,688
Gregg        28,742   12,398   28,764   11,677   32,352   14,657   -1,351
Hardin       17,746    3,359   19,606    2,780   23,806    3,449   -5,970
Harrison     17,512    8,456   18,749    7,151   21,318    7,812   -4,450
Henderson    21,231    6,106   23,650    5,669   28,816    7,048   -6,643
Hunt         21,011    6,671   23,910    6,396   29,135    8,879   -5,916
Jefferson    43,242   44,668   42,862   42,443   47,535   46,022   -2,959
Nacogdoches  13,925    6,465   14,771    6,846   17,359    8,989     -910
Orange       23,366    6,800   25,513    5,735   29,170    6,354   -6,250
Smith        57,331   21,456   58,930   22,300   68,546   29,343   -3,328
Van Zandt    15,794    3,084   18,473    2,799   22,126    3,419   -5,997
Walker       12,140    6,252   12,884    6,091   15,368    7,875   -1,605

As you might imagine this is not friendly territory for Democrats, and it’s getting less so as we go along. These counties are pretty small for the most part, but they contribute a lot of votes to the Republicans’ bottom line. Just since 2012, that gap has grown by more than 50K in the GOP direction. This is the point I’ve been trying to make lately, because while it may seem easy to write off this part of the state, these counties collectively pack a real punch. Look again at that Michael Li chart I embedded in this post about where the vote comes from in Texas. We can either do something to reduce the growing gap we face in the smaller counties, or we can accept the fact that the hill we’re pushing this boulder up gets steeper every cycle.

Let me remind you, there are cities and metro areas in these counties. You know that Jefferson County is home to Beaumont, and Smith County is Tyler. Other cities include:

Angelina County – Lufkin
Bowie County – Texarkana
Gregg County – Longview
Harrison County – Marshall
Nacogdoches County – Nacogdoches, home of Stephen F. Austin State University
Walker County – Huntsville, home of Sam Houston State University

I see three avenues to improve performance in this part of the state. One is as I’ve noted several times an effort to organize and build infrastructure in the smaller cities in Texas. We know what we can do in the big urban areas, and the formerly-small towns that are now part of big urban areas – think of places like Katy and Sugar Land – are increasingly strong for Dems. I believe the potential exists in the smaller cities that are not proximate to the big urban areas, and that more effort needs to be made, and more resources provided, to help them reach that potential. It has to be organic to these cities – surely, a helicopter drop of volunteers and/or paid staffers from Houston and Austin would not be received very well. I know the TDP has done some work along these lines, I’m just saying we need to continue it.

Second, there are as noted above universities in some of these towns. Anything we can do to grow the Democratic student groups and help them register and turn out voters is well worth it.

Finally, we can take a page from Stacy Abrams’ playbook and recognize that there’s a substantial Black population in some of these counties, and get to registering and organizing and empowering them in local and state politics. To wit:

Jefferson – 33.7% Black
Harrison – 24.0% Black
Walker – 23.9% Black
Bowie – 23.4% Black
Gregg – 19.9% Black
Smith – 17.9% Black
Nacogdoches – 16.7% Black
Angelina – 14.2% Black

All that is from those Wikipedia pages I linked above. I will freely admit here that I don’t know what is already in place in these counties – maybe we’re already doing all we can. I kind of doubt it, though.

Again, my bottom line is that we make an effort to narrow the gap in these places, or at least keep that gap from growing ever wider, or we make the task we’re already working on in the big counties that much harder. I’m not saying any of this will be easy, but I am saying we can’t shrug it off because it might be hard. This is the choice we face.

Keith Nielsen resigns

Better late than never, I guess.

Harris County Republican Party Chairman Keith Nielsen resigned Monday, the party’s secretary confirmed, ending a brief tenure dogged by his social media post that displayed a Martin Luther King Jr. quote next to a banana.

The post, which recalls a racist trope associating Black people with monkeys, sparked calls from high-ranking Texas Republicans for Nielsen to decline the office, which he won after defeating former party chair Paul Simpson in March. Nielsen at first said he would not take office, then reversed course, despite opposition from some precinct chairs due to the social media post.

Nielsen did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

His resignation follows months of lackluster fundraising by the party, which saw donations virtually dry up after Nielsen took over Aug. 3. The party reported a haul of $14,600 from that point until Oct. 24, the latest date covered by campaign finance reports.

The party spent just $4,140 between Aug. 3 and Oct. 24 as it ran a coordinated campaign for the slate of Republican judicial candidates in Harris County. The party had just $10,690 in the bank, according to its most recent campaign finance report.

During the first six months of the year under Simpson, the party raised $92,624, after reporting it had taken in $206,056 during the last six months of 2019.

See here for the background. There’s probably a moderately interesting story about why Nielsen resigned, then un-resigned, then re-resigned, but it doesn’t really matter. He didn’t have much effect on the Harris County GOP one way or the other, and his successor likely won’t either. To the extent that he’s remembered, it will be as the guy who posted that awful racist meme, then later resigned because of it. Let us never speak of him again. The Trib has more.

Interview with Isabel Longoria

Isabel Longoria

Following on to my interview with Chris Hollins, today I have for you a conversation with our brand new and first-ever Election Administrator in Harris County, Isabel Longoria. Longoria is a former legislative staffer who ran for City Council in District H in 2019 and lost in a runoff to incumbent CM Karla Cisneros. She was hired by Hollins to be part of the County Clerk’s election staff for the 2020 election, so when she stepped into the Administrator role it was mostly a continuation of what she had already been doing. If you’ve ever talked with Longoria before, you know she’s a highly detail-oriented person who can go deep into the weeds on policy and technical issues, and she has an abiding love for the elections process. We talked about all that and more:

We enter now into a fallow period for local elections – it’s an off year for Houston, and who knows what will happen with the HISD Trustees. I’ll do what I do with the races that are on the docket, but in the meantime if you think there’s someone I really ought to talk to and whose insights would be of interest to you and my other readers, let me know.

Paxton has a tantrum about the Harris County Election Administrator

Someone is going to have to help me understand this, because I’m clearly missing something.

Best mugshot ever

Harris County failed to follow the Texas Election Code when it created an independent election administration office, rendering the office and the appointment of Isabel Longoria as administrator null and void, according to Attorney General Ken Paxton.

In a Nov. 25 letter to the county attorney’s office, Paxton said Harris County did not inform the secretary of state in a timely fashion, as required by law, when it created the new office in July and when an administrator was selected in October to run it.

“As a result, neither the Commissioners Court’s July 14, 2020 order nor the Election Commission’s October 30, 2020 appointment of (Isabel) Longoria to the position holds any legal weight,” Paxton wrote. “In short, the Harris County Office of Election Administrator does not exist.”

Longoria’s appointment should be rescinded, the attorney general said.

County Clerk Teneshia Hudspeth referred questions to County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who deferred to the County Attorney’s office. First Assistant County Attorney Robert Soard said all required documentation regarding the election administration office has been sent to the secretary of state.

“We feel confident that, after they review this, all misunderstandings will be cleared up,” Soard said.

Longoria said in a statement that the county attorney had advised her there were no procedural issues with the creation of her office; she will continue working.

[…]

The Election Code requires counties to inform the secretary of state within three days of creating an elections administration office. Within six days, it must inform the state of the appointment of an administrator.

Paxton said Harris County waited two weeks to inform the secretary of state it had created the elections administration office and three weeks to formally disclose the hiring of Longoria as administrator, a senior aide in the County Clerk’s Office.

Harris County must take “corrective action” within 14 days, the attorney general said, or the state may take the issue to court. Paxton did not respond to a question asking why his office did not address Harris County’s error in July.

County Attorney Vince Ryan placed an item on Tuesday’s Commissioners Court agenda to discuss the matter.

Here’s the relevant statutes relating to an Elections Administrator:

Sec. 31.031. CREATION OF POSITION. (a) The commissioners court by written order may create the position of county elections administrator for the county.

(b) The order must state the date the creation of the position of administrator is effective. The effective date may not be later than 12 months after the date the order is adopted.

(c) To facilitate the orderly transfer of duties on the effective date, the order may authorize the commissioners court to employ the administrator-designate not earlier than the 90th day before the effective date of the creation of the position, at a salary not to exceed that to be paid to the administrator.

(d) Not later than the third day after the date the order is adopted, the county clerk shall deliver a certified copy of the order to:

(1) the secretary of state; and

(2) each member of the county election commission.

Sec. 31.032. APPOINTMENT OF ADMINISTRATOR; COUNTY ELECTION COMMISSION. (a) The position of county elections administrator is filled by appointment of the county election commission, which consists of:

(1) the county judge, as chair;

(2) the county clerk, as vice chair;

(3) the county tax assessor-collector, as secretary; and

(4) the county chair of each political party that made nominations by primary election for the last general election for state and county officers preceding the date of the meeting at which the appointment is made.

(b) The affirmative vote of a majority of the commission’s membership is necessary for the appointment of an administrator.

(c) Each appointment must be evidenced by a written resolution or order signed by the number of commission members necessary to make the appointment. Not later than the third day after the date an administrator is appointed, the officer who presided at the meeting shall file a signed copy of the resolution or order with the county clerk. Not later than the third day after the date the copy is filed, the county clerk shall deliver a certified copy of the resolution or order to the secretary of state.

(d) The initial appointment may be made at any time after the adoption of the order creating the position.

The relevant sections relating to timing are highlighted in bold. As was noted in the comments to the Chron story, there’s nothing in the laws to say what happens if a county, for whatever the reason, fails to do the paperwork in a timely fashion. Saying that the appointment is null and void for being a few days late is to be the equivalent of saying that because there were a couple of precincts in Wayne County that didn’t exactly balance we need to throw out every vote in the county. I may not be a lawyer, but I can tell when the remedy doesn’t fit the alleged infraction. And if we’re going to be super-technical about it, then let Commissioners Court rescind and re-appoint Longoria today, and notify the Secretary of State later in the day via email, fax, Fed Ex, town crier, and unfurling a giant poster with Isabel Longoria’s picture on it outside the SOS office tomorrow morning. Will that suffice?

This part puzzles me even more:

Republican State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, a frequent critic of local Democrats, urged Commissioners Court to revoke Longoria’s appointment.

“Appointing an administrator of elections in the nation’s third largest county should have been made by following the prescribed legal process to the letter,” Bettencourt said in a statement. “The attorney general’s letter is specific that the duties of that office should be returned to the elected county clerk and tax assessor-collector.”

The dispute is the latest in a series of disagreements between Texas leaders and Harris County officials over how the state’s largest county runs its elections. Paxton and state Elections Director Keith Ingram see their actions as reigning in rogue local leaders; Hidalgo and county officials view them as unnecessary micromanagement.

