Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Secretary of State

More on the lawsuit against Paxton’s deranged ballot access opinion

There are actually three counties suing him, not just the one I had originally noted.

The only criminal involved

At least three Texas counties — Tarrant, Williamson, and Harris — have sued Attorney General Ken Paxton and are asking a judge to strike down a legal opinion he released last year that says anyone can access voted ballots right after an election. The lawsuits allege Paxton’s opinion violates state and federal law, contradicts his own previous direction on the issue, and exposes local election administrators to potential criminal charges.

For decades, the attorney general’s office advised counties that voted ballots were to be kept secure for 22 months after an election, a timeframe mandated by federal law and Texas state election code. But only months before the November 2022 general election, even though neither law had changed, Paxton released an opinion saying the documents could be released to anyone who requested them, almost right after the ballots were counted.

Now, counties and election officials across the state are stuck. They can follow Paxton’s new opinion — which is only a written interpretation of the law — and potentially open themselves up to criminal penalties for violating state law, or they can defy the state attorney general and open up themselves to costly lawsuits.

That’s why now the counties are asking a judge to step in and settle the question.

Paxton’s office did not respond to emails requesting comment. Paxton so far has filed a response only to Tarrant County’s lawsuit, which was filed in October and was the first of the three challenges. Paxton’s office denied the county’s claims.

Experts say the move by three different counties to challenge the Texas attorney general’s legal opinion speaks to the complicated position it has put local election officials in. His opinion, they say, has caused chaos, and has no basis in state law.

“These counties don’t have a choice. They have to worry about whether Ken Paxton is going to take action against them,” said Chad Dunn, an Austin-based attorney and an expert on Texas election law. Dunn said Paxton’s opinion “is laughable. The election code is clear. I’ll be just shocked if the state court system ends up agreeing with Ken Paxton and the ballots are public.”

[…]

The Texas attorney general’s office, including Paxton’s own administration, has affirmed this interpretation of the law since the 1980s. The practice of keeping the ballots preserved and confidential for 22 months, experts say, prevents the documents from being tampered with or compromised and protects the documents’ reliability in case there’s a request for recount or other election challenges.

Paxton released his opinion in August after a request from state Sen. Kelly Hancock and state Rep. Matt Krause, both Republicans, who said members of the public and legislators desired “to audit the outcome of Texas elections.” In a footnote, Paxton acknowledged that the attorney general’s office had issued a previous opinion in 1988, before he took office, saying unauthorized access to the ballots during the preservation period is prohibited. But the new opinion offers no clear explanation of his decision to change a decades-old precedent.

Paxton’s office “does not have the authority to make or change the law; that is a responsibility that solely rests with the Texas Legislature,” Tarrant County’s lawsuit says.

Paxton’s new opinion does not address the potential criminal exposure of election officials, who could be charged with a misdemeanor amounting to $4,000 in fines or up to a year in jail, or offer a clear timeframe of how quickly election clerks must provide the records to requesters.

“The Election Code provides a few limited circumstances where the custodian has express authority to access ballots prior to the 22-month expiration. Responding to [public information] requests is not one of those circumstances,” the Williamson County lawsuit says.

The three lawsuits are technically challenging Paxton’s Public Information Act decisions — which experts say is not an uncommon practice — and not his legal opinion directly. In order for counties to be able to challenge an attorney general’s opinion in court, the counties must have “standing and show a reason why it affects” them said Bob Heath, an Austin-based election and voting rights lawyer and a former chair of the opinions committee of the Texas attorney general’s office. The counties are doing so through the Public Information Act challenges that are based on Paxton’s decision, which Heath says is “wrong.”

“That’s a way to get to this opinion, and the opinion obviously poses a real problem for counties or for election administrators and county clerks,” Heath said.

See here, here, and here for the background. I don’t have much to add to what I’ve already said, I’m just waiting to see when the court will issue a ruling. After that, it’s a matter of what the Supreme Court will do. I have some hope, but these days that always has to be tempered with extreme anxiety. Stay tuned.

Paxton sued over his deranged ballot access opinion

Good.

The only criminal involved

The Williamson County attorney’s office has sued Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, claiming a ruling he made that gives the public immediate access to ballots after an election violates state law.

County officials, the lawsuit said, can be charged with a misdemeanor if they release the information before a 22-month period required by the state election code that ballots must be kept confidential.

[…]

Three people requested to see the Williamson County ballots on Aug. 17, 2022, and Aug. 23, 2022, from different county elections, including all 2021 elections and the March 2022 primary, according to the lawsuit. The only reason they gave for their request was that the attorney general had ruled on Aug. 17, 2022, that ballot information could be released before the 22-month waiting period if there was a public information request for it, said the lawsuit.

County officials, the lawsuit said, did not want to release the information before the 22-month waiting period was over, saying the information was confidential, according to the Texas Election Code.

The attorney general’s office responded in a Nov. 9 letter saying that the ballot information is public information and that the county must release it immediately, the lawsuit said.

The county disagreed with Paxton’s ruling, saying the Texas Legislature “has decreed that the voted ballots remain secure for the 22-month preservation period and has criminalized the unauthorized access to those ballots,” according to the lawsuit.

“The Attorney General does not have the authority to overrule the expressed command of the Legislature by ruling that the Open Records Act supersedes the Election Code provision.”

The lawsuit also said that Paxton had made multiple rulings the county had received in 2022 “that the ballots and cast vote records were confidential during the 22-month preservation period” before Paxton changed his mind and ruled that the public must be allowed access to the ballots.

Linda Eads, a law professor at Southern Methodist University and a former deputy attorney general for litigation for the state of Texas, said she was shocked by Paxton’s August ruling.

“Section 66.058 (of the Texas Election Code) is specific and makes clear that election information is deemed confidential and must be treated as such, even if the more general statute Section 1.012 says election information is public information,” said Eads.

See here and here for some background. The courts have on occasion been willing to put a check on Paxton’s power, and I hope this will be one of those times. At least we’re in the state courts, so the Fifth Circuit won’t be involved. The Lege could modify the law in question to moot the claim, but with any luck there won’t be the time or the inclination to do that in this session. We may have to worry about it again in 2025, but we have enough to occupy ourselves with now, so let’s not borrow trouble.

Yep, still no voter fraud found

So says the official 2020 election audit.

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 2022 mail ballot rejection report

Still getting better, still some room to improve.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abbott to nominate Jane Nelson as next SOS

That was quick.

Jane Nelson

Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday he will nominate retiring state Sen. Jane Nelson to be secretary of state. The announcement comes one day after John Scott said he would step down from the role at the end of the year.

Nelson, R-Flower Mound, is retiring from the Senate this year after 30 years in the Legislature. Her nomination to be the state’s top elections official will give Abbott a strong candidate for Senate approval after his last three nominees dating to 2018 have failed to be confirmed.

“I look forward to this new chapter of public service and appreciate the confidence Governor Abbott has placed in me to serve as Secretary of State,” Nelson said in a statement. “Voters expect fair elections with accurate, timely results, and I am committed to making that happen. Texans with all political views should have faith in our election system.”

[…]

Nelson’s nomination brings a longtime veteran of state politics to the role. She is the longest-serving Republican in the Texas Senate and has passed bills on changes to medical liability, property taxes, the state’s long-troubled foster care system, mental health care, domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking. She also was the first woman to lead the powerful Senate Finance Committee, which writes the state budget, and passed legislation to create the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

In recent years, Nelson’s time at the Legislature has been focused on the state budget, and she has not been as involved in elections legislation. Like the rest of her Senate Republican colleagues, she voted in favor of a sweeping elections bill last session that tightened election laws in the state and that Democrats decried as voter suppression. The legislation banned programs that expanded access to voting like 24-hour voting and drive-thru voting and put limits on the number of hours counties could keep polls open.

Her office did not immediately respond to an interview request about her nomination.

Nelson’s nomination is a strategic political move by Abbott, who has seen a revolving door of elections officials who were unable to get through the confirmation process.

Scott did not have to undergo the Senate’s confirmation process because he is resigning before the Legislature’s biennial session to return to private practice. But Abbott’s last two nominees before him, David Whitley and Ruth Ruggero Hughs, held out for most of their respective legislative sessions waiting for confirmations that did not come.

Whitley was derailed by Democrats’ opposition to him because of his supervision of an attempt to purge the voter rolls of 100,000 voters, many of whom had Hispanic surnames and had previously not been U.S. citizens but subsequently became naturalized. Hughs’ confirmation process flew under the radar, but activists who have cast doubt on the integrity of elections without evidence opposed her confirmation because her office had claimed the 2020 elections were “smooth and secure.” She resigned before ever facing a hearing.

Nelson’s status in the Senate’s Republican Caucus and her proximity to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who leads the chamber, make her confirmation more likely. And because Scott has pledged to release the results of the audit under his tenure, any lingering issues with that review will not fall on Nelson.

See here for the background. Whatever else one might say about Jane Nelson, she’s a serious policy person and has always struck me as an institutionalist. She’s certainly conservative, but I don’t associate her with the modern wingnut faction, in part because she’s been there for so long and in part because I’m just not aware of her saying crazy or radical things. There’s no one that Greg Abbott would nominate that I would prefer to be Secretary of State, but a serious policy person who has no track record of wanting to burn shit down is about as good as we can hope for. I wish her the best and hope she doesn’t make a fool out of me.

