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League of Women Voters

Your handwriting should not jeopardize your vote

Jesus Christ.

Texas election officials may continue rejecting mail-in ballots if they decide the signature on the ballot can’t be verified, without notifying voters until after the election that their ballot wasn’t counted, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Monday.

The appeals court halted a lower court’s injunction, which had not gone into effect, that would have required the Texas secretary of state to either advise local election officials that mail-in ballots may not be rejected using the existing signature-comparison process, or require them to set up a notification system giving voters a chance to challenge a rejection while their vote still counts.

Requiring such a process would compromise the integrity of the mail-in ballots “as Texas officials are preparing for a dramatic increase of mail-in voting, driven by a global pandemic,” reads the Monday opinion issued by U.S. Fifth Circuit Judge Jerry E. Smith.

“Texas’s strong interest in safeguarding the integrity of its elections from voter fraud far outweighs any burden the state’s voting procedures place on the right to vote,” Smith wrote.

Before mail-in ballots are counted, a committee of local election officials reviews them to ensure that a voter’s endorsement on the flap of a ballot envelope matches the signature that voter used on their application to vote by mail. They can also compare it to signatures on file with the county clerk or voter registrar that were made within the last six years.

The state election code does not establish any standards for signature review, which is conducted by local election officials who seldom have training in signature verification.

Voters must be notified within 10 days after the election that their ballot was rejected, but state election law does not require affording them an opportunity to challenge the rejection, the appeals court ruling noted.

[…]

Plaintiffs said they will now push counties to voluntarily give early notice to voters whose ballots are rejected for signature-match issues, allowing them a chance to rectify the situation and let their vote count.

“It will affect this 2020 election, so voters will not be notified in time, and so I think the main thing we’re trying to do now is notify counties that ballot boards are not required to give pre-election day notice, but they can,” said H. Drew Galloway, executive director of MOVE Texas, a plaintiff. “We encourage them to follow the original intent of the lower courts here so folks (whose ballots were rejected) can go vote in person, or contest that decision.”

See here for the background. That ruling had been stayed pending this appeal, so in that sense nothing has been lost. It’s another typical hatchet job from the country’s worst court. Let me bullet-point this, because I’m tired and this shit needs to stop.

– We all know that if this had a disproportionate effect on white voters, the concern about “safeguarding the integrity of its elections from voter fraud” would be a mere footnote. Some voters are more equal than others.

– On the very same day that this turd was handed down, a state court in North Carolina ruled that “voters whose absentee ballots have problems with their envelopes can now expect contact from board of elections offices in order to fix their ballots by Election Day”. We need uniform national standards that prioritize and protect the rights and ability of all citizens to vote. That needs to be very high on the to do list of the next Congress.

– Can we please give some serious consideration to packing the Fifth Circuit? Quite a few Trump-appointed judges are there because vacancies were not allowed to be filled during Obama’s terms. This court is in serious need of reform.

– On a more practical note, Drew Galloway is correct: We need to be talking to local election officials to get them to agree to try to fix these problems in advance. The court didn’t say that they couldn’t do this, just that they didn’t have to. Well, if it’s a choice, then let’s make sure they make the right choice.

That’s all I’ve got. This effing court. The Chron has more.

Fifth Circuit upholds Abbott’s mail ballot dropoff limits

Because of course they did. Why would you have expected anything else?

In a ruling issued late Monday night, a federal appeals court upheld Gov. Greg Abbott’s order that limited counties to one mail-in ballot drop-off location.

A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, all appointed by President Donald Trump, rejected arguments from civil and voting rights groups that claimed Abbott’s order suppressed voting rights by making it harder to cast a ballot, particularly for elderly and disabled voters who are the most likely to use mail-in balloting.

In reality, the judges said, Abbott expanded voting options by suspending a state law that allows mail-in ballots to be hand delivered only on Election Day — a July 27 order that Abbott merely refined on Oct. 1 by closing multiple ballot drop-off sites in Travis and three other large counties, the panel said.

“That effectively gives voters 40 extra days to hand-deliver a marked mail-in ballot to an early voting clerk. And the voter still has the traditional option she has always had for casting a mail-in ballot: mailing it,” Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan wrote for the panel.

The ruling blocked Friday’s injunction from U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman, who said Abbott’s order placed an unacceptable burden on voters who are most vulnerable to COVID-19.

[…]

The panel criticized Pitman for vastly overstating the magnitude of the burden on voting rights caused by Abbott’s “partial refinement” of an earlier order that made it easier for eligible Texans to hand deliver a ballot before Nov. 3.

“How this expansion of voting opportunities burdens anyone’s right to vote is a mystery,” Duncan wrote. “Indeed, one strains to see how it burdens voting at all.”

Texans still have “numerous ways” to participate before the Nov. 3 election — by voting early beginning Tuesday because Abbott added six days to the early voting period as a pandemic safety measure, by hand delivering completed mail-in ballots before Election Day, and by dropping their ballot in the mail, Duncan said.

See here and here for the background. Never mind the fact that the state of Texas had previously affirmed that multiple dropoff locations were legal, never mind the fact that Abbott issued this order a week before early voting began and more than two months after Harris County had announced its plan for multiple locations, and of course never mind the global pandemic that has everyone seeking to mitigate their own personal risk. Abbott extended the early voting period, so what are you peasants complaining about?

I mean, look. The Harris County Clerk used legal means to make voting easier and more accessible. The Governor used a false pretext to overrule him, and did so late in the process after people had been led to expect what the Clerk had implemented. The fact that the Governor had indeed taken steps to expand voting access isn’t relevant. The fact that most other counties hadn’t taken similar action as Harris isn’t relevant – they could have and in many cases should have, and if the Governor thought that was unfair to the voters in the slacking counties, he could have used the same authority he exercised here to try to spur those other counties to action. The point is that Harris County stood for making it easier and more convenient to vote, and the state of Texas said no, you can’t do that. In response, the Fifth Circuit said “we don’t see the problem here”. That’s what we’re up against.

I should note that there is still that state lawsuit, which will have a hearing this week. I don’t expect much at this point, but duty compels me to point this out. I presume the other federal lawsuit – as I observed before, this was a combination of two federal lawsuits, but did not include the third – is now moot. As we have seen over and over again, the way forward is going to require winning more elections first.

Judge briefly halts Abbott’s order limiting mail ballot dropoff locations

Late Friday breaking news, which lasted until the early afternoon on Saturday.

A federal judge ruled Friday that Texas counties can have multiple drop-off locations for absentee ballots heading into the Nov. 3 general election, blocking the enforcement of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent order that sought to limit counties to just one such location.

Saying Abbott’s order confused voters and restricted voter access, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman granted an injunction late Friday barring its enforcement. With an unprecedented number of Texas voters requesting mail-in ballots during the coronavirus pandemic, and concerns about the reliability of the U.S. Postal Service, some large, Democratic counties had set up numerous locations to accept the ballots before Abbott’s order.

“By limiting ballot return centers to one per county,” Pitman wrote, “older and disabled voters living in Texas’s largest and most populous counties must travel further distances to more crowded ballot return centers where they would be at an increased risk of being infected by the coronavirus in order to exercise their right to vote and have it counted.”

[…]

The Texas Democratic Party called Friday’s ruling a “common sense order [that] followed well-established law and stopped the governor from making up election rules after the election started.”

Before Friday’s ruling, Democrats had denounced Abbott’s order, labeling it voter suppression in a state that has repeatedly been knocked in federal court for intentionally discriminating against voters of color. Voting rights advocates and civic groups quickly sued Abbott in federal court, arguing the order was based on invalid security concerns and places an unconstitutional and unequal burden on the right to vote.

The Texas and national League of United Latin American Citizens, the League of Women Voters of Texas and two Texas voters filed suit the night of Abbott’s order, and another lawsuit was filed the next day by the Texas Alliance for Retired Americans, the get-out-the-vote group Bigtent Creative and a 65-year-old voter.

“Cutting these mail-in voting locations was wrong and done solely to attempt to steal the election from the rising Texas electorate,” said Gilberto Hinojosa, chair of the Texas Democratic Party. “A county, like Harris County, with more than 4.7 million Texans should have more than one hand delivery location. Limiting counties like Harris is a desperate Republican attempt to hold onto power.”

See here for the previous update, and here for a copy of the ruling. Looking at the plaintiffs, it appears that the first lawsuit and the second lawsuit were combined. That leaves one other federal lawsuit, plus the one state lawsuit for which there is a hearing next week.

One presumes this will be appealed, and as we all know the Fifth Circuit is where all good things go to die. I think there’s a strong argument to be made that allowing Abbott’s order, which was made more than two months after counties had begun making plans to have multiple dropoff locations and after the state Solicitor General filed a brief saying that state law allowed for this, is the thing that would improperly disrupt the election at this late date. I also think the Fifth Circuit can rise to the occasion of brushing such an objection aside. Travis County, one of the places that had multiple dropoff locations in place prior to the order, has said it will wait to see what the Fifth Circuit does before reopening them. It’s hard to fault them for that. The Chron and the Statesman have more.

UPDATE: As expected, Paxton has filed an emergency motion for a stay of the judge’s ruling. You can read that here. The smart money always says that he gets what he asks for from this court, so it’s a matter of how quickly they have a hearing and issue a ruling.

UPDATE: Faster than you can say “Anything you want, Kenny”, the Fifth Circuit grants Paxton’s motion. Now we wait for a hearing. See why Travis County decided to wait before reopening any of those dropoff locations? Here’s the Chron story about the granting of the stay.

First hearing for mail ballot dropoff locations

Hopefully we’ll get some action quickly.

Lawyers for voters and voting rights groups asked a federal judge Thursday to block Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent order limiting counties to one location where voters can hand-deliver mail-in ballots.

Abbott waited too long to issue his order on Oct. 1, they argued, not only because it came the same day Travis County opened four drop-off locations after a monthlong public information campaign, but also because voting had already begun in the Nov. 3 general election.

“It is too late and too dangerously burdensome to change election rules midstream,” lawyer Chad Dunn told U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman in a hearing that was held via Zoom as a pandemic precaution.

Other lawyers argued that Abbott’s order placed a disproportionate burden on Texans who are most likely to vote by mail — those who are 65 and older or have a disability — by forcing many to endure longer and more difficult travel to ensure that their votes are submitted in a time of decreasing confidence in the U.S. Postal Service.

“It’s ironic and sad,” lawyer John Devaney said. “Now, after voting has started, the plug has been pulled.”

Lawyers for Abbott disputed claims that his order limited voting rights, saying the governor acted to expand opportunities and options for voters during the pandemic.

Abbott’s first election-related order, issued July 27, added six days of early voting and suspended a state law that allows voters to hand-deliver mail-in ballots only on Election Day, lawyer Eric Hudson told the judge.

In effect, Abbott gave voters almost 40 extra days to hand-deliver their ballots, Hudson argued.

“That’s not provided for in Texas law, and without Gov. Abbott’s proclamation, that right … would not be possible,” he said.

Pitman broke in to ask: “Is it the governor’s position that we’ve given you so much it’s OK to take back a little?”

“I don’t think we’ve taken anything back, your honor,” Hudson replied.

This hearing was for the first lawsuit, filed by LULAC and the League of Women Voters. Earlier in the day, the ACLU and the Lincoln Project announced they had filed amicus briefs in support of the plaintiffs. Courthouse News has some further details.

Representing LULAC, San Antonio attorney Luis Vera said the fears of election fraud have already been discredited and voters had already turned in their ballots for four days until Abbott’s order.

“The state of Texas wants one set of rules for [the] one party they represent and one set of rules for the others,” he said.

Attorney Chad Dunn, with Brazil & Dunn in Houston, asked the judge to issue a preliminary injunction to “preserve the status quo.” He cited federal courts’ reluctance to change the terms of an election so close to Election Day.

“This case is about more than drop-box locations in a county. It is about whether the public believes the results of the election will be honored,” he said.

Attorney John Devaney, with Perkins Coie in Washington, told Pitman the individual voter plaintiffs have standing in the case because of the risk they face voting at the polls and contracting Covid-19, and because they will have to travel further to reach their county’s one absentee drop-off location.

He argued that LULAC and the League of Women Voters have standing as organizations due to the burden of having to reallocate their resources at the last-minute to account for Abbott’s order.

“They will need to change their website, their educational materials and contact their new members” with the new information, Devaney said.

In response to the judge asking if the state also faces a burden if he decides to block Abbott’s order, Devaney responded the state’s burden to maintain the status quo would be smaller than that of the plaintiffs.

“Voters tend to wait until the end of an election to request a ballot. It’s not just procrastination,” Devaney said. “In an election this heated, voters want to wait. There’s going to be a surge of absentee votes … given the two-week period for the USPS, people are going to have to turn in their ballots because they don’t trust the Postal Service.”

Judge Pitman asked the plaintiffs if there was any difference between the drop-off locations closed by Abbott’s order and the still-operation sites in terms of election security.

Attorney Susan Hays, representing Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins, responded the county’s shuttered annex locations are “typical business offices” that are more secure than other public places due to employees receiving election security training. She said they are “much more secure because they must show ID before handing over the ballot.”

Pitman said he would issue his ruling “as soon as possible” given the close proximity to Election Day. Early voting locations are scheduled to open on Oct. 13.

It wouldn’t shock me if we get a ruling by Monday, but we’ll see. This is now the fourth lawsuit filed against the Abbott order, with three of them in federal court. According to the Statesman story, there’s a hearing scheduled for the state lawsuit next week.

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story:

During a hearing Thursday, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman appeared unconvinced by the idea that eliminating the additional locations would have no impact on voting accessibility.

The suit before Pitman is one of several challenging Texas election laws and Abbott’s pandemic executive orders amending them that are still swirling, even as the start of early voting approaches.

[…]

The pool of voters using this method appears to be relatively small so far, though mail-in voting is up across Texas, so demand could rise.

