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Harris County

Precinct analysis: How the 2022 Harris County State Rep candidates did versus the 2020 and 2018 results

I still don’t have a full canvass of Harris County, so I’m looking around to see what kind of analyses I can do in the meantime. For this post, I’m comparing how the candidates in the contested State Rep contests did against the 2020 and 2018 numbers that we saw in the redistricting reports. This isn’t my preferred kind of comparison – there are too many uncontested races, some “contested” races really aren’t because of poor candidate quality, incumbents tend to have a bit of an edge – but it’s what we’ve got for now. My impressions of the numbers for the new State Rep districts are here, and the Texas Legislative Council reports can be found here for 2020 and here for 2018. First up is 2020:


Dist   Biden   Trump   Hegar  Cornyn     Dem     Rep
====================================================
128    31.6%   67.1%   30.6%   67.2%   29.5%   70.5%
129    42.2%   56.2%   39.4%   58.0%   39.2%   60.8%
131    79.6%   19.5%   77.3%   19.9%   80.5%   19.5%
132    42.9%   55.6%   40.0%   57.6%   40.3%   59.7%
133    48.4%   50.3%   43.2%   54.9%   36.4%   61.4%
134    62.5%   36.1%   56.6%   41.7%   61.6%   37.1%
135    59.9%   38.7%   57.5%   39.4%   57.6%   42.4%
138    46.6%   52.0%   42.8%   55.0%   42.9%   57.1%
145    70.1%   28.3%   66.2%   30.8%   71.3%   28.7%
148    58.1%   40.5%   55.3%   41.7%   55.5%   42.6%
149    61.7%   37.2%   59.7%   37.5%   59.8%   37.7%
150    42.1%   56.5%   39.5%   57.9%   39.3%   60.7%

Biden generally outperformed the rest of the ticket by two or three points, more in some places like HDs 133 and 134. It’s clear he drew some crossover votes, so matching his performance is a sign of great strength. MJ Hegar was more of a typical Dem performer, and ideally a Dem in 2022 would do at least as well as she did. Note that most of the individual State Rep races were straight up D versus R, but in the cases where the percentages don’t add up to 100, assume there was a third party candidate as well. Most Dems met the Hegar standard, with incumbent Reps. Alma Allen (HD131) and Christina Morales (HD145) outdoing even the Biden number. On the other side, HD133 GOP candidate Mano DeAyala easily stomped a Democrat whose existence even I didn’t know about.

On to 2018:


Dist    Beto    Cruz  Valdez  Abbott     Dem     Rep
====================================================
128    32.6%   66.8%   29.1%   69.7%   29.5%   70.5%
129    42.8%   56.3%   36.8%   61.5%   39.2%   60.8%
131    85.2%   14.3%   80.4%   18.5%   80.5%   19.5%
132    41.8%   57.5%   36.2%   62.3%   40.3%   59.7%
133    46.1%   53.1%   37.9%   60.3%   36.4%   61.4%
134    62.4%   36.8%   52.5%   45.3%   61.6%   37.1%
135    64.4%   35.0%   59.4%   39.2%   57.6%   42.4%
138    46.4%   52.8%   39.6%   58.7%   42.9%   57.1%
145    75.0%   24.1%   67.5%   30.4%   71.3%   28.7%
148    62.7%   37.5%   56.1%   42.4%   55.5%   42.6%
149    68.7%   30.6%   64.0%   34.8%   59.8%   37.7%
150    41.2%   58.1%   36.3%   62.4%   39.3%   60.7%

Beto and Valdez represented the top and bottom of the scale for Dems this year. It’s clear that Dems fell short of the 2018 standard this year, with the 2022 version of Beto being somewhat above the Valdez line. In general, Biden did about as well in most districts as Beto had done two years before, though there are exceptions, of which HDs 135 and 149 are the most interesting. I don’t want to read too much into any single number here – this was a year I’d classify as an underperforming one for Dems overall, though at a much higher baseline than we were used to for off years, and I’d expect better numbers in 2024. Dems have the same targets as before in HDs 132 and 138, while if I were the Republicans I’d take a closer look at what’s going on in 135 and 148. The actual me really wants to see the full canvass data to see how the broader ticket did in these districts. Let me know what you think.

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

I have three things to say about this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SCOTx allows provisional votes to be counted

Good.

The Texas Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that Harris County can include about 2,100 ballots cast during an extra hour of Election Day voting when officials certify the midterm results. But the state’s highest civil court also ordered Harris County to determine whether those late-cast ballots would affect the outcome of any races — and kept alive Attorney General Ken Paxton’s challenge to counting them.

It’s a win, at least temporarily, for Harris County officials in a fight against Paxton’s attempt to discard thousands of midterm ballots as election results are set to be certified Tuesday.

In an interview Tuesday, Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee said that about 2,100 provisional ballots cast after 7 p.m. Election Day should be counted. Those ballots were cast after a district court judge ordered Harris County polling places to remain open an extra hour because many locations had opened late that morning.

“The votes that were cast during that time period pursuant to a court order are still perfectly legal. And there’s nothing in the law that prohibits them from being counted,” Menefee said. “So our perspective is that those provisional ballots are no different than any other provisional ballots — they are to be counted.”

Harris County officials argued as much in a filing to the Texas Supreme Court on Tuesday. That came one day after Paxton petitioned the Supreme Court to toss the late-cast ballots.

[…]

In at least one race, the provisional ballots could impact the outcome. After provisional and mail-in ballots were counted, the incumbent for Harris County’s 180th Criminal State District Court, DaSean Jones, went from trailing Republican Tami Pierce to leading by less than 500 votes, the Houston Chronicle reported.

See here for the background and here for the court’s order. It’s just one page long, and the gist of it is this:

In this mandamus proceeding, which challenges Harris County election officials’ processing of the “later cast votes,” we grant the following temporary relief under Rule of Appellate Procedure 52.10(b):

  • Respondents are directed to conduct the canvass of the November 2022 election as required by the Election Code.
  • As part of the canvass, respondents are ordered to separately identify in the vote tabulations the number of “later cast votes” for each candidate in each race and for or against each proposition, so that candidates, the parties, and this Court may ascertain whether the “later cast votes” would be outcome-determinative and so that the parties can assess the extent to which further litigation is warranted.
  • Respondents are ordered to provide the Court with a copy of the canvass results, including the separately tabulated “later cast votes,” as soon as they are available.

The petition for writ of mandamus remains pending before this Court.

I presume that last line is there in the event the provisional ballots have an effect on the 180th Criminal District Court race, in which event (again, I presume) the merits of the arguments will have to be addressed. Lawyers, please feel free to correct me as needed. The only other race that is close enough to be even theoretically affected by the provisional ballots is the County Criminal Court #3 race, where Porsha Brown trails by the even smaller margin of 267 votes. However, given that the provisional votes cast on Election Day favored Democrats, it’s even less likely for that race to be affected, and it would be impossible for both of them to be in a position to change.

I maintain as I said yesterday that it is highly unlikely that the 180th Court will be affected. If you throw out all of the Election Day provisional ballots, DaSean Jones still leads by 89 votes. There are apparently 2,100 provisional Election Day ballots in question, out of 2,555 total E-Day provisionals and 2,420 that included a vote in this race. The odds that Jones could lose the entire 360 vote net he got from the E-Day provisionals plus another 90 votes in this subset of the total ballots just strike me as extremely remote. I wish the stories that have been published about this would go into more detail about this as I have done – yes, I know, math is hard, but you could at least use “highly unlikely” language to offer some context. By the time this runs in the morning we’ll know what the official canvass says, and from there we’ll see if an election challenge will follow.

The Chron story, from a bit later in the day, has more details.

While the provisional ballots are included in the official count certified by Commissioners Court, the Supreme Court also is ordering the county to include in the final canvassed results a separate report that details the votes of the “later cast votes for each candidate in each race.” That way, candidates can determine whether this group of ballots would change the outcome of their race and “assess the extent to which further litigation is warranted.”

Given that Harris County voters cast more than 1.1 million ballots overall, the 2,000 provisional ballots have little chance of changing most election outcomes. However, a handful of candidates in tight races may consider legal challenges over election results.

“At this point, we do not anticipate that it impacts the outcome of any races,” Harris County First Assistant County Attorney Jonathan Fombonne said. “Of course the [Texas Supreme Court] proceedings remain pending and the court could rule on something. And of course there can always be election contests. Many of those races were close, and it wouldn’t surprise us to see candidates filing election contests.”

[…]

On Election Night, the Texas Organizing Project, Texas Civil Rights Project and ACLU of Texas obtained a court order from a judge requiring all Harris County polling locations to extend voting hours until 8 p.m. after the groups argued in a lawsuit that late openings at some polling locations prevented some residents from voting.

Voters who were in line by 7 p.m. were able to vote normally, while those who arrived between 7 and 8 p.m. were allowed to cast provisional ballots.

That evening, in quick succession, Paxton’s office filed its writ of mandamus asking the Texas Supreme Court to vacate or reverse the court order, and the Supreme Court responded by staying that order, saying votes cast after 7 p.m. “should be segregated,” without specifying whether they must be excluded from the final count.

Because the proceedings are still ongoing, it is too soon to know whether the ability to extend voting hours in the future could be impacted.

“The court hasn’t specified whether or not that’s legal,” Fombonne said. “The proceedings are pending. There may be an opinion in the future that addresses that question.”

Hani Mirza, legal director of the Texas Civil Rights Project’s voting rights program, was part of the team that sought the court order extending voting hours this year. The group also filed a lawsuit in 2018 obtaining a similar court order in Harris County. Mirza said in the case four years ago, Paxton’s office did not ask the Texas Supreme Court to intervene.

Nor did Paxton’s office intervene this year when voting hours were also extended by one hour in Bell County because of early morning glitches with check-in systems. The Bell County attorney confirmed last week that a court order there had not been challenged by the Attorney General’s Office or another party.

“It doesn’t make any sense outside of, obviously, cynical partisanship and these targeted actions against Harris County, the most diverse county in the state” Mirza said.

That sort of addresses my question above about the last line in the SCOTx order. We’ll just have to keep an eye on that. The election has been certified by Commissioners Court, which if nothing else avoids the drama of any further delays. As to who might file a contest, again we’ll have to see. Seems like a lot of fuss for something that is unlikely to go anywhere, but who knows.

A few words from Judge Hidalgo

Plus a few words that she could have said but didn’t, which I will fill in.

Judge Lina Hidalgo

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who narrowly won re-election last week over a strong push from GOP candidates and donors, outlined plans for her next four years in office, including continuing anti-crime efforts and doubling down on early childhood education.

“In some ways, it’s a continuation of the past four years — the work we’ve done to tackle violent crime, for example. We’ve already been able to bring down that violent crime rate by at least 10 percent. These are August numbers. We need to do more. We’re going to continue doing that,” Hidalgo said in a press briefing held Thursday.

Hidalgo took a jab at the two Republicans on commissioners court, Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey and Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle, who broke quorum for more than six weeks to stop Democrats from passing their proposed property tax rate. While the Democrats were proposing a tax rate decrease, Ramsey and Cagle argued for a slightly lower rate on the grounds that residents needed more tax relief.

Because the court was not able to reach a state-required quorum of four members present to set the tax rate by the end of October, the county defaulted to what is known as the no-new revenue rate, the levy that would generate the same revenue as last year. The county is projected to take in an additional $45 million from new properties on the tax roll.

Facing a lower tax rate, the court voted to approve a lower budget, cutting nearly $100 million that was to be allocated to law enforcement, including raises for sheriff deputies.