Time for the biennial salute to the new Secretary of State

So long, John. Hope the next guy is better than you were.

Texas Secretary of State John Scott will step down from his role as the state’s top elections official at the end of the year.

“When I took office as Texas Secretary of State in October of last year, I did so with a singular goal and mission in mind: to help restore Texas voters’ confidence in the security of our state’s elections,” Scott wrote in a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday. Scott said he would be returning to private practice.

Scott has served as interim secretary of state since last October, but he has struggled to walk the line between reassuring the public that the state’s elections are safe and secure and entertaining questions from some vocal critics who cast doubt on the integrity of elections. The Dallas Morning News first reported the departure.

Scott oversaw four statewide elections during his time as secretary of state. He also supervised an audit of the 2020 elections in four of the state’s largest counties. Critics have falsely said those elections included outsized voter fraud and irregularities. The first phase of the audit was released on New Year’s Eve 2021 and found no significant evidence of widespread fraud.

A news release from Scott’s office said he would release the findings of the audit before his departure on Dec. 31.

Scott came close a couple of times to actually saying the right thing about election denialism, but in the end he never overcame his lack of trustworthiness. Sometime in the next few months Greg Abbott will nominate a new person for SOS, and either that person will get confirmed by the Senate or will have to step down in two years as Scott is now doing. The Dems in the Senate do have some leverage as far as that goes, so maybe Abbott will decide to appoint someone relatively non-controversial. I don’t hold out a lot of hope for that, but you never know. Texas Public Radio and the Chron have more.

DaSean Jones wins after provisional and cured mail ballots are counted

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

Judge DaSean Jones

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is all still so dumb.

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the meantime:

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is all so dumb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mail ballot rejections were down for November

Good, but still room for more improvement.

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

What AG “task force”?

Who knows?

Best mugshot ever

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does the task force actually exist?

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

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

Justice Department agrees to send election monitors

Good.

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

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

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

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

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

Fewer mail ballots rejected in November

Good, but still could be better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

It always comes down to fluoride

I swear, it’s at the root of most election conspiracy fantasies.

Laura Pressley and three other people huddled inside a Fredericksburg courtroom Monday, bowing their heads, closing their eyes, holding hands, and beginning to pray in hushed voices.

“In Jesus’ name, Amen,” the group whispered, just moments before the trial was set to begin in their lawsuit contesting the results of a three-year-old city election.

Their prayers appear to have gone unanswered. On Monday, almost immediately after arguments concluded, 216th District Court Judge Stephen Ables denied the relief they sought. He would not, he said, overturn the election.

“I had to make a finding that these ‘irregularities’ changed the results of the election,” he said. “I don’t think I have the basis to do that.”

The lawsuit was filed against Fredericksburg’s former mayor in early 2020 by poll watcher and anti-fluoride activist Jeannette Hormuth and local election judge Jerry Farley of Fredericksburg. The suit claimed election malfeasance in connection with the defeat of a 2019 proposal to remove fluoride from the city’s water system. Pressley’s Austin-based attorney, Roger Borgelt, represented Hormuth and Farley in court Monday.

It is the latest in a string of court losses for Pressley, a long-time Central Texas anti-fluoride activist, conspiracy theorist, perennial candidate for office, and self-styled trainer for poll watchers who even has her own state political action committee. This year alone, the Texas Supreme Court has dismissed at least two lawsuits she filed against the secretary of state, in which she claims the office isn’t following election law. This pattern, election experts and advocates say, promotes misinformation, wastes resources, and could further harm the election process.

“You see this maneuver among these fringe conspiratorial organizations where a lot of times they say that ‘there’s reason to believe that there’s fraud’ in the election system, but what they point to are, at worst, deviations from procedure,” said James Slattery, senior attorney for the Texas Civil Rights Project’s voting rights program. “This is merely one tactic in that broader strategy to undermine faith in elections.”

See here and here fore more Gillespie County shenanigans. Many years ago, I wrote about my first encounter with Texas politics, a 1985 referendum in San Antonio to finally add fluoride to their city’s water, which went down to defeat thanks to some local weirdos and a lot of fearmongering. The more things change, and all that. I think my headline for that post is one of my better efforts.

Still, while I remain capable of being somewhat amused by these characters, there are real world effects outside of good dental hygiene that they can have, and they’re just as bad for us:

One lawsuit, tossed out by a judge last month, sought to direct the secretary of state to retract advice the office gave counties about the use of randomly numbered ballots. Borgelt told Votebeat he’d already filed a motion for a rehearing on the decision.

Experts have time and time again said the practice Pressley’s allies advocate — consecutively numbering ballots — could facilitate election fraud. Consecutively numbered ballots could also more easily make voters identifiable, and aren’t necessary for audits.

Putting my cybersecurity hat on for a moment, using sequential numbers like this is a known vulnerability for databases that could allow for entire datasets to be easily stolen. Any code that involved secure data that did this would flunk an audit. So maybe we shouldn’t be taking suggestions about election security from known crackpots. I’m just saying.

John Scott keeps wanting to have it both ways

You’re kind of close to getting it, John. You do need to do better, though.

Speaking in July to a group of concerned conservative voters in Dallas, Texas Secretary of State John Scott declared that Texas elections were the nation’s most secure.

But just a few minutes earlier, he was joking with the crowd about a Texas county with more voters than residents, rumors of dead men voting and stories of electioneering dating back to Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1948 senatorial campaign.

“Cheating is not something that’s isolated to Democrats or Republicans,” Scott said to members of the Dallas Jewish Conservatives that summer evening. “People have been cheating in elections for as long as there’s been elections. The trick is to try and catch them.”

Then, Scott fielded questions from the group who expressed serious skepticism about the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election results. Over the next hour and a half, Scott batted down disproven claims of widespread fraud and, in one instance, briefly defended himself from insinuations that he too was part of the anti-democratic scheme that audience members were convinced was happening in real time.

The evening was in many ways emblematic of Scott’s tenure as the state’s chief elections officer, marked by occasional mixed messages in an effort to build trust in an election system without alienating a base of voters who increasingly view election denialism as a party platform.

[…]

In an interview last week, Scott expressed some regret about his choice of words when talking to the Dallas Jewish Conservatives group earlier this year. But Scott said he has not spread election misinformation, whether that night or throughout his yearlong tenure. Rather, he said, he has sought to meet people where they are as a means of gaining trust and assuage their concerns through transparency.

“Am I probably more flippant than most? Yes,” he said. “Are there better public speakers? I’m sure there probably are. Are there better messengers? Yeah, I’m sure there’s better messengers. But I don’t know that there’s a better way to convey a message to someone that may not necessarily be open to your message other than being a little understanding of, potentially, how they got where they are.”

Over the course of his tenure, Scott has repeatedly insisted that Joe Biden is the rightful president and that Texas’ elections are and have been free, fair and secure.

“Our elections are more accessible and safer than they’ve ever been,” he told The Texas Tribune last week.

At the same time, Scott has on occasion given oxygen to the very misinformation that he now battles full time, including through his office’s audits of elections in four of the state’s largest — and mostly Democratic-leaning — counties. Those audits are rooted in false claims that the 2020 election was stolen, and have yet to produce any evidence of serious fraud. Yet Scott has continued to justify the reviews by saying they will provide transparency and assuage the concerns of those who’ve bought in to disproven conspiracy theories.

Voting rights groups see it otherwise and fear his pronouncements on election integrity are too little, too late. They say Scott’s ties to myth-spreading Republican leaders — and his willingness to go along with audits — have needlessly injected more doubt into an already skeptical electorate ahead of a consequential midterm election. And they worry that Scott has helped lay the groundwork for a new round of even stricter voting rules — enhancements of laws that have already disenfranchised many Texans.

“He’s supposed to act as an arbiter of truth when it comes to elections,” said Alice Huling, senior legal counsel for voting rights at the Campaign Legal Center, a watchdog nonprofit founded by the former Republican chair of the Federal Election Commission that has previously sued Scott’s office over voting laws.

Huling said election officials across the country need to be much more vocal in denouncing those in their own party who have spread misinformation.

“It is not sufficient to just throw your hands up and say, ‘I’m not pushing conspiracy theories,’” she said.

It’s like I was saying. I like making jokes as much as anyone, but sometimes they’re just inappropriate. And while Scott might claim that his jokes were bipartisan in nature – the aforementioned “county with more voters than people” is the famously Republican Loving County – unless he spelled it out very clearly it’s likely that his audience took it as further evidence of rampant cheating by Democrats. Being extremely consistent in delivering the message that elections are handled with care and integrity around the country, not just in Texas, is what is needed now.

And the problem isn’t just misplaced humor, either:

But voting rights groups say Scott should have better used the bully pulpit of his office to push against those doing the duping. They say that Scott’s proximity to prominent election-deniers has made it difficult to trust what he says — and has created ambiguity that fuels fraud myths.

For example: At the July event with the Dallas Jewish Conservatives, much of the conversation centered around “2000 Mules,” a widely debunked propaganda film by longtime GOP political operative Dinesh D’Souza that alleges there was serious fraud at drop-off ballot locations in 2020. The film has been promoted by top Texas Republicans, including Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office, which oversees the exceedingly rare number of voter fraud prosecutions in the state. At the event, Scott spoke alongside Texas Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, who also represented Trump and has been a key driver of more restrictive voting laws.