I mean, we’re aware that all of the election innovation that made Ken Paxton and Paul Bettencourt SO MAD last month was done by the County Clerk, right? Not a non-partisan official whose bosses include the Chair of the Harris County GOP? I’m trying real hard here, but I fail to see what they think they’d be gaining by putting Teneshia Hudspeth in charge of running elections. Do they think she wouldn’t keep doing what she did while Chris Hollins and Diane Trautman were in charge? Have they forgotten that she’s an elected Democrat? Seriously, what is their angle here? I mean, other than being little pettifoggers with a grievance. Like I said up front, someone help me understand this one.

Interview with Chris Hollins

Chris Hollins

To put a bow on this long, strange trip that was the 2020 election season, I have a couple of interviews to bring you with key players from the election. The first is with Chris Hollins, the now-former Harris County Clerk who stepped into that role in June, just before the primary runoffs were to take place and as the second COVID wave was beginning. Hollins had the task of putting new processes in place to make that runoff election safe and successful, then scaling it all up for November, when about ten times as many people would be participating. We know how well that turned out, and how much acclaim Hollins got for his team’s achievements and his leadership, so let’s just go right to the interview, in which we go into greater detail about what happened and what we learned from this crazy election.

Next up: An interview with Isabel Longoria, the first-ever Harris County Election Administrator. Let me know what you think.

So now we start to prep for redistricting

It’s gonna make for a long session, or more likely sessions.

Wielding the map-drawing power will not be entirely painless for Republicans, who have seen their grip on dozens of state and federal districts erode since the last round of redistricting. Though Democrats failed to flip any of their targeted congressional seats in 2020 and fared about as poorly in state House contests, their single-digit defeats in once ruby red districts point to Democrats’ growing advantages in urban and suburban counties, even as Republicans retain an overwhelming advantage in rural Texas.

Republicans, then, will have to decide how aggressive they want to be in redrawing political boundaries to their benefit, balancing the need to fortify their numbers in battleground districts with the opportunity to flip back some of the districts they lost in 2018, when Democrats picked up 12 seats.

“I see this redistricting opportunity for Republicans as more of a defensive play than an offensive play,” said Texas Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak. “This is one of the tough things when you’re engaging in redistricting if you’re the party in power, because you can be sort of allured by the short-term potential to win an extra seat or two. But you can take two steps forward to eventually take three steps back if you’re not thinking about demographic changes over a 10-year period.”

For now, the looming redistricting fight is far from the minds of most state lawmakers. Though the U.S. Census Bureau is supposed to deliver updated population data to states by April 1 next year, the agency suspended field operations for the 2020 Census due to the COVID-19 pandemic and wrapped up the count in October, well after the original July 31 deadline. Bureau officials also sought to push back the deadline for sending data to the states until July 2021, prompting speculation that Texas may not get the census numbers until after the Legislature gavels out in late May.

“If the data is not delivered during the regular session, it creates a whole set of cascading problems that impact the drawing of lines, even down to the county and municipal levels, because everyone is going to be put on an even greater time crunch,” said Eric Opiela, an attorney and former executive director of the Texas Republican Party who has worked on prior redistricting efforts.

During normal times, officials might already be using population data from the Census Bureau’s annual American Community Survey (ACS) to strategize or even draw up preliminary maps. But the pandemic has forced census workers to adopt unconventional survey tactics and generated unprecedented population shifts due to the rise in remote working, factors that make any pre-2020 population data highly unreliable, Opiela said.

“Those (ACS) projections can be used to allow you to do things like work through scenarios before the official data comes, and it’s actually fairly accurate,” Opiela said. “I don’t know that that’s going to be the case this time. I think it’s going to be very important to wait until the official data is received to draw any conclusions as to where Texans live.”

It’s not just the uncertain timeline. Even if the Census data arrived on time, COVID-19 would likely hamper redistricting efforts by forcing lawmakers to prioritize filling the state’s pandemic-inflicted budget gap and perhaps providing economic and medical relief to COVID-19 victims.

“The challenge with redistricting is it’s such a naturally partisan issue that it’s really hard to sort of box half the day and then be ballet dancers the other half of the day,” Mackowiak said. “It’s hard to be bipartisan on other issues but then super, super partisan during redistricting. So, having a special session just related to redistricting after the major issues are taken care of seems to me to be the smartest pathway.”

See here for the most recent news on the Census situation. I think it’s very likely that we don’t get the data in time for the regular session, in which case redistricting will be done in a special session later in the year. Depending on how late that is, and on how long it takes to hammer out maps, and whether any initial court challenges result in temporary restraining orders, we could see the 2022 primaries get pushed back. The filing period begins in mid-November, after all, so there’s a non-zero chance of it being affected by how this plays out.

It’s worth remembering that if the Dems had managed to win the State House, they still would have had limited influence over redistricting. As the story correctly notes, the Legislative Redistricting Board, a five-member panel that would have had only one Democrat (the House Speaker, in this hypothetical), would draw the State House, State Senate, and SBOE maps if the House and Senate had been unable to agree on them. The Congressional maps would go to a federal court, however, and that’s where the Dems might have had some influence. If Republicans didn’t want to take the chance of putting map-drawing power in a third party like that, they might have been open to some compromises on the other maps. We’ll never know now, but that was the basic idea.

As it is, how this goes with Republicans once again in full control will come down to how they answer a few key questions. (For the purposes of this post, I’m focusing on the State House. The issue are mostly similar for Congress and the State Senate, but my examples will come from House elections.) Will they be constrained by established rules like the county line rule, which puts only whole House seats in sufficiently large counties (this is why all Harris County State House seats are entirely within Harris County), or do they change that? How constrained do they feel by the Voting Rights Act, and by other established redistricting precedents – in other words, do they bet big on the courts overturning past rulings so that they can more or less do whatever they want, or do they pull it in so as not to risk losing in court?

Most of all, what do they consider a “safe” seat to be? Look at it this way: In 2012, Republicans won 16 of the 95 seats they took with less than 60% of the vote. Of those, only five were decided by fewer than ten points:

HD43 – Won in 2010 by then-Democrat JM Lozano, who subsequently switched parties.
HD105 – Barely won by the GOP in 2008, by less than 20 votes.
HD107 – Won by a Dem in 2008, it became the first Republican-held seat to flip in this decade, won by Victoria Neave in 2016.
HD114 – Nothing special, it was won by eight points in 2012.
HD134 – The perennial swing district.

Note that four of those five are now Democratic. Other “less than 60%” seats from 2012 now held by Dems include HDs 45, 47, 65, 102, 115, and 136. (*) The point is, that looks like an extremely durable majority, with enough 60%+ seats on their own to ensure a mostly Republican House. And indeed it was for the first three elections of the decade. There will be books written about why all of a sudden it became precarious, but you’d be hard pressed to do a better job than the Republicans did in 2011.

But as noted, things look different now. In 2020, Republicans won 26 of the 87 seats they took with less than 60% of the vote. Of those, seventeen were won by less than ten points:

HD26, HD54, HD64, HD66, HD67, HD92, HD93, HD94, HD96, HD97, HD108, HD112, HD121, HD126, HD132, HD138

We can talk all we want about how things might have gone differently in 2020, but the fact remains that it wouldn’t have taken much to change many of those outcomes. How many Republican incumbents will insist on a 55%+ district for themselves? Whatever assumptions you make about the 2020 electorate and what it means for the future, that’s going to be a tall order in some parts of the state.

This more than anything will drive their decision-making, and may well be the single biggest source of friction on their side. Who is willing to accept a 51% Republican district, and who will have to take one for the team? In 2011, Republicans were coming off an election that they had won by more than 20 points statewide. This year they won at the Presidential level by less than six points, and at the Senate level by less than ten. They have a smaller piece of the pie to cut up. They have full control over how they do it, but the pie isn’t as big as it used to be. What are they going to do about that?

(*) In 2012, Cindy Burkett had no Democratic opponent in HD113, and Gary Elkins was re-elected in HD135 with 60.36% of the vote. Both of those districts are now held by Democrats. Always in motion, the future is.

I remain pessimistic about the chances of good voting bills passing

This Trib story suggests that with Republicans doing well in the high turnout 2020 election, and with the emergency measures that were implemented to expand voting access, the odds of getting a bill passed to make some forms of voting easier are as good as they’ve ever been.

Lawmakers and voting rights groups have been fighting over updates to Texas’ election systems for years, but issues heightened by the coronavirus pandemic have launched a new conversation over voter access.

This January, primarily Democratic lawmakers heading into the next legislative session are honing in on problems like backlogs in processing voter registrations, an unprecedented flood of mail-in ballots and applications that overwhelmed some elections offices, and a lack of viable alternatives to voting in person.

Outnumbered by GOP members in both chambers, Texas Democrats have seen their efforts to expand voter accessibility thwarted at virtually every turn for years.

But the pandemic-era challenges combined with strong Republican performance at the polls — which may have been boosted by record-breaking voter turnout across the state — has some lawmakers and political operatives believing there’s potential for conservatives to warm up to voting legislation that could improve accessibility.

A main reason is that voters of all political camps experienced some of these new ideas when they were introduced during the pandemic — things like drive-thru voting pilot programs, multiple ballot drop-off sites, turning in mail ballots during early voting and extended early voting — or realized that others, like online registration, would have made voting in the pandemic easier.

“My guess is [lawmakers are] going to hear from their Republican voters that they like to do this, and there will start to be Republicans championing these things, and they’re championing them from a majority point of view,” said Trey Grayson, a former Republican Kentucky secretary of state who was previously director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard University. “I would be shocked in five years if Texas didn’t have more of these reforms in place.”

Quinn Carollo Jr. is one of those Republican voters who said he applauded efforts in Texas to make it easier to vote. He was thrilled by Texas’ lengthy early voting period — which had been expanded from two weeks to three weeks because of the pandemic. He moved in recent years from Alabama, which doesn’t have early voting.

“There was plenty of opportunity to get by there and vote without dealing with a lot of lines on Election Day,” said Carollo, a 49-year-old transportation manager for a chemical company in Houston. “So I really enjoyed that. I’m all for it.”

Carollo said he’d like to see the longer voting period become a permanent part of Texas law, along with other reforms that might make voting easier and more accessible.

[…]

Bills already filed include legislation that would allow for online voter registration for those with driver’s licenses or state IDs, on-site voter registration at the polls during early voting and on election day, making election days state holidays, universal mail-in balloting, easing voter ID restrictions and allowing felony probationers and parolees to vote.

The idea of moving registration online is worth considering, given that some 41 other states have already implemented it, said Justin Till, chief of staff and general counsel for Republican state Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, who sponsored the 2019 bill that eliminated mobile polling sites and who has filed election fraud legislation to be considered this session.