“I’m proud of the record investments we’ve made in public safety, even despite the fact that two colleagues boycotted our budget process and forced us to cut some expenses we’d planned,” Hidalgo said. “Even with that, we’ve been able to see results and we’re working really hard, including with the recent bond that passed, to try to strengthen our criminal justice system.”

County government will keep tackling issues that traditionally have not been on the agenda, she said.

That’s what she said. She didn’t say anything about Constable/JP redistricting, either as a political goal or a policy goal. She didn’t say anything about taking all of those $100 million in forced budget cuts from Tom Ramsey’s precinct, which I would totally tell her to at least publicly muse about if I were advising her. She didn’t say anything about whiny crybaby sore losers pursuing their completely bogus “investigation” of the Elections office. She’s a responsible elected official, and I’m a yahoo on the Internet, so that probably has something to do with it. But these are things that could be said, and maybe will be said in a more measured and nuanced way at some point in the coming weeks. We’ll see. Oh, and be sure also to see the hilariously thin-skinned response she drew for her victory celebration from a local furniture salesman and gambling aficionado. Someone needs a nap, I’d say.

UPDATE: Said furniture salesman gets roundly panned by Chron readers.

Paxton sues to prevent some provisional votes from being counted

On brand. Always, always on brand.

Best mugshot ever

The Texas Attorney General’s office is attempting a last-minute intervention to toss out 2,000 provisional ballots before a Harris County Commissioners Court meeting Tuesday to certify the November election.

The ballots in question were cast during a one-hour period on Nov. 8.

“Although the ballots were processed, Harris County now intends to include them in the final vote canvass,” Christopher Hilton, chief of the Attorney General’s office general litigation division said Monday. “We have never agreed that these ballots can be part of the final election results, and this afternoon we’re going to ask that the Texas Supreme Court rule that these late-cast votes should be excluded as Texas law requires.”

The petition was filed Monday afternoon. Hilton declined to comment on why the office did not ask for the ruling sooner.

“A court of law ordered Harris County to keep the polls to open for an additional hour on Election Day and people across our county cast their ballots during that time,” Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee said in a statement. “My office is going to do everything we can to protect every single vote that was cast. Republican, Democrat, or Independent — no eligible voter should have their ballot thrown out because the Attorney General can’t accept the results of Harris County elections.”

[…]

According to emails shared with Chronicle, parties including the Texas Attorney General’s office, Harris County Attorney’s office, Texas Civil Rights Project, Harris County Republican Party and Harris County Democratic Party all signed off an agreement on Nov. 11 for processing the provisional ballots.

First Assistant County Attorney Jonathan Fombonne wrote the Harris County Attorney’s office was approving the agreement “based on the understanding that the Texas Supreme Court’s order does not prohibit the tabulating of those votes as long as the ballots themselves remain segregated.”

Kimberly Gdula, deputy chief of the Attorney General’s office general litigation division, signed off on the agreement in an email: “The State is good with this.”

However, Sunday evening, two days before the commissioner’s court meeting to certify the election results, Hilton, the chief of the Attorney General’s office general litigation division, sent an email to the parties questioning the legal basis for including the provisional ballots cast after 7 p,m. in the final count and seeking clarification “so that the parties can pursue any legal remedies, if necessary.”

In a statement Monday, Harris County Attorney’s office spokesperson Roxanne Werner said: “Representatives from the Attorney General’s office and the Harris County Republican Party asked for the language describing that process to be removed from the agreed order, leaving Harris County to process and count the late ballots as they would other provisional ballots while ensuring they were kept segregated. All parties were put on notice that the votes would be counted.”

“This 11th-hour ask to throw those votes away should not be tolerated, especially considering the State rejected the County’s offer to hold off on counting these votes while it sought clarification from the Supreme Court,” Werner added.

See here and here for some background about the litigation that allowed polling locations to remain open until 8 PM. As the story notes, Bell County had similar issues with some polling locations and also got a court order allowing locations to remain open until 8 PM, which the AG’s office has not opposed. The main takeaway here is that not only can you not trust anything Paxton says, you also can’t trust anything his office says, even if they sign their names to it. No wonder he’s having a hard time retaining staff.

As a reminder, and as you can see from the report released by the Elections Office on the 18th, DaSean Jones netted 360 votes from the provisional ballots cast on Election Day. However, he is leading by 449 votes, so if you threw out all of the E-Day provisionals, he would still be ahead by 89 votes in his race. He had already overcome the 165-vote deficit he had in earlier reports thanks to the counting of cured mail ballots, which had gained him 259 votes.

It’s actually not clear from the story how many ballots we’re talking about. The story refers to “2,000 provisional ballots”. I can’t tell if this is just using a round number because exact figures are confusing or if this is the exact figure. There were 2,555 provisional ballots cast on Election Day, of which 2,420 included a vote in the DaSean Jones – Tami Pierce race. I guess it’s theoretically possible that of the provisional E-Day ballots that were specifically cast by people who got in line after 7 PM (because if you were already in line you were always allowed to vote), Jones had a net advantage of at least 450 over Pierce. To say the least, that would be an extraordinary circumstance. (*)

I point this out to say that barring something truly weird, Paxton’s bad faith filing will not – can not – have any effect on any race. That doesn’t change the fact that his filing is trash and should be rejected by SCOTx on the grounds that these people deserve to have their votes counted. The remedy for having to vote late because of voting location problems is to extend voting hours to accommodate those that were affected. Just like what happened in Bell County (won by Greg Abbott 59.04% to 39.52%, in case you were curious), which the AG has accepted as fact. I for one don’t see any difference between the two.

(*) I did search on the Supreme Court webpage for Paxton’s mandamus filing, which might have been more specific and thus answered my questions. Looking on the Electronic Filings search, I think this case is number 22-1044. However, the hyperlink for that case didn’t work when I tried it, and searching for the case via that number returned no results. If you can do better than I did, or if the webpage eventually fixes itself, let me know.

UPDATE: The Trib story also references “2,000 ballots”, which does not help clear up my confusion. They also refer to the overall total of about 4,000 provisional ballots – the actual overall total is 4,333, of which 1,778 were cast early and are clearly not at issue. So, until I hear otherwise, it is my contention that these provisional ballots are not enough to alter any race’s result, and also that this doesn’t matter because all of the ballots should be counted. We’ll see what the Court says.

Precinct analysis: Early voting versus Election Day

In his pre-election analyses of the early vote, Republican consultant Derek Ryan (whose numbers I have used in the past) suggested that there was still a significant number of regular Republican voters who had not voted yet, which could make Election Day redder than early voting was. I thought I’d take a look at the data to see how accurate that was. Short answer: Pretty accurate.


Candidate   Early%  E-Day%  Total%  Ratio
=========================================
Abbott     53.75%   57.05%  54.80%   1.06
Beto       45.14%   40.98%  43.81%   0.91
Others      1.11%    1.97%   1.39%   1.77

Note that “Early” here includes mail ballots, as the Secretary of State website combines mail ballots with early in person ballots to give that number. “Ratio” is just the Election Day percentage divided by the Early percentage, which you can interpret to mean that Abbott did about six percent better on Election Day while Beto did about nine percent worse. The Others include the Libertarian and Green candidates plus two write-ins. I am greatly amused by the fact that their voters are the real traditionalists for voting on Tuesday.

If you’ve followed the numbers from Harris County, you know that Democrats overall did at least as well on Election Day as they had done in early voting. I assumed there was a range of outcomes here, so I sorted the data by Abbott’s Ratio, to see where he did best and worst – relatively speaking – on Election Day. Here are a few counties of interest for each. First, where he improved on Election Day:


County                Abbott     Beto  Others
=============================================
Travis Early          24.07%   74.83%   1.10%
Travis E-Day          30.52%   66.96%   2.52%

Bastrop Early         53.93%   44.58%   1.50%
Bastrop E-Day         64.15%   33.53%   2.32%

Williamson Early      47.73%   50.94%   1.33%
Williamson E-Day      54.19%   43.20%   2.62%

Hays Early            42.52%   56.01%   1.46%
Hays E-Day            46.87%   50.30%   2.84%

Bowie Early           73.12%   25.96%   0.92%
Bowie E-Day           80.32%   18.17%   1.52%

Dallas Early          34.85%   64.18%   0.97%
Dallas E-Day          38.08%   60.02%   1.90%

There are numerous small counties in there that I haven’t listed, I’m just highlighting the ones of interest. Travis County was in fact the top Ratio value for Greg Abbott – he did 29% better on Election Day than he did in early voting. This is where I point out that “doing better (or worse) on Election Day” is not the same as doing well (or poorly). That said, Abbott did well enough on Election Day in Williamson County to nudge past Beto’s vote total for that county. Now here are a few where Abbott dropped off on Election Day:


County                Abbott     Beto  Others
=============================================
Fort Bend Early       47.58%   51.07%   1.35%
Fort Bend E-Day       44.72%   52.94%   2.33%

Lubbock Early         70.30%   28.64%   1.06%
Lubbock E-Day         67.54%   30.49%   1.97%

Harris Early          45.06%   53.79%   1.15%
Harris E-Day          43.31%   54.45%   2.24%

Gregg Early           73.76%   25.52%   0.72%
Gregg E-Day           71.09%   27.35%   1.56%

Jefferson Early       56.56%   42.33%   1.10%
Jefferson E-Day       54.61%   43.38%   2.01%

It’s interesting to me to see Central Texas counties filling up that first table, while the Houston area is more present in the second one. I could have included Waller, Wharton, and Chambers in the latter as well. Whether that’s a fluke or a tendency, I couldn’t tell you. But it’s finding weird things like this that makes doing this kind of exercise so much fun.

Does any of this matter on a more macro level? Again, I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t think it matters that much, in the sense that the votes all count the same and from the perspective of a campaign’s win number it doesn’t make a difference. It’s certainly nice to have a bunch of votes banked before Election Day – if nothing else, it mitigates some risk from bad weather and technical difficulties at voting locations. But ultimately, either your voters show up in the numbers you need or they don’t. I think this data is interesting, and it may suggest some strategies for how better to deploy campaign resources. Beyond that, it’s what you make of it.

DaSean Jones wins after provisional and cured mail ballots are counted

I’m sure someone is going to throw a fit over this.

Judge DaSean Jones

The Harris County felony judge race for the 180th criminal state district court flipped Friday night in favor of incumbent DaSean Jones after new mail and provisional ballots were counted.

Jones, who assumed office in 2019, has taken a 449-vote lead over Republican Tami Pierce. Pierce led by more than 1,200 votes the morning following the election. That number dwindled to 165 votes on Nov. 10.

Nearly 5,300 new ballots were counted in the latest update by Harris County Elections — including a little under 1,000 mail, nearly 1,800 early provisional and about 2,500 E-Day provisional.

[…]

According to Harris County Elections, the results posted Friday are the “final unofficial posting” before Tuesday when Harris County Commissioners Court is scheduled to canvass the results. The Elections office is still working on the reconciliation form.

See here, when I published the previous count, which was as of November 10 at 2:42 PM. Those were the last results before provisional votes were counted – as we know, those always take a few days for review. With the new restrictions on mail ballots, the same law that added those restrictions also allows for mail ballots that have a defect in them, such as lacking the correct ID number (drivers license number or last four digits of the SSN, depending on which you used to register with), to be corrected up to six days after the election, as noted by the Secretary of State. I presume that means up through Monday the 14th, I haven’t checked to see what the exact specification in the law is.

