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special election

Hey look! Some info about mail ballots in the May election!

It’s not much, but I’ll take what I can get.

For the second time in less than two weeks, Texans are heading back to the polls to decide on a host of statewide and local elections.

Voters are deciding who should come out on top in primary runoff elections. However, issues with election counting in Harris County have led to some frustration, but some widespread issues of the past may be corrected during this primary runoff.

“So far it’s been a really busy day, we’re really pleased with the turnout,” Nadia Hakim, Deputy Director of Communication and Voter outreach for Harris County elections said.

[…]

Those voting by mail are reminded by officials to complete the identification fields to avoid the ballot being rejected.

“So what we saw during March 1st was a high rate of rejection for mail ballots. Of course, it was our first large election with SB1 put into place and unfortunately, we saw a similar trend for the May 7th election. It was about a 20 percent rejection rate again,” Hakim said.

Voters are urged to contact the Harris County election office with any questions regarding issues they may face at 713-755-6965.

Disappointing, but not surprising. I have mentioned speaking with the elections office a couple of times, and this was something I inquired about as well. At a closer look, the rejection rate for the May 7 election was closer to 15% than 20% as cited in the story, but still too high and almost as high as it had been in March. As we’ve discussed, the people who voted in the May election likely included a lot of people who hadn’t voted in March, so this was their first experience with the new voter suppression law. The statewide rate of mail ballot rejection from March was about 12-13%, and it was about 19% in Harris County. I still want to know what the statewide rate was for the May election, and of course I care a lot about what it will be for the runoff, where there should be a greater percentage of voters who now do know what to do.

I will have more questions about this for after the runoff, but in the meantime I came across this story from Bexar County, which is my nominee for the cutting edge leader in doing this right.

After a rocky first election under new requirements for voting by mail, Bexar County Elections officials are celebrating a sharp decline in rejection of mail ballots.

Though more Bexar County voters voted by mail in the May 7 election than had in the Mar. 1 primary, the preliminary mail ballot rejection rate of 3% was far lower than the 21.7% that left thousands of ballots uncounted two months earlier.

[…]

“Those [March] numbers – it was a tragedy. It was personal. It was personal to us. Everything is personal to us,” said Elena Guajardo, a mail clerk for the Bexar County Elections Department.

Trying to avoid a repeat of the issues in the primary, Bexar County Elections officials highlighted the new requirement on the elections department website ahead of the May 7 election.

They also included an informational insert in every mail ballot, alerting voters to the new ID requirement and recommended writing both numbers, in case one of them wasn’t linked to their voter registration.

Their efforts appear to have paid off.

“We had a success story in this election,” said Elections Administrator Jacquelyn Callanen, who previously said a typical election would “probably” have a 2% to 3% rejection rate.

That story was from May 13, before the official canvass and the deadline for curing deficient ballots, so the numbers may have changed a bit. Regardless, this is damned impressive. Some of it was just learning from the initial experience and being able to be prepped from day one, which was not the case in March due to slowness in providing information by the Secretary of State, and part of it is clearly this strategy of pointing the voters in the right direction up front. Bexar County was talking about this at the time, and now that we can see how well it worked, every other county should look to emulate them. It’s a pain that they have to do this, but it is what it is. Kudos to Bexar County for showing the way.

So what did happen with the HD147 special election?

I was alerted by a comment on an earlier post to this.

Danielle Bess

Things are getting heated in the race to replace State Representative Garnet Coleman in District 147.

Jolanda Jones narrowly won the race in Saturday’s special election with 202 more votes than Danielle Keys Bess, according to Harris County.

But Bess is calling for an audit of Saturday’s special election results with a focus on mail-in ballots.

In an open letter to the Harris County Elections Board Administrator Thursday, Bess questioned the number of mail-in ballots counted.

She said the there were twice as many mail ballots Saturday compared to the March primary. But the early voting and election day turnout numbers were much lower Saturday than during the primary.

Jones responded by accusing Bess of “taking a page straight out of Donald Trump’s playbook.”

“Just like Donald Trump, and with absolutely no evidence whatsoever, my opponent is trying to overturn the results of a valid election with a bogus audit of mail ballots,” Jones said in a statement. “I expect she will next announce the hiring of Rudy Giuliani to lead the effort and organize a riot at Commissioners Court on the day the valid election results are certified.”

You can see the open letter on Instagram. I know what an election contest is, and I know what a recount is, but this was new to me. So I asked the elections office, and I was told that this was a reference to the post-election audit, also known as the Partial Manual Count. This audit is required for all elections that have paper ballots. It’s not something a candidate can request or specify a race for. The SOS selects a number of precincts and races to review, and the elections office has to hand count the paper ballots to ensure they match the digital records. Local election officials do not have any control over what is asked to be audited or what precincts are chosen for the audit.

I am told that the SOS selected ten precincts from the State Proposition 2 election for the Partial Manual Count. The deadline for the results of the PMC to be reported is May 28.

I also called Danielle Bess and asked her if she was requesting a recount or filing an election contest, and she said not at this time. Unless that changes, this is the end of the story for the HD147 special election.

Is there something unusual about the mail ballot totals in the HD147 special election? Bess’ open letter talks about how much greater a portion of the final vote total mail ballots were in the May special election than they were in the March primary. In the May special election, HD147 mail ballots were 29.4% of all ballots cast. But mail ballots were 26.0% of all ballots cast in Harris County in the May election (31,157 mail ballots cast in May out of 119,721 total). If that had been the proportion in HD147 there would have been 1,273 mail ballots instead of 1,440, a difference of 177. Jolanda Jones won by 205 votes, so you can’t make up the difference this way.

Mail ballots in HD147 in March were 9.58% of the total. Mail ballots overall in Harris County in the Democratic primary were 10.59% of the total. So mail ballots were proportionally a larger share of the total in HD147 in May than in March, but not by enough to raise my eyebrows. These were different elections, and Team Jolanda clearly had an incentive to push mail ballots, since she did so well with them in March. As I said before, this looks like the successful execution of a strategy to me. Mail ballots are clearly a big part of the vote in the primary runoff right now, but that can change as there’s still Runoff Day to be had, and there will surely be a push by all candidates to get people out to vote on Tuesday. I’ll check and see what those numbers look like afterwards.

Primary checkup

Let me start this post off by once again noting that I cannot find any reporting, like at all, about how many mail ballots were rejected for the May elections. Just nothing. It’s as if interest in the subject by anyone but me disappeared after all of the March stories. Maybe that will change with the primary runoffs, I don’t know. But man, am I discouraged by the lack of curiosity about this.

In searching for such stories, I came across this instead.

Texas lawmakers returned to the state Capitol on Wednesday to examine the reasons for election result delays and the effectiveness of new requirements for poll watchers.

When Texans took to the polls on March 1 for the first primary of the 2022 midterm elections, it was the first time statewide voting had taken place under a controversial new law that made several changes to the state’s voting system. Senate Bill 1 was passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature last September, after months of Democrats rallying and using procedural measures to block any action from being taken on it.

The Texas House Elections Committee began Wednesday’s meeting by asking state and county election officials why election results were delayed for the March primary election.

Speaking first before the committee was Isabell Longoria, elections administrator for Harris County, the state’s largest county and home to Houston. Longoria said that many challenges larger counties face in reporting election results quickly are caused by the state’s new paper ballot system and rigid requirements on when to report results.

“This paper ballot system that we are moving to, I think has some, let us call it, paper challenges that have not yet been contemplated by the Texas Election Code,” Longoria told the lawmakers.

The challenges she cites include issues keeping track of and recording ballots that could be up to two pages long. In Texas, a person’s ballot is first inserted into a machine that records the choices made and prints them out on a physical copy. After that, the ballot is inserted into another machine where the votes are recorded and the paper ballot is stored before being transported to a central counting facility.

When asked by Representative John Bucy, D-Cedar Park, what else could be done to alleviate challenges for election workers, Longoria responded that defining what timely reporting means would be helpful. She pointed to the time needed to ensure every voter in line by 7 p.m. has an opportunity to vote, the time it takes to transport ballots through traffic and the time required to correct human errors. All of these factors lead to delays, Longoria said, stressing that the best solution could be to give larger counties more leeway, so they are not held to a strict time requirement.

The Chron also covered this. I get the concern, and I agree that Harris is an outlier, though the other big urban counties are also geographically large and have bad traffic, too. As I said, I thought Harris County’s reporting on the May election was basically fine, with the posting of regular updates going a long way towards alleviating anxiety about how it was going. Final results were available by the time most people would have been getting ready to begin their day on Sunday. I don’t see why anyone should freak out about that.

Which again isn’t to say we can’t or shouldn’t try to do better. I strongly suspect Harris County could crib a bit from other counties’ processes. If there is some change that could be made to SB1 to make it easier on them, that should be considered as well – if we all care about getting results in a timely fashion, that should be an easy sell. But we should also note that in some states, like the ones that actually promote and widely use mail ballots, sometimes final results are not known for a few days. I don’t remember there being much discussion about the effect that adding paper ballots might have on election reporting as SB1 was being passed. Harris is also one of the newcomers to using printed ballots along with their electronic voting machines. There have been a lot of changes – maybe we just need to let things work themselves out a bit.