“I don’t think it would be a problem if we were to transition. I know a lot of people are still hung up on the IT security part of it, which I get.” Till said. “So long as it’s a sound system, it will work fine and the other states that have implemented it thoughtfully have done so successfully.”

Till said Bonnen’s office would consider measures that could ease or expand access during early voting and eliminate long travel and wait times, such as extending the early voting period to three weeks and allowing counties to keep polling sites open beyond the state required minimum.

“If you can achieve that satisfaction point where everyone gets an opportunity to vote as quickly and as easily as they can, then you’re good,” Till said.

Voting rights advocates say that the experiences of millions of new voters in Texas this year could translate into election changes that are driven by the voters, not politics.

“I think a lot of people that had not been affected by some of the problems in our election systems were affected this time,” said Joaquin Gonzalez, staff attorney for the Texas Civil Rights Project. “So there are probably a lot more legislators who are hearing about it more from all walks of the aisle.”

A new “driving force” behind some legislation will be pressure to address or retain some voting initiatives that were born out of the pandemic, said Derek Ryan, a Republican consultant and voter data analyst in Austin.

These could include increased access to curbside voting, extended early voting periods and expanding countywide voting and online voter registration — the latter of which Ryan said was hit or miss with Republicans and “one of those issues that kind of splits the party.”

Among those that are anticipated but haven’t been filed yet are bills dealing with drive-thru voting, allowing 24-hour polling sites and making permanent a pandemic-era order by GOP Gov. Greg Abbott extending the early voting period to three weeks — all of them ideas that first appeared in some counties during the pandemic, several activists and lawmakers said.

”I think that after any election, we figure out that there are better ways to do things, and so there’s always some election legislation that kind of tries to clean up some of the process, but I think you’re probably going to see that even more so because of the pandemic,” Ryan said.

Maybe, but I’m going to see some hard evidence of this before I buy into the idea. The one place where maybe I can see something happening is with online voter registration, mostly because Republicans made a show of trying to register new voters this cycle, and running into the same problems everyone else who has ever tried to do this has run into, and that was even before the pandemic hit. The fact that there’s a staffer for a Republican legislator talking about it is of interest. I’m willing to believe something may happen here. As for everything else, my counterarguments are as follows:

1. The first bill out of the gate is a bill to restrict county election administrators from sending vote by mail applications to eligible voters, for no particular reason other than Paul Bettencourt’s sniffy disapproval of Chris Hollins doing it. It’s not an auspicious start, is what I’m saying.

2. While Greg Abbott did extend the early voting period and did allow for mail ballots to be dropped off during the early voting period (before then cracking down on where they could be dropped off), all of the prominent innovations like drive-through voting and 24-hour voting and multiple drop boxes were pioneered by local election administrators, most of whom were Democrats, with Chris Hollins in Harris County and Justin Rodriguez in Bexar County being among the leaders. I’d feel like this would be more likely if Abbott and the Lege were ratifying Republican ideas, rather than giving their stamp of approval to Democratic inventions. I admit that’s attributing a level of pettiness to Abbott and the Republicans in the Lege, but if we’re talking about the process being driven by feedback from the voters, I’ll remind you that the chair of the state GOP, several county GOP chairs, activists like Steven Hotze, and more were the plaintiffs in lawsuits that targeted not only the Hollins/Rodriguez-type innovations, but also Abbott orders like the third week of early voting. Plus, you know, the extreme animus that Donald Trump fed into Republican voters about mail ballots and other vote-expanding initiatives. What I’m saying is that while some Republican voters undoubtedly liked these new innovations and would approve of them becoming permanent, the loudest voices over there are dead set against them. We’d be idiots to underestimate that.

3. All of which is a longwinded way of saying, wake me up when Dan Patrick gets on board with any of this. Nothing is going to happen unless he approves of it.

4. Or to put it another way, even if these innovations help Republicans, even if everyone can now say that expanding turnout is just as good for Republicans as it is for Democrats, it’s still the case that making it harder to vote is in the Republican DNA; I’m sure someone will post that decades-old Paul Weyrich quote in the comments, to illustrate. I don’t believe that the experience of one election is going to change all these years of messaging.

5. To put that another way, Republicans might be all right with things that make it easier for them to vote, as long as they don’t make it easier for Democrats to vote. They’re absolutely fine with things that make it harder for Democrats to vote – and by “Democrats” I mostly mean Black voters, as far as they’re concerned – and if those things also make it harder for some of their people to vote, it’s an acceptable price to pay. Making it easier to vote, as a principle, is not who and what they are. I’ll be happy to be proven wrong, but until then I’ll be taking the under.

What the Early Voting Ballot Board does

They were especially important this year.

In the wake of the Nov. 3 general election, the air is filled with an overwhelming amount of disinformation about vote counting, specifically as it relates to mail ballots and provisional ballots. In Michigan, two Republican members of the Board of Canvassers of Wayne County, which includes Detroit, first refused to certify the election results there and then reversed their decision. This troubling incident rightfully made the national news. But it should be noted why: because it is an exception to the rule.

It is with this in mind that I feel compelled to offer my experience as the presiding judge of the Harris County Early Voting Ballot Board.

Every county in Texas has an Early Voting Ballot Board (EVBB) that is charged with two primary tasks: qualifying mail ballots and qualifying provisional ballots. Each of these boards is comprised of an equal number of Republicans and Democrats nominated by their respective county party chairs and appointed by the county election board (which is comprised of the two party chairs, the county judge, the county clerk, the voter registrar and the sheriff).

As partisan political appointees in an historically divided political climate, one might expect that the EVBB would reflect the toxic divide. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are regular people, and we look like Harris County. We are CPAs, city employees, entrepreneurs, health professionals, homemakers, lawyers, non-profit workers, retirees, technicians, veterans and everything in between. Our identities are indicative of the beautifully diverse community that is Harris County, and we each bring our unique lived experiences to our work. We are committed to the integrity of our democratic process and an unwavering dedication to free and fair elections.

[…]

For mail ballots, our primary job is to determine whether or not the voter was the person who voted the ballot. The principal evidence we review in this process is the signature on the vote-by-mail application and the signature on the mail ballot carrier envelope. We also check voter registration status. All of this is done in pairs — one Republican and one Democrat. And so in order for a mail ballot to be accepted, a Republican and a Democrat must agree that the voter voted the ballot and did not violate the Election Code. Ninety nine percent of the time, we agree. For those instances where there is a question, multiple teams — always one Republican and one Democrat — conduct the review. Sometimes we call the voter, sometimes we coordinate with the voter registrar’s office about registration issues. If we cannot agree, the presiding judge makes the final call. This happens a tiny fraction of the time — literally with only a bit more than half a dozen of the over 179,000 mail ballots we processed.

For provisional ballots, we are fact finders. For the vote to be accepted, the voter who cast the provisional ballot must have been registered to vote on time and must have not already cast another ballot in the election. So again in bipartisan pairs, we review each provisional ballot affidavit completed at the polling location and check them against county records. We work closely with the voter registrar to determine registration status and with the county clerk to determine whether or not the voter has already voted. As with mails ballots, each provisional ballot is subject to a multi-tiered bipartisan review process and 99 percent of the time, Republican and Democrat EVBB members agree.

See here for more on the Early Voting Ballot Board. It should be noted, the signature they review on the mail ballots are on the envelope, before it is opened, so there’s no indication how the person in question voted. And if you’re wondering how it is they got their work completed so quickly, the answer is they didn’t – they had an early start, on October 14. The whole process took four weeks, but three of those weeks were before Election Day. Makes all the difference. Go read the rest.

Early voting starts today for District B runoff

At long last, the voters in District B will get to elect a new City Council member.

Here’s the Chron story.

Cynthia Bailey

Tarsha Jackson, a consultant and criminal justice organizer, and Cynthia Bailey, a neighborhood advocate, both aim to bring fresh, grassroots energy to the district. Jackson won 20.9 percent of the vote in the 14-candidate general election last November. Bailey came in second with 14.5 percent.

[…]

District B has been represented by Jerry Davis, who faced a term limit last year, for nine years. It has the second-highest concentration of Black residents in the city (47 percent), stretching from historic neighborhoods such as Kashmere Gardens and Greater Fifth Ward to Acres Homes and Greenspoint.

Early voting begins Wednesday, pauses for Thanksgiving and resumes Nov. 30 through Dec. 8.

Jackson has the institutional and financial edge. The progressive organization she used to work for, the Texas Organizing Project, is supporting her bid. Jackson has $21,000 in campaign cash to Bailey’s $3,000, according to the most recent campaign finance filings.

Bailey, though, proved a gritty campaigner last year, surprising other candidates in the field by reaching the runoff. She is known to some as the “Mayor of Settegast.”

Tarsha Jackson

Jackson, 49, was thrust into activism and organizing after her son was arrested for kicking a teacher in elementary school.

She helped advocate for reform legislation in 2007 that ensured young people would not be sent to state jail for misdemeanors. Jackson ultimately became Harris County criminal justice director for TOP, which aims to mobilize Black and Latino communities across the state.

As an organizer, she has been involved in Harris County’s historic bail settlement, has called on the city to end what she calls a “debtors’ prison” system that can jail people for failing to pay fines, and this summer led a report of recommendations for police reform.

Jackson hopes to bring that activist spirit to City Hall on council.

She said the defining issue for District B is poverty. District B has the poorest median household income ($33,257) in the city. Nearly 40 percent of the district’s roughly 193,000 residents live in a household that brings in less than $25,000 per year.

“I’ve watched my communities be left behind in all areas. Infrastructure, jobs, the schools that I went to,” Jackson said. “Once we start addressing income disparities, getting people to work, that’s going to start fixing some of the issues.”

For that reason, Jackson said a top priority would be job training. She plans to push for stronger community benefit agreements when the city gives tax incentives to developers. Those deals can include provisions about hiring local workers, including affordable housing and funding for community programs.

“Let’s make sure we’re benefiting from the dollars we’re putting out,” Jackson said.

Another priority would be flooding and illegal dumping. Jackson said she would push for more regular maintenance and cleanings for drainage ditches and bayous, and seek to broaden access to dump sites, which she said require a driver’s license and matching electricity bill. Many renters lack those documents, which contributes to dumping, she said.

I did an interview with Cynthia Bailey in November of 2019, which was intended for that year’s December runoff. That was before all the craziness about her eligibility to be on the ballot and the long drawn-out legal process that finally wrapped up a couple of months ago. I don’t know how relevant this is now, given how much has changed since we spoke, but here it is:

I did make contact at the time with Tarsha Jackson for an interview as well, but by the time we connected the runoff had already been pushed back, and we agreed to try again later once the legal maneuvering had ended. That didn’t happen, as I did not get back to her, so this is the best I can do.