While Scott did note that the premise of the film was not applicable to Texas because the state does not use drop-off balloting, he did not reject D’Souza’s debunked theory outright.

“It’s really amazing,” Scott said of the film, which he said he had recently watched. “You get an enormous amount of information … and I guess it’s scary, right? It leaves you a little angry, a little scared that that’s going on.”

Scott has since explained those comments: “My point is that none of that stuff took place in Texas,” he said last month. “I didn’t do a great deal of research on what happened in other states. So I don’t know if voter fraud was widespread or not.”

[…]

Some of the harassment has been directed at Scott, too. In an interview last month with Texas Monthly, Scott again proclaimed that the 2020 election was not stolen and disputed the findings of “2000 Mules.” His office was immediately inundated by angry voters, some of them threatening.

“You little RINO piece of shit,” one man said in a voicemail that Scott’s office provided to the Tribune. “We want everyone in this country to see what you goddamn bastards did to this country. … There’s a reason Trump reinstituted capital punishment as hanging and firing squads.”

Scott said he’s been surprised by the vitriol that’s been flung at his office and other county elections administrators over the last year.

“I think there’s a group of people that make a living off of spreading misinformation,” Scott said last week. “I think that there are some people that are absolutely mentally disturbed out there, and this gives them a purpose.”

He added that the issue didn’t emerge overnight or even in the past year — it has been “getting more and more aggravated, probably over the last six years.”

“I probably was informed enough to know that it was not necessarily going to be a clover patch here. But I don’t know that I was fully anticipating as much venom,” he said.

I mean, this is “the dog ate my homework”-level excuse-making, plus a feigned innocence that just beggars belief. If you have to be told to stay away from widely-debunked propaganda, and even worse fail to understand why it’s propaganda, then you really are completely unqualified for this job. You just can’t be trusted. I don’t know what else to say.

How voting machines work

A bit of public service from TPR that almost certainly won’t be read or believed by the people who need to see it.

So how do the voting machines used in Texas elections actually work?

First off, only two voting systems manufacturers are certified to sell their systems in Texas: Hart InterCivic and Election Systems & Software (ES&S).

Hart InterCivic systems are used in 113 counties, including Harris and Tarrant counties. ES&S systems are used in the other 141 counties, including Bexar, Travis, and Dallas counties.

Republican Texas Secretary of State John Scott explained in this video that these companies’ machines must be certified by the Election Assistance Commission, a bipartisan federal body, and the state.

“In Texas, we have even higher standards for our voting systems which must be certified by our office in conjunction with computer science experts and legal experts at the Texas Attorney General’s Office,” he added.

When either company makes an update to its machines or software, it must be re-certified before it can sell those updated systems.

One false allegation that circulated around voting machines is that they are hackable because of a connection to the internet. Scott explained why this isn’t true.

“Voting machines in Texas are never connected to the internet,” he said. “In fact, in order to be certified in Texas elections, they cannot even have the capability of connecting to the internet.”

This allegation comes from a misunderstanding about how voting data gets transferred and counted.

Both Hart InterCivic and ES&S use encrypted USB drives inside their voting systems to collect voting data and physically move those drives to county election departments to tabulate, or count, votes. The drives are designed in such a way that they can only pull data from and provide data to pre-approved computers, so they can’t be plugged into a random laptop and be tampered with.

Scott said there are extensive protocols in place to ensure the drives themselves aren’t stolen or lost.

“Once early voting begins in Texas, there are strict requirements and chain of custody protocols that poll workers must follow continuously with each voting machine,” he said.

That includes transporting the USBs in bags with numbered seals, so it’s easy to tell if they’ve been opened before they were intended to.

Once those USBs are brought to the elections department after early voting ends, they’re locked up until they can be tabulated on Election Day.

There’s more, so read the rest. The sad truth is that the facts are boring and the unhinged conspiracy theories are sexy and exciting, but what are you gonna do? The fact that SOS John Scott is part of the problem is regrettable, but this is the hand we’ve been dealt. Show the denialists in your life the facts and don’t give them an inch. It’s the best we can do.

We hit a new peak in voter registrations

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

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

Of course voters of color has more mail ballots rejected

Water is wet, the sun rises in the east, voter suppression laws disproportionately affect voters of color.

Alice Yi of Austin is frustrated when she thinks about the March primary election, when her 92-year-old father tried to vote by mail, as he had many times before, but couldn’t.

He could not remember what identification number he used to register to vote more than 30 years ago, she said. When he sent in his ballot application with the last four digits of his Social Security number, a rejection letter from the elections office said that number was not on file. Another letter later said her father, who is legally blind in one eye, failed to fill out other details, such as specifying which ballot he needed.

By the third attempt, Yi, his caregiver, worried her father’s application would not make it before the deadline and he would be unable to cast a ballot. So she took him to vote in person, for the first time in years.

Yi’s father was just one of thousands of Texans who attempted to vote by mail in the March primary, but collided with the Texas’ GOP restrictive 2021 voting law, known as Senate Bill 1. When voting by mail, the new law requires voters to write their driver’s license, personal identification number, or the last four digits of their Social Security number on their mail ballot application and mail ballot envelope — whichever number they originally used to register.

In fact, the mail-in applications and ballots of Asian, Latino, and Black Texans were rejected because of the new ID requirement at much higher rates than those of white voters, according to a study released Thursday by the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute. The office of the secretary of state declined to comment on the findings, citing pending litigation over SB 1.

Although researchers couldn’t determine the exact cause of the disparities, experts and advocates say that in addition to the voting law’s restrictions, existing factors rooted in systemic racism, such as lack of resources in their native language and other socioeconomic barriers, likely played a role in the high rejection rates.

In the March primary, 12,000 absentee ballot applications and more than 24,000 mail ballots were rejected, leading to a 12% rejection rate statewide. That represented a significant increase compared to previous years. For example, the rejection rate for the 2020 presidential election was 1%.

The study shows the rejection rate was highest for Asian voters, who were about 40% more likely to have their absentee ballot application rejected than white voters.

The study also shows that Asian and Latino voters were each more than 50% more likely than white voters to have a ballot rejected due to a problem meeting SB 1’s new requirements.

Overall, 19% of Asian voters had either their application or their mail ballot rejected due to SB1’s provisions, followed by 16.6% of Black voters and 16.1% of Latino voters. For white voters, it was 12%.

“This shows that even if you successfully applied to vote by mail, you still weren’t out of the woods, you still might have your ballot rejected,” said Kevin Morris, a researcher with the Brennan Center for Justice and one of the authors of the study. “And not only do we see this gauntlet effect happening, we see that there are big racial discrepancies in whose applications and whose ballots are rejected.”

[…]

Absentee ballot rejection rates have been lower in Texas’s smaller elections since the March primary. The mail ballot rejection rate was at 5% for the May 7 Constitutional Amendment election, according to the secretary of state’s office. For the May 24 primary runoff elections, the statewide mail ballot rejection rate across both the Republican and Democratic primaries was 3.9%. Both of those elections, however, drew only a fraction of the voters who cast ballots in the primary.

Efforts made by local election officials across Texas counties contributed to the decrease in rejections.

The study, which has some limitations that are noted in the story, is new but its findings are no surprise. I’ve said before that I’m hopeful that the error rate will continue to fall, mostly thanks to the overburdened but very hard working local officials who have done all the work to make that rejection rate go down. I’ve also now had the experience of navigating this with my elder daughter, who is voting by mail from college. I’ll be keeping track of its progress on the Harris County elections webpage. She has a couple of friends who are in college in Texas but outside the county, and I’ve advised her to tell them to just drive in and vote in person during the EV period. It’s kind of crazy, but that’s the less risky option. Hopefully that will not be the case someday.

Harris County asks for federal vote monitors

I agree with this.

Houston and Harris County officials are asking the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division to send monitors to assist in the upcoming November election in response to a letter the county received from the Texas secretary of state’s office this week informing it that state election observers would be monitoring the county’s election and vote tally.

The request to the federal agency was sent Thursday by County Judge Lina Hidalgo, County Attorney Christian Menefee and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.

In a statement, Menefee questioned the state’s intentions in sending election monitors to the county.

“We cannot allow unwarranted disruptions in our election process to intimidate our election workers or erode voters’ trust in the election process,” Menefee said. “As the county attorney, I will be at central count on Election Night, ensuring outside forces do not interfere with our elections. I hope the Department of Justice will be there, too.”

[…]

In response to the local leaders’ request for federal election monitors, the secretary of state’s office said in a statement that suggestions made by local leaders were a “cynical distortion of the law.”

The office reiterated that its decision to send monitors to Harris County was a matter of routine.

“The Texas secretary of state’s office has sent election inspectors to Harris County every year and has never before seen a request for the Department of Justice to ‘monitor the monitors,’” the statement said. “This request is based on a completely false premise and misunderstanding of Texas election law and is being used to spread false information about the actual duties of our election inspectors — dedicated public servants who will be present in Harris County to observe only and to ensure transparency in the election process from beginning to end.”

Mary Benton, the mayor’s communications director, said: “Mayor Turner welcomes a discussion with the U.S. Department of Justice. He is confident that if they send election monitors to Harris County, they will operate effectively to ensure that no registered voter’s rights are trampled on as they attempt to cast a ballot legally.”

