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voter suppression

Look for the grifters

In any rightwing political movement, there will always be grifters. It’s absolutely an ants-to-a-picnic situation.

Over the last two presidential election cycles, True the Vote has raised millions in donations with claims that it discovered tide-turning voter fraud. It’s promised to release its evidence. It never has.

Instead, the Texas-based nonprofit organization has engaged in a series of questionable transactions that sent more than $1 million combined to its founder, a longtime board member romantically linked to the founder and the group’s general counsel, an investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting has found.

A former PTA mom-turned-Tea Party activist, True the Vote founder Catherine Engelbrecht has played a pivotal role in helping drive the voter fraud movement from the political fringes to a central pillar in the Republican Party’s ideology. Casting herself as a God-fearing, small-town Texan, she’s spread the voter-fraud gospel by commanding airtime on cable television, space on the pages of Breitbart News and even theater seats, as a new feature film dramatizing her organization’s exploits, “2000 Mules,” plays in cinemas across the country.

Along the way, she’s gained key allies across the conservative movement. Former President Donald Trump, who shouts her out by name during rallies and held a private screening for the film at his Mar-a-Lago resort, exploited the group’s declarations to proclaim that he won the popular vote in 2016. Provocateur Dinesh D’Souza partnered with Engelbrecht on the film. And she’s represented by the legal heavyweight James Bopp Jr., who helped dismantle abortion rights, crafted many of the arguments in the Citizens United case that revolutionized campaign finance law and was part of the legal team that prevailed in Bush v. Gore.

A review of thousands of pages of documents from state filings, tax returns and court records, however, paints the picture of an organization that enriches Engelbrecht and partner Gregg Phillips rather than actually rooting out any fraud. According to the documents, True the Vote has given questionable loans to Engelbrecht and has a history of awarding contracts to companies run by Engelbrecht and Phillips. Within days of receiving $2.5 million from a donor to stop the certification of the 2020 election, True the Vote distributed much of the money to a company owned by Phillips, Bopp’s law firm and Engelbrecht directly for a campaign that quickly fizzled out.

Legal and nonprofit accounting experts who reviewed Reveal’s findings said the Texas attorney general and Internal Revenue Service should investigate.

“This certainly looks really bad,” said Laurie Styron, executive director of CharityWatch.

And while the claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 election have been dismissed out of hand by courts and debunked by audits, even those led by Republicans, the story of True the Vote highlights how exploiting the Big Lie has become a lucrative enterprise, growing from a cottage industry to a thriving economy.

The records show:

  • True the Vote regularly reported loans to Engelbrecht, including more than $113,000 in 2019, according to a tax filing. Texas law bans nonprofits from loaning money to directors; Engelbrecht is both a director and an employee.
  • Companies connected to Engelbrecht and Phillips collected nearly $890,000 from True the Vote from 2014 to 2020. The largest payment – at least $750,000 – went to a new company created by Phillips, OPSEC Group LLC, to do voter analysis in 2020. It’s unclear whether OPSEC has any other clients; it has no website and no digital footprint that Reveal could trace beyond its incorporation records. The contract, which one expert called “eye-popping” for its largess, did not appear to be disclosed in the 2020 tax return the organization provided to Reveal.
  • True the Vote provided Bopp’s law firm a retainer of at least $500,000 to lead a legal charge against the results of the 2020 election, but he filed only four of the seven lawsuits promised to a $2.5 million donor, all of which were voluntarily dismissed less than a week after being filed. The donor later called the amount billed by Bopp’s firm “unconscionable” and “impossible.”
  • The organization’s tax returns are riddled with inconsistencies and have regularly been amended. Experts who reviewed the filings said it makes it difficult to understand how True the Vote is truly spending its donations.

In one instance, True the Vote produced two different versions of the same document. A copy of the 2019 tax return Engelbrecht provided to Reveal does not match the version on the IRS website.

There’s more, but that will get you started. I hope this story will lead to a criminal investigation of Engelbrecht and Phillips and TTV; it seems to me that perhaps both state and federal laws may have been broken, so there’s room to go around. We know that Ken Paxton won’t touch this, but surely one of the local Democratic DAs could give it a go.

I wrote about Engelbrecht and her crowd a couple of times in 2010 and 2012. I’m honestly a little surprised they’re still around, but given the money people seem to have been willing to throw at them, why wouldn’t they milk that cow till it’s all dried out?

Juanita has far more experience with this crowd, and she just enjoyed the heck out of that story. I can add a little context to the story she tells in return, which you can see here.

Readers with long memories may also recognize the name of Engelbrecht’s co-conspirator, who has his own long history of grifting, which of course later morphed into Trumpian “election fraud” bullshit, because that’s where the money is these days. As I said in one of those posts, guys like Gregg Phillips are basically cockroaches – you just can’t get rid of them. But this time it sure would be nice to try.

There was definitely an improvement in mail ballot acceptance for the primary runoffs

The last time I looked, I was largely unable to find any news stories about mail ballots and their rejection rates for the May primary runoff elections, with the exception of one story about Bexar County and how they were leading the field in getting rejection rates down to something akin to pre-SB1 levels. I still can’t find any stories about this, but it (finally) occurred to me that the new reconciliation reports that election officials now have to publish would contain the data I’m looking for. So with that in mind, off I went. I obviously don’t have the time to go looking everywhere, and some of those smaller county elections webpages are just awful, but I did have a look at a few places of interest.

Harris County, Democratic: 19,081 total mail ballots, of which 1,128 were rejected, for a rejection rate of 5.9%.

Harris County, Republican: 15,053 total mail ballots, of which 1,169 were rejected, for a rejection rate of 7.8%

That’s a clear improvement of the 20% rejection rate from March and the 12% rejection rate of the May special election. It’s still too high, but it’s not take-your-breath-away too high. And it pleases me no end to see Republicans have a harder time with it than Democrats. It’s unlikely to be enough to matter if that’s still the case in November, but it would be a rich piece of karma if more of their votes got tossed as a result of this malicious law.

Bexar County, Democratic: 11,919 total mail ballots, of which 15 (yes, fifteen) were rejected, for a rejection rate of 0.1%.

Bexar County, Republican: 5,856 total mail ballots, of which 33 were rejected, for a rejection rate of 0.6%.

Bexar is definitely the gold standard, the example for everyone else to emulate. And Dems did better here as well. Encouraging.

Travis County, cumulative: 10,224 total mail ballots, of which 222 were rejected, for a rejection rate of 2.2%.

Not all counties broke this out by party. The overall rate is low enough here to not sweat it too much. About 75% of the mail ballots overall were Democratic, so it’s likely that the Dem rejection rate was right around 2.2% – the Republican rate could have been a lot different without affecting the total too much.

Dallas County, cumulative: 10,708 total mail ballots, of which 176 were rejected, for a rejection rate of 1.6%.

Like Travis County, but slightly fewer rejections. Dems cast a bit less than 70% of the mail ballots.

Montgomery County, cumulative: 4,366 total mail ballots, of which 25 were rejected, for a rejection rate of 0.6%.

Republicans knew what they were doing here. They were 70% of mail ballots.

Fort Bend County, cumulative: 4,382 total mail ballots, of which 187 were rejected, for a 4.3% rejection rate.

Closest one yet to Harris. About two thirds of mail ballots were Democratic. Would have been nice to see the breakdown by party here.

Cameron County, Democratic: 1,323 total mail ballots, of which 3 were rejected, for a rejection rate of 0.3%.

Cameron County, Republican: 292 total mail ballots, of which 2 were rejected, for a rejection rate of 0.7%.

Wow.

So it’s clear there was a lot of improvement, and while Harris did a much better job there’s room for us to do better as well. It’s also important to remember that there are still a huge number of people who have not yet tried to vote by mail, so there’s no guarantee that the improvements will continue or be maintained. There’s still a lot of work to be done. But at least it looks like that work will have a payoff.

(PS – Not all counties had the reconciliation reports in a place that I could find. I looked for them for El Paso and Tarrant and came up empty. Might have just been me, but maybe their site design needs some work.)

SCOTx answers the Fifth Circuit’s questions

Some late-breaking SB1 lawsuit news.

The Texas Supreme Court issued a ruling Friday on the term “solicit” as it pertains to the state’s new election code.

[…]

Of three main issues, one raised several questions pertaining to the definition of “solicit.” The questions arose after the plaintiff, Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria, argued the vagueness of the term. In one argument, Longoria’s attorneys requested that the term “solicit” be tethered only to vote-by-mail applications sent to those ineligible voters.

State justices rejected that request.

“The statute does not prohibit solicitation merely of those ineligible to vote by mail. Its text leaves no doubt that the prohibition extends more broadly to the larger universe of persons who ‘did not request an application,’” the opinion read.

In a second request, Longoria’s team argued that “solicitation” in its broad definition could include terms that are less forceful in nature, including “encourage” or “request.