The PDF map of early voting locations is here, along with the times they will be open. Note that there are also runoffs for the cities of Baytown, Humble, La Porte, and Nassau Bay, and there is at least one EV location in each of those places. There are also three drive-through EV locations, two in District B and one in Baytown. Get out there and vote while you can.

Counties of interest, part four: Around Bexar

Part 1 – Counties around Harris
Part 2 – Counties around Dallas/Tarrant
Part 3 – Counties around Travis

Pop quiz, hotshot: Close your eyes, or cover the table below, and name for me the seven counties that border Bexar. Go ahead, I’ll wait.


County       Romney    Obama    Trump  Clinton    Trump    Biden    Shift
=========================================================================
Atascosa      7,461    5,133    8,618    4,651   12,020    5,865   -3,827
Bandera       7,426    1,864    8,163    1,726   10,050    2,503   -1,985
Comal        39,318   11,450   45,136   14,238   62,260   24,369  -10,023
Guadalupe    33,117   15,744   36,632   18,391   47,423   28,706   -1,344
Kendall      14,508    3,043   15,700    3,643   20,064    6,008   -2,591
Medina       11,079    4,784   12,085    4,634   15,599    6,731   -2,573
Wilson       12,218    4,821   13,998    4,790   18,457    6,350   -4,710

Unless you’re a true geography nerd, or just a very aware (or well-traveled) resident of the area, I’m guessing you didn’t get all seven. Comal, which you pass through on your way to Austin, and Guadalupe, to the east as you travel I-10 to or from Houston, are the gimmes. They’re also the two largest, with Comal and more recently Guadalupe blending into Bexar from a development perspective. I’ve talked a lot about Comal County, which has tripled in population since 1990 and which puts up big numbers for the Republican Party; I call it Montgomery County’s little brother, but it’s doing its best to try to catch up. I think it feels a little to me like Montgomery because it’s also this booming suburb a few miles away from the big city, with enough distance to be its own separate entity but with any remaining vacant space between them rapidly vanishing.

Guadalupe, on the other hand, feels more remote to me because for most of my time in Texas, there was very little between Seguin and Loop 1604, and even then there wasn’t much between 1604 and Loop 410. That change is more recent, and to my eyes more dramatic since I don’t travel that way all that often and had just been very used to the former emptiness. It’s really interesting to me that while Comal is still getting redder, Guadalupe is more or less holding in place, with Republican growth only slightly outpacing Democratic growth as its population has blossomed. Guadalupe feels more rural to me while Comal feels more suburban, but maybe that’s because I’ve spent much more time in New Braunfels (I have family there) than in Seguin. I’d love to hear more about this from anyone in this part of the state.

I just don’t know much about the other counties, from the north through the west and around to the south and southeast of Bexar. I’ve been to Kendall (in particular, the town of Boerne) and Bandera, but not since the 80s. Kendall and Medina seem like long-term candidates for suburban sprawl, as both have a piece of I-10 and Medina has I-35 running through it. I know nothing at all about Wilson and Atascosa. I’m going to stop here because I don’t want to babble, but again if someone reading this can tell us more about the future prospects in these counties, please do so.

We might get better Census apportionment data

Some good news.

The Census Bureau has identified issues in the data from the 2020 decennial census that will take an additional 20 days or so for it to fix, and thus delay the release of survey’s apportionment data until after President Trump leaves office, TPM has learned.

According to a person inside the Census Bureau, the additional time it will take to reprocess the data in question has pushed back the target date for release of the state population counts until Jan. 26 – Feb. 6.

That would mean President-elect Joe Biden will be in the White House when the Census Bureau delivers to him the numbers for him to transmit to Congress for the purposes of determining how many House seats each state will get for the next decade.

President Trump had been seeking to exclude undocumented immigrants from that count, with a policy that several lower courts have deemed illegal in rulings Trump is hoping the Supreme Court will overturn. Excluding undocumented immigrants from that count would decrease the House seats given to immigrant-rich states like California, and increase the representation for whiter, more Republican parts of the country.

The issues that the Census Bureau has identified in the data are standard for any census, the source told TPM, and it is routine for the Census Bureau to have to do this kind of reprocessing.

Shortly after this story was published, Census Director Steve Dillingham confirmed the “anomalies” in a statement to TPM that made no explicit mention of how fixing them will impact the timeline for releasing the data.

“During post-collection processing, certain processing anomalies have been discovered. These types of processing anomalies have occurred in past censuses. I am directing the Census Bureau to utilize all resources available to resolve this as expeditiously as possible. As it has been all along, our goal remains an accurate and statistically sound Census,” Dillingham said.

I don’t know if that puts an end to the ongoing Census shenanigans, but anything that takes the process out of the Trump administration’s hands is a good thing.

Counties of interest, part three: Around Travis

Part 1 – Counties around Harris
Part 2 – Counties around Dallas/Tarrant

Travis County has been at the forefront of the Democratic renaissance in Texas, punching well above its weight with both performance and turnout. Its blue essence has been spilling over its borders into its neighbor counties, and overall the picture here is as bright as you’ll see anywhere. Let’s have a look:


County       Romney    Obama    Trump  Clinton    Trump    Biden    Shift
=========================================================================
Bastrop      14,033    9,864   16,328   10,569   20,486   15,452     -865
Blanco        3,638    1,220    4,212    1,244    5,429    1,905   -1,106
Burnet       12,843    3,674   14,638    3,797   18,721    5,615   -3,937
Caldwell      6,021    4,791    6,691    4,795    7,975    6,536     -209
Hays         31,661   25,537   33,826   33,224   47,427   59,213   17,910
Williamson   97,006   61,875  104,175   84,468  138,649  142,457   38,939

Williamson and Hays get all the ink, and they certainly present opportunities for further growth. I believe the same dynamic is here as it is in Dallas and Collin/Denton, which is that Travis County and all of its characteristics have simply expanded into the adjacent counties, making the distinction between the two, at least in the areas near the border, basically meaningless. I’ve long felt this about the southwest part of Harris County and Fort Bend. The numbers certainly bear it out.

Of great interest to me is that Bastrop and Caldwell counties took a step in the right direction in 2020, after going the wrong way in 2016. I was especially worried about Bastrop, home of Jade Helm hysteria, starting to slip away, but perhaps they too will begin to go the way of Hays as development from Travis creeps farther out along State Highway 71. Caldwell County was a pleasant surprise, as it is more of a rural county, and one I honestly hadn’t realized bordered Travis – you pass through Caldwell on I-10 between Houston and San Antonio – until I was reviewing the map I consulted for this post. Whatever happened in Caldwell in 2020 to get it moving in this direction, I approve.

That leaves Burnet and Blanco, both to the west and northwest of Travis. I haven’t been to Burnet since the 90s and may well be talking out of my ass here, but just looking at the geography, I could imagine some of the Travis overflow that had been going into Williamson going a little farther west into Burnet, and maybe that will blue it up a little. Just a guess, and even if there’s merit to it that’s likely not a short-term prospect. Until then, if Dem activist folks in Travis are looking for new worlds to conquer, I humbly suggest Burnet – and Bastrop, and Caldwell – as opportunities to consider.

Our nanny state and vote by mail applications

Sen. Paul Bettencourt purses his lips and wags his finger and is very disappointed in your county government.

Republican state lawmakers have filed bills to codify the Texas Supreme Court decision that blocked Harris County from sending mail ballot applications to all of its 2.4 million registered voters.

Senate Bill 208, authored by Sens. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston; Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe; Brian Birdwell; Bob Hall and Kel Seliger, would stop election officials from sending absentee ballot applications, regardless of eligibility. State Rep. Valoree Swanson, a Republican from Houston, filed a companion bill, House Bill 25.

“We must recognize the obvious that we didn’t need to mail 2M+ absentee ballot applications to registered voters in Harris County to have a record 11.2 million Texas voters cast their ballots in November,” Bettencourt said in a statement. “It is important to note that the 66.2% turnout in 2020 was without wasting taxpayer money by doing shotgun mailings to everyone on the voter roll.”

Harris County Clerk Christopher Hollins’ plan to do so, an attempt to make voting easier during the pandemic, was thwarted after the county’s Republican Party sued. The Texas Supreme Court ruled in early October that Hollins would be exceeding his authority, though two lower courts had previously approved of the mass mailings.

Hollins had already sent out nearly 400,000 applications to Harris County voters who were 65 and older by the time the suit arose. The proposed legislation filed this month would extend to even such mailings to eligible voters because they would prevent counties from sending any unsolicited mail ballot applications.

Emphasis mine. So that first sentence about codifying the State Supreme Court decision is misleading, since this bill would now prohibit something the Court explicitly allowed. Let’s be clear about that.

Let’s also be clear that there’s no valid justification for this bill. If the voters of Harris County don’t like the way that Commissioners Court appropriates and spends money, the voters of Harris County have a simple and direct way to express that disapproval. This is Paul Bettencourt and others expressing their disapproval of Harris County voters, because he has that power.

I’m sure there will be more bills like this one, and while most of them probably won’t pass I’ll be surprised if this one manages to fail. the good news, for what it’s worth, is that the Harris County Democratic Party can continue its very successful campaign of sending mail applications to its voters, then following up with them to ensure they get and return their mail ballots. I won’t be surprised if there’s some dropoff in mail voting in the next couple of elections, as people were motivated to vote by mail due to the pandemic, but I’d expect most of those voters to just go back to voting in person. This is a legislative temper tantrum, and it can some day be fixed, but don’t forget that it happened. Republicans like Paul Bettencourt want it to be hard to vote, and they will do what they can to make it hard to vote. We should make a bigger deal about this in our campaigns.

Beware color-coded county maps

I spotted this on Twitter the other day and it got me thinking:

A larger view of the embedded image is here. It was just barely large enough that I was able to compare it to my now-favorite map of Texas counties and figure out what most of those blue places are. (I didn’t work my way through all of them, for various reasons that included my eyesight and my sanity.) I snagged the Texas portion of that image, pasted it into Paint, doubled it in size, and then labeled some of the counties of interest. My handiwork, such as it is, is here. Take a look at that for a minute, then let’s come back and discuss the two main problems with imagery of this kind.