See here for the background. I don’t care if the SOS is miffed about this, but even if we take them at their word there’s still the Attorney General’s “task force”, which absolutely cannot be trusted and needs to be watched like a tachyon in a particle accelerator. This was absolutely the right move. Reform Austin and the Texas Signal have more.

SOS inserts itself

It’s the damn fraudit again.

The Texas secretary of state’s office on Tuesday warned Harris County officials it still is missing information about the chain of custody for certain election materials in its ongoing audit of the 2020 election.

In a letter delivered days before the start of early voting in the November midterm, Chad Ennis, director of the secretary of state’s Forensic Audit Division, urged Harris County Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum to continue cooperating with the audit, as the records provided by the county so far “still leave many questions unanswered.”

“Given that early voting for the November 2022 election begins in a matter of days, there is an immediate need for us to inform you of our preliminary findings,” Ennis stated in the letter.

Accompanying the letter was a list of 14 polling locations for which the secretary of state’s office said it needs additional documentation, including NRG Arena, Toyota Center, Trini Mendenhall Community Center and Kingwood Community Center.

The office also cited one polling location where it said 401 more ballots were tabulated than expected when compared to the poll book and the number of provisional ballots cast.

[…]

Sam Taylor, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, said the office sends inspectors to Harris County for every election, along with many others “if we receive requests to do so or if we determine inspectors are needed.”

“For example, we will have staff from our office on hand in Gillespie County this year because we had to train employees from their county clerk’s office after the entire Election Administration office resigned in August,” Taylor said in an email. “Most of our agency’s inspectors are former county election officials themselves, so they have the ability to catch mistakes before they happen and make sure proper chain-of-custody protocols and Texas Election Code laws are followed.”

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo issued a statement in response to the secretary of state’s letter: “The County Attorney and our Elections Administrator are taking a close look at the allegations made in the letter and will respond as legally required and appropriate, but all indications are that the allegations are unremarkable.”

According to the letter, the Attorney General’s office also will dispatch a task force to Harris County that will be “available at all times during the election period in order to immediately respond to any legal issues identified by Secretary of State, inspectors, poll watchers, or voters.”

It was not immediately clear if the task force was a first-time initiative for this year’s midterm election. The Attorney General’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Christina Beeler, a voting rights staff attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, called the letter an intimidation tactic.

“The AG’s office and the secretary of state are trying to intimidate election officials, election workers and voters in Harris County,” Beeler said. “We have no reason to trust that the secretary of state or the attorney general are acting in good faith. They support election deniers and spread lies and misinformation about the election themselves.”

Beeler questioned the attorney general office’s decision to send a task force to Harris County, particularly in an election cycle when Attorney General Ken Paxton is running for reelection.

“The only county that we are aware of that the AG’s office is targeting is Harris County,” Beeler said. “The AG’s office saying that they are going to send in the AG’s own staff members to police an election in which he’s on the ballot creates an obvious conflict of interest.”

You can see the letter here. A more detailed response from the Texas Civil Rights Project is here. I’m not going to get bogged down in the details here. There’s still no reason to trust the SOS. This matter could have been handled weeks, if not months ago, if indeed there is something that needs such a formality. And good Lord, inviting Ken Paxton to “dispatch a task force” is inviting the Big Bad Wolf to use a wrecking ball on the third pig’s brick house. Even if he himself wasn’t in an election that he could lose, he’d be far too conflicted to be allowed anywhere near this process. This is a bunch of hot garbage and should not be dignified with anything more than that as a response.

I think you know the root cause of the problem, John

I was fascinated by this Texas Monthly feature on Secretary of State John Scott, who is being pushed to reckon with the insane and dangerous levels of election denial and anti-democratic activism. I’m pretty sure he gets it, he just doesn’t want to say it or to suggest answers for it.

Take pity on John Scott. In October 2021, Governor Greg Abbott appointed the Fort Worth attorney as Secretary of State, Texas’s top elections official. He immediately found himself in the hot seat, targeted by voting rights activists aggrieved by what they saw as Republican-led voter suppression and by conspiracy theorists inflamed by former president Donald Trump’s claims of a stolen election. Scott, who had previously served under Abbott as deputy attorney general for civil litigation and COO of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, told Texas Monthly at the time that his top priority was “bringing the temperature down.” This proved harder than he anticipated.

Scott’s first major task was to conduct a “full forensic audit” of the 2020 general election in the two largest Democrat-led counties, Dallas and Harris, and the two largest Republican-led counties, Collin and Tarrant. The audit was demanded by Trump—even though he won Texas by more than five percentage points—and had been agreed to, less than nine hours after Trump issued his demand, by the Secretary of State office (the top post was then vacant). The effort immediately drew scorn from both liberals, who denounced it as a capitulation to election deniers, and Trump himself, who complained that limiting the audit to four counties was “weak.”

Phase one of the audit examined voting-machine accuracy, cybersecurity, and potentially ineligible voters. Quietly released last New Year’s Eve, it found nothing unusual about the election. The results of the second phase, a more detailed review of all available records from the four counties, are scheduled to be released later this year.

The inability to please either liberals or conservatives has been the hallmark of Scott’s tenure. He drew bipartisan criticism for the high rejection rate for mail-in ballots (12 percent) during this year’s primary election—an all-too-predictable result of the confusing new vote-by-mail rules imposed by Senate Bill 1, which the Republican-controlled Legislature passed last year over vehement Democratic opposition. Scott’s attempt to fulfill SB 1’s strict voter list–maintenance requirements led his office to challenge the citizenship status of nearly 12,000 registered voters, at least some of whom turned out to be on the list by mistake. His office was sued by a coalition of voting rights groups, including the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which has called the list “a surgical strike against voters of color.” (The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit recently ruled that Scott did not have to divulge the list; the plaintiffs are deciding whether to appeal.)

[…]

With early voting for the November general election just weeks away, Texas Monthly decided to check in with the embattled Secretary of State. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Texas Monthly: The voting-machine test you attended in Hays County got pretty rowdy. What was that like?

John Scott: The local elections administrator in Hays County invited us down to film a public service announcement. It kind of devolved into a little bit of a question-and-answer session [with the activists]. I felt bad that it became disruptive to the process we were all there for. Part of my job is answering questions. But a lot of the people who have questions, it’s the misinformed and the uninformed.

The misinformed people seem like they really don’t care. They know something, and they’re going to stick to it no matter what you tell them. You can talk until you’re blue in the face. With the uninformed, we have to reach out and tell them the truth. Otherwise there will only be bad information circling around. The shouting eventually ended and they did calm down. I think there were several protesters who accepted a lot of what I was saying.

TM: Why do you think so many people are angry about these issues?

JS: I don’t know why. If I did, we would address it immediately. There’s a lack of information, and then there’s people out there filling that lack of information with stories that are simply not true. I have yet to hear about or meet any elections administrator in the state who is not trying to do a perfect job. We’re all humans, and so we’re all prone to error. It seems like, a lot of times, people latch on to those errors and ascribe motives. I don’t know how we stop that other than to continually address it. It’s like Whac-A-Mole.

[…]

TM: Earlier this year, the Brennan Center for Justice conducted a survey of election workers across the country. It found that one in every six workers has received threats because of their job. In Texas, the top three election administrators in Gillespie County recently resigned because of harassment. Tarrant County election administrator Heider Garcia received death threats after being the subject of a conspiracy theory involving his prior employment by voting-machine manufacturer Smartmatic. How big of a problem is this?

JS: It’s a huge problem. Heider and his deputy both carry guns now. They don’t bring them into polling places, because that’s illegal, but they have to have a gun on them. Which is pathetic—the fact that they’re in that much fear of their life, that it’s gotten that heated. I think it’s obscene. In Gillespie County I visited with the county judge and let him know we were here to help in any way possible, given the situation they had. Everybody over there had glowing comments about the elections administrator. She was somebody you would want as your neighbor, and somebody you’d want as your public servant in charge of elections.

I’ve gotten death threats; my folks in the elections division have gotten death threats. It’s become absurd, and I don’t know what’s caused it.

TM: What steps has your office taken to ensure election workers can safely carry out their duties?

JS: We tell each county that if they get threats of any kind to report it to their local law enforcement agency immediately. That’s what we did with our own death threats. This is insanity—you can’t have people receiving death threats for doing their jobs.

TM: You say you’re not sure why it’s gotten so intense. But surely former president Trump’s repeated claims of a stolen election have something to do with it.

JS: Any time the temperature gets turned up, it’s possible to have nuts making these statements. At least in our office, what I was told is that these threats long preceded the 2020 election. The Infowars guy [Alex Jones] has unleashed hell on our election people. This has been going on for many years. And I don’t want to give a free pass to people who are crazy enough to go out there and say they’re going to kill somebody because they’re doing their job. I don’t want to give them an excuse—”Oh, well, it’s because somebody said something.” No, that behavior is unacceptable under any scenario. Just because somebody said something, or they saw something on TV, that doesn’t excuse it.

“Pity” is not the word that comes to mind. I don’t care for John Scott, but I’ll admit to some sympathy for him. He’s facing the heat out there as well as the front-line county election workers, and that’s a lot more than any of our elected state leaders are doing. I take his point about misinformed versus uninformed voters as well, though it sure would be nice if someone like him were a much louder advocate for good information and putting a sufficient amount of resources into combatting that misinformation.