The defendant, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s team, said it defined “solicit” as beyond encouragement, but more so “importuning or strongly urging.” Paxton said that stating “please fill out this application to vote by mail” would constitute solicitation.

While justices refrained from defining “solicit,” stating they were not requested to, they agreed with Paxton that “solicit” is not limited to demands that a person submit an application to vote by mail, but includes statements such as “please fill out this application to vote by mail.”

But justices did find that telling potential voters they have the opportunity to apply for mail-in ballots does not constitute solicitation.

“The Legislature intended to distinguish between merely informing Texans of the option to vote by mail and soliciting them to submit an application to vote by mail when they have not requested one,” the opinion read. “Without expressing an opinion as to any particular statement plaintiffs may wish to make, we conclude that (the law) does not include broad statements such as telling potential voters that they have the opportunity to apply for mail-in ballots.”

See here and here for the background, and here for the opinion. As noted in the previous update, by this time both sides had agreed that Volunteer Deputy Registrars (VDRs) were not public officials and (I presume) not covered by SB1, and that the Attorney General did not have enforcement power for SB1 (not clear to me if District Attorneys might, however). I expect this means that the Fifth Circuit will rule that plaintiff Cathy Morgan, who is a VDR, has no standing to sue.

On the three-part question that SCOTx did have to answer, my reading is that under SB1 it would be illegal for a county elections administrator to pre-emptively send a vote by mail application to everyone who is eligible to vote by mail, as Chris Hollins did in 2020. Such applications can only be sent to people who ask for them. Providing general information about the vote by mail process, including how to apply, would not be barred. I still think the whole thing is a ridiculous over-reaction to what Hollins did in 2020, and that we should be making it easier to vote by mail in general, but all things considered, compared to where we were before SB1, this isn’t a major setback.

It should be noted that there’s still a lot of room for future disputes here, which likely will remain the case even after a final ruling in this lawsuit. From the opinion, on the matter of the definition of the word “solicit”:

The Fifth Circuit next asks whether “solicits” is “limited to demanding submission of an application for mail-in ballots (whether or not the applicant qualifies).” 2022 WL 832239, at *6. Plaintiffs suggest that the ordinary meaning of “solicit” includes speech that lacks the insistence normally associated with a demand. According to Plaintiffs, the term’s ordinary meaning includes speech that is far less forceful. Indeed, under their view, solicitation includes all the following: “requesting, urging, encouraging, seeking, imploring, or inducing.”

Paxton argues that the Legislature could not have intended to sweep so broadly. He argues, for example, that “solicits” cannot include mere encouragement of an action because the Legislature has used both “solicits” and “encourages” in many statutes, indicating that they have different meanings. See, e.g., TEX. EDUC. CODE § 37.152(a) (“A person commits an offense if the person . . . solicits, encourages, directs, aids, or attempts to aid another in engaging in hazing . . . .”); TEX. PENAL CODE § 7.02(a)(2) (holding a person criminally responsible for another’s offense if the person “solicits, encourages, directs, aids, or attempts to aid the other person to commit the offense”); cf. TEX. ELEC. CODE § 13.031(a) (stating that the purpose of appointing VDRs is “[t]o encourage voter registration”). Paxton urges us to define “solicits” to exclude mere encouragement and to require “importuning or strongly urging.” But Paxton also concedes that stating “please fill out this application to vote by mail” would constitute solicitation.

Whether a particular statement constitutes solicitation for purposes of Section 276.016(a)(1) will, of course, be informed by the precise words spoken and by surrounding context. We therefore do not endeavor to articulate today a comprehensive definition of “solicits” as the term is used in Section 276.016(a)(1). Nor do we express an opinion as to whether any of the general categories of statements Plaintiffs say they wish to make constitutes solicitation. We will leave for another case, with a more developed record, the task of defining the term’s outer reach. For today, we believe it is sufficient to hold that, for purposes of Section 276.016(a)(1), “solicits” is not limited to demands that a person submit an application to vote by mail. As Paxton acknowledges, “solicits” includes statements that fall short of a demand, such as “please fill out this application to vote by mail.”

So Isabel Longoria is arguing that SB1 is super-restrictive on this point, while Ken Paxton is saying, nah, not really. The Court is saying they don’t want to get involved just yet, better to see what happens in the real world rather than rule on hypotheticals, and work with a more complete set of facts. If the parties’ arguments seem backwards to you, the Court addressed that in a footnote:

In a criminal prosecution (or civil-enforcement action), one ordinarily might expect the government to take a broad view of the statute’s application and the defendant to take a narrow view. But to establish (or defeat) a plaintiff’s standing in a pre-enforcement challenge, the plaintiff has an incentive to argue that the statute does apply to her, while the government has an incentive to argue it does not. The unusual dynamic present here contributes to our reluctance to make wide-ranging proclamations on the issues of state law presented.

In other words, at this point in time before the law has really been applied to anyone, the plaintiffs want the Court to believe that the law is vast and (they claim) over-reaching and must be struck down, while the defense wants the Court to think that the law is more modest and thus not a threat to anyone’s Constitutional liberties. Needless to say, when the law is eventually enforced by someone, those arguments will be reversed.

So it’s now back to the Fifth Circuit. I wish there had been more coverage of this – I grant, the opinion dropped on Friday afternoon and some people have lives – but so far all I’ve seen is this story from a site in Greenville (?) and one from a partisan site; I also found paywalled stories at Law.com and Bloomberg Law, but couldn’t read them. Maybe next week one of the regulars will have something, which I hope will include a bit of analysis from someone with actual law knowledge. Until then, this is what I think I know.

A better mail ballot

I’m glad someone’s working on this.

After thousands of mail-in ballots were rejected in Texas’ statewide primaries in March, election officials and voting rights groups are stepping up efforts to make sure voters don’t run into the same problems with ballot rejections going forward.

Nearly 25,000 mail ballots were rejected for the March 1 primaries — a far higher rate than prior elections.

Some ballots were rejected because identifying data didn’t match what was on file. But election officials and voting groups say a design issue with the envelope that Texas voters use to return their mail ballots was most responsible for the rejections.

Grace Chimene, president of the League of Women Voters of Texas, says voters missed important instructions located right under the flap of the mail ballot return envelope. That is where voters have to provide either a partial Social Security number or their driver’s license number.

“Voters wouldn’t see [the section] if the flap is down,” she says. “It’s only visible if the flap is up. And the reason behind that was to keep it secret so people couldn’t get that [information] when it was going through the mail.”

Sam Taylor, assistant secretary of state for communications with the Texas secretary of state’s office, says election officials are also convinced that the new voter ID field on the envelope is what led to mass rejections.

“Based on the number of people who just missed it completely, I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch to think that some people thought it was just an optional section,” Taylor says.

A lot of these changes were prompted by a voting law Republican state leaders enacted last year. Taylor says that among the changes, more information was required to be on the return envelope. That affected the envelope’s design.

“There’s more language that’s required, and as a result there is more language and text competing for the same amount of real estate,” he says.

Just so we’re clear, this is the Assistant Secretary of State for Communications confirming that the Republican voter suppression law did in fact suppress votes by making the process sufficiently confusing that thousands of regular voters cast ballots that had to be rejected. They could have ameliorated this problem by delaying implementation of the law until 2023, which would have given the SOS and county officials enough time to design a better mail ballot (which includes the envelope and any supplemental materials) as well as giving the SOS enough time to properly communicate the changes and anything else that county officials needed to know. But they didn’t, and this was the result. Again, I just want to be clear on that.

Chimene says the League of Women Voters of Texas has been working with the Center for Civic Design to create a pamphlet for Texas voters that breaks down everything they need to do to make sure their ballot is counted.

“And that involved simplifying the words and using images and graphics and using bolding and other methods that they specialize in to make voter information that makes sense,” Chimene says.

The plan is to get county election officials to include these pamphlets with vote-by-mail materials. Chimene says hopefully their easy-to-read guides will clear up any confusion.

I certainly hope that county election officials pay heed to this. I continue to maintain that the Texas Democratic Party, the county parties, the candidates and elected officials and affiliated groups and so on, also had and have a responsibility to communicate to their voters what they need to know and do to vote by mail. This is just too important to leave to anyone else, even if it is their job.

The good news is that we know that making changes like this can work, because Bexar County has proven it.

The mail ballots of Bexar County voters in the primary runoff are being returned at a significantly lower rate when compared to the March primary election earlier this year.

About one in five mail ballots for the March Primary were being rejected by the elections office under rigorous new standards set by the Texas Legislature under SB1, the state’s new controversial voting law. However, as of the day before the May primary runoff election, the rejection rate has dropped to less than 1% according to the Bexar County Elections Administrator.

About 16,000 mail ballots have been received by the office so far and the rejection rate is drastically lower than the 22% seen in March.