Ready? Problem number one is that you don’t get any sense of the absolute size of the shift, in either direction, from this image. Harris County, which I feel confident you can find even though I have unkindly drawn lines through it to point to other counties of interest, is rendered in medium blue, to show a 10-20 point shift in preference. But that shift represents over 200,000 total votes in favor of Democrats. That didn’t just help to carve into the overall vote lead that Republicans have had in the state, it has enabled Democrats to entirely flip county government, including the judiciary and numerous appellate benches, while also netting a Congressional seat and two State Rep seats. Contrast that to Starr County, which has gotten so much attention and which is among the dark red counties along the southern border, which moved about eight thousand votes towards Republicans. That shift was more significant at the Presidential level, by the way – it’s a bit less than a five thousand vote shift in the Senate and Railroad Commissioner races. Not nothing, and definitely a cause for concern for Democrats, but nowhere close to as substantial as the shift in Harris County. But you would never know that, and the color coding makes it even more misleading.

Problem two is related to problem one but manifests itself in a slightly different way. That problem is that this shift is about the percentage difference between 2012 and 2020. Before I get to the specifics, let me try to explain why this gives a distorted description of the problem with a sports example. Suppose the Texans are playing the Ravens. At the end of the first quarter, the Ravens lead 14-7, which is to say that the Ravens have scored 66.7% of the points in the game. In the second quarter, the Ravens score another touchdown and also add a field goal, while the Texans score a touchdown. That makes the score 24-14 at halftime, and it means that the Ravens scored only 58.9% of the points in the second quarter. Which, if you go by the math used in Nate Cohn’s map, a fifteen-point shift in the Texans’ favor – they went from being down 33 points in the first quarter to being down only eighteen points in the second quarter. Look at them mounting a comeback!

Except of course that on the actual scoreboard, the Ravens have extended their lead from seven points to ten points. The rate by which they are increasing their lead has slowed, but their lead is still growing. The Texans now have a larger deficit to overcome. Perhaps the trends are now in their favor, but the bottom line is that they’re still farther behind than they were before.

All that is why you should look at the light blue shift in Montgomery County, for example, with a cocked eyebrow. It is true, in 2012 Mitt Romney took 79.7% of the vote in Montgomery County to Barack Obama’s 19.0%, for a sixty point lead, while Donald Trump carried Montgomery by a mere 44 points, 71.2 to 27.4. But as we have discussed before, that translated into another 14K net votes for Republicans at the top of the ticket. The Democrats’ deficit continues to grow even as the Republicans’ rate of acceleration has declined. It’s comfort of the coldest kind. The same is very much true for Parker and Johnson counties, and for counties we have not yet discussed, like Comal and Medina and Ector and Midland.

It’s not all gloom and doom. In some places where the deficit increased, the rate of that increase dropped a lot, to the point where you could imagine it turning around in the next election. Lubbock County is an example of that – again, I’ll be going into that in more detail in a later post. In some counties, like Caldwell and Bastrop, there was actually a small gain between 2016 and 2020 after a bigger drop from 2012 to 2016, so while the overall gap is still significant, the direction is what you want. Imagine the Texans winning the second quarter of our game 7-6, so that they now trail 20-14. Denton and Collin counties, which are dark blue in the Cohn map, are the canonical examples here, though Brazos County makes a nice showing as well. We’re still trailing, but you can see how we get to the lead from here.

I don’t want you to look too skeptically at every blue spot that isn’t immediately identifiable as a Dem beacon. Dems really don’t need to win too many counties to carry Texas some fine day, because of their massive advantage in the biggest counties. We don’t need Montgomery County to turn blue to win the state. We don’t even need it to be on a path to turning blue. We just need the gap between Republicans and Democrats to quit growing, and maybe shrink a little. One way we were able to turn Harris County blue was that we could rally Democrats in heavily Republican areas because they knew their votes were important to flipping (and now maintaining) the county as a Democratic bastion. In Montgomery, that task is abstracted out one level further – there aren’t any local candidates who are likely to win, at a district or county level, so the motivation has to come from your votes mattering at the state level. It’s a heavier lift, since those statewide candidates won’t be as well known locally and will likely not spend much if any time there campaigning, and I have tons of respect for the effort made in spite of those conditions. We need that in more places around the state.

Again, we have discussed some of this before, and will discuss it again soon. I’m now thinking I need to adapt my Presidential-level vote series on “surrounding counties” to the Senate and other statewide races. That ought to keep me busy for the next few weeks.

Before we go, one more example that highlights both of the issues I have identified in this post. Take a look at King County, east of Lubbock and north of Abilene (Taylor County). Who would have expected a blue shift in a place like that? Well, here are the numbers for King County in 2012 and 2020:


Romney  Obama  Romney%  Obama%  Margin
======================================
   139      5    95.9%    3.5%    92.4

 Trump  Biden   Trump%  Biden%  Margin
======================================
   151      8    95.0%    5.0%    90.0

There was one vote in 2012 for Libertarian Gary Johnson, and no third-party or write-in votes in 2020. This is what a “blue shift” in King County looks like. I’m sure I’m as impressed as you are.

A high level look at the changing suburbs

The Trib takes a broad and high-level look at what I’m digging into now.

Although they didn’t get the blue wave they expected, Democrats narrowed the gap with Republicans in five of the most competitive and populous suburban counties in Texas.

An analysis of the presidential vote in solidly suburban Collin, Denton, Fort Bend, Hays and Williamson counties, plus partly suburban Tarrant County, showed that Republicans went from an advantage of more than 180,000 total votes in those counties in 2016 to less than a thousand votes in 2020, according to the latest data.

“This was not, on a whole, a good night for Democrats, it’s not what they hoped,” said Sherri Greenberg, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s LBJ School of Public Affairs. “But Democrats did see some gains and some success flipping areas in the suburbs.”

[…]

Some of Democrats’ biggest gains happened in Central Texas. Williamson County, where Trump won by 9.7% four years ago, flipped in 2020 and went to Biden by just over 1%. Hays County, which Trump won by less than 1% in 2016, gave Biden a nearly 11% victory this year. Both counties also supported Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke in the 2018 midterm elections.

Greenberg said those two counties are a perfect example of the trend that is helping Democrats in the suburbs: a growing population, particularly in demographic groups that tend to be more left-leaning. Since 2010, Williamson County alone has added more than 160,000 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“You see a growing population, a younger population, highly educated. Those kinds of voters are moving towards the Democrats,” Greenberg said.

In the Greater Houston area, Fort Bend County, which supported Hillary Clinton in 2016, was even more favorable for Biden, who won by 37,000 votes, compared with Clinton’s roughly 17,000-vote margin in 2016.

Fort Bend’s population is 811,688, and 20% of the population is Asian, according to the U.S. census.

“That county has become pretty solidly Democratic, and that happened quickly,” Cross said. “And it’s because of these younger, more educated and more diverse voters. It’s an example of what the Asian American vote can change.”

In North Texas, in Denton and Collin counties, Republicans expanded their margins from the 2018 midterms, but compared with the 2016 presidential election, Democrats narrowed the gap: In Denton County, Trump’s 20% victory in 2016 shrunk to 8.1% this year, while his margin in Collin County fell from 16% to 4.6%.

Meanwhile in Tarrant County, where Fort Worth is surrounded by a tapestry of suburbs, counting is still ongoing, but the latest results show that Democrats might be able to flip the county.

Not all suburban counties became as competitive as Tarrant. In Montgomery County, north of Houston, where more than 270,000 people voted, Republicans still had a comfortable 44% margin in 2020, 7% less than in the 2016 presidential election.

All of this is true, and there are some nice charts in the story to look at, but it obscures a couple of points. One, with regard to Montgomery County, it’s not the percentage margin that matters, it’s the raw vote differential. Trump won Montgomery county by 104,479 votes in 2016. He won it by 118,969 votes in 2020. It’s nice that the second derivative of their growth curve is now negative, but we need to start shrinking that gap, not just slowing its acceleration. Joe Biden will end up about 650K votes behind Donald Trump. That’s about 160K votes closer than Hillary Clinton got. If we want to make it easier for Biden, or Kamala Harris, or someone else, in 2024, that’s the target. It’s preferable if Montgomery County is not making that job more difficult.

The other point is that this discussion leaves out too much. The reason I wanted to look at all the counties that surround the big urban areas is so we can be aware of the places that are growing into becoming like Montgomery – think Parker and Johnson Counties up north – as well as the small counties that punch well above their weight, like Chambers and Liberty. Maybe we don’t have a clear answer for those places yet, but we need to be thinking about them, and we need to make having a plan for them a priority. We’re just conceding too much ground otherwise.

Counties of interest, part two: Around the Metroplex

Part 1 – Counties around Harris

Dallas and Tarrant Counties are two big squares right next to each other, so I’m combining them into one post.


County       Romney    Obama    Trump  Clinton    Trump    Biden    Shift
=========================================================================
Collin      196,888  101,415  201,014  140,624  250,194  227,868   73,147
Denton      157,579   80,978  170,603  110,890  221,829  188,023   42,795
Ellis        39,574   13,881   44,941   16,253   56,651   27,513   -3,445
Johnson      37,661   10,496   44,382   10,988   54,523   16,418  -10,940
Kaufman      24,846    9,472   29,587   10,278   37,474   18,290   -3,810
Parker       39,243    7,853   46,473    8,344   61,584   12,789  -17,405
Rockwall     27,113    8,120   28,451    9,655   38,842   18,149   -1,700
Wise         17,207    3,221   20,670    3,412   26,986    4,953   -8,047

Most of the attention goes to Collin and Denton counties, for good reason. Even as they stayed red this year, they have shifted tremendously in a blue direction. Basically, a whole lot of Dallas has spilled over the county lines, and the result is what you’d expect. There’s not a whole lot to say here – demography, time, and continued organizing should do the trick.

But once you get past those two counties, it’s a whole lot of red. The Republicans have netted more total votes since 2012 from the other six counties than the Dems have from Denton. Parker County, west of Tarrant, home of Weatherford, ninety percent white and over eighty percent Republican, more than twice as populous now as it was in 1990, is A Problem. Johnson County, south of Tarrant and with nearly identical demographics as Parker while also growing rapidly, is right behind it.

I don’t know that there’s much to be done about those two. There does appear to be more promise in Ellis (south of Dallas, home of Waxahachie), Kaufman (southeast of Dallas), and Rockwall counties. The first two are slightly less white than Parker and Johnson, and all three saw enough growth in Democratic voters in 2020 (at least at the Presidential level; we’ll need to check back on other races) to mostly offset the growth in Republican voting. It’s almost certainly the case that proximity to Dallas County is better for Democratic prospects than proximity to Tarrant. Again, that doesn’t address a big part of the problem, but it at least provides a place to start.

I don’t have a whole lot more to offer, so I’m interested in hearing what my readers from this part of the state have to say. I’ll be honest, I had not given any thought to the geography of this before I started writing these posts. Hell, in most cases I had to do some research to know which counties to look up. I hope that by doing so I’ve helped you think about this.

