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Election 2022

January 2023 campaign finance reports: Harris County

Previously: City of Houston

January 2022 reports are here, July 2022 reports are here. I did not get around to doing the 30-day and 8-day reports from 2022, so what you see here in these reports is not contiguous for those who were on last November’s ballot.

Lina Hidalgo, County Judge

Rodney Ellis, County Commissioner, Precinct 1
Adrian Garcia, County Commissioner, Precinct 2
Tom Ramsey, County Commissioner, Precinct 3
Lesley Briones, County Commissioner, Precinct 4

Kim Ogg, District Attorney
Christian Menefee, Harris County Attorney
Ed Gonzalez, Sheriff
Joe Danna, Sheriff
Ann Harris Bennett, Tax Assessor

Alan Rosen, Constable Precinct 1
Jerry Garcia, Constable Precinct 2
Sherman Eagleton, Constable Precinct 3
Mark Herman, Constable Precinct 4
Ted Heap, Constable Precinct 5
Sylvia Trevino, Constable Precinct 6
Phil Sandlin, Constable Precinct 8

Teneshia Hudspeth, County Clerk
Marilyn Burgess, District Clerk
Carla Wyatt, County Treasurer

Alexandra Mealer, County Judge
Jack Cagle (SPAC), County Commissioner, Precinct 4
Steve Radack


Name             Raised      Spent    Loans    On Hand
======================================================
Hidalgo         612,111  1,095,479  101,400     36,568

Ellis            40,800    443,116        0  3,543,358
Garcia, A       175,027    340,089        0    291,697
Ramsey          550,625    149,433        0    944,935
Briones         819,495    331,782        0    667,234

Ogg             161,659     19,356   48,489    242,159
Menefee          36,826     30,700        0    193,291
Gonzalez              0      4,032        0      9,258
Danna             1,983     19,814   18,452        982
Bennett               0      1,022        0     14,527

Rosen           717,202     84,691        0  1,322,398
Garcia           33,177      8,498        0     54,177
Eagleton         51,665     23,158  119,650     59,159
Herman                0     96,574        0    518,009
Heap                  0     69,735   18,880     68,808
Trevino           3,150      4,270        0     26,871
Sandlin          38,580     28,502        0     79,998

Hudspeth          4,660     22,009        0      9,952
Burgess             940     14,710    5,207      5,403
Wyatt             1,950      2,110        0      2,258

Mealer          356,684    621,482        0    188,512
Cagle            64,225    186,970        0      5,056
Radack                0     71,246        0    794,652

I included Mealer and Cagle for post-election inclusion mostly out of curiosity. Jack Morman did not have a report filed or I’d have included him as well. Cagle’s July report showed over a million bucks on hand. Life comes at you fast. (Except for Steve Radack, who still has a nice chunk of change in his account.) On the other side of that, you can see that Judge Hidalgo left it all on the field. She’ll have plenty of time to build that treasury back up; she did a pretty good job of that this cycle, so I’d expect to see her total tick up in short order. I didn’t look closely at new Commissioner Briones’ report, but I’d bet a nice lunch that a substantial chunk of her cash arrived after the election. It’s good to be a Commissioner.

I don’t think I’ve seen reports for District Attorney on the county election site before. DA is technically a state office – for smaller counties, the DA can cover several of them at once – so I’d normally expect to see them on the Texas Ethics Commission site. Not that I’m complaining. I figure it’s just a matter of time before incumbent DA draws a primary challenger or two, so we’ll want to keep an eye on her fundraising totals. Nothing else of great interest in this group – I’d expect both Ed Gonzalez and Christian Menefee to start posting bigger numbers soon. As for Joe Danna, is there ever a time when he isn’t running for Sheriff?

I don’t know if we will get Constable/JP redistricting, but there are always some interesting primary contests here, and even with the same maps we could have interesting November races in Precincts 4 and 5. Along those lines, I note two potential future Constable candidates: Don Dinh, a Deputy Constable in Precinct 1 since 2020 who was for 24 years before that a sergeant in the Fort Bend County Precinct 2 Constable’s office, filed a designation of treasurer to run for Constable in Precinct 5. I’m going to guess he’d run as a Democrat, but I can’t say for sure at this time. A William Wagner, about whom I could find nothing, filed the same for Constable in Precinct 7. He would almost surely run as a Dem in this heavily Democratic precinct.

Oh, and the second place where there might be a Democratic primary fight worth watching is in Precinct 1. Alan Rosen had his eye on the Sheriff’s office back when Ed Gonzalez was a nominee for head of ICE, but that’s off the table now. He may or may not seek to run for something else – do remember that the minute he says something to that effect he’ll have to resign, so all we would have before then is speculation – but either way I won’t be surprised to see some competition for the Precinct 1 slot. One of his top staffers ran against Judge Hidalgo in the 2022 Dem primary, and I imagine there will be some kind of response to that. That would not be a cheap race as things stand now, as you can see.

Not much else to say at this time for 2024, but I will note that at least some of the Democratic judges whose election is being challenged by a sore loser are raising funds for their legal defense. If you have a favorite or two among them and a few bucks to spare, I’m sure they’d appreciate a contribution.

Precinct analysis: The different kinds of courts

PREVIOUSLY
Beto versus Abbott
Beto versus the spread
Hidalgo versus Mealer
Better statewide races
Not as good statewide races
County executive offices
Houston/not Houston

I’ve spent a lot of time and space on this blog talking about judicial races and trying to make sense of their numbers. As we’ve discussed, there is consistently a three-to-four point range between the top-scoring Democratic judicial candidate and the lowest-scoring one. That range is consistent across years, across baseline Democratic performance levels, across different types of judicial races. I’ve looked but never found patterns that I think satisfactorily and consistently explain the variations.

This was an interesting year for multiple reasons – the first non-Presidential election since the huge shift towards Democrats in 2018, the first time these judicial incumbents were running for re-election, tons of money being spent by Republicans and their backers to smear Criminal Court judges, the high-profile County Judge race that was closely tied to that same campaign spending, the first non-Presidential year with no straight-ticket voting, coming in a year with the extra-long ballot and so on. There were a lot of contradictory polls and a lot of dubious conventional wisdom, including questionable pronouncements about voters getting worn out before they reached the end of the ballot, and how that would be bad for Democrats.

In the end, the results largely defied negative pronouncements about Democrats’ chances. I turn as always to the numbers to see what they tell us. One way that I decided to approach this was to look at the different type of judicial races on the ballot, to see if there was anything interesting there. Turns out there was:


Court         R Avg    D Avg    R pct   D pct
=============================================
Appeals     520,019  549,533   48.62%  51.38%
Dist Civil  518,475  545,206   48.74%  51.26%
Dist Crim   520,900  542,986   48.96%  51.04%
Family      508,801  546,195   48.23%  51.77%
C Civil     515,292  545,092   48.60%  51.40%
C Crim      522,321  534,175   49.44%  50.56%
C Probate   511,900  540,619   48.64%  51.36%

You may have noticed that the ballot is arranged in a particular order. At a high level, it’s federal races, then state races, then county races, then city and other local entities if applicable. In this context, after the statewide offices and the legislative offices (including the SBOE), there are the judicial races. They start with the appellate courts, the 1st and 14th for those of us in Harris County, then the District Courts in numerical order, which means that Criminal District Courts and Civil District Courts are mixed together. Last in line for the state courts are the Family Courts, also in numerical order. After the last Family Court race is the County Judge, the top race in the county, and then the County Civil courts, the County Criminal courts, and finally the County Probate courts. (I am not taking the Justice of the Peace courts into consideration here, as they are not countywide and you only have one of them on your ballot.)

That’s the order displayed in the table above, so each line represents a group that came entirely after the group above it. I took the average number of votes each party’s candidates got in these races – I omitted the one Appellate Court race that had a third candidate in it so that we’d have a cleaner comparison – and the average vote percentage for each group, which you see in the table.

Breaking it down this way revealed three things to me that I might not have noticed otherwise. One is that the many millions of dollars spent by the Mealer/Mattress Mack cohort did have some effect, specifically in the criminal court races, with that effect being slightly larger in the county courts than in the district courts. Republican criminal court candidates, at both the district and county levels, actually got more votes on average than their civil court counterparts, while the Democrats in those races got fewer votes than their civil court colleagues. It’s not clear to me why the gap was greater in the county (which is to say, misdemeanor) courts; the anti-Democratic advertising wasn’t at all subtle about who was responsible for whatever outrage they were fulminating about. To the extent that it did work, the voters seemed to understand the difference between “criminal courts” and “not criminal courts”. If anyone on the Republican side thought that the other Democratic judges might become collateral damage, there’s no evidence to support that.

Two, the Family Court judges were the stars of the 2022 elections for the Democrats. The gap is the greatest between them and their Republican challengers, and they got the most votes in the aggregate of any non-appellate group. They may have drawn some support from people who otherwise voted Republican, or they got more people who might have been skipping other judicial races to push their buttons. Again, I don’t know exactly why. Just eyeballing the 2018 results – I may go back and do these calculations for that year, just as a point of comparison – I think the Dems that year did better overall than in other races, though they had about the same range of results. One thought I’ve had about this is that the Family Courts were kind of a mess before the Dem sweep of 2018 – there were some stories that made it into the papers about happenings in the Family Courts, and of course there was then-Family Court Judge Lisa Millard ruling against the city of Houston giving health insurance benefits to same-sex spouses of city employees even after DOMA had been ruled unconstitutional by SCOTUS. Maybe there’s a general impression among (at least some) voters that Republicans can’t be trusted on Family Court benches, in the way that Republicans tried to push than message about Dems on Criminal Court benches. I’m just guessing – the evidence is minimal, there aren’t that many of these races, the gap isn’t that much – but it’s what I’ve got.

And three, there’s no evidence to support the hypothesis that I have seen too many times that “ballot fatigue” disproportionately hurts Democratic candidates. Democratic Probate Court judges, all the way at the bottom of the ballot, did basically as well as their counterparts in appellate and civil court races. The dropoff in votes cast for each party from appellate to probate, and from county civil to probate, is about the same; the dropoff from district civil to probate favors the Dems. If anyone thought that eliminating straight ticket voting would give Republicans more of a chance to win these farther downballot races because Dems would lose interest or get tired or whatever, they were wrong. I made this point till I was sick of having to make it back in 2018 and again in 2020. I will never not be mad about all of the lazy, uninformed, and frankly kind of racist assumptions that went into that hypothesis.

Let me close with a visual reminder of all this. The table above is the average vote and percentage for the different types of judicial races. The chart below is the vote percentage for both parties in each of those races individually.

The Y-axis is the percentages. The X-axis is where they are on the ballot, so on the left we start with the appellate races, then go through the district and family courts, then into the county civil, criminal, and finally probate courts. You can see the four races that Dems lost, one district criminal court and three county criminal courts.

And as you can see, while there is that dip in percentage that we have discussed for the county criminal courts, it bounces right back for the probate courts. There’s no overall downward trend. Many millions of dollars in advertising was able to move the needle a bit in a handful of races, but that’s it.

I still have a couple more of these posts to work through. As always, please let me know what you think.

The next round of voter suppression bills are coming

Brace yourselves.

Texas Republicans spent most of the 2021 legislative session focusing on election security — and this year, it’s a top priority for them again.

GOP leaders are discussing a range of election security measures, from higher penalties for voter fraud to broader power for the attorney general to prosecute election crimes. Many of them target Harris County, which Republicans have spent the past two years chastising for back-to-back elections blunders.

“Harris County is the big problem,” said state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Houston Republican who plans to file close to a dozen election bills this legislative session. “You’ve got the nation’s third-largest county that has had multiple problems with multiple election officers, to the point where one had to resign, and the problem is that it’s too big a piece of the electorate to ignore.”

Harris County Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum did not respond directly to the criticism, but said the office supports any legislation that increases voter registration and access to voting.

“Right now, we are focused on implementing new systems to promote the efficiency with which our office runs elections,” Tatum said in a statement.

[…]

Bettencourt said he’s considering a bill that would raise the charges for some voting-related misdemeanors, such as failing to provide election supplies.

He also questioned the existence of — and the accountability measures for — the election administrator position in Harris County. [Isabel] Longoria was the first, appointed under a newly created office in late 2020; Tatum was named as her replacement last July.

“That’s somebody that’s supposed to have better acumen and better results than elected officials, but the reverse has been proven to be true in Harris County,” Bettencourt said. “One of the things we’re going to have to explore is: Why aren’t the elected tax assessor-collector and the elected county clerk — which are, quite frankly, both Democrats — why are they not running the election, where there’s some public accountability?”

I’ve said this multiple times before, but as a reminder for the slow kids in the class, many counties have election administrators, including many Republican counties like Tarrant and Lubbock. Ed Emmett first proposed the idea for Harris County. There were problems with elections back when the County Clerk – specifically, Stan Stanart – was in charge of running them. This is nothing but a pretext.

Beyond Harris County, lawmakers are looking at a slate of statewide elections reforms, starting with returning the penalty for illegal voting to a felony instead of a misdemeanor. The Legislature lowered the punishment when it passed Senate Bill 1, but top Republicans — including Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — have pushed to return it to the stiffer penalty.

Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan, whose chamber amended the bill to include the lower penalty, rejected the idea when it was first floated during a series of 2021 special sessions.

“This important legislation made its way through the House after several thoughtful amendments were adopted,” he said. “Now is not the time to re-litigate.”

[…]

State Rep. Jacey Jetton, a Richmond Republican, said he’s exploring legislation to facilitate [the mail ballot] process, such as enabling election officials to check all identification numbers associated with an individual at the Texas Department of Public Safety. He also wants to review the system’s new online mail ballot tracker and ensure it’s working properly.

Republicans have also introduced bills to further investigate election fraud, to limit the state’s early voting period from two weeks to one, and to set earlier deadlines for handing in mail ballots. And some of them are hoping to give Attorney General Ken Paxton stronger authority to prosecute election crimes, after the state’s highest criminal appeals court ruled in 2021 that he could not unilaterally take on such cases.

Currently, Paxton can only get involved if invited by a district or county attorney, according to the court’s ruling. The decision led to an outcry from top Republicans, including Abbott and Patrick, who called for the case to be reheared.

Paxton encouraged his supporters to launch a pressure campaign and flood the court with calls and emails demanding, unsuccessfully, that they reverse the decision. The move prompted a complaint to the State Bar accusing Paxton of professional misconduct for attempting to interfere in a pending case before the court.

Much of this is also covered in this Trib story. I don’t know if Speaker Phelan will be persuaded or arm-twisted into changing his mind about making whatever minor infractions into felonies, but I hope he holds out. I commend Rep. Jetton for his interest in reducing the number of mail ballot rejections, though I have a hard time believing anyone can get such a bill through the Lege. As for Paxton’s continued desire to be Supreme Prosecutor, the CCA’s ruling was made on constitutional grounds. I feel confident saying that a constitutional amendment to allow this will not pass.

Anything else, however, is fair game and just a matter of whether the Republicans want it to pass or not. They have the votes and they have the will, and there’s basically nothing Dems can do to stop them. They’ll fight and they’ll make noise and they’ll employ the rules and pick up the occasional small-bore victory, but in the end they have no power. You know the mantra: Nothing will change until that changes.

And yes, it really is all about voter suppression, even if Texas Republicans are better than their Wisconsin colleagues at keeping the quiet part to themselves. It’s certainly possible that these laws aren’t as good at actually suppressing the vote as they’re intended to, but that’s beside the point. If they keep making it harder to vote, and they keep making it costlier to make an honest mistake in voting, and that cost is almost entirely borne by Democratic-leaning voters of color, it’s suppressive. The debate is about the extent, not the existence.

So is Henry Cuellar still being investigated by the FBI?

It’s been a year since his home was raided. Is there another shoe to drop?

Rep. Henry Cuellar

Last January, FBI agents raided U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar’s home and office in Laredo, emerging with a computer and plastic bins and bags containing personal items in a stunning spectacle that occurred just weeks before a tough primary election.

The raid cast a shadow over a competitive election year for the longtime Democratic congressman who defended his seat from a progressive in the March primary and then a well-funded and coordinated effort to flip his seat by Republicans in November. Cuellar emerged largely unscathed — soundly winning his November reelection for a 10th term in office.

One year later, there have been no arrests or charges filed related to the case. Cuellar maintains that he was never the target of the investigation and will ultimately be cleared of wrongdoing. And the public remains largely in the dark about what set off the investigation.

“There has been no wrongdoing on my part,” Cuellar said in a statement to The Texas Tribune. “My focus remains the same from my very first day in office: delivering results for Texans across my district.”

Cuellar declined to be interviewed. The FBI declined comment for this story.

Legal experts say the lack of answers or information a year later by federal authorities shouldn’t be construed as either an exoneration or a reflection of guilt of anyone associated in the case.

Experts cited myriad reasons for the continued silence around the case: The FBI search may have yielded no evidence, indictments could be sealed, the case could still be developing or there may have been delays because law enforcement did not want to interfere with the recent November elections.

“The government moved forward at that point, but it’s not necessarily surprising that we haven’t seen any other announcements or any other information that’s gone public,” said Edward Loya Jr., a Dallas-based attorney and former federal prosecutor.

“It’s too early to draw any firm conclusions one way or another,” Loya said. “What we can glean from this is that the investigation appears to be ongoing, and the government hasn’t reached a resolution one way or another as to how it plans to proceed.”

John Bash, a defense attorney who previously worked at the U.S. Department of Justice and served as a U.S. attorney in Texas, said that the DOJ is under no obligation to publicly announce that a case is closed or that a subject related to the case is not a target.

“If they got new information that caused them to reopen the investigation, they wouldn’t want to convey to anybody that ‘No, we will never look at this again,’” Bash said. “But oftentimes, they’ll tell the defense they’ve been communicating with, ‘Hey, this is over.’”

I didn’t blog about the raid at the time, mostly because I prefer not to think too much about Henry Cuellar. Be that as it may, however one may choose to interpret the lack of news about this situation, I feel compelled to note that the FBI has been investigating Ken Paxton since November of 2020, and served subpoeanas to his office in December that year. A lot has happened since then, all related to the ongoing whistleblower lawsuit, but if we were expecting to see Paxton get frog-marched by the FBI one fine day, we’re still waiting. Make of that what you will.

Precinct analysis: Inside and out of the city

Most years we don’t get the data to differentiate between votes cast by residents of Houston and votes cast by Harris County non-Houston residents. There needs to be a citywide referendum of the ballot in order to get at this data. Fortunately, we had that this year, so we can take a look at how the races of interest shaped up. The usual caveat applies here, which is that this data is not exact. There are multiple precincts that are partially in Houston and partially not in Houston. Many of them have a tiny number of Houston-specific votes in them, with a much larger contingent of non-Houston votes. Counting these as Houston precincts means you wind up with a lot more total votes in Houston than were cast in the referenda elections, and gives you a distorted picture of the candidate percentages. I filter out precincts with ten or fewer votes cast in the Houston proposition elections, which is arbitrary and still yields more total votes than in the prop races themselves, but it’s close enough for these purposes. So with all that preamble, here’s the data:


Candidates    Houston   Not Hou    Hou%    Not%
===============================================
Beto          317,736   277,917  63.43%  46.22%
Abbott        175,533   314,728  35.04%  52.34%

Collier       312,803   273,337  62.81%  45.64%
Patrick       171,319   312,803  34.40%  51.84%

Garza         312,022   272,513  62.83%  45.61%
Paxton        170,642   309,499  34.36%  51.80%

Dudding       294,958   255,993  59.69%  43.03%
Hegar         185,671   324,329  37.58%  54.52%

Kleberg       296,878   257,563  60.34%  43.45%
Buckingham    184,006   323,967  37.41%  54.65%

Hays          308,304   269,169  62.61%  45.36%
Miller        184,139   324,228  37.39%  54.64%

Warford       290,364   251,323  59.02%  42.41%
Christian     181,355   319,465  36.86%  53.91%

To be clear about what this data shows, Beto won the city of Houston by a margin of 317,736 to 175,533, or 63.43% to 35.04%, while Greg Abbott carried the non-Houston parts of the county 314,728 to 277,917. This is about 493K ballots cast for those two candidates, which doesn’t count third party and write-in candidates or undervotes; I didn’t tally them all up but we’d be at around 510K total ballots defined as being “Houston”. In actuality, there were 486K total ballots cast, including undervotes, in the city prop races. Like I said, this is plenty good enough for these purposes.