This story did at least mention the topic that now obsesses me:

Notably absent from the committee’s agenda was the increased number of rejected mail-in ballots as a result of a new Identification requirement in SB 1. The law requires voters who fill out a mail-in ballot to provide their driver’s license or Social Security number, depending on which was used to register to vote in the state.

Of the over 3 million ballots cast in the March primary, 24,636 mail-in ballots were not counted due to the new requirements. In many instances, voters failed to include the identification number on their ballot and others put a number that did not match the form of identification they used to register to vote, leading to their ballot being rejected.

[James Slattery, senior staff attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project] said that the issues discussed during the committee hearing should not have been their primary focus.

“The most important issue facing our elections right now is the catastrophic rate of vote-by-mail rejections that SB 1 caused,” said Slattery. “The committee is not facing this crisis of democracy that they caused.”

The absence of this issue was also noted by Representative Bucy before the meeting came to a close.

“We have 24,000 vote-by-mail ballots thrown out this last primary, did you say we will have a hearing to address that?” Bucy asked committee Chairman Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park. “I just think that is a crisis and I want to make sure this committee is on top of it.”

“Yes,” Cain responded. “The chair intends to do so.”

Cain said that after the May 24 runoff election, the committee will have more information to better examine the issue, leaving the impact of SB 1 still under the watchful eye of lawmakers, election officials and voters.

I mean, there’s still no reason why reporters at the newspapers can’t ask their local election admins about this. Surely there are some numbers out there to be had.

Is there anything to say about Jolanda Jones’ win in the HD147 special election?

First, here are the facts.

Jolanda Jones

Democrat Jolanda Jones edged out her opponent Danielle Keys Bess in a special election on Saturday to finish the term of former state Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston.

According to unofficial returns, Jones got 52% of the vote, with 48% going to Keys Bess. They were separated by a difference of 202 votes, which means the election is eligible for a recount if Keys Bess petitions for one. Keys Bess did not respond to a request for comment.

Jones is a former member of the Houston City Council and Houston ISD board. Keys Bess is a real estate agent with a background in political campaigns.

Coleman resigned in February after announcing last year that he would not seek reelection due to health reasons. His Houston-area district favors Democrats in November.

A win for Jones means she would hold the seat through the end of this year, but the Legislature is not set to meet again until January.

Jones and Keys Bess are also candidates in the May 24 primary runoff for the next full term in the seat, which begins in January. Jones got 42% of the vote in the crowded March primary, while Keys Bess received 20%.

As the story notes, both candidates got some endorsements from various elected officials. What was potentially of interest was how Jones won. Campos explains.

Commentary is kind of surprised that former H-Town city council member and HISD Trustee Jolanda Jones only squeaked by in the special election this past Saturday with a 52% to 48% win. She won by 202 votes over Danielle Keys Bess.

Jones won mail ballot voting by 364 votes. Bess won in person voting by 162 votes.

[…]

Mail ballots for the runoff have already been sent to voters so Jones will probably maintain that advantage. Early voting in person begins next Monday and only lasts for five days.

I am curious to know why mail ballot voters who for the most part are 65 and older would support Jones. Just like I would like to know why in person voters would favor Bess. Could it be that momentum was swaying toward Bess toward the end?

A lot of folks said this race was supposed to be a slam dunk for Jones. It wasn’t.

Here’s a chart for the votes by type each candidate got:


Candidate  Mail  Early  E-Day
=============================
Jones       845    769    691
Bess        481    817    805

Does it matter? Mail votes count as much as any other kind. When a race has this shape it can look like one candidate has late momentum, which I get and am subject to myself, but I feel it’s an illusion. You could argue that if there has been more time to vote, maybe Bess would have eventually caught up to Jones. You could also argue that if Bess had done better in mail voting, she wouldn’t have needed more time. Woulda, coulda, shoulda.

For what it’s worth, Jones dominated mail voting in the March primary, too. She had 56% of the mail vote, and she led in both the early and e-day voting, though by smaller percentages each time. Looks to me like this is a successful strategy so far.

The March primary had 11,800 voters, the May 7 special election had 4,400 voters; I’d guess the runoff will be in between the two. Jones won in each, in the same way. Unless there is something to suggest that the May 7 election actually took a turn late in the race, I’d say she’s in solid shape for May 24. We’ll know soon enough. The Chron has more.

Actually, May Election Day vote reporting was basically fine

This headline is correct, but it leaves out some relevant details.

Even with help from constable’s offices, Harris County again was the last of the state’s largest counties to finish counting Saturday’s election results, turning its final tally to the Texas Secretary of State’s office after 9:30 Sunday morning.

In a move touted by the Harris County Elections Administrator’s Office, constable deputies picked up ballot boxes from the 465 polling locations on Election Day and delivered them to the county’s central counting station. Typically, that responsibility has fallen to election judges, the final task at the end of their 15-hour day. Even with deputies taking over delivery duties, results from Harris County slowly trickled in hours after other big Texas counties had reported their tallies.

Dallas County and Tarrant County sent complete results to the state shortly after midnight, while Harris County’s results came in around 9:37 am on Sunday, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s office. With hundreds of polling locations spread out over 1,700 square miles, the state’s most populous county has a history of delayed election returns.

Outgoing Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria announced her resignation following a botched March primary election. The county took 30 hours to finish counting and then two days later announced it found 10,000 ballots that had not been included in its final vote count. Longoria took the blame for the miscues and resigned days later. Her resignation takes effect July 1.

The Harris County Election Board — consisting of Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, District Clerk Marilyn Burgess, Tax Assessor-Collector Ann Harris Bennett and the heads of the county Democratic and Republican parties — voted last month to hire a national search firm to find Longoria’s replacement.

Deputy constables have picked up and delivered ballot boxes during early voting in previous elections, but this time they delivered ballot boxes on Election Day, as well. Nadia Hakim, a spokesperson for the Elections Administrator’s Office, said the constables also will assist with the primary runoff election set for May 24.

The county’s elections office boosted its staff on Election Day by bringing in employees from most constable’s offices, along with Harris County employees across several divisions who were available to help, Hakim said. The process, she said, went smoothly.

Asked why the county was the last to report results, Hakim noted Harris County still was within the 24-hour deadline for reporting results to the state, and said there was no issue. Harris County is the third largest county in the country, she added.

Here’s the thing: The Elections Office was updating its results every hour on the hour Saturday night. I know this because I get an email from that office every time there are new results, and I have an email from them with those updated results every hour from 7 PM when the EV totals were posted up until 3 AM, when 95% of the results were in. Maybe that’s slower than you want – as of the midnight report, only about a third of the votes had been counted – but as someone who has spent many an hour by the computer hitting Refresh on the browser, it’s the lack of updates, and the unpredictability of when the next one will arrive, that truly drives us up the wall. This might have felt drawn out, but at least you knew when to check again.

Can we do better than this? I think we can certainly try, and I would hope that whoever the Election Board hires in July will have some solid ideas for how to achieve that. Until then, getting updates on a regular schedule will help most of us keep our blood pressure under control.

May 7 election results

Very briefly…

The two constitutional amendments passed overwhelmingly. I began writing this post at around 8 PM when all we had were early voting results, but statewide in early voting both propositions were over 85%. They were at 86% and 83% in Harris County.

Jolanda Jones had the early voting edge in HD147, leading by about eleven points. That was a gap of about 300 votes out of 2800 cast, so it’s possible it could get closer, but even without seeing the election day returns, I’d say Jones is the winner.

In the HCC special election, Charlene Ward Johnson (40%) and Kathy Lynch Gunter (36%) were the clear leaders and should be the candidates in the runoff. Maybe the Chron will pay attention to this race and (heaven help us) make an endorsement for it. No, I’m never going to stop being salty about that.

I’ll see what happens in the other races in a later post. Maybe we’ll finally learn something about how many mail ballots were rejected, too.

UPDATE: John Coby reports on the CCISD results.

Tomorrow is May Election Day

Vote if you haven’t, then get ready to vote again in the primary runoffs.

Texas’ constitutional amendment election will take place on Saturday, May 7.

There are local propositions on the ballot, too, which vary by region. But at the statewide level, Texans will decide on two measures aiming to cut property taxes.

Proposition 1 would approve the tax cuts for elderly and disabled homeowners beginning in 2023, while a second measure seeks to raise the state’s homestead exemption from $25,000 to $40,000, lowering school property taxes by about $176 a year, on average.

Find your polling place here.

Polls will be open from 7 AM to 7 PM as usual. In Harris County you have the interactive map of polling locations and the PDF listing, which has them all in alphabetical order. I strongly suspect you will not have much of a line wherever you go.

