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TDP files federal lawsuit over expanded vote by mail

Double your venues, (hopefully) double your chances of success.

With primary election runoffs scheduled for July and the November general election on the horizon, the Texas Democratic Party has expanded its ongoing fight for more widespread mail-in balloting to federal court, fearful that a Monday U.S. Supreme Court decision on the Wisconsin presidential primary signals a need to get federal litigation in the pipeline quickly.

In a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday in San Antonio, the Texas Democrats argue that holding traditional elections within state and federal safety guidelines attempting to limit spread of the new coronavirus pandemic would impose unconstitutional and illegal burdens on voters unless state law is clarified to expand voting by mail.

[…]

In a recent advisory, the Texas secretary of state’s office signaled that the state’s voting-by-mail qualifications could extend to voters affected by the pandemic but provided no explanation of how eligibility could be expanded so more Texans can qualify for absentee ballots.

In their lawsuit, the Democrats argue the advisory “unhelpfully” gave local election administrators “no material guidance” on who can qualify to vote by mail under the circumstances brought on by the pandemic.

“Left without Court intervention, the state will march toward upcoming elections with no plan in place,” the Democrats wrote in their complaint, in which they allege multiple violations of the U.S. Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act.

See here for more on that recent advisory, and here for a copy of the lawsuit. As the story notes, there is already a state lawsuit filed. I have no idea which one is more likely to get a resolution first, nor do I have any idea which one may have better odds of success. The US Supreme Court sure doesn’t care, if Wisconsin is any example. I still think a settlement can happen, but I’d sure like to see the state take a step forward on that.

Intervening in the mail ballot expansion lawsuit

From the inbox:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A copy of the motion to intervene is available here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secretary of State Ruth Hughs office’s response states:

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

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

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

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

Coronavirus and voter registration

Time for Plan B.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas was making record gains getting voters on the rolls. Now the coronavirus threatens to grind that progress to a halt, throwing up major hurdles to Democratic efforts to make the state’s November elections competitive for a change.

Texas’ emergence as a battleground in 2020 depends largely on new voters, and both Democrats and Republicans have poured millions into efforts to register them — massive campaigns that have already added two million voters since the 2016 election.

But the coronavirus countermeasures — particularly limits on public gatherings — threaten to seriously hamper those efforts.

Because Texas is one of 11 states that do not allow voters to register online, much of the work depends on face-to-face interaction — going door to door and setting up booths on college campuses, at concerts, naturalization ceremonies, graduations and other big events that are prohibited in the time of COVID-19.

“Crises like this really expose the failures in our system — the fact that we don’t have online voter registration, the fact that we are a state currently that doesn’t allow vote by mail,” said Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, a former Democratic U.S. senate candidate who launched Jolt, a group focused on mobilizing Texas voters, where she is now a consultant.

[…]

The Texas Democratic Party, meanwhile, says it is reworking everything, launching a fully digital organizing project that will include a new Nextdoor.com-style website where people can post about everything from politics to what’s happening in their communities during the pandemic. They say they’re doing aggressive outreach to get people on it. And the party says it is starting weekly calls with groups in all 254 Texas counties.

“Obviously the challenges are not insignificant,” said Cliff Walker, Deputy Executive Director of the Texas Democratic Party. “But it helped us reorient and take our organization program that was going to be focused on voter registration at the doors — and we had great plans to ramp up a lot of that type of face-to-face interaction — and to do something that’s different and could be a silver lining on a really big dark gray cloud.”

The party says its most effective registration efforts in 2018 were reaching out to people who were new to Texas — and that effort won’t change now.

But the virus makes other outreach efforts impossible.

“It’s a tragedy. It’s a democratic tragedy,” said Drew Galloway, executive director of Mobilize Organize Vote Empower, a group that registered 7,500 voters on college campuses in three weeks in before the pre-primary deadline in February.

See here and here for some context. The story notes that Republicans are trying to register voters now too, and once again I muse about how they probably wish there was an online option available to them. Not gonna happen as long as they’re in charge, that much is for sure. As with everything else, how much of an effect this has is directly proportional to how long we’re all under some form of restricted movement. If things have more or less returned to normal by, say, the end of April, then this will be a blip in the trend. The longer it takes, the bigger the blip. If nothing else, it’s a extra point of emphasis for why we need to revamp our crappy existing system.

TDP files lawsuit to expand vote by mail

All right, then.

Following fruitless negotiations over how to proceed with the upcoming primary runoff elections, Texas Democrats are looking to the courts to push for an expansion of voting by mail in the state.

In a lawsuit filed in Travis County district court late Friday, the Democrats are asking a judge to declare that a portion of the Texas election code allowing voters to cast a mail-in ballot if they suffer from a disability applies to any voter in Texas “if they believe they should practice social distancing in order to hinder” the spread of the new coronavirus.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Texas Democratic Party and two individual voters who would seek to vote by mail given the state of the coronavirus outbreak.

“Whatever happens from this moment forward with respect to the pandemic, numerous voters, including the two individual Plaintiffs herein, seek to avail themselves of the option of mail-in ballots,” the lawsuit reads. “Similarly, the Texas Democratic Party needs to know how state law permits local election officials to handle such ballots cast in the Texas Democratic Party Runoff Primary Election so the [party] can determine how it desires to proceed in selecting nominees who were facing a runoff.”

[…]

Election officials in Texas generally agreed that a traditional election for the runoffs is implausible if the current circumstances — including limits on public gatherings and the ongoing closures of locations that typically serve as polling sites — were still true in May.

But in conversations with the Texas Democratic Party this week, some local election officials said they opposed moving to universal voting by mail, under which all registered voters or all voters who participated in the March primaries would be automatically sent ballots, without a postponement to build up their capacity to take on that expansion.

The expansion Democrats are seeking would not result in all mail-in ballot election, and voters would still have to formally request mail ballots from their counties.

See here for the background, and here for a copy of the lawsuit. It’s basically the argument that we’ve discussed before about the law as written being sufficiently broad – or vague, if you prefer – as to allow anyone who believes they qualify for the disability provision due to health issues, especially in this time of coronavirus, to be able to vote by mail. Obviously, I believe this argument has merit, though I thought it would be more of a stealth application rather than formally litigating the question. There will need to be a quick ruling for this to be relevant to the runoff, so I expect we’ll have an idea of what the courts think shortly. We’ll see.

Abbott delays primary runoffs

So this was originally going to be a post about what various groups have been advocating for the primary runoffs. And then Greg Abbott went and pushed the runoffs back to July without addressing any of the other concerns that had been raised. So here’s my post about that, and then because I spent a lot of time writing the other post, I’ve included that beneath the fold, so you can see what would have been.

Texas is postponing its May 26 primary runoff elections to mid-July to help prevent community spread of COVID-19, Gov. Greg Abbott announced on Friday.

State officials had been trying to decide whether to convert that election to an all-mail-ballot, but Abbott on Friday said the state will instead move the election.

“Holding the runoff in May would cause the congregation of large gatherings of people in confined spaces and cause numerous election workers to come into close proximity with others,” a statement from Abbott’s office said. “This would threaten the health and safety of many Texans.”

The election will be moved to July 14 with early voting starting on July 6.

[…]

Some lawmakers had been pushing Abbott to convert the May runoff election into an all-mail election. Because the turnout out is typically low, they said Texas could easily get ballots to people who want to vote in the runoffs.

I mean, this could be adequate. Lord knows, we all hope that we’re finished with social distancing and coronavirus is more or less under control by then. If it’s not, though, then what’s Plan B? I can understand why Abbott might have wanted to take the easy way out, but he doesn’t really have control over that. Hope for the best, I guess. Anyway, read on for what this post was going to be. The Trib has more.

(more…)

All mail ballots for the primary runoffs are being discussed

This is a pleasant surprise.

Texas is not making any moves to delay the May 26 primary runoff as of now, even as other states have opted to postpone elections.
But election officials have had preliminary conversations about the potential of doing vote-by-mail ballots only for the runoffs, which would be a first in Texas history.
“It’s a possible solution,” state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, said Monday.

He said the idea has been kicked around and could work because of how low the turnout typically is for runoffs in Texas. As a former elections official, he said he has no doubt Texas counties could get ballots to voters who wanted to vote by mail rather than risk going to large polling sites.

The Texas Secretary of State’s Office, which oversees elections, would not confirm that it is exploring that possibility, only saying a lot of options are on the table.

[…]

Other states have postponed primaries entirely. In Louisiana, election day has been moved from April 4 to June 20. In Georgia, the March 24 primary is now on May 19.

Absentee voting by mail is allowed in Texas for some people but isn’t very popular. In the March 4 primary, just 52,000 of 516,000 voters in Harris County cast ballots by mail.

In order to vote by mail in the May 26 runoff, voters must submit an application by May 15 to their county elections office.

See here for the background. It’s not clear to me how this could be accomplished without a special session of the Legislature, but perhaps Greg Abbott has the authority to order the SOS to come up with a plan for this based on the declared state of emergency. I’ll want to see an explanation of that, but even if it is a special session that is needed, that should be doable. The bigger question, as I discussed in my post, is whether everyone would have to apply for a mail ballot, or whether one would just be mailed to everyone who cast a primary vote. One can reasonably argue for either – I prefer the latter approach, as noted – and one can also point out that either approach has its share of logistical challenges. Which means that if we’re serious about this and not just dicking around, we need to get a proposal on the table and have at it.

One other issue to contend with:

Voting rights advocacy groups have been leery of Texas pushing vote-by-mail too far because its system makes it too easy for voters’ ballots to be thrown out if elections officials decide a signature on a returned ballot doesn’t look right.

The Texas Civil Rights Project has warned that the ballots are not reviewed by experts but instead by everyday eligible voters who just eyeball signatures for irregularities. Those decisions are final and give voters no chance to prove a ballot was properly signed. The group has pushed for Texas to allow voters a chance to contest ballots rejected for a signature match issue.

That’s a very legitimate concern, and one that needs to be addressed if this moves forward. Plenty of other states do a lot more voting by mail than Texas does, so I’m sure there are ways to handle this, it just needs to be an actual priority and not something left up to individual elections administrators. Again, if we are serious about this, we need to be talking details as soon as possible. We’ll see about that.

The Texas Democratic Party has called for all mail ballots for both the May primary runoffs and the regular May 2 election. I have no idea what is on the ballot on May 2 – as I said in the comments on my earlier post, there are no elections handled by the Harris County Clerk in May of even-numbered years. I’m fine with the concept, but it’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. The possibility of doing more vote by mail in November is also an entirely separate issue, one for which I’ve got a post in the works. For now, I think the primary runoffs are the main concern.

Lawsuit filed over straight ticket voting ban

Lots of litigation lately.

In a federal lawsuit filed Thursday in Laredo, the Texas Democratic Party — joined by the chair of the Webb County Democratic Party and the Democratic campaign arms of the U.S. Senate and House — claims the elimination of straight-ticket voting is unconstitutional and intentionally discriminatory because the longer lines and waiting times it is expected to cause would be disproportionately felt at polling places that serve Hispanic and black voters.