In Harris County, for example, just 0.2 percent of 85,922 absentee voters hand-delivered their ballots during the low-turnout July primary runoff; 39 of the 404 ballots for the Nov. 3 election that have been returned through Thursday were dropped off by voters. Those dropoffs ceased when Abbott’s order went into effect with less than 24 hours notice.

It should be noted that dropoff boxes were basically never mentioned as an option for the July primary runoffs, so the fact that almost no one used them is no surprise. And since 39 out of 404 is almost ten percent, it sure looks like we were on our way to a significant increase in the use of this method. I point these numbers out because one can make an argument about how much of a burden Abbott’s order is based on them.

Lawsuit filed over Abbott’s order to limit mail ballot dropoff locations

As expected.

Voting rights advocates and civic groups have rushed to the courthouse in a bid to block Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s Oct. 1 order allowing Texas counties no more than one drop-off location for voters casting absentee ballots, calling the directive an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote that will disproportionately impact voters of color in the state’s biggest cities.

The Texas and National Leagues of United Latin American Citizens, the League of Women Voters of Texas and two Texas voters asked a federal judge in Austin in a lawsuit filed late Thursday to overturn the governor’s order, which forced Travis and Harris counties — two of the state’s most important Democratic strongholds — to shutter a number of drop-off sites they had already opened this week.

“The impact of this eleventh-hour decisions is momentous, targets Texas’ most vulnerable voters—older voters, and voters with disabilities—and results in wild variations in access to absentee voting drop-off locations depending on the county a voter resides in,” attorneys for the groups argued. “It also results in predictable disproportionate impacts on minority communities that already hit hardest by the COVID-19 crisis.”

Attorneys also pointed out that Abbott was making a major change to election procedures just weeks away from an election — an action the state and its attorneys argued was improper in a separate federal lawsuit over straight-ticket voting.

[…]

The lawsuit will have to move quickly, with early voting set to begin in less than two weeks on Oct. 13.

Harris and Travis counties had each set up multiple locations for accepting absentee ballots and had already begun accepting them before Abbott issued his order shutting down the satellite locations. Voting rights experts say access to these locations is especially important given concerns over U.S. Postal Service delays and that closing them will disproportionately impact voters with disabilities or without access to reliable transportation. Harris County is home to 2.4 million registered voters and stretches across some 1,700 square miles, more than the entire state of Rhode Island.

Ralph Edelbach of Cypress, an 82-year-old voter among those suing Abbott, had planned to drop his ballot off at a Harris County location that was 16 miles from his home — but now will have to travel 36 miles, nearly 90 minutes round trip, to reach the only location Abbott has allowed to stay open, according to court documents.

At a press conference Friday morning, Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins said he could reopen the shuttered locations “at the drop of a dime.”

“Ultimately, anything that’s done to decrease voter convenience, to put obstacles in the way of the voter, is voter suppression, and will lead to disenfranchisement,” he said.

Abbott’s order, which came a day after the Texas solicitor general approved Harris County’s plan for multiple locations under earlier guidance from the governor, also said counties must allow poll watchers to observe goings-on at ballot drop-off sites. Voting rights advocates fear that poll watchers, who are selected by candidates or political parties, will seek to intimidate voters, as has been documented in the past.

Abbott claimed the limits on drop-off locations were necessary to ensure election integrity. But he provided no evidence that the drop-off sites enable voter fraud, which experts say is rare.

And the procedures for delivering an absentee ballot are strict. Voters must present an approved form of identification, show up during specified hours and can only deliver their own ballots.

See here for the background and here for a copy of the complaint. The “approval” from the Solicitor General’s office to the Hollins plan is in reference to the brief filed by Paxton’s office in response to the Hotze mandamus that had already challenged what Harris County was doing. Have fun squaring that circle, y’all.

The Chron adds some details.

The suit, filed in federal court in Austin, alleges that the order violates the Voting Rights Act and First and Fourteenth Amendments, which guarantee equal protection of the right to vote, and will disproportionately affect minorities and older citizens who are at higher risk of serious complications from COVID-19.

[…]

Thursday’s move by Abbott was made in stark contrast to a legal argument that Texas Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins had made in response to a lawsuit the day prior. Then, Hawkins argued in a brief to the Texas Supreme Court that nothing in previous orders disallowed the interpretation of the clerks’ “office” to include annex offices, and the Secretary of State had told local officials that any clerk’s office sufficed for dropoff.

It marked the latest instance of Abbott reversing course under political pressure over his response to the pandemic.

Abbott had spent months holding off on a statewide mask mandate, but later enacted one in line with other states. He similarly resisted a statewide stay-at-home order until cases began to surge.

Following an uproar from conservatives over a Dallas salon owner who faced jail time as indirect result of her keeping her business open in violation of Abbott’s stay-at-home order, he limited punishment to fines.

[…]

“As many states are expanding ballot drop off options to ensure voter confidence this year, it is vile to see Texas’s attempts to do the opposite,” said Celina Stewart, senior director of advocacy and litigation for the League of Women Voters.

The Texas director of AARP, which represents more than 2.3 million seniors in the state, said Friday that she was “deeply concerned” about the new restrictions on ballot dropoff.

“During a pandemic, now more than ever, older voters need confidence that they can vote safely,” Tina Tran said. “Texas voters, especially those 50-plus, do not need another impediment to voting.”

Despite Texas having some of the most restrictive voting and vote-by-mail laws in the country — it’s one of just five states where voters have to provide an excuse other than COVID-19 to request a mail ballot — counties have reported higher-than-normal levels of interest in the practice.

To manage the influx, Harris County had planned on having locations at the main county clerk office and 11 annex offices throughout the 1,777-square-mile county to collect mail ballots. Neighboring Fort Bend County had planned to open five locations, and Travis County had planned on having three in addition to its main office.

Dallas County told CBS 11 News that it had planned to open multiple locations but is now prohibited.

County officials said they were given no notice of the order, which took effect within 24 hours.

This will have to be litigated quickly for obvious reasons. I will say, even with all of his often-craven flip flops, Abbott has generally used his executive powers under the Disaster Act to mitigate or halt the spread of the coronavirus. Extending early voting to a third week was one such example of that. There’s nothing in this order that conforms to that goal – limiting mail ballot dropoff locations will force more people to one location and may wind up making more people vote in person – and so on that principle it would seem to me that Abbott’s underlying rationale is legally suspect. I don’t know that that’s an issue here – that would seem to be more of a claim for state court. Who knows, maybe there will be another lawsuit that does go that route. In the meantime, this is what we have. Reform Austin has more.

October Census deadline restored

Good news, though as with everything we can’t be sure just yet that it’s for real.

A federal judge in California late Thursday blocked the Trump administration from stopping the 2020 Census count next week, saying it should continue until Oct. 31, the date the Census Bureau had planned on before the administration abruptly shortened the count.

U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in the Northern District of California granted a preliminary injunction in the case brought by the National Urban League — a group of counties, cities, advocacy groups and individuals — and other groups. Koh had, earlier this month, issued a temporary restraining order to keep the count underway. The case is likely to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a hearing Tuesday, Koh had expressed irritation with Justice Department lawyers for missing a deadline she had set for them to produce internal documents connected to the case.

She referred repeatedly to documents finally released over the weekend and Monday in which career bureau officials said the data could not be properly collected and delivered to the president on the government’s new timeline.

See here and here for the background. The Chron lays out what’s at stake locally.

Natalia Cornelio, legal affairs director for [County Commissioner Rodney] Ellis, said at the point Trump yanked back the deadline in early August, only 63 percent of households nationwide and 54 percent in Houston had responded to the census.

Despite those numbers, on Aug. 3, the census director abruptly announced what the court is calling the “re-plan,” which shortened the timeline for households to respond by Sept. 30.

Cornelio said the accuracy of the census count is critical to Harris County’s future.

“Its outcome determines political representation and billions of dollars of funding for healthcare, education, disaster relief, and housing,” she said.

Right now, Harris County is looking at an estimated undercount of 600,000 households, based on data from Civis Analytics, the company the county has partnered with to track its census outreach, she said.

One area likely to suffer from an undercount is the southern portion of the county, a pie-slice-shaped region extending from downtown Houston to Bellaire to League City, according to Steven Romalewski, who maps census data for the Center for Urban Research at CUNY. In that area, 11 percent of the door-knocking has yet to be completed, a feat that would likely would have been impossible with less than a week to spare to the Sept. 30 deadline, he said.

In parts of Fort Bend and Galveston counties, nearly 18 percent of the door-knocking needs to be finished. And in Montgomery County 12 percent of homes have yet to be documented.

Romalewski said the ruling could have a major impact on areas with a relatively low “completion” rate for the door-knocking operation that’s meant to visit every household that has not responded. With more time to complete the process, census enumerators can attempt to visit households more than once and will be likelier to talk with someone in-person or determine that a unit is vacant. The fallback, which census officials consider less accurate, is to to count residents through administrative records.

I have a hard time understanding why any decent person would think this was a good state of affairs. At least we have a chance now to try and get this close to correct. That’s pending the likely appeal to SCOTUS, and who knows what they may do at this point. But at least for now, there’s a chance.

A win for those with lousy signatures

Some good news on the voting litigation front.

As Texas prepares for an expected deluge of mail-in votes in November, a federal judge has found that one facet of the state’s signature verification rules for those ballots is unconstitutional and must be reworked for the upcoming election.

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia ruled Tuesday that the state’s process for determining whether there is a mismatch between a voter’s signature on their ballot envelope and the signature the voter used on their application to vote by mail “plainly violates certain voters’ constitutional rights.”

In his order, Garcia ordered the Texas secretary of state to inform local election officials within 10 days that it is unconstitutional to reject a ballot based on a “perceived signature mismatch” without first notifying the voter about the mismatch and giving the voter a “meaningful opportunity” to correct the issue.

Additionally, to “protect voters’ rights” in the upcoming election, Garcia said the Texas secretary of state must either advise local election officials that mail-in ballots may not be rejected using the existing signature comparison process, or notify them that they are required to set up a rejection notification system that would allow voters to challenge a rejection.

[…]

Before mail-in ballots are counted, a committee of local election officials reviews them to ensure that a voter’s endorsement on the flap of a ballot envelope matches the signature that voter used on their application to vote by mail. They can also compare it to signatures on file with the county clerk or voter registrar that were made within the last six years.

But because the state election code does not establish any standards for review, the plaintiffs argued that the law is applied unequally, with each county “necessarily” developing “its own idiosyncratic, arbitrary, and ad hoc procedure to determine that a ballot should be rejected” with no requirement to notify voters about the rejections until 10 days after Election Day.

To correct course ahead of the November general election, Garcia ordered the Texas secretary of state to either halt all rejections based on a “perceived signature mismatch” or implement an “immediate remedial plan” that requires local election officials to notify a voter within one day of determining a perceived mismatch and allow the voter to challenge the rejection.

Under that plan, voters must be mailed notices of rejection within one day of a mismatch determination by the local review board. Those who provided phone numbers on their applications must be called at least once within one day of the decision.

See here for the background, and observe how adorably optimistic I was that this shouldn’t be a partisan issue since both parties use voting by mail. What can I say, it was 2019, you had to be there. I don’t have much to say now that I didn’t say then – this ruling makes total sense, the “standard” that was used was arbitrary and needlessly harsh, and it really is in everyone’s interests to make an effort to count these ballots. I assume Ken Paxton will appeal this because that’s what he does, but until then let’s be happy we got what we got. The Chron has more.

Census shenanigans halted for now

Good.

[On] Saturday, US District Judge Lucy Koh issued a temporary restraining order to stop Census Bureau officials from winding down door-knocking and online, phone, and mail response collection by September 30—a month early—writing that the shortened census timeline could cause “irreparable harm.”

“Because the decennial census is at issue here, an inaccurate count would not be remedied for another decade, which would affect the distribution of federal and state funding, the deployment of services, and the allocation of local resources for a decade,” Koh wrote.

The US Census Bureau had originally planned to end their count by October 31, a date chosen to accommodate delays caused by the pandemic. But on August 3, the bureau announced that it would stop collecting census responses by the end of September, and was attempting to “improve the speed of our count without sacrificing completeness.” At the time, just 63 percent of households had responded. Immediately afterward, four former census bureau directors issued a public statement explaining that a shortened timeline would “result in seriously incomplete enumerations in many areas of the country.” Later that month, the Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan watchdog, also reported that “compressed timeframes” in the 2020 census could undermine the overall quality of the census count.

Now, at least until a hearing on September 17, the Census Bureau may not take steps to wind down its counting operations, such as terminating field staff.

The Chron adds some detail.

At a hearing Friday, Justice Department attorney Alexander Sverdlov told Koh that any “anxiety” about the census was “not warranted” and that operations were shutting down only when 85% to 90% of residents in a particular locale had responded. He argued in a court filing that said the government’s “decisions on how and when to complete a census turn on policy choices that are unreviewable political questions.”

The population count is crucial for states’ U.S. House representation and the distribution of $800 billion in federal aid each year. Separately, President Trump is seeking to exclude undocumented immigrants from the census, an action challenged by California and other states in multiple lawsuits.

Koh questioned the government’s explanations at Friday’s hearing and was equally skeptical in Saturday’s ruling.

The administration has insisted that moving the deadline up to Sept. 30 was necessary to deliver the census results to the president by Dec. 31, rather than by next April, under a previous timetable. But Koh said the Census Bureau’s deputy director, Albert Fontenot, “acknowledged publicly less than two months ago that the bureau is ‘past the window of being able to get accurate counts to the president by Dec. 31.’” She said the bureau’s head of field operations made the same admission in May.

Koh also quoted Fontenot as saying, in a court filing Friday night, that the bureau has begun terminating its temporary field staff in areas that have completed their work, and it is difficult to bring them back. That underscores the need for a restraining order halting any further cutbacks until the legality of the one-month delay is resolved, she said.