Be that as it may, here’s the November 10 report, which as noted had no provisional ballots and still some uncounted mail ballots. At that time, a total of 60,302 mail ballots had been counted, and as we know they favored Democrats countywide. Beto was leading in mail ballots in that report 62.25% to 36.76% over Greg Abbott, a net of 15,151 votes, while Lina Hidalgo had a 60.26% to 39.65% (11,960 votes) advantage. DaSean Jones was up 31,382 (56.12%) to 24,541 (43.88%) as of the 10th.

In the report from the 18th, which included the final mail totals as well as the provisionals, Jones gained 259 net votes, going to a 31,914 to 24,814 lead. Counted provisional votes were sorted into those from Early Voting and those from Election Day. His opponent Tami Pierce netted five votes in the former, winning them 850 to 845, but Jones added another 360 to his margin by taking Election Day provisional votes 1,390 to 1,030.

Overall, the EV provisional votes had a slight Democratic lean – looking just at the judicial races, the Democratic share of the EV provisionals was generally a fraction of a point to a point higher than the overall early vote percent. Jones was one of three Democratic judicial candidates to not carry the EV provisionals – Genmayel Haynes, one of the four remaining Democrats who lost, and Tami Craft, who had the closest margin of victory among the Dems who won before Jones’ ascent, were the other two. Dems won the Election Day provisional vote by a much more solid margin, in the 57-60% range in the judicial races I looked at. That right there suggests to me that the Republican claims about voting location problems affecting them disproportionately are bogus.

For what it’s worth, Beto now has 54.03% of the vote in Harris County; my previous post with the 2022 update on how statewide results compared to Harris County is now out of date, which is a lesson I’ll learn for next time. Lina Hidalgo increased her lead to 1.67 percentage points, now 0.09 points bigger than her percentage margin from 2018 though her raw vote margin of 18,183 is still slightly less. The Democrat among the four who lost who came closest to winning is now Porsha Brown, who now trails Leslie Johnson 50.01% to 49.99%, a 267 vote margin. Final turnout is 1,107,390, or about 43.75% of registered voters.

A brief look at the judicial races

From a few days ago:

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commissioner-elect Briones

Good story.

Lesley Briones

Yes, Lesley Briones secured a victory that handed Democrats a stall-proof majority on Harris County Commissioners Court.

And yes, she upset Republican Commissioner Jack Cagle in a precinct where he has won reelection every cycle since 2011, beating the incumbent by about 3 points when polling in the week before the election marked Cagle with a firm lead in the race.

It’s also true that Briones’ election to office marks the first instance in its 145-year history that two women have served on Harris County Commissioners Court at the same time. It should also be noted that her presence adds a third representative with Latin American heritage to the five-member body in a county where Latinos make up the largest racial demographic group and have been growing every year since 2010.

But Briones maintains that the circumstances and implications surrounding her victory will not color her decisions as she prepares to assume her role as Harris County’s newly elected Precinct 4 Commissioner. A former Harris County Civil Court Judge who graduated from Harvard and went to law school at Yale, told Chron that she plans to approach her role as commissioner “just the way I did in court.”

“In my court, I wear a black robe, not a blue robe, not a red robe or any other color. And I listen to both sides of a case, or all sides if there are multiple parties. And I listened to the evidence and made my rulings in the fairest way possible,” Briones said.

“I am a proud lifelong Democrat, but it’s beyond partisanship,” said Briones. “It’s about being Americans, being Houstonians, being Texans. It’s about fixing potholes, improving parks, maintaining ditches. It’s about making sure we have the number of law enforcement officers we have,” she added.

Looking back at her and Democratic Judge Lina Hidalgo’s re-election victories, Briones said that “when people box themselves into corners, if it’s hyperpartisanship or polarization or however you want to frame it, it wasn’t serving people, and things weren’t getting done.”

First, that was the same poll that had claimed Judge Hidalgo was losing in her race; it underestimated her support by six points. To be fair, that poll showed a lot of undecided voters and noted that they came primarily from demographics that would favor Democrats. I’m just noting this all for the record, so we can examine the polls of 2024 more carefully.

I like the subtlety with which Commissioner-elect Briones calls out her vanquished opponent for his quorum busting – there’s more later in the story – which she had taken the opportunity to attack as it was happening in the latter stages of the campaign. I have no idea if this had an effect on the outcome – we don’t have any data on that – but as the victor one gets to write the narrative. Seems like a pretty good way to start telling the story of her tenure.

Finally, given that we will be talking a lot about Latino representation on Houston City Council in the coming year, not to mention the promised lawsuit to get rid of the At Large Council seats, it’s worthwhile to compare Harris County to Houston and note the disparity in their governing bodies. I will note that County Commissioner races are a lot more expensive than At Large City Council races, and that Briones won in a district that was not specifically drawn to elect a Latino. She had to defeat a diverse slate of opponents in her primary to get onto the November ballot. To be sure, she’s running in a partisan race, which can be (but isn’t necessarily) a boost to one’s fundraising prospects. She’s also running in an even-numbered year, which as we’ve discussed before in the City Council context means much higher turnout and thus a more diverse electorate than our odd-year municipal elections. If we had city elections in even-numbered years, we would almost certainly have a different-looking City Council. There are good reasons to not want to have those elections in even years, I’m just saying it’s another option, and something to keep in mind as we have this longer conversation in 2023. Campos has more.

If Greg Abbott demands an investigation, Greg Abbott will get an investigation

This is all still so dumb.

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg is launching an investigation into “alleged irregularities” during last week’s election after receiving a referral from the Texas Secretary of State’s office.

Ogg sent a letter to Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw asking for the Texas Rangers’ assistance on Monday, the same day Gov. Greg Abbott called for an investigation and the Harris County Republican Party filed a lawsuit accusing Elections Administrator Cliff Tatum and the county of numerous violations of the Texas Election Code.

The allegations include paper shortages at 23 polling locations, releasing early voting results before polls closed at 8 p.m., the improper disposition of damaged ballots and inadequate instructions on how poll workers were to manage instances in which the two-page ballots were not completely or adequately scanned into machines.

Under Harris County’s countywide voting system, residents had 782 locations to cast their ballots on Election Day. The paper shortages affected a small number of polling places.

The GOP lawsuit, however, claims “countless” voters were turned away due to the paper shortages and did not go to a second location to vote.

See here for the background. Ogg, who was not exactly an asset to Democrats in this election, has taken some heat for this. I get that and I’m not here to defend any of her recent actions, but I’m not exercised about this. There was going to be an investigation of some kind once Abbott threw his tantrum, and given that it can’t be Ken Paxton unless he’s invited in, it may as well be the local DA. Having the Texas Rangers assist makes sense in that it’s best to have outside help for an internal political matter. If this turns out to be much ado about nothing, as I believe it is, then let the Rangers take the blame from the Republicans for not finding anything. I am not going to waste my energy sweating about this at this time.

In the meantime:

Harris County Elections Administrator Cliff Tatum, speaking at length publicly for the first time since Election Day, pledged a complete assessment of voting issues Tuesday but said the county is in “dire need” of improvements to the way it conducts elections.

“A full assessment is in order,” Tatum told Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday. “We have started that assessment, but I’d like to remind you and the public we are still counting votes.”

He said his office still was working its way through about 2,100 provisional ballots cast after 7 p.m. last Tuesday. A state district judge ordered the county to keep the polls open until 8 p.m. because some voting locations failed to open on time. Those provisional ballots are being kept separate from the unofficial count, pending a court ruling on the validity of those votes.

The deadline for the county to canvass the vote is Nov. 22.

[…]

Tatum told Commissioners Court his staff is contacting each election judge to gather feedback and assess challenges they faced, including any technical difficulties and the response they received.

At least one polling place had a late opening and certain locations ran out of paper, Tatum confirmed.

Tatum took over the job in August, just two months before early voting in the November election began. So far, he noted the county is in “dire need” of some critically needed improvements, including a better communication system, more maintenance and operations personnel and a tracking system for monitoring requests from the election workers running polling locations.

Tatum said he has spoken with election judges who requested technical help and did not receive it.

“Because I can’t track that technician within the system that I have, I can’t tell you what happened,” Tatum said.

I dunno, maybe wait until all the work is done and see what happens before storming the barricades? And yes, especially now that they have full control over the budget, the Democratic majority on Commissioners Court needs to ensure this office has sufficient resources. We need to do better. Reform Austin has more.

This is all so dumb

I’m going to quote a large swath of this Reform Austin story because it sums up what has been happening the past couple of days better than I could.

Gov. Greg Abbott called for an investigation into Harris County’s election practices last Tuesday, saying that he wanted to get answers as to why a myriad of election administration issues occurred. Delayed openings at some polling places openings, a shortage of paper ballots at some polls, and understaffing problems plagued the county on election day.

“The allegations of election improprieties in our state’s largest county may result from anything ranging from malfeasance to blatant criminal conduct,” Abbott said in a statement but did not offer further details.

He added: “Voters in Harris County deserve to know what happened. Integrity in the election process is essential. To achieve that standard, a thorough investigation is warranted.”

But Harris County Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum responded that the county is “committed to transparency” and is already participating in the state’s election audit process.

“The office is currently reviewing issues and claims made about Election Day and will include these findings in a post-elections report to be shared promptly with the Harris County Elections Commission and the County Commissioner Court,” Tatum said in an emailed statement.

Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia said that any problems on Election Day were technological and were related to the new voting machines Harris County was forced to purchase to bring the county into compliance with the new state law.

That law mandated the new models would be used as they produce a paper backup in addition to electronically capturing voter input. GOP state legislators passed the legislation called SB1 in their post-2020 “election integrity” campaign, despite any evidence of irregularities or fraud.

“Rather than waste resources on this nonsense, Gov. Abbott ought to investigate how many permitless guns have been used in violent crime,” Garcia said.

Also Monday, the Harris County Republican Party filed a lawsuit against Tatum and the county, alleging paper shortages at some voting centers amounted to violations of the Texas Election Code.

But Harris County Democratic Party Chair Odus Evbagharu disputed the GOP’s assertions, saying that “The claim that there was, like, thousands and thousands of people who were disenfranchised, there’s no claim to that, there’s no proof of that,” Evbagharu said.

The delayed openings of roughly a dozen polling places on election day led a state district judge to allow an extra hour of voting time at those sites in response to a last-minute lawsuit filed by progressive advocates.

The Texas Civil Rights Project argued the case on behalf of the Texas Organizing Project, which sued to keep polls open. The suit stated it felt compelled to take legal action because election operation disruption earlier that day had caused voter disenfranchisement.

Hani Mirza, voting rights program director at the Texas Civil Rights Project said in a statement “We went to court because these closures and errors, especially in communities of color across Harris County, robbed voters of the opportunity to cast their ballot.”

Harris County District Judge Dawn Rogers ruled the effort was likely to prevail, and that the government had infringed upon voters’ rights, and thus she approved the additional time.

Not surprisingly, Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office appealed the organization’s suit immediately, prompting the Texas Supreme Court to order the county to segregate votes cast during the extension while it reviews the judge’s action.

Honestly, all things considered, I thought Election Day didn’t go as badly as some people are saying. There were some glitches, and for sure we could do a better job with the paper, but we’re talking twenty-some locations out of 782. One reason we have so many locations is to give people plenty of other options if the place they went to is having issues. It’s a pretty small percentage, and so far as I can tell, no one has come forward to say that they were prevented from voting. Even more, the obvious remedy to voting locations that opened late or had to shut down for a period while paper issues were being sorted would have been to allow voting to go on for some extra time, so that anyone who was unable to get to another location and could not return before 7 PM would still have a chance to vote. Which the Texas Organizing Project and the Texas Civil Rights Project sought to do and got an order from a district court judge, which was then opposed by Ken Paxton and shot down by the Supreme Court. You can’t have it both ways.