“In ending a century-old voting practice that Texans have relied on to exercise their most fundamental and sacred rights — the rights to political participation and association — Texas has recklessly created a recipe for disaster at the polls in 2020,” the Democrats wrote in their lawsuit.

The popular practice allowed general-election voters to vote for all of the candidates of either party in an election by simply picking a straight-ticket option at the top of the ballot. But Texas Republican lawmakers championed a change to the law during the 2017 legislative session, arguing it would compel voters to make more-informed decisions because they would have to make a decision on every race on a ballot.

Most states don’t allow for one-punch voting, but its elimination in Texas met intense opposition from Democrats who fear the change will be most felt among voters of color and lead to voter dropoff, particularly in blue urban counties that have the longest ballots in the state.

[…]

Citing violations of the First and 14th Amendments and the federal Voting Rights Act, Democrats are asking a federal judge to block the state from eliminating straight-ticket voting ahead of the general election.

“The end of straight-ticket voting was yet another Republican attempt to suppress the vote, alter the electorate, and take away power from the rising Texas majority,” Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement. “In minority-majority districts, lines to vote have already proven to be hours long.”

Courthouse News has the details of the lawsuit.

The Democrats say in the lawsuit that Texas’ longest polling-place lines are in its most populous counties, which have large concentrations of Democratic-leaning black and Latino voters.

The biggest counties also have the longest ballots, with voters wading through dozens of candidates, exacerbated by the fact Texas is one of a handful of states that selects judges in partisan elections.

For years, Texans could complete their civic duty in minutes by stepping into the voting booth and clicking one box to vote for all the Democratic or Republican candidates on the ticket — and millions of Texans chose that option.

“During Texas’s 2018 general election, approximately two-thirds of voters — more than 5.6 million Texans — cast their votes using STV [straight-ticket voting],” the lawsuit states. (Emphasis in original.)

But in 2017 the Republican-led Legislature passed House Bill 25 along party lines to end straight-ticket voting on Sept. 1, 2020 and Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, signed it into law.

Texas Democrats brought a federal complaint Thursday against Secretary of State Ruth Hughs in Laredo, seeking an injunction to stop House Bill 25 from going on the books.

The party says in the lawsuit that HB 25 is a “recipe for disaster,” especially after Super Tuesday saw voters waiting more than two hours in Houston and Dallas to get to voting booths.

Well, the tie-in to the Super Tuesday mess is clever and timely, though how legally relevant it may be remains to be seen. As both stories note, there’s been quite the fusillade of voting rights lawsuits lately, from Motor Voter 2.0 to electronic signatures for voter registration to mobile voting locations. Some have more merit than others, though I remain skeptical that the Fifth Circuit and SCOTUS would ever allow any of them to succeed. As has been the case before, I agree with the basic premise of this lawsuit – I remain a staunch defender of straight ticket voting, even as I doubt its loss will affect Dems more than it will affect Republicans – and I have no doubt that the 2017 bill was passed for the express purpose of making it harder on Democrats. I mean, no one in the GOP had any problems with straight ticket voting when it clearly benefited their side.

I also think the claim that eliminating it is weak, given that Texas was an anomaly by having straight ticket voting, and even if voluminous evidence exists to show that the bill outlawing it was racially motivated, such issues didn’t bother SCOTUS in the redistricting and voter ID litigation. I’m fine with this aggressive approach – it puts the Republicans on the defensive, there’s always the chance something juicy comes out during discovery, and who knows, one or more of these might actually win despite my skepticism. I’m just going to keep my expectations in check. The Chron has more.

We should get full delegate results on Primary Day

Good.

Texas counties have started seeing updates to the state’s election reporting system that will allow them to break out the vote totals needed to determine how many delegates are won by presidential contenders on Super Tuesday. The refinements to the portal used by the state’s 254 counties to report results come after Texas Democrats raised the prospect of a delay in calculating delegates.

A majority of the Democratic Party’s 228 pledged delegates will be apportioned based on how the candidates do in each state Senate district. The election system update will allow local officials to report returns broken out at the district level on election night, so party officials can calculate delegate totals for the myriad Democratic hopefuls. Election day is March 3; early voting begins Feb. 18.

[…]

State officials refuted Democrats’ claims that the data needed to calculate that delegate distribution wouldn’t be available on election night and said the data would be “reported in the same fashion” as it was in the 2016 presidential primaries, when local officials used a different reporting system.

But until last week, the state’s revamped reporting system did not allow local election officials to log that data at the state Senate district level.

In a Thursday email to county election officials obtained by The Texas Tribune, an election official with the Texas secretary of state’s office informed counties that an update to the reporting system that would address that issue would be added “in the next few days.”

Several county officials confirmed to the Tribune on Tuesday that the system has since been updated. The secretary of state’s office offered no comment on the update.

See here for the background. I don’t know if the complaints from the TDP forced this issue to be resolved, or if it was always on track but the SOS just wasn’t being forthcoming about it. Either way, as long as it’s been resolved, it’s good.

Will we get full Presidential primary results from Texas on primary night?

Maybe.

As their counterparts in Iowa reel from a disastrously slow election returns process, Texas Democrats raised the prospect Wednesday that a change in the way Texas reports election results could delay the final tally of delegates won by presidential hopefuls in the upcoming March 3 primary past election night.

Officials with the Texas Democratic Party said they were recently told by the Texas Secretary of State’s office that it will not be able to provide on election night the numbers needed to allocate a majority of the 228 delegates up for grabs in the state on Super Tuesday. In a Jan. 23 meeting, the Democrats said, top state election officials cited limitations to their revamped reporting system, which is used to compile returns from the state’s 254 counties.

“They basically said that’s not built out yet,” said Glen Maxey, the special projects director for the Texas Democratic Party who attended the meeting with state officials.

Late Wednesday, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, which initially had not responded to The Texas Tribune’s questions about the issue, contested that characterization, saying that “any allegations that delegate allocations will not be reported on election night are categorically false.”

At issue are 149 delegates that will be won by Democratic presidential candidates through a complex formula that divvies up those delegates based on the distribution of votes in each of Texas’ 31 state Senate districts. Maxey said he and other officials were told the state initially will collect election returns at the county level but not at the senatorial district or precinct level, which are needed to calculate how many delegates each candidate picks up. Party officials were told those more detailed numbers would be made available “the next day or so,” Maxey said.

In an email, agency spokesman Stephen Chang said the secretary of state’s office does plan to collect and publicly report votes for president at the Senate district level “in the same fashion” as previous primaries.

“In previous primaries, including the 2016 primary election, delegate allocations for both of Texas’ major parties on election night have been approximate allocations based on data self-reported by the counties,” Chang said. “The delegate allocations will be reported in the same fashion for the March 3rd primary election.”

An earlier version of the story did not yet have the response from the SOS office, so the answer to the question was looking like No. Part of the reason for this is that those delegates are doled out by Senate district, according to a formula that you can learn more about at the links in the story. Senate districts are of course all gerrymandered up, with many of them spanning multiple counties, so you can’t calculate the official delegate count until you have complete counts from all those counties. That could certainly make for a late night, but a reasonable estimate ought to be doable in the evening. If things are close, the allocations could be muddled, and there may not be a clear winner of the most delegates. In theory at least, we’ll have something. Hope for the best but be prepared for a late night. Still gotta be better than Iowa, right?

The Democrats’ voter registration strategy

From the Texas Signal:

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

[Last] Monday, the Texas Democratic Party announced the largest voter registration program in the history of the state. This massive effort will be done in conjunction with Fair Fight, a voting rights organization started by Stacey Abrams.

“Fair Fight is proud to partner with the Texas Democratic Party to fund, train and support a robust voter protection initiative through our Fair Fight 2020 initiative,” Seth Bringman, a spokesperson for Fair Fight, told ABC News. “Republicans in Texas have, for a long time, sought to make it harder to vote, particularly for voters of color, and it takes a dedicated voter protection team on the ground well before Election Day to make sure all Texans’ voices can be heard.”

[…]

To get Texans voting, the Texas Democratic Party and Fair Fight will seek to register 2.6 million potential new Democrats through machine-learning-based models, a year-round voter assistance hotline, hundreds of thousands of registration applications sent by mail, and 1,000 organizers and canvassers on the ground.

That’s a lot of voters, and this is a very ambitious project. It’s worth putting some numbers on all this, so let’s hit the highlights from the TDP press release:

More highlights from the programs include:

  • We are going to have 1,000 field organizers and canvassers on the ground in 2020.

  • The Texas Democratic Party is gearing up to mail hundreds of thousands of voter registration applications to unregistered voters across the state.

  • We’re launching a year-round voter assistance hotline.

  • We are building machine-learning-based models to quickly identify the partisanship-leaning of new and low propensity voters so that campaigns can mobilize Democratic voters.

  • We are hiring dedicated staff to engage every part of our Democratic coalition — including our AAPI, African-American, Latinx, LGBTQ+, youth, and Disability communities — and to narrow the gap in rural committees.

  • The Texas Democratic Party is working alongside fellow Democratic organizations to ensure these young voters are pinpointed for voter registration and mobilization.

By the numbers:

  • We anticipate the voter rolls will swell to upwards of 18,000,000 registered voters in 2020.

  • The Texas Democratic Party is focused on registering the estimated 2,600,000 Texans who are likely to vote Democratic if they register to vote.

  • At the congressional level, we estimate there are 495,000 potential new Democrats in the eight DCCC-targeted districts.

  • We estimate 210,000 potential new Democrats in the 12 state house districts that flipped in 2018. Additionally, there are 315,000 potential new Democrats in 18 targeted State House districts for 2020.

This accompanying document goes into more detail, and it’s worth reading through. One useful tidbit noted was that a smaller version of this registered 133,000 new voters in the 2018 cycle, and 120,000 of them turned out. That’s pretty good. There’s a bunch of charts in that last link, one of which shows voter registration totals over time, but to reiterate:

November 2008 = 13,575,062
November 2010 = 13,269,233
November 2012 = 13,646,226
November 2014 = 14,025,441
November 2016 = 15,101,087
November 2018 = 15,793,257
January 2020 = 16,106,984

Lot more growth in the last six years than in the first, but we’re still a long way from 18 million. Republicans of course are also seeking to register voters, which is rather a departure from past behavior on their part. I’d like to see some journalism about this effort in proportion to what I’ve seen about Engage Texas, and I’d very much like to see some followup reporting as the year goes along – we will see official registration numbers for March, at least – to see how this is proceeding. In the meantime, if you want to Do Something about 2020, helping out this effort would be an excellent place to start.

Another voter registration lawsuit filed

This time, the point of contention is electronic signatures.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

In a federal lawsuit filed Monday in San Antonio, the Texas Democratic Party and the campaign arms for Democrats in the U.S. House and Senate allege that Texas is violating the U.S. Constitution and federal and state law by rejecting voter registration applications without an original signature.

The legal challenge springs from a 2018 electoral kerfuffle over the Texas secretary of state’s rejection of more than 2,400 registration applications filled out by voters using Vote.org, a website run by a California nonprofit. That online application asked Texans to provide personal information and a picture of their signature to auto-populate a paper voter registration form that was then mailed to county registrars.