I remain terribly disappointed with the Chronicle’s lack of coverage of these races. I can understand skimping on the HD147 special election, as the stakes there are low, but not paying any attention to the HCC special election is a travesty. As before, you can at least listen to the interviews I’ve done with the candidates and make up your own mind based on them. For HD147:

Jolanda Jones
Danielle Bess

For HCC2:

Charlene Ward Johnson
Baby Jayne McCullough
Kathy Lynch Gunter
Terrance Hall

I’m disappointed that the Chron never endorsed in that latter race or in the Constitutional amendment races. I’m comfortable saying that a Yes vote on the two propositions is fine, but go read the resources in this post, or watch this video I did with Diana Martinez Alexander and Michelle Palmer. It covers more than just the amendments on the ballot, and I’m mostly cribbing from the League of Women Voters info, but if you’d rather hear me say it than read about it, there you go. I’ll have results on Sunday, and we’ll shift gears to the primary runoffs after that. Early voting for those begins on May 16, which is to say a week from Monday, and because it’s a runoff it only lasts five days. You will definitely run into longer lines for that one.

May 2022 special election Day Nine EV report: I still have no idea what’s happening with mail ballots

Yesterday was the last day for early voting in the May 7 special statewide election and other races. This Chron story rather belatedly gives an overview of the various contests on the ballot. You know what it doesn’t even mention in passing? How many mail ballots have been rejected this time around. I did a similar search for news stories as before about mail ballots this time around and found nothing. Problem solved, I guess. Insert massive shrug emoji here.

It’s true that there are some consequential and contentious school board races out there, with plenty of frothing at the mouth about “critical race theory” and banning books. I’m glad the Chron has devoted some coverage to that, though I’d argue that there should have been more and there definitely should have been at least one full article dedicated to the HCC special election. But here we are, so go educate yourself as best you can if you haven’t voted yet.

I should note, I did find this article about how the current wave of voter suppression laws has really made things harder for folks with disabilities, especially after all of the pandemic accommodations that were made and that helped them in 2020. Maybe someday SCOTUS will have a little more sympathy for the disability community than they have had for voters of color (which is an extremely low bar to clear), but that’s firmly in “I’ll believe it when I see it” territory.

Here is the final EV report for this election. At the end of early voting, there were 48,130 in person ballots, about 22K of which were cast Monday and Tuesday. It’s nice to know that even for a weird election like this, the usual pattern of early voting turnout still holds. There were 24,604 mail ballots, for a total of 72,734. I still don’t see any stories addressing, or even asking, the question of the rejection rate. Maybe that will come up again for the primary runoff. Until then, who knows.

May 2022 special election Day Seven EV report: Hey, this thing is almost over

As of today, there are just two days of early voting left for the May 2022 election, whether regular or special depending on who you are and what you may have to vote for. Election Day is on Saturday, so early voting ends on Tuesday, leaving the usual three days in between. I can just about guarantee you that if you show up to vote – you do have the two constitutional amendments on your ballot, no matter where you are – you will be in and out promptly. How do I know? This was my experience at the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center on West Gray on Saturday:

I was in and out in less than two minutes. Seriously, this will take you no time at all.

I expect these amendments to pass without any difficulty, so it’s not of vital importance what you do there. What is of greater importance for Harris County voters are the special elections, the school board and school bond elections. There’s the HD147 special election and the HCC special election, and I’ve seen diddly squat in terms of coverage for them. The Chron hasn’t even bothered to endorse in the HCC special election, which to me is a real dereliction of their duty. You can at least listen to the interviews I’ve done with the candidates and make up your own mind based on them. For HD147:

Jolanda Jones
Danielle Bess

For HCC2:

Charlene Ward Johnson
Baby Jayne McCullough
Kathy Lynch Gunter
Terrance Hall

There will be a runoff for HCC, so at least there will be a second chance to get to know who’s running. But really, why wait?

Here’s the EV daily report through Saturday, which is Day Six despite what the title of this post says. I didn’t feel like waiting until the Sunday report came in last night to finish this post, so there you have it. As of Saturday, 47,503 people had voted in Harris County, with 24,482 of those being in person and 23,021 by mail. Saturday was the tipping point for more in person votes than mail votes. I still have no idea how many mail ballots have been rejected. I will continue to keep an eye out for that. Have you voted, and if not do you intend to?

May 2022 special election Day Four EV report: Checking in on the mail ballots

In my first look at early voting for the May special election, I noted the fairly large number of mail ballots that had been cast so far in Harris County and wondered if we would hear about mail ballot rejections as we had so much during the primaries. Maybe things are better, maybe they’re not. I did a little Google News searching yesterday to see if I could find any coverage of mail ballot rejections for this election. The first story I saw was from a month ago.

It’s been nearly one week since the Lubbock County Elections Office sent out mail-in ballots for the city and school board elections in May and some have already been rejected.

Some voters are forgetting to include their ID information underneath the flap of the mail-in ballot envelope, the same issue Lubbock County saw during the March primaries.

Changes to the Texas Election Code require voters to include ID information on their mail-in ballot envelope. It’s a change Lubbock County Elections Administrator Roxzine Stinson says voters aren’t quite used to. Lubbock County had an 11 percent rejection rate in the March primaries. For the election on May 7, voters are considering two constitutional amendments, city offices, and making decisions for the future of their schools. Stinson says this election’s rejection rate is higher so far, but she thinks that will change.

“This one right now, because we haven’t had a whole lot, it’s at about 18 percent. But as ballots come back and as we get those corrected, it won’t be that high. I know as we all get familiar with the processes, and especially the voters, the numbers will go down as far as rejection rate. And we’ve always had a fairly low one, so, it’ll get there. It’s just it’s something new and we’re all learning,” she said.

Stinson says you must remember to put either your driver’s license or last four digits of your social security number under the flap of your mail-in ballot envelope. She says to fill out the section, seal the envelope, sign it and then it’s ready to mail. If your ballot is rejected, the Elections Office will notify you to make changes.

“What happens at that point, we try to contact them. Our Signature Verification Committee will reach out by phone call, we may email. If we catch it in time before it goes to them, we will mail it back to you with a new envelope so you can correct that under the flap and just send it back,” Stinson said.

The city and school election envelopes are green on one side, so they can be distinguished from other election envelopes. If you still need to request a mail-in ballot, you have to include your ID information that matches what’s on your voter registration record. Stinson says to play it safe and write down both your driver’s license and social security info. If you need help, Stinson says to give the Elections Office a call at 806-775-1338.

After all the preparation that goes into holding an election, Stinson hates rejecting a ballot.

“That hurts, I’m going to be honest, that hurts. I’ve been here 18 years and we’ve worked so hard all that time, really trying to keep clean voter rolls and I think we have one of the cleanest in the state,” Stinson said.

I’m sure other election offices are going through similar things right now. The question, for which I still don’t have a good answer, is how or if things have changed since March. Certainly, there are people working on it, but change takes time.

After tens of thousands of mail-in ballots were rejected for the March 1 primary election, advocates are raising concerns while seeing what they can do to avoid a repeat of this under the state’s new election security law that increased limits on mail-in voting.

[…]

AARP Texas Director Tina Tran said she was worried this means the votes of Texans 65-years-old and older were disproportionately tossed, since this group is traditionally the biggest percentage of voters who vote by mail.

“We do know of eligible voters who are able to vote by mail, voters 65 and older make up a huge percentage of those eligible. Those are our members. That’s our demographic. That’s who we fight for,” Tran said. “To see nearly 25,000 mail-in ballots rejected, I can glean from that it is a significant number of folks who are 65 and older. That’s why AARP is concerned. Of course, we have an interest in making sure people who want to vote are able to vote.”

Critics that included elections workers had raised alarms this could happen in the months leading up to the March 1 primary election.

[…]

Looking ahead, all eyes will be on the rejection rates for the May runoff election and November general election.

Tran said it will be on advocates and groups, like AARP Texas, to inform voters of the new measures that have thus far tripped up thousands of voters.

“Clearly, we have to step up our game. We’re not reaching certain people. There might be other trip-ups. One of the things we really need to pay attention to right now is why these ballots are getting rejected,” Tran said. “The numbers are deeply troubling. If we don’t change our strategy, if we don’t change our tactics, we could see numbers higher. Leading up to the general, if we get 12 % of mail-in ballots rejected, that’s a really significant number.”

From my perspective, it’s very much on the Texas Democratic Party, every county Democratic Party, and all of their affiliated clubs and organizations and volunteers as well. Remember, there are a whole lot of people who haven’t experienced the new law yet, and won’t until November. We have just a few months to get this right.

Election administrators are doing what they can as well.

As early voting in the May 7 election gets underway, Bexar County elections officials are taking steps to ensure they don’t have a repeat of the March 1 Primary elections in which nearly 22% of mail ballots were ultimately rejected.

This time around, every mail ballot is sent out with an informational insert reminding the voter about a new, ID number requirement that tripped up many people in the primary. That election was the first to be conducted under the requirements of the controversial state voting law, Senate Bill 1.

SB 1 requires voters to write an ID number associated with their registration on the outside of their mail ballot’s carrier envelope in a spot covered by the flap. Many either missed that requirement entirely, or wrote down the wrong number – writing in their driver’s license number, for example, when their registration was under their Social Security Number.