See here for the background. Harris County, along with Commissioners Ellis and Garcia, are among the plaintiffs in this lawsuit. Perhaps if we can wait to deliver the results to the President until, say, January 21, we can feel a bit more comfortable that they will get a proper review, and that the data is sufficiently accurate. Perhaps we could also then see about fixing anything that was clearly effed up thanks to the Trump team’s constant efforts at sabotage. If we are blessed with an all-Democratic government, we can pass a bill to allow statistical sampling, which would help a lot. There’s no reason to trust anything this administration has done with the Census, and every reason to give a new administration a chance to fix the more egregious errors. The Trib has more.

Lawsuit filed to restore original Census deadline

Good.

Citing the high stakes of a botched census, Harris County and two of its Democratic county commissioners have signed on to a federal lawsuit trying to block the Trump administration’s efforts to end counting for the 2020 census a month earlier than planned.

The constitutionally required count of everyone living in the country had been extended due to the coronavirus pandemic and was to run through Oct. 31. But the Census Bureau announced earlier this month it will end the count sooner, moving up the deadline for responding to Sept. 30.

A federal lawsuit filed Monday in California alleges that the shortened schedule is unconstitutional because it will not produce a fair and accurate count and that the Census Bureau’s move violates federal administrative law because the decision was “arbitrary and capricious.”

The lawsuit is led by the National Urban League and the League of Women Voters. Harris County, which is the state’s largest, joined in along with other local entities including the city of Los Angeles and King County in Washington. Harris County Commissioners Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia are signed on as individual plaintiffs.

“Undercounted cities, counties, and municipalities will lose representation in Congress and tens of millions of dollars in funding,” the lawsuit reads. “And communities of color will lose core political power and vital services. In contrast to these dire stakes, the immediate solution to this problem is simple: set aside and enjoin implementation of the impossibly-shortened Rush Plan, which is based on an unexplained change of position, and allow the Census Bureau to implement the plan that it had designed to fulfill its constitutional duties during the pandemic.”

[…]

The October cutoff had offered organizers crucial overtime for the count after the coronavirus pandemic derailed canvassing and outreach efforts that in some regions of the state, like in Harris County, had been in the works for years.

But those efforts have been further disrupted by what Harris County and other plaintiffs in the lawsuit dubbed as the “rush plan.” Mailers ordered before the change had to be redone, with county workers forced to purchase stickers to cover the old deadline on those materials.

In announcing the new deadline, Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham said the bureau planned to hire more employees “to accelerate the completion of data collection” and avoid a delay in reporting counts for seats in Congress and the distribution of redistricting data.

“The Census Bureau’s new plan reflects our continued commitment to conduct a complete count, provide accurate apportionment data, and protect the health and safety of the public and our workforce,” Dillingham said in a statement.

But the earlier deadline has heightened the possibility that Texas will be undercounted and that low-income and Hispanic Texans in particular — who were already at the highest risk of being missed — will go uncounted at a time when the coronavirus pandemic is ravaging their communities.

here for some background, and here for a peek at the lawsuit. Combined with Donald Trump’s surely illegal order to keep undocumented immigrants from being counted for the purposes of apportionment, it’s like Trump and his enablers really don’t want Texas to get any additional Congressional districts next decade. I continue to marvel at Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton’s ability to shrug that kind of insult off. By the way, that “arbitrary and capricious” language is a sign that the plaintiffs are aiming for a ruling that Trump has once again violated the Administrative Procedures Act, the federal law that has killed multiple similar efforts by Trump in the past. Let’s hope we can add this one to that trash heap.

TDP gets initial win in vote by mail lawsuit

It’s a good start, but we’ve got a long way to go.

A state district judge on Wednesday said he will move forward with an order easing restrictions for voting by mail in Texas in light of the new coronavirus pandemic.

After conducting a video conference hearing in a lawsuit filed by state Democrats and civic organizations, Judge Tim Sulak told the attorneys he will issue a temporary injunction allowing all voters fearful of contracting coronavirus if they vote in person to ask for a mail-in ballot under a portion of the Texas election code allowing absentee ballots for voters who cite a disability. His ruling, which is almost certain to be appealed by the state, could greatly expand the number of voters casting ballots by mail in the upcoming July primary runoff elections.

[…]

During the hearing, those plaintiffs offered up two expert witnesses — a local doctor and an epidemiologist — who testified to the risks for transmitting the virus that would come with in-person voting. Meanwhile, the risks tied to mail ballots are “negligible,” said Catherine Troisi, an epidemiologist with the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Public Health.

The Texas attorney general’s office, which intervened in the case, argued against the expansion, claiming the vote-by-mail disability qualifications apply to voters who already have a “sickness or physical condition” and not those who fear contracting a disease “whether it be COVID-19 or the seasonal flu.”

Just as the hearing was wrapping up, Texas attorney general Ken Paxton made public an “informal letter of advice” that further teed up what is expected to be a drawn out court battle over expanding voting by mail ahead of the runoffs and the November election.

Paxton stated that an individual’s sole fear of contracting the virus was not enough to meet the definition of disability to qualify for a mail ballot, and that those who advise voters to apply for a mail ballot based on that fear could be criminally prosecuted.

See here and here for the background; there is also a federal lawsuit over the same issues, for which I don’t know the status. The Chron adds some more detail.

State law currently allows voters to claim “disability” and apply for an absentee ballot if showing up at a polling place risks “injuring the voter’s health.”

“Mail ballots based on disability are specifically reserved for those who are physically ill and cannot vote in-person as a result,” Paxton wrote in a letter on Wednesday. “Fear of contracting COVID-19 does not amount to a sickness or physical condition as required by the Legislature … The integrity of our democratic election process must be maintained, and law established by our Legislature must be followed consistently.”

The state’s elections director earlier this month issued guidance to elections officials in all 254 counties pointing to the election code’s disability clause, which voting rights advocates had claimed as a victory.

Attorneys for the Democratic Party argued in court on Wednesday that the disability clause “plainly provided for circumstances such as this when public health makes it dangerous to vote in person.”

But they said the courts need to make that clear as county officials are currently wrestling with how to conduct the upcoming runoff elections in July, when voters will pick a Democrat to challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn.

“This is a total muddled mess,” said Glen Maxey, the Texas Democratic Party’s primary director, who administers elections in dozens of counties, as he testified about the guidance during a court hearing on Wednesday. “We’re going to have a mishmash of who can vote and who cannot vote by mail in this election.”

But Anna Mackin, an assistant attorney general, argued that the law clearly does not cover those afraid of COVID-19 and urged state District Judge Tim Sulak “not to allow this global crisis to be manipulated as a basis for rewriting a provision of the election code.”

Yes, Paxton’s “letter” does indeed seem to fly in the face of that SOS advisory. Is that a lack of communication between branches, or a real difference of opinion? Hard to say. Bear in mind, there’s nothing in state law that allows the Governor to order the cessation of abortions in the state. AG Ken Paxton interpreted the Abbott emergency order that initiated a shutdown of non-essential businesses and services to include abortion providers, which the exigent circumstances allowed. Here, however, he’s arguing that these same exigent circumstances do not allow for an interpretation of the state’s absentee ballot law that includes voting by mail for people who claim under that law that they are unable to vote in person. It’s not that these interpretations are indefensible, but the two of them together sure suggest a strictly partisan motive. (Add in the ruling that gun shops do count as “essential” for some extra zest.)

In a vacuum, I think people of good faith could reasonably differ on the interpretation of our vaguely-worded state law, and one could make a principled argument that it’s the role of the Legislature to make such a significant change in how it should be read and enforced. But Ken Paxton is not making a good faith argument, he’s simply doing what he always does, advancing his partisan interests over anything else. He certainly may win, in both venues. Let’s just be clear about what he’s doing. The TDP (a plaintiff in the case), the ACLU of Texas (an intervenor), and the Texas Signal have more.

UPDATE: More from Texas Lawyer:

The dispute—which asks whether all Texans should be able to vote by mail because of social distancing restrictions and the risk of contracting the coronavirus—was headed to a higher court. Acknowledging that, Judge Tim Sulak of the 353rd District Court ruled from the bench that he would grant a temporary injunction, and reject jurisdictional arguments by the state of Texas.
The judge will issue a written order once it’s prepared.

Sulak said that if voters didn’t get clarity on whether the Texas vote-by-mail law applied to them, they might face a choice of having to vote in person, and accept the risk of getting sick. Or they could try to apply for a mail-in ballot. However, if the government later found their mail-in ballot inappropriate, voters could face prosecution, or find that their ballot was not counted, the judge said.

Also, if Sulak didn’t grant relief, he said there was a risk of future conflicts involving candidates filing election contests to challenge the voting results.

“Some of that could lead to the unstable, unsettled, uncertain situation about: Who are our elected representatives,” Sulak said. “Especially now that we are in this disaster scenario, where we don’t have courts running as efficiently as they have previously, it could result in some very serious governance issues, very serious jurisprudential issues.”

[…]

The plaintiffs sought a temporary injunction, and eventually a permanent injunction, that would require the defendants to accept and tabulate mail-in ballots from voters who are practicing social distancing to stop the spread of the virus.

On the other hand, the state of Texas, which intervened as a defendant, argued that the court didn’t have jurisdiction. The state claimed that a voter wouldn’t qualify to vote by mail just from having a fear of contracting the coronavirus. Also, the claim wasn’t ripe, since no one knows if the contagion will still be present in July, when the primary runoff elections are scheduled.

However, during a hearing Wednesday on the application for a temporary restraining order, an infectious-disease epidemiologist who testified for the plaintiffs said that it’s highly likely that the coronavirus will continue to spread in Texas through the summer.

“Once social distancing guidelines are relaxed, in my expert opinion, it’s inevitable we will see a rise in cases,” said Cathy Troisi, a professor at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston.

Voters going to the polls will be at risk of infection because they’ll come into close contact with other people, and they’ll touch voting machines that many voters have touched, Troisi explained. Election workers would be at a higher risk, because they stay at polling locations all day and have contact with many more people, she added.

When asked if voting by mail carries a risk of infection, Troisi replied, ”Voting by mail does not, so yes, voting by mail would protect the public health and public safety of Texans.”

Sulak rejected the state’s jurisdictional arguments, which also included claims that the plaintiffs’ interpretation of the vote-by-mail law was significantly expanding the statute the Texas Legislature wrote.

“I respect the separation of powers. We’ve got a choice here between arguments from that perspective and arguments from something that has seminal, fundamental, individual constitutional rights: that is, free people making full choices and having full access to have choices about their government,” Sulak said.

The judge asked plaintiffs’ counsel to draft an temporary restraining order, and to submit a proposed order denying the state’s plea to the jurisdiction.

And now we wait for the appeal, and for a hearing in the federal case.

Another view of the lawsuit over expanded voting by mail

From Ian Millhiser at Vox, who is decidedly more pessimistic about the plaintiffs’ chances. He starts by noting how restrictive Texas’ existing vote-by-mail law is.

The law only allows Texas voters to obtain an absentee ballot under a very limited list of circumstances. Voters may obtain an absentee ballot if they plan to be absent from their home county on Election Day, if they have a “sickness or physical condition” that prevents them from voting in person, if they are over the age of 65, or if they are jailed.

It is far from clear that a healthy person who remains at home to avoid contracting coronavirus may obtain an absentee ballot.

Texas Democratic Party v. Hughs, a lawsuit filed by the state Democratic Party, seeks to fix this law — or, at least, to interpret the law in a way that will ensure healthy people can still vote. But the lawsuit potentially faces an uphill battle in a state court system dominated by conservative judges.

All nine members of the state Supreme Court are Republicans, and Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a motion seeking to intervene in the lawsuit — a sign that he intends to resist efforts to prevent this law from disenfranchising voters.

The stakes in this case are astoundingly high. As Texas Democrats note in their complaint, voters are “now heavily discouraged” from even leaving their homes “by various government orders and are being discouraged in an enormous public education campaign.”

Even if the pandemic were to end by July 14, when the state plans to hold several runoff elections, “certain populations will feel the need and/or be required to continue social distancing.” Millions of voters could potentially be forced to choose between losing their right to vote and risking contracting a deadly disease.

[…]

Whether these Texans can get an absentee ballot could end up depending on how the courts interpret the phrase “physical condition.”

On the one hand, the law explicitly labels this provision as an accommodation for people who have a “disability.” The words “physical condition” also appear in conjunction with the word “sickness,” which implies that those words should be interpreted to refer to some sort of disabling condition that only a subset of Texans possess. Often, when a law uses a general term in the context of other, more specific terms, courts will assume that the general term should be given a narrow reading — one similar to the specific terms.

On the other hand, the literal meaning of the words “physical condition” is much more expansive. As a team of civil rights lawyers, including several from the ACLU, argue in a motion suggesting that the state law should be read expansively, “everyone has a physical condition” that prevents them from appearing at their polling place during a pandemic — the physical condition of being susceptible to coronavirus.

Either one of these interpretations of the Texas law is plausible, and a judge could reach either conclusion using methods of statutory interpretation that are widely accepted as legitimate. One judge might argue that the words “physical condition” should be read expansively, because that is the ordinary meaning of those words. Another might argue that they must be read in context with words like “sickness.”

The problem facing the Texas Democratic Party is that, when a fair judge acting in good faith could legitimately read a law in two different ways, it is very easy for a partisan judge to choose the interpretation they prefer. And every one of the nine justices on the Texas Supreme Court is a Republican.

Because older voters tend to prefer the GOP, the Texas Republican Party has a clear interest in preserving a legal regime that allows voters over 65 to obtain an absentee ballot but makes it much harder for younger voters to do so.

That said, if Democrats lose this particular lawsuit, that does not necessarily mean millions of Texans will lose their right to vote. It’s possible a federal court could rescue Texas voters in a separate lawsuit — one that most likely has not even been filed yet — holding that the unique burden the coronavirus pandemic imposes on voters renders Texas’s strict absentee ballot law unconstitutional.