“The rejection rate for the Democrats is 0.9% and the rejection rate for the Republicans is 0.4% so we are genuinely thrilled,” said Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen.

There are twice as many Democratic Primary ballots that have been received compared to Republican Primary ballots, Callanen added.

[…]

In March, out of the 18,000 ballots received, about 4,000 were rejected.

After that, Callanen said her office made adjustments.

“Just from looking at the raw numbers right now, it looks like it worked,” she said.

That included an insert that was in both English and Spanish.

“We came up with an insert to put in there to assist the voters so they don’t miss on the envelopes with the very tiny print that they need to put on their (Texas Drivers License), or the last four of your social, so we are really excited and now at this point now we’re looking forward to November,” she said.

Another adjustment was increasing the font size on the envelope relating to the new SB1 requirements.

“What we basically did was, we took the area under the flap with all the legalese and we blew it up,” she said referring to the font size which she said was boosted to 12 point font.

We’ve discussed the Bexar County success story before, and I will bang the drum for their example again. I will also note that even within that, there’s room for improvement on the Dem side, which is why it’s important for the Texas Democratic establishment to take their own initiative. I can’t say this often or loudly enough: It is too important to do anything less.

These were the stories I found when I did my latest Google News search for mail ballot rejections. We should have final vote canvasses on Tuesday, so maybe we’ll get some numbers – and some reporting – from other counties as well. I will follow up and let you know.

The national trend is for less voting by mail

Of interest.

The great vote-by-mail wave appears to be receding just as quickly as it arrived.

After tens of millions of people in the United States opted for mail ballots during the pandemic election of 2020, voters in early primary states are returning in droves to in-person voting this year.

In Georgia, one of the mostly hotly contested states, about 85,000 voters had requested mail ballots for the May 24 primary, as of Thursday. That is a dramatic decrease from the nearly 1 million who cast mail ballots in the state’s 2020 primary at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

The trend was similar in Ohio, Indiana and West Virginia, which held primaries this month; comparisons were not available for Nebraska, another early primary state.

A step back in mail balloting was expected given easing concerns about COVID-19, but some election officials and voting experts had predicted that far more voters would seek out the convenience of mail voting once they experienced it.

Helping drive the reversal is the rollback of temporary rules expanding mail ballots in 2020, combined with distrust of the process among Republicans and concerns about new voting restrictions among Democrats. And a year and a half of former President Donald Trump and his allies pushing false claims about mail voting to explain his loss to Democrat Joe Biden has also taken a toll on voter confidence.

“It’s unfortunate because our election system has been mischaracterized and the integrity of our elections questioned,” said Ben Hovland, a Democrat appointed by Trump to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. “Mail ballots are a safe and secure method of voting used by millions of Americans, including myself.”

A record 43% of voters in the U.S. cast mail ballots in 2020, compared with 24.5% in 2016, according to the commission’s survey of local election officials. The number of voters who used in-person early voting also increased, although the jump was not quite as large as in mail ballots, the survey found.

Before the November 2020 election, 12 states expanded access to mail ballots by loosening certain requirements. Five more either mailed ballots to all eligible voters or allowed local officials to do so, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. This year, eight states will mail ballots to every eligible voter.

[…]

Requesting a mail ballot is significantly harder now in Georgia than in 2020, when voters could go online to request a ballot be sent to them without a printed request. Part of the 2021 voting law pushed by Republicans required voters to print or obtain a paper form, then sign it in ink before sending it in by mail, email or fax.

Voters also must include their driver’s license number or some other form of identification after Republicans decided that the process of matching voter signatures was no longer enough security for an absentee ballot application.

“I couldn’t even figure it out,” said Ursula Gruenewald, who lives in Cobb County, north of Atlanta. “Before, I used to just click a button on a website, and they’d send me my ballot. I don’t know what they want now.”

Gruenewald said she usually votes by mail but decided last week to seek out a nearby early voting center, recalling she had waited in line for two hours to vote in person in 2016.

I’m not surprised that voting by mail is down from 2020. Lots of people just like voting in person, I think. I know I do, though I’m a weirdo who actually knows a lot of the candidates and their campaign staffs. I’m also not surprised that it’s down this much given how much harder it is now to vote by mail and how much abuse and disinformation has been heaped on the practice. I think longer term it will tick back up, if only because a significant portion of the population is heading into senior citizen territory and those are the biggest mail ballot users, but who knows how long the Trump/GOP damage will last.

I would be remiss if I didn’t once again harp on the mail ballot rejection issue here in Texas, which wasn’t noted in that story. I have no doubt that there are now people who would have voted by mail, who may have tried to vote by mail in March, who will instead vote in person because of the significant risk of their mail ballot not being counted. I’m still waiting to see if voting by mail in May was any less messy than it was in March. Keep your fingers crossed.

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

Their efforts appear to have paid off.

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

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

Tomorrow is Primary Runoff Day

You know the drill, this is your last chance to vote in the primary runoffs. We will finally have the 2022 lineup set for November and can concentrate all of our attention and attacks on the other guys. The map of Tuesday voting locations in Harris County is here – there will be 263 locations, you can vote at any of them, but remember that this map only shows 50 at a time, so if you don’t see something close to you either go to the next 50 or search by your address. An alphabetized list of all locations is here.

I continue to be obsessed by mail ballots and their rejection rates, which was a huge story in March and (very annoyingly) has largely dropped off the radar since. I have some info about mail ballot rejections in the May election in the next post, and in the same search for news that I did on Sunday I found this story from El Paso about their primary runoff experience so far.

More than one of every seven mail ballots cast in El Paso for the primary runoff elections were rejected, mostly because of failure to comply with new steps required this year, the county’s election administrator said.

That rejection rate is much higher than in previous years, when fewer than 10% of mail ballots were thrown out, but down from the 45% rejection rate in the first week of early voting for the March 1 primary.

[…]

Through Wednesday, 562 mail-in ballots — or about 15% of the more than 3,800 cast — had been returned to voters, most because they did not include a driver’s license number or last four digits of their Social Security number on the ballot envelope, El Paso County Elections Administrator Lisa Wise said.

Wise said 165 of the returned ballots had been “cured” as of Wednesday, meaning voters had fixed the error. The 397 remaining rejected mail-in ballots — and any others that might be rejected before Tuesday’s runoff elections — can only be counted if they’re cured by next week.

[…]

Wise said the elections office has been proactive in trying to reduce the number of rejected ballots.

“This election, we began highlighting the carrier envelope from the beginning, alerting voters to the required information. That happened about halfway through with the primary election,” she said. “I believe that is helping with the percentage (of rejected ballots), and many of these voters are getting a second look at the new requirements as well.”

In the March primary, more than 1,000 mail-in ballots were rejected in the first week of early voting. Many voters were able to cure their ballots, but more than 700 mail-in ballots in El Paso County were discarded after election officials found non-compliance with state law and the voters failed to fix the problem. An El Paso Matters analysis found that the vast majority of rejected ballots were from regular voters, many of whom had been registered to vote in the county for decades.

That last sentence is why I’ve been beating the drum about this, and emphasizing that the Democratic Party and its candidates, groups, clubs, and volunteers need to be leading the effort to educate their voters. (The rejection rate in Harris County was at about twelve percent, better than March but still too high.) Some county election offices have been doing a good job of this, but we can’t count on that. This is fixable, but people have to know what they need to do. And if you have received a mail ballot but for whatever the reason decide you want to vote in person, bring the mail ballot with you and turn it in when you go to vote in person.

Primary checkup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SCOTx ponders the questions the Fifth Circuit asked it about SB1

Seems like there’s not that much in dispute, but there’s always something.

Texas Supreme Court justices questioned during oral argument if they should answer certified questions from a federal appeals court about challenges to an election law that created penalties for soliciting voters to use mail-in ballots.

The case, Paxton v. Longoria, concerns a First-Amendment issue over how provisions in Senate Bill 1, a 2021 law, could lead to civil penalties and or criminal prosecution of county election administrators and volunteer deputy registrars.

During a Wednesday hearing before the court, the foremost issue that appeared to concern the justices was whether they should provide an advisory opinion to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals at all.

Since the case has progressed from federal district court to the Fifth Circuit and on to the state Supreme Court, the parties positions have changed and the justices find themselves in the unusual position of being asked to answer three questions where there is very little if any disagreement between the parties.

The Fifth Circuit asks the justice to answer whether a volunteer deputy registrar, or VDR, is a public official under the Texas Election Code; whether speech the plaintiffs intend to use constitutes “solicitation” within the context of the state code; and whether the Texas Attorney General has the power to enforce that code.

The plaintiffs are Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria and Cathy Morgan, a volunteer deputy registrar who assists people with mail-in ballots in Travis and Williamson counties.