As noted, I don’t have a whole lot of data for this from previous elections, but what I do have can be found in these posts:

2008
2012
2018

There were city propositions in 2010, for red light cameras and ReNew Houston, but I didn’t do the same city-versus-not-city comparisons that year, almost certainly because 2010 was such a miserable year and I just didn’t want to spend any more time thinking about it than I had to.

Looking back at those earlier years, Beto fell short of the top performers in Houston, which in 2008 and 2012 was Adrian Garcia and which in 2018 was himself, but he did better in non-Houston Harris County. That’s consistent with what I’ve said before about how Democrats have overall grown their vote in the former strong Republican areas, while falling short on turnout – this year, at least – in the strong Democratic areas. Note how even the lowest scorers this year exceeded Obama’s performance in non-Houston by three or four points in 2008 and four or five points in 2012, while doing about as well in Houston. As I’ve said, Harris County is more Democratic now. This is another way of illustrating that.

Here’s the same breakdown for the countywide races:


Candidates    Houston   Not Hou    Hou%    Not%
===============================================
Hidalgo       294,968   257,935  59.79%  43.39%
Mealer        198,286   336,434  40.19%  56.59%

Burgess       290,267   255,860  60.14%  43.81%
Daniel        192,368   328,119  39.86%  56.19%

Hudspeth      293,030   256,624  60.84%  44.00%
Stanart       188,573   326,633  39.16%  56.00%

Wyatt         293,352   256,862  60.86%  44.00%
Scott         188,623   326,849  39.14%  56.00%

No third party candidates here, just a write-in who got a handful of votes for County Judge, so the percentages mostly add up to 100. More or less the same story here, with the distinction between Houston and not-Houston being smaller than in prior years. There won’t be any citywide propositions in 2024, not if we have them this coming November, but I’ll try to use the precinct data I have here to analyze that election. In what should be a stronger Democratic year, I’ll be very interested to see how things change. As always, let me know if you have any questions.

Uvalde parents will take their fight to the Lege

They’re not going to get what they want and they know it, but they’re still going to fight. I have so much respect for them.

More than seven months after a teenage gunman killed 21 people at Robb Elementary School, the speaker of the Texas House was in Uvalde for a private meeting with relatives of the victims.

Dade Phelan had never met them. After the introductions in a room at the local community college, a family member started with the group’s main question: Will the Legislature raise the minimum age to purchase an assault-style weapon from 18 to 21?

Phelan was up front with them: No.

The House doesn’t have the votes, he said. And no, he doesn’t personally support it, either.

The tense discussion on Jan. 4 lasted just shy of an hour and a half, and Phelan spent most of it discussing potential mental health legislation, participants said. The families left discouraged, unsure of their next steps in a state where Republicans, most of whom oppose any firearm restrictions, control the Legislature.

It marked an awkward transition for the Uvalde activists, who have spent months advocating for gun control laws. They felt welcomed and heard on lobbying trips to Washington, D.C., and several of them campaigned heartily for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke, who lost his challenge to Gov. Greg Abbott on Nov. 8.

Phelan was one of the few lawmakers to address the Uvalde shooting when the legislative session began Tuesday, promising “sensible, meaningful change.” Republican leaders have focused on bolstering mental health resources and improving the physical defenses of schools — both of which have bipartisan support as the session starts.

But the prospects for any gun regulations in Texas are dim, leaving the Uvalde families convinced that the next mass shooting is only a question of time.

“I just feel like we’re in new territory,” said Kim Rubio, who lost her 10-year-old daughter, Lexi, at Robb Elementary School. “When this happened, there was a lot of talk at the federal level about making changes, so we really hit the ground running toward that. Now, we’re back at square one.”

It’s kind of painful, but you can read the rest. The best the Uvalde parents can hope for is a state ban on straw-person sales, which is already a federal crime. Beyond that, it’s the usual bunkum about guns not being the problem and there being nothing we could do to stop the next school shooter even if guns were the problem, some promises to increase security at schools, and some vague and meaningless words about mental health. The school security measures have some value, and I’d be all right with them for the most part if they were part of a larger deal that included real gun reform, but they’re not. As these parents know all too well, it’s just a matter of time before some other group of parents are in the same unfathomable position they’re in now. They’re trying to do something about that, but they really can’t, not right now. This isn’t a lobbying or legislating matter, it’s a political and electoral one. That’s a bigger and more long-term problem. I wish them all the best anyway.

San Antonio will vote on marijuana decriminalization

We’ll see how it goes.

Progressive groups celebrated on the steps of City Hall Tuesday afternoon before delivering the boxes of signed petitions needed to get a measure in front of voters that would decriminalize both cannabis possession and abortion.

Ananda Tomas, executive director of police reform group ACT 4 SA, told reporters that her group and its allies collected 38,200 signatures in favor of the San Antonio Justice Charter. That’s well above the roughly 20,000 required to put it on the ballot for May’s citywide election.

If passed, the charter also would codify the ban the San Antonio Police Department’s current leadership has placed on police chokeholds and no-knock warrants.

“I’ve been frustrated working within the system and working in City Hall to try to get things like this done,” District 2 City Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez told charter supporters. “I think this is a demonstration that when the people will it, it will happen.”

Although the petition garnered support from McKee-Rodriguez and an array of progressive groups from around the state, it’s likely to face stiff resistance from others. Danny Diaz, head of San Antonio’s powerful police union, said his organization will work to defeat the measure, which he said ties officers’ hands.

See here for some background and here for an earlier version of the story. The San Antonio Report adds some details.

The City Clerk’s office has 20 business days, until Feb. 8, to verify the signatures.

“We’re ready,” City Clerk Debbie Racca-Sittre said inside City Hall as she and a colleague sealed and time stamped four boxes filled with more than 5,000 pages of petition signatures.

City Council will call for the election, which will include council district seats and other local elections, during its Feb. 16 meeting.

Voters will likely see just one item on the May 6 ballot to make the batch of changes to the City’s Charter — but city officials could split them up into separate votes, Tomas said. “The intent is for it to be one single proposition. I think that that’s still going to be a conversation with City Council.”

[…]

The charter changes would essentially direct the police department not to spend resources pursuing most abortion and low-level marijuana possession cases.

A provision in the Texas Constitution states that “no charter or any ordinance passed under said charter shall contain any provision inconsistent with the Constitution of the State, or of the general laws enacted by the Legislature of this State.”

Whether the charter rules, if approved, violate that provision may ultimately be left up to legal challenges — but “this is entirely legal,” Mike Siegel, political director and co-founder of Ground Game Texas, told the San Antonio Report.

“Every day, police departments decide what they’re going to enforce and what they’re not going to enforce, and this represents the people of San Antonio saying: these are not our priorities for our scarce public dollars,” Siegel said. “The roots of the Texas Constitution are in local self control [and] self determination. So that’s why we have charter cities that have this authority to adopt their own charters and decide their own laws.”

It will be up to opponents of the charter changes to decide whether they want to challenge it, he said.

I would expect this to pass, as similar referenda has done in other cities. Whether it will get a similarly chilly reception from City Council or Commissioners Court remains to be seen. Unlike some other counties, the Bexar County District Attorney is on board with the idea, as noted in this Texas Public Radio story, so they have that going for them. On the other hand, the Lege is out there as well, with a giant hammer to wield against cities and counties that do things the Republicans don’t like. Sometimes I don’t necessarily mind Houston being a bit behind the activism curve. If six months or a year from now this ordinance is in place and being complied with, I’ll be delighted and looking to our city to follow suit. If not, I’ll be disappointed but not surprised. Stay tuned.

The Lege does its housekeeping

In the Senate, they drew their lots to see who would have to run again in 2024.

Sen. John Whitmire

It was the luck of the draw for Texas senators on Wednesday as they drew lots to decide which half of them would get two-year terms and which would get four-year terms.

The practice is outlined in Article 3, Section 3, of the Texas Constitution, which calls for “Senators elected after each apportionment [redistricting]” to be divided into two classes: one that will serve a four-year term and the other to serve a two-year term. That keeps Senate district elections staggered every two years. After that, senators serve four-year terms for the rest of the decade.

On Wednesday, each of the chamber’s 31 lawmakers walked to the front of the chamber and drew lots by picking an envelope that held a pill-shaped capsule. Inside the capsules were numbers: Even numbers meant two-year terms, and odd were for four-year terms.

“I’m sure each and every one of you are happy with what you drew, right?” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick joked.

Sixteen senators had Lady Fortune on their side and drew four-year terms, and fifteen unlucky souls will have to run for reelection in two years.

[…]

All eyes were on Sen. John Whitmire, a longtime Democrat who has announced plans to leave the chamber to run for Houston mayor after the session, and Judith Zaffirini, a Laredo Democrat who is second in seniority to Whitmire.

Whitmire drew a two-year term, and Zaffirni drew a four-year term.

Three freshmen senators drew two-year terms, including Democrat Morgan LaMantia of South Padre Island, who was in the tightest race in the Senate last year. The two other freshmen, Republicans Kevin Sparks of Midland and Mayes Middleton of Galveston, both drew four-year terms.

After the 2012 election, the main question was whether then-Sen. Wendy Davis, who won a tough race in a district carried by Mitt Romney, would have to run again in 2014. She drew a short straw, and I think that contributed to her decision to run for Governor. Of course, we were in a time and of a political makeup in which Dems were getting creamed in non-Presidential years. That changed quite dramatically in 2018, when Dems won back Davis’ old seat and picked up another Senate seat as well. Sen. LaMantia had a tough race in 2022, and at this time I have no idea if it’s better for her to run in 2024 or not. We’ll just have to see.

As for Whitmire, what this means is that if he’s elected Mayor this year, things will be messy in SD15 the next year. There would be both a primary and a special election to replace and succeed him, much as there was in HD147 this past year. You could have the primary winner, who would get to serve a four-year term after winning in November of 2024, and the special election winner, who would serve out the remainder of 2024, be two different people. One person could face five elections total in 2024, if the primary and the special both go to runoffs; this would happen for someone who wins the primary in a runoff and makes it to the runoff (win or lose) in the special. Did I mention that the primary runoff and the special election would take both place in May, but on different dates, again as it was in HD147? Speaking as a resident of SD15, I’m already exhausted by this possibility, which may not even happen. May God have mercy on our souls.

Anyway. The Houston-area Senators who will be on the ballot in 2024 are Carol Alvarado (SD06), Paul Bettencourt (SD07), John Whitmire (SD15), and Joan Huffman (SD17). The ones who get to wait until 2026 are Brandon Creighton (SD04), Mayes Middleton (SD11), Borris Miles (SD13), and Lois Kolkhorst (SD18).

Meanwhile, over in the House

Texas House leadership on Wednesday shut down a long-building push to ban Democratic committee chairs, deploying procedural legislative maneuvers to defeat multiple proposals on the issue.

The chamber also approved new punishments for members who break quorum, like most House Democrats did two years ago in protest of GOP-backed voting restrictions. Those members left for Washington, D.C., for weeks to stop the House from being able to do business in an effort to prevent passage of the bill. Under the new rules, quorum-breakers can now be subject to daily fines and even expulsion from the chamber.

The chamber passed the overall rules package by a vote of 123-19, with Democrats making up most of the opposition.

Going into the rules debate, most attention was on the subject of committee chairs, who have the power to advance legislation or block it from being taken up by the full House. For months, a small but vocal minority of House Republicans have been calling for the end of the chamber’s longtime tradition of having committee chairs from both parties. But Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, and his allies moved successfully Wednesday to prevent the matter from even getting to a vote on the floor.

They did it by passing a “housekeeping resolution” earlier in the day that included a new section codifying a constitutional ban on using House resources for political purposes. That resolution passed overwhelmingly with little debate or fanfare. Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, then cited the new provision to call points of order — procedural challenges — on two amendments proposed by Rep. Bryan Slaton, R-Royse City, to restrict Democratic committee chairs. Phelan ruled in favor of Geren both times.

“The amendment would require the speaker to use public resources, including staff time and government facilities, on behalf of one political instrumentality,” Phelan said the first time. “This obviously would require the speaker to violate the Housekeeping Resolution.”

It was a relatively anticlimactic end to the fight over Democratic committee chairs, which were a major issue in House primaries earlier this year, a rallying cry for conservative activists and a recurring theme in speeches as the legislative session kicked off Tuesday. After the House reelected Phelan by a nearly unanimous vote, he cautioned freshmen to “please do not confuse this body with the one in Washington, D.C.”

“After watching Congress attempt to function last week, I cannot imagine why some want Texas to be like D.C,” Phelan said.

Committee appointments are expected to be made in the next couple of weeks. Phelan has said he will appoint roughly the same proportion of Democratic chairs as last session, but it remains to be seen whether they’ll be appointed to lead any powerful or coveted committees.

The amendment about sanctions for quorum-busting drew more No votes, almost entirely from Dems. Honestly, I have no problem with what was passed. It’s perfectly appropriate for the chamber to have sanctions for that kind of action, and it’s not that different, at least to my mind, than what was passed after the 2003 walkout. New rules get adopted each session, this can always be revisited in the future. TPR has more.

HD135 election contest dismissed

From the inbox:

This week, Speaker of the Texas House Dade Phelan dismissed the election contest filed by Mike May, the candidate who lost to Representative Jon Rosenthal in the 2022 election for house district 135. The case was dismissed because May failed to timely pay the security of costs required by Texas law.

“This quick dismissal shows these election contests are largely about political posturing and undermining our democratic processes,” said Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee. “I thank Speaker Phelan and Representative Morgan Meyer for upholding the law and ensuring the will of the voters stands.”

Under Texas law, the Texas House of Representatives presided over this contest because it was filed by a candidate for that body. Unfortunately, more than 20 other election contests are still pending in Harris County—most of those races had greater vote margins than May’s. Those cases are expected to proceed over the next few months.

See here for the background. This one was particularly unserious, and the resolution shows how weak it was. Here’s County Attorney Menefee’s Twitter post, with a copy of the letter to May from Speaker Phelan:

My post about the HD135 election contest ran on December 3, so it was filed at least one day before then. The deadline for paying the required fee – I have no idea how much, but if there was even a sliver of a chance this was for real, this guy would have had no trouble getting some fat cat to pay for it as needed – was December 9. Maybe he could have gotten an extension if he’d asked and had some reason for it, but practically speaking this thing has been dead for a month.

This has no effect on the other challenges filed by other losing losers, as legislative contests are heard in the House while these others will be argued in a courtroom. They aren’t any more valid, they’re just in a different venue. From the County Attorney’s press release, they may take awhile to be resolved. I will of course keep an eye on them. The Trib, whose story published after I drafted this and which mostly recapitulates what I’ve got here, has more.

Precinct analysis: County executive offices

PREVIOUSLY
Beto versus Abbott
Beto versus the spread
Hidalgo versus Mealer
Better statewide races
Not as good statewide races

County races appear towards the bottom of the ballot, after all of the federal and state races. With the exception of County Judge, which is the first county office to appear, the other county races come after any county judicial elections, which we know in a non-presidential year is another two dozen, on top of all of the state judicial races you’ve just slogged through. In addition, unlike Presidential years when higher profile county offices like Sheriff and County Attorney and Tax Assessor appear (District Attorney is a state office), the ones on this ballot are low profile and mostly clerical in nature. You’d think this would be a recipe for a lot of indifference, but you’d be wrong.

District Clerk


Dist   Daniel  Burgess
======================
HD126  37,324   21,321
HD127  40,530   24,529
HD128  32,461   12,922
HD129  38,729   24,583
HD130  46,537   18,686
HD131   6,206   24,390
HD132  36,431   23,448
HD133  36,406   22,666
HD134  34,947   43,974
HD135  17,150   22,829
HD137   8,475   12,264
HD138  33,169   22,469
HD139  12,722   30,247
HD140   6,030   12,441
HD141   4,753   20,212
HD142   9,326   24,514
HD143   8,856   14,935
HD144  12,051   13,606
HD145  14,698   29,537
HD146   9,455   31,723
HD147  10,255   35,167
HD148  16,522   19,677
HD149  12,365   18,661
HD150  35,089   21,326
						
CC1    76,230  193,216
CC2    99,401  100,543
CC3   227,842  132,864
CC4   117,014  119,504
						
JP1    69,316  114,700
JP2    22,682   28,410
JP3    36,215   40,683
JP4   175,012  119,960
JP5   149,310  134,380
JP6     5,571   16,529
JP7    12,934   64,034
JP8    49,447   27,431

Dist  Daniel% Burgess%
======================
HD126  63.64%   36.36%
HD127  62.30%   37.70%
HD128  71.53%   28.47%
HD129  61.17%   38.83%
HD130  71.35%   28.65%
HD131  20.28%   79.72%
HD132  60.84%   39.16%
HD133  61.63%   38.37%
HD134  44.28%   55.72%
HD135  42.90%   57.10%
HD137  40.87%   59.13%
HD138  59.62%   40.38%
HD139  29.61%   70.39%
HD140  32.65%   67.35%
HD141  19.04%   80.96%
HD142  27.56%   72.44%
HD143  37.22%   62.78%
HD144  46.97%   53.03%
HD145  33.23%   66.77%
HD146  22.96%   77.04%
HD147  22.58%   77.42%
HD148  45.64%   54.36%
HD149  39.85%   60.15%
HD150  62.20%   37.80%
		
CC1    28.29%   71.71%
CC2    49.71%   50.29%
CC3    63.17%   36.83%
CC4    49.47%   50.53%
		
JP1    37.67%   62.33%
JP2    44.39%   55.61%
JP3    47.09%   52.91%
JP4    59.33%   40.67%
JP5    52.63%   47.37%
JP6    25.21%   74.79%
JP7    16.80%   83.20%
JP8    64.32%   35.68%

County Clerk


Dist  Stanart Hudspeth
======================
HD126  37,148   21,466
HD127  40,320   24,703
HD128  32,499   12,847
HD129  38,545   24,668
HD130  46,489   18,687
HD131   6,108   24,414
HD132  36,340   23,537
HD133  35,551   23,419
HD134  33,450   45,266
HD135  17,148   22,783
HD137   8,351   12,378
HD138  32,881   22,695
HD139  12,541   30,343
HD140   6,042   12,353
HD141   4,662   20,252
HD142   9,132   24,642
HD143   8,824   14,858
HD144  12,065   13,483
HD145  14,403   29,681
HD146   9,172   31,975
HD147   9,910   35,410
HD148  16,397   19,705
HD149  12,239   18,708
HD150  34,989   21,381
						
CC1    73,858  195,066
CC2    99,209  100,166
CC3   226,675  133,751
CC4   115,464  120,671
						
JP1    67,346  116,157
JP2    22,622   28,241
JP3    35,962   40,821
JP4   174,354  120,349
JP5   147,642  135,687
JP6     5,490   16,504
JP7    12,417   64,481
JP8    49,373   27,414