This was written before the TDP filed its federal lawsuit, so bear that in mind as you read. I appreciate the analysis, which is the first in-depth look at the crux of the issue that I’ve seen. It’s a little crazy that it all hangs on the interpretation of two words, but here we are. I agree that in normal times one could reasonably interpret this either way, but if there’s ever a time for a bit of leeway, this is it. It’s not terribly surprising to me that the AG’s office has petitioned to intervene in the case – this is standard procedure for when the state gets sued, though the SOS does have its own attorneys. I’m more keen to know what if anything Greg Abbott thinks – if there’s going to be some influence on the court, it’ll come from him. There are definitely plenty of Republican elected officials who are in denial about the situation, and that could lead to pressure on Abbott to take a line-in-the-sand stance. Hasn’t happened yet, but that doesn’t mean it can’t or it won’t.

It’s also possible that the delayed July 14 primary runoffs will go off without any problems and in-person voting is fine, thus leading to a sense of complacency for November. Or maybe things will still be bad, or at least bad in the more-Republican rural areas, and that might make some people more aware of the fact that everyone has something to lose if we don’t plan better. That recent SOS advisory leaves me with some hope for a settlement in the existing litigation. The real tell will be if and when the usual agitators on the right start whipping up a frenzy. Remember also that the Republicans are busy trying to register voters this year – they have a stake in getting whatever new voters they sign up to the polls, too. Like I said, I have hope for a settlement, but it’s too early to tell which way the wind will blow.

Intervening in the mail ballot expansion lawsuit

From the inbox:

The ACLU of Texas, American Civil Liberties Union, and Texas Civil Rights Project on Wednesday joined a case seeking to declare that under Texas law all registered voters qualify to request a mail-in ballot as a result of the COVID-19 public health crisis.

The lawsuit states that in order to prevent wide-scale disenfranchisement during this public health crisis, the court should declare that the Texas Election Code’s definition of “disability” in the vote-by-mail provision – one of the basis of eligibility to vote-by-mail in Texas – currently encompasses all registered voters. The suit further states that the court should order that all mail-in ballots received by eligible voters under this category due to the pandemic be accepted and tabulated.

Because of the current COVID-19 public health crisis and the need to be confined at home, all individuals cannot physically appear at a polling place on Election Day without a risk to their health. Texas has 3,997 confirmed cases as of today. The latest guidance from the Trump administration advises against gatherings of more than 10 people, and many Texas counties have ordered restaurants and bars closed.

“Public safety must be prioritized during the coronavirus pandemic,” said Edgar Saldivar, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas. “If we don’t address how COVID-19 will affect our access to the ballot, people will find themselves balancing their civic duty to vote and their need to stay healthy. Clarifying that all Texans may vote-by-mail during this crisis under current state law is unquestionably the most effective and immediate way to ensure we protect both public safety and voting rights. Our state leaders must act fast so we can educate the public about how they can safely exercise their right to vote.”

The civil rights organizations are asking for the court’s declaration that the vote-by-mail provision applies to all Texans in light of the pandemic to allow for public education and planning to process an increase of mail ballots.

“Texans should not be asked to choose between their physical well-being and their fundamental right to vote, when we already have an election code that can accommodate a public health emergency,” said Joaquin Gonzalez, lead attorney on the case in the Voting Rights Program at Texas Civil Rights Project. “The secretary of state has been shockingly silent when our clients have been seeking her leadership and guidance the most. I know we’re in isolation, but you can send an email.”

“States all across the country are making vote by mail available because they know it is a common-sense solution to protect democracy and people’s well-being during this public health crisis,” said Sophia Lin Lakin, deputy director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, citing states such as West Virginia, Indiana, Delaware, and Virginia, among others. “In failing to issue guidance making clear that all Texans are eligible to vote by mail due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Texas is forcing a false choice between protecting public health and allowing Texans to exercise their right to vote. Vote-by-mail for all eligible voters allows for both. Texas can and should make this common-sense solution explicit.”

The plaintiffs in this filing include the League of Women Voters of Texas, MOVE Texas, League of Women Voters of Austin Area, Workers Defense Action Fund, and University of Texas student Zach Price.

A copy of the motion to intervene is available here.

See here for the background. Again, the arguments are straightforward and have been discussed before. It’s mostly a question of how the state will oppose them, and what the courts do from there. As the Chron editorial board notes, the Secretary of State could simply agree to the plaintiffs’ demands and be done with it, but I think we both know that Abbott and Paxton won’t let that happen. We’re going to need a ruling soon for this to matter for the primary runoffs. The Texas Signal has more.

UPDATE: And as soon as I finished drafting this, I got the following in my mailbox:

On Wednesday, Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughs’s office responded to Progress Texas’ petition calling on Texas to implement universal vote-by-mail. So far, the petition has received roughly 3,000 signatures from voters across the state.

In the response, the Secretary of State’s office hinted at the possibility that Texans who are concerned for their health may meet the disability requirements currently in place to apply for a ballot by mail. However, the vague response is open to interpretation and requires clarity in the form of an official proclamation or agreed court order from Secretary of State Ruth Hughs or Governor Greg Abbott.

“Right now, no voter we know of has immunity to COVID-19, and physical polling places could risk exposure and cause injury by way of sickness,” said Ed Espinoza, executive director of Progress Texas. “We have to make our upcoming elections as safe as possible. We believe that election law provides a remedy for all voters to vote-by-mail, but we need clarity from the state. Texas already allows no-excuse vote-by-mail for voters aged 65 and up, and we need our statewide lawmakers to step up and expand the benefit to everyone.”

“Being terrified of catching a virus that’s killing hundreds of thousands of people should obviously qualify as a legitimate reason for Texans to want to vote by mail, but we need an advisory from Secretary Hughes to make that official,” said Anthony Gutierrez, executive director at Common Cause Texas. “This email communication seems to indicate the Secretary of State agrees with our position, but this needs to be explicitly stated.”

Secretary of State Ruth Hughs office’s response states:

“One of the grounds for voting by mail is disability. The Election Code defines ‘disability’ to include ‘a sickness or physical condition that prevents the voter from appearing at the polling place on election day without a likelihood of needing personal assistance or of injuring the voter’s health.’ (Sec. 82.002). If a voter believes they meet this definition, they can submit an application for ballot by mail.

“As the situation changes, we will be updating our guidance. We hope this information has been helpful.”

Progress Texas and Common Cause Texas call on Secretary Hughs and Gov. Abbott to act in the interest of Texans’ health, safety, and voting rights to officially expand vote-by-mail universally through an official proclamation or agreed court order as soon as possible.

We all agree on what the law says. What matters is what it means. If, as we have previously discussed, the state agrees that anyone can claim the disability allowance, then great! We’re done here. If not – and clearly, I think they won’t, though I’ll be happy to be proven wrong – that’s where we need the court to step in and issue a ruling. The clock is ticking.

More on the Constitutional amendments

I found this while answering a question from a reader, and figured it was worth publicizing to a wider audience.

Ten proposed constitutional amendments will be on the November ballot. The Texas League of Women Voters has compiled a nice list of the amendments along with important voting deadlines. Compare the pros and cons of each proposed amendment, and prepare to cast your vote on Election Day, November 5, 2019.

Proposed Constitutional Amendments

  1. Municipal Judges

  2. Assistance for Water Projects in Distressed Areas

  3. Tax Relief for Disaster Areas

  4. Personal Income Tax

  5. Sporting Goods Tax to Support State Parks

  6. Cancer Prevention & Research

  7. Funding Public Education

  8. Flood Control

  9. Tax Exemption of Precious Metals

  10. Law Enforcement Animals

See here for previous blogging on the topic. The links above go to League of Women Voters of Texas pages, each with For and Against arguments for each item, and a video explaining it. I’d have gone deeper on the reasons to vote against Prop 4, and I’d definitely have mentioned the “individual” versus “natural person” loophole that may make this thing a whole lot more expensive than it looks, but overall the LWV did a good job. In the meantime, the Trib and the Chron have written about the proposed amendments, Prop 5 is being pushed by environmentalists, and the latest edition of the H-Town Progressive podcast features Andrea Greer and host Rob Icsezen discussing them. Read – or listen – up and know what you’re voting on.

Settlement officially reached in lawsuits over bogus SOS advisory

Great news.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Three months after first questioning the citizenship status of almost 100,000 registered voters, the Texas secretary of state has agreed to end a review of the voter rolls for supposed noncitizens that was flawed from the start.

The deal was announced Friday as part of an agreement to settle three legal challenges brought by more than a dozen naturalized citizens and voting rights groups against the state. The groups alleged that the voter citizenship review, which was launched in late January, was unconstitutional and violated federal protections for voters of color.

Secretary of State David Whitley — who has yet to be confirmed by the Texas Senate amid the fallout over the review — agreed to scrap the lists of registered voters his office had sent to county voter registrars for examination. Whitley’s office will instruct local officials to take no further action on the names of people it had classified as “possible non-U.S citizens,” and county officials will be charged with notifying voters who received letters demanding they prove their citizenship that their registrations are safe.

The state is also on the hook for $450,000 in costs and attorney fees for the plaintiffs’ lawyers.

The agreement must still be approved by the federal judge overseeing the case, and the state will have five days after the judge dismisses the plaintiffs’ legal claims to officially rescind the list. But the settlement amounts to a profound defeat for the state leaders who had defended the review even though it had jeopardized the voting rights of tens of thousands of naturalized citizens.

“Today’s agreement accomplishes our office’s goal of maintaining an accurate list of qualified registered voters while eliminating the impact of any list maintenance activity on naturalized U.S. citizens,” Whitley said in a statement Friday. “I will continue to work with all stakeholders in the election community to ensure this process is conducted in a manner that holds my office accountable and protects the voting rights of eligible Texans.”

See here for the background. I thought at the time that this was a resounding defeat for the state of Texas, and I very much still think that. Honestly, I’m stunned that the state gave up like this instead of taking their chances with the ever-pliable Fifth Circuit. Did they think their case was such a loser that even the Fifth Circuit wouldn’t bail them out? It’s mind-boggling. Anyway, here are the statements from the various plaintiffs in the suit, courtesy of the ACLU’s press release:

“After months of litigation, the state has finally agreed to do what we’ve demanded from the start — a complete withdrawal of the flawed and discriminatory voter purge list, bringing this failed experiment in voter suppression to an end,” said Andre Segura, legal director for the ACLU of Texas. “The right to vote is sacrosanct, and no eligible voter should have to worry about losing that right. We are glad that the state has agreed to give up this misguided effort to eliminate people from the voter rolls, and we will continue to monitor any future voter purge attempt by the state to ensure that no eligible Texan loses their voice in our democracy.”

“Three months after the state released a discriminatory and flawed voter purge list, they have finally agreed to completely withdraw the advisory that risked throwing tens of thousands of potentially eligible voters off the rolls,” said Beth Stevens, voting rights legal director with the Texas Civil Rights Project. “State officials have wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars and struck fear and confusion into thousands of voters in order to pursue their voter suppression agenda. We are glad that this particular effort was stopped in its tracks and we will remain vigilant to ensure that not one single voter loses their right to vote due to the actions of state officials.”

“While we are glad to see this program scrapped, it’s important to remember that the state not only began to disenfranchise tens of thousands of eligible voters, but also threatened them with criminal prosecution,” said Brendan Downes, associate counsel with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law’s Voting Rights Project. “Naturalized citizens are, by definition, Americans. It’s time for the state to start treating them that way.”

“Secretary Whitley’s agreement to scrap what the court called a ‘ham-handed’ process and implement these common sense changes will go a long way to protecting eligible naturalized citizens from being improperly purged from the rolls,” said Sophia Lakin, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “We will continue to monitor the secretary and counties to protect eligible Texas voters from discriminatory barriers to the ballot box.”

“This settlement acknowledges that naturalized Americans have full and equal voting rights — they cannot be singled out and purged from the rolls due to their status,” said Chiraag Bains, director of legal strategies at Demos. “The settlement is a victory for our clients and all in Texas who were wrongfully deemed ineligible to vote. The secretary’s actions were reckless and misguided, and we hope that other states will take note and avoid similar unlawful actions.”

“The League regrets that it took a lawsuit to remind our state officials that naturalized citizens have a right to vote and to fully participate in our democracy,” said Grace Chimene, president of the League of Women Voters of Texas. “We are hopeful that new procedures will prevent naturalized citizens from being treated as second class citizens. We will continue to work with the secretary of state, as the chief election officer for Texas, to protect all citizens’ right to vote.”

“When the secretary of state tried to discriminate against eligible voters in a dangerous voter purge, we stood up to challenge this egregious act of voter suppression. Today, we won,” said H. Drew Galloway, executive director of MOVE Texas Civic Fund. “Young naturalized citizens no longer have to worry about this reckless voter purge impacting their constitutional right to vote. We will continue to fight for all young voters across the state.”

The whole thing is also visible at the Texas Civil Rights Project webpage. The Secretary of State – who by the way still needs to be someone other than the deeply incompetent David Whitley – will still conduct reviews of voter rolls to look for non-citizens, it will just need to be done under this new framework. The one remaining question is what will happen with the voters whose names were referred to AG Ken Paxton for possible criminal investigation. We’ll just have to see what Paxton does – I can’t imagine him turning down an opportunity to grandstand, but he may be just smart enough to decline to pursue cases that will be tough to win given the questionableness of the evidence. With him, it could go either way. The Chron, the Dallas Observer, and Slate have more.

Civil rights groups want Whitley to not be confirmed

No kidding.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

More than 30 civil rights and community groups are calling on Senate Democrats to block the confirmation of embattled interim Secretary of State David Whitley, who oversaw the botched rollout of an investigation into the citizenship of tens of thousands of Texas voters.

“Under no circumstances should Mr. Whitley be allowed to continue to serve as the Texas Secretary of State. The Senate Democratic caucus – and each of you individually – have the power to unite in defense of the voting rights of all Texans and stop his confirmation,” the groups wrote in a letter sent to Democratic senators on Thursday morning. “We call on you to affirmatively block the confirmation of David Whitley for Texas Secretary of State.”