The state, represented by Lanora Pettit, a principal deputy solicitor general with the Office of Attorney General, acknowledged in her brief that volunteer deputy registrars are not public officials subject to prosecution; the term “solicit” does not include merely providing information but instead requires “strongly urging” a voter to fill out an application that was not requested; and the Attorney General is not a proper official to seek civil penalties.

Sean Morales-Doyle of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law submitted a brief that was in line with Pettit on the first and third questions, but had a nuanced distinction on the question of solicitation’s meaning.

Justice Jeff Boyd asked Morales-Doyle, “I’m just not sure why the dispute matters. If everybody agrees that the VDR is not a public official, so therefore has no standing, everybody agrees that Ms. Longoria has not … indicated any intent to violate in Williamson County, and everybody agrees the attorney general has no enforcement authority , where’s the case or controversy?”

Morales-Doyle said that Morgan began the case with a reasonable fear of prosecution and while the state has indicated a disinclination to prosecute she does not know the position of the Travis County district attorney, nor what future district attorneys would do.

If the questions are not answered, she would therefore still need to have the temporary injunction in place, he said.

On defining solicitation, because a felony criminal prosecution is possible, Justice Jane Bland asked if the state should limit its meaning to the penal code’s definition, which would restrict the term to situations where a public official induces someone to commit a criminal act.

Morales-Doyle supported that approach, noting that every criminal solicitation statute that he is aware of applies only to solicitation of criminal conduct.

“What is troubling everybody—and apparently troubling the attorney general who wants to give a definition of solicitation that I’m not aware existing in any criminal code—is the absurd result that someone could be held criminally liable for encouraging their fellow citizen to vote,” Morales-Doyle said.

On rebuttal, Pettit argued that sanctionable solicitation is not limited to criminal inducement. She cited the example of barratry, where lawyers unlawfully solicit clients for profit.

See here for the background. The bottom line is that the plaintiffs have asked for a temporary injunction against the provision of that law that makes it a crime for election officials and election workers to encourage voters to vote by mail, whether or not those voters are eligible under Texas law to do so. The motion was granted by a district court judge and then put on hold by the Fifth Circuit. I think the Fifth Circuit is evaluating whether to put the injunction back in place while the rest of the initial lawsuit is litigated, but we are in the weeds here and I don’t have certainty about that. Let’s see what SCOTx says first and maybe that will clue me in. (Any lawyers out there that want to help, by all means please do.)

Crystal Mason’s conviction to be reconsidered

Good news.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has told a lower appeals court to take another look at the controversial illegal voting conviction of Crystal Mason, who was given a five-year prison sentence for casting a provisional ballot in the 2016 election while she was on supervised release for a federal conviction.

The state’s court of last resort for criminal matters on Wednesday ruled a lower appeals court had wrongly upheld Mason’s conviction by concluding that it was “irrelevant” to Mason’s prosecution that she did not know she was ineligible to cast a ballot. The ruling opens the door for Mason’s conviction to ultimately be overturned.

Mason’s lawyers turned to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals after the Tarrant County-based Second Court of Appeals found that her knowledge that she was on supervised release, and therefore ineligible to vote, was sufficient for an illegal voting conviction. Mason has said she did know she was ineligible to vote and wouldn’t have knowingly risked her freedom.

On Wednesday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that the lower court had “erred by failing to require proof that [Mason] had actual knowledge that it was a crime for her to vote while on supervised release.” They sent the case back down with instructions for the lower court to “evaluate the sufficiency” of the evidence against Mason.

[…]

In Wednesday’s ruling, the court held that the Texas election code requires individuals to know they are ineligible to vote to be convicted of illegal voting.

“To construe the statute to mean that a person can be guilty even if she does not ‘know[] the person is not eligible to vote’ is to disregard the words the Legislature intended,” the court wrote. “It turns the knowledge requirement into a sort of negligence scheme wherein a person can be guilty because she fails to take reasonable care to ensure that she is eligible to vote.”

The court on Wednesday ruled against Mason on two other issues. They rejected her arguments that the lower court had interpreted the state’s illegal voting statute in a way that criminalized the good faith submission of provisional ballots, and that the appeals court had wrongly found she “voted in an election” even though her provisional ballot was never counted.

See here, here, and here for some background. Of particular interest is that the recent voter suppression law played a positive role in this outcome.

Insisting they’re not criminalizing individuals who merely vote by mistake, Tarrant County prosecutors have said Mason’s case is about intent. The case against her has turned on the affidavit she signed when submitting her provisional ballot.

But the legal landscape underpinning Tarrant County’s prosecution shifted while the case was under review, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals noted.

Last year, the Texas Legislature included in its sweeping new voting law several changes to the election code’s illegal voting provisions. The law, known as Senate Bill 1, added new language stating that Texans may not be convicted of voting illegally “solely upon the fact that the person signed a provisional ballot,” instead requiring other evidence to corroborate they knowingly tried to cast an unlawful vote.

The Legislature’s change to the election code — along with a resolution passed in the Texas House regarding the interpretation of the illegal voting statute — are “persuasive authority” that the lower court’s interpretation of the law’s mens rea requirement was incorrect, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled on Wednesday.

Good. This isn’t over for Mason, as this is just about the appeal of her conviction. Even if the appeals court ultimately throws it out after reconsideration, Tarrant County could still pursue this case and who knows, they might be able to convict her again. It sure seems like the spine of the case against her has been removed, though. And no matter how you look at it, she has already suffered consequences far in excess of her original sin, however you measure it. Please let this be over for her. The Dallas Observer has more.

Chron editorial board wins another Pulitzer

Congratulations!

The Houston Chronicle Editorial Board on Monday won a 2022 Pulitzer Prize in editorial writing for a series on voter suppression in Texas.

The prize, which is the nation’s most prestigious for journalists, was awarded to writers Lisa Falkenberg, Michael Lindenberger, Joe Holley and Luis Carrasco. Mostly published in a series called, “The Big Lie,” their winning work examined and debunked GOP-driven falsehoods about voter fraud that have persisted for decades.

“Our editorial team is committed to journalism excellence each and every day,” Houston Chronicle Publisher Nancy Meyer said following the announcement. “The award-winning work surrounding voter fraud and reform continues to prove the positive impact our reporting has for improving the lives of Houstonians and the people of Texas.”

Jurors who decided the award wrote that the Chronicle won for a “campaign that, with original reporting, revealed voter suppression tactics, rejected the myth of widespread voter fraud and argued for sensible voting reforms.”

This is the Chronicle’s — and Falkenberg’s — second Pulitzer. She won the newspaper’s first prize in 2015 for commentary.

The series in question is indeed excellent, and you should read it if you haven’t. I wish we lived in a world where that kind of writing could have a positive effect on the public discourse, but then if we did live in that world there would have been no need for those editorials. I really hate this timeline.

Now, Chron editorial board, please, I implore you, use that prize-winning space to give us some endorsements in the primary runoffs for the judicial races you ignored in March. You can do it, I know you can. Thanks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

Election administrators are doing what they can as well.

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

We have a final count of rejected mail ballots

About one in eight got canned. That’s a lot.

The votes of more than 24,000 Texans who tried to cast ballots by mail were thrown out in the March primary — a dramatic increase in rejected ballots in the first election held under a new Republican voting law.

Roughly 12.4% of mail-in ballots returned to the state’s 254 counties were not counted, according to figures released Wednesday by the Texas secretary of state. Just over 3 million people voted overall in the low-turnout primary.

Of 24,636 rejected mail-in ballots, 14,281 belonged to voters attempting to participate in the Democratic primary, and 10,355 belonged to voters in the Republican primary. But the rejection rate by party was fairly aligned; 12.9% of Democratic ballots were rejected and 11.8% of Republican ballots were rejected.

Put another way, 1 in every 8 mail-in voters lost their votes in their primary. The rate amounts to a significant surge in rejections compared with previous years, including the higher-turnout 2020 presidential election, when less than 1% of ballots were tossed.

Data previously collected by The Texas Tribune found rejection rates ranging from 6% to nearly 22% in 16 of the state’s 20 counties with the most registered voters, which overall rejected 18,742 mail-in ballots. In most cases, county officials said, ballots were rejected for failing to meet new, stricter ID requirements enacted by the Republican-controlled Legislature last year that require voters to provide their driver’s license number or a partial Social Security number to vote by mail.

By contrast, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission found less than 2% of mail-in ballots were rejected statewide in the 2018 midterm election. The statewide rejection rate in the 2020 presidential election was less than 1%. In the higher-turnout 2020 election, 8,304 ballots were tossed statewide. In the 2022 primary — for which turnout fell shy of 18% — roughly three times as many ballots were rejected.

The data released by the secretary of state is the most official measure of the fallout of the tighter restrictions on voting by mail, which have so far proven the most frustrating aspect of Republicans’ voting law in its first test.