Dist Stanart%Hudspeth%
======================
HD126  63.38%   36.62%
HD127  62.01%   37.99%
HD128  71.67%   28.33%
HD129  60.98%   39.02%
HD130  71.33%   28.67%
HD131  20.01%   79.99%
HD132  60.69%   39.31%
HD133  60.29%   39.71%
HD134  42.49%   57.51%
HD135  42.94%   57.06%
HD137  40.29%   59.71%
HD138  59.16%   40.84%
HD139  29.24%   70.76%
HD140  32.85%   67.15%
HD141  18.71%   81.29%
HD142  27.04%   72.96%
HD143  37.26%   62.74%
HD144  47.22%   52.78%
HD145  32.67%   67.33%
HD146  22.29%   77.71%
HD147  21.87%   78.13%
HD148  45.42%   54.58%
HD149  39.55%   60.45%
HD150  62.07%   37.93%
		
CC1    27.46%   72.54%
CC2    49.76%   50.24%
CC3    62.89%   37.11%
CC4    48.90%   51.10%
		
JP1    36.70%   63.30%
JP2    44.48%   55.52%
JP3    46.84%   53.16%
JP4    59.16%   40.84%
JP5    52.11%   47.89%
JP6    24.96%   75.04%
JP7    16.15%   83.85%
JP8    64.30%   35.70%

County Treasurer


Dist    Scott    Wyatt
======================
HD126  37,264   21,436
HD127  40,378   24,663
HD128  32,433   12,955
HD129  38,523   24,788
HD130  46,578   18,647
HD131   6,062   24,496
HD132  36,413   23,479
HD133  35,705   23,303
HD134  33,479   45,200
HD135  17,156   22,790
HD137   8,369   12,377
HD138  32,829   22,780
HD139  12,576   30,341
HD140   5,929   12,518
HD141   4,682   20,256
HD142   9,167   24,621
HD143   8,706   15,000
HD144  11,924   13,703
HD145  14,410   29,702
HD146   9,159   31,995
HD147  10,015   35,364
HD148  16,333   19,766
HD149  12,214   18,772
HD150  35,168   21,262
						
CC1    74,077  194,887
CC2    98,597  101,176
CC3   227,110  133,538
CC4   115,688  120,613
						
JP1    67,326  116,212
JP2    22,460   28,561
JP3    35,972   40,808
JP4   174,785  120,166
JP5   147,814  135,680
JP6     5,410   16,643
JP7    12,496   64,441
JP8    49,209   27,703

Dist   Scott%   Wyatt%
======================
HD126  63.48%   36.52%
HD127  62.08%   37.92%
HD128  71.46%   28.54%
HD129  60.85%   39.15%
HD130  71.41%   28.59%
HD131  19.84%   80.16%
HD132  60.80%   39.20%
HD133  60.51%   39.49%
HD134  42.55%   57.45%
HD135  42.95%   57.05%
HD137  40.34%   59.66%
HD138  59.04%   40.96%
HD139  29.30%   70.70%
HD140  32.14%   67.86%
HD141  18.77%   81.23%
HD142  27.13%   72.87%
HD143  36.72%   63.28%
HD144  46.53%   53.47%
HD145  32.67%   67.33%
HD146  22.26%   77.74%
HD147  22.07%   77.93%
HD148  45.25%   54.75%
HD149  39.42%   60.58%
HD150  62.32%   37.68%
		
CC1    27.54%   72.46%
CC2    49.35%   50.65%
CC3    62.97%   37.03%
CC4    48.96%   51.04%
		
JP1    36.68%   63.32%
JP2    44.02%   55.98%
JP3    46.85%   53.15%
JP4    59.26%   40.74%
JP5    52.14%   47.86%
JP6    24.53%   75.47%
JP7    16.24%   83.76%
JP8    63.98%   36.02%

Despite appearing so much lower on the ballot, the per-district vote totals in these races are about the same for the two major parties. They’re lower overall because there are no third party candidates in these races, and that lack of mostly Libertarians does seem to be better for the Republicans than the Democrats. Not enough to swing any individual district – only the two swing Commissioners Court precincts are that close to begin with, and the Dems prevailed in all three races here anyway.

The simple fact is that despite the lack of straight-ticket voting, and the often-complained-about length of the ballot, people voted to the bottom of it anyway. There were more people who skipped these races than did so for Railroad Commissioner, the last of the statewide executive offices, but not that much more. About 40K people on average skipped these three races, compared with a bit less than 23K for RRC. That looks like a significant difference, but it’s still less than four percent of the total turnout. Putting it another way, more than 96% of the people who cast a ballot in November of 2022 cast a ballot in these three races.

That is slightly less than it was in 2018, the last year of straight ticket voting, when nearly 97% of the people who voted cast ballots in these races, plus the two countywide HCDE races; to put it another way, the undervote rate in these races was generally between 2.5 and 3 percent. Some people will skip races that are not of interest to them, I will absolutely stipulate to that. I’m just saying it’s not as much as you might think.

Two more things: One is that the undervote rate was higher in judicial races. I’ll go into more detail on those in subsequent posts, but even there it topped out at about five percent. I’m here to tell you, because I’ve looked at this before, the undervote rate in City Council races is much higher than that, and that’s a much shorter ballot. The other thing, and this may be my favorite bit of data from this election, is that there were about 800 more votes in the Treasurer race than there were in the County Clerk race, which was immediately before the Treasurer’s race on the ballot. Carla Wyatt, the Treasurer-elect, won more than 60% of those 800+ extra votes. Why did those eight hundred and some people vote in the Treasurer’s race but not the County Clerk’s race? I have no idea. But they did, and finding little oddities like that always delights me. I hope it at least amuses you. Let me know if you have any questions.

Additional Losing Candidates File Election Contests in Harris County

That’s the subject of the following email I got in my inbox yesterday, and I can’t do any better than that for a post title.

Additional Losing Candidates File Election Contests in Harris County

Houston, Texas – Today, several losing Republican candidates filed election contests to void the more than 1 million votes cast in Harris County’s November 2022 election. Thus far, the Harris County Attorney’s Office has identified filings by (and we expect more filings to be made today):

  • Mark Montgomery, former candidate for Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 6 (lost to Judge Kelley Andrews)
  • Matthew Dexter, former candidate for Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 12 (lost to Judge Genesis Draper)
  • Brian Staley, former candidate for Harris County Civil County Court at Law No. 4. (lost to Judge Manpreet Monica Singh)
  • Mark Goldberg, former candidate for Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 8 (lost to Judge Erika Ramirez)
  • Bruce Bain, former candidate for the 269th District Court (lost to Judge Cory Sepolio)
  • Michelle Fraga, former candidate for the 281st District Court (lost to Judge Christine Weems)
  • Elizabeth Buss, former candidate for the Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 5 (lost to Judge David Fleischer)
  • Chris Daniel, former candidate for Harris County District Clerk (lost to Marilyn Burgess)

These filings are in addition to previously announced contests by:

  • Erin Lunceford, former candidate for the 189th District Court (lost to Judge Tamika Craft)
  • Tami Pierce, former candidate for the 180th District Court (lost to Judge DaSean Jones)
  • Alexandra Mealer, former candidate for Harris County Judge (lost to Judge Lina Hidalgo)
  • Mike May, former candidate for State Representative District 135 (lost to Representative Jon Rosenthal)

Below is the statement from the County Attorney released this morning:

“This is a shameful attempt by a group of losing candidates who couldn’t win the hearts and minds of Harris County voters and are now throwing nonsensical legal theories at the wall to see what sticks. Each of them should be deeply embarrassed and these claims should not be taken seriously by the public,” said Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee. “These losing candidates are finally laying bare what we all know to be true – for them, it’s not about improving elections or making sure our elections are secure, it’s about playing games with our democratic systems and refusing to accept the will of the voters.”

The contests being filed request that the more than one million votes cast in Harris County be voided and the county hold another election for the races being challenged (e.g., Harris County Judge, 189th District Court, 180th District Court, etc.).

“These election contests are frivolous attempts to overturn the votes of more than a million residents in the third largest county in the country. The county will now have to spend substantial resources handling these contests, time that could instead be spent serving the people of Harris County,” added County Attorney Menefee. “Voters have moved on. Public servants have moved on. These losing candidates should move on too.”

See here and here for the background. The judge in the Lunceford contest was assigned on December 13, I don’t know what has happened since then. I do know that at least one more loser has filed a loser’s contest, but I don’t care to give any of this any more validity. You can read the Chron story here and their explainer about election contests here. I think the Trib story contains the most relevant bit of information:

The Election Day problems were unlikely to have been substantial enough to swing the results of the Harris County judge’s race, according to Bob Stein, a political science professor at Rice University.

Nearly 70% of voters cast their ballots during the early voting period, but Mealer only cites issues on Election Day itself.

“I’m extremely doubtful that there is a legitimate legal challenge here,” Stein said. “It’s not like voters were told they couldn’t vote or that they had to go home. They were discouraged because the lines were long, or because they were told they’d have to wait.”

Those challenges do not amount to voter suppression, Stein said, but merely suggest that Harris County should operate fewer, better-resourced polling locations.

To make its case, Mealer’s legal team will have to find evidence that more than 18,000 voters were unable to cast ballots on Election Day, and that all of those voters planned to vote for Mealer, Stein said.

And every voter who might have been discouraged by issues at one location could have gone to another one, which would have been at most a couple of minutes away by car. Even at the highest end of the estimate of locations that had issues, more than 90% of them did not. We have multiple locations at which anyone can vote precisely as a hedge against problems at any one specific location. In the old days, when you had to vote at your precinct location, you really were screwed. Now you can just go somewhere else. Even in the case of the loser who lost to DaSean Jones by 449 votes, it’s extremely hard to imagine there could have been enough people who encountered problems and could not vote anywhere else and would have voted for the loser to make a difference. This is all bullshit and should be seen as such. Campos and the Texas Signal have more.

Bell County to sue over Killeen’s marijuana ordinance

Something like this was surely inevitable.

Bell County commissioners, along with the district attorney, are determined to settle the question of whether Killeen’s Proposition A is lawful, making the governing body the first in Texas to sue one of its own cities over decriminalization of misdemeanor possession of marijuana.

“Basically, the discussion was going on in consideration of the ordinance that had been passed by the City Council of Killeen and the actions of the result of that particular vote,” Bell County District Attorney Henry Garza told the Herald. “What you saw (on Thursday) was really the beginning of getting this particular question before a court: What is the effect of a local municipal ordinance when it comes into conflict with state law?”

In a unanimous vote on Thursday, Bell County commissioners agreed to file a lawsuit against Killeen over the city’s adoption of Proposition A, the ballot measure that was approved by voters in November to decriminalize marijuana in Killeen.

“The county commissioners voted to direct the county attorney and (me) to get involved in the beginning to get that question answered,” Garza said. “That is the only way to get it into court to begin a legal action.”

None of the other Texas cities where decriminalization initiatives have been approved — Elgin, Denton, San Marcos and Austin — has faced litigation. But in San Marcos, Hays County District Attorney Wes Mau has asked for the Texas attorney general’s opinion on that city’s decriminalization ordinance.

“The good news is the vast majority of the law has actually been researched not only by me and the county attorney, (but) the city attorney in Harker Heights had the opportunity to review the matter legally and so has the city attorney in Killeen,” Garza said.

Opponents of Prop A, including Garza, say it conflicts with state law — where low amounts marijuana is still a misdemeanor — and therefore should not be allowed in individual cities.

It is not clear when the lawsuit will be filed.

“We will plan accordingly,” Garza said.

He and County Attorney Jim Nichols met with Commissioners Bobby Whitson, John Driver, Bill Schumann and Russell Schneider in executive session for an hour on Thursday. County Judge David Blackburn joined the meeting remotely, and Schumann chaired the meeting.

After 10 people spoke and each commissioner offered their opinions on Proposition A, they voted 5-0 on an “authorization to litigate.”

“The Bell County attorney is authorized to file suit against the city of Killeen and its agents to enforce Texas Local Government Code section 370.003 by seeking declaratory relief in district court against the city of Killeen’s actions as unconstitutional; and seeking injunctive relief in district court against the city of Killeen from enforcing either the special order or ordinance; and seeking injunctive relief against the city of Killeen from punishing police officers for enforcing marijuana laws under the Health and Safety Code, Penal Code, and Code of Criminal Procedure,” according to the authorization.

The decision allows Nichols to seek declaratory relief “authorizing peace officers licensed by the state of Texas to fully enforce marijuana laws as it is their duty to prevent and suppress crime under Section 2.13 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.”

See here, here, and here for some background. Activists in Harker Heights, which is also in Bell County, are planning to force another vote on the issue, though that may wind up being moot, depending on how this goes. I don’t know how this will play out in the courts – I’m not optimistic for the Ground Game Texas folks, I’ll say that much – but even a favorable ruling may not help, as I would expect the Lege to weigh in as well, on the side of the opponents. I believe Ground Game Texas is on the right side of the issue and as noted I’d vote for one of their propositions if it were before me, but the power imbalance is what it is, and there’s not a clear way around it. You may have heard me say something like this in the past, but we’re going to have to change our state government if we want things like this to go differently in the future. Not much else to it, I’m afraid. The Current has more.

Precinct analysis: The not-as-good statewide races

PREVIOUSLY
Beto versus Abbott
Beto versus the spread
Hidalgo versus Mealer
Better statewide races

The difference between these statewide races and the ones we have already looked at, including the Governor’s race, is very simple: These Republican candidates did better than the ones we have seen, and the Democrats did less well. The Dems in the first four races we analyzed all topped 53% of the vote in Harris County. The high score with these three is Jay Kleberg’s 51.11%. Luke Warford, who had a Green opponent as well as a Libertarian opponent, fell short of a majority in Harris County, getting 49.95% for a plurality. Let’s see how this breaks down.

Comptroller


Dist    Hegar  Dudding     Lib
==============================
HD126  36,931   21,555   1,269
HD127  40,053   24,746   1,441
HD128  32,350   12,795   1,014
HD129  38,119   24,936   1,559
HD130  46,320   18,701   1,229
HD131   6,114   24,275     906
HD132  36,340   23,387   1,259
HD133  35,123   24,187   1,043
HD134  32,915   46,611   1,330
HD135  17,107   22,475   1,135
HD137   8,263   12,428     646
HD138  32,580   23,012   1,269
HD139  12,325   30,301   1,174
HD140   5,761   12,183   1,066
HD141   4,586   20,094     815
HD142   8,957   24,548     997
HD143   8,538   14,611   1,218
HD144  11,734   13,368   1,167
HD145  13,855   29,642   1,839
HD146   9,031   32,118     953
HD147   9,676   35,412   1,338
HD148  16,203   19,567   1,251
HD149  12,278   18,681     882
HD150  34,841   21,318   1,294
							
CC1    72,584  195,779   6,893
CC2    97,146   99,729   7,605
CC3   225,304  134,394   7,641
CC4   114,966  121,049   5,955
							
JP1    65,832  117,292   5,140
JP2    22,125   28,127   2,055
JP3    35,715   40,576   2,117
JP4   173,366  120,182   6,806
JP5   146,733  136,478   6,730
JP6     5,130   16,223   1,342
JP7    12,325   64,437   1,904
JP8    48,774   27,636   2,000

Dist   Hegar% Dudding%    Lib%
==============================
HD126  61.80%   36.07%   2.12%
HD127  60.47%   37.36%   2.18%
HD128  70.08%   27.72%   2.20%
HD129  58.99%   38.59%   2.41%
HD130  69.92%   28.23%   1.86%
HD131  19.54%   77.57%   2.90%
HD132  59.59%   38.35%   2.06%
HD133  58.20%   40.08%   1.73%
HD134  40.71%   57.65%   1.64%
HD135  42.01%   55.20%   2.79%
HD137  38.73%   58.25%   3.03%
HD138  57.30%   40.47%   2.23%
HD139  28.14%   69.18%   2.68%
HD140  30.31%   64.09%   5.61%
HD141  17.99%   78.82%   3.20%
HD142  25.96%   71.15%   2.89%
HD143  35.04%   59.96%   5.00%
HD144  44.67%   50.89%   4.44%
HD145  30.56%   65.38%   4.06%
HD146  21.45%   76.29%   2.26%
HD147  20.84%   76.28%   2.88%
HD148  43.77%   52.85%   3.38%
HD149  38.56%   58.67%   2.77%
HD150  60.64%   37.11%   2.25%
			
CC1    26.37%   71.13%   2.50%
CC2    47.51%   48.77%   3.72%
CC3    61.33%   36.59%   2.08%
CC4    47.51%   50.03%   2.46%
			
JP1    34.97%   62.30%   2.73%
JP2    42.30%   53.77%   3.93%
JP3    45.55%   51.75%   2.70%
JP4    57.72%   40.01%   2.27%
JP5    50.61%   47.07%   2.32%
JP6    22.60%   71.48%   5.91%
JP7    15.67%   81.91%   2.42%
JP8    62.20%   35.25%   2.55%

Land Commissioner


Dist     Buck  Kleberg     Grn   W-I
====================================
HD126  36,849   21,629   1,070     1
HD127  40,131   24,789   1,092     0
HD128  32,446   12,873     706     9
HD129  38,169   25,015   1,149     3
HD130  46,145   18,886     963     5
HD131   6,081   24,219     829     1
HD132  36,155   23,542   1,053     2
HD133  34,565   24,654     915     2
HD134  31,902   47,475   1,190     6
HD135  17,116   22,492     963     1
HD137   8,141   12,532     562     2
HD138  32,324   23,310     968     2
HD139  12,258   30,317   1,025     1
HD140   5,859   12,433     613     3
HD141   4,635   20,039     691     3
HD142   8,984   24,532     839     4
HD143   8,646   14,845     732     5
HD144  11,869   13,567     682     4
HD145  13,820   30,044   1,276     3
HD146   8,914   32,076     990     0
HD147   9,684   35,282   1,243     1
HD148  16,142   19,762     959     2
HD149  12,314   18,717     714     0
HD150  34,884   21,411   1,016     3
								
CC1    71,640  196,243   6,241    17
CC2    97,762  100,816   4,930    24
CC3   224,673  135,288   6,151    14
CC4   113,958  122,094   4,918     8
								
JP1    64,874  118,648   3,973    11
JP2    22,268   28,432   1,306     7
JP3    35,847   40,620   1,612     8
JP4   173,174  120,696   5,428    13
JP5   145,487  137,664   5,652    10
JP6     5,253   16,428     881     4
JP7    12,214   64,137   2,011     2
JP8    48,916   27,816   1,377     8

Dist    Buck% Kleberg%    Grn%  W-I%
====================================
HD126  61.88%   36.32%   1.80% 0.00%
HD127  60.79%   37.55%   1.65% 0.00%
HD128  70.48%   27.96%   1.53% 0.02%
HD129  59.33%   38.88%   1.79% 0.00%
HD130  69.92%   28.62%   1.46% 0.01%
HD131  19.53%   77.80%   2.66% 0.00%
HD132  59.51%   38.75%   1.73% 0.00%
HD133  57.48%   41.00%   1.52% 0.00%
HD134  39.59%   58.92%   1.48% 0.01%
HD135  42.19%   55.44%   2.37% 0.00%
HD137  38.33%   59.01%   2.65% 0.01%
HD138  57.11%   41.18%   1.71% 0.00%
HD139  28.11%   69.53%   2.35% 0.00%
HD140  30.99%   65.76%   3.24% 0.02%
HD141  18.27%   78.99%   2.72% 0.01%
HD142  26.15%   71.40%   2.44% 0.01%
HD143  35.69%   61.27%   3.02% 0.02%
HD144  45.44%   51.94%   2.61% 0.02%
HD145  30.61%   66.55%   2.83% 0.01%
HD146  21.23%   76.41%   2.36% 0.00%
HD147  20.96%   76.35%   2.69% 0.00%
HD148  43.79%   53.61%   2.60% 0.01%
HD149  38.79%   58.96%   2.25% 0.00%
HD150  60.86%   37.36%   1.77% 0.01%
				