[…]

“It has become exceedingly clear that Mr. Whitley is unfit to serve in that office,” the letter reads. “Mr. Whitley has targeted naturalized citizens for disenfranchisement and falsely accused them of committing voter fraud.”

The letter’s signatories, which include the League of Women Voters of Texas, the Texas NAACP, the League of United Latin American Citizens and the Texas Democratic Party, took Whitley to task for being unable to answer questions during his confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Nominations Committee about how his office handled the advisory’s rollout.

“Mr. Whitley demonstrated an embarrassing lack of knowledge about the process he initiated,” the letter reads.

Calling Whitley’s conduct “disqualifying,” the groups said he “knew or had reason to know that a substantial number of these 58,000 Texas residents had not voted unlawfully, and still he sent the entire list to the Attorney General for criminal investigation and potential prosecution.”

“Mr. Whitley’s actions demonstrate a level of incompetence that we cannot accept in a position tasked to protect and advance our most fundamental rights of civic participation,” the groups wrote.

I found a copy of the letter here. You will recognize a number of the signers as plaintiffs in the multiple lawsuits filed against Whitley and the SOS. Whitley’s confirmation remains in limbo as the Senate committee has yet to vote out his nomination following the hearing two weeks ago; it’s still pending after another no-action committee meeting on Thursday. It would take at least two Dems to vote for Whitley, assuming he gets unanimous Republican support, which maybe isn’t a sure thing given that he’s still pending in committee. And as of yesterday, every Dem Senator was on record opposing Whitley.

All 12 Democrats in the Texas Senate have publicly confirmed they are opposed to confirming embattled Secretary of State David Whitley, giving them more than enough votes to block his nomination if they’re all in the chamber when the vote comes up.

The tally of “no” verdicts from Senate Democrats hit a dozen on Friday, upping the ante on the minority party’s ability to block his path to confirmation if they all stick together. To be confirmed, Whitley needs a two-thirds vote in the 31-member chamber. But whether Whitley’s nomination will make it that far remains unclear.

[…]

If Whitley’s nomination is left pending for the rest of the session, he can serve only until the Legislature leaves Austin in late May. After that, Abbott could nominate a replacement who would immediately take over as secretary of state and serve at least until the next legislative session in 2021.

If the Senate votes and Whitley is rejected, he must leave office immediately.

Doesn’t look good for Whitley, does it? My guess at this point is that Whitley never comes up for a vote, and Abbott appoints someone else after the session. Basic competence for the task at hand, and not regularly insulting everyone’s intelligence, that’s all we’re asking here. This Twitter thread from the press conference has more.

First day in court for SOS advisory lawsuits

First day for the first lawsuit, one of three filed against that bogus SOS advisory.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A federal judge in San Antonio will hear arguments Tuesday in one of three legal challenges to the state’s initiative to purge tens of thousands of Texans from voter rolls who officials claim are not U.S. citizens.

U.S. District Judge Fred Biery will hear a request by a group headed by the League of United Latin American Citizens seeking a court order to block the plan. LULAC and others say many of the people targeted by the rollout were wrongly placed on the purge lists.

The state, in court records, defends the initiative as necessary. The hearing could last much of Tuesday, and possibly into Wednesday, but the judge is not expected to issue an immediate ruling.

[…]

LULAC’s suit said the initiative amounts to a discriminatory “witch hunt” targeting mostly Hispanic voters, in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act. The Campaign Legal Center joined the suit, adding constitutional concerns. The groups also filed a request to turn it into a class-action lawsuit for others who might be wronged.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund later filed a separate suit in Corpus Christi, which contends that state officials singled out naturalized citizens because they were born outside the country. A coalition of other groups — MOVE Texas Civic Fund, Jolt Initiative, League of Women Voters of Texas and the NAACP of Texas — filed a third lawsuit in Galveston to prevent the purge, saying Texas officials are treating those who have been naturalized as second-class citizens. Both lawsuits are pending.

See here for more on the LULAC lawsuit, and here and here for the other lawsuits. The Trib filed a story later in the day with more details about what happened so far.

Facing three federal lawsuits challenging the legality of Texas’ efforts to review the citizenship of 98,000 registered voters, a top lawyer for the state opened up his defense in one of the cases by claiming the state had not made any mistakes or imposed unconstitutional burdens on certain voters in rolling out the review. Actually, he argued, it was certain county election officials who had acted “contrary to state law.”

In a federal courthouse Tuesday, Assistant Attorney General Chris Hilton repeatedly questioned why two local election officials — Kerr County Tax Assessor Bob Reeves and Blanco County Tax Assessor Kristen Spies — immediately sent voters who were flagged by the state letters demanding that they prove their citizenship in order to remain on the voter rolls. Hilton said counties should have first reviewed their lists to determine whether they had reason to believe a voter was ineligible.

The two voter registrars told the court their staff was simply following the state’s instructions — laid out in an official election advisory — on how to determine if those individuals were in fact U.S. citizens and therefore eligible to vote. In her reading of the state’s advisory, in which state election officials repeatedly noted they had worked to provide counties with “actionable information,” Spies said she believed that meant “that we should work the list.” She was echoed by Reeves, who indicated the state’s decision to flag those voters gave them enough reason to move forward with those notices.

[…]

Hilton contended the secretary of state had merely told counties they had the choice to investigate the voters or take no action — not immediately send out notices.

“Unfortunately, Mr. Reeves, I think your staff has acted contrary to state law,” Hilton told Reeves, who oversees the county’s voter rolls and whose staff sent out 68 proof-of-citizenship letters the day the county received its list of voters from the state.

[…]

Chad Dunn, one of Hilberg’s attorneys, followed Hilton’s questioning by projecting a copy of the secretary of state’s advisory onto a large screen in the courtroom and reading from the part of the document that indicated that state officials “believe” the data they provided “can be acted on in nearly all circumstances.”

“Is a reasonable reading of that sentence that this list of voters is ready to be sent notices without any further steps?” Dunn asked.

“Based on this, yes,” Reeves responded.

Dunn then asked what effect a combination of that advisory and the statements made by top Republican officials about supposed voter fraud had on Reeves’ understanding of whether he needed to send those notices.

“To the best of my knowledge, that’s why my office sent that out,” Reeves said.

Classy move by the state, blaming the local officials for the SOS’s actions. The case continues today, and we probably won’t get an immediate ruling. And whatever happens here, those other lawsuits are out there as well.

Three times a lawsuit

Hat trick!

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A group of civil and voting rights organizations is suing the state’s chief election officers and local election officials in five counties, claiming Texas’ voter citizenship review efforts are unconstitutional because they intentionally target naturalized citizens and voters of color.

In a lawsuit filed Monday in a Galveston federal court, the MOVE Texas Civic Fund, the Jolt Initiative, the League of Women Voters of Texas and the Texas NAACP allege that the state’s move to flag tens of thousands of voters for review using faulty data violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. They claim the effort places an undue burden on the right to vote and treats naturalized citizens differently than those born in the county.

The groups also allege that the state violated the Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act by acting at least in part with the goal of discriminating against voters of color when it advised counties to verify the citizenship status of the voters it flagged.

The lawsuit against Texas Secretary of State David Whitley, Director of Elections Keith Ingram, and local election officials in Galveston, Blanco, Fayette, Caldwell and Washington counties is the third one filed against state officials since Jan. 25, when the state announced that it was sending counties a list of approximately 95,000 registered voters who told the Texas Department of Safety they were not citizens when they obtained their driver’s licenses or ID cards.

[…]

In their complaint, the plaintiffs — represented by the ACLU of Texas, the national ACLU, the Texas Civil Rights Project, Demos and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law — argue that Whitley “declined to include safeguards” in the process that would ensure naturalized citizens weren’t erroneously included on the list.

“The right to vote is a fundamental and foundational right, possessed equally by U.S. born and naturalized citizens,” the complaint reads. “The Secretary of State’s purge treats those who have been naturalized as second-class citizens whose right to vote can be uniquely threatened and burdened solely because at some point in the past, these individuals were not U.S. citizens.”

See here and here for the scoop on the other lawsuits, and here for a copy of the complaint. I had speculated in yesterday’s post about Lawsuit #2 that we could get this one as well, as the groups representing these plaintiffs had had specifically said they would sue if the SOS didn’t back all the way off. Gotta follow through when you say stuff like that, so folks will know you don’t mess around. At this point, we’re waiting to see what the courts will say. In an ideal world, they will force the state to do what these plaintiffs asked in the first place, which is to get their crap together before they put out baloney like this. Here’s hoping. On a related note, Mayor Turner released a statement urging Harris County Tax Assessor Ann Harris Bennett to reject the SOS advisory, which you can find here.

Civil rights groups push back on bogus SOS letter

Good.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Lawyers with 13 organizations — including the Texas Civil Rights Project, the ACLU of Texas, the League of Women Voters of Texas and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund — are demanding that the state rescind an advisory sent to local election officials regarding the individuals whose citizenship status the state says the counties should consider checking. In a letter sent Monday, the groups requested a response by Jan. 30, claiming that the state’s data was flawed and demanding more information about the methodology it used.

Some of the groups are considering litigation against the state, said Beth Stevens, voting rights legal director for the Texas Civil Rights Project.

The letter comes three days after the Texas secretary of state’s office announced it would send local election officials a list of 95,000 registered voters who had provided the Texas Department of Safety some form of documentation, such as a green card or a work visa, that showed they were not citizens when they were obtaining driver’s licenses or an ID cards.

“Using such a data set to review the current citizenship status of anyone is inherently flawed because it fails to account for individuals who became naturalized citizens and registered to vote at any point after having obtained their driver license or personal identification card,” the lawyers wrote.

In their letter, the groups point to efforts in Florida that used similar methodology to create a list of approximately 180,000 registered voters that officials claimed were noncitizens based on records used when they obtained driver’s licenses. That fight ended up in federal court after more than 2,600 were mistakenly removed from the rolls after being classified as noncitizens. About 85 voters “ultimately proved actionable,” the lawyers wrote.

See here for the background. The letter to the SOS is here, and the letter they sent to all 254 county election administrators is here. The latter is both a public information request for “all records relating to the Advisory, including but not limited to the list of all individuals identified by the Secretary of State or Department of Public Safety as potential non-citizens, the Voter Unique Identifier for each of those individuals, and all communications and correspondence with the Secretary of State concerning the Advisory”, and a plea to not take any action “unless and until the Secretary of State has provided greater transparency on its procedures and ensured there are adequate safeguards for not identifying lawfully registered naturalized citizens.” The letter to the SOS lays out their demands for more information, and drops a little math on them:

Given that Texas Driver Licenses and ID Cards do not expire for a full six years after they are issued, the odds are quite high that this list of purported non-citizens includes tens of thousands of people who are now US citizens entitled to vote. Indeed, each year, between 52,000-63,000 Texans become naturalized citizens (roughly the same number of potential non-citizens you claim have voted in Texas elections over a 22-year period).1 Given that newly naturalized citizens have voter registration rates around 50%,2 it is reasonable to conclude that at least 25,000 newly naturalized Texans are lawfully registering to vote each year. Even if one assumes that not all naturalized citizens previously obtained driver licenses, and not all registered naturalized citizens registered immediately, it is easy to see how this would result in your office obtaining over 90,000 incorrectly identified matches.

Read them both. Given that Ken Paxton was sending out email earlier the same day screaming about thousands of illegal voters, I think the odds are very high this will wind up in court.

So where do we stand with handing over voter info to the Trump commission?

The DMN asks the question.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Have state officials turned over Texas voter information to the federal government?

In short, not yet.

A lawsuit by the Texas NAACP and the Texas League of Women Voters has halted the state’s release of that information to the commission after a Travis County district judge granted the groups a temporary restraining order in October. But the state has taken its case to an appeals court, arguing the lower court has no jurisdiction.

The appeals court has given no timeline on when it will rule on the matter, but until then no voter information will be shared with the fraud commission, which agreed in September to halt its request until the jurisdiction question was resolved.

[…]

Justin Levitt, an election law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said it is unclear whether the commission is subject to the Federal Advisory Committee Act, so Texas should think twice about handing over its voter roll information. But if it’s not subject to that law, the commission may be under other constraints about what information it can request and how it can do so.

“That’s what the federal lawsuits are about. It’s an open question,” said Levitt, who oversaw voting rights battles for the Department of Justice under President Barack Obama.

Until those questions are resolved, Levitt said, there is nothing obligating Texas to turn over the information.

“This is just a request,” he said. “There’s nothing in Texas state law and nothing in federal law that I’m aware of that would force Texas to give the data over.”

See here, here, and here for the background. The lawsuit from which the injunction came was filed in state court, but as noted later in the piece there were federal lawsuits filed as well. And just as I was prepping to queue this post up for publication, this happened.

President Trump signed an executive order late Wednesday disbanding his own election integrity commission after less than eight months, saying he didn’t want to waste taxpayer money fighting with state governments over their voter data.

But the co-chairman of the panel, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, said the investigation into alleged voter fraud would continue — and could pick up speed without the formalities of a commission.

Trump said the commission’s work will now go to the Department of Homeland Security.

“Despite substantial evidence of voter fraud, many states have refused to provide the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity with basic information relevant to its inquiry,” Trump said in a statement through his press secretary. “Rather than engage in endless legal battles at taxpayer expense, today I signed an executive order to dissolve the commission, and have asked the Department of Homeland Security to review these issues and determine next courses of action,” Trump said.

Good riddance, I say, though it sounds like we’re not quite out of the woods yet. Keep up the good fight against this travesty. Think Progress, Daily Kos, and Mother Jones have more.

LWV to look at Harris County election security

I look forward to seeing their results.

The League of Women Voters of the Houston Area plans to study the cybersecurity of Harris County’s election system, but the non-partisan group may not be able to gather all the information it wants.