See here for the previous update. A little back of the envelope math says there were about 200K total mail ballots submitted for the primaries. That suggests maybe 600-800K mail ballots for the general, and about 75-100K rejections if nothing changes. Like I said, that’s a lot. I will say again, we can do something about this to reduce that number, and for all the obvious reasons we need to make that a top priority. The May runoff will hopefully give us a progress report on that. I suppose now that we have actual real world data of this effect of SB1, it may help make the case against it in the litigation, as the harm is now real and not theoretical. We’ll know when we hear about updated filings. In the meantime, make a priority of educating everyone you know about the new requirements so that they can be prepared for the next time they vote.

Fifth Circuit asks SCOTx for help on some SB1 issues

The Twitter summary:

To recap the history here, back in September a group of plaintiffs including Isabel Longoria filed one of many lawsuits against SB1, the voter suppression law from the special sessions. In December, a motion was filed to get a temporary injunction against the provision of that law that makes it a crime for election officials and election workers to encourage voters to vote by mail, whether or not those voters are eligible under Texas law to do so. A federal district judge granted the motion, which would have applied to the primaries, and I’m willing to bet would have helped ease the confusion that led to all of those rejected mail ballots, but the Fifth Circuit, as is their wont, put a hold on the injunction.

It’s not clear to me where things are procedurally with this litigation – and remember, there are a bunch of other cases as well – but in this matter the Fifth Circuit wanted to get some clarity on state law before doing whatever it has on its docket to do. Let me just show you what that second linked file says:

The case underlying these certified questions is a pre-enforcement challenge to two recently enacted provisions of the Texas Election Code: section 276.016(a) (the anti-solicitation provision) and section 31.129 (the civil-liability provision) as applied to the anti-solicitation provision. The anti-solicitation provision makes it unlawful for a “public official or election official” while “acting in an official capacity” to “knowingly . . . solicit[] the submission of an application to vote by mail from a person who did not request an application.” The civil-liability provision creates a civil penalty for an election official who is employed by or an office of the state and who violates a provision of the election code.

Isabel Longoria, the Harris County Elections Administrator, and Cathy Morgan, a Volunteer Deputy Registrar serving in Williams and Travis counties, sued the Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton, to enjoin enforcement of the civil liability provision, as applied to the anti-solicitation provision. And in response to the recent Court of Criminal Appeals case holding that the Texas Attorney General has no independent authority to prosecute criminal offenses created in the Election Code, they also sued the Harris, Travis, and Williamson County district attorneys to challenge the criminal penalties imposed by the anti-solicitation provision. The plaintiffs argue that the provisions violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments because the risk of criminal and civil liability chills speech that “encourage[s] voters to lawfully vote by mail.

After an evidentiary hearing, the district court granted the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction, enjoining the defendants from enforcing and prosecuting under the provisions. Paxton and one of the district attorneys (Shawn Dick of Williamson County) appealed. Because the Harris and Travis County district attorneys did not appeal, only Longoria’s challenge to the civil penalty permitted by the civil-liability provision and the Volunteer Deputy Registrar’s challenge to the criminal liability imposed under the anti-solicitation provision were at issue in the appeal.

On its own motion, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has certified the following questions to the Court:

(1) Whether Volunteer Deputy Registrars are “public officials” under the Texas Election Code;

(2) Whether the speech Plaintiffs allege that they intend to engage in constitutes “solicitation” within the context of Texas Election Code § 276.016(a)(1). For example, is the definition narrowly limited to seeking application for violative mail-in ballots? Is it limited to demanding submission of an application for mail-in ballots (whether or not the applicant qualifies) or does it broadly cover the kinds of comments Plaintiffs stated that they wish to make: telling those who are elderly or disabled, for example, that they have the opportunity to apply for mail-in ballots?; and

(3) Whether the Texas Attorney General is a proper official to enforce Texas Election Code § 31.129.

The Court accepted the certified questions and set oral argument for May 11, 2022.

You now know everything I know. Let’s see what happens in May.

Bexar County looks for ways to reduce future mail ballot rejections

Good luck. I hope if they learn anything useful they share it with the rest of us.

Bexar County Commissioners on Tuesday directed local officials to come up with a plan to reduce the number of rejected mail-in ballots in upcoming elections after the county — and Texas — saw record high rejection rates in the March primary.

As many as 22% of mail-in ballots were rejected in Bexar County. Before the new election law took effect, the rejection rate was 2-3%, Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacquelyn Callanen has said.

A statewide analysis by the Associated Press showed about 13% of mail ballots sent to election offices across Texas were thrown out for various errors, many tied to the new, stricter voting rules backed by Republican lawmakers.

“We want to get some feedback from our lawyers in terms of what we can and can’t do in terms of a public outreach campaign,” said Commissioner Justin Rodriguez (Pct. 2), who initiated the process that was approved by the court Tuesday. “The important thing is we want … their votes to count, we want it to be safe and secure.”

The county will have to walk a fine legal line in any awareness campaign, as public officials are now not allowed to promote voting by mail.

“We want to be within the confines of the law, but I think a thorough legal analysis will be helpful,” Rodriguez said.

The Bexar County Elections and District Attorney’s offices will make recommendations ahead of the November election, he said. That may involve hiring more election staff, a coordinated awareness campaign or other mechanisms that may require funding.

See here for the previous entry. Bexar County hopes to have something in place for the May elections, which makes sense. It is of course ridiculous that they have to consult their lawyers before they can attempt to pursue a voter education message – “easier to vote and harder to cheat”, my ass – but that’s where we are. As a reminder, private entities like the Bexar and Harris County Democratic Party can do this as well, without the bizarre legal restraints. I do believe that a concentrated wave of voter education can make a difference, but it needs to be all hands on deck and it needs to start now. Harris County, I hope you’re paying attention.

Still more on the mail ballot rejections

The Associated Press moves the ball forward now that the votes have been canvassed.

Texas threw out mail votes at an abnormally high rate during the nation’s first primary of 2022, rejecting nearly 23,000 ballots outright under tougher voting rules that are part of a broad campaign by Republicans to reshape American elections, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.

Roughly 13% of mail ballots returned in the March 1 primary were discarded and uncounted across 187 counties in Texas. While historical primary comparisons are lacking, the double-digit rejection rate would be far beyond what is typical in a general election, when experts say anything above 2% is usually cause for attention.

“My first reaction is ‘yikes,’” said Charles Stewart III, director of the Election Data and Science Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “It says to me that there’s something seriously wrong with the way that the mail ballot policy is being administered.”

Republicans promised new layers of voting rules would make it “easier to vote and harder to cheat.” But the final numbers recorded by AP lay bare the glaring gulf between that objective and the obstacles, frustration and tens of thousands of uncounted votes resulting from tighter restrictions and rushed implementation.

In Texas, a state former President Donald Trump easily won although by a smaller margin than 2016, the trouble of navigating new rules was felt in counties big and small, red and blue. But the rejection rate was higher in counties that lean Democratic (15.1%) than Republican (9.1%).

[…]

The AP counted 22,898 rejected ballots across Texas by contacting all 254 counties and obtaining final vote reconciliation reports. Some smaller counties did not provide data or respond to requests, but the 187 counties that provided full numbers to AP accounted for 85% of the 3 million people who voted in the primary.

Last week, AP reported that 27,000 ballots had been flagged in Texas for initial rejection, meaning those voters still had time to “fix” their ballot for several days after the primary and have it count. But the final figures suggest most voters did not.

The most rejections were around Houston, a Democratic stronghold, where Harris County elections officials reported that nearly 7,000 mail ballots — about 19% — were discarded. During the last midterm elections in 2018, Texas’ largest county only rejected 135 mail ballots. Harris County elections officials said they received more than 8,000 calls since January from voters seeking help, which they attributed to “confusion and frustration” over the new requirements.

In the five counties won by Trump that had the most mail-in primary voters, a combined 2,006 mailed ballots were rejected, a rate of 10% of the total. In the counties won by Biden with the most mail-in voters, which include most of Texas’ biggest cities, a combined 14,020 votes were similarly rejected, which amounted to 15.7%.

[…]

It is unknown how many Texas voters whose mail ballots were rejected may have still had their vote count by deciding to just show up in person instead.

Sam Taylor, a spokesman for the Texas secretary of state, said the office did not yet have its own final comprehensive numbers on ballot rejections. He said a “significant portion” of their efforts this year will be awareness about the new mail-in rules.

“We are confident we will have all the information we need to apply any lessons learned during the primary to an even more robust voter education campaign heading into the November general election,” he said.

See here and here for the background. Saying that “the rejection rate was higher in counties that lean Democratic than Republican” is suggestive but not conclusive. We don’t know how many counties are included in that tally, how many of them were blue and how many red, how blue and how red they were, and most importantly how many ballots from each primary were rejected. Republican counties, especially the smaller ones, are a lot more red than Democratic counties are blue, though the Dem counties have a lot more voters in them. A lot of those Republican counties also have many more Republican primary voters than Democratic primary voters. We still need to have a total number of ballots rejected for each party to get a better idea of how this actually played out.