“It was like a tsunami,” Elections Administrator Jacquelyn Callanen said of the rejected ballots.

[…]

The Bexar County Elections Department is now including an insert in every mail ballot it sends out, Callanen said, reminding voters to include the required ID numbers – preferably both of them.

“We’re asking for both numbers because then we stand a better chance, depending on which one we have on file,” Callanen said.

The elections department website also includes detailed information on the changes to the mail ballots at the top of its main page.

Callanen is aiming for a rejection rate under 5% for the May 7 elections and says, so far, things are looking better.

That’s encouraging. I have not seen any reporting from Harris County yet, but hopefully there will be something soon. The HarrisVotes webpage has this FAQ about voting by mail that talks about the new requirements, but doesn’t explicitly say to put in both numbers. That’s a gap that needs to be addressed.

Anyway. The Day Four EV report is here. I’m not going to do any other comparisons as there’s not really anything to compare it to, but we do have 36,354 total votes cast so far, 14,951 in person and 21,403 by mail. At some point, maybe we’ll know how many tried and failed to vote by mail.

More on the constitutional amendments

From the inbox, from State Rep. Gene Wu:

Rep. Gene Wu

Please share with your neighbors, family, tenants, parishioners, and community partners.

Governor Greg Abbott issued a proclamation setting Saturday, May 7, 2022 as the special election day for two proposed constitutional amendments in Texas.

The League of Women Voters of Texas has prepared a Voters Guide for the 2022 Special Constitutional Amendments Election using the analyses language from the Texas Legislative Council.

The League’s nonpartisan Voters Guide is available in English or  Spanish. And if you’d rather listen to their YouTube video on the proposed constitutional amendments you may find them at Proposition One and Proposition Two.

It is an honor to serve and represent you.

The LWV explainers are simple and straightforward, with the proposition text and arguments for and against for each. The TLC docs are more thorough but also more dense and with all of the legislative background that you may or may not care about. Together they do a fine job of telling you all you need to know about the amendments on the ballot. Go forth and vote.

May 2022 special election Day One EV report: There were how many mail ballots?

Hey, it’s early voting time for the May 2022 special election. You know what that means, so here’s your Day One EV report for it. And here’s a comparison for Day One with the two most recent countywide elections:


Election  InPerson    Mail   Total    Sent
==========================================
Nov21        2,622  29,005  31,627  83,909
Mar22        9,815   4,053  13,868  39,366
Apr22        2,800  17,717  20,517  57,342

You can find the final EV reports for these here: November 2021 and March 2022. I’m calling this election “April 2022” above so it will be less confusing, since “Mar22 and “May22” are so similar.

I admit to being somewhat flabbergasted by the mail ballot numbers for this election. It’s a lower profile election than the one last November, but all things considered it’s off to a pretty good start. I’m keeping my eyes open for any stories about mail ballot issues, whether it’s the ballot applications, about which we had already heard plenty by this time in February, or the returned ballots. I am hopeful that at least the worst of the problems have been resolved – for sure, the county election offices should know what they’re doing, and the SOS should have its act together – but there will undoubtedly be people voting for the first time under the new law, so there will still be friction. If we’re lucky and we’ve learned from the experience, there will be less of it. That’s what I want, and that’s what the goal needs to be for November. This is the first test run, so we need to know how it goes.

On a side note, on the matter of endorsements, the following was in the Monday morning email newsletter from Progress Texas:

Vote YES on State Props 1 and 2. Prop 1 provides property tax relief to elderly homeowners and homeowners with disabilities, many of whom live on fixed incomes. Prop 2 would provide property tax relief to homeowners at a time when housing costs and property taxes have skyrocketed in our state.

Some people have asked me about the two propositions. I’d been planning to vote for Prop 2 and was ambivalent about Prop 1. I’m willing to follow this advice, but if you think otherwise please leave a comment.

Where are the endorsements?

As you know, early voting has begun for the May 7 election, which includes two Constitutional amendments and the special election for HCC District 2. As of last night when I drafted this, I see no endorsements in any of these elections on the Chron’s opinion page. Are these elections not worth it to them, or have they just not gotten around to them yet? I sure hope it’s the latter, and that they will rectify that quickly. I don’t know what they’re waiting for.

Seventeen days after that election will be the primary runoffs. A quick check of the Erik Manning spreadsheet confirms for me that in all of the Democratic primary runoffs for which the Chron issued a March endorsement, their preferred candidate is still running. In ballot order:

CD38 – Duncan Klussman
Lt. Governor – Mike Collier
Attorney General – Joe Jaworski
Comptroller – Janet Dudding
Land Commissioner – Jay Kleberg
SBOE4 – Staci Childs
HD147 – Danielle Bess
185th Criminal Court – Judge Jason Luong
208th Criminal Court – Kim McTorry
Commissioners Court Precinct 4 – Lesley Briones

You may or may not agree with these, but those are who the Chron picked. They have no races to revisit among them. They do, however, have three more races to consider, which were among those they skipped in Round One:

312th Family Court – Judge Chip Wells vs Teresa Waldrop
County Civil Court at Law #4 – MK Singh vs Treasea Treviño
Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1 Place 2 – Steve Duble vs Sonia Lopez

The links are to my judicial Q&As for those who submitted responses. You can find all the Q&A and interview links from the primary here. More recently I interviewed Staci Childs and Coretta Mallet-Fontenot in SBOE4; I will have an interview with Janet Dudding on Monday. There’s no need to rush if the Chron wants to circle back to these races they ignored originally – they can wait till after the May 7 election, but not too long since early voting there will begin on May 16. It’s only three runoff races (*), plus those two Constitutional amendments and that one HCC race. C’mon, Chron editorial board, you can do this.

(*) There may be some Republican runoffs for them to revisit as well. I didn’t check and am obviously not as interested. I doubt most Republican runoff voters are either, so whatever. The HD147 special election is between the same two candidates as in the primary runoff, so we can assume the endorsement for one carries over to the other.

Early voting for the May 7 elections begins tomorrow

We all have at least one election to vote in, so get ready to get out there.

On May 7, Texas voters will have the opportunity to weigh in on two proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution, as well as a number of other contests, from local propositions to city council seats.

Early voting for the May 7 elections runs from Monday, April 25, through Tuesday, May 3. As always, polls will be open on Election Day, Saturday, May 7, from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.

[…]

To vote by mail in Texas, you must be 65 years old or older, sick or disabled, out of the county on Election Day and during the early voting period or confined in jail but otherwise eligible.

The last day to apply for a mail-in ballot for the May 7 election is Tuesday, April 26 (received, not postmarked).

This will be a good chance to see if any counties have learned from the March mail ballot debacle and taken steps to reduce the number of rejected ballots. That responsibility very much falls on the political parties as well, and the May 24 primary runoffs will be the bigger test for them. I will be keeping a close eye on this.

(By the way, tomorrow is also the deadline to register to vote for the primary runoffs, if somehow you are not currently registered to vote.)

A list of early voting locations for Harris County for the May 7 election is here and the interactive map is here. Note that fewer locations than usual are available, as this is going to be a low turnout affair, so check to ensure your regular spot is open. I note that the West End Multi-Service Center, on Heights Blvd just south of I-10, which I’ve been using lately as it’s a reasonable bike ride from my house, is not available this time. Check before you head out and save yourself some trouble.

What’s on your ballot for this election? Everyone gets to vote on the two constitutional amendments that were placed on the ballot during the last special session. Prop 2, which increases the homestead exemption from $25K to $40K, is worth a Yes. Prop 1, which approves a property tax cut for elderly and disabled homeowners, is your call. Wherever you are and whatever other races there may be, this one is for all of us to vote on.

In Harris County there is the special election for the remainder of the term in HD147, which is between Jolanda Jones and Danielle Bess. Those two are also in the primary runoff on May 24 – yes, I know, this is weird and confusing – and it really only matters if the same person wins both races. For higher stakes there is the special election in HCC District 2, with four candidates running to replace Rhonda Skillern-Jones. You can listen to the interviews I did with each candidate. For HD147:

Jolanda Jones
Danielle Bess

For HCC2:

Charlene Ward Johnson
Baby Jayne McCullough
Kathy Lynch Gunter
Terrance Hall

Also in Harris County, there are several school bond referenda:

In Fort Bend County, there are two races for Fort Bend ISD, in District 3 and District 7. Note that one of the candidates for District 7 is a problem.

In Montgomery County, there are a bunch of special purpose district elections. If you live in Montgomery, check very carefully to see if one of those includes you.

There are undoubtedly plenty of others, but I’ve only got so much space and time. Check your local elections office webpage for further details, and get out there and vote.

Four candidates file for CD34 special election

The sprint is on.

Rep. Filemon Vela

Two Democrats and two Republicans have filed for the June 14 special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, in a South Texas congressional seat that the GOP wants to flip.