Days before a registration deadline that year, the secretary of state’s office indicated that applications submitted through the website should be considered invalid because they included electronic signatures, not physical ones.

In the lawsuit, the Democrats argue the secretary of state’s signature requirements are unconstitutional and impose “an arbitrary requirement that limits access to the franchise.” While the state allows eligible Texans to submit registration applications in person, by mail or by fax, Texas law “makes no reference” to requiring an original signature, they argue in the legal challenge.

[…]

In suing the state, the Democrats pointed out that the secretary of state does allow for one kind of electronic signatures — those submitted on voter registration applications received through the Texas Department of Public Safety. That agency allows Texans obtaining or renewing a driver’s license in person to enter their signatures on electronic keypads, which then may be used to populate voter registration applications. (Texas has been wrapped up in separate litigation for more than a year over claims it is violating federal law by not allowing voters who deal with their driver’s licenses online to reregister to vote.)

Bolstered by Republicans’ narrowing margins of victory and polls showing that Texas might be at least slipping from the GOP, Democrats have signaled they see voting rights litigation — and the voters that might be helped through it — as part of their long-term strategy in the state.

See here for more on that “motor voter” lawsuit, which like all good things went to the Fifth Circuit to die. This same Democratic coalition has also filed a lawsuit over the law banning temporary voting locations, one of two such suits in the courts. You know my feeling about pursuing voting rights litigation in this climate, with the Fifth Circuit and SCOTUS standing in the way, but I do agree that pursuing these cases anyway sends a strong signal to voters about who stands for making it easier for them to vote. And honestly, who has not electronically signed dozens of documents by now? One of the original (and silly) arguments for voter ID was that if you have to show a drivers license to rent a movie from Blockbuster (this is a truly old-school argument), there’s nothing wrong with having to show your drivers license to vote. Well, I’ve electronically signed documents at bounce house and indoor skydiving places affirming that I forsake my right to sue them if me or my kids wind up getting maimed by their services. If that’s legally binding, then an electronic signature on a voter registration form should be plenty good enough for the Texas Secretary of State. See the TDP press release for more.

Lawsuit filed over bill banning temporary voting locations

Of interest.

Worried about the suppression of young voters in 2020, national and Texas Democrats are suing the state over a newly implemented election measure that’s triggered the shuttering of early voting places, including on college campuses, in various parts of the state.

In a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday in Austin, the Texas Democratic Party — joined by the Democratic campaign arms for the U.S. House and Senate — alleges that the state’s move to effectively end the use of what were known as temporary or mobile early voting sites is unconstitutional because it discriminates against young voters by shrinking their access to the ballot box.

Republican lawmakers pushed the law, introduced during the last legislative session as House Bill 1888, to curb what they saw as abuse in school bond elections by requiring voting sites to remain open for all 12 days of early voting. Despite warnings from local election officials, HB 1888 was crafted broadly enough to outlaw the long-established practice of moving polling places during the early voting period to reach as many voters as possible near where they live, work or go to school.

As a result, both young and rural voters are losing access to early voting sites that were legitimately used to offer a day or two of early voting to places in places where it wasn’t practical or cost-efficient to maintain a site open for all of early voting.

“HB 1888 now mandates that, based on where they live, some voters will enjoy the same consistent access to early voting they had previously, but voters who live near now defunct temporary voting sites, especially young voters, will suffer reduced or eliminated access to the franchise,” the Democrats claimed in the lawsuit.

Citing violations of the First, 14th and 26th Amendments, the Democrats are asking a federal judge to block the state from implementing HB 1888.

See this Observer story and this earlier Trib story for the background. I mentioned this new law, along with a link to the Observer story, in a post that was more about the likely effects of no straight ticket voting. I’m always happy to see a pro-voting rights lawsuit, and I have zero doubt that the intent of this law was primarily to make it harder for students to vote, but I’m just not going to be optimistic about any voting rights litigation in federal court at this time. The Fifth Circuit, and SCOTUS if it comes to that, are just too hostile to voting rights. We are just going to have to add this to the ever-growing to do list for the next Democratic government in Texas, however long that may take. Yes, yes, I Am Not A Lawyer, and maybe this is a slam dunk case. It’s not the law or the Constitution I’m evaluating here, it’s the courts and the justices. Believe me, I wish I could be more optimistic and less cynical about this, but not on this kind of case. A statement from the TDP about the lawsuit is here.

So are there any legal consequences to the Bonnen tape?

Probably not, but maybe a little. Does that help?

It was, according to his critics, “hurtful,” “vindictive” and “unbefitting of the high office he holds.” But was House Speaker Dennis Bonnen’s June 12 meeting with conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan illegal?

In June, when Bonnen met with the hard-charging Tea Party activist, he asked Sullivan to stay out of, and get into, certain electoral battles — “help us out, and maybe kill off one or two or three [moderate Republican House lawmakers] that are never going to help” — and in return offered Sullivan media credentials for the news arm of his organization — “If we can make this work, I’ll put your guys on the floor next session.”

During that meeting — a recording of which was released to the public Tuesday — Bonnen seemed to blur the line between the official and the political. It prompted the Texas House General Investigating Committee, which has subpoena power, to request a probe by the state’s elite investigative unit, the Texas Rangers.

With that investigation ongoing and little word from Brazoria County District Attorney Jeri Yenne, who is expected to make the decision on whether to bring a criminal charge, there’s been ample room for speculation — which only escalated after the secret recording was made public Tuesday morning. In Capitol circles, the rule is generally: Don’t offer official tit for political tat. But whether the smudging of those boundaries constitutes criminal activity is a case-by-case consideration, a decision ultimately made by a prosecutor and, if it gets that far, a jury.

“With just the information we know at this time, it’s not clear that a crime was committed,” said Buck Wood, an Austin ethics lawyer who helped rewrite the state’s restrictions in the 1970s after a major political scandal. “But it’s also not clear that a crime wasn’t committed.”

See here for the background. Long story short, while the DPS is still doing its investigation, it seems unlikely that any criminal charges will ever result. The law in question is narrowly tailored to be about personal financial gain, and it would take a pretty broad reading of it to try to get an indictment. Unless there’s new evidence to uncover, I don’t see any danger for the Speaker here.

What about a civil case, though?

Democrats were in court in Travis County Tuesday pressing forward with their lawsuit arguing that Sullivan’s recording revealed serious violations of Texas campaign finance law. The party, along with state Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos, D-Richardson, sued Sullivan in August, demanding the release of the full recording of the meeting.

The lawsuit was also filed against an “unknown political committee” that the lawsuit said includes Bonnen and Burrows. But the two lawmakers are not named defendants. At the hearing, attorney Chad Dunn argued for the Democratic Party that the newly released recording confirms there was discussion in the Capitol about political spending and requested the release of more documents about the meeting.

He said if the judge orders the information released, the party will use those documents to decide if Bonnen and Burrows should also be named as defendants in the lawsuit.

Under Texas election law, a political contribution can’t be made or authorized inside the Capitol. A violation of the law could result in up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine. In civil court, it could mean having to pay back targeted candidates or opposing PACs. Dunn said the recording contains “a whole lot of authorizing.”

“If we live in a state of laws, there’s not going to be private conversations with the Speaker in the people’s Capitol authorizing illegal political contributions and expenditures,” he said.

Roark said in the August memo to the Texas Rangers that there was no political contribution authorized at the June meeting, so the law was not applicable in this case.

See here for the background. I don’t have enough information to make a reasoned guess about this one. I will say, one thing the next Lege could do is review the existing laws on what constitutes bribery and political contributions, to see if they could be improved. That would never get through Dan Patrick’s Senate, but as was the case with ethics-related bills last session, it would still be worth the effort. Would be more likely to happen with a different Speaker, that much is for sure.

The Bonnen tape is out

It’s a doozy.

During a June conversation at the Texas Capitol, Republican House Speaker Dennis Bonnen urged hardline conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan to target members of their own party in the 2020 primaries and suggested he could get Sullivan’s group media access to the House floor, according to a secret recording of the conversation released Tuesday.

Bonnen could also be heard speaking disparagingly about multiple Democrats, calling one House member “vile” and suggesting that another’s “wife’s gonna be really pissed when she learns he’s gay.”

The 64-minute recording of Sullivan’s June meeting with Bonnen and another top House Republican, then-GOP caucus chair Dustin Burrows, was posted on Sullivan’s website and the website of WBAP, a talk radio station in Dallas on which Sullivan appeared Tuesday morning. The recording largely aligned with Sullivan’s initial description of that June 12 meeting — and with what certain Republicans who listened to the audio before it was public had described.

While its release prompted immediate outcry from Democrats and silence from Republicans, Bonnen said in a statement that the audio makes clear he did nothing criminally wrong in the conversation, adding that the “House can finally move on.”

Roughly nine minutes into the recording, after discussing Sullivan’s recent trip to Europe, Bonnen tells Sullivan he’s “trying to win in 2020 in November.”

“Is there any way that for 2020 we sort of say … let’s not spend millions of dollars fighting in primaries when we need to spend millions of dollars trying to win in November,” Bonnen says. “I wanted to see if we could try and figure that out. … If you need some primaries to fight in — I will leave and Dustin will tell you some we’d love if you fought in. Not that you need our permission.”

Roughly five minutes later, the speaker said, “Let me tell you what I can do for you. Real quick, you need to hear what I want to do for you.”

“I don’t need anything,” Sullivan responded.

[…]

Before Bonnen made his offer, he also disparaged a number of House Democrats. The speaker said state Rep. Jon Rosenthal, a Houston Democrat, “makes my skin crawl” and is “a piece of shit.” Bonnen, after saying he’s”begging this is all confidential,” then recounted a meeting with the freshman, after which he asked his chief of staff, Gavin Massingill, what he thought about the new House member.

“Massingill said it best,” Bonnen recalled. “Well, his wife’s gonna be really pissed when she learns he’s gay.”

The room dissolved in laughter before Bonnen turned to discuss other members of the lower chamber’s minority party.

“We’ve got Michelle Beckley, who’s vile,” he said, referring to the freshman Democrat from Carrollton who unseated a Republican in 2018. He exhorted Sullivan to help target these Democrats in competitive districts.

See here for the previous update. I kind of don’t think there’s going to be any “moving on”, except in the sense that no Democrat has any reason to support Bonnen’s re-election as Speaker now. All well and good if Dems take the House in 2020, and still theoretically possible even if they come up a member or two short. Remember, Bonnen was also targeting ten of his fellow Republicans, who may well want to keep their own options open. It’s hard to imagine a Republican in a Republican-majority House backing a Democrat for Speaker, but at this point I think we can all agree that crazier things have happened.

By the way, in regard to those ten targeted Republicans, the Rick Casey theory that they were in Bonnen’s crosshairs because they opposed a bill to ban local government entities from hiring lobbyists sure looks on the money given this quote from the tape: “My goal is for this to be the worst session in the history of the legislature for cities and counties.” Quite the sentiment, no?