The Elections Office is going to have to make its mandated reports. There was already going to be an audit of the November election, in case anyone has forgotten. Paxton is going to do whatever he’s going to do. If the local GOP is claiming that there was some kind of conspiracy to make it harder for Republicans to vote – pro tip: never believe a word Andy Taylor says – all I can say is good luck proving intent. Until shown otherwise, this all looks like a bunch of hot air and sour grapes. The Trib, the Chron, and the Press have more.

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

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

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


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

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

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

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


Havg	51.75
Jmin	49.29
Jmax	52.30
Drop	4.71

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

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

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

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


Havg	51.75	
CJ	50.79
DC	51.17
CC	51.59
CT	51.60

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

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

The case for redrawing Constable/JP precincts

A Twitter thread of interest:

Note that he means the Justice of the Peace courts. Current maps for those precincts are here. Note that the Constable and Justice of the Peace precincts are the same. Note also how large geographically precincts 4 and 5 are. I’m sure they were quite empty in the 70s, but that was a long time ago. That’s one of the main theses in the accompanying article, which focuses on population growth and caseloads, and how they affect people facing evictions, which are handled by the JP courts.

Every Monday morning, Judge Israel Garcia, Jr., who serves as Harris County Justice of the Peace for Precinct 5, stares down a punishing docket of eviction, debt collection, and traffic cases for the week. His courtroom has a line out the door of parents and children, desperate to resolve a dispute with their landlord or settle a longstanding debt. But the law can be unfriendly to these defendants, and Judge Garcia must know that relief will never come.

All Justice of the Peace Courts in Harris County deal with large caseloads, but the number of cases in Precinct 5 is seemingly endless. If you visit our Harris County Evictions Dashboard, you’ll see how imbalanced the caseload really is – there are 10 times as many cases in Precinct 5 compared to Precinct 6.

What’s going on here? Do renters in Precinct 5 have a much higher risk of eviction than renters in other areas? Are its residents that much more likely to fall behind on their credit card payments or speed through a school zone? No. The reason why Precinct 5 has more cases is because it has more people –  a lot more people. And it has more people because Harris County hasn’t redrawn the boundaries of JP courts since 1973.

For this blog post, I explore just how lopsided the caseloads in Harris County’s JP Courts have become due to a lack of redistricting over the past 50 years. I also show the results from a simulation I ran of 1,000 new maps for the courts that account for population change. Every single one is better than what we have today.

I discussed the political case for redistricting the Constables in an earlier post. That’s a separate matter from what David McClendon is advocating. The two goals, if they are indeed goals for Commissioners Court, would be in some tension here. My first thought is whether McClendon took the Voting Rights Act into account in this exercise, because Precinct 6 – one of two precinct with Hispanic Constables and (with the election of Dolores Lozano in Precinct 2) all Hispanic JPs – would be first in line to be made larger. Precinct 2, the other of those two precincts, is right next to it. Precincts 3 and 7 have Black Constables and JPs. Any potential redrawing of these precincts needs to ensure that Black and Hispanic voters aren’t losing representation.

The Constables are currently five Dems and three Republicans, with Precincts 4 and 8 being all-GOP, while Precinct 5 has one JP from each party following Israel Garcia’s win in 2020. As a practical political matter, Commissioners Court is not going to draw a new set of maps that will make it harder for Democrats to win. Again, as far as I can tell, McClendon didn’t take that into account.

And that’s fine. That wasn’t his idea, and his goal was to even out the caseloads to enable a better process and hopefully better outcomes for tenants facing eviction. The good news here is that McClendon ran a thousand maps, each of which were better than the existing one for his purposes. That strongly suggests to me that the political purpose of not making it harder for Dems to get elected – while also at the least not making it easier for a few specific Constables to get re-elected – can be achieved at the same time as making the courts function better for everyone. Maybe there’s not an optimal solution for each in the same map, but surely improvements can be made. I would absolutely advocate for Commissioners Court to take a long look at this.

Mail ballot rejections were down for November

Good, but still room for more improvement.

More than 10,000 ballots were rejected in the state’s largest counties in Tuesday’s midterm election, making for a rejection rate of about 4 percent, according to preliminary data from the secretary of state’s office.

That’s a vast improvement from the March primary that immediately followed the passage of a Republican-backed election overhaul bill that added a new ID requirement for voting by mail that continues to confuse voters. More than 24,000, or 12 percent, of primary mail ballots were thrown out across the state.

Still, the 4 percent mail-ballot rejection rate is more than double the less than 2 percent tossed in Texas in the last midterm election in 2018.

“There is definitely room to lower rejection rates even more, but the trends we’ve seen since the primary show major improvements across the state, and show the rejection rates are moving in the right direction,” secretary of state’s office spokesman Sam Taylor said. “This was the 4th statewide election with the new ID requirements for mail-in ballots in place, so voters were more familiar with the process generally.”

The number of ballots rejected may decrease as some voters visit their local county clerk’s office to make corrections to their ballots to fix errors by the Monday deadline. The rate was calculated based on most of the state’s 18 largest counties, which accounted for 65 percent of the statewide vote.

[…]

About half of the largest counties’ rejected ballots came from Harris County, the largest county in the state where 1.1 million ballots were cast. About 8 percent of ballots received by the county were rejected.

Out of about 65,000 returned ballots, about 7,000 were rejected, including about 4,700 related to an ID error. Of those rejected, about 1,900 were corrected and counted.

“We have seen a significant decrease in the number of mail ballots rejected,” said elections spokeswoman Leah Shah. “That said, our priority is to ensure that every vote is counted, and we will continue to expand our education and outreach efforts to help close the gap.”

Bexar County, which had one of the highest rejection rates during the primary at 22 percent, managed to keep its denials down, continuing a trend that started during the primary runoffs when it dipped to less than one percent. This election, the rate was about 1 percent.

Emphasis mine, and see here for the previous report in this series. I highlighted that sentence because it may be one factor in the gradual increase in mail ballots counted between Wednesday morning and Thursday afternoon. The total increase is larger than 1,900 and for sure many of those were likely corrected even before Election Day, but I’ll be surprised if there were none that were cured during this week. Given that we haven’t reached the deadline to cure them, we will likely see a few more get added to the final tally. I commend the election workers who put in so much effort to make this a smaller problem, I continue to hold up Bexar County as the standard to which we should aspire, and I hope this is the last election where we have to follow this issue so closely. The Press has more.

In which Harris County Republicans look for moral victories

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

Feel the power…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The state of the AstroWorld lawsuits

We’re still at the beginning of a very long road.

The roughly 2,500 plaintiffs who filed lawsuits in the aftermath of the Astroworld Festival are now part of what is expected to be a yearslong legal process to seek recourse from a variety of defendant for deaths and injuries suffered during the Travis Scott performance. 

Who can be held responsible is one of the first questions the team of prominent personal injury lawyers is tackling as the lawsuits have been consolidated into one case in the Harris County civil courts against nearly a dozen defendants, including Live Nation Entertainment and rap icon Travis Scott. Other targeted for contributing to the deadly chaos include Apple, concert promoter Scoremore Shows and event management ASM Global, all of who deny responsibility.

While Judge Kristen Hawkins has issued a gag order, preventing attorneys, plaintiffs and defendants from addressing the cases outside of court proceedings — and upheld it despite the objection of news outlets — records show an arduous process that has attorneys bogged down in debates over jurisdiction and responsibility for the 10 compression asphyxia deaths and the hundreds more injured.

Tactically, defendants can either point blame at one another or become a unified front to fight off the lawsuits, he continued.

He likened the sweeping multi-district litigation to the aftermath of the 2005 BP plant explosion in Texas City, which similarly had numerous plaintiffs and fatalities and was consolidated by the courts as a result. At one point, there were 4,000 lawsuits stemming from the explosion. Civil suits stemming from the BP plant explosion stretched on through 2008.

Astroworld may be an even larger undertaking because the case has about a dozen defendants, he said.

William Hubbard, professor of law at the University of Chicago, said many of the defendants will try shirking responsibility in order to dismiss the case against them.

Most of the cases will likely never go to trial in their original courts, he continued. As lawyers from both sides continue to meet in court, debating over evidence and jurisdiction, the end game is likely to settle and for how much.

“The defendants don’t want to defend thousands of trials,” Hubbard said.

At least two lawsuits have been settled, and suits for hundreds of plaintiffs have been resolved — although it remains unknown if those disputes were settled or dismissed. Most surviving plaintiffs are seeking $1 million, contending they suffered physical pain, emotional distress and mental anguish as a result of the concert chaos.

See here for the previous update and read the rest. I seriously doubt I’m going to be able to keep track of everything with this story, since a lot of the basic procedural stuff happens out of sight of the news and thus bloggers like myself, but I’ll at least keep an eye on the things that do get into the papers. In re: the reference to the 2005 Texas City explosion, I fully expect this to take more than the three years indicated for that because there will be appeals, and we know how long those can take. The one thing that can shorted this process is a settlement. I suspect we’re in for the long haul.

The “less is more” option for improving Election Day

This deserves serious consideration.

Widespread problems with Harris County elections likely would be relieved if officials reduced the number of polling locations in favor of fewer sites that operate more efficiently, a Rice University researcher and some recent reports say.

“We do just fine with early voting,” said Robert Stein, a political scientist and fellow at the school’s James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy. “We have all kinds of locations over 12 days and that count goes fine. Then, at the end of election night you have 900 people standing in line.”

That line, like plenty of others, is made up of frustrated voters who, despite Harris County offering 782 polling locations with roughly 11,000 voting machines, encounter confusion and delays as poll workers troubleshoot problems, wait for instructions or replacement equipment from election officials.

County Election Administrator Clifford Tatum, the county’s fifth person to oversee elections since 2018, said Wednesday that officials would assess and investigate problems with this week’s mid-term election once they have completed the final tally and verified election results.

“We will look at every polling location,” Tatum said.

[…]

Tuesday’s election and others in recent years indicate the way to a smoother day is to decrease the number of places where problems can occur by reducing where people can cast a vote, Stein said.

Stein, who has studied local elections for more than 40 years and spent the past decade examining turnout and voter habits, said numerous analyses have shown voters likely can be better served with larger, more efficiently operated polling locations strategic to where they can conveniently vote.

The benefit would be two-fold, Stein said.

First, poll workers could be better distributed on Election Day so issues can be triaged as they arise. Currently, a polling location with six workers can grind to a halt if a single machine goes down and all the workers are huddling to handle the problem. Larger facilities can operate more smoothly because some election officials can focus on specific issues, such as technology, while less tech-savvy poll workers maintain the operations and check voters in. Reducing locations also means polling sites would have more machines at their disposal.

All of those changes would allow better use of “queuing theory,” the same research stores use to sell people more items with fewer workers. Better management of lines has been shown to improve not only the time voters spend in line, but their confidence in elections and likelihood to vote, according to a study jointly managed by Caltech and MIT.

Fewer polling places also would reduce the number of voting machines that need to be brought to a central counting location, verified, certified and uploaded, which should speed up the counting process.

Stein said more study is needed to calculate exactly how many polling locations are the correct amount for Harris County, and where they should be located, but it is likely a more efficient election could be conducted with hundreds of fewer sites.