Please stop with the straight ticket voting anecdotes

Either bring me some real data or leave these just so stories alone.

Rep. Sarah Davis

Judging from Donald Trump’s unpopularity in Dallas County, Morgan Meyer and Angie Chen Button should have been doomed this November.

Meyer and Button are the only two remaining Republican state House members in the state’s second-most-populous county, where former Vice President Joe Biden’s margin over Trump was nearly 32 percentage points.

The margins were slimmer in Button’s and Meyer’s districts: Biden won Button’s district by 9 percentage points and Meyer’s by 14.

Still, the two Republicans will be returning to the Texas House next year. According to unofficial vote counts as of Friday, Button eked out a win by 223 votes. (Her Democratic opponent, Brandy K. Chambers, conceded last week, saying she won’t call for a recount.) Meyer won by a larger, but still narrow, margin of 1,634 votes.

What appears to have been their lifeline was a willingness of some Texas voters to split their tickets, rejecting Trump but nonetheless pulling the levers for the Republican Party’s other candidates. And it may have been aided by lawmakers’ decision to eliminate straight-ticket voting in the state, starting with this year’s election.

“Republicans are probably breathing a sigh of relief that they didn’t invite people to take the easy way out” and do straight-ticket voting, said Sam Martin, an associate professor at Southern Methodist University. “The decision to end straight-ticket voting came at exactly the right moment for them.”

“It gives conservatives the opportunity to vote against Trump, but stick with their team,” Martin said.

Republicans weren’t the only beneficiaries of split tickets, however: State Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, and Eddie Morales Jr., who will replace state Rep. Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass, won their Democrat-held seats near the Texas-Mexico border after Trump carried each district by more than 50% of the vote share.

You know who wasn’t a beneficiary of the removal of the straight ticket option? Sarah Davis, who was ousted this year after winning in 2018, in a district that Beto O’Rourke carried with 60% of the vote, with the straight ticket option still available. This year she had a better opponent, and enough voters decided it was time for a change.

The issue is not the straight ticket option. People always had the ability to hit the straight ticket button and then change whatever votes they want to. They also had the option of not using it. People who wanted to vote a straight ticket, whether that meant pushing one button or 54 buttons (as was the case in Harris County this year), did so. It just took them longer. As the story notes later on, there are just fewer people who see value in splitting their tickets these days. If you want to lament that, I say place your blame on Newt Gingrich and Mitch McConnell. In the meantime, this horse is dead. Please stop hitting it.

Counties of interest, part one: Around Harris

There’s been so much focus in the past couple of years about the suburbs and how their traditional voting patterns have changed. I wanted to use the election results we have to take a closer look at what that means. My approach is to look at the results in the counties that surround the large urban counties in Texas, and see what we can infer from the Presidential election data since 2012. A few things to note before we get started.

– I will be looking at the counties that border Harris, Dallas/Tarrant, Travis, and Bexar. I’m skipping El Paso because there’s only one county in the state that is adjacent to it.

– I’m using Presidential results from 2012, 2016, and 2020. As we have discussed, this is only one dimension to the data, but I want to keep this fairly simple. We can discern direction from these numbers, and that’s good enough for these purposes.

– I’m going back to 2012 to provide some extra context. I could have gone back further, and maybe I will take a look at trends since 2004 in some counties at a later date, but I think keeping this study to after the 2010 election, when rural areas gave up the pretense of supporting Democrats at any level, makes more sense.

– In the chart below and in subsequent posts, “Shift” is the change in net votes from a Democratic perspective, from 2012 to 2020. A positive number means Democrats did better in 2020 than in 2012, and a negative number means Republicans did better. So for example, Obama trailed in Brazoria County by 36,431 votes, but Biden trailed by 28,159 votes, so a shift in the Democrat direction by 8,282 votes. Obama lost Chambers County by 8,997 votes, Biden lost it by 13,346 votes, so a shift of 4,329 away from Dems. Make sense?

All right. Let’s start with the seven counties that border Harris County.


County       Romney    Obama    Trump  Clinton    Trump    Biden    Shift
=========================================================================
Brazoria     70,862   34,421   72,791   43,200   89,939   61,780    8,282
Chambers     11,787    2,790   13,339    2,948   17,343    3,997   -4,349
Fort Bend   116,126  101,144  117,291  134,686  157,595  195,191   52,578
Galveston    69,059   39,511   73,757   43,658   93,306   58,247   -5,511
Liberty      17,323    5,202   18,892    4,862   23,288    5,779   -5,388
Montgomery  137,969   32,920  150,314   45,835  193,224   74,255  -13,920
Waller        9,244    6,514   10,531    5,748   14,206    8,130   -3,346

The first thing that should be clear is that just because a county borders a big urban county, that doesn’t mean it’s suburban. For sure Montgomery and Fort Bend and Brazoria and Galveston meet that definition, though all four of those counties also have some very rural areas, but I daresay no one thinks of Chambers or Liberty or Waller that way. Yet while the first four are seen as places of booming population growth, the other three are doing their share of growing, too. Chambers County has doubled in population since 1990. Waller County has more than doubled in that timespan. Liberty County is up by almost 75%.

But they’re still small. None has a city with more than ten thousand people in it, so they don’t have much in common with the other counties. Maybe it’s different for you, but while I personally know plenty of people in Brazoria, Fort Bend, Galveston, and Montgomery Counties, I know all of one in the other three. I drive through Waller now and then on my way to Austin or to Camp Allen when my daughters were going there, but I couldn’t tell you the last time I was in Chambers or Liberty.

I say all this to note that while Montgomery is the driving force behind the Republican strength in this area, with Galveston right behind it thanks to places like Friendswood and League City, the other three counties have increased the Republican bottom line over the past few elections by a significant amount as well, with far fewer people in them. Jane Robinson would be the incoming Chief Justice of the 14th Court of Appeals if Chambers County had had the same numbers in 2020 as they had in 2016. It makes a difference.

Part of the reason I’m doing this is just to highlight the places where we’re losing ground, if only so we can be aware of it. We’ve got our arms around Fort Bend County, and Brazoria is starting to head in the right direction. Montgomery and Galveston are problems, but we have infrastructure in those places, and just by virtue of being suburban I have some reason to think we’ll get to a turning point. I have no idea what exists in the other three counties to promote Democratic policies or candidates. We need a strategy for these places, and the resources to carry it out. We don’t need to win them – we’re no more likely to win Chambers than we are to win Montgomery any time soon – but we at least need to keep up with Republican voter growth.

That’s a theme I’m going to return to more than once a I proceed through these. I don’t pretend to know what the right answers are, I’m just trying to make sure we know there are problems that need to be addressed. I hope you find this helpful.

The poll workers’ stories

Some good news.

With a record 2,431,457 registered voters on the rolls in Harris County, there were several reasons poll workers expected a huge turnout and they got it, but not on Election Day.

Two judges working two of the locations in northwest Harris County with the largest turnouts in the county both saw voters take advantage of extra days and utilize extended hours for voting.

“It was impressive the number of people who turned out,” said John Baucum who served as precinct judge at the city of Jersey Village location.

Harris County set a record for the total number of voters ever participating in an election with 1,649,573 casting ballots, but it fell just shy in the percentage of registered voters who showed up at the polls with 67.84 percent.

The last time a presidential race garnered more than 70 percent of the voters in Harris County was in 1992 when Bill Clinton defeated incumbent President George W. Bush. At least 71.68 percent or 942,636 of the 1,315,010 registered voters cast their vote in the election.

While the voter rolls have increased almost twice that number since 1992, participation seems to be on an uptick and so is early voting.

“Yes, it’s the most voters we’ve ever had,” confirmed Roxanne Werner, director of community relations for Harris County Clerk Chris Collins.

[…]

Baucum said he believed the process in his precinct was fair.

“Voting day, when they come into that center, you want them to know that their vote counts, that the process was fair, and their ballot was in secret. I think as a team we make sure that it happens,” he said.

Baucum was grateful for his staff who worked tirelessly to ensure a fair election.

One of the difficulties with staffing, especially on election day, is securing rare interpreters.

“We have to be prepared for any voter to walk in,” he said. “Before countywide voting, we would have a Spanish and English interpreter, and maybe in southwest Houston you might have had a Chinese or Vietnamese interpreter, now we’re required to have all of them. We were able to have all of those plus one of our clerks spoke Portuguese and German,” he said. “We were probably overprepared.”

“Those are the challenges you see with countywide voting. We’ve been able to find the people to fill those spots,” he said.

For Matt Harris, serving as an alternate judge for the Richard and Meg Weekley Community Center was exciting since the location led the county in early voting with 29,810.

“This was my first time. It was an interesting experience. I’m glad I did it and I’ll probably continue to do it,” he said. “I think it’s important for my age group to be involved in the process.”

The 38-year-old moved to Texas from Illinois a decade ago in search of job opportunities.

“My wife graduated from college right after the recession hit Illinois really hard. We tried things there for a while, but nothing panned out,” he said.

They pulled up roots and moved to the Houston area where they found 30-40 postings for her job versus only two or three for the same in Illinois.

He took the training for being a precinct judge twice.

“Originally I was scheduled to work the primaries in March and didn’t get to and did the training a second time which was very helpful,” he said.

He also received a reference manual which provided invaluable information for judges.

He said the Weekley Center has been a voting location for at least the 10 years he’s lived in the area.

Until he moved to Texas, he really wasn’t involved in politics so much.

“I always pushed it to the side because it’s (Illinois) always been a blue state and I’m conservative,” he said.

As we now know, final turnout was 1,656,686 after provisional ballots were cured. Both of the election workers quoted are Republicans, and as you can see they both thought the process was fair, accessible, and generally well done. It would be nice if some of our Republican leaders felt that way, too. Honestly, if the Chron wants to talk to a couple of election workers and let them tell their stories every week till we run out of them, that would be fine with me. The single best thing to come out of this election – OK, the second best thing – was the joy and enthusiasm so many people had for participating in it, for feeling like their votes mattered and their voices were heard. I’ve lived my entire life in an atmosphere of cynicism and detachment towards our democracy, and this is the first time I can recall it being more cool to be into it than to be sarcastic about it. It’s better this way.

A closer look at county races, Part 2

Part One is here. As before, this is about taking a closer look at the counties where Democrats made gains from 2016.

Collin County: Our reach may have exceeded our grasp, but it’s important to note that progress was made. A quick recap, comparing 2016:


CD03: 61.2% - 34.6%
Statewides: GOP 59-62%, Dem 32-35%
HD33: 62.6% - 34.1%
HD66: 57.4% - 38.7%
HD67: 56.6% - 39.7%
HD70: 67.1% - 28.5%
HD89: 63.5% - 32.7%

No candidates for District Court, Commissioner’s Court, countywide offices, or Constable. One candidate for Justice of the Peace.