The filing deadline was 5 p.m. Wednesday, and the candidates are Democrat Dan Sanchez, a Harlingen attorney; Republican Mayra Flores, the current GOP nominee for the seat in the November general election; Republican Juana “Janie” Cantu-Cabrera, one of Flores’ competitors from the March primary; and Democrat Rene Coronado of Harlingen, who listed his occupation as “city civil service director.”

The special election was triggered by Vela’s resignation last month to take a job with Akin Gump, a prominent law and lobbying firm. He had already announced he was not seeking reelection.

The winner of the special election will only get to finish Vela’s term, which extends until January. But Republicans are eager to capture the seat as they try to gain new ground in South Texas, and the special election is happening under the current, more competitive boundaries of the 34th District. The November election for a full term in Congress will be held under new district boundaries that were redrawn during last year’s redistricting process.

Top Republicans have already consolidated behind Flores. She has been endorsed for the special election by Gov. Greg Abbott, Texas GOP chair Matt Rinaldi, Texas GOP vice chair Cat Parks and the Congressional Leadership Fund, the leading super PAC aligned with House GOP leadership.

Sanchez, a former Cameron County commissioner, has the support of Vela, as well as U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, who is currently the Democratic nominee for the full term in the 34th District. He declined to run in the special election.

See here, here, and here for the background. I don’t feel any better about this race than I did before, but at least the Dems found someone with a bit of a pedigree to run in this otherwise thankless race. We’ll see if that shows up in the fundraising, for which there’s not much time – early voting for this thing begins May 31. Those of you in the current CD34, take note.

Interview with Terrance Hall

Terrance Hall

Today we wrap up the series of interviews with candidates in the May 7 special election for HCC Trustee in District 2. Our conversation today is with Terrance Hall, the pastor of Kingdom Builders Cathedral Church and an HCC graduate himself, along with his wife. His campaign webpage is short on biography, so I’ll say instead that early voting for the May 7 election, which includes the two property tax-related constitutional amendments on the statewide special election ballot begins a week from Monday, April 25, and runs through May 3. Early voting locations and hours can be found here, and the interactive map is here. Now here’s my interview with Terrance Hall:

    PREVIOUSLY:

Charlene Ward Johnson
Baby Jayne McCullough
Kathy Lynch Gunter

Interview with Kathy Lynch Gunter

Kathy Lynch Gunter

We continue with our interview series of candidates running in the May 7 special election for HCC Trustee in District 2, and this time we have a candidate who has run for HCC Trustee before. Kathy Lynch Gunter ran for this seat in 2019, also against now-former trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones. A graduate of Kashmere High School and Paul Quinn College, she is a career educator who has worked in HISD, Aldine, North Forest, and Windham. Gunter is a Democratic precinct chair and voter registrar, she founded the Houston Gardens Civic Association and served as its president for five years, and she currently serves as chair for the Environmental Justice Committee in Houston’s District B for councilwomen Tarsha Jackson. Here’s the interview:

    PREVIOUSLY:

Charlene Ward Johnson
Baby Jayne McCullough

Interview with Y. Jayne “Baby Jayne” McCullough

“Baby Jayne” McCullough

We continue with our series of interviews wit candidates in the May 7 special election for HCC District 2. I consider races like this to be one of the core purposes of this blog, since they get little attention but they matter, and we should all know about the candidates running. Today’s interview is with Youletta Jayne McCullough, who ran for HISD District II in 2015, as it happens against then-incumbent Rhonda Skillern Jones. McCullough, who goes by the nickname “Baby Jayne”, didn’t have a campaign website or Facebook page up at this time, but I found this CV/professional profile for her on the Prairie View A&M School of Education website, where she has served as an adjunct professor since 2006. She has a BS, MA, and EdD from Texas Southern University, and she has worked in HISD and other places as a teacher, curriculum and professional development manager, grant writer, and more since 1980. Here’s what we talked about:

    PREVIOUSLY:

Charlene Ward Johnson

Interview with Charlene Ward Johnson

Charlene Ward Johnson

In less than a month, it will be time to vote in the May special election, which for some people will include the special election in HCC District 2 to fill the seat left vacant by Rhonda Skillern-Jones’ resignation. Four candidates are on the ballot, and this week I will present to you interviews with each of them. We begin today with Charlene Ward Johnson, who is a UH graduate with a master’s in organizational management. She has worked in the electric utility and customer service industry for over 25 years and is on the board of several community organizations – Vice President of the Greater Houston Frontiers, President of her neighborhood’s Civic Club, and President of University of Houston Black Alumni Association. Here’s what we talked about:

Look for the interviews with the other candidates later this week. I will also have interviews for the May 24 Democratic primary runoffs after that.

CD34 special election set for June 14

Wasting no time.

Rep. Filemon Vela

Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday called a June 14 special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, in a South Texas seat that Republicans are working to flip.

The filing deadline for the special election is April 13, and early voting starts May 31, according to Abbott’s proclamation.

Vela resigned Thursday to take a job with Akin Gump, a prominent lobbying and law firm. He had already announced he was not seeking reelection.

The special election will be held under the previous, more competitive boundaries of the district, under which President Joe Biden carried it by only 4 percentage points. His underperformance throughout South Texas emboldened Republicans who are now trying to make fresh inroads throughout the region.

The winner of the special election will only get to finish Vela’s term, which goes through January 2023. Still, Republicans are eager to score an early win on their way to November, and the current GOP nominee for the full term in the 34th District, Mayra Flores, has already said she would run in any special election.

[…]

Abbott had the option of scheduling the special election for the Nov. 8 uniform election date or calling an “emergency special election” to slate it sooner. He went the latter route, citing his disaster declarations on COVID-19 and the Mexican border to argue that it is “imperative to fill this vacancy to ensure that Congressional District 34 is fully represented as soon as possible.” He also cited the coming hurricane season.

See here and here for the background. The “emergency” justification seems awfully weak to me – compare and contrast with Rick Perry calling a November 2005 special election for HD143, which he did in late May following the death of Rep. Joe Moreno, even though he was about to call what turned out to be two special sessions of the Legislature, running in total from June 21 to August 19. I’m not sure it would be possible to challenge this in court – who would even have standing to sue? – and recent precedent shows that SCOTx is not all that interested in limiting the Governor’s powers even if someone tried. And, even if I don’t like the politics involved here, I can’t say I like the idea of forcing delays in elections, also for political reasons. Just because we’re not holding a great hand doesn’t mean we should sue to stop the game.

Anyway. We’ll see if Dems can scrounge up a respectable candidate for the position of placeholder, and if that person can get any financial support if they do materialize. Just remember, the real villain in this, the person who put us in this unenviable position, is Filemon Vela, who I remind you is a DNC official. We’re here because he couldn’t wait a couple more months before cashing in as a lobbyist. Thank you ever so much for your service, Filemon.

January 2022 campaign finance reports: HCC

Previously: City of Houston, HISD

If HISD campaign finance reports are less sexy than city of Houston finance reports, then HCC finance reports are like HISD finance reports wearing thermal underwear. Nevertheless, we persist.

Monica Flores Richart – Dist 1
Adriana Tamez – Dist 3
Reagan Flowers – Dist 4
Robert Glaser – Dist 5
Dave Wilson – Dist 6
Cynthia Lenton-Gary – Dist 7
Eva Loredo – Dist 8
Pretta VanDible Stallworth – Dist 9


Dist  Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
==========================================================
1       Richart          0          0        0       2,608
3         Tamez      9,775     15,040        0      12,641
4       Flowers      8,561     18,440        0       2,985
5        Glaser          0          0    4,000       8,292
6        Wilson          0     14,879        0           0
7   Lenton-Gary          0          0        0           0
8        Loredo     10,589      6,418    7,000       8,520
9    Stallworth          0          0        0           0

The July 2021 reports are here, and the 30 day reports for November are here. As you might expect, all the action comes from the trustees who were on the ballot in November.

Dave Wilson sigh is now listed in the HCC campaign finance reports system as “David Wilson”, which I’m pretty sure is new. I’d say for sure, but there are no past reports for him that I can find, even though he’d been a trustee before and has been a candidate for trustee many times. Every other incumbent has every single finance report for their time in office available through this interface, but not Wilson. I don’t know if this is because of a quirk in their reporting system that can’t handle trustee with discontinuous service time or if they just forgot that he used to be there. Either way this is all we get.

As is usually the case, Wilson doesn’t raise money, he just spends whatever he spends out of personal funds. He has normal looking expenditures for mail, yard signs, advertising, and campaign consulting. I guess because he was technically unopposed, he didn’t have to dip into his usual bag of tricks.

I didn’t spend much time looking at the other reports. About $15K of Reagan Flowers’ expenditures was a transfer to her state campaign account. Perhaps she’ll move some funds back now if she has them left over; we’ll see that in the next July report if so.

The next finance reports of interest will be for the special election in District 2 in May. I’ll check on those at the 30 day point. I will also have interviews with the candidates in that race the week after next.

Filemon officially resigns

Feh.