Anyway, there’s plenty more out there. The Signal has some clips, the Trib – which is all over this – has choice excerpts, and other outlets like the Chron, the Observer, Texas Monthly, and the Dallas Observer are going to town. If that’s still not enough, go search the #txlege hashtag on Twitter. On a side note, the TDP claimed victory in their lawsuit now that the tape has been released, but there was still a court hearing about it. All that’s left – before the next election, anyway – is for the DPS to finish their investigation. Hope this helps with evidence collection, guys.

Our increasingly diverse swing districts

Current trends keep on trending.

New 2018 census data shows that some of the most competitive congressional districts in Texas are continuing to become more diverse, as campaigns gear up for what’s expected to be the state’s most competitive election cycle in nearly two decades.

The numbers, which come from the American Community Survey, a yearly query conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau and released at the end of last month, bring into clearer view the trends that political experts say are fueling the rise in heated Texas races, especially in Harris County.

Margins of victory for Republicans tightened in 2016, and in 2018, Democrats won a western Harris congressional seat long held by the GOP.

[…]

Nearly every Houston-area swing district saw its white population go down since 2016, the data shows. Hispanic populations moved very slightly up or down depending on the district but stayed around 30 percent in most.

The 2018 snapshot suggests that election results last year indeed came along with long-anticipated shifts in the population.

One of the main drivers for the changes, state demographer Lloyd Potter said, is white, often affluent Harris County residents moving into suburban counties like Montgomery or Fort Bend, while others, including international immigrants often with lesser means, stay near work hubs in the cities. The county has also seen a large increase in international migration, he sad.

It has yet to be seen how those changes will translate to votes for either party in 2020. But if the same patterns continue, the Democrats have reason to believe the money and energy they are spending in Texas will pay off.

The Texas Democratic Party still has a lot of work to do in turning out supporters, but spokesman Abhi Rahman said the party sees big potential, especially in the untapped populations of newly registered and unregistered voters. At least 670,000 voters have registered in Texas for the first time since President Donald Trump took office, Rahman said.

“We estimate that those newly registered voters are 50 percent under the age of 35, and 38 percent under the age of 25,” Rahman said. “That is an incredibly young electorate coming up, it is a diverse electorate coming up, and it continues to signal the competitiveness of Texas and why change is coming to the state.”

The Democrats have set a number of goals heading into the 2020 election: increase turnout in communities of color to 53 percent, or by at least 400,000 voters who are registered but did not vote in 2018, and raise it to 45 percent, or by at least 225,000 votes, in urban and Democratic base counties.

The party also hopes to register suburban Texans from fast-growing cities with a goal of at least 130,000 new voters and to persuade 5 percent of rural voters for an increase of at least 100,000.

The voter registration stuff is straight from the TDP 2020 Plan. There’s a brief note later in the story about an uptick in CD10 of people with a college degree, which political scientist Rachel Bitecofer identifies as a key favorable factor for Democrats. I wish there had been a detailed breakdown of the numbers in the relevant districts, but the very high level macro view is what we get. Thankfully, Michael Li provided a useful graphic, so check that out. Good story, but I’ll always want to know more.

MQS says he will release the Bonnen tape

Well, well, well.

Hardline conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan said Thursday he will release a secret recording of his controversial meeting with House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and another top GOP member next week.

“I have been given the green light to do so by my legal team,” Sullivan wrote in his morning “Texas Minute” email to subscribers. “Later today I will announce that the audio will be released next week.”

Sullivan could share the recording ahead of an already-scheduled House GOP caucus meeting on Oct. 18, which will mark the first official Republican gathering since the head of Empower Texans accused the speaker of planning to politically target members from his own party. That allegation has, for the past couple of months, thrown the 150-member House into turmoil.

[…]

In August, at the request of a House committee, the Texas Rangers Public Integrity Unit launched an investigation to look into the allegations surrounding that June 12 meeting. It’s been unclear when that investigation could wrap up. Earlier this week, the Rangers were hand-delivering letters to House offices at the Capitol requesting members to provide “any testimony, recordings, documents, records, or other information relevant” to the investigation by Oct. 17.

Before then, on Oct. 15, Sullivan is scheduled to appear in a Travis County court as part of a lawsuit spearheaded by the Texas Democratic Party, which has sued over the recording. A couple of days later, the House Republican Caucus will be in Austin for its annual retreat, which was on the books before Sullivan’s allegations first surfaced.

See here for more on that Travis County court action, and here for previous blogging on this saga. It has always been my belief that MQS would release the tape when and if he decided it was better for him to have it out there than to have people continue to speculate about it. I still believe that, and while it’s possible that the court could have forced him to turn it over, that hasn’t happened yet, and he’s not known for walking away from a fight. So we’ll see what this means. The Texas Signal has more.

The TDP 2020 plan

Bring it on.

The Texas Democratic Party is pulling back the curtain on its 2020 strategy ahead of the Houston presidential debate, releasing a plan to flip the state that targets 2.6 million potential Democratic voters who are not registered yet and commits to deploying over 1,000 organizers by the end of the election cycle.

The 10-page proposal, shared first with The Texas Tribune, primarily focuses on dramatically expanding the Democratic vote in Texas while building a massive coordinated campaign. Both are ambitious undertakings for a party that has long been out of power — no Democrat has won statewide since 1994 — but has seen its prospects brighten over the last two election cycles, especially in 2018.

“At the Texas Democratic Party, we know that to win we must build a state party infrastructure larger than anyone has ever seen,” the party’s deputy executive director, Cliff Walker, says in a statement accompanying the plan. “Change is coming to Texas — a new wave of activists and progressive candidates demand it.”

[…]

The plan broadly seeks to register as many as possible of the 2.6 million Texans it says are not registered to vote but would vote Democratic if registered. There are another 2.4 million voters from minority communities who are registered to vote but did not cast a ballot in 2018 and “are primed to be mobilized in a presidential year,” according to the plan.

To close those gaps, the party offers four possible paths based on its data analysis: increasing turnout in communities of color (over 400,000 new votes), increasing turnout in urban, reliably blue counties (at least 225,000 new votes), registering voters in the politically changing suburbs (over 130,000 new votes) and reaching out to conservative rural voters (more than 100,000 new votes).

The party plans to tackle those opportunities by doing things like sending more vote-by-mail applications in 2020 than ever before — more than 1.5 million. But most important will be a statewide coordinated campaign that can support over 1,500 Democratic nominees throughout the ballot in 2020, by the party’s count. Key to that campaign would be the 1,000 organizers, a big ramp-up from the party’s current staffing levels. They would be paid through the coordinated campaign.

The plan also puts an emphasis on protecting voting rights from GOP efforts that make it more difficult to cast a ballot. The party will launch a year-round hotline on Jan. 1, 2020, to deal with such issues, in addition to other new and ongoing efforts.

The doc is here, but you get the basics of it from the Trib story. In a broad sense, this is the Battleground Texas plan – register new voters, boost turnout among traditional Dem constituencies, work to turn out lower-propensity Dems, all using a hands-on community model. That requires a lot of resources – people, training, equipment, office space, data – and that in turn requires money. For the TDP to talk like this, they either have a plan to raise the money, or they’re publicly thinking big and hoping to impress enough people to get the money to follow. I hope it’s the former, but the next finance report will tell the tale.

How well will this work? Well, as the story notes, the 2018 election and the Beto campaign gave them a good head start, as well as a road map. The fact of the matter is that Dems need to bring out a lot more voters to have a reasonable shot at winning statewide in 2020. Beto broke Democratic records getting to four million votes, but Republicans have been regularly topping four million since Dubya in 2004. Trump underperformed relative to other Republicans in 2016, but he still got nearly 4.7 million votes, which was a gain of 116K over Mitt Romney. I’ve said before, to me the over/under for 2020 is five million, and that may be too conservative. The Republicans are working to boost their own turnout next year, too. Five million may be just the opening bid. There’s room to bring in a lot more Democratic voters, but we won’t have the field to ourselves. The Chron and Daily Kos have more.

TDP sues over Bonnen-MQS secret meeting

Here’s an interesting turn.

Rep. Dennis Bonnen

The Texas Democratic Party is suing House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan, alleging they created an unregistered political action committee and violated other state election laws.

The lawsuit, filed in Travis County District Court on Thursday, stems from a June 12 meeting Sullivan had with Bonnen and Republican Caucus Chairman Dustin Burrows in Bonnen’s Capitol office. In the meeting, Sullivan has said, Bonnen and Burrows offered to give writers at his website, Texas Scorecard, House media credentials in the next legislative session in exchange for Sullivan’s political group targeting 10 Republican incumbents in next year’s primary elections. Sullivan said he rebuffed the offer.

But Democrats allege that meeting and any agreements reached in it show a coordinated effort “between political actors intended to influence the election or defeat of specific candidates” and amounts to an unregistered political committee as defined by state law.

The Democrats also allege that Bonnen and Burrows directed Sullivan to make political contributions or expenditures at their request under his political action committee, Empower Texans, which is illegal under Texas campaign finance law. They further claim that the alleged quid pro quo Bonnen offered Sullivan of public benefits in return for targeting elected officials amounts to a violation of state law.

The complaint says any contribution proposed at the meeting violated state law because it was made in the Capitol and during the Legislature’s fundraising moratorium.

[…]

As part of their lawsuit, the Democrats request that Sullivan produce the entire recording of the June meeting and any other recordings Sullivan has of Bonnen and Burrows. The Democrats also ask Sullivan to produce a list of all the people who have listened to the June recording and any documentation relevant to that meeting.

Ramos, a Richardson Democrat, is a plaintiff in the case because the Democratic Party says she “is one of the candidates mentioned in this recording as a target of the coordinated political efforts between the Speaker and Sullivan.” It is unclear whether she was named as a target, though multiple people who have heard the recording confirm Bonnen called her “awful.”

“Texans deserve to know exactly what happened on June 12, 2019 and they deserve accountability from their elected officials,” Ramos said in a prepared statement. “There needs to be accountability for any violations of ethics or the law that occurred during a meeting between a Republican activist and the Speaker of the House.”

You can see the TDP press release here, and a copy of the lawsuit here. We know about the tape. There’s no argument I can see for keeping it secret, though I’m sure MQS will come up with something. The Texas House General Investigating Committee investigation may also serve as a way to get the tape released, though I’d put more faith in the courts to serve as a fulcrum if it comes to that. One caveat about the House investigation:

But the actions of the committee – which can issue subpoenas, hire outside investigators or tap the state’s existing criminal investigative capability, such as the Texas Rangers – may complicate matters.

Under state law, a person testifying about incriminating behavior before the Legislature may not be prosecuted or indicted for any actions about which they truthfully testify, potentially giving Bonnen, Burrows and Sullivan immunity in any further legal actions if they testify before the committee.

If we didn’t have complications, we wouldn’t have anything. That said, MQS will not be able to delete the recording while the litigation is active, either, so we’ve got that going for us. Juanita and the Trib have more.

They’re coming for Cornyn

Let’s bring it on.