To 2020:


CD03: 55.1% - 42.9%
Statewides: GOP 54-57%, Dem 42-44%
HD33: 59.0% - 41.0%
HD66: 49.6% - 48.9%
HD67: 51.7% - 48.3%
HD70: 61.8% - 38.2%
HD89: 59.4% - 38.5%

Candidates for seven of nine District Court benches (all in the 42-44% range), County Tax Assessor (41%), and both Commissioners Court seats (41% and 39%).

Still no candidates for any of the four Constable races. Hard to say how competitive any of them might have been, at least until a full canvass is available, but in Constable Precinct 3, the unopposed Republican got 115K votes, with 88K undervotes. Given that unopposed candidates always get more votes than candidates with major party opponents, this was probably not far from a 50-50 race. I’d be eyeing this office in 2024 if I’m a Collin County Democrat. Overall, a shift of about six or seven points down for the GOP and up for the Dems.

Denton County: Same basic story as Collin, except that we held the one State Rep race we won in 2018. Here’s the same presentation, for 2016:


CD24: 53.7% - 42.0%
CD26: 65.2% - 30.7%
Statewides: GOP 60-62%, Dem 32-34%
HD63: No Dem
HD64: 61.6% - 38.4%
HD65: 56.3% - 43.7%
HD106: No Dem

One candidate for District Court (36.3%), no candidates for any county race.

And 2020


CD24: 45.9% - 50.4%
CD26: 59.5% - 38.4%
Statewides: GOP 55-58%, Dem 40-43%
HD63: 67.4% - 32.6%
HD64: 54.9% - 45.1%
HD65: 48.5% - 51.5%
HD106: 58.5% - 41.5%

Still just one candidate for District Court, getting 42.6%. Both County Commissioner races were challenged, but still no candidates for any of the six Constable spots. Here I can’t say which if any may have been competitive, as the election night returns don’t tell me the undervotes. No matter how you look at it, you want to get some Dem candidates in these races, to help with downballot turnout.

Hays County: Like Williamson, a flip to Dems, with some downballot success as well. The big prize here was HD45, where Rep. Erin Zwiener knocked off incumbent Jason Isaac in 2018, two years after Isaac had been unopposed for re-election. Rep. Zwiener easily held on against Carrie Isaac, winning with 53.3% of the vote. In 2016, Lamar Smith took the CD21 portion of Hays 53-39, Roger Williams won the CD25 portion of Hays 60-35, and statewide Republicans won with 47-49% over Dems with scores in the 40-44% range. Rebecca Bell-Metereau lost in SBOE5 49-46. There was one District Court race, with an unopposed Republican, the Democratic candidate for Sheriff lost by 13 points, and there was no Dem running for Tax Assessor. There were a mix of Dem and GOP winners, some unopposed, for Commissioners Court, Justice of the Peace, and Constable.

In 2020, Wendy Davis took the CD21 piece 49-46, while Julie Oliver held Roger Williams to a 57-41 edge. (There’s also a piece of CD35 in Hays County. Pound for pound, Hays is at least as sliced up at the Congressional level as Travis County is.) Statewide Dems were now universal winners in Hays, ranging from Chrysta Castaneda’s 49.8% to Elizabeth Frizell’s 53.1%. Rebecca Bell-Metereau won in SBOE5 50.5% to 44.8%. Hays County now had a second District Court seat, won by a Democrat, and a new County Court at Law seat, also won by a Dem. The same Republican judge who was unopposed in 2016 was unopposed in 2020 as well. Dems now had challengers for both Sheriff and Tax Assessor, and while they both lost it was 51-49 in each. Dems had a challenger for Commissioners Court in Precinct 3, losing 52-48 after not contesting the position in 2016. The Dem Constable who won Precinct 2 by 110 votes in 2016 was re-elected by 2,500 votes in 2020. I’d say Hays is a bit like Harris County in 2012, where Dems are the majority but they do better at the top of the ticket, and aren’t quite able to knock out Republican countywide officeholders. There are definitely opportunities here going forward.

Brazoria County: This is more a story of stasis than progress. Trump carried Brazoria County by 29K votes in 2016, and he carried it by 28K votes in 2020. I’d rather go this direction than the other one, but we’re not getting anywhere at that rate. If we pull the curtain back a little farther, here’s the margin of victory in Brazoria County for the Republican Presidential candidate in each election since 2004: 34,758 (04), 29,035 (08), 36,441 (12), 29,591 (16), 28,159 (20). The long-term arc is fine, it’s just slow.

Republican statewides won the county with leads in the 30-34K range in 2016, and roughly the same in 2020. The percentages are closer, because that’s how ratios work, but the absolute difference in votes is more or less the same. That’s why I always aim to report both figures in posts like this, because you need both dimensions to understand what is really happening. For what it’s worth, Sri Kulkarni lost the CD22 portion of Brazoria by 6K votes after Mark Gibson lost it by 14K in 2016, but in the end that didn’t amount to much. I see Brazoria as being similar to Fort Bend twenty years ago, with a lot of work needed to move it in the same direction that Fort Bend has gone.

That’s all I’ve got for this exercise. There are some opportunities out there, but nothing can be taken for granted. Broadly speaking, the key is to run candidates in these downballot races – for one, there’s winnable contests out there, and for two, this is a key component to building a bench of future candidates. And not to put too fine a point on it, but as we have seen in Harris County, having a good county government is a big win on its own.

A closer look at county races, Part 1

In this series of entries, I’m going to take a trip through the local election results pages on some counties of interest, to get a closer look at how they went this year and how that compares to 2016. We know Dems didn’t make the kind of gains they hoped for in Congress or the Lege, but there are other races on the ballot. How did things look there?

Harris County: We know the basic story of Harris County, where Republicans have claimed to get their mojo back. I’m not going to re-litigate that, but I will note that while things were mostly at stasis at the countywide and legislative levels, Dems flipped JP Precinct 5, long held by Republicans, though Constable Precinct 5 remained Republican. Beto carried all eight JP/Constable precincts in 2018, and while Biden only carried six in 2020, there still remain opportunities for Dems to win offices currently held by Republicans in Harris County.

Tarrant County: At a macro level, Dems were far more competitive in judicial races in 2020 than they were in 2016. None of the statewide judicial candidates got as much as 41% of the vote in 2016, while the range for statewide judicials in 2020 was 46.13% to 47.91%. In 2016, Dems fielded only one candidate for a district court bench; he lost by 15 points. In 2020, Dems challenged in 9 of 11 district court plus one county court race, with all candidates getting between 46 and 48 percent. This is basically where Harris County Democrats were in 2004, with more candidates in these races.

A little farther down the ballot, and Democrats flipped two Constable offices, in Precincts 2 and 7. Neither Republican incumbent had been challenged in 2016.

Fort Bend County: We know the topline, that Hillary Clinton won Fort Bend County in 2016, by a 51-45 margin. But there was no downballot effect – none of the statewide Democratic candidates won a plurality (all statewide candidates were below fifty percent). None of the Courts of Appeals candidates won, and none of the countywide candidates won, though most were around 48 or 49 percent. State Rep. Phil Stephenson won the Fort Bend part of HD85 by six points. Republicans won back County Commissioner Precinct 1 by finally running an untainted candidate against two-term incumbent Richard Morrison. Fort Bend was on the precipice, but it seemed like it had been there before.

As we know, Democrats broke through in a big way in 2018, and 2020 was more of the same. It’s not just that Biden carried Fort Bend by over ten points. It’s that every statewide Dem took a majority in Fort Bend, as did every Courts of Appeals candidates and every countywide candidate. Dems did not win back CC1, though challenger Jennifer Cantu did a smidge better than Morrison had done, but they did win the Constable race in Precinct 4; this was an open seat, as previous incumbent Trever Nehls ran unsuccessfully for Sheriff. Nehls had been unopposed in 2016.

Bexar County: Bexar is reliably blue at this point, and Biden’s 58-40 win is almost exactly in line with the October countywide poll we got. The big difference I see between Bexar 2020 and Bexar 2016 is in the legislative races. Phillip Cortez won HD117 back in 2016 by two and half points after having been swept out in the 2014 debacle. He won in 2020 by over 13 points. Tomas Uresti won HD118 in 2016 by ten points; Leo Pacheco won it in 2020 by seventeen. Rebecca Bell-Metereau lost the Bexar portion of SBOE5 in 2016 by 42K votes; she lost it by 24K votes in 2020, which is to say by 18K fewer votes. She won the district by 17K total votes, mostly boosted by Travis County, but she needed it to be closer in Bexar and it was. By the same token, Sen. Carlos Uresti won the Bexar portion of SD19 over challenger Pete Flores in 2016 by 34K votes. Incumbent Pete Flores lost the Bexar portion of SD19 to Roland Gutierrez by 33K votes, and he needed that margin to be as good as it was considering how the rest of the district went for Flores by 23K; Uresti had won the rest of the district by 3K in 2016. However you feel about the 2020 election in Texas, you would feel much worse about it if Rebecca Bell-Metereau had lost and Pete Flores had hung on. So thank you, Bexar County.

Williamson County: WilCo made news in 2018 when Beto carried the county, with MJ Hegar doing the same in CD31. I’ll get to the 2020 results in a minute, but first let’s remind ourselves where things were in 2016. Trump won WilCo by nine points over Hillary Clinton, John Carter beat Mike Clark in CD31 by 19 points, other statewide Republicans led by 16 to 19 points, and Tom Maynard led in SBOE10 by 16 points. State Rep. Larry Gonzalez had only a Libertarian opponent in HD52, Rep. Tony Dale won HD136 by eleven points. Republicans running for countywide office were all unopposed. The one Democratic victory was for County Commissioner, Precinct 1, which Terry Cook took with 51%.

Fast forward to 2020. Biden won Williamson County by about a point and a half – more than ten points better than Clinton in 2016. As with Tarrant County, his win was a solo at the county level, but the Democratic tide was much higher. Hegar lost to John Cornyn by three points, Donna Imam by five in CD31, and the other statewide Dems trailed by three to seven points. Tom Maynard carried WilCo in SBOE10 again, but only by four points. Dems had flipped HDs 52 and 136 in the 2018 wave, and both freshmen Reps were easily re-elected, James Talarico by three points in HD52, and John Bucy by 10 in HD136. Dems lost the two District Court races they challenged, and they lost for County Attorney, but they did oust the scandal-tainted Sheriff, by a massive 12 points. Terry Cook was re-elected as County Commissioner in Precinct 1 with over 57%, and Dems won Constable Precinct 1, while coming close in Precincts 3 (losing by five) and 4 (losing by two). It’s not at all hard to see Williamson as the next Fort Bend.