The League, working with the non-profit civic-tech activist group Sketch City, hopes to finish the study and release recommendations by May 2018.

During an organizational meeting [last] Tuesday night at the Leonel Castillo Community Center, Sketch City founder Jeff Reichman said the group had received early cooperation from both the Harris County Clerk’s office, which administers elections, and the Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector, which handles voter registration.

Reichman said the group wants to study all aspects of the election process, which uses Hart InterCivic eSlate voting machines that are about 15 years old. He said they want to look into the documented vulnerabilities of the machines; how easily computers involved in the election can be physically accessed both in storage and while in use in elections; and what the procurement process is for buying new machines.

“We want to look into the best practices that anyone with access to sensitive information should follow,” Reichman said during Tuesday’s meeting.

There’s been a lot of debate about the security of our election systems, locally and nationally. Less discussed is the fact that our voting system is just old, at least in technological terms. The eSlate made its debut in Texas in the 2000 election and has been in use in Harris County since 2002, which is five years before the debut of the iPhone. One would think there have been some advances in the engineering since then. As such, even without this particular elephant in the room, we have needed to be thinking about what comes next for some time. If this is even a small step in that direction, I’m glad to see it. I’m not sure what it would take otherwise.

SOS halted from handing over voter info

Good.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A Texas district judge has issued a temporary restraining order preventing Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos from handing voter information to President Donald Trump’s voter fraud investigation commission.

The order, which came out Tuesday, adds Texas to a growing list of states not complying with the president’s investigation into the 2016 elections, which Trump says suffered from large-scale voter fraud.

Judge Tim Sulak of the Austin-based 353rd Texas Civil District Court issued the order in response to a lawsuit filed July 20 by the League of Women Voters of Texas, its former president Ruthann Geer and the Texas NAACP against Pablos and Keith Ingram, the Texas Elections Division director in the the secretary of state’s office. The lawsuit seeks to stop the state from handing over voter data from the state’s computerized voter registration files to the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. The suit argues that doing so would reveal voters’ personal information, “which may be used to solicit, harass, or otherwise infringe upon the privacy of Texas voters.”

[…]

The League’s current president, Elaine Wiant, said the organization is especially concerned that releasing the data could make millions of voters’ personal information public, making it vulnerable to commercial use. Texas law forbids public voter information from being used commercially, but with the presidential commission, Wiant said “there is no guarantee how it will get used.” Wiant also said the League is concerned that releasing the data would make voters’ birthdates public.

“In today’s world, that is just way too much information to be made available to the public,” Wiant said. “There are serious security concerns.”

The order, which expires Oct. 17 or with further order from the court, says that handing over voter information could cause “irreparable” injury. Without “appropriate safeguards,” the order argues, the data is likely to become public, potentially violating voters’ privacy rights, their interests in “avoiding commercial solicitation, chilling of their First Amendment rights, and the diminution of their efforts to encourage voting.”

See here and here for the background. There will be a hearing on the 16th, at which time this will presumably be extended or rescinded. In the meantime, the Trump commission has other legal problems to worry about. Let’s hope this is the end of it in Texas.

Lawsuit filed over giving voter data to bogus Trump commission

I missed this last week.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The League of Women Voters of Texas and the Texas NAACP said Thursday they have sued Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos over plans to release voter information to President Donald Trump’s election commission.

Texas law requires that safeguards be met to ensure such data isn’t used improperly, the groups said, and they must be followed before any data is sent to the Presidential Advisory Commission on Voter Integrity.

“The Secretary of State should strictly follow state law if he releases any voter information to the Commission,” Elaine Wiant, president of the League of Women Voters of Texas, said in a news release. “Releasing personal information could result in identity theft, causing great harm to Texas voters. Further, we fear that the Commission’s goal is voter suppression, not voter participation.”

See here for the background. This is separate from the open records request made by the ACLU of Texas. The suit was filed in state court in Travis County, and it alleges that the request violates Texas election statutes. . You can see the complaint here – it’s a bit dense for me, so I’ll leave it to the lawyers to offer an opinion. It’s fine by me if these plaintiffs succeed in getting an injunction, and as noted by the Brennan Center, Texas is not the only state where such a lawsuit has been filed. We’ll see how it goes – among other things, I’ll be very interested to see how the state responds to this. How hard will they fight for this if a judge puts a halt to it? It’s not clear to me that it’s in the Republican leadership’s best political interests to go balls to the wall on this one.

Ballot order drawn

vote-button

Here is the official ballot order for City of Houston candidates this November, via Chron reporter Mike Morris on Twitter. You’re all familiar with my rant about ballot order by now – we have electronic voting machines, they should simply randomize the ballot order for each voter – so I’ll just skip it and move on. Whether anyone’s ballot position ultimately makes a difference or not – I sure hope it doesn’t, but I wouldn’t bet on it – we’ll have to wait and see. All I know is that in any field with more than four candidates, I’d rather be first or last than anywhere in between.

This would be a short entry if this were all I had to say, so in the interest of filling out a proper length, here are two announcements about candidate forums. On Monday, Mental Health America of Greater Houston is hosting a Mayoral forum on behavioral health, a topic I’m willing to bet you haven’t heard much about in this election. The Houston Police Department has one of the only Mental Health Divisions in the entire country, so this is an issue that needs some public discussion. MHA of Greater Houston, NAMI of Greater Houston, the Council on Recovery, and the Houston Recovery Initiative are partnered for this event. That’s this Monday, August 31, at 6:30 PM at the University of St. Thomas, Jones Hall, 3910 Yoakum – see here for details.

Want a forum for candidates other than Mayoral candidates? On Thursday, September 3, you can attend a forum on environmental issues for At Large Council candidates, brought to you by the Citizens’ Environmental Coalition, League of Women Voters of Houston, and over 20 cosponsors representing environmental organizations in the Houston region, including Hermann Park Conservancy. The event is at 6 PM at the Cherie Flores Pavilion in Hermann Park, and it will be moderated by yours truly. It’s free and open to the public – see here for details. Don’t leave me hanging, come on out and hear what the candidates have to say.

Point/counterpoint on online voter registration

Point.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texans can use www.Texas.gov for nearly 1,000 services, such as applying for concealed handgun licenses and driver records, and renewing driver licenses, vehicle registrations and many state-required professional licenses. It is time to allow Texans to use this proven, secure online portal to register voters.

Online voter registration does not allow online voting. Under the process that has been proposed for our state, Texans with a current Texas drivers license or Department of Public Safety-issued photo ID could electronically register to vote so long as the license and three other identification measures authenticate them to do so.

[…]

The National Council of State Legislatures calls online voter registration a truly bipartisan election issue. A 2014 Pew study reports states have not seen any change in the balance of party affiliation of registered voters following the introduction of online voter registration. States also report no security breaches or voter impersonation. The study further finds online registration applications five times more accurate than paper applications.

The three Texas agencies – Secretary of State’s office, DPS and Department of Information Resources – that would execute online voter registration are confident in their ability. Their representatives testified that registering voters online can work in Texas.

Department of Information Resources Executive Director Todd Kimbriel told the House Elections Committee that the state-contracted Texas.gov vendor processes more than $2 billion in annual payments from taxpayers. Since initiation in 2001, Kimbriel told lawmakers, there have been no security breaches.

An existing Texas.gov platform for voter registration is already in place, used to update residential addresses when a voter moves within a county. To initiate registration online, a person would be required to possess a valid Texas driver license or DPS ID that can only be obtained in person.

More than 60 percent of Texans polled in 2014 favor registering voters online. State Reps. Celia Israel, D-Austin and Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, bill authors, agree it’s an opportunity to work together to make our voter registration system more efficient, accurate and cost-effective.

That was written by Elaine Wiant, the president of the League of Women Voters of Texas. The arguments are familiar, and I at least think they’re pretty persuasive.

And counterpoint:

Proponents of online voter registration point out 20 states currently have such systems in place. But that means that 30 states do not. They also point out cost savings with online registration but cannot accurately identify what those would be in Texas.

[…]

The current voter registration system in Texas works and works well. Virtually no case has come to light of someone wanting to register within the applicable deadlines and being unable to do so.

Those who wish to register can exercise several options. Eligible citizens may register at the Texas Department of Public Safety, many social service organizations, local libraries, post offices and any of the 16 Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector’s branch offices. Potential voters also may print an application from many websites to be completed, signed and mailed.

The Voter Registrar’s experienced and nonpartisan professionals cross check data to ensure accuracy of each application. Officials code voters for the proper voting precinct, verify the data submitted and mail out a voter certificate. This both protects the registration process and provides new voters with relevant information, including the voter’s eligible jurisdictions.

During the most recent federal election, the state’s election management system temporarily shut down on Election Day, almost crippling local voter activity. The Secretary of State’s office is scheduled to undergo a major software upgrade this year. This is long overdue but full of unknowns. It would be very risky to implement a new system for online voter registration with this pending upgrade, especially leading into a presidential election.

That of course is from Harris County Tax Assessor Mike Sullivan, who as we know opposed the bill to enable online voter registration. His arguments are familiar as well, and until that last paragraph above, not terribly persuasive to me. The one part of his case that I do find effective is the reminder about the state’s website problems last November. Add that to the problems that DPS had with the One Sticker rollout, and one can understand why someone like Sullivan might be skeptical about this kind of bill and any assurance from DPS and/or the SOS that they can handle it. That may be a reasonable justification for delaying this implementation, but not for not doing it at all. Just because something works well enough doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t be improved. Online voter registration should be the goal, and whatever needs to be done to make it feasible in the next session should be on the to do list. Let’s not have the same debate in 2017.

Endorsement watch: Three out of five ain’t bad

The five major papers have made their endorsements in the Governor’s race now. We know about the DMN and their strange belief that it is possible to placate the extremists, so let’s look at the others, starting with the Houston Chronicle:

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

The election in November should not be about abortion or gay marriage or any of the other hot-button issues that campaigns use to ignite the base. It should be about finding a leader with vision and foresight, one who’s willing to tackle tough issues too long ignored. We believe that person is Wendy Davis.

The Republican candidate, Attorney General Greg Abbott, 56, has run a strong campaign, but our fear is that, essentially, he will perpetuate the Perry era, with its fealty to the hard-right social conservative wing of his party.

His Democratic opponent, we believe, will do everything possible to sustain the state’s impressive economic growth, but she also will seek to broaden the state’s focus. We’re confident she’ll work to assure that every Texan has an opportunity to share in the state’s prosperity. And, with Republicans still in the majority in the Legislature, she will have no choice but to reach out to the other side in ways that Abbott is less likely to do.

[…]

If we can’t find leaders willing to engage the hard issues, willing to invest in the state’s future, we’re likely to fall farther behind. Given this prosperous moment in our state’s history, what better time than now to begin living up to our potential? Davis, we believe, will give it a shot.

Whether a Gov. Wendy Davis could get anything done in a state still dominated by a Republican Party fiercely fighting a rear-guard action against social, economic and political change is a question we can’t answer. As a Democrat in this fervid-red state, she faces an uphill battle, to be sure. And yet, there are pivotal moments in political history where the focus shifts and the people decide that enough’s enough. As a senator, Wendy Davis had the courage and strength on more than one occasion not to back down. With challenging times ahead, those same qualities are what we need to lead the state.

After the editorial board wagged a finger at Davis for the wheelchair ad, I was afraid they might endorse Abbott out of petulance. Glad to see I was wrong about that. The Chron also endorsed Republicans for Land Commissioner and Ag Commissioner, so they recommended Dems for the top four offices, and Republicans elsewhere. Which, as I suggested before, might have been a bridge too far for the DMN. Good on you, Chronicle.

The Chron was joined by two other papers in recommending Davis. First up is their sister publication, the Express News.

Texas is in need of decisive leadership that will look at lingering problems in new ways. It’s in need of leadership different from the kind the state has had for much of the last 14 years under Gov. Rick Perry.

Something different than: federal government as boogeyman; responsible regulation of Texas resources and its environment deemed anti-business; international border as threat; raising the minimum wage as anti-jobs; and the notion that public education isn’t in dire need of immediate additional investment.

Because she is simply more on target with solutions to the state’s problems, we recommend Wendy Davis to be Texas’ next governor.

And there’s this: Beyond Texas’ very real infrastructure and funding problems, there’s also need for a fresh look at the state’s notions of fairness.

No, it’s not OK for the state to meddle in who Texans choose to marry on the matter of gay marriage. Nor is it acceptable to get between women and their doctors on abortion.

It is not fair to discriminate against minority voters via voter ID at the ballot box. Or in redistricting to maintain GOP political dominance.

Abbott, defending the state on these cases, has said he is obligated as attorney general to defend Texas laws. But we have not heard anything from the candidate to suggest that his personal views differ from those he espouses as the state’s top lawyer.

There is, of course, a pretty simple explanation for that. I mean, I’m not the only one who remembers that Greg Abbott hired Ted Cruz to be his main litigator, am I? The E-N seems to have a solid grasp of that, so kudos to them as well. With their Friday endorsement of Leticia Van de Putte for Lite Gov – as strong a recommendation as you’ll find, do yourself a favor and read it – the E-N also goes for a full measure of change at the top. They are also the only paper of which I am aware to pick a Dem for one of the lower offices, when they endorsed Steve Brown for Railroad Commissioner.

The other paper to make the right call is the Statesman.

On Nov. 4, Texans will elect a new governor for the first time in 14 years. We think that new governor should be Democrat Wendy Davis.

Davis and her Republican opponent, long-serving Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, offer voters sharp, competing visions for the state’s future. Davis’ positions on education, health care and economic fairness make her the best candidate to meet the looming challenges unparalleled growth has brought the state.

[…]

Abbott’s response when we asked whether he also would veto an attempt to repeal the in-state tuition law was a lawyerly attempt at triangulation. He talked about favoring the law’s concept but said he found the law flawed in its current form and in need of a rewrite.