Big John Cornyn

Texas Democrats are launching a multimillion-dollar initiative to help take down U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, regardless of who they ultimately choose as their nominee next year.

Emboldened after their gains in 2018 — including the closer-than-expected Senate race between U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke — the state party is establishing a “Cornyn War Room” to “define Cornyn before he defines himself,” according to a memo. It is unlike anything the party has done in recent history surrounding a U.S. Senate race, and it reflects the urgency with which Texas Democrats are approaching a potentially pivotal election cycle.

“In 2020, we must seize the opportunity to flip Texas,” says the memo from the state party, which was obtained by The Texas Tribune. It cites recent polling that found Texas “essentially tied” in the 2020 presidential election and that 64 percent of voters do not know or dislike Cornyn. “We cannot wait for the primary dust to settle before we launch our attacks on John Cornyn.”

The project, the memo adds, will “define Cornyn and reveal him for what he is — a coward, afraid of shadows on his right and left.”

The offensive has five fronts: digital, communications, messaging and polling, research, and data and targeting. There will be staff dedicated to the project and coordination with affiliated groups, county parties and activists.

The memo says the effort is “funded, in part, by record-breaking fundraising, including the most successful February totals in Texas Democratic Party history.” The memo does not specify the figures.

[…]

Several prominent Democrats are considering challenging Cornyn, perhaps most notably U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio and former congressional candidate M.J. Hegar, who said Tuesday she is “taking a very close look” at the race. Three lower-profile Democrats have already declared their candidacies.

With no disrespect intended to MJ Hegar, just as it was my assumption that the Senate race was Beto’s if he wanted it, it is now my assumption that it’s Joaquin’s if he wants it. Doesn’t mean anyone else has to agree with that, just that I’d expect the establishment – most of it, anyway – would fall in line with Joaquin if he follows through on his reported interest in the race. Some people are already in line, they just need Joaquin to get to the head of it. My guess is that Hegar’s “close look” is at least one part a “just in case Joaquin doesn’t run” contingency. Someone has to get to the front of that line, after all. But she might jump in anyway, and if she does she’d be formidable, and might put Joaquin on the spot. My advice to him would be to make his mind up quickly. Easy for me to say, I know, but still.

The polls in question don’t really mean much – the “essentially tied” poll tested Cornyn versus Beto, not Cornyn versus anyone else or Cornyn versus a generic Dem – but compared to what we’re used to, they’re not bad at all. The bottom line is that the conventional wisdom at this time is that Texas will be competitive in 2020. I don’t know about you, but I feel like I need to sit down every time I say that. We are in exciting times.

What the rest of this means remains to be seen. Beto’s campaign in 2018 was singular, and I have no idea how much of it is foundational to this effort. Be that as it may, this is the sort of thing that a viable, competitive statewide party needs to be doing, and having the resources for it is fantastic. I’ll be keeping an eye on this. See the TDP statement for more.

The Republicans really, really want to win SD19 by forfeit

Sure is what it looks like.

Pete Gallego

With early voting set to begin in less than two weeks, the Republican Party of Texas is continuing efforts to have Democrat Pete Gallego removed from the ballot, which if successful would leave only the GOP’s Pete Flores in the runoff election to fill a vacant seat in the Texas Senate.

Republicans argue that Gallego lives in Austin and not in Senate District 19, which stretches from San Antonio to the Big Bend region and the New Mexico border, in violation of a state law requiring candidates to live in the legislative district they hope to represent.

Gallego has denied the accusation, and a lawyer for the state Democratic Party believes the GOP’s legal case is weak and intended to heap negative publicity on Gallego, not produce a victory in court.

[…]

Gallego has said he lives in his mother’s home in Alpine, the small West Texas city where he was born and raised.

His campaign — which did not respond to several requests to discuss Gallego’s residency — has characterized the legal challenge as a desperate and unjustified attempt to steal a Senate seat in a reliably Democratic district.

“Pete Gallego has lived in Alpine since 1989 when he returned home to become a local felony prosecutor,” Gallego campaign manager Christian Archer said shortly after the GOP lawsuit was filed earlier this month. “Pete is registered to vote in Alpine, where he has always voted and where he pays his utilities.”

[…]

Texas law defines a candidate’s residence as “one’s home and fixed place of habitation,” which leaves some room for interpretation.

In its legal challenge filed in district court in Travis County, the state Republican Party alleges that Gallego resides in a Southwest Austin house that he purchased in 2000 with his wife, Maria Ramon, a lawyer with the Texas Office of Court Administration.

The party’s lawsuit points to a homestead exemption claimed for the Austin property — a tax break provided only for homes used as a “principal residence” — and a July column in the San Antonio Express-News that discusses photos showing Gallegos’s truck parked outside the Austin house in May and Gallego leaving the house on a Monday morning in July.

“It is now undisputed that Gallego does not actually live day-to-day in Alpine, and most likely has not done so since, at best, sometime in 2000,” the lawsuit said.

Archer told the Express-News in mid-August that the homestead exemption on the Austin house belonged to Gallego’s wife and that, in addition to paying utilities in Alpine, he also registered his car there.

Chad Dunn, a lawyer for the state Democratic Party, is not involved in the lawsuit but predicted that the GOP effort is doomed because the Texas Supreme Court long ago determined that only an opposing candidate has the legal standing to file suit in residency disputes.

“Knowing some of the lawyers who brought it, who know better, I only assume this was an effort to obtain some free campaign attention” at Gallego’s expense, Dunn said.

The Flores campaign did not join the lawsuit, though two voters from the district are part of the challenge.

See here and here for the background. For better or worse – and you have certainly seen me complain about this in the Dave Wilson case – Texas’ laws regarding residency are vague and basically not enforced. I guarantee you, if a court finds that Pete Gallego is ineligible to run in SD19, there will be a large number of existing legislators, of both parties, who will be vulnerable to the same kind of challenge. I’m sure the Republicans’ lawyers are aware of this. In the meantime, early voting begins on September 10. I fully expect both candidates will be on the ballot.

Early voting for the May 5 elections begins today

From the inbox:

EARLY VOTING BEGINS FOR HOUSTON COUNCIL DISTRICT K 

Local jurisdictions, including schools, emergency, and utility districts, also holding May 5 Elections

Houston, TX –Early Voting for the May 5, 2018 City of Houston Council Member District K Special Election begins Monday, April 23rd.  The Early Voting period for this election cycle runs thru Tuesday, May 1st.

In Harris County, four sites will be available for 86,000 District K registered voters to cast a ballot in person before Election Day.  The Early Voting locations include, the Harris County Administrative Bldg. (1001 Preston, 4th  Floor), Fiesta Mart (8130 Kirby Dr.), Hiram Clarke Multi-Service Center  (3810 W. Fuqua St.), and Platou Community Center (11655 Chimney Rock Rd.).

“The Harris County Early Voting locations are only available to individuals who are registered to vote in Harris County within Houston’s Council District K,” said Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, the chief election officer of the County. The hours of operation for the Harris County Early Voting sites are as follows:

·         April 23 – 27: 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
·         April 28: 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
·         April 29: 1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
·         April 30 – May 1: 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.

The majority of Houston Council District K is located between Brays Bayou and Almeda in Southwest Harris County.  However, a portion of District K which comprises a fifth of the electorate is located in Fort Bend County.  District K registered voters residing in Fort Bend County must contact the Fort Bend County Election Office for information regarding the May 5th Election.

Aside from the City of Houston election, over 70 political entities in Harris County, including school, emergency, and utility districts, are conducting an election on May 5th.

“While my office is only conducting the City of Houston Council Member District K Special Election, all Harris County registered voters may visit www.HarrisVotes.com to determine if they reside in one of the 70 jurisdictions that are holding an election on May 5th,” informed Stanart.

For more information about the May 5th City of Houston Council Member District K Special Election and the May 22nd Democratic and Republican Primary Runoff Elections voters may visit www.HarrisVotes.com or call the Harris County Clerk’s office at 713.755.6965.  Voters may also visit the website to determine if theyare eligible to vote in an upcoming election or review the list of acceptable forms of identification to vote at the polls.

You can see the map and schedule for Harris County, which is to say District K, here. Fort Bend County voters, including those in District K, you can find your early voting information here.

The District K special election is the only election being conducted by the Harris County Clerk. There are some local elections being held in Harris County, including Deer Park ISD and Galena Park municipal elections. There’s just one race for Deer Park ISD, and you can find information about that here, including a nice profile of candidate Monique Rodriguez, who has the endorsement of both the Harris County AFL-CIO and the Area 5 Democrats. For Galena Park, that information can be found here. I know nothing about those candidates.

A little farther out, the city of Pearland and Pearland ISD have regularly scheduled elections. Here’s the information for the city of Pearland and for Pearland ISD. These elections are being conducted by the Brazoria County Clerk, so early voting information for each can be found here. One candidate in each race has been Texas Democratic Party: Dalia Kasseb for Pearland City Council Position 4 – she fell short in a runoff for Council last year – and Daniel Hernandez for Pearland ISD School Board Trustee Position 4. There are also elections in Friendswood – a list of candidates there and in Pearland is here – but as with Galena Park I know nothing about any of them.

There are other elections around the state, as well as the special election in HD13 featuring Cecil Webster. I suggest you check with your county clerk or elections administrator if you’re not sure if there’s a reason for you to vote. Hot on the heels of this are the primary runoffs, on May 22, so if you’re not voting now you’ll be able to soon.

Nothing to see here

Remain calm, all is well.

Next Saturday, March 24, hundreds of Texas Democratic Party activists will gather at the Austin Hyatt Regency to nominate candidates for political office in Travis County, a kick-off event leading up to the 2018 midterm elections.

But some people who tried to register will not be attending, among them Candida McGruder. Gustavo Chubb. Geraldo Tinsley. Vincent Amundson. Roxie Male.

That’s because these five individuals and 43 others who signed up to attend don’t appear to be Travis County residents, or Texans, or even Americans. They might not even be real people. They may be pranksters — or they may be Russian trolls, and their appearance in Texas could represent the first public example of foreign probing of the 2018 elections.

Five senior intelligence officers, two current and three former, say the case of the Texas 48 looks like Russian meddling. And they tell NBC News that despite the clumsiness of the failed registrations, the Texas case fits a pattern of Russian behavior seen in its covert operations.

[…]

Earlier this year, as Texas party officials prepared for the March 24 county meetings that would nominate candidates for office, Glen Maxey noticed something odd about online registrations for the Travis County meeting in Austin. Some of the people attempting to register either didn’t fully fill out their online form or provided obviously false information.

Maxey, legislative affairs director for the Texas Democratic Party and a former member of the Texas House of Representatives, said that at the time just over 2,500 Texas citizens had successfully registered online for the Travis County meeting. He went through the aborted registrations by hand, checking to see whether the registrations had been “kicked back” because of simple errors, in which case he would follow up with the individuals.

Maxey found a few unfinished registrations that were simple mistakes. But he identified 48 that were problematic, meaning they seemed unconnected to anybody living in Texas. Twenty-five of those 48 were trying to register with email addresses ending in “mail.ru.” Those last two letters, .ru, are the internet designation for domains in Russia.