Rep. Filemon Vela

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela will formally resign from Congress late Thursday in a move that officially kicks off what’s expected to be a scramble to replace him in a special election.

Vela, D-Brownsville, previously announced his intention to step down before the end of his term because he intends on taking a job with Akin Gump, a prominent lobbying and law firm.

“I write to inform you that I have notified Texas Governor Greg Abbott of my resignation from the U.S. House of Representatives, effective today at 11:59 PM EST,” he wrote to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “It has been a profound honor to represent the people of the 34th Congressional District of Texas for the last nine years, and my distinct pleasure to serve under your leadership.”

Now that the resignation is official, Gov. Greg Abbott has the power to set a special election date — a development that Republicans are relishing as part of their offensive targeting three congressional seats in South Texas this fall.

A special election will be a complicated affair.

Whoever wins will only serve for the remainder of Vela’s unfinished term, which is a matter of months. The November general election will determine who serves the next full term representing the 34th Congressional District.

See here for the background. If the special election isn’t until November, the next uniform election date since it’s too late for May, then this won’t amount to anything more than the Dems being a member light for most of the year. If it happens before then, which it will if Greg Abbott declares the need for an emergency election (as I expect he will), then the Republicans will have the advantage of a candidate who’s already running and has money to spend and a sure source of national donations, while the Dems will need to find someone willing to be a placeholder. Not a great situation, obviously. It’s a mess, one with no clear solution, and one that is entirely the responsibility of now ex-Rep. Vela, who I remind you is a DNC official and should really want to avoid making such messes for his team. It is what it is at this point. We’ll see when the election is called and go from there.

What’s on the ballot for the May statewide special election

Yes, you will have a reason to vote this May. It’s a statewide special constitutional amendment election, thanks to the most recent special session. Here’s what’s on tap.

Voters will head to the polls starting April 25 to decide whether to cut property taxes for homeowners by an average $176 a year and provide additional tax savings for elderly and disabled Texans.

There are two proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot. Election Day is May 7.

Proposition 1 would approve the tax cuts for elderly and disabled homeowners beginning in 2023, while a second measure seeks to raise the state’s homestead exemption from $25,000 to $40,000, lowering school property taxes.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Houston Republican who championed both amendments, has said the first proposal would offer relief for about 1.8 million seniors and 180,000 homeowners with disabilities, amounting to roughly $220 million in savings in 2024.

The increased homestead exemption for schools, meanwhile, would save homeowners about $176 annually starting this year, he said. Actual savings would vary depending upon local tax rates.

[…]

Current law freezes school property taxes for most homeowners when they turn 65, and those with disabilities receive the same benefit when purchasing a new property. The proposed change would lower their bills.

“Over-65 homeowners will see their freeze values actually decline, and lifetime savings from both bills in the many thousands,” Bettencourt said.

The second proposal was a compromise after state lawmakers tossed earlier plans to use federal COVID-19 funds to offer a one-time check to Texans who claimed homestead exemptions on their property.

A larger homestead exemption, which is Prop 2, is something I’ve advocated before in the past as a better and more equitable way to reduce property taxes. I’ll vote for that one. Prop 1 hinges on the state boosting its contribution to public education funding, which had been declining as a share of the overall pot of education monies. On the one hand, I’m always wary of this sort of thing because the tendency is just to move money from one budget item to another rather than try to grow revenue to meet growing need. On the other hand, if it’s public education that winds up with a bigger piece of the pie as a result, well, there are worse outcomes. I’ll wait and see on this one, which if you’re keeping score isn’t an outright No.

If all this sounds relatively simple, take comfort in knowing that the actual ballot language is epically ugly, requiring a PhD in Lege-speak to understand it.

For Prop 1, in the voting booth for the May 7 election you’ll be looking at 77 words of incoherency. Ready? I apologize ahead of time. Here it is:

“The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for the reduction of the amount of a limitation on the total amount of ad valorem taxes that may be imposed for general elementary and secondary public school purposes on the residence homestead of a person who is elderly or disabled to reflect any statutory reduction from the preceding tax year in the maximum compressed rate of the maintenance and operations taxes imposed for those purposes on the homestead.”

Who wrote this monstrosity? Answer: The Texas Legislative Council, which helps lawmakers write their bills.

I called the TLC and talked briefly to general counsel Jon Heining. I asked him why all the gobbledygook?

“Oh, no,” he replied. “We would never explain why we did something. Absolutely not. All of the services we provide for the Texas Legislature are confidential. We don’t comment on the work we do.”

He said his group is publishing a guide to the text in the next few days.

That author asked Sen. Bettencourt about it as well, and got more or less the same response as above. Like I said, I’ll vote for Prop 2 and will wait for more feedback on Prop 1. You should look for more guidance on it as well.

Rep. Filemon Vela to step down

Another special election, though this one is already a little chaotic.

Rep. Filemon Vela

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela confirmed Thursday he will resign from Congress in the coming weeks, a decision that comes after he announced last year he would retire from the House.

The South Texas Democrat will leave before the end of his term to work for Akin Gump, a prominent law and lobbying firm.

The Washington-based publication Punchbowl first reported the news Thursday morning, and the Brownsville Democrat confirmed it to The Texas Tribune.

That development will set off a unique special election to replace him. His 34th District is based in Brownsville.

Rep. Vela had previously announced he was not running for re-election. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, the incumbent in CD15, switched to CD34 after redistricting made his district redder, and won the primary for that. My initial thought was that this was going to be a November special election, since it’s too late for May, and with Rep. Gonzalez not running there’s a good chance we’d get ourselves a two-month Congressperson, who would have a mighty tough act to follow in that department.

But that was too simplistic, and didn’t take a couple of things into account. This followup Trib story goes into more detail. I don’t have the energy to do a deep dive, so let me sum up. First, in regard to when the election might be:

The main factor here is that Rep. Vela hasn’t resigned yet. No special election can be set until he actually leaves Congress. The longer he waits, the less likely we’ll get an election before November. I don’t know how long he’d have to wait to make anything but a November election practicable, but if held on until like July 4, there would probably be little reason to bother with anything before November.

Why does this matter? Well, that’s the other thing. The special election in CD34 will be in the current CD34, which was only a 51-47 Biden district in 2020. The new CD34 is 57-42 for Biden, though as we’ve often seen downballot Dems did better. While Mayra Flores, the Republican running in November in the new CD34, has announced she will run in a special election in the old CD34, Dems don’t have an obvious candidate. Remember, Vicente Gonzalez is still representing CD15, and would have to resign there to run in a CD34 special. That’s a big advantage for the Republicans, since who would even be open to being recruited to run as a placeholder in a tough race? But not running anyone, or just letting the usual flotsam that signs up for random races be the standard-bearers, isn’t a great option either.

You would think that Filemon Vela, who is among other things a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, would be sensitive to those concerns. And maybe he is, I don’t know. What I do know is that if he leaves his position in Congress for the obviously plush and lucrative position as a hired gun for Akin Gump he’s putting his fellow Democrats in a tough spot. All he needs to do to avoid this is not resign until, like, August or so. (July might be good enough, but why take a chance?) We’re talking four more months in Congress. That’s not much to ask. If you’re a constituent of Rep. Vela, I’d recommend you call his office and urge him to stay put for the time being. This is an easily avoidable mess, but it’s all on him whether it needs to be cleaned up or not.

Four file for the HCC special election

Monday was the filing deadline.

On Saturday, May 7, 2022, Houston Community College System (“HCC”) will hold a special election to fill a vacancy for the HCC Board of Trustees position in geographic district II for the unexpired term through December 31, 2025.

The following candidates filed an Application for a Place on the Ballot for the May 7, 2022 HCC Special Trustee Election (Listed by last name alphabetical and in accordance with the candidate’s name as it will appear on the ballot):

Kathy “Lynch” Gunter

Terrance Hall

Charlene Ward Johnson

Y. Jayne “Baby Jane” McCullough

See here and here for the background. Kathy Lynch-Gunter (I have no idea why her name is listed as above) ran for this position in 2019, losing to the now-resigned Rhonda Skillern-Jones in the runoff. Google tells me that Terrance Hall was at one point a candidate for Houston City Council District B in 2011, but he ran into some trouble, and must not have filed because I don’t see his name in the election results. “Baby Jane” McCullough ran for HISD District II in 2015, as Youlette Jayne “Baby Jane” McCullough, running as an opponent to then-HISD Trustee Skillern-Jones, and finished third in a four-person field. Charlene Ward Johnson, who as far as I can tell has not run for office before, has a website up, and was the first one to send a press release announcing her candidacy to a list of recipients that included me. Now you know everything I know about these candidates.

I do plan to do interviews for this race, probably sometime in April. In the meantime, Monday was also the filing deadline for the HD147 special election, which as noted has far lower stakes as it is just to fill the unexpired term for outgoing Rep. Garnet Coleman. As expected, the only people to file for this were the two candidates in the primary runoff for HD147, Jolanda Jones and Danielle Bess. That means that the special election winner could then go on to lose the primary runoff and not actually get to serve while the Lege is in session, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. I’ve already done interviews with these candidates, so you can find them and give them a listen if you haven’t already.