CC1    26.13%   71.58%   2.28% 0.01%
CC2    48.03%   49.53%   2.42% 0.01%
CC3    61.36%   36.95%   1.68% 0.00%
CC4    47.29%   50.67%   2.04% 0.00%
				
JP1    34.60%   63.28%   2.12% 0.01%
JP2    42.81%   54.66%   2.51% 0.01%
JP3    45.91%   52.02%   2.06% 0.01%
JP4    57.86%   40.32%   1.81% 0.00%
JP5    50.37%   47.67%   1.96% 0.00%
JP6    23.28%   72.80%   3.90% 0.02%
JP7    15.59%   81.84%   2.57% 0.00%
JP8    62.62%   35.61%   1.76% 0.01%

Railroad Commissioner


Dist    Chris  Warford     Lib     Grn
======================================
HD126  36,287   21,192   1,384     648
HD127  39,533   24,297   1,535     651
HD128  32,057   12,551     995     399
HD129  37,473   24,455   1,607     766
HD130  45,640   18,396   1,369     597
HD131   5,986   23,853     942     400
HD132  35,684   22,981   1,395     627
HD133  34,391   23,900   1,215     616
HD134  31,677   46,420   1,533     844
HD135  16,804   21,988   1,227     559
HD137   8,017   12,261     612     350
HD138  31,928   22,708   1,350     641
HD139  12,044   29,784   1,169     555
HD140   5,685   11,976     991     277
HD141   4,527   19,765     784     332
HD142   8,851   24,073   1,025     411
HD143   8,457   14,290   1,159     373
HD144  11,679   13,015   1,125     328
HD145  13,535   29,065   1,855     677
HD146   8,716   31,720     927     581
HD147   9,406   34,678   1,363     730
HD148  15,938   19,168   1,217     514
HD149  12,101   18,269     925     429
HD150  34,404   20,882   1,366     623
								
CC1   70,449   192,875   7,107   3,563
CC2   95,951    97,604   7,402   2,627
CC3  221,887   132,181   8,202   3,726
CC4  112,533   119,027   6,359   3,012
								
JP1   63,938   115,819   5,264   2,359
JP2   21,846    27,531   2,021     648
JP3   35,348    39,739   2,132     865
JP4  170,806   118,025   7,219   3,145
JP5  143,838   134,221   7,231   3,484
JP6    5,019    15,850   1,277     447
JP7   11,907    63,400   1,926   1,109
JP8   48,118    27,102   2,000     871

Dist   Chris% Warford%    Lib%    Grn%
======================================
HD126  60.98%   35.61%   2.33%   1.09%
HD127  59.88%   36.80%   2.33%   0.99%
HD128  69.69%   27.28%   2.16%   0.87%
HD129  58.28%   38.03%   2.50%   1.19%
HD130  69.15%   27.87%   2.07%   0.90%
HD131  19.20%   76.50%   3.02%   1.28%
HD132  58.80%   37.87%   2.30%   1.03%
HD133  57.20%   39.75%   2.02%   1.02%
HD134  39.36%   57.68%   1.90%   1.05%
HD135  41.41%   54.19%   3.02%   1.38%
HD137  37.74%   57.73%   2.88%   1.65%
HD138  56.38%   40.10%   2.38%   1.13%
HD139  27.65%   68.39%   2.68%   1.27%
HD140  30.03%   63.27%   5.24%   1.46%
HD141  17.82%   77.79%   3.09%   1.31%
HD142  25.76%   70.06%   2.98%   1.20%
HD143  34.83%   58.86%   4.77%   1.54%
HD144  44.67%   49.78%   4.30%   1.25%
HD145  29.99%   64.40%   4.11%   1.50%
HD146  20.78%   75.62%   2.21%   1.39%
HD147  20.37%   75.10%   2.95%   1.58%
HD148  43.27%   52.03%   3.30%   1.40%
HD149  38.14%   57.59%   2.92%   1.35%
HD150  60.07%   36.46%   2.38%   1.09%
				
CC1    25.71%   70.39%   2.59%   1.30%
CC2    47.13%   47.94%   3.64%   1.29%
CC3    60.63%   36.12%   2.24%   1.02%
CC4    46.71%   49.40%   2.64%   1.25%
				
JP1    34.12%   61.81%   2.81%   1.26%
JP2    41.97%   52.90%   3.88%   1.25%
JP3    45.27%   50.89%   2.73%   1.11%
JP4    57.09%   39.45%   2.41%   1.05%
JP5    49.81%   46.48%   2.50%   1.21%
JP6    22.21%   70.15%   5.65%   1.98%
JP7    15.20%   80.93%   2.46%   1.42%
JP8    61.62%   34.71%   2.56%   1.12%

Not too surprisingly, what we see in all three of these races is…more votes for the Republican candidate and fewer votes for the Democrat across the precincts, with a couple of exceptions here and there. The effect was generally stronger in the Republican districts than in the Democratic ones, with HDs 133 and 134 being the most notable.

The total number of votes in these elections is comparable – the number declines gently as you go down the ballot, but more undervoting does not explain the shifts in percentages. In a few cases you can see a greater number of third-party votes, which can explain a part of a Democratic vote decline, but again the overall effect is too small to be generally explanatory. The only logical conclusion is that across the board, some number of people who votes for Beto and Collier and Garza and Hays also voted for Glenn Hegar and Dawn Buckingham and Wayne Christian.

The question then is why. To me, the most likely explanation is that the most visible Republicans, the ones most likely to loudly and visibly stake out unpopular and divisive positions – and yes, this means “unpopular”, or at least “less popular” with Republicans, with opposing marijuana reform and expanded gambling and rape/incest exceptions for abortion – are losing votes that their lower profile/less visibly extreme colleagues are not losing.

This makes sense to me, but as it agrees with my priors, I’d like to check it. I’m pretty sure I’ve expressed this sentiment before, but if I had the power and the funds I’d order a study, to try to identify these voters and ask them why they did what they did. Not out of disbelief or derision but curiosity, to get a better understanding. Maybe other Democratic candidates could get them with the right message, and if they were the right candidates. Maybe they just didn’t know enough about the Dems in these races to be in a position to consider them. Maybe a strategy that attempts to maximize Democratic turnout overall – we have already discussed how Dems fell short in this election on that front – would make them less likely to cross over, even for Republicans they don’t approve of. We can speculate all week, but there’s only one way to find out. I really wish I could make that happen.

One more thing to note is that despite the lesser Democratic performance, these candidates all still carried the three Commissioner Court precincts that are now Democratic. I’ll be paying closer attention to these precincts, because this isn’t always the case going forward. In the meantime, let me know what you think.

Trying again in Harker Heights

I admire the determination.

Cannabis reform advocates are pushing back against the city council of the Central Texas city of Harker Heights, which recently rejected a voter-approved ballot measure decriminalizing low levels of pot possession there.

Harker Heights was one of five Texas municipalities in which voters during the November midterms approved decriminalization initiatives. While at least two other of those votes received blowback from local officials, Harker Heights is so far the first to reject voters’ approval outright.

Voter mobilization group Ground Game Texas, which championed Harker Heights’ original ballot initiative, said it’s launched a new petition drive to override the council ordinance, which passed Nov. 22. Some 64% of voters in the city of 34,000 people approved the decriminalization initiative.

“By voting to repeal Prop A, the Harker Heights City Council sent a clear message to their constituents that they don’t respect the will of the voters or the democracy they participate in,” Ground Game Texas Executive Director Julie Oliver said in a news release. “These antidemocratic politicians are trying to throw away the votes of more than 5,000 Harker Heights residents — but we won’t let them. With this new referendum, Ground Game Texas will ensure the will of voters isn’t trampled on by their local elected officials.”

See here and here for the background. I consider what Harker Heights City Council did to be defensible, but I would not feel the same way if this effort succeeds and they override it again. At this point, the opponents of this proposal on City Council can make their case directly to the voters, so there’s no question about conflicting mandates. Whatever happens, this should be the last word, until and unless the state gets involved.

On a related note:

Organizers have gathered more than 26,000 signatures so far for a petition that would give San Antonio voters in May the opportunity to decriminalize marijuana possession, end enforcement of abortion laws, establish a city “justice director” position, ban police from using no-knock warrants and chokeholds and expand the city’s cite-and-release policy for low-level, nonviolent crimes.

The local police reform advocacy group ACT 4 SA aims to collect 35,000 signatures — anticipating that some won’t be verified — to submit to the City Clerk before the early January deadline.

But even if they miss that goal, voters can expect to see the slate of proposed changes, collectively known as the “Justice Charter,” to the city charter on the November 2023 ballot because the signatures collected are valid for six months.

“Two-thirds of the people I talked to sign [the petition],” said Ananda Tomas, executive director of ACT 4 SA, which launched the petition effort in October. “They’re either for the initiatives or they just want to put it up to a vote because they think that this is something we should vote on.”

San Antonio’s police union has criticized the Justice Charter as an overreach into police policies as well as violations of state and federal law. Union President Danny Diaz has pointed out that chokeholds and no-knock warrants already are prohibited, while enforcement policies for marijuana and abortion are determined at the state level.

San Antonio had previously passed an ordinance that “recommends that no local funds be used to investigate criminal charges related to abortions”. I assume this would go further than that, but it’s not clear to me exactly how the referendum differs from the existing ordinance. It’s clear that opinions differ about the legality and enforceability of the marijuana-related measures, and I’d say the same would be true for the abortion one. I strongly suspect we’ll be hearing from the Legislature on the latter, and quite possibly on the former as well. Be that as it may, I will be very interested to see how this turns out, and whether something similar happens in Houston.

Precinct analysis: The better statewide races

PREVIOUSLY
Beto versus Abbott
Beto versus the spread
Hidalgo versus Mealer

As noted before, Greg Abbott got 490K votes in Harris County, far less than the 559K he received in 2018 running against Lupe Valdez. Of the other six races for statewide executive offices, three were similar in nature to the Governor’s race and three were friendlier to Republicans. This post is about the first three, and those are the races for Lite Guv, Attorney General, and Ag Commissioner. For those of you whose memories stretch back as far as 2018, yes those were the three best races for Dems after the Beto-Cruz race for Senate as well. Let’s look at the numbers.

Lieutenant Governor


Dist  Patrick  Collier     Lib
==============================
HD126  35,244   23,460   1,482
HD127  38,578   26,405   1,691
HD128  31,548   13,748   1,148
HD129  36,347   26,966   1,802
HD130  44,307   20,934   1,434
HD131   5,886   24,670     933
HD132  34,417   25,498   1,374
HD133  31,931   27,421   1,396
HD134  28,262   51,502   1,828
HD135  16,373   23,514   1,050
HD137   7,690   13,164     650
HD138  30,328   25,534   1,383
HD139  11,536   31,304   1,246
HD140   5,850   12,681     647
HD141   4,494   20,290     851
HD142   8,641   25,030   1,043
HD143   8,469   15,270     804
HD144  11,551   14,029     854
HD145  12,368   32,031   1,449
HD146   8,285   33,018   1,148
HD147   8,809   36,618   1,383
HD148  15,383   20,840   1,065
HD149  11,923   19,315     824
HD150  33,548   22,898   1,431

CC1    65,573  204,223   7,632
CC2    94,272  105,549   6,218
CC3   214,555  146,441   8,815
CC4   107,368  129,927   6,251
							
JP1    58,698  126,202   5,083
JP2    21,608   29,498   1,599
JP3    34,975   41,776   2,126
JP4   166,204  128,604   7,578
JP5   137,161  147,432   7,185
JP6     4,941   17,062     885
JP7    11,370   65,643   2,250
JP8    46,811   29,923   2,210

Dist Patrick% Collier%    Lib%
==============================
HD126  58.56%   38.98%   2.46%
HD127  57.86%   39.60%   2.54%
HD128  67.93%   29.60%   2.47%
HD129  55.82%   41.41%   2.77%
HD130  66.45%   31.40%   2.15%
HD131  18.69%   78.34%   2.96%
HD132  56.16%   41.60%   2.24%
HD133  52.56%   45.14%   2.30%
HD134  34.64%   63.12%   2.24%
HD135  40.00%   57.44%   2.56%
HD137  35.76%   61.22%   3.02%
HD138  52.98%   44.60%   2.42%
HD139  26.17%   71.01%   2.83%
HD140  30.50%   66.12%   3.37%
HD141  17.53%   79.15%   3.32%
HD142  24.89%   72.10%   3.00%
HD143  34.51%   62.22%   3.28%
HD144  43.70%   53.07%   3.23%
HD145  26.98%   69.86%   3.16%
HD146  19.52%   77.78%   2.70%
HD147  18.82%   78.23%   2.95%
HD148  41.25%   55.89%   2.86%
HD149  37.19%   60.24%   2.57%
HD150  57.96%   39.56%   2.47%

CC1    23.64%   73.61%   2.75%
CC2    45.75%   51.23%   3.02%
CC3    58.02%   39.60%   2.38%
CC4    44.09%   53.35%   2.57%
			
JP1    30.90%   66.43%   2.68%
JP2    41.00%   55.97%   3.03%
JP3    44.34%   52.96%   2.70%
JP4    54.96%   42.53%   2.51%
JP5    47.01%   50.53%   2.46%
JP6    21.59%   74.55%   3.87%
JP7    14.34%   82.82%   2.84%
JP8    59.30%   37.90%   2.80%

Attorney General


Dist   Paxton    Garza     Lib
==============================
HD126  35,146   23,166   1,681
HD127  38,480   26,208   1,817
HD128  31,566   13,692   1,110
HD129  36,386   26,643   1,914
HD130  44,397   20,427   1,713
HD131   5,857   24,875     694
HD132  34,454   25,125   1,539
HD133  31,901   26,700   1,898
HD134  28,201   50,706   2,371
HD135  16,314   23,615     964
HD137   7,704   13,091     643
HD138  30,154   25,204   1,732
HD139  11,438   31,372   1,145
HD140   5,605   13,078     466
HD141   4,487   20,489     610
HD142   8,580   25,228     859
HD143   8,346   15,595     594
HD144  11,375   14,337     662
HD145  12,220   32,097   1,425
HD146   8,320   32,991     999
HD147   8,731   36,766   1,206
HD148  15,221   20,981   1,035
HD149  11,876   19,423     706
HD150  33,382   22,726   1,595
							
CC1    65,204  204,223   7,257
CC2    93,611  106,606   5,426
CC3   214,042  144,575  10,162
CC4   107,284  129,131   6,533
							
JP1    58,125  125,740   5,522
JP2    21,364   29,906   1,317
JP3    34,843   42,072   1,833
JP4   165,760  127,783   8,087
JP5   136,969  146,132   7,898
JP6     4,815   17,369     687
JP7    11,411   65,835   1,804
JP8    46,854   29,698   2,230

Dist  Paxton%   Garza%    Lib%
==============================
HD126  58.58%   38.61%   2.80%
HD127  57.86%   39.41%   2.73%
HD128  68.08%   29.53%   2.39%
HD129  56.03%   41.03%   2.95%
HD130  66.73%   30.70%   2.57%
HD131  18.64%   79.15%   2.21%
HD132  56.37%   41.11%   2.52%
HD133  52.73%   44.13%   3.14%
HD134  34.70%   62.39%   2.92%
HD135  39.89%   57.75%   2.36%
HD137  35.94%   61.06%   3.00%
HD138  52.82%   44.15%   3.03%
HD139  26.02%   71.37%   2.60%
HD140  29.27%   68.30%   2.43%
HD141  17.54%   80.08%   2.38%
HD142  24.75%   72.77%   2.48%
HD143  34.02%   63.56%   2.42%
HD144  43.13%   54.36%   2.51%
HD145  26.72%   70.17%   3.12%
HD146  19.66%   77.97%   2.36%
HD147  18.69%   78.72%   2.58%
HD148  40.88%   56.34%   2.78%
HD149  37.11%   60.69%   2.21%
HD150  57.85%   39.38%   2.76%
			
CC1    23.57%   73.81%   2.62%
CC2    45.52%   51.84%   2.64%
CC3    58.04%   39.20%   2.76%
CC4    44.16%   53.15%   2.69%
			
JP1    30.69%   66.39%   2.92%
JP2    40.63%   56.87%   2.50%
JP3    44.25%   53.43%   2.33%
JP4    54.95%   42.36%   2.68%
JP5    47.07%   50.22%   2.71%
JP6    21.05%   75.94%   3.00%
JP7    14.44%   83.28%   2.28%
JP8    59.47%   37.70%   2.83%

Dan Patrick (481K votes) and Ken Paxton (480K) were the two low scorers among Republicans. Mike Collier and Rochelle Garza both had leads against them of just over 100K votes, right in line with Beto’s lead against Abbott. That’s not as robust as what Dems did in 2018 as we know, but I can’t blame Collier and Garza for that. They were still top scorers, it was mostly that the environment wasn’t as good for them.

Overall, it looks like Collier and Garza did about as well percentage-wise as Beto did. Collier actually did a tiny bit better in HD133, and both did better in HD134. In some cases, like HD132 and HD138, Collier and Garza were about equal with Beto but Patrick and Paxton were a point or two behind Abbott. That looks to me to be the effect of the larger Libertarian vote in those races – there were about 29K Lib votes in these two races, while there were about 16K third party and write-in votes for Governor. At least in those cases, you can make the claim that the Libertarian received votes that might have otherwise gone to the Republican.

In the Ag Commissioner race, Sid Miller got 507K votes to top Abbott’s total, but he was aided by not having any third party candidates. Susan Hays did pretty well compared to the other Dems in that straight up two-way race:

Ag Commissioner


Dist   Miller     Hays
======================
HD126  36,872   22,678
HD127  40,060   25,992
HD128  32,447   13,641
HD129  38,091   26,236
HD130  46,273   19,792
HD131   6,091   25,170
HD132  36,189   24,576
HD133  34,548   25,581
HD134  31,793   48,687
HD135  17,174   23,491
HD137   8,207   13,090
HD138  32,276   24,389
HD139  12,291   31,372
HD140   5,904   13,079
HD141   4,667   20,779
HD142   9,047   25,391
HD143   8,631   15,710
HD144  11,849   14,344
HD145  13,871   31,301
HD146   8,922   33,114
HD147   9,761   36,482
HD148  16,238   20,657
HD149  12,270   19,513
HD150  34,895   22,408
						
CC1    71,746  202,649
CC2    97,753  106,167
CC3   224,670  141,583
CC4   114,198  127,074
						
JP1    64,850  122,675
JP2    22,256   29,898
JP3    35,923   42,332
JP4   173,381  126,119
JP5   145,619  143,496
JP6     5,243   17,412
JP7    12,266   66,242
JP8    48,829   29,299

Dist  Miller%    Hays% 
=======================
HD126  61.92%   38.08%
HD127  60.65%   39.35%
HD128  70.40%   29.60%
HD129  59.21%   40.79%
HD130  70.04%   29.96%
HD131  19.48%   80.52%
HD132  59.56%   40.44%
HD133  57.46%   42.54%
HD134  39.50%   60.50%
HD135  42.23%   57.77%
HD137  38.54%   61.46%
HD138  56.96%   43.04%
HD139  28.15%   71.85%
HD140  31.10%   68.90%
HD141  18.34%   81.66%
HD142  26.27%   73.73%
HD143  35.46%   64.54%
HD144  45.24%   54.76%
HD145  30.71%   69.29%
HD146  21.22%   78.78%
HD147  21.11%   78.89%
HD148  44.01%   55.99%
HD149  38.61%   61.39%
HD150  60.90%   39.10%
		
CC1    26.15%   73.85%
CC2    47.94%   52.06%
CC3    61.34%   38.66%
CC4    47.33%   52.67%
		
JP1    34.58%   65.42%
JP2    42.67%   57.33%
JP3    45.91%   54.09%
JP4    57.89%   42.11%
JP5    50.37%   49.63%
JP6    23.14%   76.86%
JP7    15.62%   84.38%
JP8    62.50%   37.50%

Miller was definitely a slight notch up from the first three. How much of that is the lack of a third choice versus some other consideration I couldn’t say, but you can see it in the numbers.