Harris County already had trimmed the number of polling places this year, mostly because of a new state law requiring all votes be backed up with a paper ballot, that meant the county had to purchase and train scores of election volunteers on new machines. In 2020, the last major election — held during the COVID-19 pandemic — election officials offered 122 locations for the 12 days of early voting and 807 on Election Day.

[…]

The challenge to reducing polling locations in the Houston area, however, is politics of the most local level. Opposition to reducing the number of polling stations, historically, has been widespread because of fears it would disenfranchise low-income Black and Latino voters by removing neighborhood-centric sites and force suburban — often Republican — voters to drive farther to cast a ballot.

Most voters, however, do not vote in their neighborhood precincts, studies and the recent election show. Of the 1.1 million ballots cast in Harris County this cycle, nearly 700,000 were completed at 99 locations during early voting. Another 61,000 ballots were submitted by mail.

That leaves the approximately 350,000 people who voted Tuesday, many of whom crowded into major locations such as the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center on Gray Street, Trini Mendenhall Community Center and Jersey Village Municipal Government Center, all of which acted as early voting and Election Day sites.

Election officials could not produce a detailed list of where people voted Tuesday, citing the work they doing to finalize the election, but early voting indicates — as Stein said research also suggests — people vote where it is convenient for them but not necessarily closest.

Stein compared election locations to Starbucks, where someone’s habits may change but center on the most convenient choice. It may not be the closest one, he said, but it is the one on their way to work or while running errands.

“I can go back in time and model it,” Stein said. “You have got to know exactly where every voter is going to vote and you can get close with it. Is it perfect? No, but you can get pretty close.”

Additionally, local officials can leverage other options to easily connect people with polls. Metropolitan Transit Authority already offers free rides to polls through early voting and on Election Day, for example.

Early voting indicates voters already are finding their way to the most convenient places. Despite the 99 early voting locations being chosen to cover most of the county, the locations visited by the most voters are those located in major hubs for shopping or business, or where high concentrations of people pass by on their daily commutes. As a result, 50 of the locations handled 537,471 of the voters, while the other 49 saw 155,007 voters.

I feel like we had a version of this debate when the idea of voting centers was first proposed for Harris County. People at the time were very attached to the idea of voting in their neighborhood, and that’s understandable. Black and Hispanic communities have fought for generations for access to the ballot box, and being able to vote in their neighborhoods was both a symbol of their victory and an activity that had a lot of meaning. The fear that they would not be able to do that and would have to go someplace unfamiliar, possibly unwelcoming, and possibly inaccessible to some, was legitimate and a real reason to be wary if not opposed to the concept.

I believe that is different now, mostly because early voting is so popular and because voting at any location on Election Day is no longer new and unknown. The reason we have nearly as many Election Day locations where anyone can cast a vote as we did precinct locations where you could only vote at the one where you lived is basically the compromise that allowed for this hybrid version of voting centers to be initiated. The idea was always to consolidate voting locations on Election Day. It really does make sense and should eliminate a lot of the issues that caused delays, as Stein lays out in the story. And now that people are much more acclimated to the idea of voting wherever on Election Day, not to mention the fact that far fewer people wait until Election Day to vote, I would think moving towards that original vision, coupled with a plan and a promise to make both the voting experience and the vote-counting experience smoother and simpler and less time-consuming, ought to work. It’s absolutely worth a try. Campos and Stace have more.

Judge Hidalgo celebrates her win

Winning is sweet. Victory laps are even sweeter.

Judge Lina Hidalgo

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There were still ballots being counted yesterday

I think they’re done now? It’s hard to say for sure from the story.

With more than 1.1 million ballots cast, Harris County on Thursday still was counting ballots from Tuesday’s election.

The county filed a request for an extension Wednesday evening to get more time to complete its preliminary, unofficial count beyond the 24-hour deadline mandated by the Texas Election Code.

The state’s 24-hour rule to complete the Election Day tally is not new, but county officials said this is the first year Harris County is bumping up against the deadline because the county has implemented a paper ballot record, which is now required under state law. The county exceeded the deadline during this year’s March primaries.

[…]

A member of the county’s canvassing authority filed the motion Wednesday to obtain the court order allowing the county more time to process ballots, which a state district judge granted that night.

Leah Shah, a spokesperson for the Harris County Elections Administrator’s office, attributed the delays to the addition of paper ballot records and said the county anticipates it will finish counting by the end of the Thursday.

“When introducing paper voter records into the process we are now accounting not only for the processing of mail ballots, but also the processing of emergency slot ballots,” Shah said.

Emergency slot ballots are paper voter records that were not scanned at the polling location, which could happen for multiple reasons, including paper jams.

The county received 1,099 mail ballots on Election Day, along with 857 emergency slot ballots, according to the county.

All of those paper records had to be processed by the Early Voting Ballot Board before they could be counted. The board is made up of an equal number of representatives appointed by the county’s Republican and Democratic political parties.

There have been four Unofficial Results reports released since Wednesday morning. The date and time are in the files’ names.

CumulativeReport-20221109-04:51, with 1,094,415 total votes, 55,393 mail ballots, and 1,039,022 in person ballots.

CumulativeReport-20221109-08:46, with 1,096,633 total votes, 55,393 mail ballots, and 1,041,240 in person ballots.

CumulativeReport-20221109-17:10, with 1,100,979 total votes, 59,186 mail ballots, and 1,041,793 in person ballots.

CumulativeReport-20221110-14:42, with 1,102,097 total votes, 60,302 mail ballots, and 1,041,795 in person ballots.

As I said, it’s not clear to me if they are done – the Chron story had a publication time of 2:50 PM yesterday, which would correspond with that last updated file, but it also refers to “the end of the day”. I’m drafting this at about 8 PM and haven’t seen anything new, so maybe we’re done pending any provisional ballots. At some point I hope to do an interview with Clifford Tatum, and when I do I’ll ask him for an explanation of this. In the meantime, as I appended to yesterday’s post about the order extending the deadline to vote to 8 PM and the SCOTx ruling that put that aside, the closest race is now one in which the incumbent, 180th District Criminal Court Judge Dasean Jones, trails by 165 votes. If there are still votes, even provisional votes, to be counted, it is possible – still not likely, but possible – Jones could pull ahead. All we can do now is wait and see.

Tatum came in to run this election quite late in the game, and as we know Harris County is still new to the machines with the printers. I thought early voting went pretty smoothly, but there were some significant disruptions on Election Day – some of which were outside the county’s control – and while we were adequately warned about the count taking awhile and the HarrisVotes Twitter account was good about providing updates during the night, we really do need to get the count finished faster than this. I mean, we had 550K more voters in 2020, though the number on Election Day was smaller then because so many people voted early. The point is, the potential for this to be messier in two years unless things improve is significant. It’s going to take more resources and a better plan to collect the votes and get them processed. We need to get started on that ASAP.

UPDATE: Here’s the 8:15 PM version of the Chron story.

The Harris County Elections Office finished its preliminary count Thursday afternoon of more than 1.1 million votes from Tuesday’s election, following its request for an extension to finish its tally beyond the 24-hour deadline set by the state election code.

The county’s submission of the results to the state came shortly after the Harris County Republican Party said it plans to sue the office over claims that polling locations faced paper shortages on Election Day.

The state’s 24-hour rule to complete the Election Day tally is not new, but county officials said this is the first year Harris County has bumped up against the deadline because of the introduction of a paper ballot record now required under state law. The county exceeded the deadline during this year’s March primaries, too.

After receiving the extension, all ballots subject to the 24-hour rule had been counted by 3:12 p.m., according to the elections office. A spokesperson with the Texas Secretary of State’s office confirmed Harris County reported its final results shortly before 5:00 p.m.

At an afternoon press conference, Andy Taylor, the Harris County GOP’s legal counsel, criticized the county’s new Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum, saying the election was poorly run and the GOP is investigating claims that paper shortages occurred at 23 voting locations on Election Day, which Taylor claimed were all located in Republican precincts.

“We will, if those facts support what we believe to be true, file a lawsuit and we will have a day of reckoning in the courtroom for Administrator Tatum and all of his folks,” Taylor said.

Tatum has denied that the county ignored requests to deliver additional paper.

“I have staff in the field at this very moment delivering paper to any location that’s requested,” Tatum said Tuesday evening. “We’ve been delivering paper throughout the day.”

[…]

In response, Harris County Democratic Party Chair Odus Evbagharu said the reconciliation form is designed to be preliminary and unofficial.

“There is literally a disclaimer on this form that says ‘these numbers are subject to change as information is verified after Election Day,'” Evbagharu said. “It’s a snapshot in time of what the numbers are. That’s why we have a canvass. That’s why we have 10 days after to make sure that all of these things are right.”

Evbagharu said that while the reconciliation form is new under a state law passed in 2021, the vote counting process also took time to verify under Republican Stan Stanart, who ran Harris County elections for eight years until 2018.

“They never reconciled it in 24 hours,” Evbagharu said. “The only difference now is that you have it on paper so now they can make a big deal about it.”

He also disputed the claim that election problems only occurred in Republican strongholds, citing voting difficulties residents experienced in Houston’s predominantly Latino East End.

“They’re just now crying into the abyss because they lost,” Evbagharu said. “If I spent $20 million on an election and all I can say is I got a couple judicial seats, I’d be pissed, too. So, I’m not surprised if (Richard) Weekley and Mattress Mack and all these people are calling them like, ‘what the hell did you do with all of our money?'”

[…]

Secretary of State spokesman Sam Taylor said the office’s election trainers on the ground in Harris County Tuesday night observed several members of the early voting ballot board, which processes mail and provisional ballots from prior to Election Day, as well as staff counting regular ballots, leave in the middle of counting.

That “certainly contributed to the delay due to a shortage of people to continue the counting process,” he said.

The early voting ballot board consists of a small group of people appointed by the county elections administrator, sheriff and two major political party chairs, selected from lists submitted by the parties.

We’ll see what happens next. Threatening to sue is a lot easier than suing, which in turn is a lot easier than winning. I personally would like to know more about who wasn’t there during the counting and why. Things will happen, and people will have needs that come up and can’t be helped, but if that is a factor, it needs to be addressed going forward.

Some opening thoughts on the 2022 election

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what if anything will come of that SCOTx ruling on the extra voting time?

I have no idea.

The Texas Supreme Court on Tuesday set the stage for a legal fight over whether to count ballots Harris County voters cast during an extended hour of voting ordered by a lower court.

That lower court ordered that the state’s most populous county extend voting hours until 8 p.m. after several polling places were delayed in opening. The state’s highest civil court blocked that ruling and ordered Harris County to separate ballots cast by voters who were not in line by 7 p.m., the normal cutoff for voting in Texas. The Supreme Court’s order followed a request by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to reverse the lower court’s order. The Supreme Court posted the order on Twitter at 8:30 p.m.

It’s unclear how many votes were cast during the extra hour of voting, but Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee raised the prospect that the state would ask for those votes to be thrown out. The attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether they would pursue such action.

Voters who got in line after 7 p.m. were required to cast a provisional ballot, which the county had already said would take more time to process and would not be initially counted in election night returns. Harris County is home to nearly 2.6 million registered voters.

The order to keep polls open an extra hour at nearly 800 polling places came after the Texas Organizing Project sued Harris County, citing issues at numerous polling locations that opened more than one hour late Tuesday. Many Harris County voting locations also experienced voting machine malfunctions that caused delays and temporary closures throughout the day, the lawsuit claimed. The county did not fight the request for extra voting time.

“We didn’t oppose the original relief because we want to make sure every single eligible voter in Harris County has the chance to cast their ballot, and there were polling places that had some issues,” Menefee said. “But the Supreme Court of Texas will decide what happens here.”