The Statesman adds on.

In the Austin-area counties, the overwhelming majority of the rejections were due to the law’s stricter ID requirement, which has caused confusion for voters since counties opened applications for absentee ballots earlier this year.

“It’s typical to see ballots rejected because they’re received after a statutory deadline — and we still had many ballots that were rejected for that reason — but the more prevalent cause in this case was ballots rejected for lack of the proper ID number, or ID issues,” said Chris Davis, elections administrator for Williamson County.

“It led to much higher numbers than we’ve ever seen, in terms of rejected ballots,” he said.

Mail-in ballot rejection rates in the primary election ranged from 7% to 11% in Austin-area counties, with more than 1,500 votes tossed out across Travis, Williamson, Bastrop and Caldwell counties.

Those rates far exceed previous elections. In the 2018 primary, the rejection rate for mail-in ballots in Travis County was about 2%.

[…]

In Travis, Williamson, Bastrop and Caldwell counties, rejection rates ranged from 7% to 11% in the most recent election. The elections administrator in Hays County, Jennifer Doinoff, did not return multiple requests for information.

Official tallies for Travis County showed 948 absentee ballots were rejected out of 11,602 turned in to the county. Victoria Hinojosa, spokeswoman for the Travis County election administrator, said 72% of the rejected ballots were cast in the Democratic primary and 28% in the Republican primary.

Hinojosa said a majority of the rejected ballots were denied due to ID issues. Originally, at least 16% of absentee ballots received by the county were rejected, but Hinojosa said that number was cut in half as voters corrected ID errors after being notified by the county of the mistake.

The new election law requires counties to contact voters who made mistakes on their ballot to let them rectify problems before election day.

By comparison, Hinojosa said, in the 2018 primary 9,000 ballots were returned and about 2% were ultimately rejected.

In Williamson County, 11.6% of mail ballot voters had their ballots rejected. That rate was slightly higher among Republican voters (260 ballots out of 1,883 at a 13% rate) than Democratic voters (261 ballots out of 2,627 ballots at a 10% rate.)

Travis County had about 111K Democratic ballots overall, and about 48K GOP ballots. Which is to say about 70% of all ballots were Democratic, so if 72% of the mail ballots rejected were Democratic, that’s more or less in proportion.

Still, the basic outline is clear. This was a disaster, and it’s not at all a surprise that Greg Abbott et al have refused to comment on any of it. The one piece of good news is what I’ve been saying, that now that we know the scope of the problem we can work to overcome it. It’s going to take money and effort, and we shouldn’t have to do this, but we can. We really don’t have any choice. The Chron editorial board and Vox have more.

Why the business response to the state’s right wing assault has been so muted

A really good in depth article on the subject from the tech press, which is a source I hadn’t thought about for this before.

When Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in February directed state agencies to investigate anyone who provides gender-affirming treatment to transgender children for alleged “child abuse,” he drew a swift and vocal backlash from civil rights groupsmedical organizations and the White House.

Tech companies also spoke up, signing pledges or reiterating offers to help employees affected by the order. South by Southwest, the world-renowned tech, music and film festival slated to start in Austin on Friday, condemned Abbott’s order. “The governor’s latest directive puts trans children in harm’s way once again and we unequivocally condemn this action,” SXSW told local newspaper The Austin American-Statesman.

But that’s done nothing to budge Abbott or his supporters from accelerating the shift further to the right in Texas politics.

Indeed, the governor’s directive about trans youth was just the latest in a series of laws and orders targeting social issues, including voting, reproductive and gun rights. But for a state that has seen such an influx of new voices — Texas has the ninth-largest economy in the world, is the third-fastest growing state and has added more people than any other state in the past decade — the overall public response to this slew of laws and orders affecting individual rights has not been as resounding as political observers expected. That’s especially the case when it comes to the booming tech community, which has played a key role in the state’s expansion in recent years.

That dynamic underscores the tradeoff that tech companies — and the liberal employees who have moved to Texas — must reconcile as their values collide with their wallets.

Tech and Texas have become intrinsically linked. It’s no coincidence that the so-called Texas Miracle, which refers to a decade-long period of economic expansion after the Great Recession, has continued as technology companies relocate or expand in the Lone Star State. The companies include the likes of TeslaOracleHewlett PackardAppleGoogle and Amazon.

“Businesses are having a really difficult time deciding how to position themselves on these issues of social justice and public policy,” Joshua Blank, research director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, said over Zoom.

The reason? Taking a stand on social issues is hard when you are benefiting from a fiscal and regulatory agenda that makes Texas a business haven, according to several experts. Compared with other states, especially California, doing business in Texas is much less expensive. Texas has no state income tax or capital-gains tax on individuals and has fewer business regulations. By moving to Texas, tech companies are “escaping high taxes and a regulatory environment,” Bill Fulton, director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Houston’s Rice University, said over Zoom.

[…]

Indeed, the hard turn right in Texas politics hasn’t taken a toll on the state’s economic growth prospects or even on recruitment efforts of tech companies located in the state, especially those in the ever-expanding and liberal-leaning metropolitan areas of Austin, Dallas and Houston.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the radicalization of Texas social policies won’t have an impact on the state’s economic or social future. Political experts, academics and business leaders interviewed by CNET expressed concern that the trend — assuming it continues — will eventually tarnish the Texas brand and make it increasingly difficult for companies to attract and retain top talent.

But also at stake is the role that corporate America can play in society at a time when consumers and employees expect business leaders to advocate for social responsibility.

“Texas will become a textbook example of what happens when social policy and marginalized, underserved, underrepresented communities become the collateral damage of corporate political giving,” Jen Stark, senior director of corporate strategy at Tara Health Foundation, a nonprofit focused on engaging private companies to advance gender and racial equity, said over Zoom. “Companies have been complicit in setting up an extremist government in Texas and other states.”

I found this article in a completely serendipitous fashion. The Sunday print edition of the Chron carried an excerpt from the New York Times story about how the 2030 Census might be done, and when I did a Google search for it I also got this story among the results. You never know.

The story goes into demography, the fact that some actions companies had taken in the past had little effect even among their own employees, data about people not wanting to move here because of our wingnut politics is more anecdotal than anything else, and because living in mostly Democratic urban areas provides some illusion of comfort. The somewhat ironic good news is that if these current trends continue, which have among other things contributed greatly to the fast growth in Democratic and Dem-trending urban and suburban areas, we really will turn the state blue in a few more years. Of course, a lot of damage can be done in the meantime, and as we well know by now, waiting for demography to do your work for you is at best a deeply frustrating experience. My takeaway from all this is that nothing will beat good old fashioned organizing, the kind we’ve been getting better at lately. Lord knows, there’s no time to spare. Read the rest and see what you think.

More data about mail ballot rejections

Keep it coming.

Thousands of Texans who attempted to vote by mail in the March primary were disenfranchised in the state’s first election conducted under a new Republican voting law. The state’s largest counties saw a significant spike in the rates of rejected mail-in ballots, most because they did not meet the new, stricter ID requirements.

Local ballot review boards met this week to finalize mail-in ballot rejections, throwing out 11,823 mail-in ballots in just 15 of the state’s 20 counties with the most registered voters. That doesn’t include Harris County, where thousands more votes had been flagged for rejection if voters couldn’t correct them in time. The final statewide count for rejected ballots is still unknown; counties are still reporting numbers to the Texas secretary of state’s office.

The rates of rejections range from 6% to nearly 22% in Bexar County, where almost 4,000 of the more than 18,000 people who returned mail-in ballots saw their votes discarded. In most cases, ballots were rejected for failing to comply with tighter voting rules enacted by Republicans last year that require voters to provide their driver’s license number or a partial Social Security number to vote by mail, according to rejection data collected by The Texas Tribune. A few counties’ rejection rates also included ballots that arrived past the voting deadline, but problems with the new ID requirements were the overwhelming cause for not accepting votes.

The impact of the ID requirements was particularly pronounced in several larger counties, including Bexar. In Dallas County, ID issues were to blame for nearly all of the lost votes reported, accounting for 682 of the 694 ballots that were rejected. Most ballots that were rejected because of the ID requirements were missing an ID number altogether. The county had an overall rejection rate of 6.5%

In Hays County, a suburban county south of Austin, all but one of the 208 rejected ballots were lost to ID issues. The county’s total rejection rate was 8.2%.

In Hidalgo County, just five of the 526 mail-in ballots that were rejected were scrapped because they arrived late. Most were rejected because of the ID requirements, officials said. The county had an overall rejection rate of 19.4%.

In Williamson County, roughly 73% of the 521 rejected ballots were lost to ID issues. The second main reason for rejection was late returns. Overall, 11.6% of ballots were rejected in the county.