The point of all this is twofold. One is a reminder that there are more races than just the state races, and there’s more ways to measure partisan strength than just wins and losses. The other is that these much less visible races that Dems are winning is exactly what Republicans were doing in the 80s and 90s and into the aughts. Every election it seemed like I was reading about this or that traditionally Democratic county that had gone all Republican. There is a trend here, and we’d be foolish to ignore it. To be sure, this is happening in fewer counties than with the Republican march of the previous decades, but there’s a lot more people in these counties. I’ll take population over land mass any day.

I’ll be back with a look at more counties next time. Let me know what you think.

UPDATE: While I was drafting this, I received a press release from the TDP congratulating three Democratic Sheriffs-elect, all of whom had won offices previously held by Republicans: Eric Fagan in Fort Bend, Mike Gleason in Williamson – both of which were mentioned in this post – and Joe Lopez of Falls County, which is adjacent to McLennan and Coryell counties to the east; basically, it’s east of Waco. Falls was Republican at the Presidential level, with Trump carrying it 4,177 to 1,899, so I assume there was some reason particular to that race that assisted Lopez in his victory.

The “blue spine” and the rural counties

Point:

For the third consecutive election cycle, Democrats saw their advantage over Republicans grow in the 21 counties along Interstate 35, allowing them to further chip into the Republican dominance that has lasted for nearly three decades. The result was Joe Biden won over 46 percent of the vote in Texas, joining Texas native Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter as the only Democrats to get over 45 percent of the vote in Texas in a presidential race in 56 years.

A key reason for Biden’s performance in Texas is what is happening along I-35 from Laredo, through San Antonio and Austin and up to the Dallas Metroplex.

It’s not a mystery. U.S. Census data shows a shift toward a more diverse, better educated and wealthier electorate since 2010, changes that favor Democrats.

Along I-35, Biden flipped traditionally red counties like Tarrant, Williamson and Hays, and did vastly better in Travis, Dallas and Bexar counties than Hillary Clinton did just four years earlier.

This is a major departure from the way Texans in those counties voted over the previous two decades. Back in 2014, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican at the top of the ticket, won the same counties by a combined 346,000 votes.

Two years later. Clinton would win that stretch by just over 116,000 votes over President Donald Trump. Then 2018 Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke won it by 440,000 votes over U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

Biden pushed his lead in the blue spine this year to nearly 500,000 votes.

That is a swing of more than 800,000 votes from Republicans to Democrats and explains why, along with Harris County’s march to solid blue, the state has seen increasingly competitive races at the top of the ballot since George W. Bush won Texas by 22 percentage points in 2004.

I’ve covered some of this before, and there was a similar Trib story published at around the same time, because it’s fertile ground and a reminder that even in defeat, Dems have gained a lot of ground over the past decade. Disappointing as the results were this year, we shouldn’t forget that.

One more thing:

At the same time the I-35 corridor is getting more Democratic, Republicans are facing challenges with their base of support in West Texas and East Texas. Those regions simply are not growing as fast as I-35. In the Panhandle, the 27 counties with a combined 250,000 voters saw just a 4 percent increase in voter registrations over the last four years. But Hays and Williamson County, with a combined 500,000 voters, registrations have grown a combined 25 percent over the same period.

Also covered this, because the Republican strength in the rural areas is still quite formidable. Even if the longer-term trends are in the Dems’ favor – and as things stand now, they are – we could still be talking about a couple of Presidential cycles before the two lines intersect. The clearest way to speed that up is for the Dems to figure out how to narrow the gap in rural Texas rather than wait it out.

And so on that note, we have the counterpoint, about the Republican red wall in the many rural counties. This story was from the day before the election, so there wasn’t time to blog about it, but it contained this nugget that made me set the article aside and come back to it as part of my usual postmortem analysis.

Among Democrats, there’s optimism that Biden-backing allies in rural Texas could not only prevent Trump from recreating his overwhelming 2016 margins in white, working class areas, the kind of support that offset his losses in the suburbs and among voters of color four years ago, but also make Trump’s path to victory in Texas all the more difficult.

“I’m also seeing a pretty substantial uptick in folks volunteering with Democratic-adjacent organizations,” said Amy Hull, 42, who lives in Tarrant County. “It’s been interesting to see people who were pretty tuned out four years ago become unapologetic about their politics and determined to do everything possible to make our community, state and country government work better for everyone.”

Republicans could especially take heart in rural areas that have only grown more red in recent election cycles. Take for example Jones County, which includes part of Abilene and went for John McCain by 47 points in 2008, Mitt Romney by 55 points in 2012 and Trump by 65 points in 2016.

The county GOP chair, Isaac Castro, said there is “a lot more enthusiasm” for Trump in Jones County compared to four years ago, when some local Republicans had reservations about his conservative credentials.

“I really think that this year he’s probably going to do better,” Castro said, adding that he was not worried about Trump losing statewide. “You know, West Texas is going to be strong for him again.”

Here’s how the vote has gone in Jones County since 2008, updated to include this year:


Candidates    Votes     Pct
===========================
McCain        4,203  72.37%
Obama         1,528  26.31%
Margin        2,675  46.06%
Total         

Romney        4,262  76.56%
Obama         1,226  22.02%
Margin        3,036  54.54%
Total

Trump         4,819  80.86%
Clinton         936  15.70%
Margin        3,883  65.16%
Total        10,101

Trump         5,621  84.00%
Biden           989  14.78%
Margin        4,632  69.22%
Total         9,635

The SOS election returns pages did not list the total number of registered voters in Jones County in 2008 and 2012, so that figure is only there for the two most recent elections. The trend is clear, and it has netted the Republican Presidential candidate an extra two thousand votes since 2008, though as you can see Joe Biden at least added on to Hillary Clinton’s meager vote total from 2016. May not seem like much, but there are a lot of counties like Jones out there (keep that chart Michael Li posted in mind), and it all adds up.

I’m going to be taking a deeper dive into this over the next couple of weeks, so hopefully we will all become more familiar with this theme. I think there is room to improve for the Dems, which doesn’t mean winning these areas but being more competitive in them so as not to continue falling behind, but more importantly I think we have to improve in them. It’s easy to say that counties like Jones are running out of room to increase their Republican yield, but there’s no reason to think they’ve reached that point yet, and much of the low-hanging fruit in the big urban areas for Dems have been harvested, too. The first step is to make the commitment, and I’m going to do what I can to convince you that it needs to happen. Stay tuned.

Harris County posts updated election results

From Twitter:

You want to get my attention on Twitter, that’s a good way to do it. For comparison purposes, the unofficial final election night returns that the Clerk’s office sent out are here. The still-unofficial (because they haven’t yet been certified by Commissioners Court) results are here, though that URL may be temporary. A couple of highlights:

– Final turnout is now given as 1,656,686, an increase of 7,113 over the originally given total of 1,649,573. Turnout was 68.14% as a percentage of registered voters.

– Joe Biden’s lead over Donald Trump grew from 212,152 total votes to 217,563 total votes. The final score is now 918,193 to 700,630 for Biden.

– A couple of the close races changed by tiny amounts. Lizzie Fletcher’s margin of victory grew from 10,217 to 10,475 total votes. Jon Rosenthal lost 17 votes off his lead to Justin Ray to finish exactly 300 votes ahead, while Gina Calanni fell an additional 59 votes behind Mike Schofield.

– The two appellate court races cited by Adams-Hurta were of great interest to me. Amparo Guerra is leading on the SOS election night results page over Terry Adams by 1,367 votes out of 2.3 million votes cast. Meanwhile, Jane Robinson trailed Tracy Christopher by 4,311 votes. Could either of these races be affected? I had to check the other county election results pages as well, to see what final results were now in. This is what I got:


County       TC EN      JR EN      TC fin     JR fin   Change
=============================================================
Austin      11,440      2,680      11,606      2,698     -148
Brazoria    91,378     57,684      91,378     57,684        0
Chambers    17,200      3,720      17,200      3,720        0
Colorado     7,351      2,281       7,351      2,281        0
Fort Bend  161,423    176,466     161,532    176,662       87
Galveston   94,759     54,178      95,355     54,623     -151
Grimes       9,305      2,647       9,318      2,650     - 10
Harris     734,315    838,895     733,878    841,923    3,465
Waller      14,245      7,501      14,302      7,556     -  2
Washington  12,852      3,905      12,852      3,905        0

Total    1,154,268  1,149,957   1,154,772  1,153,702

County       TA EN      AG EN      TA fin     AG fin   Change
=============================================================
Austin      11,468      2,632      11,632      2,649     -147
Brazoria    91,430     57,174      91,430     57,174        0
Chambers    17,180      3,656      17,180      3,656        0
Colorado     7,393      2,217       7,393      2,217        0
Fort Bend  162,238    175,460     162,338    175,664      104
Galveston   95,057     53,375      95,643     53,820     -151
Grimes       9,351      2,570       9,364      2,572     - 11
Harris     728,402    842,905     727,952    845,951    3,496
Waller      14,303      7,459      14,364      7,508     - 12
Washington  13,043      3,784      13,043      3,784        0

Total    1,149,865  1,151,232   1,150,339  1,154,995

The first table is Tracy Christopher (TC) versus Jane Robinson (JR), the second is Terry Adams (TA) versus Amparo Guerra (AG). The first two columns represent the Election Night (EN) numbers as posted on their SOS pages, the second columns are the final numbers now posted on the county sites. Brazoria, Chambers, Colorado, and Washington still have their Election Night results up, so those have no changes. The Change column is from the Democratic candidates’ perspective, so a negative number means the Republican netted more votes.

Not surprisingly, the Harris results had the biggest effect, but in the end the winners were the same. Robinson now trails by an even smaller 1,070 vote margin, while Guerra has a bit more room to breathe with a 4,656 vote lead. Given the deltas in the other counties, my guess is that both Dems will see a small net loss. A real nail-biter in both cases, and it wouldn’t have taken much to change the outcomes. For what it’s worth, the two Dems who won these races this year were both Latinas, the two Dems that lost were not. Both Veronica Rivas Molloy and Amparo Guerra had larger leads in Harris County than Jane Robinson and Tamika Craft had, and that was what ultimately propelled them to victory. Maybe that would be different in a different years – Dems won all these races in 2018, remember – but this year it was consequential.

I suppose it’s possible there could be recounts in some of these races, but honestly, nothing is close enough to be changed. It’s a rare year that has no recounts, though, so we’ll see. Commissioners Court will certify the Harris County results on Tuesday, the statutory deadline.