And look, this guy isn’t dumb. He knows what the problem is and who’s causing it, he just doesn’t want to call out his own team. It’s the opposite of courageous, but it’s human enough that I can at least see why he’s being so timid. But those county election administrators are out there getting pummeled, working insane hours, and generally burning themselves out, without any clear sign that the state has their backs. It’s not sustainable, not to mention inhumane and dangerous. How about loudly pushing for state resources to find, arrest, and prosecute people who are threatening these folks? How about urging the AG to look into curbing or at least slowing down these mountains of public record requests, especially from out of state activists, which are basically a denial of service attack on the counties? How about asking your buddy Greg Abbott to say something? There’s a lot John Scott can do even if he’s just an administrator himself. If I saw him doing more of it, even if “it” is just trying to get those with the real power to do something, I’d have a lot more respect for him.

Fifth Circuit does its thing with appeal of voter purge case

Get out the rubber stamp.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A federal appeals court has ruled that Texas does not need to release details about a list of 11,737 registered voters whom the state has identified as potential noncitizens.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit on Thursday reversed a lower court’s ruling in August in which a district judge had found Texas was violating federal law by refusing to release the list.

The appellate court found that the five civil rights groups suing the Texas secretary of state for the list did not have standing to sue. Circuit Judge Edith H. Jones wrote in the ruling that the groups have neither established injury to themselves from the state’s refusal to release the list nor sued on behalf of any voter included on the list who could be harmed.

The coalition “offered no meaningful evidence regarding any downstream consequences from an alleged injury in law under the NVRA [National Voter Registration Act],” Jones wrote. “The lack of concrete harm here is reinforced because not a single Plaintiff is a Texas voter, much less a voter wrongfully identified as ineligible.”

The groups suing the state are the Campaign Legal Center, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Demos. The groups, which sued the state in February for failing to comply with the NVRA’s public disclosure requirements, sought to hold Texas accountable if it incorrectly misidentified registered voters as noncitizens and disenfranchised naturalized citizens.

“We are disappointed with the court’s opinion and are exploring our options with respect to any next steps,” Molly Danahy, the Campaign Legal Center’s senior legal counsel for litigation, said in a statement. We will continue to monitor potential voter purges in Texas because transparency is vital to a healthy democracy and all citizens deserve to have equal access to the ballot.”

See here and here for the background. I didn’t find any discussion of this in the usual places I look on Twitter, so I don’t know if there’s a hint of merit to the ruling or if it’s wholly made up. Given the recent history of this circuit and that top-level bad actor Edith Jones wrote it, you can probably guess what I think. The Fifth Circuit not only gets no benefit of the doubt from me, they get a presumption of doubt. This is simply not a legitimate court, and this wasn’t even their worst ruling of the week. Burn it all down.

Voter registration update

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

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wish I knew how to turn the heat down

But I do know that I’m not the responsible party for this crap.

About a dozen activists demanding responses to conspiracy theories about election integrity this week disrupted what is typically an uneventful public testing of voting machines ahead of an election in Hays County.

The activists shouted at the county election administrator and Texas’s secretary of state, who was present for the testing. County officials said they’d never previously encountered such intense hostility at the routine event.

The crowd surrounded members of the election test board — which consisted of political party representatives, county officials and election workers — who were assigned to test the machines, pressing in and looking over their shoulders. Many filed into the election department’s large conference room at county headquarters holding notebooks and pens, ready to take notes.

As soon as the testing began, the activists began to raise familiar questions.

“Are the machines all connected?” one asked Jennifer Doinoff, the county’s elections administrator. “How many Bluetooth devices are there?”

No, the machines are not connected, Doinoff responded, nor were there any Bluetooth devices. The questioning continued, sparking side conversations and repeatedly drowning out the voices of those doing the testing. Doinoff, over and over, had to ask the crowd to lower their voices.

“Can we go back to focusing on the testing please?” Doinoff told the crowd. Attendees said they were at the public event — versions of which were held this week by many county election offices across the state — as “concerned citizens” and were not affiliated with any particular group or political party.

Texas law requires public testing of the voting machines be done before and after every election to ensure the machines are counting votes correctly. Half-a-dozen Hart Intercivic voting machines were spaced out on a large table inside the room, ready to be tested by the handful of county officials present to help.

Texas Secretary of State John Scott was on hand in Hays County, home to Texas State University, to observe the testing and film an educational video about Texas’s voting systems.

As testing of the machines continued in the background, the activists turned their attention away from the process, surrounding Scott and peppering him with complaints and prepared questions. Scott, a Republican, spent around 20 minutes listening and answering granular questions.

“We’re following state law,” Scott told them.

“No you’re not,” the activists responded, nearly in unison.

Gosh, John, why do you suppose these “just plain folks” are seething with such hostility? Where do you think they could have gotten those ideas into their heads? It’s a mystery, I tell you.

The Hays County activists also told Scott they believe voting machines are not trustworthy; they want hand-counting ballots of ballots and same-day election results; and emphasized the need for consecutively numbered ballots and to go back to precinct polling places rather than vote centers.

Because people never make mistakes and are faster at counting than computers. Apparently this is a French thing, and never have I been more surprised to hear of a particular obsession with an aspect of French culture.

Doinoff and her staff told Votebeat they weren’t discouraged by the rancor. Instead, the disruption and the questioning highlighted the importance of testing voting systems, also known as logic and accuracy tests, ahead of an election. That process has been standard practice for decades.

“I am still glad that people came,” Doinoff said. “We want them to see it and ask us.”

You are a better person than I am. You also deserve to have all the security you need, and I hope you already have it.

More on the Gillespie County elections office resignations

From Votebeat, how this mess got started.

Last November’s sleepy constitutional amendment election nearly came to blows in Gillespie County, a central Texas county known for its vineyards. A volunteer poll watcher, whose aggressive behavior had rankled election workers all day, attempted to force his way into a secure ballot vault.

The burly man was repeatedly blocked by a county elections staffer. Shouting ensued. “You can’t go in there,” the staffer, Terry Hamilton, insisted to the man, who towered over Hamilton. “We can see anything we want!” the poll watcher and his fellow election integrity activists yelled, according to an election worker who witnessed the scene. They accused Hamilton and Elections Administrator Anissa Herrera of a variety of violations of the state elections code, which they quoted, line by line.

“Oh Lord, they can cite chapter and verse,” recalled Sue Bentch, a Fredericksburg election judge who saw the confrontation that night. “But you know, just as the devil can cite scripture for its own purposes it seemed to me that it was often cited out of context and misinterpreted.”

“Finally, I called the sheriff’s officer,” said Bentch. The officer barred the activists from the vault. “Poor Terry was coming to fisticuffs.”

Previous elections had been no better. In 2020, a poll watcher called the cops on Herrera and filmed election employees in a dark parking lot. The same year, Herrera received a clutch of obscene, often racist, emails. And in 2019, a group of activists filed suit after Fredericksburg voters overwhelmingly rejected an obscure public-health ballot measure. That election, the activists argued, had been irrevocably tainted by fraud.

Three years of these hostilities were clearly enough for Herrera, who resigned this month.

The rest of the office staff — one full-time employee and one part-time employee — also departed, leaving the elections office completely vacant.

Recent media coverage of the exodus attributed it to threats of the type that have become common since the 2020 presidential election. In fact, Votebeat’s review of court documents, emails, and social media postings show Herrera and others struggling to combat fringe election conspiracy theories in Gillespie County long before former President Donald Trump encouraged his supporters to question the integrity of the 2020 vote.

In Gillespie County in 2019, the fringe was focused on fluoride.

See here for the background, and go read the rest, there’s a lot more. This is a reminder that shitty paranoid conspiracy theories existed well before The Former Guy, but as with most other bad things, he amplified and intensified them, in this case with some generous assistance from the Gillespie County Republican Party. I have no idea what a good way forward for Gillespie County is, but it’s not my problem to solve. I feel bad for the people of good faith who are trying to solve it. The problem is a lot bigger than they are.

Libertarians will remain on the ballot

Too bad, Republicans.

The Texas Supreme Court on Friday rejected a Republican effort to remove a host of Libertarian candidates from the November ballot, saying the GOP did not bring their challenge soon enough.

In a unanimous opinion, the all-GOP court did not weigh in on the merits of the challenge but said the challenge came too late in the election cycle. The Libertarian Party nominated the candidates in April, the court said, and the GOP waited until earlier this month to challenge their candidacies.

On Aug. 8, a group of Republican candidates asked the Supreme Court to remove 23 Libertarians from the ballot, saying they did not meet eligibility requirements. The Republicans included Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and others in congressional and state legislative races.

State law requires Libertarian candidates to pay filing fees or gather petition signatures, the amount of each depending on the office sought. The Libertarian Party has been challenging that law in federal court, arguing it is unfair because the fees do not go toward their nomination process like they do for Democrats and Republicans.

Republicans also tried and failed to kick a group of Libertarian candidates off the ballot in 2020. In that case, the state Supreme Court said the GOP waited until after the deadline to challenge candidate eligibility. This time, the Republicans filed their challenge before that deadline but apparently still did not satisfy the court’s preference to deal with election challenges as soon as the alleged issues arise.

In its opinion Friday, the court suggested the “emergency timeframe” argued by the GOP “is entirely the product of avoidable delay in bringing the matter to the courts.”