[…]

Early rejection rates hovered between 30% to 40% but dropped as thousands of voters worked to safeguard their votes, often by visiting county elections offices after their ballots were flagged for rejection. Hundreds of other voters canceled their mail-in ballots and opted to vote in person instead, according to county data.

That included more than 300 voters in El Paso County who had initially requested absentee ballots but voted in person, with several voters surrendering their ballots at polling places. The county ended the election with a 16% rejection rate, throwing out 725 votes — 94% of them because of the ID rules.

“In the 2020 primary, we rejected 39 ballots,” Lisa Wise, the elections administrator in El Paso, said ahead of election day when the county had flagged more than a thousand ballots for review. “You don’t have to be a math wizard to see it.”

But the opportunity to resolve rejections — or to alternatively head to a polling place — was out of reach for some voters. County officials have said mail-in voters often include people for whom voting in person can be a challenge or who are unable to travel to the county elections office, which for voters in some counties can be a long distance away.

Voters facing a rejected ballot because of ID issues were also directed to the state’s new online tracker to try to validate their information, but technical issues with the tracker’s setup shut out nearly a million registered voters from even accessing it.

Under state law, a voter must provide both a driver’s license number and the last four digits of their Social Security number to log in to the tracker; both numbers must be on file in their voter record even though voters are required to provide only one number when they first register to vote.

Despite the secretary of state’s office’s efforts to backfill ID numbers in the state’s voter rolls, more than 700,000 voters lacked one of those ID numbers on their voter records as of Dec. 20. Another 106,911 voters didn’t have either number.

It’s likely not all of those voters are eligible to vote by mail, but the barrier risked hindering enough of Kara Sands’ voters that she pulled references to the online ballot tracker from the guidance she was providing Nueces County voters. Sands, the Republican elected county clerk, said most of the older voters in her county first registered to vote with a Social Security number and that remained the only ID on file for them.

“Why am I going to send them [materials saying] ‘Go here to fix it’ knowing they can’t fix it?” Sands said in an interview ahead of election day.

See here for yesterday’s post about the Bexar County experience. We still need to know how this broke down by party – given that fewer Republicans chose to vote by mail, it’s extremely likely that more Democratic ballots were rejected, but it may be that on a percentage basis they were equivalent – and we still need to distinguish between rejected applications and rejected ballots, as well as who did and didn’t vote in person afterwards. I don’t recall seeing a figure about how many registrations lacked one or both of SSNs and drivers license numbers before now, so it would be good to know as well how many people who did fill out the ballot correctly, with the proper voter ID information, were still rejected because the state database was incomplete. I could see that as a basis for another lawsuit, with the goal of halting all further rejections until the state can prove that its database is fully up to date, but that might be moot by November, and I don’t know what other relief a voter could ask for.

The Associated Press takes a crack at this, and offers a bit of partisan data.

Although the final number of discounted ballots will be lower, the early numbers suggest Texas’ rejection rate will far exceed the 2020 general election, when federal data showed that less than 1% of mail ballots statewide were rejected.

“It took me three tries and 28 days but I got my ballot and I voted,” said Pamiel Gaskin, 75, of Houston. Like many rejected mail voters, she did not list a matching identification number that Texas’ new law requires.

For now, the numbers do not represent how many Texas ballots were effectively thrown out. Voters had until Monday to “fix” rejected mail ballots, which in most cases meant providing identification that is now required under a sweeping law signed last fall by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.

New requirements include listing an identification number — either a driver’s license or a Social Security number — on the ballot’s carrier envelope. That number must match the county’s records. If a ballot is rejected, voters could add an ID number via an online ballot tracking system, go to the county’s election offices and fix the problem in person, or vote with a provisional ballot on election day.

County election officers say they worked feverishly to contact those voters in time, in many cases successfully, and a full and final tally of rejected ballots in Texas is expected to come into focus in the coming days.

But already, scores of mail ballots have been disqualified for good.

[…]

The AP obtained reports from 120 counties — nearly half of the 254 in Texas — through county websites and contacting all counties that had not posted a report publicly.

In Texas’ largest county, around Houston, Harris County officials said more than 11,000 mail ballots had been flagged for rejection as of March 2. But in the county’s preliminary report that is dated a day later, the number of rejected mail ballots was listed at 3,277. On Tuesday, Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria said she was stepping down following a bungled vote count.

Houston Democrats have been among the most outspoken over Texas’ new voting laws, which they say are designed to weaken minority turnout. But Republican-leaning counties struggled with the new rules as well.

In Parker County, which former President Donald Trump carried by a 4-to-1 margin in 2020, the county reported 250 mail ballots as rejected or pending out of 1,100 mail votes — about 23%. Along the Texas coast in Nueces County, which Trump narrowly won, the rejection rate was 8%.

According to the county reports, in the five counties won by Trump that had the most mail-in voters, a combined 4,216 mailed ballots were rejected or still pending after the day of the election, a rate of 21% of the total. In the counties won by Biden with the most mail-in voters, which include most of Texas’ biggest cities, a combined 11,190 votes were similarly rejected or pending, which amounted to 13%.

Kara Sands, the election administrator in Nueces County, said her office pressed voters to include more than one identification number as a guardrail against having their ballot rejected. But she said her office wasn’t inundated with voter frustration.

“We really didn’t get a lot of folks complaining about that,” she said.

Texas holds primary runoffs in May, and elections officials say their goal now is to educate voters to avoid a repeat next time. Christopher Davis, the elections administrator in Williamson County, said the final rejection rate of 11.5% was “by far the highest we have ever seen” in the county of more than 600,000 people.

“The hope is we knock down that rejection rate,” he said.

Interesting that those five deep red counties had a higher rate of rejection than the blue counties, though there were fewer total votes there. Likely that’s a function of the blue counties being more populous, though that also suggests that a greater percentage of total votes were affected in the red counties. For comparison, the AP story notes that a total of about 8,300 mail ballots were rejected in the 2020 election, which was out of 11 million ballots cast. Every way you look at it, this was an exponential increase.

And Talking Points Memo was also on this.

The rejection rates are staggering. In booming Collin County, for example, nearly 14% of mail-in votes were ultimately rejected, the election administrator there told TPM.

In Harris County, Texas’ largest and home to Houston, a whopping 6,888 ballots were ultimately rejected “as a direct result of Senate Bill 1,” according to a statement from the county to TPM — nearly 19% of mail-in ballots. By comparison only, 135 of the 48,473 votes cast in the 2018 primary were rejected, the statement said — three tenths of a percent.

“That is apocalyptic. It calls into question whether this is even a free and fair election,” said James Slattery, senior staff attorney at the Texas Civil Rights Project’s voting rights program. “The sheer, catastrophically high rate of rejections has been very bad.”

Unlike many others, [Monica] Emery was able to fix her ballot, filling out multiple forms to “cure” the error in the days following Election Day, and consulting with attorneys and election officials to make sure her vote counted. Finally, she received word from the county on Monday, on the last possible day to fix ballot issues, that her vote had been tallied. (Texas’ new online “ballot tracker” website apparently didn’t get the memo: It continued to label her ballot “rejected.”)

But Emery, a retiree in the Dallas area, was one of the lucky ones. She’s “perfectly healthy.” She lives near her polling place. She knows her county officials and they had the bandwidth to help her. And she had additional help from multiple lawyers who she’d contacted for help. But what about her son, a pilot in the Air Force currently living in the United Kingdom? What about her elderly friend down the road, living with long COVID? Would they have been able to handle a tricky rejection letter? Would they have received word that their ballots had been rejected in time? She doubted it.

Lawmakers, Emery said, “are making it harder than it needs to be to do a real simple thing like voting by mail.”

[…]

In Travis County, home to Austin, 16% of the roughly 11,200 mail-in ballots were initially rejected, and only half of voters were able to cure those rejections in time to be counted, said Victoria Hinojosa of the Travis County clerk’s office.

Almost three of four rejected ballots were from Democrats, and most rejected ballots had “ID issues,” Hinojosa told TPM.

In Williamson County, north of Austin, 11.5% of ballots were rejected in the final tally — “absolutely higher than anything we’ve ever encountered before,” Elections Administrator Chris Davis told Austin’s NPR station KUT. In El Paso County, the final rejection rate was about 16%, or 725 mail-in ballots, the Associated Press reported.

In Collin County, which includes a chunk of the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area and is experiencing meteoric population growth, the ballot rejection rate right after the election hovered around 15%, down from a peak of 25% at the beginning of voting. After the curing period, that number ticked down slightly to a 13.7% rejection rate, or 828 ballots rejected.

“Unfortunately, the concerns that we expressed during the legislative session turned out to be true,” said Grace Chimene, president of the League of Women Voters of Texas, which is part of a coalition of groups that sued over the law in September. “It’s very frustrating.”

“I can tell you, almost the whole thing is SB1-related,” Collin County Election Administrator Bruce Sherbet told TPM of the rejections. “If we had rejections before SB1, it was usually in the single digits.”