I’ll get into it a bit more in the next post when we look at the higher-scoring Republicans, but my sense is that these three Dems, plus Beto, received some crossovers. Beto and Collier and Garza had enough money to at least run some ads, while Hays was still running against perhaps the highest-profile (read: got the most negative news for his ridiculous actions) incumbent after those three. We have definitely seen races like this, certainly in elections going back to 2016 – Hillary versus Trump, Biden versus Trump, Beto and the Lite Guv/AG/Ag Commish triumvirate this year and 2018. We saw it with Bill White in 2010, too – as I’ve observed in the past, White received something like 300K votes from people who otherwise voted Republican. That’s a lot! Democrats can persuade at least some Republicans to vote for their statewide candidates, but only under some conditions. If we can get the baseline vote to be closer, that could be enough to push some people over the top. We’re still working on the first part of that equation.

Like I said, I’ll get into that a bit more in the next post. Looking at what I’ve written here, I need to do a post about third party votes, too. Let me know what you think.

Precinct analysis: Hidalgo versus Mealer

PREVIOUSLY
Beto versus Abbott
Beto versus the spread

We’ve looked at the Governor’s race, in which Beto was the top Democratic performer. Now we’ll look at the next highest profile race, in which the result was a surprise to some people who didn’t connect Democratic performance at the top of the ticket with the other local races. Here’s the data for the County Judge race, in which Judge Lina Hidalgo won re-election by a close margin, though on a percentage basis it was slightly wider than her initial win in 2018. As with the first Beto post, I’m just going to dump all the data and will add my comments at the end.


Dist   Mealer  Hidalgo    W-I
=============================
CD02   77,665   46,669     21
CD07   53,108   77,625     29
CD08   46,156   45,668     17
CD09   23,451   71,374     29
CD18   46,492  107,792     46
CD22   13,292    8,076      2
CD29   33,392   66,220     27
CD36   70,392   41,817     24
CD38  170,772   87,662     46

CD02   62.45%   37.53%  0.02%
CD07   40.61%   59.36%  0.02%
CD08   50.26%   49.73%  0.02%
CD09   24.72%   75.25%  0.03%
CD18   30.13%   69.85%  0.03%
CD22   62.20%   37.79%  0.01%
CD29   33.51%   66.46%  0.03%
CD36   62.72%   37.26%  0.02%
CD38   66.07%   33.91%  0.02%

Dist   Mealer  Hidalgo    W-I
=============================
SD04   58,925   34,135     14
SD06   45,259   81,877     39
SD07  163,993   97,075     50
SD11   60,351   32,991     17
SD13   25,998   96,440     45
SD15   97,303  146,861     50
SD17   64,692   46,518     22
SD18   18,199   17,006      4

SD04   63.31%   36.68%  0.02%
SD06   35.59%   64.38%  0.03%
SD07   62.80%   37.18%  0.02%
SD11   64.64%   35.34%  0.02%
SD13   21.23%   78.74%  0.04%
SD15   39.84%   60.14%  0.02%
SD17   58.16%   41.82%  0.02%
SD18   51.69%   48.30%  0.01%

Dist   Mealer  Hidalgo    W-I
=============================
HD126  38,281   21,401     17
HD127  41,603   24,533      5
HD128  33,175   12,968     12
HD129  39,519   24,982     11
HD130  47,660   18,606     13
HD131   6,519   24,611     13
HD132  37,180   23,721      7
HD133  36,909   23,379     11
HD134  35,653   45,142     16
HD135  17,620   22,982      7
HD137   8,600   12,670      9
HD138  33,875   22,977      9
HD139  13,492   30,143     11
HD140   6,238   12,885      5
HD141   5,209   20,104     17
HD142   9,939   24,454      7
HD143   9,087   15,412      6
HD144  12,242   14,069      9
HD145  15,445   30,141     11
HD146   9,975   31,981     11
HD147  10,964   35,240     12
HD148  16,934   20,004      8
HD149  12,496   19,196      4
HD150  36,105   21,302     10

HD126  64.12%   35.85%  0.03%
HD127  62.90%   37.09%  0.01%
HD128  71.88%   28.10%  0.03%
HD129  61.26%   38.72%  0.02%
HD130  71.91%   28.07%  0.02%
HD131  20.93%   79.03%  0.04%
HD132  61.04%   38.95%  0.01%
HD133  61.21%   38.77%  0.02%
HD134  44.12%   55.86%  0.02%
HD135  43.39%   56.59%  0.02%
HD137  40.42%   59.54%  0.04%
HD138  59.58%   40.41%  0.02%
HD139  30.91%   69.06%  0.03%
HD140  32.61%   67.36%  0.03%
HD141  20.56%   79.37%  0.07%
HD142  28.89%   71.09%  0.02%
HD143  37.08%   62.89%  0.02%
HD144  46.51%   53.45%  0.03%
HD145  33.87%   66.10%  0.02%
HD146  23.77%   76.21%  0.03%
HD147  23.72%   76.25%  0.03%
HD148  45.83%   54.14%  0.02%
HD149  39.42%   60.56%  0.01%
HD150  62.88%   37.10%  0.02%

Dist   Mealer  Hidalgo    W-I
=============================
CC1    80,014  194,272     79
CC2   101,745  103,117     48
CC3   233,567  133,554     63
CC4   119,394  121,960     51

CC1    29.16%   70.81%  0.03%
CC2    49.65%   50.32%  0.02%
CC3    63.61%   36.37%  0.02%
CC4    49.46%   50.52%  0.02%

Dist   Mealer  Hidalgo    W-I
=============================
JP1    71,793  116,463     40
JP2    23,249   29,149     10
JP3    37,340   40,840     31
JP4   180,017  119,979     60
JP5   152,130  137,293     52
JP6     5,840   17,018      5
JP7    13,972   64,220     27
JP8    50,379   27,941     16

JP1    38.13%   61.85%  0.02%
JP2    44.36%   55.62%  0.02%
JP3    47.74%   52.22%  0.04%
JP4    59.99%   39.99%  0.02%
JP5    52.55%   47.43%  0.02%
JP6    25.54%   74.43%  0.02%
JP7    17.86%   82.10%  0.03%
JP8    64.31%   35.67%  0.02%

Hidalgo got 50.78% of the vote, which is 3.25 points less than Beto. She got 553K votes, which is 42K less than Beto. Mealer got 534K votes, 44K more than Abbott. Third party candidates accounted for over 16K votes in the Governor’s race, while the write-in candidate for County Judge got 241 total votes. I do not and never will understand anyone who thinks that writing in a candidate for County Judge could possibly be productive, but that’s not important right now.

For the most part, Hidalgo’s performance in each district is about what you’d expect in comparison to Beto. Generally speaking, she did a couple of points worse. The two glaring exceptions to this are HDs 133 and 134, both wealthy, well-educated, predominantly white districts that, in keeping with recent trends, are a lot more Democratic than they used to be. Hidalgo trailed Beto by six points in HD133 and seven in HD134. If I were the New York Times, I’d spend the next six months visiting brunch counters in those districts to talk to more-in-sadness-than-in-anger Mealer voters, who will turn out to have been almost uniformly Ed Emmett voters in 2018 but who will insist that they really wanted to support Hidalgo, they largely agreed with her on how she handled the pandemic and all, but for reasons they can’t quite articulate they just couldn’t. I’m sure it would be compelling reading, but I don’t have the staff or the budget for that. Plus, the idea of it makes me gag, so it’s just as well.

Anyway. The other notable thing is that with the lone exception of JP/Constable Precinct 5, Hidalgo still carried every district Beto carried. (I’m not concerning myself with fractional districts like CD08.) I was worried that if Hidalgo lost, there was a real chance Dems could lose not one but both of the Commissioners Court races as well. Looking at the numbers, it’s not an irrational fear. I’ll have more to say about those Commissioners Court precincts later, so let’s put a pin in that for now.

We have to talk about the many millions of dollars spent by various wealthy wingnuts against Judge Hidalgo and Democratic criminal court judges. We can’t say for certain how much all that spending affected the final outcomes, but it’s impossible to think it had no effect. What I wonder about is whether there will be much appetite for that kind of spending in future races. For sure, it’s hard to imagine much money spent on Republicans locally in 2024. Democrats haven’t lost a judicial race in a Presidential year since 2012, and haven’t lost a majority of judicial races in a Presidential year since 2004. In 2020, eleven Democratic judicial candidates were unopposed. I won’t be surprised if that number is matched or exceeded in 2024. I won’t speculate about 2026 – at the very least, Republicans will have four incumbents to try to defend, so they’ll want to do something – but I don’t see them having a $25 million budget. Maybe Judge Hidalgo will have an easier time of it as well.

I’ll have more to say about judicial races later. In the meantime, let me know what you think.

A closer look at the maternal mortality report

I take no joy in predicting that the Legislature will take no action on this.

Nakeenya Wilson was at a meeting of Texas’ maternal mortality review committee when she got the call: Her sister, who had recently had a baby, was having a stroke.

Wilson raced to the hospital, leaving behind a stack of files documenting the stories of women who had died from pregnancy and childbirth complications. Many of the women in those files were Black, just like Wilson, who experienced a traumatic delivery herself.

“The whole thing just reminded me, if you change the name on those files, it could be me. It could be my sister,” said Wilson, who serves as the committee’s community representative.

A decade ago, when Texas first formed the Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee, Black women were twice as likely as white women, and four times as likely as Hispanic women, to die from pregnancy and childbirth.

Those disparities haven’t improved, according to the committee’s latest report, published Thursday.

In 2020, pregnant Black women were twice as likely to experience critical health issues like hemorrhage, preeclampsia and sepsis. While complications from obstetric hemorrhage declined overall in Texas in recent years, Black women saw an increase of nearly 10%.

Wilson said these statistics show the impact of a health care system that is biased against Black women.

“We’re still dying and being disproportionately impacted by hemorrhage when everybody else is getting better,” Wilson said. “Not only did it not improve, it didn’t stay the same — it got worse.”

The causes of these disparities aren’t always simple to identify, and they’re even harder to fix. It’s a combination of diminished health care access, systemic racism, and the impact of “social determinants of health” — the conditions in which someone is born, lives, works and grows up.

Wilson said she and her sister are prime examples. They grew up in poverty, without health insurance, routine doctor’s visits or consistent access to healthy food.

“We started behind the ball,” she said. “We’ve had so many hard things happen to us that have contributed to our health by the time we’re of childbearing age.”

Maternal health advocates in Texas say addressing these disparities will take more than fixing labor and delivery practices. It will require building a comprehensive health care system that addresses a community’s needs across the board, starting long before pregnancy.

In the end, Wilson’s sister survived her postpartum health scare. But the experience reminded Wilson why she volunteers her time to read, review and analyze stories of women who have died from pregnancy and childbirth.

“When you look at the work marginalized people do, they do it because they don’t feel like they have any choice,” she said. “If we want to see things change, and we want to be safe, we have to advocate for our own safety.”

See here for some background. There’s way too much for me to try to capture in an excerpt, so go read the whole thing. Rep. Shawn Thierry, who experienced some of these problems herself a few years ago when she was giving birth, is and has been working on getting legislation passed to address the issues, which includes things like expanding health care access, gathering better information, and strengthening the maternal mortality review process. See above for my assessment of the likelihood of passage. Rep. Thierry will need a lot more like-minded colleagues to make that happen, and we are very much not there yet. But the work is happening, and will continue to happen.

More on the post-marijuana decriminalization referendum conflict

The Trib takes a long look.

The fight in several Texas cities to decriminalize marijuana has entered a new phase, as some city leaders have rebuffed voter-approved rules that largely end criminal enforcement against having small amounts of the substance.

Last month, residents in Denton, San Marcos, Killeen, Elgin and Harker Heights overwhelmingly approved ballot measures that sought to ban arrests and citations for carrying less than 4 ounces of marijuana in most instances. They also approved new rules blocking cities from funding THC concentration tests, plus removing marijuana smell as a probable cause for search and seizure in most cases.

Winning over voters was just half the battle.

Since then, organizers behind the ballot questions in some cities have clashed with their city and county leaders who are tasked with putting the new laws in place, as well as law enforcement. Those officials have said the effort violates state law and hinders police officers.

The battle has been the toughest in Harker Heights, a town of 33,000 about 55 miles southwest of Waco. Despite the proposition winning more than 60% of the votes, the City Council decided to repeal the ordinance just two weeks later. City Manager David Mitchell said in a subsequent letter that the decision to decriminalize should be left to the state.

For Harker Heights residents who supported decriminalizing marijuana, the repeal is a stinging show of disrespect for their exercise of democracy.

“I don’t do any kind of drugs nor does my wife, but we’re here for the vote,” said Brian Burt, who casted his ballot for the proposition.

“A vote is a vote,” Alexandra Burt chimed in. “We are also aware that minorities disproportionately take the brunt of the law, so it is time for that proposition to go through.”

To force the City Council’s hand, the Burts and hundreds of other residents backed a new petition by Ground Game Texas, a progressive group that co-led the decriminalization campaign, to put the council’s decision to repeal on the May ballot and revive the ordinance in the meantime.

Julie Oliver, the group’s executive director, said the council’s decision to revoke a popular choice by voters has backfired.

“Shutting down someone’s vote is ill-advised, so this has really brought the community together,” she said.

Organizers across the state facing similar pushback also say they would prefer the Texas Legislature to pass laws that would decriminalize or even legalize marijuana — though they acknowledge how unlikely that is given the state’s conservative power structure.

“We can all see the way that this country is heading, state by state, but it looks like Texas is going to be one of the last,” said Deb Armintor, a Decriminalize Denton organizer and a former City Council member who championed decriminalization during her two terms. “There’s no point in cities waiting.”

[…]

Several cities and towns have since followed. Elgin, a city of about 10,500 people that sits just east of Austin, voted to decriminalize by almost 75%. Its council has made the least amount of noise in putting the ordinance in place.

Other city and county officials, however, have raised concerns about a statute from the Texas Local Government Code that says municipal bodies like city councils and police departments “may not adopt a policy under which the entity will not fully enforce laws relating to drugs.”

Last month, Republican Bell County District Attorney Henry Garza cited it when asking the police chief of Killeen, where close to 70% of voters favored decriminalization, to reverse his order telling officers to follow the vote. Following a pause, Killeen City Council approved the ordinance on Dec. 6 after removing the section banning officers from using marijuana smell as probable cause for search and seizure.

“The amendment was not preferable but now our residents do not have to fear an arrest that will affect their employment opportunities, education opportunities and housing opportunities,” said Louie Minor, a Bell County commissioner-elect who worked on both the Killeen and Harker Heights campaigns.

More recently, Republican Hays County Criminal District Attorney Wes Mau requested an attorney general opinion about the ordinance’s enforceability over similar questions. Mano Amiga — the group co-leading the effort in San Marcos — immediately pushed back, as voters had passed the proposition by almost 82% and the City Council already approved it in November.

Mau said he has “no plans to file a lawsuit” in his last month of office. His Democratic successor Kelly Higgins supports decriminalization.

“The Attorney General cannot overturn the referendum, nor am I asking him to,” Mau said in a statement to The Texas Tribune. “But an opinion as to whether the ordinance is enforceable may be helpful to the City moving forward.”

In the North Texas suburb of Denton, where voters approved decriminalization by more than 70%, the City Council has also certified the initiative, thus enacting the ordinance. But organizers worry about its enforcement because City Manager Sara Hensley has opposed implementing parts of it due to similar issues. Organizers responded in November with a memo arguing that Hensley doesn’t have policymaking authority and that the city has discretion to enact policies conserving scarce resources.

See here and here for some background. I take the concerns of the opponents seriously, even as I would have voted for these measures myself. I expect the Legislature will respond, most likely in a disproportionate matter, to these referenda if they are not at least modified by those city councils. I also think this is a fight worth having, in the courts as well as at the ballot box. There really is a significant disconnect between public opinion and legislative action on this matter. So far, too many people who disagree with the Republicans in general and the Lege/Greg Abbott/Dan Patrick in particular have nonetheless voted for them, or not shown up to vote against them. The point here is to try to change some minds of the former and motivate more of the latter. At the very least, that means seeing this through, whatever happens along the way. I do think the pro-decriminalization side will eventually prevail, but who knows how long that may take. Letting up won’t make it happen any sooner.

Texas drops appeal of ruling that forbade banning the sale of handguns to people under 21

Least surprising headline of the week. And month, and year, and pretty much any other arbitrary timeline you choose.

Texas will no longer fight to ban 18- to 20-year-olds from carrying handguns in public. A judge ruled earlier this year that a state law banning the practice was unconstitutional, and Texas initially filed a notice that it would appeal. But Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw withdrew the appeal to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this week.

U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman’s ruling was the first major decision about Texas gun laws since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that the Second Amendment protected individuals who carry weapons for self-defense.

In September, the state filed a notice of appeal, which angered gun rights activists.

“Once again, government officials in the state of Texas are proven to be anti-gun stooges,” Dudley Brown, the president of the National Association for Gun Rights, said in a news release at the time.

Neither the notice of appeal nor the withdrawal listed legal arguments or reasons for doing so; DPS and the Texas attorney general’s office could not immediately be reached for comment.

See here and here for the background. I’m quite certain that the legal reasoning behind this is “we never wanted to appeal this in the first place but there was an election coming up and we wanted to tread carefully, and now that everyone has been safely re-elected we can drop the pretense”. This was predictable enough to be visible from orbit. My question for the lawyers is, could some other group pick up the appeal in place of the state, the way the then-Republican Congress took up the defense of DOMA after the Obama administration dropped out? I don’t know what the conditions are for that.

No, really, are we emotionally prepared for this freeze?

Ready or not, here it comes.

State officials warned residents Wednesday to prepare their homes and vehicles for the coming freeze while trying to reassure on-edge Texans that the electric grid will stay online.

Temperatures are expected to plummet Thursday into single digits — with even lower wind chills. Leaders urged residents to check their car tires and batteries to be sure no one gets stranded on the road, to burn wood or gas inside only if there’s proper ventilation, and to insulate pipes.

“This is a dangerous storm coming our way,” said Nim Kidd, chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management. “The temperatures will be extremely cold and the winds will be high, which will generate some very dangerous wind chills.”

Forecasters predicted life-threatening minus-10-degree wind chills in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and wind chills as low as minus 30 degrees in the Panhandle, Kidd said. Aside from light precipitation in the Panhandle, the state was expected to stay dry.

The lack of concerns over icy roads and infrastructure makes this a different threat than the 2021 Winter Storm Uri, which overwhelmed the state’s main electric grid and killed hundreds of people. Officials are promising that, this time, the power will stay on.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the grid that powers most of Texas, and the Public Utility Council made improvements after Uri, such as ensuring natural gas-fired plants have additional sources of fuel on site and improving communications among electricity regulators, oil and gas regulators, and the Texas Division of Emergency Management.