See here for the background, and here for the Court’s opinion. Basically, SCOTx is saying that the GOP should have filed their challenge in or closer to April, when the Libertarians nominated their no-fee-paying candidates, and that claiming something is an emergency doesn’t make it one. They did not rule on the merits, as noted, so the question of whether this kind of challenge could be successful – so far, we haven’t seen a successful challenge, but in the prior cases that was due to timing and technical matters, so there’s still no precedent – remains unanswered. Maybe in 2024, if the federal lawsuit the Ls have filed doesn’t make it moot. The Chron has more.

Paxton finds a new way to be two-faced

I mean, what were we supposed to believe?

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton stunned election administrators across the state last week when he released an opinion that, in theory, would allow anyone to access ballots almost immediately after they were counted.

Records show that, as recently as five days before the office released that opinion, it was providing the exact opposite guidance to counties.

“The information at issue is confidential for at least 22 months after election day,” a public records opinion from the office, dated Aug. 12, reads. “Accordingly, the district attorney’s office must withhold the information at issue.”

Then, five days later, Paxton released his new opinion. “Members of the public” the new guidance read, are welcome to inspect “voted ballots during the 22-month preservation period.”

“What a difference five days makes,” said Chris Davis, elections administrator in Williamson County.

The record shows that Tarrant County did not receive the opinion telling it not to release the ballots until Aug. 22 — five days after Paxton issued his new opinion. This left the county unsure of how to proceed, and by that time, it had already challenged the new opinion in court. Paxton’s office did not respond to questions about what, if anything, changed in the five day period between the contradictory opinions.

[…]

Tarrant County’s court challenge to Paxton’s new opinion was filed as part of an ongoing records dispute. Citing yet another opinion issued to the office this summer, this one dated July 26 and also instructing the county not to release ballots, attorneys for the county’s election department asked the judge to find Paxton’s new opinion “erroneous.”

“On August 17, 2022, the Attorney General issued a formal opinion concluding for the first time in almost 40 years that voted ballots are not confidential,” they wrote. “The Attorney General’s most recent interpretation is erroneous, and the Court should not follow it.”

In addition to the opinions issued to Tarrant County and dated July 26 and Aug. 12, records provided to Votebeat show Paxton’s office provided identical advice in opinions dated June 16 and Aug. 1.

“We have two documents coming from the same office saying opposite things,” Tarrant County Elections Administrator Heider Garcia told Votebeat. “We’ve got to figure out what’s the path we’re going to walk to do our job.”

Garcia has clear reason to be concerned about the ruling. Earlier this year, after the 22 month window for the March 2020 primary lapsed, a group of activists spent weeks inside his office examining the 300,000 ballots cast by Tarrant County voters. The request took Garcia weeks to fulfill, and then required a dedicated room with videotaped surveillance and a staffer’s supervision.

“You want it as safeguarded as possible in case you actually do have a criminal investigation or some sort of proceeding where [ballots] become evidence,” Garcia said. “Ballots are really easy to alter. You just grab a Sharpie and draw a line on them and now how do you know if it’s been altered or not? Having absolute protection on the physical document, to me, is extremely important.”

See here for the background. I cannot think of a good reason for the sudden turnaround, not to mention the chaos caused by the out-of-order delivery of the contradicting opinions in Fort Worth. The simplest explanation is sheer incompetence. Which would be a surprise given that office’s track record – they’re evil, but they’ve been pretty effective at it. If you have a better idea, by all means say so.

I trust that the irony of Heider Garcia’s words in that last paragraph aren’t lost on anyone. The single biggest threat to the security of the ballots is the idiots that demand to “audit” them, who have to be watched like hawks to ensure they don’t accidentally or deliberately spoil them. I hope that the madness this all represents is helping to drive home the message that Republicans are a clear threat to democracy, as the January 6 hearings and confidential-document-theft-a-palooza have been doing. There are plenty of other things to be talking about as well, from guns to abortion to LGBTQ rights to climate change and renewable energy, but we can’t lose sight of this one. Whatever it’s going to take to convince people they can’t trust the Republican Party as it now exists, we need to be doing it.

Paxton issues deranged opinion on access to ballots

This is utterly chaotic. And completely out of the blue.

Best mugshot ever

A legal opinion released by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton last week will almost certainly throw county elections offices into chaos after November, experts say, exposing election clerks to possible criminal charges and materially reducing the security of every ballot cast in the state.

Federal and state law require that ballots be kept secure for 22 months after an election to allow for recounts and challenges — a time frame Texas counties have had set in place for decades. Paxton’s opinion, which doesn’t stem from any change to state law, theoretically permits anyone — an aggrieved voter, activist or out-of-state entity — to request access to ballots as soon as the day after they are counted. Such requests have been used by activists all over the country as a way to “audit” election results.

The opinion from Paxton doesn’t carry the force of law, but experts say it will almost certainly serve as the basis for a lawsuit by right-wing activists. The opinion has already impacted elections administrators across the state, who told Votebeat that they’ve seen an onslaught of requests since Paxton released it.

“[Paxton’s office wants] to throw a monkey wrench into the operations of vote counting, especially if they think they might lose, and Paxton is in a close race as far as I can tell,” said Linda Eads, a professor at Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law and a former deputy attorney general for litigation for the state of Texas. She said she was “shocked” by the opinion.

[…]

Paxton’s office sought input from the secretary of state’s office prior to issuing the decision, which was requested by state Sen. Kelly Hancock and state Rep. Matt Krause, both Republicans. In no uncertain terms, the secretary of state’s office  — which is run by a Republican appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott — recommended keeping the current waiting period.

“The voted ballots are the core of the election process and the prohibition on disturbing the ballots (except in limited circumstances as permitted by the Election Code) preserves the integrity of the election itself,” wrote Adam Bitter, general counsel for the office, in a letter obtained by Votebeat through a public records request. “Handling of the voted ballots themselves opens up the possibility of accidental or intentional damage or misplacement that could call into question the election after the fact.”

Paxton’s office did not respond to specific questions about why he disagreed with Bitter’s conclusion, nor did he respond to requests for comment.

For months, election administrators in Texas and across the country have been fielding records requests from activists intent on re-examining every ballot cast in every election since November 2020 — or, in some cases, even earlier. In Tarrant County, volunteers with a conservative group occupied a room in the elections office for weeks this summer, examining 300,000 ballots from the March 2020 primary, which were made available by the county 22 months after the election.

Ballots are kept in secure lock boxes for 60 days, and then transferred to another secure facility for the remainder of the waiting period in order to comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1960, a federal law which, in part, requires ballots be securely stored for 22 months. In 2017, the Republican-dominated Texas Legislature even amended state law to specify “22 months,” updating state standards to mirror federal requirements.

In the letter to the attorney general’s office, Bitter, the general counsel for the secretary of state’s office, wrote that an election clerk may effectively have to break state law in order to comply with a request for ballots so soon after an election.

Texas law says that if the ballots’ legal custodian, typically a local election official, “makes unauthorized entry into the secure container containing the voting ballots during the preservation period, or fails to prevent another person from making an unauthorized entry, the custodian has committed a Class A misdemeanor,” Bitter wrote.

Paxton’s opinion, experts say, does not appropriately address the potential criminal exposure.

Matthew Masterson, who previously served as the Trump administration’s top election security official and now is Microsoft’s director of information integrity, said that Paxton’s opinion will make it impossible for election administrators to appropriately ensure that ballots are kept secure. The security controls exist for a good reason, he said, and undermining them has serious implications.

“If you open up the floodgates and give anyone access to the ballots throughout that process, you have broken that chain of custody to the point where you would not be able to prove that this was the ballot a given voter cast,” Masterson said.

The opinion itself provides little guidance as to how long or for what reasons election administrators can block access to such ballots, leaving administrators across the state concerned about their ability to appropriately comply.

“If I read this literally as a layman, I think I’m required to provide ballots the day after an election before the results have even been canvassed,” said Chris Davis, elections director in Williamson County, who said such a release would make it impossible for counties to confidently conduct recounts that would stand up to legal scrutiny.

“I don’t know if the drafters of this opinion have a firm grasp on how ballot security and ballot processing is done at the county level,” he said.

There’s more, go read the whole thing, and add on this tweet thread from story author Jessica Huseman. There’s absolutely no justification for this – state and federal law are clear, and nothing has changed about them. It’s just chaos intended to give a boost to Big Lie enthusiasts, and as the story notes later on, it’s potentially a conflict of interest for Paxton since he himself is on the ballot this year, and everyone agrees it’s likely to be a close race.

County election officials around the state are already reporting getting a bunch of requests, some of which appear to be part of a coordinated effort. I think Harris County has the right response here.

Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee says the county is not releasing the ballots, arguing the opinion Paxton issued in the name of election integrity last week runs afoul of the law.

“Attorney General Ken Paxton is distorting the law to fuel conspiracy theories, encouraging reckless behavior that erodes public trust in our democratic process,” Menefee said in a statement. “The law is clear that these voted ballots are confidential and it’s a crime for anyone to access them unless authorized by law.”

Menefee said Harris County had received more than three dozen requests to inspect ballots since Paxton issued his opinion. The county attorney’s office did not respond to a request for more information about the requests, including who submitted them.

[…]

Federal and state laws requires ballots be securely stored for 22 months after an election, in part to preserve them for recounts or challenges to election results. Menefee said Paxton’s opinion “directly contradicts” a separate opinion his office issued last month, as well as an opinion issued by the AG’s office more than 30 years ago, which both concluded that ballots are confidential for 22 months following an election.