Maxey told NBC News he and his team hadn’t seen any other examples of pranks or false registrations in past cycles. He also said he didn’t know who to contact in Texas state government and had received no guidance from either state or federal authorities regarding anything to do with potential Russian interference.

[…]

So are the Russians coming?

On the surface, said cyberintelligence expert and NBC News consultant Sean Kanuck, “this almost sounds like junior high school students ordering pizzas under fake names.”

But beneath the surface, Kanuck thinks perhaps something more sinister could be afoot.

Despite the ham-handedness that announces an obvious Russian origin, said Kanuck, who served as the first national intelligence officer for cyber issues at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence from 2011 to 2016, the methods and even the in-your-face nature of the trolling fit the pattern of “a Russian strategic campaign to delegitimize the democratic electoral process.”

“I would speculate that Russia is testing the waters for possible interventions or disruptions in the future,” Kanuck said.

Nothing to worry about, I’m sure. Boys will be boys, right? Donald Trump will get his top men right on it.

SCOTUS will not hear Texas partisan gerrymandering appeal

Not really a big deal.

Texas, for now, will not join the list of states fighting in court over the limits of partisan gerrymandering.

As it considers cases out of other states over whether extreme practices of partisan gerrymandering can be deemed unconstitutional, the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed the efforts of Texas Democrats and other plaintiffs to revive a related legal claim in the ongoing litigation over the state’s political boundaries.

The high court’s dismissal comes just days after it agreed to hear a case over whether Texas’ congressional and House district boundaries discriminate against voters of color. In that case, the state appealed a three-judge panel’s ruling against the state that included findings of intentional discrimination by state lawmakers, unconstitutional racial gerrymandering and violations of the Voting Rights Act.

[…]

Pointing to Texas’ “stark admission” that lawmakers were “motivated by the Legislature’s desire to dilute the voting strength of Democratic voters,” the Texas Democratic Party and other plaintiffs had asked the Supreme Court to reconsider the three-judge panel’s decision to dismiss partisan gerrymandering claims in the case in 2011 and 2014 without any discovery or trial. But the Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed with state attorneys who had argued that the court lacked jurisdiction to consider the party’s appeal.

See here for the background. Hey, it was worth a shot. There are other cases ongoing, and as Michael Li notes, there will be other opportunities for the TDP or some other interested party to try again later. The Chron and Rick Hasen have more.

So what’s up with the Farenthold ballot situation?

The Trib provides an update.

Rep. Blake Farenthold

So how did the Texas Republican Party manage to remove Farenthold from the primary ballot?

The short answer is that they violated the election code, according to state officials. But the Texas Secretary of State’s office has no authority to force someone to include a name on a primary ballot.

The day after Farenthold announced his intention to retire, the Texas GOP sued the secretary of state to keep him off the ballot, citing its constitutional right to freedom of association. Dickey said the party has contended it has a right to not be forced to associate with a candidate who no longer wants to run.

Days later, a lawyer for the state, Esteban Soto, emphasized that the secretary of state has no authority to force the party to turn over Farenthold’s name as part of its list of all primary candidates. That argument led Texas GOP attorney Chris Gober to move to drop the lawsuit which opened an avenue for the party — in Gober’s telling — “not to submit Blake Farenthold’s name and the secretary of state not to do anything about it.”

[…]

“At this point, [Farenthold’s] name is off the ballot, but after all the litigation went through, it’s important to understand there are situations in which another voter or a potential candidate could file suit to put his name back on the ballot, or force his name back on the ballot,” Sam Taylor, a spokesman for the Texas Secretary of State’s office, said.

Taylor said the state GOP party’s decision doesn’t set a legal precedent, however, because a judge hasn’t ruled to change the state’s election law.

“They can choose to violate the election code, but that doesn’t mean they’re absolved of any type of potential legal challenges,” Taylor said.

Gober also acknowledged the party’s decision could draw additional legal scrutiny.

“It’s certainly a possibility, but those are legal proceedings that would play out in time with presumably a plaintiff, a defendant and people with the ability to enforce that, whereas the secretary of state’s office has made the assertion they do not,” Gober said.

Taylor said that if no one with legal standing challenges it before Jan. 19, then Farenthold’s name will remain off the ballot.

See here and here for the background. Someone with standing would be one of the other candidates or a voter in CD27. The strategic reason for a Democrat to force the issue is that if Farenthold winds up winning the primary, he either has to commit to running in November or withdraw from the ballot and cede the seat to the Democratic nominee (modulo a write-in campaign effort for a different Republican). The practical reason is simply that the Republican Party violated the law when it removed Farenthold from the primary ballot, and the only mechanism to enforce it is via lawsuit. That as I said should be something for the Lege to address in 2019, but it’s moot for these purposes. It sends a bad message to let the Republican Party get away with this – and let’s be clear, it could be the Democratic Party next time; if it’s this easy to deal with a problem candidate, why not make it standard practice? – so I hope someone with standing comes forward to be the plaintiff. There’s less than two weeks to get this resolved, so let’s get a move on.

Farenthold gets off the ballot

It started with this.

Rep. Blake Farenthold

The Republican Party of Texas managed to clear a path Tuesday in federal court for its chairman, James Dickey, to remove U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold’s name from primary ballots.
But as of press time, a party spokesman said Dickey still had not reached a decision on the fate of the congressman’s name on the ballot.

The drama late Tuesday came after a remarkable half-hour hearing hours earlier in Austin’s federal courthouse, where lawyers for the state said that, while state law requires the inclusion of Farenthold’s name because he withdrew from the race after the filing deadline, the secretary of state had no power to enforce that law.

In response, attorneys for the state party told U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin they would drop a lawsuit that sought to leave Farenthold off the ballot.

“It was not Blake Farenthold’s intent to game the system, to choose the successor or to even get out of the race at the time when the ballot period closed,” said Chris Gober, one of the attorneys representing the state GOP.

Instead, he said, Farenthold was driven out of the race by the media coverage of sexual harassment allegations and how he treated his employees.

[…]

Under state law, political parties are required to submit a list of candidates who have filed to run in the primary elections to the secretary of state’s office, which transmits them to county officials in charge of printing ballots and running elections.

While the law requires the parties to include the names of all the candidates who have filed, no enforcement mechanism gives the secretary of state’s office the authority to ensure the lists provided by the political parties are complete, or to penalize party leaders if they leave a name off, a lawyer for the state argued.

According to the state’s brief, officially allowing Farenthold to withdraw his name from the ballot would trigger a new extension of the filing period, complicating efforts to get ballots prepared in time for the March 6 primary.

“Such an extended filing period, if triggered now, would exceed the Dec. 19, 2017, deadline to submit a list of candidates to the secretary of state and the Dec. 21 deadline to draw names on the ballot,” state lawyers argued. “It would also impede the already short period local election officials have to complete ballots before the Jan. 20, 2018, deadline to mail primary ballots to overseas military members.”

See here for the background. By ten AM, a press release from the Republican Party of Texas had hit my mailbox announcing Dickey’s decision to pull Farenthold out of there. (Yes, I get press releases from the RPT, and also from the Harris County GOP. I’m pretty sure I can trace it to having corresponded with Alan Blakemore’s office to arrange some candidate interviews. The things I do for you people.) Following that, the Texas Democratic Party filed a lawsuit to prevent Dickey from issuing this decree, but they then dropped it after failing to get an injunction.

The Democratic Party’s short-lived lawsuit sought to test the Texas GOP’s claim that it does not have to associate with Farenthold at this point. If that is valid, the Democratic Party says, it should have the same opportunity to exclude primary candidates. If it is not valid, Farenthold’s name should remain on the ballot, the Democrats argue.

“Texas Democrats will not stand idle while Republicans rig the ballot,” Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, said in a statement. “Only voters have the power to choose who leads our state and nation, not politicians and party officers in backroom decisions. Last we checked, this was Texas not Russia.”

[…]

Yet there could still be legal trouble ahead for the party due to its decision to omit a candidate who filed and did not withdraw by the deadline. That’s against the law, Soto said in court, even as he made clear the secretary of state is powerless to stop it. Both sides acknowledged the party’s decision could still draw legal scrutiny, perhaps from a candidate or voter in Texas’ 27th Congressional District.

“It’s certainly a possibility,” Gober told reporters, “but those are legal proceedings that would play out in time with presumably a plaintiff, a defendant and people with the ability to enforce that, whereas the secretary of state’s office has made the assertion they do not.”

For sure, this smacks of the bad old days, when all the action in elections was in the Democratic primary and all kinds of shenanigans were pulled to ensure that the “right” candidate won. I’d like to know what a response would be to the TDP’s assertion that if this stands then nothing would stop them from throwing out candidates they didn’t like (and Lord knows, as we continue to be beseiged by phonies and LaRouchies, this has more than a small amount of appeal to me). I think it is likely that someone else will file a lawsuit, and it will be interesting to see how the SOS testimony that this withdrawal is against the law will be addressed. In the meantime, I’ll make a donation to the first legislator who files a bill to close this dumb loophole for the 2019 session. Stay tuned.

No partisan gerrymandering claims (yet) in Texas

From Texas Redistricting:

The three-judge panel in the Texas redistricting case has issued an order striking the expert report offered by the Texas Democratic Party in connection with its partisan gerrymandering claim. However, the court said that it would allow the TDP to make an offer of proof under Federal Rule of Evidence 103 so that the report could be part of the record on appeal.

The panel said that it was striking the report because it had previously dismissed the TDP’s partisan gerrymandering claim regarding both the 2011 and 2013 maps.

The long and the short is that the court won’t be reviving the partisan gerrymandering claim and any remedy for the TDP will have to come from the Supreme Court when the case is eventually appealed (after the court decides the other issues in the case).

See here for more on the partisan redistricting case, which came out of Wisconsin. The Texas plaintiffs still have their discriminatory intent rulings, which offer a fair bit of potential for change, as does the recent SCOTUS ruling on racial gerrymandering. It’s possible the Wisconsin case could affect the next round of redistricting in 2021, but I wouldn’t count on anything before then. In the meantime, this case is moving along, and with any luck we’ll have us some new maps in place for next year.

A bipartisan bill to address actual vote fraud

Miracles do happen.

Here’s something folks rarely see in Austin, or other statehouses, in these politically prickly times: a bipartisan effort to crack down on voter fraud.

In the waning days of the 85th Texas Legislative Session, a group of Republican and Democratic lawmakers — backed by party leaders — are pushing to tighten oversight of absentee ballots cast at nursing homes, which experts have long called vulnerable to abuse.

This effort has another twist: It could also bolster ballot access among the elderly.

“When was the last time you heard about a voter fraud bill that actually made it easier to vote?” said Rep. Tom Oliverson of Cypress, one of the Republicans championing the proposal.

A bill he filed died this week after failing to reach the House floor. But a unanimous Senate committee vote Thursday gave some life to identical legislation, Senate Bill 2149, filed by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston.