In its request for extra voting time, the Texas Organizing Project argued the delayed openings violated the Texas Election Code because polling locations that opened after 7 a.m. would not remain open to voters for 12 hours. State law says polls must be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

In a court motion filed earlier Tuesday, the attorney general’s office argued that a county’s failure to open polls at 7 a.m. does not justify ordering them to remain open past 7 p.m.

[…]

“We went to court because these closures and errors, especially in communities of color across Harris County, robbed voters of the opportunity to cast their ballot,” said Hani Mirza, the voting rights program director at the Texas Civil Rights Project, which filed the lawsuit. “These folks got to the polls early, wanting to do their civic duty, and they would have were it not for these issues.”

Earlier in the day, a state district judge also ordered polling places to remain open an extra hour in Bell County in Central Texas. It is unclear if the attorney general’s office is also challenging that extension.

See here for some background, and here for a Twitter thread from the TCRP about their filing. At this point, I don’t believe any election is close enough to be potentially affected by however many provisional votes there could be. (I have no idea what that number is now, we’ll find out after the election is canvassed.) It would be nice to settle this as a matter of law and precedent, of course, and I would strongly argue that the voters shouldn’t be put in a position to be disenfranchised because of issues with a polling location – sometimes things go very wrong and it’s nobody’s fault – but I’m under no illusion that the Supreme Court will see it that way. Honestly, they’ll probably declare it moot once the provisional ballot numbers are confirmed, and that may be the best result we can hope to achieve. At least then there will be hope for the next time these things happen.

UPDATE: From the Chron:

Harris County officials declined to provide the number of voters who cast ballots during the extended period. The state’s highest civil court ordered these ballots be set aside until it issued a final ruling. In the meantime, all the votes during this period remain in legal limbo.

The Harris County district judge ordered that votes after the original 7 p.m. closing time be cast as provisional ballots, which are not counted until election workers confirm a voter’s eligibility.

Harris County Election Administrator Clifford Tatum declined to state how many ballots were cast during the extended period, but said Wednesday he didn’t believe any races would be affected by those provisional votes – or any provisional ballots left to count for other reasons.

“I don’t believe there are enough provisional ballots,” he said.

[…]

As of unofficial results, at least four district and county judicial races that flipped from Democrat- to Republican-held were close, separated by vote margins in the thousands and one as small as about 500.

As noted above, incumbent judge Dasean Jones is currently trailing by 465 votes, the closest countywide race. Jones won on Election Day with 50.24% of the vote. That means that if there are 10,000 provisional votes resulting from the problems with voting locations – this is, I want to emphasize, a huge over-estimate of the number of provisional ballots, but it’s a nice round number and will be nicely illustrative – and they vote at the same percentage for Jones, he’d have a net gain of 48 votes (524 to 476 for Jones). Of course, these problems occurred at specific locations which likely have more partisan characteristics – there’s no reason why they’d vote in exactly the same way as the county overall. Jones would need to win these 10K votes with 52.33% in order to pull ahead. If there are 5,000 provisional votes, he’d need to win them with 54.66% of the vote. If it’s 1000 provisional votes, it would need to be 73.3% of the vote. You get the idea. I don’t think it would be impossible for Dasean Jones to win with these votes, but unless those are extremely Democratic locations, the math is pretty challenging. For the candidates who lost by larger margins, even if those margins are tiny in absolute terms, it quickly becomes impossible to make up the ground. This is why recounts basically never change the outcome of even the closest elections.

UPDATE: There were still votes being counted when I wrote this. Looks like mostly mail ballots – there are another 1,116 of them in the latest report. County turnout is just over 1.1 million now. The bottom line, since mail ballots were much more Democratic than in person ballots, is that as of this writing Dasean Jones is now trailing by 165 votes, having closed the gap by 300. However, I think this is the end of that line. But if indeed there are a significant number of provisional ballots and they are mostly accepted, then the chances that Jones could edge ahead are greater than what the math had suggested before. I still think it’s unlikely, but it’s less unlikely now.

What AG “task force”?

Who knows?

Best mugshot ever

The fact that Paxton – who helped lead the charge to overturn the 2020 national election results and promoted false claims that it was stolen – now planned to send people from his office to monitor Harris County elections was seen as an intimidation tactic by local Democrats and non-partisan voting rights organizations. Several implored the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division to send federal election monitors to watch the state election monitors, a request the federal government has since granted.

But for all the attention on the effort in the lead up to Election Day, very little was actually known about it. Who was on the task force and how big was the operation? What exactly would they be doing? Where in Harris County would they be stationed? Here’s what the Chronicle was able to learn.

[…]

Has anyone in Harris County seen or interacted with members of Paxton’s task force?

Spokespeople for the Republican and Democratic parties in Harris County reached out to their teams that manage election workers to ask this same question. They said nobody on their team had reported any interactions from Paxton’s office yet.

“Imagine they’re here, but no reports that I’ve heard yet,” said Genevieve Carter, the Republican Party spokesman in Harris County, in a text message.

“Just checked with our elections folks,” Elisha Rochford, of the Democratic Party in Harris County, wrote in a text. “We have not heard anything about the AG’s office task force being in HC. We haven’t had any election workers report seeing anyone from AG.”

Alan Vera, a well-known conservative activist who has made numerous complaints about election problems in Harris County, said “I have not heard from anyone.”

Paul Bettencourt, a Republican state senator from Houston who has often complained about how Harris County administers elections, said he wasn’t aware of a team being sent to Houston from Paxton’s office. He said he would make some calls, but didn’t learn anything more. He said he believes the AG’s office is working with the Secretary of State’s office “remotely.”

Does the task force actually exist?

The Chronicle wasn’t able to find any evidence of a team from the attorney general’s office dispatched to Harris County.

See here, here, and here for the background. I don’t know if there was ever supposed to be a real “task force”. Maybe it was but it failed to materialize due to incompetence, laziness, or a lack of employees. Maybe it was always a stunt. Maybe it was 11-dimensional chess intended to mess with our minds and get the feds all scurrying about, in which case, mission accomplished, I guess. All I know is that the absence of Ken Paxton is always better than the alternative, so I’m going to chalk this up as a win.

Omnibus 2022 election results post

It’s already midnight as I start writing this. I’m just going to do the highlights with the best information I have at this time.

– Nationally, Dems are doing pretty well, all things considered. As of this writing, Dems had picked up the Pennsylvania Senate seat and they were leading in Georgia and Arizona. They held on in a bunch of close House races. The GOP is still expected to have a majority in the House, but not by much. The Senate remains very close.

– Some tweets to sum up the national scene:

– On that score, Republicans appear to have picked up CD15, which they drew to be slightly red, while the Dems took back CD34. Henry Cuellar is still with us, holding onto CD28.

– Statewide, well. It just wasn’t to be. The running tallies on the SOS Election Result site are a bit skewed as many smaller red counties have their full results in while the big urban counties have mostly just the early votes counted. Heck, they didn’t even have Harris County early results there until after 10:30 PM (the point at which I went and snoozed on the couch for an hour because I was driving myself crazy). It will be a ten-point or more win for Abbott, I just can’t say yet what. A survey of some county results early on suggested Beto was around where he’d been percentage-wise in most of the big counties (Tarrant, where he was a few points behind, being an exception) but was going to need some decent Election Day numbers to approach his raw vote margins. He didn’t do as well as he had done in 2018 in some of the larger suburban counties like Collin and Denton and didn’t do as well in South Texas.

– He also didn’t do as well in Harris, which made for some close races and a few Republican judicial candidates with early leads. A couple of those had eroded by the 11:30 addition of more Election Day and mail ballots, but we might see a few Republican judges on the bench next year. As of that 11:30 PM vote dump, Beto was leading Harris County by nine points, well short of where he had been in 2018.

– But as of this time, and with the proviso that I don’t know which voting centers have reported and which are still out, the Harris County Democratic delegation was all ahead, though not be a lot. This includes Lesley Briones for County Commissioner, which if it all holds would give Dems the 4-1 margin on Commissioners Court that they sought. There are still a lot of votes to be counted as I type this.

– Going back to the state races, Republicans may pick up a seat or two in the Lege. HD37 was leaning their way, and they may hold onto HD118. Dems were leading in HDs 70 (by a little) and 92 (by a more comfortable amount), two seats that had been drawn to siphon off Dem voters in formerly red areas. As of this writing, the open SD27 (Eddie Lucio’s former fiefdom) was super close but all of the remaining votes were from Hidalgo County, where Dem Morgan LaMantia had a good lead in early voting. That one will likely be a hold for Dems. On the other hand, SBOE2 was leaning Republican, so Dems may be back to only five members on the SBOE.

– There were of course some technical issues.

Tight races in Harris County, where around 1 million votes will be tallied, could hinge on whether ballots cast after 7 p.m. will be included in the count, after an Election Day filled with glitches and uncertainty for voters and poll workers alike.

Harris County District Court Judge Dawn Rogers signed an order keeping all county voting sites open until 8 p.m., only to have the Texas Supreme Court stay her order just in time to create confusion at voting locations letting voters arrive late.

In a three-sentence order, the court said voting “should occur only as permitted by Texas Election Code.” The high court also ruled that votes cast in the final hour should be segregated. That means those votes can’t be counted until the court issues a final ruling.

That ruling could be critical in the event that certain county races, including the hard-fought battle for county judge between Democratic incumbent Lina Hidalgo and Republican challenger Alexandra del Moral Mealer, are close enough to be decided by those set-aside votes.

“Every single vote counts,” said Laila Khalili, a director at the voter engagement group Houston in Action. “Some elections can be won by just a couple of votes.”

Khalili watched a handful of voters file provisional ballots at the Moody Park voting location.

The request to keep the polling sites open late was made by the Texas Organizing Project, Texas Civil Rights Project and ACLU of Texas, citing what they said were late election location openings and poor planning that disenfranchised some voters.

“These delays have forced countless voters to leave polling places without being able to vote,” the groups said.

Harris County was unable to estimate or confirm how many votes were cast after the typical 7 p.m. cutoff that allows for anyone in line by that time to cast a ballot.

Voters who arrived between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. cast a provisional ballot, according to the county attorney’s office. Some voters, later in the evening, complained that election workers even denied them that option, as the Supreme Court stay was broadcast to the 782 polling locations.

There were some issues with temporarily running out of paper at some locations and some long lines at others. We’ll just have to see how many provisional votes there are.

– Finally, for now, all of the county and city bond issues were passing. The closest ones as of this time were city of Houston prop E, up by eight points, and Harris County prop A, up by 11.

I’m going to hit Publish on this now and go to bed. I’ll make updates in the morning, either here or in a new post.

UPDATE: It’s 2:30 and I never actually got to sleep. With 334 of 782 voting centers reporting, Dems have gained some more ground in Harris County. Beto leads by nine points, while Judge Hidalgo is up by almost two full points and over 15K votes. She has led each aspect of voting. A couple of Dem judges who trailed early on are now leading, with a couple more in striking distance. There will be some Republican judges next year barring something very unexpected, but the losses are modest. All things considered, and again while acknowledging there are still a lot of votes out there, not too bad.

UPDATE:

An email with the summary file hit my inbox at 4:51 AM. Democrats officially have a 4-1 majority on Harris County Commissioners Court. By my count, Republicans won five judicial races in Harris County.

Justice Department agrees to send election monitors

Good.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced Monday it will send election monitors to three Texas counties — Harris, Dallas and Waller — to keep an eye on local compliance with federal voting rights laws on Election Day.