“Our election workers should not have to fear being criminally prosecuted because the attorney general wants to play politics and try to rewrite laws,” Menefee said. “Everyone who has closely read the law agrees the ballots are confidential: the Secretary of State’s Office, counties across the state, and his own office just a month ago. Harris County will continue to follow Texas law, not the Attorney General’s ‘opinion.’”

That’s what I, a non-lawyer who has no responsibilities in these matters, would have done. It is highly likely that a lawsuit will result. No one wants that, but sometimes having the fight is the most straightforward way to resolve the dispute. If that’s what we have to do, then so be it.

All of Gillespie County’s elections staff resigns

Who could blame them?

Citing threats and even stalking, all three employees at the Gillespie County elections office have resigned from their positions, leaving the office empty with less than three months before the primary election in November.

The Fredericksburg Standard-Radio Post first reported the wave of resignations last Wednesday, after staff say they received numerous threats and in some cases, even stalking. Now former Gillespie County Elections Administrator Anissa Herrera told the Standard that after the 2020 election she was threatened, stalked and called out on social media.

“The year 2020 was when I got the death threats,” Herrera told the Post. “It was enough that I reached out to our county attorney, and it was suggested that I forward it to FPD (Fredericksburg Police Department) and the sheriff’s office.”

[…]

Josh Blank, director of research at the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, says that with the threats election workers are facing — coupled with an already difficult job — it is more surprising that additional election workers have not yet resigned.

“You’re asking people to do more work under greater scrutiny, and now, threats of physical violence. So it’s not so surprising that this sort of, you know, election workers has decided to resign.” Blank said.

Gillespie County voter Victoria McClurd says that she was both shocked and not shocked that resignations occurred.

“If they’ve been receiving death threats, then I would too, because we’ve gotten to a point where the threats are not benign,” McClurd said. “[In] the last election I was going to be a poll person, and they were talking to us about what to do if someone comes in and is violent. That’s not what happens in a civilized society.”

Sam Taylor, the assistant secretary of state for communications, said the state is already working with Gillespie County officials to help them move forward and prepare for the upcoming election.

“We have already committed to sending trainers from our office to ensure that the County will have the tools and resources they need to conduct a successful election in November,” he said in an email statement.

As we know, it’s not just in Gillespie County that election workers are being terrorized. These folks were just the highest profile to date to say screw it, my life and my family’s life aren’t worth this shit. Note that Gillespie County voted 79% for The Former Guy in 2020. At the risk of trying to impute rational thought on these idiots, what exactly do you think was going on there?

Obviously, the bulk of the blame here lies with our felonious ex-president, but it certainly doesn’t stop there. Every statewide elected Republican that has ever dabbled with election conspiracies, unsubstantiated claims about voter “fraud”, casting suspicion on mail ballots or ballots cast in Democratic counties, they all share the blame for this. State Rep. Kyle Biederman, who “represents” Gillespie County, is one of the worst offenders out there. If they would like for their own elections to be handled in a smooth and competent manner, now would be a good time to say something to push back on the paranoia and rage that they’ve been stoking. Greg Abbott could ask the Texas Rangers to step in and investigate the threats made against Anissa Herrera and her colleagues. Ken Paxton could personally vow to prosecute whoever gets arrested to the fullest extent of the law. Dan Patrick could promise to pass a law that would offer more protection to election workers and provide harsher penalties for making these kinds of threats. That won’t undo their damage but it ought to make the jackals doing the threatening think twice about it. It would also be the right thing to do, and might help turn the temperature down a bit.

This is a five-alarm fire. For once, the arsonists have a chance to try to atone for their sins. What are they going to do about it?

UPDATE: From the Express News, as carried by the Chron:

Gillespie County Judge Mark Stroeher told the Standard-Radio Post that the entire staff resigned for similar reasons, leaving the county in a dire situation for the upcoming November election.

He said that the county has “some people who are pretty fanatical and radical about things” and drove out Herrera and the staff. Stroeher said that the job became more difficult than it probably should be “because of some individuals who are continuing to question how they are doing things,” according to the Standard-Radio Post.

“Elections are getting so nasty and it’s getting dangerous,” Stroeher said to the Standard-Radio Post.

Stroeher told the outlet that he will be contacting the Texas secretary of state for guidance about holding the November elections.

“It’s unfortunate because we have candidates that need to be elected, and we have voters who want their voices to be heard by the ballots,” Stroeher said. “I don’t know how we’re going to hold an election when everybody in the election department has resigned.”

And what have you been doing to combat that fanaticism and radicalism you mention, Judge Stroeher? This is your responsibility, too.

GOP seeks to knock Libertarians off the ballot

They tried this in 2020 with no success, but might be better positioned this year.

Texas Republicans have filed a petition to knock 23 Libertarian candidates off the November ballot for not paying their filing fees.

On August 8, 23 Texas Republicans filed a petition of mandamus with the Supreme Court of Texas to remove their Libertarian Party of Texas (LPT) competitors from the November general election ballot.

Some high-profile Republicans on the petition include Lieutenant Gov. Dan Patrick, U.S. Reps. Pat Fallon (R-TX-4) and Troy E. Nehls (R-TX-22), and candidate for U.S. House District 15 Monica de la Cruz. The four face opposition from Libertarians Shanna Steele, John Simmons, Ross Lynn Leone, Jr., and Joseph Leblanc, respectively.

“In addition to filing an application for nomination by convention,” the petition reads, “Texas law requires a candidate for public office to either pay a filing fee or submit a signature petition in lieu of a filing fee.”

“Despite their knowledge of these requirements, candidates seeking public office as members of the Libertarian Party of Texas in the upcoming 2022 General Election deliberately refused to pay their required filing fees and also failed to file their required signature petitions in lieu of payment of their required filing fees.”

Before filing the petition, the Republicans confirmed with the Texas Secretary of State that the Libertarians had not paid their filing fees. The Libertarians had not done so, prompting the Republicans to petition the Supreme Court “to issue an emergency writ of mandamus” to force the Libertarians “to comply with their legal and ministerial obligation.”

Texas Republicans filed a similar suit against the LPT in August 2020 for failing to meet their certification requirements, which the state Supreme Court rejected for missing the deadline. But this year, the petition was filed before August 26, “the deadline of the 74th day before the November 8th election” to file such a complaint.

Also in August 2020, three Democratic campaigns won restraining orders against three Green Party candidates who failed to pay their filing fees and were subsequently removed from the ballot.

In the Republicans’ suit two years ago, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the code has different rules for parties that choose candidates through conventions, like the Libertarian Party, and those that use primaries, like the Republican and Democratic Parties.

In 2019, House Bill 2504 was filed to require parties that nominate candidates with conventions to pay a filing fee to appear on the ballot. The fee ranges from $300 for a State Board of Education candidate to $3,750 for statewide office.

“Parties holding primary elections are subject to one set of rules, and other parties are subject to other sets of rules,” the court wrote. “These differences may seem to benefit or burden one class of parties or another, depending on the circumstances.”

See here for some background on the Republicans’ attempt in 2020 to knock Libertarians off the ballot. The Dems did succeed in getting a few Green Party candidates off the ballot that year, but others were later reinstated with a little help from Ken Paxton. Never were there stranger bedfellows.

There is also a lawsuit that is as far as I know still active over that bill requiring third parties to pay a primary fee. There was an appellate court ruling in September of 2020, right in the middle of all the candidate-booting efforts, that sort of lifted a restraining order that prevented the Secretary of State from enforcing that law, but the ruling was far more complex than just that. I honestly have no idea if the restraining order is still in place or not, but I suppose the Supreme Court will address that when it rules on the mandamus. I also have no idea if Dems are going to try similar action against Greens this year; if they are, time is running short for them. This is one of those rare times when you can expect a ruling in short order, because the ballots need to be finalized soon. Chuck Lindell has more.

Here’s hoping we’ll have fewer mail ballot rejections in November

Counties are taking the problem seriously, which is a good start.

The statewide rejection rate [for mail ballots] was more than 12 percent in the primary — six times what it was in the last midterm year in 2018. By the primary runoffs, the rate was down to less than 4 percent rejected, according to data from the secretary of state’s office.

Ahead of the November general elections, a number of elections officials say they have found a simple fix — a brightly colored insert that arrives with mail ballots, explaining the new requirements and showing the easily forgotten space under the flap of the return envelope where the voter’s ID number needs to be printed.

[Bexar County Election Administrator Jacqui] Callanen said the insert is small enough and positioned in such a way that it will likely fall to the floor when voters open the mail ballot packet, so they can’t miss it. She said her office used the inserts in May primary runoff elections and saw immediate results.

“We had under a 1 percent reject rate,” Callanen said. “We were back to where we belonged, which was a dance of joy.”

Other large counties saw similar success with including physical reminders in ballot materials. Those counties may hold the answer for still-struggling counties like Harris to improve their own rates.

Harris County did not include a notice with May primary runoff ballots and reported a rejection rate of 7.7 percent in the Republican primary and 5.9 percent in the Democratic primary. Overall, out of 34,124 ballots cast; 2,294 were rejected.

While those rates were down from the sky-high 20 percent and 18 percent rates in the Republican and Democratic primaries respectively, they were still far higher than the county’s less than 0.3 percent rejection rate in the last midterm primary in 2018, when just 135 ballots were tossed.