It would create a process for collecting absentee ballots at nursing homes — essentially turning them into temporary polling places during early voting — to ensure facility staffers or others aren’t manipulating residents’ votes. That’s been a well-documented threat surrounding such vulnerable voters.

“Many of our elderly voters in Texas are being disenfranchised,” Eric Opiela, a lawyer for the Texas Republican Party, told lawmakers at Thursday’s hearing of the Senate Committee on State Affairs.

[…]

State law allows Texans with disabilities, those who are at least 65 years old, or those who plan to be out of the county during voting to request a mail-in ballot. That typically includes voters at residential care facilities. Huffman’s bill would change the process for homes that request five or more absentee ballots. During early voting, counties would send election judges to deliver the ballots and oversee voting at those homes, providing assistance if need be. And political parties could send registered poll watchers, just as they do at regular polling places.

Qualified voters who might have forgotten to request an absentee ballot could fill out such paperwork on site and cast a vote during the election judges’ visit.

“This is just going to help seniors vote. It’s going to allow them to participate in greater numbers,” said Rep. Eric Johnson, a Dallas Democrat who authored the House legislation with Oliverson, and has closely followed the Dallas fraud investigation.

Glen Maxey, legislative director for the Texas Democratic Party, on Thursday called the bill “the biggest expansion of voting rights in Texas since we moved to early voting.”

Would it be churlish of me to say that Democrats have argued in vain for years that voter ID laws have no effect on mail ballot fraud, and that if the Republicans had been serious about combating the kind of vote fraud that actually happens they wouldn’t have gotten their asses handed to them in the voter ID lawsuit? Because if it would be churlish of me to say that, well, too bad, I’ve already said it. As far as this bill goes, if Glen Maxey says it’s a good bill, it’s a good bill. Let’s hope it makes it to the finish line.

May 6 election results

First and foremost, the HISD recapture re-referendum passed by a wide margin. The Yes vote was at 85% in early and absentee voting, and it will finish with about 84%; I started writing this at 10 PM, when 437 of 468 HISD precincts had reported. Turnout was over 27,000, with over 14,000 votes on Saturday, for about four percent turnout. Still not a lot of voters in an absolute sense, but more than I thought based on the EV tally.

In Pasadena, Council Member Jeff Wagner led the Mayor’s race with about 36% of the vote. He will face Lone Star College Trustee JR Moon, who had 18%, in the runoff. Wagner was the closest candidate to outgoing Mayor Johnny Isbell, and he also had the most money in the race, so the status quo didn’t do too badly. Pat Van Houte, Gloria Gallegos, and David Flores, who basically represented the anti-Isbell faction, combined for about 33%, but it was evenly split among the three of them. We’ve seen that before in Houston elections.

Of the TDP-endorsed Pasadena City Council candidates, three were unopposed, one (Felipe Villarreal) will be in a runoff, two (Oscar del Toro and Larry Peacock) lost by wide margins, and one (Steve Halvorson) lost by nine votes out of 805. There could be a recount in that race. Halvorson trailed by 41 in absentee ballots, led early in-person voting by 11, and led Election Day by 21, but it wasn’t quite enough. If Villarreal wins his runoff, the partisan balance on Council will be what it was before. Turnout was around 7,500 votes, in line with the 2009 election with the Election Day total being less than early in person voting.

In Humble ISD, candidates Chris Herron and Abby Whitmire both lost, getting 37 and 38 percent, respectively. I don’t know how that might compare to previous efforts, since there’s basically no history of Democratic-aligned candidates like those two running. I’ll have to get the precinct data and see if I can tease out Presidential numbers for the district.

As for Pearland, well, as of 10:30 PM there was still nothing more than early vote totals for Pearland City and Pearland ISD. Who knew I’d feel a pang of longing for Stan Stanart? High school student and future rock star Mike Floyd was leading his race for Pearland ISD 1,755 to 1,681, and in the end he cruised to a victory with 54%. I don’t know why the results aren’t refreshing for me from the Brazoria County Clerk website, but there you have it.

In the Pearland Mayor’s race, incumbent Tom Reid was leading with over 52% in early voting, but challenger and TDP-endorsed Quentin Wiltz had a strong showing on Saturday and forced a runoff.

While longtime Pearland Mayor Tom Reid had more than 50 percent of the vote during early elections, support for Quentin Wiltz poured in on election day, and both Reid and Wiltz will face a run-off election on June 10. Reid secured 48.85 percent of the vote and Wiltz earned 45.64 percent of the vote, according to the unofficial results posted by the Brazoria County Clerk’s Office. A third contender for mayor, Jimi Amos, received 5.51 percent of the vote.

“We have run a very positive campaign and it shows. People came out because they believe in the same message. It’s time to work; we’ve worked extremely hard, a lot of people know it doesn’t stop here. We have to continue the momentum and see where it takes us. I’m just a guy who has been active in his community who really cares about where this community is going to go,” Wiltz said about his campaign, which is entering a run-off election in June.

Nice. There were a couple of races of interest for Pearland City Council as well:

Incumbent Gary Moore also won his re-election bid on May 6. After securing 58.65 percent of the early votes, Moore came out with 55.32 percent of the total votes, beating out contender J. Darnell Jones. Moore will serve his second term on city council; he was first elected to serve in 2014 when he beat out then-incumbent Susan Sherrouse.

[…]

The most contested race of the election cycle is Pearland City Council position No. 7, which had six contestants running for the newly created council position. Because no contestant secured at least 50 percent of the vote, a run-off election will be held in June.

Shadow Creek Ranch resident Dalia Kasseb secured 40.78 percent percent of the vote. Kasseb will run against Woody Owens who received 21.05 percent of the vote.

“We’re going to keep at it keep sending our positive messages, keep talking to people and hearing their voices. We’re going to keep talking about the real issues and keep everything positive. That’s the main thing I want my campaign to be,” Kasseb said. “People in Pearland want diversity; they see that change coming in the future, and I’m going to keep fighting to make sure the voices of Pearland are going to be represented in council.”

If elected in a run-off, Kasseb would be the first Muslim elected to public office in Pearland and Brazoria County.

Wiltz and Jones were Project LIFT candidates. Dalia Kasseb was not, but as that second story notes she received support from the Brazoria County Democratic Party and had done a lot of campaigning in tandem with Wiltz. My guess is there was at least one other Democrat in that race, and I won’t be surprised if she gets a TDP nod for the runoff.

Last but not least, there will be a runoff in the San Antonio Mayor’s race, with incumbent Ivy Taylor facing Council Member Ron Nirenberg. I wasn’t following that race very closely.

Endorsement watch: Project LIFT

The Texas Democratic Party has endorsed a slew of progressive candidates enrolled in their Project LIFT (Local Investment in the Future of Texas) program. There were five rounds of endorsements, beginning on March 10:

Round 1
Round 2
Round 3
Round 4
Round 5

The endorsements cover races all over the state. I’m going to highlight candidates on these lists from races in the greater Houston area. The accompanying text comes from the endorsement pages.

Mike Floyd, Pearland ISD Position 2

As an 18 year old senior who has attended Pearland ISD schools for 13 years, he has deep knowledge of and personal experience with Pearland schools. With public education under attack, Mike knows we need strong progressive solutions on our school boards. Mike is running to bring real change and new leadership.

Quentin Wiltz, Pearland Mayor

Quentin works professionally as a certified project manager, and he truly embodies public service. He chairs the Brazoria County Alliance for Children and a key influencer for public policy for NACE International. He is past chair of Pearland Parks & Rec Board, and served as a director for the Pearland Chamber and the president of the Pearland Democrats. Proud husband to Monique, Quentin seeks to provide “Leadership for All” to the next generation of Pearland residents, including his sons Ethan and Evan.

J. Darnell Jones, Pearland City Council, Position 3

J. Darnell is a recently retired Naval Officer with 24 years of military service. He is a lawyer with a strong passion for civil and constitutional rights for all people. He graduated from the University of Memphis with a B.A. in Political Science and earned his J.D. at John Marshall Law School.

Steven Halvorson, Pasadena City Council District B

A former U.S. Army Engineer Officer, Steven served his country for 15 years, and has been a Scientific Research Director for 27 years. He is currently the Texas Organizing Project Treasurer, Harris County Democratic Precinct Chair 188, and Pasadena Area 5 Democratic Member.

Sammy Casados, Pasadena City Council District D

Sammy was raised in Pasadena’s Deepwater neighborhood and graduated from Deer Park High. He is a community-oriented family man who has passionately served the City of Pasadena. His priorities are improving the local economy, government transparency, and city services and infrastructure.

Felipe Villarreal, Pasadena City Council District A

Felipe is a Pasadena resident of more than 18 years, and is currently working as a code enforcement officer with City of Galena Park.

Oscar Del Toro, Pasadena City Council District G

Oscar and his family immigrated from Mexico in 2000, and became citizens in 2006. Oscar and his wife manage a local small business. He knows what it takes to fulfill the American dream and he wants everyone in Pasadena to have the same opportunity he had.

Chris Herron, Humble ISD Position 3

Chris is standing up for the belief that public funds should be used for public schools. He has the business acumen and community organization experience to help the district’s kids succeed.

Abby Whitmire, Humble ISD Position 4

Abby is proud to be a product of Texas public schools, from kindergarten through college. A mom who moved to Kingwood in 2014 for the schools, Abby’s work as a nonprofit fundraiser in New Orleans reinforced her commitment to public schools having seen the weaknesses of charter schools and vouchers.

Supreme Court hears TDP-KSP appeal

Here‘s a little blast from the past.

A meandering legal dispute between Texas Democrats and a Houston tea party group has landed before the Texas Supreme Court in a case that could overturn longtime election laws that require certain political committees to disclose donors and ban direct political contributions from corporations.

Arguing before the court Tuesday, the Democrats’ lawyer, Chad Dunn, warned that overturning the laws would open “the floodgates to the secret funding of elections.”

“If this court wants to open the political process to Uber and Lyft and Exxon and Pinterest and other corporations to use corporate profits to determine who ought to prevail in (campaigns), it should tread carefully,” Dunn said.

[…]

The case began when the Texas Democratic Party filed a 2010 lawsuit accusing King Street Patriots of making illegal contributions to the Republican Party and GOP candidates by training poll watchers who were provided to the party to monitor the 2010 general election in Harris County.

The lawsuit also accused the tea party-aligned group of failing to register as a political committee and failing to disclose its donors as required.

King Street Patriots countersued, arguing that several state election laws were unconstitutional, and both sides agreed to have the courts decide if the laws were enforceable before determining if the organization violated any of them.

A Travis County district judge and the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals have upheld the challenged election laws, leading to the Supreme Court’s review.

King Street Patriots argues that state donor-disclosure laws place onerous burdens on small organizations by requiring them to register with the state, keep records and file extensive, ongoing reports — leaving many to avoid participating in politics as “simply not worth it.”

See here and here for some background. I think the KSP’s First Amendment argument in favor of secret political donations is a load of hooey, but in a Citizens United world, I wouldn’t be too sure it isn’t a winner. I will just note for the record that there is a connection between the KSP and Gregg Phillips, the longtime grifter and procurer of that baloney “millions of illegal voters” claim, because of course there is. There’s never a bottom with these people. The story says that we should expect a ruling by June, so stay tuned.