“The grid is ready and reliable,” said Peter Lake, chair of the Public Utility Commission, which regulates grid operators, on Wednesday. “We expect to have sufficient generation to meet demand throughout this entire winter weather event.”

ERCOT officials expected power demand to be highest from Thursday night through Saturday morning. The peak — near 70,000 megawatts — was predicted Friday morning, when grid operators expected to have nearly 85,000 megawatts of supply if all goes as planned.

“We do expect to have sufficient generation supply to meet the forecasted demands,” said Pablo Vegas, ERCOT’s president and CEO.

Of course, in an extreme scenario, the grid could still face rolling blackouts or tight conditions, and ERCOT could still issue a conservation notice. There may also be local power outages that have nothing to do with the viability of the power grid, caused by things such as wind knocking trees onto power lines.

See here for the background. We’ll find out soon enough. You’ll forgive me, and millions of other Texans, if we remain skeptical. I hope you all stay warm and safe, and that we have a good long time before we have to worry like this again.

Yep, still no voter fraud found

So says the official 2020 election audit.

Despite challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, there was neither widespread voter fraud nor other serious issues in Texas’ 2020 elections, according to an audit of four of Texas’ largest counties released Monday evening by Secretary of State John Scott’s office.

While the 359-page report did find some “irregularities,” it nonetheless reinforced what election experts and monitors — including Scott, the state’s chief election official — have routinely said: that the 2020 contest was not riddled with widespread fraud, and Texans should be confident that future elections will be similarly secure.

“When the Texas Election Code and local procedures are followed, Texas voters should have a very high level of confidence in the accuracy of the outcome of Texas elections,” the report stated. “When procedures are followed, results of the election are trustworthy. Indeed, in most cases, the audit found that the counties followed their procedures and clearly documented their activities.”

[…]

The report found that “many of the irregularities observed” in 2020 were likely caused by the “extraordinary challenges” posed by the pandemic and ensuing staffing shortages. And, auditors said, such problems are even less likely to occur in future contests because of legislative changes, including those in Senate Bill 1.

Of the four counties the report analyzed, the Harris County general election had the most issues, including improper chain of custody of mobile ballot boxes at 14 polling locations. Auditors also found thousands of discrepancies between electronic pollbook records and audit logs.

See here for a bit of background. No one who doesn’t have to is going to read the entire 359 page report, but you can get a high level summary at the beginning of it. I have two points to add. One comes from the Chron story, which addresses some of the items raised in the audit about Harris County:

Harris County did not properly handle certain electronic voting records during the 2020 election, according to an audit from the Texas secretary of state’s office that uncovered numerous administrative mishaps but no evidence of widespread voter fraud in four of the state’s largest counties.

In a report released Monday evening, the state elections office found that Harris County failed to properly document the “chain of custody” — a required step-by-step accounting of voting records — for thousands of ballots across at least 14 polling locations. The finding was among those mentioned by state elections officials last month in a letter to the Harris County elections administrator, delivered days before the November midterms.

The report outlined a number of slip-ups across the four audited counties, which included Republican-controlled Collin and Tarrant counties and Democratic-run Dallas and Harris counties. It concluded that Texas voters “should have a very high level of confidence in the accuracy of the outcome of Texas elections” when counties follow the state election code and their own local procedures.

“Each of the four counties has detailed procedures and detailed forms to document compliance with the code and ensure that only lawful ballots are cast and counted,” the report reads. “When procedures are followed, results of the election are trustworthy. Indeed, in most cases, the audit found that the counties followed their procedures and clearly documented their activities. In some cases, however, they did not.”

When counties did not properly follow state law and local procedures, “discrepancies and irregularities ranging from small to large ensued,” the report said.

State officials singled out Harris County for “very serious issues in the handling of electronic media,” finding that the county lacked records to explain the origin of 17 “mobile ballot boxes” — the pieces of hardware that store vote tallies and transmit the data to and from polling places. The report also identified disparities between electronic records from the polls and “tally audit logs” at numerous locations.

Since the 2020 election, Harris County has switched to a new system that stores voting records on vDrives — a type of USB thumb drive — with “procedures in place to document proper chain of custody … in the event a vDrive fails,” the report reads.

[…]

Harris County Elections Administrator Cliff Tatum has pledged a complete assessment of the issues that arose during the midterm while warning the county is in “dire need” of improvements to the way it conducts elections.

Last month, Tatum penned a letter to state officials seeking to address the audit’s preliminary findings, including the chain-of-custody problems.

Writing to Chad Ennis, director of the secretary of state’s forensic audit division, Tatum said the issue with the 14 locations cited in the report arose when votes were “stranded” on devices used at Harris County’s drive-thru voting and other locations.

To read the “stranded” results, Tatum wrote, county officials had to create 30 “replacement” mobile ballot boxes.

“The number of cast votes on those 30 MBBs align with the expected number from the voting sites,” Tatum wrote to Ennis. “This explains why there were more than 14 MBBs created to read the results and why those initial 14 were not read into the tabulator.”

The poll book disparities, meanwhile, were the result of voting machines being moved from one location to another during the election.

“While this may have been done to address long lines at any of the vote centers during the 2020 election, this is a practice that our office no longer follows,” said Tatum, who was appointed elections administrator in July.

We have the joy of being “randomly” audited again for this November’s election, so we’ll see what they have to complain about this time.

The other point I would raise, which was mentioned in passing in that Chron story, was that this audit was released on Monday night (the Trib story published at 8 PM) during Christmas week. I don’t know about you, but I think that if they had something juicy to report, they’d have dropped it at a time when people would be actually paying attention. This has all the hallmarks of a “nothing to see here” report.

New Land Commissioner, same screw job for Houston and Harris County

I didn’t expect any different. I’m still mad about it.

(Probably) Not Dawn Buckingham

When akewayLakeway Republican Dawn Buckingham jumps from the Texas Senate to the helm of the state General Land Office next month, she will inherit control of the state’s Hurricane Harvey recovery, a slow-moving multibillion-dollar effort to help Southeast Texas recover from the 2017 storm and prepare for future ones.

With two weeks left in his term, outgoing Land Commissioner George P. Bush remains at odds with Houston and Harris County officials over two key issues: the state agency’s efforts to seize funds from the city’s beleaguered housing recovery programs, and the distribution of billions in federal aid meant to protect storm-vulnerable areas against future damage — none of which is going to Houston, thus far.

In an interview this week, Buckingham, who easily defeated Democrat Jay Kleberg in last month’s midterm election, made clear she will continue steering the Harvey recovery in much the same manner as Bush, with no plans to redistribute the mitigation aid so Houston and Harris County receive a bigger slice, as local officials had hoped.

Buckingham said the agency also would continue its ongoing efforts to recoup from the city nearly $141 million earmarked for housing recovery, small business grants and various nonprofit services, a move spurred by the city’s failure to meet key spending benchmarks over the summer. The GLO plans to put the money into its own program focused on rebuilding Harvey-damaged single-family homes in Houston, which previously was run by the city before it ceded control to the state agency last year.

“What we’re seeing is, they haven’t been able to meet their own metrics,” Buckingham said. “And so, I think with the limited amount of time that these resources are available, and the limited amount of recovery that’s happened at this point, we’re anticipating that there’s going to be a redirection of funds.”

The feud between the General Land Office and city of Houston erupted in April 2020, when Bush informed Mayor Sylvester Turner he planned to take over the city’s entire $1.3 billion recovery program, arguing his agency could pick up the pace. After a legal skirmish, the two sides struck a deal in early 2021, with Turner relinquishing control of Houston’s sluggish single-family housing program, leaving the city with some $835 million to continue its other initiatives, including a more successful effort to build affordable multifamily housing.

As part of the deal, the city and GLO agreed on spending benchmarks to measure the city’s progress on each of its remaining programs. This summer, the GLO notified the city it had missed the mark on seven of its nine programs, spending nearly $100 million less than it should have, according to a July letter from Deputy Land Commissioner Mark Havens. As a result, the agency in October laid out its plan to recover about $141 million from the city, pending approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Houston officials long have accused the Land Office of providing opaque oversight that has obstructed their recovery progress, a charge the GLO denies. City leaders also say their programs prioritize low-income, disabled and senior residents, which they say is harder and slower but necessary to ensure the most vulnerable storm victims are not left behind.

In the latest $141 million dispute, the city’s housing director, Keith Bynam, has said the Land Office is painting a misleading picture by overlooking factors beyond the city’s control, such as adverse economic conditions and the city’s inability to spend money on three of its programs for about eight months while it was under a GLO audit.

[…]

A Chronicle investigation found the GLO’s initial $1 billion distribution went disproportionately to inland counties that, by the state’s own measure, are less vulnerable to natural disasters than coastal counties that received little or no funding.

HUD also found the Land Office discriminated against communities of color when it denied aid to Houston and Harris County, with scoring criteria that steered funds away from diverse urban centers and toward projects in whiter, more rural counties, according to the federal agency.

GLO officials have disputed the finding and rejected calls from federal housing officials to negotiate a settlement with Houston-area officials. The agency has also ignored an initial HUD deadline to come into compliance with civil rights protections, along with a subsequent letter over the summer from HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge, who said she may refer the matter to the Department of Justice if Texas did not reach a voluntary agreement within 60 days.

Havens said the Land Office has not heard from HUD or the Justice Department since. Turner spokeswoman Mary Benton said the city also had yet to hear from the Biden administration, though the mayor on Thursday sent Fudge a follow-up letter urging her to step in.

“More than 9 months have passed since HUD issued the (discrimination finding) and yet GLO and the State of Texas, to our knowledge, have taken no steps to come into compliance,” Turner wrote. “…It is imperative, now, more than ever, that HUD immediately exercise its enforcement authority and compel GLO to come into compliance with” the findings.

I don’t have the energy to catalog the entire Story So Far, but the two most recent entries are here and here. While I can believe that the city may have performed poorly with the housing recovery program, the GLO has no credibility with me and doesn’t deserve anyone’s benefit of the doubt. I would be delighted to see HUD hand their files over to the Justice Department for a full on investigation of their discriminatory practices; indeed, I will be deeply annoyed if that doesn’t happen given their continued non-responsiveness to HUD’s demands. In the meantime, I continue to fantasize about a time when Harris County and the city of Houston are not targeted for harm by our state government. I hope to live long enough to see it.

Are we emotionally prepared for the oncoming freeze?

That’s the real question at this point.

ERCOT on Friday notified power generators in Texas that they need to be online and ready to provide power during an expected wave of cold air that could drop overnight temperatures into the 20s late next week.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s nonprofit grid operator, issued the notice effective Dec. 22-26, though officials said they expect there will be enough power to meet demand.

The state’s power grid has been bolstered since a February 2021 winter storm knocked out power to large parts of Texas for several days and was linked to about 200 deaths. During that storm, demand for power soared while power generation equipment froze, knocking several producers offline.

“As we monitor weather conditions, we want to assure Texans that the grid is resilient and reliable,” said Pablo Vegas, ERCOT President and CEO. “We will keep the public informed as weather conditions change throughout the coming week.”

The coming burst of cold isn’t expected to be as strong as what was seen during the 2021 freeze, according to Space City Weather.

“While we will continue to watch this forecast very closely, we do not believe that the intensity, duration, or impacts of the cold will rival what we saw in 2021, which saw mid or low teens for lows,” wrote Space City Weather meteorologist Matt Lanza.

In the wake of the historic storm almost two years ago, state officials forced ERCOT to improve the power grid and make it less likely to falter in severe weather.

[…]

Ed Hirs, an energy fellow with the University of Houston, said those changes still fall short of larger market concepts he said could strengthen the grid’s reliability. The Public Utility Commission, which oversees ERCOT, is reviewing proposals for doing that and is expected to vote on a proposal recommendation at its Jan. 12 meeting. The Texas Legislature will debate the recommendation and other options during the 2023 legislative session.

“It takes more than 20 months to fix something broken over 12 years of underinvestment,” he said. “We’ll find out if the Band-Aids the PUC put in place will hold.”

That’s where I am right now, as I remember the forty-plus hours that we went without power in February of 2021. My family was pretty well equipped to handle the cold – not “fuck off to Cancun” privileged, but we were never in any real danger. Even with that, it was very unpleasant. We had our pipes bust in 13 places – thankfully, we were able to get a plumber out quickly to fix that – we lost a Meyer lemon tree that had produced a lot of fruit over the years, and it was just damn traumatic on the girls. I’m a little in denial about this freeze coming in, for reasons I can’t quite grasp other than I’m an idiot and this is how I cope with stuff like this. If the grid does fail in spectacular fashion again, the one thing we have learned is that there won’t be any political consequences for it. There’s never an election around when you really need one. Anyway, I hope we all manage to stay warm this time, with the exception of Greg Abbott and everyone on his campaign staff. The rest of you, bundle up and hope for the best. TPR, Reform Austin, and the Trib have more.

Precinct analysis: Beto versus the spread

PREVIOUSLY
Beto versus Abbott

So last time we saw the numbers for the 2022 Governor’s race. But what numbers need in order to be meaningful is context, and that means other numbers to compare them to. We’re going to do that in a few different ways, and we’ll start with the numbers from the Texas Redistricting Council for these new districts. Specifically, the numbers from 2018 and 2020.


Dist    Abbott    Beto     Cruz    Beto
=======================================
HD126   35,835  23,627   38,851  26,028
HD127   39,102  26,791   40,573  28,326
HD128   31,983  13,915   32,586  15,892
HD129   37,118  27,144   38,281  29,112
HD130   44,983  20,891   42,747  20,968
HD131    5,963  25,387    5,628  33,440
HD132   35,079  25,603   32,220  23,431
HD133   33,195  26,971   34,930  30,329
HD134   29,592  51,010   32,114  54,514
HD135   16,443  24,121   16,162  27,762
HD137    7,860  13,421    8,713  19,309
HD138   31,077  25,464   32,754  28,778
HD139   11,643  32,115   11,599  38,842
HD140    5,717  13,400    5,393  19,532
HD141    4,549  20,922    4,459  28,096
HD142    8,666  25,793    8,265  29,705
HD143    8,420  16,047    8,751  23,602
HD144   11,566  14,683   12,511  21,278
HD145   12,631  32,765   12,101  37,672
HD146    8,511  33,610    9,227  40,111
HD147    8,952  37,366    9,575  45,020
HD148   15,451  21,460   16,281  26,815
HD149   12,068  19,844   12,097  27,142
HD150   33,857  23,303   33,084  23,466


Dist   Abbott%   Beto%    Cruz%   Beto%
=======================================
HD126   59.37%  39.14%   59.40%  39.80%
HD127   58.50%  40.08%   59.30%  40.00%
HD128   68.66%  29.87%   66.80%  32.60%
HD129   56.80%  41.53%   56.30%  42.80%
HD130   67.29%  31.25%   66.60%  32.70%
HD131   18.78%  79.96%   14.30%  85.20%
HD132   57.06%  41.64%   57.50%  41.80%
HD133   54.41%  44.21%   53.10%  46.10%
HD134   36.16%  62.34%   36.80%  62.40%
HD135   39.97%  58.63%   35.00%  64.40%
HD137   36.32%  62.01%   30.90%  68.40%
HD138   54.09%  44.32%   52.80%  46.40%
HD139   26.25%  72.41%   22.90%  76.50%
HD140   29.36%  68.82%   21.50%  78.00%
HD141   17.61%  80.98%   13.60%  85.80%
HD142   24.79%  73.80%   21.60%  77.80%
HD143   33.86%  64.53%   26.90%  72.50%
HD144   43.34%  55.02%   36.80%  62.50%
HD145   27.31%  70.85%   24.10%  75.00%
HD146   19.95%  78.80%   18.60%  80.70%
HD147   19.04%  79.49%   17.40%  81.90%
HD148   41.18%  57.19%   37.50%  61.70%
HD149   37.31%  61.36%   30.60%  68.70%
HD150   58.34%  40.15%   58.10%  41.20%

Greg Abbott got 490K votes in 2022, whereas Ted Cruz got 498K in 2018. It’s therefore not a surprise that Abbott generally matched Cruz’s vote totals in the districts, with a bit of variation here and there. Beto, meanwhile, got 595K votes in 2022 after getting 700K in 2018, a significant drop. You can clearly see that in the district data. What’s interesting to me is that Beto was pretty close to his 2018 performance for the most part in Republican districts. His dropoff was almost entirely in strong Democratic districts, which accounts for the decrease in vote percentage he got. This is consistent with reports that Republicans had the turnout advantage nationally, due in part to weaker Democratic turnout among Black voters.

You can shrug your shoulders about this or freak out for What It All Means for 2024 as you see fit. I tend to lean towards the former, but I will readily acknowledge that the job of working to get turnout back to where we want it for 2024 starts today. I’ll have more to say about this in future posts as well, but let me open the bidding by saying that the target for Democratic turnout in Harris County in 2024, if we want to make a serious run at winning the state for the Democratic Presidential nominee, is one million Democratic votes; it may actually need to be a little higher than that, but that’s the minimum. It’s doable – Biden got 918K in 2020, after all. Ed Gonzalez got 903K in his re-election for Sheriff. Really, we may need to aim for 1.1 million, in order to win the county by at least 300K votes, which is what I think will be needed to close the statewide gap. Whether we can do that or not I don’t know, but it’s where we need to aim.

I also want to emphasize the “Abbott got more or less the same number of votes in each district as Cruz did” item to push back as needed on any claims about Abbott’s performance among Latino voters. His improvement in percentage is entirely due to Beto getting fewer votes, not him getting more. That’s cold comfort from a big picture perspective for Democrats, and as we saw in 2020 a greater-than-expected share of the lower-propensity Latino voters picked Trump, so we’re hardly in the clear for 2024. All I’m saying is that claims about Abbott improving his standing with Latino voters need to be examined skeptically. Remember that if we compared Abbott to Abbott instead of Beto to Beto, he got 559K votes in 2018, so he dropped off quite a bit as well. He got fewer votes in each of the Latino districts in 2022 than he did in 2018:

HD140 – Abbott 6,466 in 2018, 5,717 in 2022
HD143 – Abbott 10,180 in 2018, 8,420 in 2022
HD144 – Abbott 13,996 in 2018, 11,566 in 2022
HD145 – Abbott 15,227 in 2018, 12,631 in 2022
HD148 – Abbott 18,438 in 2018, 15,541 in 2022

So yeah, perspective. I suppose I could have done the Governor-to-Governor comparison instead, but I was more interested in Beto’s performance, so that’s the route I took. Beto would look better from a percentage viewpoint if I had done it that way. There’s always more than one way to do it.

One last thing on turnout: In 2014, Wendy Davis led the Democratic ticket with 320K votes in Harris County. Beto was at over 401K even before Election Day. His total is almost twice what Davis got. We can certainly talk about 2022 being “low turnout”, but we’re in a completely different context now.