Abbott, 56, expressed concern that his party’s xenophobic rhetoric on immigration will put off Hispanic voters, whose values he considers consistent with Republican values. He told us he wants to set a tone and vision of inclusion as governor.

The trouble is, Abbott has positioned himself on the tea party end of the Republican spectrum the past several years. So despite producing an admirably detailed policy plan, we’re not confident he is the same candidate we have supported in previous elections.

There was a time we could have assumed Abbott would moderate his party’s worst tendencies on illegal immigration, abortion, same-sex marriage, school choice and other issues, but no more. And recent decisions by his office protecting the source of the state’s execution drugs and clouding information about businesses that store ammonium nitrate and other dangerous chemicals have raised doubts whether he remains an unfailing advocate of open government.

Abbott famously has joked that his typical workday involves going to the office, suing President Barack Obama and the federal government, and going home. Whatever the legal merits of some of Abbott’s lawsuits, he has treated taking on the Obama administration as a game in which political points are scored. The lawsuits symbolize our growing doubts about Abbott.

Good to see them detail the case against Abbott so succinctly. I never cease to be amazed by an editorial board’s willingness to support a candidate they don’t like or used to like on the delusion that said candidate will suddenly stop doing all the things they don’t like once the election is over. You are what your record says you are, in football and in politics. Kudos to the Statesman for recognizing it.

Texas Politics rounds up some other papers’ endorsements. Sam Houston gets a clean sweep, with the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal being the only paper to endorse either Dan Patrick or Glen Hegar.

I figured early on that the endorsements for Governor would be split, and indeed they were. Joining the DMN in going the other way was the Star-Telegram, which made a mostly honest case for Greg Abbott before pulling up short and repeating the DMN’s mistake at the end.

In Davis, Abbott faces a formidable opponent.

A savvy politician with a compelling personal story — despite her campaign’s early stumbles over her biography — she earned a solid reputation in Fort Worth before she rocketed to stardom with her now-famous 2013 filibuster on abortion. During her six years representing District 10 in the Texas Senate, and nine years on the City Council, Davis has served this community well.

As a state legislator, she lead the effort to restore billions of dollars in education funding cut during the 2011 session.

As governor, she proposes a lofty education plan that would expand the state’s pre-K program, increase teacher salaries and expand early college opportunities. But she has declined to put a pricetag on her plan, calling in question its potential viability.

During her time in Austin, she developed a reputation for consensus building, teaming up with Republicans as far afield as Rep. Jonathan Stickland. As a member of the minority party, such collaboration was essential to her political success.

But despite Davis’ history of building bridges in both city and state government, she has run a campaign that is surprisingly divisive and isolating.

We worry that Davis would struggle to effectively represent and serve a state that is still overwhelmingly right of center, without further alienating her party and inciting her opponents.

Yes, we mustn’t actively oppose the wingnuts, as it only encourages them. The Observer has the definitive word on this.

What would a Gov. Davis look like? Well, she would probably have little influence over the Legislature. Assume Davis wins and so does Patrick—Davis would be able to get hardly any of her legislative priorities through. Patrick would be preparing to run against her in 2018, and his Senate would kill or mangle almost anything that bore her personal stamp. But Davis would have a veto which would prevent Patrick’s worst bills and initiatives from getting through.

But the Morning News endorsement anticipates something worse—that the conservative Legislature seizes the levers of state government and goes to war against Davis, refuses to budge on any issue, refuses to put together a budget, refuses to consider new and important legislation, until its demands are met and Davis effectively surrenders. In effect, if the people of the state elect Davis to lead them, conservatives in the Legislature—probably led by Patrick—will take Texas hostage.

So the Morning News’ instinct is to reward the hostage-taker, pay the ransom, and keep the state safely gripped by one-party rule. On the one hand, it feels like a pretty bleak misperception of how small-r republican government is supposed to work. It’s especially odd because the endorsement urges Abbott to be “a moderating influence” for his party—a bit like a liberal urging his radical-left friends to “work inside the system.”

It seems probable that Patrick will be the dominant figure of the 2015 legislative session, not Abbott. It would be very difficult to make the case that a Gov. Abbott will be better at containing Patrick than a Gov. Davis, with a veto stamp and a reason to oppose him openly. It seems like extraordinarily wishful thinking to hope Abbott will turn out to be the state’s version of a Rockefeller Republican.

About as wishful as hoping Sen. Ted Cruz will morph into the second coming of Kay Bailey Hutchison. “Don’t reward the hostage-takers” continues to be sound advice.

Finally, I meant to mention this yesterday, but the League of Women Voters 2014 Guide is now available. Read up and learn, or learn more, about the candidates on your ballot.

UPDATE: Here’s a complete rundown of all Chronicle endorsements, including several races for which they have not yet published the accompanying editorial.

We need more mobile ID stations

From the inbox, from the League of Women Voters.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS OF TEXAS CALLS ON SECRETARY OF STATE TO EXPAND AND IMPROVE EFFORTS TO PROVIDE ELECTION IDENTIFICATION CERTIFICATES

AUSTIN, TX – “We are deeply concerned that eligible voters could be disenfranchised this November and we urge the Secretary of State to expand her efforts to provide Election Identification Certificates to voters who need them,” according to Elaine Wiant, President of the League of Women Voters of Texas.”

The League of Women Voters of Texas along with Public Citizen, Mi Familia Vota Education Fund and Texas Freedom Network Education today called on the Secretary of State, Nandita Berry to expand the 2013 efforts to provide EICs to voters who need them.

The League and its partners recommend that the State provide mobile ID stations in each of the major metropolitan areas (Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Houston, McAllen and San Antonio) for at least seven days, including at least two weekend days, between now and Election Day. Additional locations outside of the major metropolitan areas including rural communities should also be provided to adequately respond to the needs of Texas voters.

In order to make the mobile ID stations accessible to those without the required IDs, we recommend that weekend and non-traditional work hours such as evenings be emphasized in all communities. The groups asked that the dates and locations of the mobile ID stations be set at least 21 days in advance, in order to give individuals sufficient time to obtain the underlying documentation required, such as birth certificates, to obtain EICs.

According to Wiant, “Local leaders are best positioned to identify the communities with the greatest need for this service and the places that community members can most easily access. Therefore, we ask that the Secretary ask local leaders for recommendations for selecting locations for the mobile ID stations.”

The State had previously estimated that a substantial number of registered Texas voters-between 600,000 and 800,000-lack an approved form of photo ID. The data provided to the United States Department of Justice as of September 2011 and January 2012 show that minority communities could be disparately impacted. In addition, a federal court found that “a substantial subgroup of Texas voters, many of whom are African American or Hispanic, lack photo ID” and that the “burdens associated with obtaining ID” will weigh most heavily upon the State’s racial minorities. Young people ages 18 to 24 and the elderly are also believed to be among those who are more likely than the general population to not have an approved form of photo ID.

The November 2014 election is the first major election under the Texas photo ID requirement. To be accepted, the ID must be current or expired no more than 60 days, and be one of the following:
Texas driver’s license, personal ID card, concealed carry license, or election identification certificate, or

  • United States passport, military ID, citizenship or naturalization certificate
  • Photo IDS that cannot be accepted at the polls include out-of-state driver’s licenses, employer IDs, and school IDs.

An exact match between the name on the photo ID and the list of registered voters is not required to be accepted to vote a regular ballot. If names don’t match, additional information will be considered in accepting the voter. Voters without acceptable ID will be able to vote a provisional ballot and provide ID within 6 days of the election.

An Election Identification Certificate can be obtained by voters without one of the other acceptable IDs by providing proof of citizenship and identity at Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) offices.

Battleground Texas, which has joined the call for more mobile ID stations, put out this helpful backgrounder on the issue. That state estimate of 600,000 to 800,000 voters who lack ID is the low end – up to 1.2 million registered voters may lack the accepted forms of ID, and black and Latino voters are far more likely to be in that bucket than white voters. The state of Texas and Greg Abbott in his role as its attorney have claimed repeatedly that there was nothing discriminatory or suppressionist about the voter ID law. Doing their best to ensure that all eligible voters who lack ID can get it would be a step in the direction of backing up those claims.

Three days of early voting in SD06

I’m not sure that the Chron’s classification of early voting so far in SD06 is accurate, but I’m not sure how I myself would characterize it since we have so few precedents to draw on.

Three days into early voting, the race to replace the late state Sen. Mario Gallegos continues to heat up, as does the balloting.

The first large batch of mail-in ballots was returned Friday, outpacing voters who visited the polls in person. Since early voting began, 1,561 ballots have been cast, two thirds of them in person. More votes were recorded Friday, 805, than in the two preceding days, 756.

Early voting continues through Jan. 22. Election Day is Jan. 26.

You can see the EV totals so far here. As noted, the difference was the arrival of mail ballots on Friday. 451 absentee ballots were received on Friday, which is more than the in-person total on any of the three days so far. I expect early voting to pick up as it always does, and every day of EV is from 7 to 7 except for next Sunday, which should be a boost as well, but I also expect that more than half the total ballots will be cast early. It sure would be nice to see some bigger daily numbers going forward.

Rice University political scientist Mark Jones describes the relatively late date as “a strategic delay” on the part of Gov. Rick Perry and his fellow Republicans, who realize that the likely winner will be one of the Democratic candidates.

“Under the Senate’s two-thirds rule, until the new SD-6 senator arrives, the Republicans need to convince only one Democrat to vote with them to pass legislation, whereas once Alvarado or Garcia arrives in Austin, they will need two,” he said in an email.

On most legislation the difference is irrelevant, Jones said, but not on such controversial issues as the fetal pain bill, for example.

“With only 30 senators, the Republicans will need to tailor the final legislation to obtain the backing of only one of the handful of pro-life Democrats, not two of them,” he said. “The result will, quite possibly, be legislation that is closer to the Republican ideal than would have been the case if the support of both was required.”

There are three “pro-life” Dems in the Senate – Eddie Lucio, Carlos Uresti, and Judith Zaffirini – and it took all three of their votes to let the awful sonogram bill through. That was because Republican Jeff Wentworth joined the other nine Dems in opposing it, but he was ousted in favor of the wingnut Donna Campbell in last year’s GOP primary, so as noted once the new Senator is seated the GOP will only need two defections to overcome the two-thirds rule for further atrocities. Until then, one is enough.

For those of you still making up your minds about whom to support, the League of Women Voters Houston is here to help:

The League of Women Voters of Houston Education Fund is pleased to announce that the full two-hour Conversations with the Candidates telecast covering the Texas State Senate District 6 Special Election is now available for viewing on demand.

The Conversations program was originally telecast live on Thursday, January 10, 2013 on the channels of Houston MediaSource TV (Comcast Channel 17, ATT Uverse Channel 99 or livestreamed at www.hmstv.org, and will be re-telecast on:

Monday           1/21/13            3:00 pm

Tuesday          1/22/13            8:00 am

Tuesday          1/22/13            4:30 pm

Wednesday     1/23/13             2:30 pm

Thursday         1/24/13            4:30 pm

Friday             1/25/13            8:00 am

All eight declared candidates were invited to attend.  The seven who participated, in order of appearance, were:  Sylvia Garcia, Carol Alvarado, Maria Selva, Joaquin Martinez, Rudy Reyes, R. W. Bray and Dorothy Olmos.

The unique “candidate conveyor belt” format allowed each candidate the opportunity to explain his or her philosophy of governance and positions on selected issues.  Each candidate separately, in an order determined by drawing numbers, sat at a round table and participated in a friendly conversation with two League officials.

Members of the media are welcome to use Conversations material in their reports, and are encouraged to offer the public viewing opportunities via websites, social media or other vectors.  However, we ask that the program be made available in its entirety and without edits.  Our on-demand viewing page notes the order of candidate appearance for those who wish to scroll through to watch particular segments.

There have been numerous candidate forums as well, including one on Friday that was boycotted by Green Party candidate Maria Selva because it was sponsored by TransCanada, the company constructing the Keystone XL pipeline. From her press release, which you can see here:

“Tar sands refining will increase toxic air pollution along the Houston Ship Channel, negatively impacting the health of the people in District 6. The whole tar sands operation from mining to refining drastically increases carbon dioxide emissions which contribute to global warming and climate change, and is at odds with the push for clean, safe energy that is one of the principal goals of my campaign,” Selva said.

“This controversial firm [TransCanada] that Houstonians and Texans have been fighting to keep out of the state should not have inappropriate influence over the candidates by sponsoring a debate among candidates who would make decisions affecting it,” said Selva.

“Candidates who seek to represent the citizens of Texas Senate district 6 should not be attending events sponsored by corporations that will poison the air of the people they claim to want to represent. We need to keep money out of politics, and that starts with removing money and inappropriate influence from the decision-making process of citizens.”

I realize that opinions tend to differ about this sort of tactic, but I personally think it’s more effective in general for a candidate to participate in an event where she has issues like this with a sponsor and tell everyone in attendance at her turn to speak exactly how she feels. It’s almost certainly the case that the vast majority of attendees have no idea about any of this, and as such you have the opportunity to inform them. A press release is easy to ignore, assuming you ever knew of its existence in the first place. Someone telling you something to your face isn’t. Just my opinion.

And while I’m on the subject, I really have no idea what if any role the state government has in this. I know the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline is a federal matter. You know who would be in an excellent position to educate ignoramuses such as myself about what the state government can do to affect or prevent the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline? Someone who’s running for a state government office, like Maria Selva, that’s who. Yet on her campaign website, her Facebook page, and this article about a protest in which she was quoted, I have learned nothing more about the Keystone XL pipeline than the fact that Maria Selva opposes it, which I already knew. Look, there are more starting quarterbacks in the NFL than there are members of the Texas Senate. There are very few people in Texas who can affect what happens in Texas more than the 31 Senators. What exactly would Maria Selva do as one of these uniquely powerful people to put her beliefs into action? Is there some bill she would introduce, or try to block, or some existing law she would seek to repeal? Is there a hearing she could hold, or some official she would seek to influence? I can only speculate because Maria Selva has not provided that information anywhere I can find, and she declined a golden opportunity to inform an audience that would have been well served to hear it.