Miles wins SD13 nomination

Borris Miles

Rep. Borris Miles

And so we gathered again to pick a nominee to fill an open slot on the ballot, though at least this time the “we” who did the actual picking did not include me. I went to observe, say Hi, gather intelligence, and just generally enjoy the process. if you didn’t know anything about that process and you assumed this was an open election, you would have expected Rep. Senfronia Thompson to do very well, as she had the most T-shirt-clad (and most vocal) supporters present. Nearly all of those people were in the spectators’ section, however – the distribution of people wearing yellow Thompson shirts and people wearing white Borris Miles shirts was much more even among the precinct chairs. Ronald Green and James Joseph were also in attendance, but neither had supporters of that easily identifiable visibility.

The process officially started at around 11 AM, an hour after the announced time, to allow straggling precinct chairs to arrive and participate. A total of 84 chairs, out of 96 total, were in attendance. A woman I did not recognize but was told was from Fort Bend was the temporary chair (appointed, I presume, by TDP Chair Gilbert Hinojosa, who was also present) who called the meeting to order and after an invocation and the Pledge of Allegiance, asked for nominations for a presiding chair to replace her. Nat West, past candidate for Commissioners Court, was nominated and approved unanimously. A secretary whose name I did not catch was also nominated and approved unanimously. Between this and the lack of any parliamentary maneuvers, we were well on your way towards a smoother and quicker resolution than last time.

Four candidates were nominated – Thompson, Miles, Green, and Joseph. Each was given three minutes to speak, which they had agreed upon beforehand, with straws drawn to determine speaking order. Thompson emphasized her experience, accomplishments, and relationships, while dismissing concerns about losing her seniority in the House (“that wasn’t an issue with Sen. Ellis leaving for Commissioners Court”) and age (“take that up with God, who has blessed me with good health”). Joseph, who had the toughest act to follow, rhymed his surname James with “change”. Three times. Miles played up his connections to the district, including the Fort Bend part of it, which he characterized as being neglected, as well as his more combative style. Green talked about his time in city office and more or less explicitly placed himself between Thompson’s “walk from one chamber to another” experience and Miles’ “sharp elbows”.

As with the other nomination processes, voting was done by standing division of the house, and it was quickly clear that Miles had the advantage. A cheer erupted from his batch of precinct chairs as they reached the majority point. In the end, Miles had 49 votes to Thompson’s 30 and Green’s 3; either one chair didn’t vote or the true count was 83 and not 84. As it became obvious what was happening, Thompson and Green walked across the room from their supporters’ areas to congratulate and embrace Miles; the final count was announced shortly thereafter.

Here’s the Trib story on the vote. As the sun rises in the east and the mercury rises in the summer, so began the next race, to fill MIles’ slot on the ballot for HD146. The candidates who had supporters and some form of campaign materials present included HDCE Trustee Erica Lee Carter, former judicial candidate Shawn Thierry, Greater Houston Black Chamber board member James Donatto II, whose father is a committee chair on the Houston Southeast Management District, and Rashad Cave, about whom I know nothing. There may be others, which ought to make for an interesting vote given that there are 27 total precinct chairs in HD146. That process may not take place for four weeks, on August 12, due to the DNC convention overlapping the August 5 weekend. I don’t have official word on that just yet, so don’t go marking your calendars till someone makes a formal announcement. In the meantime, congratulations to presumptive Sen. Borris Miles, and best of luck to everyone lining up in HD146.

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story on the SD13 nomination process.

Today’s the day for SD13

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Feels like we’ve been here before, doesn’t it? Today is the day for the Senate precinct convention in SD13, in which a nominee for that office to replace Sen. Rodney Ellis will be chosen. There are 96 precinct chairs in total across Harris and Fort Bend Counties, and we know the basic process by now. The main difference here is that as this district spans two counties, the TDP is the entity running the show. I doubt there will be as much parliamentary maneuvering as there was on June 25, mostly because there just hasn’t been enough time for the kind of organization to make that happen, but we’ll see.

A total of four candidates for SD13 have made themselves known, though I personally doubt more than three will receive a nomination. My guess is that this comes down to Rep. Borris Miles versus Rep. Senfronia Thompson, and I can make a case for either as the frontrunner. If it goes to a runoff and I’m right about these two being in the lead, then the big question is whether Ronald Green has given any guidance to his supporters about a second choice. At the convention for choosing the Commissioners Court nominee, all of Dwight Boykins’ supporters moved to Gene Locke’s side after Boykins conceded, at least as far as I could tell. This would have been a difference-maker if Ellis had not already secured a majority.

Once a new nominee for SD13 is chosen, the next question will be whether we need to do this one more time, in either HD141 or HD146. At this point, I have very little idea who may be circling around either seat in the event the opportunity arises, though I have heard some chatter that Boykins is looking at HD146. I will be interested to see who is there today, ready to hand out push cards or whatever. I’ll have a report from the convention tomorrow, which I am planning to attend, thankfully as a spectator and not a participant. PDiddie, who lives in HD146 and expects Rep. Miles to win, has more.

Endorsement watch: Labor for Thompson, the Mayor for Miles

From the inbox:

Rep. Senfronia Thompson

Rep. Senfronia Thompson

The Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO today announced their support of Senfronia Thompson for State Senator District 13.

“Our unions screened two candidates for Senate District 13 — Representatives Senfronia Thompson and Borris Miles,” said Zeph Capo, President of the Area Labor Federation. “Both candidates have been steadfast allies in our efforts to give workers a voice on the job, raise wages for all, adequately fund public services, and defend civil rights. Ultimately, Thompson’s deep experience and long record as a champion for working families led us to back her.”

“Over her twenty-two terms of public service, Senfronia Thompson has been an energetic and consistent advocate of initiatives to help better the lives of working families,” said John Patrick, President of the Texas AFL-CIO. “She is one of the most reliable, influential, and effective leaders with whom I have ever worked. Her knowledge of how state government works is what sets her apart from the other candidates.”

“Representative Thompson has the integrity, the vision, and the will to advocate for all of SD 13’s constituents. Labor will work hard to get her elected to office and help her achieve that goal,” added Hany Khalil, Executive Director of the Area Labor Federation.

The release, which came out on Thursday, is here. It was followed on Friday by this:

Rep. Borris Miles

Rep. Borris Miles

Dear Fellow Democrat,

Please join me in supporting Borris Miles for State Senate, District 13.

With the departure of Senator Rodney Ellis to join Commissioners Court, we need to make sure that we have an energetic warrior for the people representing us in the State Senate. That’s my friend and former House colleague, Borris Miles.

I’ve worked with Borris for years and watched his commitment and skill in moving our Democratic priorities forward.

From giving misguided kids a second chance at a better life, to doubling fines for outsiders who dump their trash in our neighborhoods, to increasing access to health care and expanding educational opportunities for us all – Borris gets the job done.

Believe me, it’s tough getting things done as a Democrat in a Republican-controlled legislature. But that’s exactly what our communities deserve.

I’m for Borris because Borris is a warrior for the people. That’s why I respectfully ask you to cast your vote for Borris as the Democratic Party’s nominee for State Senate, District 13.

Warm regards,

Mayor Sylvester Turner

But wait! There’s still more!

Thompson, who first was elected in 1972, has picked up a slew of endorsements from area Democratic congressmen and state legislators.

They include U.S. Reps. Al Green and Gene Green, as well as state Reps. Alma Allen, Garnet Coleman, Harold Dutton, Jessica Farrar, Ana Hernandez, Ron Reynolds, Hubert Vo, Armando Walle and Gene Wu.

Fort Bend County Commissioner Grady Prestage and the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation and the also have endorsed Thompson, among others.

[…]

Miles also touted Dutton’s support, in addition to that of former Mayor Annise Parker, state Sen. John Whitmire and state Rep. Jarvis Johnson, among others.

Dutton could not immediately be reached for comment to clarify which candidate he has in fact backed.

Asked if he has received any endorsements, Green said he is focused on earning precinct chairs’ support.

I’m a little surprised at how active Mayor Turner has been in intra-Democratic elections so far. Mayor Parker was a lot more circumspect, and Mayor White basically recused himself from party politics for his six years in office. I guess I’m not that surprised – the Lege was his bailiwick for a long time – and while these family fights often get nasty, I’m sure he’s fully aware of the pros and cons of getting involved. Whatever the case, this race just got a lot more interesting.

More on the SD13 race

From the Trib:

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

In the span of a month, a Texas Senate seat will have been vacated and effectively filled, an unconventional turn of events that has Houston Democrats scrambling to replace one of their most venerated legislators.

The highly abbreviated contest is unfolding in Senate District 13, where Rodney Ellis is vacating his seat of 20-some years to serve on the Harris County Commissioners Court. His successor on the ballot will be picked July 16 by precinct chairs in the Senate district, which is spread across Harris and Fort Bend counties.

“It’s going to be a sprint,” acknowledged state Rep. Borris Miles, who’s vying for the seat along with House colleague Senfronia Thompson and former City Controller Ron Green.

[…]

“The No. 1 issue is the personal connection between the person and the precinct chair,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “This probably advantages Miles, whose whole district resides within SD-13.”

“This is an odd race where money doesn’t matter,” Rottinghaus added. “There’s not going to be any advertising. No one’s going to go door-to-door. This is all about who’s in the room and who can be persuaded.”

Miles’ House District 146 may lie almost entirely within Senate District 13, but his rivals are not without advantages when it comes to courting precinct chairs. Thompson’s House district also shares some real estate with the Senate district, and “Ms. T” is a household name for many Houston Democrats. Green is the only one of the bunch to have won election citywide, and before that, he was a City Council member whose district was 85 percent within the Senate district.

“For me quite frankly, it would be really hard to say who has a significant advantage,” said Rodney Griffin, a member of the State Democratic Executive Committee and a precinct chair in Senate District 13. Thompson, he added, may have a “slight advantage” due to her long tenure in the House and the name recognition that comes with it.

Not really much we didn’t already know. The main difference between this race and the Commissioners Court one is that Rodney Ellis established himself as a frontrunner early on. He was the first person to announce his interest in the position – he was certainly the first one to call me – he had the longest record, and his district covered nearly all of the Commissioners Court precinct. Nobody has all of those advantages here. They all entered at the same time. Thompson has the longest record and is surely the best known, but Miles’ district covers more of SD13. Green represented even more of SD13 than either of them, including some of the Fort Bend County parts, but he has no legislative experience, and it’s fair to say he has some baggage. Thompson’s experience could be a double-edged sword – she has been the Chair of the Local and Consent Committee in the House for several sessions, and I seriously doubt her successor there will be a Democrat. That’s a nontrivial amount of clout to give up, and in fact Green is making the argument that by choosing him there would be no net loss of Democratic seniority in the Legislature. I have no idea which arguments will carry the most weight, but I’m damn glad I’m not one of the 96 precinct chairs who will be on the receiving end of them.