Dist    Abbott    Beto    Trump   Biden
=======================================
HD126   35,835  23,627   50,023  35,306
HD127   39,102  26,791   53,148  38,332
HD128   31,983  13,915   46,237  21,742
HD129   37,118  27,144   51,219  38,399
HD130   44,983  20,891   58,867  29,693
HD131    5,963  25,387   10,413  42,460
HD132   35,079  25,603   46,484  35,876
HD133   33,195  26,971   42,076  40,475
HD134   29,592  51,010   38,704  66,968
HD135   16,443  24,121   26,190  40,587
HD137    7,860  13,421   12,652  24,885
HD138   31,077  25,464   42,002  37,617
HD139   11,643  32,115   17,014  49,888
HD140    5,717  13,400   10,760  24,045
HD141    4,549  20,922    8,070  38,440
HD142    8,666  25,793   13,837  41,332
HD143    8,420  16,047   15,472  28,364
HD144   11,566  14,683   20,141  25,928
HD145   12,631  32,765   18,390  45,610
HD146    8,511  33,610   12,408  51,984
HD147    8,952  37,366   14,971  55,602
HD148   15,451  21,460   24,087  34,605
HD149   12,068  19,844   21,676  35,904
HD150   33,857  23,303   45,789  34,151

Dist   Abbott%   Beto%   Trump%  Biden%
=======================================
HD126   59.37%  39.14%   57.80%  40.80%
HD127   58.50%  40.08%   57.30%  41.30%
HD128   68.66%  29.87%   67.10%  31.60%
HD129   56.80%  41.53%   56.20%  42.20%
HD130   67.29%  31.25%   65.50%  33.00%
HD131   18.78%  79.96%   19.50%  79.60%
HD132   57.06%  41.64%   55.60%  42.90%
HD133   54.41%  44.21%   50.30%  48.40%
HD134   36.16%  62.34%   36.10%  62.50%
HD135   39.97%  58.63%   38.70%  59.90%
HD137   36.32%  62.01%   33.20%  65.40%
HD138   54.09%  44.32%   52.00%  46.60%
HD139   26.25%  72.41%   25.10%  73.70%
HD140   29.36%  68.82%   30.60%  68.30%
HD141   17.61%  80.98%   17.20%  81.80%
HD142   24.79%  73.80%   24.80%  74.10%
HD143   33.86%  64.53%   34.90%  64.00%
HD144   43.34%  55.02%   43.20%  55.60%
HD145   27.31%  70.85%   28.30%  70.10%
HD146   19.95%  78.80%   19.00%  79.80%
HD147   19.04%  79.49%   20.90%  77.60%
HD148   41.18%  57.19%   40.50%  58.10%
HD149   37.31%  61.36%   37.20%  61.70%
HD150   58.34%  40.15%   56.50%  42.10%

Obviously, the vote totals don’t compare – over 1.6 million people voted in 2020, a half million more than this year. But for the most part, Beto was within about a point of Biden’s percentage, and even did better in a couple of districts. Abbott did best in the Republican districts compared to Trump. As we’ll see when we look at the other statewide races, Abbott (and Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton) was one of the lower performers overall among Republicans, as was the case for Trump in 2020, but maybe there were slightly fewer Republican defectors this year.

It will take an improvement on the 2020 Biden and 2018 Beto numbers for Dems to put any State Rep districts into play, with HD138 being the first in line; remember that HD133 was a bit of an outlier, with a lot of Republican crossovers for Biden. Incumbency has its advantages, and as we have seen Dem performance can be a lot more variable downballot than at the top, especially when the top has the most divisive Republicans, so it will take more than just (say) Biden getting 50.1% in HD138 for Rep. Lacy Hull to really be in danger. It’s more that this will be another incentive to really work on boosting overall turnout. Having a good candidate in place, which I think Stephanie Morales was this year, and making sure that person has the financial and logistical support they need (which she didn’t have) will be key.

I’ll have more to say as we go along. Please let me know what you think and ask any questions you may have.

November 2022 mail ballot rejection report

Still getting better, still some room to improve.

The statewide ballot rejection rate dramatically reduced to 2.7 percent in the general election this fall after it had skyrocketed to six times that in the primaries following the introduction of a Republican-backed change to mail ballot ID requirements, state data shows.

“That’s obviously a big improvement,” said Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Houston Republican who helped author the law that instituted the new rule. “I expect that even 2.7 will continue to go down as everyone understands exactly how the system works.”

Senate Bill 1 — passed by Texas Republicans in 2021 in the name of election integrity — requires voters to include a state ID number, such as a driver’s license or partial Social Security number when applying for a mail-in ballot and when submitting it. The ID number on the ballot has to match what is on the voter’s registration record, a detail many voters did not recall.

Remi Garza, the elections administrator for Cameron County and president of the Texas Association of Elections Administrators, said he was pleased to see the decrease statewide (his county’s rate was 1.34 percent). But at the same time, he said he still sees room for improvement.

“I think it’s a great indication of the hard work that election offices across the state are doing,” Garza said. “I’m glad the information that has been distributed by everyone has had an impact on bringing the rejection rate down, but obviously it’s still way too high. We need to work harder to communicate with the vote-by-mail applicants on how to assure their vote is going to be counted.”

Sam Taylor, spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, added that the office launched a bilingual voter education campaign, updated the design of the mail ballot envelopes to highlight the ID field in red, sent out example inserts to remind voters of the ID rule and produced an educational video series on voting by mail.

[…]

This latest 2.7 percent rate brings the state nearly back to normal levels. A federal survey estimated the state’s ballot rejection rate was 1.76 percent in the 2018 midterm and 1.5 percent in the 2014 midterm.

Preliminary numbers last month showed about 4 percent of ballots were denied during the general election this November, or about 10,000 among most of the state’s largest counties. That was before the deadline for voters to correct errors on their ballots, however. In total, about 9,300 ballots were finally rejected.

Harris County, the state’s largest county with almost 3 million voters registered, lagged behind most large counties with about 4.5 percent of ballots tossed.

Nadia Hakim, deputy director of communications for Harris County Elections, in a statement Thursday attributed the difference to the county’s size.

“We have significantly more voters over a greater area than our neighbors statewide,” Hakim said. “Dallas County is the second-largest, and Harris County has over a million more registered voters.”

Dallas County’s rejection rate was 1.76 percent, per the state data. At least two other large counties had higher rates than Harris — Fort Bend at 5 percent and Bell at 5.5 percent.

See here and here for some background. This is an improvement, and the extra time at the end to make corrections helped, but screw Paul Bettencourt and his rationalizations. If we had to pass this provision – and there’s no reason to believe it has actually done anything to improve election security – we needed to delay it long enough for the education and communication efforts made by county officials and the Secretary of State to take place first. If that had been done, then maybe we wouldn’t have had such and embarrassing and shameful number of rejections in the first election where this was in effect. Bettencourt and the rest of the Republicans didn’t care about that, They don’t get to feel good, or to try to make us feel good, about the eventual improvements made thanks to the hard work of election officials, candidate campaigns, and coordinated county campaigns.

I will also note that I don’t know where the Chron got their 4.5% figure from. Going by the reconciliation report, there were 2,672 mail ballots rejected out of 64,259 total mail ballots. That’s a 4.16% rejection rate. Even if you incorrectly use 61,264 (the total number of mail ballots successfully cast) as the denominator, that’s a 4.36% rejection rate, still less than the 4.5% number cited in the story. Maybe they did that math and then “rounded up” from there, I don’t know. However they got it it, it’s wrong.

Speaking of the reconciliation report, the numbers there are a little off from what we can see elsewhere. The form says that 80,995 mail ballots were sent, which is 579 more than what the final early vote report said. That report is not “official”, though, so perhaps there’s a bit of slack in there. Since the question came up in an earlier comment, I think the 19,486 figure for “Mail ballots not returned by voters” must include those 2,672 rejected ballots, as technically they weren’t returned. The difference between those two figures is 61,509, which is pretty accurate for the mail ballots cast total. Going by the official canvass, there were 61,264 mail ballots cast, not 61,509. It’s a small difference, but I don’t know what accounts for it. Maybe some provisional ballots were mail ballots? I don’t know. But again, it’s close enough that I’m not too fussed by it. I strongly suspect that the 6,557 “Mail ballots surrendered” are also contained within the “Mail ballots not returned” figure, as again they were technically not returned. I blame any confusion here on the Lege for not requiring that definitions of these terms be included on the report. Anyway, I hope I have lessened the confusion a bit rather than add to it. Let me know if you have any questions.

Here at last is that updated report on maternal mortality

We’re still really bad at preventing it, especially for Black women.

At least 118 women dead and nearly 200 children left without a mother.

This was just a portion of the death toll from pregnancy and childbirth in Texas in 2019, according to a long-awaited state report published Thursday.

Severe medical complications from pregnancy and childbirth also increased significantly between 2018 and 2020, surging from 58.2 to 72.7 cases per 10,000 deliveries in Texas.

As in past years, the tragedy of maternal mortality unfolded unevenly across the state, impacting Black women worst of all.

This is the fifth biennial report from the state’s Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee since the Legislature formed it in 2013, and the first to review more timely cases; the previous report reviewed cases from nearly a decade ago.

In 2013, Black women were twice as likely as white women and four times as likely as Hispanic women to die from pregnancy-related causes. A preliminary assessment of 2019 data indicates those trends have persisted.

The report determined that discrimination contributed to 12% of pregnancy-related deaths in 2019. This was the first such report since the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added discrimination, including structural and interpersonal racism, as a potential cause of maternal death. The specific nature of discrimination varied between the cases identified by the committee and did not show a specific trend, the report said.

In 2018, a subcommittee was created to address these continued disparities by helping design a tool to better determine when and if discrimination plays a role in maternal deaths.

The report also found that most of these deaths were preventable — in 90% of 2019 cases reviewed by the committee, there was at least some chance of saving the woman’s life.

See here and here for some background. Easy to see why there might have been political pressure to delay the release of this report until after the election, not that it likely would have mattered. The people who care about this already care, and the people who don’t already don’t. I’ve made my share of pointed observations about the gap between all of the anti-abortion rhetoric and the actual amount this state officially cares about human life; I don’t believe the people who are the problem here are capable of being shamed about it. But as long as we’re talking about abortion:

Obstetric hemorrhage was the leading cause of pregnancy-related death in Texas, accounting for a quarter of cases. While there were fewer severe complications from hemorrhage overall, Black women saw their rate of complications increase nearly 10%.

The most common cause of hemorrhage deaths was ectopic pregnancies, in which a fertilized egg implants outside the uterus. Left untreated, these nonviable pregnancies can rupture, causing life-threatening complications such as severe blood loss and sepsis.

You can expect those numbers to continue to go up. The Lege and Greg Abbott will do nothing about it. The Chron has more.

Hays County DA questions San Marcos marijuana ordinance passed by voters

Add this to the pile.

San Marcos voters passed a marijuana ordinance this November that would halt San Marcos police from arresting people for low-level marijuana offenses. Now, the Hays County district attorney is looking to Texas leaders for their opinion on the ordinance.

Hays County District Attorney Wes Mau sent a letter to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton requesting his opinion on San Marcos’ marijuana ordinance on Thursday, December 8.

“I am asking for the opinion because San Marcos officials are justifiably concerned that if the ordinance is legally or constitutionally void, then if the city disciplines officers for enforcing the marijuana law, as the ordinance requires, the city could be liable,” Mau said to MySA in an email.

In the letter, Mau noted that the ordinance would attempt to stop officers from using the smell of marijuana as probable cause.

“It is inconsistent with state and federal law for an ordinance to declare that the odor of marijuana may never be used as probable cause for a search or seizure when, as a matter of law, there are certainly times when the odor of marijuana constitutes probable cause under state or federal law,” Mau said in the letter. “The determination of probable cause is to be made on a case-by-case basis by the judicial branch.”

[…]

The ordinance went into effect on November 17 and covers possession of up to four ounces, but doesn’t cover THC oil and only applies to the San Marcos Police Department.

Mau said in the email to MySA that the local government code and the Texas constitution appear to prohibit an ordinance like the one that got passed.

“The attorney general cannot overturn the referendum, nor am I asking him to, but an opinion as to whether the ordinance is enforceable may be helpful to the city moving forward,” Mau said in the email to MySA.

I think this is a slightly different case than what we saw in three other cities that passed similar referenda only to see their City Councils pass laws modifying or nullifying them. If this is a valid concern, then it makes sense to seek an opinion rather than let the situation play out and deal with the inevitable lawsuits later. I presume that if the AG opinion aligns with this concern, then San Marcos’ city council will have a decision to make about that ordinance. I’ll keep an eye on this, because the likelihood that there will be more of these referenda passed by voters around the state is very high, and the same question would apply in those places as well. Reform Austin has more.

Please don’t threaten to kill your political opponents

We really shouldn’t have to say these things, except that nowadays we really do.

Rep. Randy Weber

A former candidate for U.S. representative has been accused of threatening to kill his political opponent, U.S. Rep. Randy Weber, TX-14, according to federal court filings.

Keith Douglas Casey has been charged in connection with making a threat against a U.S. official, according to a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.

Casey has run several times to unseat Weber from office. For instance, in 2022, he received some 5,178 votes, or 7.9%, compared to Weber’s 89%, or 58,439 votes, in the Republican primary.

Weber also handily defeated Casey in the 2018 Republican primary, with Casey finishing in third place with about 5% of the vote.

And in 2016, the Galveston County Daily News reported Weber had defeated challenger Casey in the primary race for the U.S. House of Representatives District 14, garnering about 84% of the vote compared to Casey’s 16%.

But the politics then reportedly gave way to something more sinister. In March 2022 Casey allegedly began telling people he’d defeated Weber in the race for the spot — and that he was going to kill him, according to the complaint.

Staff members in Weber’s office first reported the matter to federal law enforcement as early as March 29.

In reading the rest of the story, it seems that Casey was acting erratically, and there may be some underlying issues that I am in no way qualified to guess at. It also appears that he was in the thrall of election denialism, and I hope we can all agree that that leads nowhere good. I hope that in the end this all winds up being much ado about nothing. But whatever does happen, we have to take this sort of thing very seriously.

Kirk Watson again elected Mayor of Austin

Party like it’s 1997, y’all.

Kirk Watson

In a tight race, Austin voters picked a familiar face Tuesday night to guide the capital city over the next two years as the region deals with skyrocketing housing costs and explosive growth.

In a contest between two Austin Democrats, former state Sen. Kirk Watson narrowly prevailed over state Rep. Celia Israel and retook the seat he last held more than two decades ago.

“I’m as grateful today as I was 25 years ago to be entrusted with this job,” Watson said at a watch party in Austin’s Rosedale neighborhood. “It means a lot to me to know that Austinites in every part of this city still want the kind of leadership that I’ve tried to deliver both as mayor and as your state senator.”

Miles away at a watch party in North Austin, Israel conceded to Watson — while ruefully acknowledging Austin’s growing unaffordability, the race’s defining issue.

“Our campaign was founded on a very simple idea: The people who built this city and who continue to build this city, who dress our wounds, who teach our kids, who drive our buses, who answer our 911 calls … they deserve the respect and the compassion that a progressive city can give them,” Israel said.

The race to lead Texas’ fourth-largest city was a squeaker. Israel beat Watson in Travis County, which contains almost all of Austin, by 17 votes. But Watson built a lead of 881 votes in Williamson County and 22 votes in Hays County, according to unofficial election night tallies — delivering him the mayor’s seat.

[…]

On top of the city’s housing crisis, Watson will have to deal with the state’s Republican leadership, which has grown increasingly hostile to Austin and Texas’ bluer urban areas.

Within the past two years, Austin cut the city’s police spending in the wake of George Floyd protests and rolled back a ban on homeless encampments in public areas — moves that Republican lawmakers in the Texas Legislature later rebuked by passing new laws reining in those measures and restricting other major Texas cities from following in Austin’s steps.

During the campaign, Watson pitched himself as a veteran of the Legislature who could build a working relationship with state GOP leaders — or at least avoid their unfriendly gaze.

“When we choose to work together, we will heal old divides and solve old problems,” Watson said Tuesday night. “When we choose to work together, Austin’s future will get brighter and brighter and brighter, I promise.”

Congratulations to Mayor-elect Watson, who at least should have a pretty good idea of what he’s getting into. I liked both candidates but might have had a preference for Celia Israel, as I tend to see the big city Mayors as potential future statewide candidates (we need to get them from somewhere), which was Watson himself in 2002. Maybe she’ll give that some thought for next go-round anyway. As for dealing with the Lege, I’m pretty sure not having to put up with Dan Patrick’s bullshit was a proximate cause of Watson’s departure for UH a couple of years ago in the first place. Speaking as a resident of a city with a former Legislator as its Mayor and another who hopes to succeed him, I hope that sentiment works for you, but I’d keep my expectations very, very modest. The Austin Chronicle has more.

Precinct analysis: Beto versus Abbott

All right, I have the full landscape data for Harris County and the November 2022 election, and I’ll be doing my usual thing with it. There’s a lot of data and a lot of ways to explore it, some of which I don’t realize until I’m in the process of looking at something else. I’m going to start here with the top of the ticket. Let’s roll out the numbers, and at the other side I’ll have all the words.


Dist   Abbott     Beto     Lib     Grn
======================================
CD02   73,159   50,757   1,333     445
CD07   45,780   84,973   1,545     452
CD08   43,294   48,380     860     371
CD09   20,661   74,545     788     504
CD18   39,628  115,106   1,562     703
CD22   12,585    8,669     264      83
CD29   30,228   69,265     920     778
CD36   66,728   44,969   1,410     439
CD38  158,198   98,989   3,130     751

CD02   58.20%   40.38%   1.06%   0.35%
CD07   34.49%   64.01%   1.16%   0.34%
CD08   46.60%   52.07%   0.93%   0.40%
CD09   21.41%   77.25%   0.82%   0.52%
CD18   25.24%   73.32%   0.99%   0.45%
CD22   58.26%   40.13%   1.22%   0.38%
CD29   29.87%   68.45%   0.91%   0.77%
CD36   58.77%   39.60%   1.24%   0.39%
CD38   60.60%   37.92%   1.20%   0.29%

Dist   Abbott     Beto     Lib     Grn
======================================
SD04   55,846   36,950   1,005     312
SD06   41,043   85,936   1,225     927
SD07  153,513  106,557   2,933     853
SD11   57,156   35,725   1,214     339
SD13   22,813  100,559     958     680
SD15   83,653  160,077   2,850     932
SD17   59,143   51,734   1,307     363
SD18   17,094   18,115     320     120

SD04   59.34%   39.26%   1.07%   0.33%
SD06   31.78%   66.55%   0.95%   0.72%
SD07   58.18%   40.38%   1.11%   0.32%
SD11   60.52%   37.83%   1.29%   0.36%
SD13   18.25%   80.44%   0.77%   0.54%
SD15   33.80%   64.67%   1.15%   0.38%
SD17   52.55%   45.97%   1.16%   0.32%
SD18   47.95%   50.81%   0.90%   0.34%

Dist   Abbott     Beto     Lib     Grn
======================================
HD126  35,835   23,627     711     185
HD127  39,102   26,791     722     221
HD128  31,983   13,915     513     171
HD129  37,118   27,144     864     227
HD130  44,983   20,891     775     198
HD131   5,963   25,387     231     169
HD132  35,079   25,603     627     173
HD133  33,195   26,971     684     156
HD134  29,592   51,010   1,044     181
HD135  16,443   24,121     369     208
HD137   7,860   13,421     245     116
HD138  31,077   25,464     708     209
HD139  11,643   32,115     394     199
HD140   5,717   13,400     166     187
HD141   4,549   20,922     210     156
HD142   8,666   25,793     289     204
HD143   8,420   16,047     208     192
HD144  11,566   14,683     260     178
HD145  12,631   32,765     623     228
HD146   8,511   33,610     333     200
HD147   8,952   37,366     476     216
HD148  15,451   21,460     435     175
HD149  12,068   19,844     256     173
HD150  33,857   23,303     669     204

HD126  59.37%   39.14%   1.18%   0.31%
HD127  58.50%   40.08%   1.08%   0.33%
HD128  68.66%   29.87%   1.10%   0.37%
HD129  56.80%   41.53%   1.32%   0.35%
HD130  67.29%   31.25%   1.16%   0.30%
HD131  18.78%   79.96%   0.73%   0.53%
HD132  57.06%   41.64%   1.02%   0.28%
HD133  54.41%   44.21%   1.12%   0.26%
HD134  36.16%   62.34%   1.28%   0.22%
HD135  39.97%   58.63%   0.90%   0.51%
HD137  36.32%   62.01%   1.13%   0.54%
HD138  54.09%   44.32%   1.23%   0.36%
HD139  26.25%   72.41%   0.89%   0.45%
HD140  29.36%   68.82%   0.85%   0.96%
HD141  17.61%   80.98%   0.81%   0.60%
HD142  24.79%   73.80%   0.83%   0.58%
HD143  33.86%   64.53%   0.84%   0.77%
HD144  43.34%   55.02%   0.97%   0.67%
HD145  27.31%   70.85%   1.35%   0.49%
HD146  19.95%   78.80%   0.78%   0.47%
HD147  19.04%   79.49%   1.01%   0.46%
HD148  41.18%   57.19%   1.16%   0.47%
HD149  37.31%   61.36%   0.79%   0.53%
HD150  58.34%   40.15%   1.15%   0.35%

Dist   Abbott     Beto     Lib     Grn
======================================
CC1    67,070  207,830   2,747   1,167
CC2    95,270  108,943   2,266   1,188
CC3   218,228  147,384   4,148   1,218
CC4   109,693  131,496   2,651     953

CC1    24.06%   74.54%   0.99%   0.42%
CC2    45.88%   52.46%   1.09%   0.57%
CC3    58.83%   39.73%   1.12%   0.33%
CC4    44.81%   53.72%   1.08%   0.39%

Dist   Abbott     Beto     Lib     Grn
======================================
JP1    60,159  127,746   2,343     728
JP2    21,749   30,575     520     300
JP3    35,283   42,924     715     405
JP4   168,373  130,575   3,308   1,100
JP5   140,459  148,609   3,076   1,101
JP6     4,970   17,898     228     168
JP7    11,615   67,072     582     414
JP8    47,653   30,254   1,040     310

JP1    31.50%   66.89%   1.23%   0.38%
JP2    40.92%   57.53%   0.98%   0.56%
JP3    44.48%   54.11%   0.90%   0.51%
JP4    55.50%   43.04%   1.09%   0.36%
JP5    47.90%   50.68%   1.05%   0.38%
JP6    21.36%   76.93%   0.98%   0.72%
JP7    14.58%   84.17%   0.73%   0.52%
JP8    60.12%   38.17%   1.31%   0.39%

My notes:

– Going forward, for the most part, I’m going to skip the Congressional and State Senate districts. Most of them are not wholly contained within Harris County – only CDs 18, 29, and 38, and SDs 06 and 15 are fully represented here – so I don’t find there’s sufficient value for the added work. When we get the Texas Legislative Council dataset for the 2022 election, then I’ll return to these districts plus the SBOE districts (none of which are entirely within Harris County now that SBOE6 extends into Montgomery). Also note that CD10 no longer includes any of Harris County.