Monitors from the Justice Department are regularly deployed across the country for major elections, with Texas counties making the list for at least the past decade under both Democratic and Republican administrations. The three Texas counties are among 64 jurisdictions in 24 states that will have a federal presence Tuesday.

The department did not specify how it made its selections for monitoring, though Harris and Waller counties have made the list in the last four presidential and midterm elections. Harris and Dallas are the state’s largest and second-largest counties. Rural Waller County is home to Prairie View A&M University, a historically Black campus.

Voters can send complaints on possible violations of federal law to the DOJ through its website or by calling 800-253-3931. Polls open at 7 a.m. on Election Day.

See here and here for the background. When Ken Paxton and his minions are involved, you need all the help you can get. And while the early voting period was pretty calm, we know there’s a lot of bad stuff lurking. I feel better having these folks in the city. Politico and the Press have more.

Today is Election Day

Get out and vote if you haven’t done so yet.

Here’s the interactive map to find the polling location nearest you. Remember that you can vote anywhere in the county, so “nearest you” is however you want to define it. Note that they show 50 locations at a time, so if you’re not seeing anything near you, either click through the “Next 50” button or just enter your address and search for your locations. An alphabetical list of them is here.

I’ll be up late tracking results, which will probably not be final until I’ve given up the ghost and gone to bed. I’ll at least have summaries of the state and local elections of interest. I have no idea what to expect, so we’ll just find out together. Happy voting!

Fewer mail ballots rejected in November

Good, but still could be better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Final November 2022 EV totals: Catching up

First, some slightly outdated numbers from the Chron.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Army Corps ordered to pay $550K to reservoir flooding victims

This could turn into a lot more if it is upheld.

More than five years after their homes and businesses were flooded, residents above the Addicks and Barker dams are learning how much money the federal government owes them for damage from Houston’s overflowing reservoirs.

A federal judge last week ruled that the owners of six upstream properties flooded during Hurricane Harvey should collectively receive nearly $550,000. The six were chosen — jointly by Justice Department lawyers and attorneys for hundreds of property owners — as test cases in a massive case initiated just moths after the historic deluge.

The decision could open the door to thousands more judgments for property owners and could result in the government paying out tens of millions more dollars, attorneys for the flooded residents said Wednesday.

The case falls under a special jurisdiction that oversees so called “takings” cases, involving allegations the government temporarily took control of private land for a legitimate purpose. If the court’s ruling survives anticipated appeals by the Justice Department, it could become the largest government takings case in U.S. history, according to attorneys representing property owners.

A ruling is still pending for separate group of residents and business owners whose properties flooded when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the Addicks and Barker floodgates. The downstream property owners saw their claims dismissed in 2020, but in June a federal appeals court reversed the dismissal and remanded it to the lower court for further proceedings.

[…]

After the storm, more than 1,600 businesses and homeowners sued the Army Corps in the specialized U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C., contending the government intentionally planned for the reservoirs to flood their land. In 2019, U.S. Judge Charles F. Lettow ruled government officials had knowingly and intentionally used private property to store rising floodwaters.

Then, in separate hearings, Lettow set about assessing how much money these property owners were owed. On Oct. 28, Lettow ruled on damages, laying out explicitly how much some property owners were owed for decreases in their property values, the damage or destruction of their personal property and the costs of being displaced by the floods.

“The plaintiffs are entitled to just compensation for the permanent flowage easement the government took through its construction, maintenance, and operation of the Addicks and Barker Dams,” Lettow wrote.

The six property owners included homeowners and owners of rental properties. The decision in these test cases will trigger a process for Lettow to assess how much compensation property owners might be owed in thousands of other complaints. If Lettow’s standard is applied to all the upstream homes and businesses believed to be flooded, the total compensation would top $1 billion, according to Daniel Charest, a lead attorney for the upstream plaintiffs.

Charest said he expected the Department of Justice to file an appeal within the next 60 days and will likely challenge property owners’ rights to damages.

See here for the previous update, and here for more on the other lawsuit. I have no idea what will happen with this on appeal, but note that we are five full years out from Hurricane Harvey, and the appellate process hasn’t actually started yet. Settle in the the long haul, is what I’m saying.

Beware of RSV

Worrying.

Two common respiratory viruses continue to keep Houston pediatric hospitals unusually busy this time of year, with both the flu and RSV seeing a second surge following a rise in cases over the spring and summer, respectively.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, children sickened with either illness flocked to hospitals later in the winter months, from November to January. But intense isolation, social distancing and masking appears to have changed when those viruses spread, experts say, with a swath of young children being exposed for the first time.

It’s also unusual to see both viruses surging twice in the same year, puzzling top pediatric doctors in Houston.

“I was not necessarily expecting a surge right now,” said Dr. Michael Chang, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at UTHealth and Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital. “Having had a summer (RSV) surge, I was expecting that was it. It’s very unusual to have two surges in a single season. It happens, rarely, but it’s very uncommon.”

Both RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, and the flu have similar symptoms with slight differences. Both illnesses produce cold-like symptoms. The flu is more associated with a higher fever, while a key indicator of RSV is wheezing, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Nearly all children catch RSV before age 2. Both illnesses often do not require hospitalization, but young infants and older adults with compromised immune systems are at higher risk of severe illness from RSV.

RSV saw a massive spike last summer, and Chang and other pediatric doctors had warned of another summer surge this year. But when cases initially started to rise in June, the numbers never dropped back to baseline levels. The statewide positivity rate for antigen tests hovered around 10 percent until September and early October, when the positivity rate jumped again to more than 25 percent, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.  Last summer, the statewide positivity rate for antigen tests surpassed 30 percent.

[…]

Influenza A, one strain of the flu, also is on the rise after an increase in March and April. Houston Methodist’s respiratory pathogen data shows the hospital system is seeing year-long high in weekly cases with 656.

Despite the unusual pattern, parents of young children in the Houston area should not panic, doctors say. While national reports indicate record high patient volumes in some parts of the country, Houston is better equipped than other large cities to handle the surge, with two large pediatric hospitals in Texas Children’s and Children’s Memorial Hermann. The dual virus threat also is nothing new for pediatricians, as the flu and RSV season often overlapped before the pandemic.

“This is how every December and January used to be in children’s hospitals across the country,” Chang said.

COVID cases remain low in the Houston area. While some hospitals may hit capacity on busier days, and patients may encounter long wait times, the small percentage of RSV and flu patients who need hospitalization should be able to find beds, doctors say. Dr. James Versalovic, chief pathologist at Texas Children’s Hospital, said parents should consult with pediatricians if their children have persistent symptoms, including coughing, fever, poor feeding or rapid breathing. Virtual appointments are also available if area hospitals are strained.

It’s not just happening in Harris County, either. It’s having some negative effects.

With respiratory illnesses spreading among children more widely and earlier than in previous years, hospital leaders and medical experts say pediatric hospital beds across the state are in short supply.

After two years of mild flu seasons — a result of mitigation strategies to limit the spread of COVID-19 — medical experts say the number of children developing respiratory illnesses is already much higher this year, leading to more visits to health care centers and increasingly strained resources to treat those children.

Experts say the strain stems from overburdened hospital systems still reeling from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and a shortage of medical providers.

Dr. Gerald Stagg, a pediatrician working in Mount Pleasant, said cases of respiratory syncytial virus, known as RSV, and an earlier flu season have added pressure to hospital systems on top of other respiratory illnesses caused by COVID-19 and other viruses.

“I’ve been doing this for 42 years and I’ve never seen anything quite like it,” Stagg said of the number of children needing treatment for respiratory illnesses this year.

With the higher rates of respiratory illnesses, Stagg said not only are hospitals filling up, but clinics like his are having trouble keeping up with the huge uptick in visits from children with the flu.

Stagg said it’s become more difficult over the last two months to find beds in larger medical systems for sick children who require higher levels of care than what rural hospitals are able to provide.

“We’ve had to even send kids to Arkansas or Louisiana from our Texas facility because we couldn’t find a bed,” Stagg said.

He added that the shortage of hospital beds is a risk to children with serious illnesses that are not respiratory because there isn’t sufficient space in intensive care units for them.

Carrie Kroll, the vice president of advocacy, public policy and political strategy at the Texas Hospital Association, said the shortage of pediatric beds is a workforce issue. Hospital systems are still dealing with staffing shortages after droves of nurses and other hospital workers, suffering from pandemic-related burnout, retired or left the field.

“A bed is a bed. If it doesn’t have anyone to staff it, you can’t put a kid in it,” Kroll said.

[…]

Dr. Iván Meléndez, the Hidalgo County health authority, said his region has enough beds and resources to meet the needs of the community at the moment.

Meléndez did warn that this year could have significantly more cases of the flu than previous ones. Federal health data released Friday reported 880,000 cases of influenza and 360 flu-related deaths nationally. The last time the country saw similar rates of the flu was in 2009. And flu season has just started; it generally spans from October to May.

Earlier this month, Hidalgo County reported one of the first deaths of a child due to the flu this season.

“We’re thinking this may be the third since the turn of the century of being a ‘high-flu’ year,” Meléndez said.

He said the prevalence of the flu this year is an unintended consequence of masking and isolating during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As a community, worldwide, we didn’t develop those antibodies that are usually present in the community at some level to protect people,” he said.

To address the surge of respiratory illnesses, Meléndez and other medical experts strongly recommended vaccinations against the flu and COVID-19.

Sure would be nice if we had a governor that was capable of delivering that message. There’s no vaccine for RSV, but the flu shot and the bivalent booster are easily available, so do what you can to protect yourself. Your Local Epidemiologist has more.

Here’s the result of the Republican Commissioners’ budget busting

The Republican minority on Commissioners Court made this happen.

Harris County will eliminate more than 500 vacant jobs, delay some flood control projects, postpone a sheriff deputy cadet class, and cancel raises and cost of living adjustments for county law enforcement after the default to a lower tax rate forced by the two Republican commissioners.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey and Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle skipped six straight Commissioners Court meetings to block the adoption of any property tax rate by the Democratic majority, saying taxpayers deserved a break amid soaring inflation and the ongoing spread of COVID-19.

With early voting underway and three members of Commissioners Court on the ballot, the county’s annual budget process also played out amid escalating political rhetoric, with Republicans and Democrats accusing one another of defunding the police.

State law requires a quorum of four members of the court to adopt a tax rate. By preventing the court from setting the rate last week — the last week it legally could — the Republican commissioners forced the county to default to what is known as the no new revenue rate, the levy at which the county will take in the same revenue as last year, plus $45 million from property added to the tax rolls in the last 12 months. Only $15 million of that additional revenue will go toward operations, the county budget office said recently; the remaining $30 million will be used for debt payments.

The no new revenue rate is 53 cents per $100 of assessed value, down from the previous rate of 58.1 cents. In a bid to reach a compromise with Cagle and Ramsey, Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia had proposed a rate 56.3 cents, 1.2 cents lower than the rate originally proposed by the Democratic majority. It would have included 200 additional members of law enforcement. Cagle earlier had pitched a rate of 55.6 cents and included 200 new lawmen. For the owner of a $300,000 home, the difference between the two commissioners’ proposals would have been about $16.

[…]

Budget Director Daniel Ramos said departments have eliminated an estimated 560 vacant positions as a result of the lower-than-expected tax rate.

He said most of those positions were planned to be filled and that in some cases, departments have used savings from not filling vacant positions to pay for other expenses such as contractors, overtime and maintaining services. Eliminating those vacant positions will mean reduced services in those departments, including the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences, he said.