As you know, I interview a lot of candidates, and I generally don’t press them to be this specific about the process. Usually, just knowing what their principles are, and whether they support or oppose something that’s already out there, is sufficient. This is one of those times where it isn’t, for two reasons. One, as I just said, is because it’s not clear how the elected office in question is relevant to the candidate’s belief and the action she would like to take. If the main thing that will happen when you get elected is that you’ll go from a protester/activist to a protester/activist with an honorific, I’m not sure you’re making the best case for your candidacy or the best use of the political process. Second, if one of your complaints as a “third party” or “fringe” candidate is that you get no respect from the establishment, by which I mean the media and the various actors in the political process, and that your views never get a fair hearing, I say it’s on you to make it clear what is being missed by your exclusion. Show me how your perspective that doesn’t neatly fit into a two-party system would bring something new and needed to the table. If I were to ask Carol Alvarado or Sylvia Garcia – or RW Bray, for that matter – about Keystone, I’d expect them to say something like “That’s a federal matter”, and I’d find that to be an acceptable answer. Maria Selva had the chance to demonstrate why that isn’t an acceptable answer, but she didn’t take it. Further, from what I can tell it’s not clear that she could demonstrate that.

Putting this another way, if I still lived in SD06 I almost certainly wouldn’t vote for Maria Selva regardless, because I think Alvarado and Garcia are the two best candidates in the race. But if Maria Selva could articulate a way for a Senator to take on this issue – or any other, for that matter, especially one that isn’t being addressed by other candidates – and it made sense to me, I would at the very least press the candidates I would consider voting for to take a position on it. You want someone to listen to you, give them a reason to listen. I don’t think I’m asking for too much here.

Women’s Equality Day celebration

This seems like something we could all use right about now:

The League of Women Voters of Houston Education Fund today announces Rising Stars of 2012, men and women who have made important contributions to the Houston community and whose work will continue to call forth a bright and hopeful future.

Rising Stars will be recognized at the League’s annual Women’s Equality Day Commemoration on Wednesday., Aug. 22, 2012, from 6:00 to 8:00 pm at the historic Julia Ideson Library. Mayor Annise Parker and Ms. Kathy Hubbard serve as honorary co-chairs.

The event celebrates the 92nd anniversary of the 19th Constitutional Amendment, the amendment that gave American Women the right to vote.

The reception will also feature a salute to four notable Houstonians, premier communicators who set the stage for lively and learned conversation in the modern public square: Mary Benton (KPRC-TV), Ernie Manouse (PBS Channel 8), Grace Olivares (Univision 45) and Mark Pirtle (Houston MediaSource TV). The winner of the Carrie Chapman Catt award for emerging leaders will also be announced.

“It is endlessly astonishing to me,” said LWV-Houston President Linda Cohn, “that there are so many people alive today – including my own mother – who were born into an America where women could not vote. One small tick on the national timeline separates us from an indignity our children cannot even imagine. Let’s take a moment to honor suffragists like Miss Julia Ideson. Let this new generation of Rising Stars take courage from their achievements and remember that an informed and active citizenry remains the proven path to good government and a good life for every American.”

See here for the list of Rising Stars, and here for information on tickets. I am unfortunately unable to attend, but I hope you can. The LWV does good work, and it’s going to have its hands full this fall.

Christina Gorczynski – Mission Possible: Youth Engagement

The following is from a series of guest posts that I will be presenting over the next few weeks.

Christina Gorczynski

Ask the League of Women Voters to do a guest blog and what do you get? Brace yourself, readers, for a civic engagement pep talk.

The year was 1920. The National American Woman Suffrage Association had chalked up victory: the nineteenth amendment to the Constitution was adopted and women at last won the right to vote. The next step? Morph that Suffrage Association into a League of Women Voters and work in communities all over the country to teach a brand-new voting population about the candidates and the issues with the goal of encouraging voters to cast an informed ballot. It’s been nine-two years and we’re still at it. Because it still works.

Presently, the League is engaging youth voters and we need your help. If you’re between the ages of 18 to 25 and you’re reading this you’re politically engaged, and that’s especially significant because half of your contemporaries are not. Though many are not politically active, according to statistics, they are civically-engaged, which provides you an opportunity to draw them into the political process. More individuals between the ages of 18 to 25 volunteer in their communities, share opinions about politics and contact their elected officials than actually vote. They are interested and clearly care about their communities.

Young people volunteer for youth, civic/neighborhood, issue-specific and faith-based organizations at a much higher rate than they vote, participate in elections or volunteer for political campaigns/organizations. They have not made the connections between issues, elections, laws and policies and they are waiting for invitations and role models.

According to research, the young people who do get involved with politics are trying to solve a particular social issue and they are highly likely to be involved because someone invited them to participate. They are likely to stay involved if they have role models who teach them how to engage in democracy, and you are those role models. Our system is counting on you to educate your peers, so consider this article as my personal invitation to you.

If you want to engage young people, the first step is meeting them where they are. Volunteer for a youth-based organization. Step out of the political field to coach youth sports, participate in a mentoring program, judge a high school debate contest, sponsor a scout troop or teach a class at your place of worship. Invite them to make civic life part of their life. Better yet, come volunteer for the League of Women Voters to visit high schools with me.

When you engage in face-to-face, peer-to-peer communication with young people on their turf, you have the power to make an impact and the next step is registering them to vote. Tell young people that their opinions matter and that they have ideas that can resolve social problems. Assume that they are not registered, and know that once registered, they become more likely to vote and more likely to pay attention to your calls to action.

As far as calls to action, I will provide you with suggestions and encourage you use your own best instincts. Rock The Vote produced this excellent resource for candidates and campaigns regarding youth engagement which encourages asking new voters to make a pledge to vote. The advice seems sound and they provide statistics on effectiveness.

My personal favorite call to action is to tell them to contact their elected officials to provide feedback and ask questions. I walk them through the process of figuring out who represents them in Washington, Austin, and Houston. Next, I provide them with the League of Women

Voters of Houston Directory of Elected Officials which is a list of contact information for every official who represents the people of Harris County. You can also encourage them to interact with candidates, political groups and elected officials on Facebook and Twitter.

Be prepared to hear that one vote doesn’t matter. Be prepared to hear that whole elections don’t matter. Don’t buy any of it. Remember that elections are the way we make decisions; that they’re the way we extend what’s right and fix what’s wrong and get on with the business of creating happiness and prosperity. You are part of our national conversation and make America the place we want it to be.

And remember that the League of Women Voters is here to help.

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Christina Canales Gorczynski is the Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Houston. You can contact Christina via email [email protected] and via Twitter http://twitter.com/LWVHouston.
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The League of Women Voters of the Houston Area is a nonpartisan political organization which works to promote civic responsibility through informed and active participation in government.
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Thank you to The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University for the extensive research in the field of youth engagement. Thank you also to Rock the Vote and Texas League of Young Voters for their work to register young people.

Some useful stuff from the LWV

Here, from the League of Women Voters Houston are a couple of useful documents for you: the Handy Dandy 2012 Primary Guide and the 2012 Directory of Elected Officials. It’s true that you could find this stuff for yourself online, but it’s nice to have it all in one convenient – and easy to print, if you’re into that sort of thing or know someone who is – location. This has been such a strange year that even I am having a hard time getting into “it’s almost time to vote!” mode, but early voting will be upon us before you know it. I expect they’ll have a voter’s guide out in a couple of weeks as well. Check ’em out and pass them along to the people who are always asking you for information about who represents them and when they’re supposed to vote.

League of Women Voters Houston 2011 Guide

For your perusal, in a printer-friendly format. (The Spanish language guide is here. It contains information about voter registration laws and the Constitutional amendments, and a brief Q&A with candidates from all the Houston races, including HISD and HCC. The League has also done numerous candidate forums for this cycle, all of which were recorded and can be seen on Vimeo – a complete archive of their forum videos is here. Early voting starts today, so take advantage of their hard work and catch up on any race you want to know more about.

League of Women Voters candidate debates

The League of Women Voters of Houston Education Fund will hold a series of debates for candidates running for Council and Mayor, starting this evening. From their press release:

The League of Women Voters of Houston Education Fund is pleased to announce that we will sponsor a comprehensive series of one-hour Candidate Debates covering all contested municipal election races on the November 2011 General Election ballot. All declared candidates were invited to participate in their respective debates; some may choose not to attend.

We are committed to providing our community with helpful resources that will encourage an informed choice on Election Day and we believe that the Municipal Candidate Debate Series is an important element of this outreach.

The Municipal Candidates Debates Series will be telecast live from the studios of Houston MediaSource TV on Thursday evenings starting on September 8. The programs may be viewed on the Houston MediaSource TV website (www.hmstv.org), on Comcast Channel 17 or on AT&T Uverse Channel 99. There is no studio audience for the debate. However, members of the media are cordially invited to watch the debates from a remote viewing area within the Houston MediaSource Building (410 Roberts Street).

Ernie Manouse will serve as moderator for all debates. Mr. Manouse, a three-time Emmy winner, hosts the popular “InnerVIEWS with Ernie Manouse” series broadcast locally on Houston PBS.

Just so you know, I was one of the people that Manouse asked to submit questions that may be used during the debate. Fame and fortune will follow shortly, I’m sure. Here’s the full schedule of the debates:

September 8 Houston City Council Position 1 6:30 pm Houston City Council Position 3 8:00 pm September 15 Houston City Council Position 4 6:30 pm Houston City Council Position 5 8:00 pm September 22 Houston City Council District A 6:30 pm Houston City Council District F 8:00 pm October 6 Houston City Council Position 2 6:30 pm Houston City Council District B 8:00 pm October 13 Houston City Council District C 6:30 pm Houston City Council District D 8:00 pm October 20 Houston City Council District J 6:30 pm Houston City Council District K 8:00 pm October 27 Houston Mayor 6:30 pm

Some of these races have very large fields. At Large #2 has ten candidates filed, District B has eight. Those may present some logistical challenges for the format. Tune in for yourself and see.

LWV update

The following email has been sent to League of Women Voters registration volunteers:

To Our Voter Registration Volunteers:

It is with great pleasure that I write to tell you that we shall after all be able to provide our usual on-the-spot voter registration service to new citizens at the Houston Area Naturalization Ceremony to be held on December 15th. And, with a few minor procedural tweaks, we anticipate being able to continue with this excellent program in 2011 and beyond.

Mr. Sumner’s plans were unsupportable as a matter of law, as a matter of wise governance and as a matter of simple good sense.

I ask you to make every effort to join our Corps of Volunteers and help welcome new citizens to the electorate on December 15th.

As always, please reply to this email and let us know if you’ll be able to be there. We’ll then provide additional instructions and prepare your credentials. It’s going to be a great day.

With kindest regards from Ann and from me,

Linda W. Cohn

The League of Women Voters of the Houston Area
Education Fund

I’m very glad to hear it, and I look forward to receiving word that the matter has been satisfactorily resolved.

Meanwhile, the Chron editorial board took notice of Sumners’ actions.

Seems to us that facilitating the registration of new citizens should be a top priority of an elected official with voter registrar responsibilities, and we don’t know of a surer pool of potential voters than those people who’ve just been sworn in as U.S. citizens.

[…]

After the controversy erupted, Sumners announced he would seek a waiver from the Texas secretary of state to allow the League of Women Voters to collect the registration forms and deliver them to his office. He also postponed the change in policy pending review by the Justice Department. It’s too bad he didn’t do that before setting off a needless brouhaha.

Linda W. Cohn, voter registration chair for the league, says she’s received assurances from the Texas secretary of state’s office that the current method of registering voters at naturalization ceremonies is proper and that the process will continue at the ceremony next Wednesday. “I am concerned that one of Mr. Sumners’ first acts of governance was so ill-considered,” notes Cohn. “It would seem to me that a voter registrar would so happily embrace the opportunity to welcome new citizens to the electorate at a minuscule cost to the tax office.”

We hope this is not an indication of the quality of policy decision-making by Sumners in the future. Now that the election’s over, we believe Commissioners Court should create an independent election administrator position that will insulate this vital governmental function from the partisanship and issue grandstanding exhibited by recent tax assessor-collectors.

I for one am quite certain that this is an indication of the quality of Sumners’ future policy decision-making. I’ve expressed some concerns about the elections administrator idea, but minimizing the damage Sumners is capable of doing outweighs a lot of that.

More on Sumners and the LWV

I’ve got some updates on the change in policy by Tax Assessor-to-be Don Sumners regarding voter registrations at naturalization ceremonies. First, Sumners has acknowledged the need to get pre-clearance from the Justice Department for any changes to voter registration procedures, so the change has been suspended pending resolution of that. Linda Cohn, the Voter Registration chair for the League of Women Voters, forwarded me an email chain between herself and the Secretary of State’s office that confirmed that as long as there is a Tax Office employee present to take immediate custody of the registration forms then no receipts are required. I can’t share that because I have not had the chance to ask permission from the SOS employee who corresponded with Cohn, but I do have a few other items:

Here’s Sumners’ letter to the LWV informing them of the change in policy.

Here’s the LWV response (page one, page two), which asserts that he has his facts wrong.

And here’s a brief conversation I had with Cohn recapping some of these items:

Download the MP3 file

The good news is that the LWV and Sumners are discussing possible resolutions to this that would allow them to continue their work; one possibility that she mentions is for an LWV representative (likely herself) to substitute for the Tax Office person for the purpose of taking immediate custody of the registrations.. That’s all well and good, and I hope her optimism about a mutually agreeable outcome is warranted. But I’ve got to agree with Greg that this is going to be par for the course, not just from Sumners but from all of the voter regression crowd, which is why the fight over voter ID and similar measures is still vitally important no matter what the partisan makeup is in the Lege or what those who think the right to vote isn’t all that big a deal say.