– I will have a separate post on this, but if you’re wondering how Beto did compared to expectations on the new maps, see here and here for a first look. There will be more, I promise.

– Beto was the top performer for Dems in Harris County, getting 54.03% of the vote. That makes his performance in the precincts the best case scenario (usually), at least for this election. He would be a top performer but not the top performer in 2020 or 2018, so this is hardly an upper bound. For districts that Dems would ideally like to target, like HDs 133 and 138, this shows where we’re starting out in an okay but not great year.

– Honestly, I don’t have a whole lot to say here. I think the more interesting stuff will come when I look at the comparisons to past years and when I look at some of the other races. Even without looking at past data, there wasn’t much of a surprise in anything here. All of the districts performed more or less as you’d expect. The one item of interest may be Beto carrying (barely) JP/Constable precinct 5, given our previous discussion of those precincts. I’m sure we could draw six, maybe even seven Democratic precincts, though whether we could do that while equalizing population and not violating the Voting Rights Act is another question. For sure, we could make five solid Dem precincts.

– So I’ll end here, with a note that I will also look at how the vote went in the city of Houston, the split in the statewide races, the easy passage of the Harris County bonds, and a very deep dive into judicial races. All this and more, coming up soon. Let me know if you have any questions.

Judge assigned to hear election loser contest

From the inbox, a press release from Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee:

Judge David Peeples will preside over the election contest filed by Republican candidate Erin Lunceford to void the results of her race for the 189th District Court in the November 2022 Harris County General Election. Judge Peeples has set an initial status conference for today, Tuesday December 13, at 3:00 p.m.

“This will be an important case, and I’m glad to see it’s progressing,” said Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee. “The County will participate in the case, and we plan to make clear that it would be a grave injustice to throw out more than a million legally cast votes, especially given Ms. Lunceford’s completely baseless theories. Each of those votes represents a Harris County resident who participated in our democratic process. That is a sacred act, and we’re going to fight to protect it.”

Judge Peeples is based in San Antonio, and was appointed by the Honorable Susan Brown, the Presiding Judge of the Eleventh Administrative Judicial Region of Texas. Texas law disqualifies the judges in a county from presiding over an election contest filed in that county.

This contest is one of two current requests by losing Republican candidates to throw out the results of the November 2022 election in certain races. The other challenge is regarding State Representative District 135, which will be heard in the State House of Representatives.

“This election took countless hours of work not only by county employees, but by election judges and workers from both parties. We should be looking for ways to support these public servants rather than constantly undermining the hard work it takes to run an election in the third largest county in the country,” added County Attorney Menefee.

See here for the background. If the name sounds familiar, it may be because Judge Peeples was the jurist who ruled that the abortion bounty hunter law SB8 violated the state constitution last December, though he did not issue a statewide injunction against it. I did not see any news items related to this, so what you see here is all I know. Hopefully we will hear more about how this is progressing quickly.

State and county election result relationships: Tarrant County

In years past, Tarrant County was a pretty close bellwether for election results in the state of Texas. From 2004 through 2016, the closeness of their Presidential numbers with the statewide numbers was eerie. But since 2018 the talk has been about how Tarrant is on the verge of turning blue, which puts it at least a little to the left of the state as a whole. As I did before with Harris County, I thought I’d take a closer look at how statewide candidates have done in Tarrant County compared to the state overall, to see what it might tell me. We start as we did with Harris in the distant past of 2002:


2002                 2004                   2006
State Tarrant  Diff   State Tarrant  Diff   State Tarrant  Diff
===================   ===================   ===================
43.33   41.27 -2.06   38.22   37.01 -1.21   36.04   34.80 -1.24
39.96   38.53 -1.43   40.94   37.36 -3.58   29.79   31.07  1.28
46.03   42.63 -3.40   40.77   38.06 -2.71   37.45   37.06 -0.39
41.08   37.76 -3.32   42.14   39.15 -2.99   37.23   36.99 -0.24
32.92   30.86 -2.06                         37.01   36.41 -0.60
41.48   37.94 -3.54                         40.96   40.67 -0.29
37.82   34.85 -2.97                         41.79   40.86 -0.93
41.49   39.02 -2.47                         41.73   40.52 -1.21
40.51   37.55 -2.96                         44.89   42.79 -2.10
41.54   38.73 -2.81                         43.35   41.56 -1.79
41.89   38.49 -3.40								
43.24   39.74 -3.50								
45.90   42.26 -3.64								
39.15   35.90 -3.25								
42.61   39.20 -3.41								
40.01   36.92 -3.09								
										
Min   -3.64           Min   -3.58           Min   -2.10
Max   -1.43           Max   -1.21           Max    1.28
Avg   -2.96           Avg   -2.62           Avg   -0.75

You can read the earlier posts for the explanation of the numbers. The bottom line is that in early to mid Aughts, Tarrant was more Republican overall than the rest of the state. As was the case with Harris, there was a step in the Democratic direction in 2006, with the chaotic multi-candidate Governor’s race providing the first Democrat to do better in Tarrant than in the state, but it was still about a point more Republican than overall.


2008                  2010                  2012
State Tarrant  Diff   State Tarrant  Diff   State Tarrant  Diff
===================   ===================   ===================
43.68   43.73  0.05   42.30   40.98 -1.32   41.38   41.43  0.05
42.84   42.52 -0.32   34.83   34.97  0.14   40.62   40.41 -0.21
44.35   43.39 -0.96   33.66   33.90  0.24   39.60   39.20 -0.40
43.79   43.47 -0.32   35.29   35.24 -0.05   41.91   41.40 -0.51
45.88   44.16 -1.72   35.80   35.83  0.03   41.24   40.31 -0.93
44.63   43.51 -1.12   36.24   35.64 -0.60				
45.53   43.81 -1.72   37.26   35.39 -1.87				
43.75   42.49 -1.26   37.00   35.97 -1.03				
                      35.62   35.17 -0.45				
                      36.62   36.05 -0.57				
										
Min   -1.72           Min   -1.87            Min   -0.93
Max    0.05           Max    0.24            Max    0.05
Avg   -0.92           Avg   -0.55            Avg   -0.40

Still slightly on the Republican side as we move into elections that feel more familiar to us – as I’ve said before, looking at those elections from 2002 through 2006 is like visiting a foreign country – and you can see how dead on the Tarrant Presidential numbers were. Tarrant was a bit more Republican in the judicial races than in the executive office and Senate races, but otherwise not much else to say.


2014                  2016
State Tarrant  Diff   State Tarrant  Diff
===================   ===================
34.36   36.13  1.77   43.24   43.14 -0.10
38.90   41.08  2.18   38.38   38.62  0.24
38.71   39.53  0.82   38.53   38.43 -0.10
38.02   38.91  0.89   41.18   40.49 -0.69
37.69   38.67  0.98   39.36   39.58  0.22
35.32   36.49  1.17   40.05   39.75 -0.30
36.84   38.14  1.30   40.20   40.91  0.71
37.25   38.43  1.18   40.89   40.59 -0.30
36.49   38.02  1.53				
37.60   38.41  0.81				
36.54   38.00  1.46				
						
Min    0.81           Min   -0.69
Max    2.18           Max    0.71
Avg    1.28           Avg   -0.04

I wouldn’t have guessed that 2014 would be the year that Tarrant County officially became (slightly) more Democratic than the state as a whole, but here we are. Maybe because 2014 was such a miserable year, maybe because Wendy Davis was the Dem nominee for Governor, maybe it was just time. It wasn’t quite the start of a trend, as things snapped back a bit in 2016, but a threshold had been crossed.


2018                  2020                  2022
State Tarrant  Diff   State Tarrant  Diff   State Tarrant  Diff
===================   ===================   ===================
48.33   49.93  1.60   46.48	49.31  2.83   43.81   47.24  3.43
42.51   43.75  1.24   43.87	46.18  2.31   43.44   47.36  3.92
46.49   47.25  0.76   43.56	45.25  1.69   43.62   46.80  3.18
47.01   48.11  1.10   44.49	46.71  2.22   40.91   44.33  3.42
43.39   44.70  1.31   44.08	46.14  2.06   42.10   44.90  2.80
43.19   43.99  0.80   44.76	47.23  2.47   43.63   46.72  3.09
46.41   47.37  0.96   44.35	46.50  2.15   40.51   43.83  3.32
43.91   44.85  0.94   45.18	47.38  2.20   41.81   45.14  3.33
46.83   47.86  1.03   44.70	47.03  2.33   42.87   46.36  3.49
46.29   47.44  1.15   45.47	47.91  2.44   43.55   46.75  3.20
46.29   47.68  1.39                           43.02   46.48  3.46
45.48   46.24  0.76                           42.74   46.22  3.48
45.85   47.14  1.29								
										
Min    0.76           Min    1.69            Min    2.80
Max    1.60           Max    2.83            Max    3.92
Avg    1.10           Avg    2.27            Avg    3.34

And thus, despite the small hiccup of 2016, the ball moved ever forward. It would be easy to look at the Tarrant County results in 2022, especially at the top, compare them to 2018 and 2020, and declare that Tarrant had backslid, but as you can see that would be a misreading of the data. I’m going to step a little out on a limb here and say that Tarrant will be Democratic at a Presidential level again in 2024, and there’s a good chance that will be true elsewhere on the statewide ballot as well. Going by the average gap in 2022, two other Dems would have carried Tarrant County in 2018. If the trend we see here continues, getting to about 45% statewide would probably be enough to win Tarrant in 2024. Please feel free to point at this and laugh at me if this turns out to be wildly off base. Until then, I’ll do this same exercise for a couple more counties, just for the fun of it.

At least we avoided violence

I’ve tried and failed to come up with a better post title than that for this.

After two years of fears of electoral dysfunction and violence, voting rights advocates breathed bated sighs of relief this week as Texas finished a relatively calm midterm election cycle.

“It was a little bit better than I thought, but I also had very low expectations,” said Anthony Gutierrez, executive director of the voting rights group Common Cause Texas. “We were really concerned about violence at the polls, and most of that was pretty limited.”

But he’s not celebrating.

Citing thousands of voter complaints received throughout the midterm cycle, Common Cause and other voter advocacy groups want the Texas Legislature to bolster voter protection and education measures and revisit recently passed laws that empowered partisan poll watchers.

The complaints ranged from long lines, malfunctioning machines and delayed poll site openings to harassment, intimidation, threats and misinformation. Common Cause received at least 3,000 such complaints on its tipline, Gutierrez said, and most of the harassment, misinformation and intimidation allegations came from voters of color, sparking fears that there were targeted efforts to quell election turnout in 2022 and future contests.

Other voting rights groups said this week that they saw a similar number of complaints. They warned that even isolated incidents can have reverberating effects on voter confidence or exacerbate political tensions that are already at dangerous levels.

“It could be chilling to thousands and thousands of voters,” said Emily Eby, senior election protection attorney for the Texas Civil Rights Project. “We can’t underestimate the impact of fear entering the voting equation.”

The 2022 cycle was the first major electoral contest since the passage of Senate Bill 1, a package of voting laws that the Texas Legislature pursued in part due to unfounded claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election. The legislation tightened mail-in voter identification requirements, banned drive-thru and 24-hour voting and curtailed early-voting hours.

Voting and civil rights groups warned at the time that the new law — coupled with rising election denialism — would disproportionately disenfranchise voters of color in Texas. In 2020, Texas had the most Black eligible voters in the nation, the second-largest number of Hispanic eligible voters and the third-largest number of Asian eligible voters, according to Pew Research Center. Texas has routinely ranked among the nation’s most restrictive for voting due to, among other things, its tight rules on mail-in and absentee ballots. This year, Texas ranked 46th out of 50 states for ease of voting, according to the Election Law Journal’s annual Cost of Voting Index.

I drafted this right after the election and am just running it now. You can read the rest, I don’t have much to add. I was pleasantly surprised that early voting went as smoothly as it did, and while there were some polling place issues in Harris County they were snafus and not the result of intimidation or sabotage, despite the risible efforts to nullify the results. There were some issues with poll watchers elsewhere in the state but I didn’t hear of anything here. Nationally, at least at this very minute, there seems to be a moment of reckoning for election denialism, though given the results here there’s no reason to believe any Texas Republican has had anything remotely close to a change of heart on that score. I too am glad we made it through this election without anything horrible happening, but I don’t know that I’m more optimistic about 2024. Ask me again later, I sure hope I can give a different answer.

And now we have a judicial loser contesting the election

The Republicans did warn us they’d be sore losers.

Republican judicial candidate Erin Lunceford filed a petition Wednesday seeking a new election in Harris County’s 189th judicial district court race after losing by 2,743 votes out of more than 1 million ballots cast.

Lunceford’s opponent, Democrat Tamika Craft, won the election by 0.26 percent of the vote.

The petition, which names Lunceford as the contestant and Craft as contestee, claims numerous violations of the Texas Election Code, including a failure to provide a sufficient amount of ballot paper to 25 polling locations.

Harris County Republican Party Chair Cindy Siegel indicated there could be more election contests to come.

“During the last month, we’ve had a lot of our candidates that were in very close races that have been talking to us wanting to know the information that we’ve accumulated and have reported,” Siegel said. “Several of them are considering election contests.”

Andy Taylor, general counsel for the Harris County GOP, is representing Lunceford.

Taylor accused Harris County Elections Administrator Cliff Tatum, who took over the office starting in August, of intentionally causing ballot paper shortages in Republican-leaning neighborhoods.

“If it was just mismanagement, it was just gross incompetence, wouldn’t one think that the lack of paper would apply equally and uniformly across the map, so that there would be roughly an equivalent number of Democratic stronghold precinct neighborhoods as well as Republican precinct stronghold neighborhoods?” Taylor said. “And, yet, that’s not the way it’s breaking.”

Taylor alleged 80 percent of polling places with paper shortages on Nov. 8 were in areas considered Republican strongholds.

“I want to send a message to the Harris County elections administrator,” Taylor said. “Mr. Tatum, your day of reckoning has just started.”

In a statement, Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee said his office will keep a close eye on Lunceford’s election contest.

“I’m disappointed to see another losing candidate challenging the results of their election. Judge Lunceford previously served on the bench, so I trust she understands the seriousness of asking a court to disregard the votes of over a million residents across Harris County,” Menefee said. “This case will focus on the details of every aspect of the November 8 election in Harris County. My office will be involved in the case every step of the way to ensure people’s votes are protected.”

The petition is filed in Harris County, but the case will be heard by a judge from outside the county, according to Menefee’s office.

So many things to say, so I’ll bullet-point it:

– This is different from the ridiculous election contest filed in HD135 by a candidate that lost by 15 points and over 6,000 votes. That one would be heard in the House by a House committee, if Speaker Phelan for some reason doesn’t toss it as a frivolous waste of time. This one will be heard in a courtroom.

– As a reminder and a general principle, never believe a word Andy Taylor says.

– To put it another way, good luck proving intent. Also, reports from the field on Election Day about paper issues were very much coming from Democratic sites. The Texas Organizing Project didn’t file its lawsuit to extend voting hours because of problems in The Villages and Cy-Fair.

– Random fact: In 2020, Democrat Jane Robinson lost her race for Chief Justice of the 14th Court of Appeals by 1,191 votes out over over 2.3 million cast, a margin of 0.06 percent of the vote. You know what she did? She conceded gracefully and went on with her life.

– Another reminder: There were 782 voting locations on Election Day, and you could vote at any of them. There were a half-dozen voting locations within walking distance of my house on Election Day. Anyone who ran into a problem at one location could have gone to another. By all accounts, there were maybe 20-25 sites that have paper issues. That left a mere 750 or so alternatives, including ones that would have been very close by.

– In other words, please find me the people who showed up to vote at a location that was having paper problems, and did not wait for them to be fixed, did not go to another location, did not come back later, and as a result did not vote. You really gonna claim that there were over two thousand of them, and all of them were going to vote for Erin Lunceford?

– Did I mention that the Republicans opposed the extension of voting hours in Harris County (and not in red-voting Bell County, which also had voting location issues), and also opposed the counting of provisional ballots cast by people who voted after 7 PM? As I said before, the obvious way to deal with delays in opening a given voting location is to push back the closing time for it. But the Republicans opposed that at every turn.

– Can you imagine what the Republican response to this would be if it were a Democrat complaining about voting location problems? You could have voted elsewhere! You could have voted early! It’s your own damn fault you didn’t vote! Look at how zealously they opposed all of the efforts to expand voting access in the pandemic, including the third week of early voting that Greg Abbott ordered. You’re immunocompromised and you want to vote by mail or from your car because you’re afraid of a deadly disease? Too bad!

– The remedy, if they somehow win on these laughable claims, would be to redo the entire damn election. To say the least, that is a massive, massive upending of the regular democratic order. The amount of evidence they’d need to provide to come close to justifying such an ask, I can’t even begin to comprehend.

– But really, this is all about making noise and trying to cast doubt on the election administrator’s office and government in general in Harris County. It’s just the Big Lie in a slightly sanitized package.