“IFS has medical examiner vacancies because of how specialized the position is, so they use the savings from positions being vacant to offset medical contractors to complete autopsies,” Ramos said. “Harris County will do less autopsies because they don’t have that funding anymore.”

The eliminated vacancies in the sheriff’s office will result in the department reducing the number of people it can hire and the amount of overtime it can pay patrol officers.

The $16.6 million loss for the sheriff’s office is the equivalent of 175 entry-level deputies, according to a memo from Ramos.

Jason Spencer, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, said Sheriff Ed Gonzalez will decide what gets funded and what does not as the department makes “some tough decisions.”

The postponed cadet class could be restored later, Spencer said.

“We expect to continue to lose deputies at the usual attrition rate, so it might be a situation where we have a cadet class down the road just to keep our heads above water with staffing,” Spencer said. “It wouldn’t be adding positions. It would just be replacing ones that we’re able to afford.”

Ramos said county staffers, including law enforcement officers, are feeling the effects of the county receiving less tax revenue than expected as planned cost of living adjustments and pay increases have been canceled.

“Most departments were able to absorb it into their vacant positions,” Ramos said. “We don’t have a final number quite yet, but there are hundreds of vacant positions that got eliminated across basically all departments.”

The Harris County Flood Control District lost its proposed $23 million increase, while the Harris Health System budget decreased from a proposed $957 million to $822 million.

Some flood control maintenance projects will be deferred to future years, Ramos said in a memo to county leaders last month.

“The type of projects that will be deferred include erosion repair, outfall repairs, sediment removal and conveyance improvements,” Ramos said. “Further deferral of maintenance projects will increase the risk of infrastructure failures during flood events.”

Additionally, the lower funding for the flood control department could jeopardize a $290 million federal grant for sediment removal that requires the county to advance the cost of the project before being reimbursed.

See here and here for some background. There’s a separate story about the effects this will have on Harris Health. My “favorite” detail from this story is that the cuts will affect “cybersecurity upgrades”, which speaking from my professional perspective sure seems like a bad idea. And the most fun part about all this is that unless there’s a 4-1 split on Commissioners Court, all this can happen again. Doesn’t seem like a great way to run a government, but it’s what we’ve got.

November 2022 Day Ten EV totals: Two to go

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


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

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

Endorsement Regrets Watch: She’s not going to do that

I can’t. I just can’t.

Why do two West Texas oil billionaires — Christian nationalists waging war against secular public schools — care who becomes the next chief executive of Harris County, hundreds of miles from their homes? Why did a Houston real estate developer give $400,000, a staggering sum in a local campaign, to Republican county judge candidate Alexandra del Moral Mealer? Why did a furniture salesman, who became a celebrity by waving fistfuls of cash and promising to “Save! You! Money!” give $448,000 to Mealer in a single month? What — aside from earnest hopes of good governance — might these megadonors expect in exchange for their money? How much pressure will Mealer face to do their bidding if she wins?

These and other questions arise in reviewing Mealer’s latest campaign finance reports as she enters the home stretch of her bid to unseat one-term incumbent Democrat Lina Hidalgo. As the Chronicle’s Jasper Scherer reported, Mealer has raised $8.6 million since July 1, including $3.7 million in the past month alone. (By comparison, in the 2018 election, then-incumbent Republican Ed Emmett raised $446,000 from July through October). Mealer’s fundraising and spending in this cycle dwarfed that of incumbent Democrat Lina Hidalgo, who has raised $2.4 million since July 1, including $911,000 from Sept. 30 to Oct. 29.

One item that leaps out from Mealer’s reports is the pair of $100,000 donations from the Defend Texas Liberty Political Action Committee. This PAC is funded almost entirely by Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks, who made their fortunes in oil exploration and fracking and have donated lavishly to far-right candidates for the Texas Legislature and statewide offices. Among other notable gifts: Houston home builder Richard Weekley gave Mealer $400,000, the largest single donation in the July-through-September reporting period. Furniture salesman and philanthropist Jim “Mattress Mac” McIngvale and his wife, Linda, have given more than $600,000 to Mealer. McIngvale often appears in television ads with Mealer and was one of her earliest supporters.

On its face, the donation from the Defend Texas Liberty PAC is puzzling. The Harris County judge has no authority over the causes that have animated Dunn and Wilks: promoting vouchers that would provide state funding for private or religious school fees, outlawing abortion and resisting expanded recognition and rights for LGBTQ Texans. Yet they saw fit to give her as much money as they gave to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a key Republican ally in their right-wing culture wars. A review of the Defend Texas Liberty PAC’s donations, compiled by the nonprofit Transparency USA, shows at least one other donation to a local candidate: $13,000 in 2021 to Mary Bone’s successful campaign for the school board in Round Rock, near Austin.

[…]

Mealer should return the money she received from the Defend Texas Liberty PAC, if only to signal her commitment to restoring good governance unbeholden to special interests and menacing, unholy alliances.

Short of that, well-intentioned voters are left to simply cross their fingers and hope that the candidates they support will demonstrate allegiance to the people they represent, not to the donors who helped get them elected. This board, which made the tough decision to recommend Mealer for the position, expects no less from her. If she prevails over Hidalgo, we urge her to resist any urge to repay donors such as Richard Weekley for their generosity, and to politely ignore the wishes of Farris Wilks, Tim Dunn, and other, like-minded donors — even if it means losing their support in any future campaigns.

She’s not going to do that. She’s delighted to collect their money and will give them her full attention if elected. She is laughing up her sleeve at how she put one over on those naive idiots at the MSM rag. The only correct words to say here were “We’re very sorry, Judge Hidalgo. We retract our endorsement of your opponent and endorse you instead.” I’m not surprised they don’t have the courage to do that. As with the last time, I will stop here before I say something I will later regret. But you own this, Chronicle editorial board. You own this.

Larry Veselka: The Chron got it wrong in the County Judge endorsement

Judge Lina Hidalgo

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

A couple of weeks ago the Chronicle Editorial Board endorsed Judge Hidalgo’s opponent in a schizophrenic editorial that any objective reader who read it without seeing the headline first would have thought was an endorsement for reelecting Judge Hidalgo. Harris County voters should take it substantively as one.

The editorial praised Judge Hidalgo, in many ways, e.g.:

-appreciating her “dynamic mix of wonkishness and progressive optimism” and her being an ‘inspiration to many”

-saying “if given the choice, we’d rather live in Hidalgo’s vision of Harris County, where government is inclusive, transparent and ethical, policy isn’t tainted by politics, the air is cleaner, the streets are safer, more children can attend pre-K, and climate change is treated with the urgency it deserves”

-“Hidalgo has made good on her promises, including fairness in distributing Harvey funding on a ‘worst-first’ basis and investments in badly needed air monitors in polluted neighborhoods and early childhood education”

– acknowledging, but unduly faintly in only one sentence, her courageous, tenacious, yet gracious leadership in fighting COVID in a way that probably saved thousands, if not more than ten thousand lives of local citizens;

– her handling of disasters, including Winter Storm Uri with “poise and a clear head”

– “it’s true that [Hidalgo] boasts a proposed budget that that would have increased funding for law enforcement… she never tried to ‘defund’ police… her plan would boost law enforcement funding $97 million more than the previous fiscal year, including pay raises for some ‘frontline deputies.”

So what did they see that was so wonderful about her opponent that swayed their opinion when they said this about her:

– She “can come off as combative, talking over others” and interrupting them;

– The board initially backed someone else in the Republican primary, “citing her lack of experience in governing”

– Asking whether “voters should trust an un-tested first-time candidate” without even mentioning that she was recruited to run by Ted Cruz and his wife;

– Her primary promise of “hiring 1,000 new law enforcement officers…is simplistic at this point” acknowledging how dubious such a promise is in light of the tight County budget;

– Her position in the primary opposing the reform of the misdemeanor bail system and incorrectly blaming that reform for the supposed “spike in violent crime” … “would be a deal-breaker for [the Board]” but they will now rely on her saying that she has changed her position, (will you?);

– “her understanding of the system may be incomplete and in some cases even flawed”

– She admitted that prosecuting polluters is “not first and foremost to her” and she does not think the County should address climate change, which the Board characterized as “grating in a low-lying coastal community baking in industrial emissions.”

The editorial claims that the Board was swayed by Judge Hidalgo’s supposed “failure to respond with urgency to Harris County’s crime wave,” citing as the critical factor the backlog in the Courts, while simultaneously acknowledging that Judge Hidalgo “didn’t cause the backlog … has no control over courtroom decisions on bail … [and] isn’t to blame for the provision in the Texas Constitution that guarantees virtually every defendant, even those with violent criminal records, an initial right to bail.”

The editorial went on to acknowledge that:

– “Harris County is far from the most dangerous place in the country, as Republican hyperbole would have it;

– “Mercifully, violent crime is currently declining and even at its peak, criminologists ranked Houston’s murder rate in the middle of the pack among major cities. Last year’s rate in unincorporated Harris County stayed flat….”

– The “felony backlog is down 23% since January.”

So why would the Board’s ultimate conclusion be in such stark contrast to most of its arguments?

The disconnect smacks of a lack of journalistic integrity. Did the Chronicle’s management override the independence of the Editorial Board, strong-arming the Board into backing down from its true position? The fact that the “News” department ran three front page stories about Judge Hidalgo’s opponent immediately after the endorsement evidences support for the conclusion that the lines between departments were blurred, an unforgiveable breach in journalistic ethics.

The Republicans hatched a plan for the midterms to over-hype an increase in crime coming out of two tough years under pandemic lockdowns and layoffs. Even though the Chronicle admits that violent crime has leveled off or dropped some this year, the Republicans needed something to scare people into voting Republican. This became more important once the decision overturning Roe v. Wade this summer kicked off a surge of renewed enthusiasm by
supporters of reproductive rights to register and drive supporters to the polls. Right-wing multi-millionaires and billionaires opposed to the County’s efforts to prevent flooding and pollution, some contributing as much as $350,000 to $400,000 each, began showering Judge Hidalgo’s opponent with millions of dollars of contributions to pay for deceitful attack ads against Judge Hidalgo. They knew that she could not match the millions flowing in, because Judge Hidalgo pledged in 2018 not to accept any contributions from the County’s vendors. In other words, she lived up to her campaign promise to do what all campaigns should do, but none other do, end “Pay-for-Play” politics. The Republican contributors knew that and knew, if County Judge Hidalgo were reelected with the 10 point lead she had earned over the last 3 1⁄2 years, it would mean the Republican state leaders that have carried so much water for them, and have been so bad for the majority of working people of Texas, could be in trouble. So they had to deliver the hits on Judge Hidalgo’s deserved popularity by funding a massive barrage of misleading arguments in favor of a flawed opponent.

The myriad issues confronting Harris County right now require keeping Judge Hidalgo’s steady hands on the wheel. It would be truly unconscionable for the Chronicle’s flawed endorsement and the millions of dollars in deceitful attack ads to wrest her hands away merely to turn it over to an inexperienced right-winger beholden to Trump, Cruz, and the multimillionaire and billionaire classes. Our democracy and our Constitutional rights are at stake. Embrace the wisdom expressed in the editorial while rejecting its inconsistent conclusion by voting to re-elect County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

Larry R. Veselka is a Houston lawyer and former County Chair for the Democratic Party who has been active in politics for 50 years.

NOTE FROM CHARLES: I’m just going to put this here:

A question that maybe the Chron editorial board should have asked themselves.

November 2022 Day Nine EV Totals: Still lagging

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


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

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