Two more May special elections

Looks like May will be busier than expected around here.

Governor Greg Abbott today issued a proclamation announcing Saturday, May 7, 2022 as the special election date for the Texas State House of Representatives District 147 seat recently vacated by Representative Garnet F. Coleman.

Candidates who wish to have their names placed on the special election ballot must file their applications with the Secretary of State no later than 5:00 PM on Monday, March 7, 2022. Early voting will begin on Monday, April 25, 2022.

Rep. Coleman had announced his retirement from the Legislature in November. We’re familiar with the cast of candidates seeking to succeed him. More recently, Coleman announced that he would formally leave his seat at the end of February, which is to say today. The timing of his announcement made it just in time for a special election to be called for May, with March 7 the statutory deadline for candidate filings. Note that this election, much like the 2016 special elections for HDs 120 and 139, as well as the more contentious November 2015 special election for HD118, is only to fill the remainder of Rep. Coleman’s term. Whoever wins this election only gets to serve through the end of this year. As such, the most likely candidates will be whoever the top two finishers are in the primary, since they would also be competing for the chance to get an edge in seniority on other incoming House members next year. If the winner of the special is someone other than the November nominee, that person gets little more than a participation trophy.

While this election is unlikely to be of great interest locally, it does join with the HCC special election and the statewide special election to put more action on the local calendar than we usually get. There will also be a special election in HD38 to fill out the remaining term of State Rep. Eddie Lucio III, which might have been interesting in a “are the Republicans really making progress in South Texas” kind of way, except that no Republicans filed for HD38 in the primary, so this one doesn’t even have symbolic value. It’s either some extra seniority for the primary winner, or nothing more than an asterisk. But it is on the calendar, and now you know.

We will have a statewide special election in May

Surprise!

Texas voters will decide whether to lower some property taxes that fund schools in a May 7 special election.

Two propositions will be on the statewide ballot. Gov. Greg Abbott officially set the upcoming election date Wednesday.

The first proposition would draw down property taxes for elderly and disabled Texans by reducing the amount they pay to public schools, which typically makes up most of a homeowner’s tax bill. The state would then cover that reduced revenue for school districts. The measure would cost the state more than $744 million from 2024 to 2026.

The second measure would raise Texas’ homestead exemption from $25,000 to $40,000 for school district property taxes, which would save the average homeowner about $176 on their annual property tax bill. If approved, this measure would cost the state $600 million annually. The state will use a $4.4 billion surplus to pay for the measure’s first-year cost, but as of October, it was unclear where future funding would come from.

Both measures passed during special legislative sessions last year with bipartisan support from lawmakers.

I have a vague memory of this from last summer, and I thought I wrote something about it at the time, but if I did I can’t find it. Go read the linked Trib story for the details. This will be on the May ballot because it happened too late to be on last year’s November ballot, when this sort of thing normally happens. Having it at that time almost certainly means there will be even lower turnout than the typical November-of-odd-year Constitutional amendment vote, but at least it means that the HCC special election will have some company. So mark your calendar, between this and the inevitable primary runoffs you now have two reasons to vote in May.

HCC special election set

All you need to know.

On Saturday, May 7, 2022, Houston Community College System (“HCC”) will hold a special election to fill a vacancy in the HCC Board of Trustee position for geographic district II for the unexpired term through December 31, 2025.

Interested candidates desiring to run for a HCC Trustee Position must file for a place on the election ballot on or before Monday, March 7, 2022 at 5:00 p.m. (the “Filing Deadline”). All applications must be filed in person, by mail or e-mail at the following address:

Houston Community College System
Office of Board Services
3100 Main, 12th Floor
Houston, TX 77002
[email protected]

The HCC Office of Board Services will accept in-person applications for a place on the ballot during the designated filing period, Monday through Friday between 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. NO applications will be accepted after the Filing Deadline. There is no filing fee.

You may pick up an application form from HCC Office of Board Services at the address listed above or from the Texas Secretary of State’s website at https://www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/forms/index.shtml.

Please view the election Frequently Asked Questions below for additional election information.

For remaining questions, please contact the HCC Office of Board Services at 713-718-8398 or [email protected] Please note that HCC Office of Board Services is unable to provide legal advice.

See here for the background. The term of office is through December 31, 2025, so you get 3.5 years in office before you have to run again. As I have noted before, this election will be separate from the primary runoffs, which will occur on Tuesday, May 24. As also noted, this will be the only election administered by Harris County on that date. A quick view of the county election archives should convince you that it is unusual to have a May election in an even-numbered year in Harris County. There may be other elections on the May uniform election date – I’m told there will be one in Friendswood – but most likely they will not be run by the county. If you’re in HCC District 2, keep your eyes open for this. I’ll see about doing some interviews once candidates have filed.

Still on the horizon for HCC will be redistricting. No big deal, it should be a fairly simple matter of equalizing population, but it will need to be done. HISD has to do this as well, and their task will be similar. A decade ago, HCC had annexed North Forest and Alief ISDs and needed to include them in their plans. (HISD later took over North Forest and had to re-redraw its districts to accommodate that.) There’s nothing so complicated this time. Here’s the HCC redistricting page from 2011 if you want to get a feel for how this goes.

HCC will have an election to fill its vacancy

So much for an appointment.

Re: HCC Board of Trustees District II Position

Residents of District II and the Community At-Large:

The Houston Community College (HCC) Board of Trustees remains committed to serving the best interest of the entire community. This commitment extends to our students, faculty, staff, and equally to each and every district that comprises the HCC service area.

During the course of the past few months, the HCC governing board has had the responsibility of navigating challenging circumstances which directly impact District II and its residents. In fact, these unforeseen circumstances impact the entire HCC district and call upon us as a governing board to act prudently in a manner that best serves our community, while meeting the legal and policy requirements available to us.

Notably, the events surrounding the District II position have been distressing for many in District II, the HCC community, and for the HCC governing board. However, we will overcome this difficulty by working together in service to our remarkably diverse community.

To advance this important matter, the law provides for an election to fill the District II trustee position in May 2022. This anticipated election empowers the people of District II to choose their desired trustee and once elected, that individual will begin service on the HCC Board of Trustees. Until a new trustee is seated, we invite the District II community to apprise us of any concerns, questions and needs that may arise.

We greatly appreciate all the residents of District II and your patience throughout this process. We will continue to diligently work – in partnership – with the community to ensure that we all emerge from this situation stronger.

See here and here for the background. The message was signed by Dr. Cynthia Lenton-Gary, the new Board Chair. I don’t know why they were unable to find a suitable person to appoint to the position, which has been the normal course of action, but here we are. The election has not yet been set – I presume that will happen at the next Board meeting – but as noted before, it will be the only election run by Harris County on the uniform election date in May, which is Saturday, May 7. The primary runoff date is Tuesday, May 24, so you lucky duckies in HCC District 2 will get to vote twice in May. The lucky ducky who wins that election will then have to run again in 2023 get to serve through the end of what would have been Skillern-Jones’ term, through 2025. I’ll let you know when there’s more.

Huffman wins District G election

No runoff needed.

Mary Nan Huffman

Mary Nan Huffman, an attorney for the Houston Police Officers’ Union, has won a special election to become the next District G representative on City Council, according to the unofficial returns.

With all voting centers reporting Tuesday night, Huffman finished with 54 percent of the vote, enough to clear the threshold to win without a runoff.

Community organizer and volunteer Piper Madland came in second with 30 percent, followed by attorney Duke Millard with 12 percent, retired Houston Fire Department assistant chief Roy Reyes, Jr. with 4 percent, and Houshang “Hank” Taghizadeh with 0 percent.

The election in west Houston was triggered to replace Councilmember Greg Travis, who resigned his post late last year to run for a seat in the Texas House of Representatives. Travis will remain at City Hall until his successor is sworn in.

[…]

Off-cycle elections typically feature meager turnout, and that was true in this race.

Roughly 8,300 people cast ballots in the election, a turnout of about 6 percent. That is down from 29,500 votes and a 23 percent turnout in the 2019 general election. The district has more than 137,000 eligible voters.

See here for the previous update, and here for the final unofficial vote totals. Huffman was just over 50% after early voting, and expanded on that on Election Day. I assume she’ll be sworn in shortly after the vote is canvassed, so maybe by the end of next week.

As for the turnout question, let’s fill in the rest of that table from the previous post:


Election        Mail   Early   E-Day  Total  Mail%  Early%
==========================================================
May09 Dist H     647   1,259   2,280  4,186  33.9%   45.5%
May18 Dist K   1,737   1,867   1,531  5,135  41.2%   70.2%
Jan22 Dist G     191   4,101   4,154  8,446   3.7%   50.8%

Remember, “Mail%” is “Mail” divided by “Mail + “Early”, and “Early%” is “Mail + “Early” divided by “Total”. As previously noted, final overall turnout as a percent of registered voters was 4.46% in H in 2009 and 6.01% in K in 2018. Going by the Election Day reporting (click on the box with the check in it, which is the “Voter Turn Out” tab), turnout here was 6.10%, just beating out the District K special in 2018. Did the previously-discussed lack of mail ballots result in a reduction of overall turnout, or did it mostly just shift voting behavior from mail ballots to in-person ballots? We can’t say from one data point. Might be worthwhile to check the voter files for previous odd-year elections to see who the regular mail voters had been and then see if they showed up for this one. I don’t have the time for that now but maybe someone else does. Whatever the reasons were, it’s a striking difference and will be worth paying attention to in future elections. Anyway, congrats to CM-elect Huffman, who will be on the ballot again next year for a full term.