[…]

Sam Taylor, a spokesman for the secretary of state, said the inserts “appeared to make a difference.” Taylor said elections officials across the state learned about the inserts and other best practices during an election law seminar the agency held at the beginning of this month.

Following the success of inserts in other parts of the state, Harris County election officials said this week they are including a new insert about voter ID requirements with their mail ballot applications, and adding voter ID information to an existing insert with mail ballots, for November’s general election.

In addition to an insert, Harris County interim elections administrator Beth Stevens said the county will redesign its mail ballot envelope, highlighting the space for the voter’s ID with a red box, in the same way the space for the signature is highlighted.

They will also educate voters through paid advertising and in-person community meetings and will put more resources into identifying ballots that need corrections, she said.

“We have increased our vote-by-mail team’s staffing level to account for the new requirements of SB1,” Stevens said, “which includes additional folks to answer phones, to answer voters’ questions, as well as people to handle vote-by-mail cures, either done online or in person.”

You know me and mail ballot rejections. We’ve talked about the design of the ballot and the envelope as a way of giving voters a hand in ensuring they fill in all the right data, and I’ve singled out Bexar County for being ahead of the curve. I’m more than happy to see Harris County start to catch up in this department. I’m reasonably optimistic that counties have taken adequate steps to really mitigate this issue.

I also want to point out that in a world where we absolutely had to have these new requirements, it would have been far better for there to have been a seminar like the one Sam Taylor from the SOS office describes well before the first election subject to those requirements, not four months after the first one and with two others in between. The Legislature gets the lion’s share of the blame for that – they simply didn’t care about the negative effects of the new law – but the SOS deserves some criticism for not pushing back hard enough. There’s nothing we can do now about the ballots that got rejected for no good reason. I just hope we’ve learned enough from this painful experience to minimize those losses going forward.

Most of the lawsuit against the voter suppression law survives a motion to dismiss

Some good news.

In a limited order this week, a federal judge threw out some civil rights and discrimination claims brought as part of a complex and ongoing legal dispute over strict new voting rules in Texas.

The lawsuit filed last year alleges that the rules violate the U.S. Constitution, the Voting Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act by restricting voter assistance and making it easier for “partisan poll watchers to intimidate voters and poll workers.”

[…]

In his order on Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Xavier Rodriguez, a George W. Bush appointee, did not provide a clear win to either side in the protracted legal fight.

On one hand, Rodriguez did agree with Texas officials that civil rights groups had in some cases failed to a state a claim, meaning they could not adequately show a violation of federal law or a potential injury to voters. He dismissed a handful of claims brought by the civil rights groups, which include the League of Women Voters of Texas and the Workers Defense Action Fund.

On the other hand, Rodriguez’s order was hardly kind to Texas officials. Over the course of 61 pages, he detailed not only why civil rights groups had standing to sue, but also how they’d “clearly” established that SB1 could have discriminatory effects on voting rights.

The judge waved off efforts by Texas officials to have more or all of the lawsuit dismissed — including the state’s unusual argument that civil rights groups shouldn’t be able to sue because “the organizations themselves do not have a disability.”

“It is well settled,” Rodriguez wrote, “that an organization may sue as the representative of its members.”

While past filings in this lawsuit have largely hinged on nuances of civil rights law, Tuesday’s order was interesting because it detailed the lived experiences of disabled voters in Texas.

The civil plaintiffs presented examples from at least three voters — all members of the disability voting-rights group REV UP — whom they said could be harmed by Texas’ new voting law.

These examples were “non-exhaustive,” plaintiffs said, and represented just some of the disabled Texans who could face voting difficulties if SB 1 is allowed to stand.

See here for the background. There were multiple lawsuits filed, with the Justice Department getting involved later on. This is the San Antonio lawsuit from that first blog post. I assume that most if not all of these cases have been combined but it’s hard for me to say from the information I have easily available. Democracy Docket has some information on this one, and they provide a PDF that combines multiple orders from Judge Rodriguez; the Courthouse News story only has one of them, which threw me for a minute as I was trying to verify that I was referring to the correct case. This stuff is complicated, y’all.

Anyway. That story goes into two of those examples, and you should read about them, they’re quite compelling. I’m never quite sure if the Republicans who pass these voter suppression bills legitimately don’t care that people such as these plaintiffs won’t be able to vote as a result, or if they just can’t be bothered to hear their stories while the bills are in progress, lest they have some feelings of guilt or remorse, if those are possible for them. The end result is the same, I just want to know how to calibrate my contempt. Anyway, this is in addition to the other voter suppression bill that was struck down – we are apparently at a point where a bunch of these are getting some action, which is always exciting. As usual, nothing is safe until the Fifth Circuit is done with it, and we know what that usually means. So celebrate responsibly, we may be mourning later on.

State ordered to turn over voter purge data

Very good.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A federal judge ruled this week that the state is violating U.S. law by refusing to release its list of more than 11,000 registered voters that it identified as potential noncitizens, and ordered the release of the data within 14 days.

A coalition of civil rights groups sued the Secretary of State’s Office in February for withholding the data concerning a voter purge program targeting immigrants that was mandated by a new Republican-backed election law.

The new elections law, passed after a heated partisan battle last summer, requires that the office conduct regular sweeps of the voter rolls to verify citizenship status by cross-checking data provided by the Texas Department of Public of Safety.

The groups are concerned that thousands of immigrants could have their voter registrations canceled based on outdated or incorrect records, a potential repeat of a botched voter purge in 2019 that ended with a court settlement restricting who could be targeted in future purges.

The state had attempted to cancel registrations of almost 100,000 registered voters, but many were later found to be naturalized citizens or others who had been flagged in error. About 70,000 immigrants are naturalized in Texas each year on average and become eligible to vote.

Without the data on the purge initiated earlier this year, the groups say they can’t confirm that the state is complying with the 2019 settlement agreement. Within months of the new program’s launch, county officials warned the state that the lists included people who registered to vote at their naturalization ceremonies.

“We’ve kind of seen this movie before in 2019,” said Danielle Lang, senior director for voting rights at the Campaign Legal Center, which represented the civil rights groups. “Unfortunately, anecdotal evidence suggests the same thing is happening despite Texas’ claims that it’s following 2019 settlement agreement. We’re glad to finally be able to get access to the data, so the public can better understand what this process looks like and why eligible citizens are being caught up in the system.”

See here for the background. The Secretary of State has amply demonstrated that it cannot be trusted in matters like this. They need to be watched like a hawk, and that means they need to be completely transparent about every step they take. As with the other voter registration case we heard about this week (*), the Fifth Circuit is a threat, but maybe not as bog a threat in this one. The state could accept the ruling and provide the data – surely they want to show they have nothing to hide, right? – but I’m not that naive. We’ll see what they do next.

(*) As it happens, the judge for both of these cases is Lee Yeakel, a George W. Bush appointee. He has had himself a busy week.

Who audits the auditors?

A novel idea. Not sure it will get anywhere, but it does send a message.

Harris County Commissioners Court, by a 3-2 partisan vote, agreed to explore legal options, including a possible lawsuit, to challenge the results of a random drawing by the Texas Secretary of State’s Office that means another round of election scrutiny for Texas’ largest county.

“It ought to be the state of Texas that is audited,” said Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis, who proposed the lawsuit. “This place has gone back to the bad old days.”

Harris County learned last week it was one of two large counties chosen for an election audit by state officials, under new procedures lawmakers approved for election scrutiny. It is the second audit of Harris County, after another approved weeks following the 2020 general election.

[…]

Harris and Cameron counties were the two large ones chosen in a drawing from a bucket, the Secretary of State’s office announced; Eastland and Guadalupe counties were the two small counties selected.

Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee, however, questioned the authenticity of the drawing, saying the broadcast of the drawing “looks like a video out of a sketch comedy show.”

“The camera does not show the slips going into the bucket,” Menefee said, noting various aspects of the drawing that are not filmed. “They don’t even show the slips to the camera.”

See here for the background. Just as a reminder, while there have been issues in other elections in Harris County, the November 2020 election ran incredibly smoothly. And the SOS has already done an “audit” of that election, even if they never bothered to release a report on their “audit”.

My guess is that this doesn’t go anywhere, because I can’t see what grounds there are to sue. (Remember: I Am Not A Lawyer. There is an excellent chance that I am full of beans here.) One could argue that Harris County should have been exempted from this year’s drawing, as the law states that counties cannot be subjected to this audit in consecutive cycles. But the previous audit was not done under the auspices of that law, so the legal response to that would be some form of “tough luck”. Again, I don’t know what the actual attorneys who will be looking into the legal possibilities may find here, so take all this with an appropriate amount of skepticism. But if you were to bet me a dollar right now that 1) Harris County would file a suit as threatened, and 2) it would result in a temporary restraining order, I would take that bet.

If on the other hand the point of this is to denigrate the audit process, which was created in response to Big Lie mania, I’m fine with that. If the idea is to suggest that the state can’t be trusted to conduct a fair random drawing, let alone a fair audit process, that works for me. Judge Hidalgo spoke about the need to combat Big Lie hysteria, which is doing immense damage to the election process and a whole lot more, in the story. That’s a worthwhile mission. If it turns out there really is more to it than that, I’ll be happy to have been proven wrong.