District G special election final early turnout

I’m going to start this post with some numbers, to provide context.


Election        Mail   Early   E-Day  Total  Mail%  Early%
==========================================================
May09 Dist H     647   1,259   2,280  4,186  33.9%   45.5%
May18 Dist K   1,737   1,867   1,531  5,135  41.2%   70.2%
Jan22 Dist G     157   4,102                  3.7%

In the comments to my previous post, I was reminded that there was another recent special City Council election, the one in 2018 to succeed the late CM Larry Green, which I had overlooked. You can see the totals for that and the 2009 District H special election above, with the reminder that the 2009 election was done before the Council lines were redrawn and Districts J and K were created. Now compare those to the District G special election totals. Looks a little different, don’t they?

“Mail%” above is the share of mail ballots in all early votes – in other words, it’s the “Mail” column” divided by the sum of the “Mail” and “Early” columns, with the latter representing early in person votes. “Early%” is the share of all pre-Election Day votes, so “Mail” plus “Early” divided by “Total”.

It’s hard to say exactly what is happening in District G, but it is very obvious that the share of mail ballots is way lower than we’d normally expect. Perhaps this won’t have much effect on final turnout, as the early in person number is pretty good in comparison. We’ll have to see what Tuesday brings to make a guess about that. For what it’s worth, final overall turnout as a percent of registered voters was 4.46% in H in 2009 and 6.01% in K in 2018. I don’t know how many RVs are in District G right now, but I do know that in November 2019 there were 129,611 of them. That means we’d need a final turnout of 5,780 to reach District H’s level, and 7,790 to get to District K. That would mean 1,521 or 3,531 total votes on Tuesday, respectively. The former should be easy, the latter might be a stretch, though again it depends on whether people who might have otherwise voted by mail are still voting in this race. I should also note that District G is normally a high-turnout place – 28.83% in 2019, second only to District C and its 30.01% mark. That figure was 19.76% in H and 23.85% in K for 2019, so just equaling the special election turnout mark for those districts here is not much of an accomplishment. Unless a lot of people show up tomorrow – which could happen! We don’t know! – then I’d have to call turnout for this race a bit underwhelming.

Just too many variables in play. Another thing to consider is how much money the candidates have had to spend to inform voters about the race and push them to the polls. The Friday Chron story about the last day of early voting touches on that.

The candidates are: Mary Nan Huffman, an attorney for the Houston Police Officers’ Union and former candidate for Harris County district attorney; Piper Madland, a community organizer and volunteer; Duke Millard, a lawyer and former federal prosecutor; Raul “Roy” Reyes Jr., a retired Houston Fire Department assistant chief; and Houshang “Hank” Taghizadeh — though only “Taghi” will appear on the ballot — who said he works in construction.

City elections officially are nonpartisan, but Huffman, Millard and Reyes are running as conservatives. Madland is progressive, and Taghi has not responded to Chronicle inquiries and does not appear to be actively campaigning.

The candidates have focused mostly on flooding and public safety as they campaign for the seat. Huffman has raised $50,000 for her bid and spent $35,600; Madland has raised $26,000 and spent $16,000; Millard has raised $2,600 and spent $9,400; and Reyes and Taghi do not appear to be raising money.

Not a whole lot of money in this race. I’d be interested to know, if you’re in District G, if you’ve had any contact from any of the candidates. There will almost certainly be more money in the runoff, and I’d bet turnout notches up a bit as well, as it did in H in 2009; Martha Castex-Tatum won District K outright in 2018, so no runoff there. There are 15 polling places open tomorrow, from 7 AM to 7 PM, and you can vote at any of them if you’re in the district. I’ll have results on Wednesday. Go vote, and vote for Piper Madland.

Nobody is voting by mail in the District G special election

Here’s the early voting report through Saturday for the District G special election. A total of 1,608 ballots have been cast in the first six days, of which 1,569 have been in person and thirty-nine (39) have been by mail. Yes, thirty-nine. That’s out of 260 total mail ballots that have been sent to voters who have requested them.

To put this in a bit of perspective, in the November 2021 election, the HISD District I race had the smallest number of mail ballots cast. In that election, 1,438 people voted by mail out of 9,480 total votes. That’s about fifteen percent of votes cast by mail – we’re at 2.4% mail ballots in this race so far. In the November 2019 District G election, there were 2,308 mail ballots cast out of 29,500 total. That’s a much smaller 7.8% of the total, but still more than three times the rate of what we’re seeing so far. Given the increase in voting by mail since 2020, it’s clear something is happening here.

As to what that is, you have to assume that voter suppression bill SB1 is largely to blame. People will vote by mail if it’s available to them, but with only 260 mail ballots being sent out, zero of which had been returned by the first day of early voting, it’s clearly not available to the vast majority of District G voters. The Harris County Elections Administrator’s office is not allowed to send ballot applications to eligible voters. The candidates are, but given the compressed timeline for this race and the likely lack of funds for them so far, I have to assume they haven’t done so. We don’t know how many, but we can assume that a larger than usual number of mail ballot applications are being rejected. The result speaks for itself.

I don’t want to overstate what is happening here. This is a weird election, and as noted it seems likely that none of the candidates has been sending VBM applications to people. That won’t be the case in the primaries or the 2022 general election, and the parties can send applications as well. It’s still shocking to see such low numbers. I should note that we have basically no data for city of Houston special elections – the last one we had was the May 2009 District H special election, which was pre-redistricting and for which there was a much longer lead-up – so I can’t begin to guess how this might affect turnout. A total of 4,141 people voted in that District H race, and we could easily exceed that here. Of course, G is a high-turnout district while H is not, and even with there being fewer districts in 2009 there are far more registered voters in G right now (over 129K in G in 2019 versus 93K in H in 2009), so just surpassing H’s raw total means nothing. Given all the weirdness of this election and the many factors that could be affecting it, who knows what effect what the lack of mail ballots might have. But surely there is some.

Early voting starts tomorrow for the District G special election

Yes, it’s time again for an election.

See here for the background. As noted, the interactive map for early voting locations is here. The PDF with locations and times is here. Early voting will run from Monday the 10th through Friday the 21st, except for Monday the 17th, as that is MLK Day. Hours are 7 AM to 7 PM each day except for Sunday the 16ht (noon to 7 PM) and Thursday the 20th (7 AM to 10 PM). Here are the four locations for early voting:

1. Harris County Administration Building – Conference Room; 4th Floor
1001 Preston Street
Houston, TX 77002
Directions
2. La Quinta Inn & Suites by Wyndham Houston Galleria Area – Small Meeting Room
1625 W Loop S
Houston, TX 77027
Directions
3. Terrace Banquet Hall – Terrace Room
2424 South Voss Road
Houston, TX 77057
Directions
4. Nottingham Park – Meeting Room
926 Country Place Drive
Houston, TX 77079
Directions

There are five candidates running, one of whom is Democrat Piper Madland. Gotta get her into the runoff, and then anything can happen. If you’re in District G, make sure you and your neighbors get out and vote.

UPDATE: Here’s a Chron story about the candidates.

District G special election lineup set

Hey, did you know there was another filing deadline this week? It’s true!

Greg Travis

Five candidates are running to represent west Houston as the next City Council member for District G.

Councilmember Greg Travis resigned the post in October to run for a seat in the Texas House of Representatives. He will remain in the seat until his successor is elected.

Candidates had until 5 p.m. Thursday to put their name on the ballot.

The candidates are: Mary Nan Huffman, a lawyer and the former GOP candidate for Harris County district attorney; Piper Madland, a community organizer and nonprofit worker; Roy Reyes Jr., a retired firefighter; Duke Millard, a former federal prosecutor; and Hank Taghizadeh, who works in construction.

The special election will be Tuesday, Jan. 25. Early voting will run from Monday, Jan. 10, through Friday, Jan. 21, except for Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 17. The polls will be open 7 a.m. through 7 p.m. except for Sundays, when the open at noon. The city still is finalizing the list of voting sites.

See here for the background. This is of course one of the Republican districts in the city, and there’s every reason to expect it will stay that way following this election. Piper Madland is the lone Democrat running, which should at least give her a decent shot at making it into a runoff. I’ve got a whole lot of primary interviews to do, and there’s a very short runway for this election, so I may defer doing interviews for this race until we go to overtime. Whoever wins will have to run again in 2023, as that is when outgoing CM Travis’ term is set to end.