Sherbet said that nearly all of the rejections stemmed from missing ID numbers on the original voter file, ballot application or ballot itself. In some cases, older voters who’d aged out of driving tried to vote with their new state ID number, which didn’t match the old driver’s license number on their registration.

He lacked data on the party split, but said that it’s likely more Republican voters were hurt by the law’s new provisions, since roughly 1,600 more of them voted by mail in his county.

[…]

The chaos unleashed by the new mail-in ballot requirements was “very predictable,” Josh Blank, research director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, told TPM.

“The legislators were warned multiple times throughout hearings on these bills for the better part of a year that requiring voters to supply drivers license numbers or partial Social Security numbers, whichever of two you used to register to vote, would likely to be a problem for many Texans — especially given that most of the Texans who automatically qualify for mail-in ballots are over 65 and likely registered decades ago,” he said.

Less predictable is who exactly the confusing new requirements will hurt. While much of Republicans’ antagonism towards voting by mail stems from former President Donald Trump’s efforts to toss ballots in 2020, it’s not clear that knotting up the system will hurt Democratic voters more than Republican ones.

That “scattershot” strategy, Blank said, is due to the virtual nonexistence of voter fraud. It’s legislating a problem that doesn’t exist.

“It’s one thing to make unsubstantiated allegations of widespread fraud,” he said. “It’s another to reject hundreds of thousands of ballots, which is what Texas is on the path to do in November if this primary is any indication.”

As this story notes, the “ballot curing” process, in which voters whose mail ballots lacked the correct ID number had until Monday to fix them, likely will reduce the eventual total, which started at about 27,000. But doing that isn’t easy for everyone – some voters don’t have reliable Internet access, some can’t drive to the election administrator’s office, and so on.

Finally, because it took me longer than it should have to find this on Twitter, here’s most of the Harris County data I’ve been wanting:

Again, more Dem mail ballots overall, but a higher rejection rate among Republicans – 17.6% of all Dem mail ballots, and 22.0% of all GOP mail ballots. Still more Dem votes rejected, but in a scenario where the mail votes are distributed more evenly, like in 2018, that’s going to bite the Republicans. The Chron story that these tweets are based on is here. In response to a question from me, Scherer also reported that “13 people with rejected ballots ended up voting in person”, which obviously ain’t much. Makes me think that will be the cases around the state as well.

Of course, as I said yesterday and as noted in the AP story, we can do a lot to improve things for November, and we have the May primary runoff and special election to practice. But man, that will be an expensive and labor-intensive process, and it’s so completely unnecessary. You will note that Abbott and Sen. Bryan Hughes have been studiously avoiding the press on this, because what can they actually say? Or more likely, why would anyone think they cared? At least we have the rhetorical turf to ourselves for now. Whatever else we do, we need to get folks mad and motivated over this. Because – say it with me now – nothing will change until people lose elections over this crap. That’s the one sure thing we can do. Daily Kos has more.

The rejected mail ballots of Bexar County

I have four things to say about this.

Bexar County rejected mail-in ballots at roughly ten times the rate it did before the passage of the state’s new voting law last year.

Before Senate Bill 1 took effect, with its host of changes and restrictions to voting in Texas, roughly 2% to 3% of mail-in ballots were rejected in local elections, Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacquelyn Callanen told the San Antonio Report.

In the March primary, as many as 22% have been rejected thus far, a figure she expects to increase once all the late, ineligible ballots are counted.

The county received a total of 18,336 mail-in ballots in the primary, and has had to reject 4,197 of them, most for “technical issues” associated with the new law, Callanen said.

One of the biggest issues was the new requirement that voters to provide, on both their vote-by-mail application and the ballot, their driver’s license number or Social Security number — critically, they must choose the same number for both.

If a voter wrote in different numbers, or a number not tied to them in the state’s system, the ballot was rejected. Some voters left that space blank, others chose the wrong number, or the state system had it wrong, Callanen said.

Making it even harder, the new portion of the form that asked for the voter’s Texas driver’s license number or the last for of their social was “in the smallest print possible,” Callanen said.

In order to fix, or “cure,” a ballot, the elections department sends it back through the post office to the voter to request changes. If there’s not enough time to mail it back and forth, the department tries to notify the voter by phone or email about the error, giving the voter a chance to come in person to the elections office to meet the curing deadline.

Corrected mail ballots are still arriving, she said, but “it’s too late. Now we can’t count them. … We had to have them back in our possession by Monday at 5 p.m.”

[…]

James Slattery, senior staff attorney on the Voting Rights Program at the Texas Civil Rights Project, said the new voting provisions were designed to suppress the vote.

“Voting in person, or coming in person to the clerk’s office is obviously unavailable to people who are voting by mail because they’re outside of Texas, or because they have a disability and can’t leave their home easily,” he said.

Slattery called the curing options “byzantine,” defeating the entire purpose of mail-in voting. Also, many voters are unaware of the Secretary of State’s new website that explains the new processes, he said, as the state has done a poor job of voter outreach and education.

[…]

Voters have two more chances to get it right very soon. The primary runoff election on May 24 will include several county, state and federal races, including Bexar County judgestate House District 122U.S. Congressional District 28, and State Board of Education, district 1.

Texas voters will also get the chance to reduce their property tax bills in the state’s constitutional amendment election on May 7.

That’s not much time to educate voters who may have had their mail-in ballots rejected, Callanen said.

“We’ve got to figure this out. We’ve got to reach out to those people to make sure that they get a ballot for May 7, that they get a ballot for May 24 without them being frustrated.”

1. The wording about ballots received and rejected in Bexar in the 2022 primaries is a bit confusing. To be clear, there were 14,180 total mail ballots cast, of which 9,809 were Democratic The historic election results on the Bexar County elections site doesn’t say how many mail ballots were cast in 2018, so I don’t have a good basis for comparison. In Harris County, there were 17,810 Democratic mail ballots cast and 11,064 Republican mail ballots, down from 22,695 and 24,500 in 2018, respectively. We don’t know how many ballots were rejected in Harris yet, but we know it was a lot early on. We need much finer data about this: How many ballot applications were rejected for each party, and how many later got fixed? How many mail ballots were then rejected for each party, and how many later got fixed? Of the people who never got a mail ballot or were not able to get their mail ballot counted, how many eventually voted in person? How many people who voted by mail in 2018 did so in 2022, how many of them voted in person instead, and how many didn’t vote at all? All of that data is available, we just need to know it.

2. What is there to be done about the people who are now apparently completely locked out of voting by mail? This story mentioned a woman who could not request one on behalf of her disabled son who can’t speak, because SB1 only allows you to request one for yourself. I was wondering about someone who gave a drivers license number when they registered to vote however many years ago but is now unable to drive and gave up their license, so they no longer have a DL number. Are they just screwed if they can’t vote in person? I feel like this may require litigation to determine, and we know how long that can take.

3. Let’s be clear, because this needs to be said over and over again, none of this bureaucratic bullshit in SB1 does a thing to make elections safer. It just makes it harder to vote by mail. The state’s lawyer admitted that was the idea in court. Republicans who believe in the big lie about the 2020 election will think what they want to, but that doesn’t mean anyone else has to.

4. All that said, unless we can get a win in court before November, which I would not count on, this is at this point a voter education issue. Everyone on the Democratic side needs to learn about the new law and help out the people they know who vote by mail to make sure their ballot is accepted. It’s harder now, and there’s no good reason for it, but this is where we are. If you are or know someone who voted by mail in 2020 and hopes to do so again, make sure you vote in both May elections, the runoff and the special. That’s your chance to practice for November.

Precinct analysis: Final 2022 primary vote totals from those counties of interest

At the end of early voting, I posted some totals from various counties around the state. I noted at the time it was an imprecise comparison since I included final 2018 turnout numbers as the comparison point for 2022 and said I’d update that table when voting was over. Well, voting is over, so let’s return to that table and see what we can see.


County       2018 Dem   2018 GOP  2022 Dem  2022 GOP
====================================================
Bell            7,282     18,149     9,089    20,912
Bexar          81,408     67,977    94,334    87,277
Brazoria       10,085     24,376    11,331    30,541
Brazos          5,131     12,365     4,611    16,430
Cameron        14,123      4,003    19,705    10,504
Collin         34,669     66,078    36,368    79,431
Comal           4,150     17,662     4,847    23,874
Dallas        123,671     80,583   126,203    86,551
Denton         27,025     49,474    27,340    68,104
El Paso        54,184     12,096    37,017    18,240
Ellis           4,243     15,906     5,376    18,536
Fort Bend      29,322     34,707    39,613    45,582
Hays           11,397     11,881    12,972    15,475
Hidalgo        37,739      7,050    37,309    15,042
Johnson         2,618     12,280     2,485    17,085
Lubbock         5,900     21,964     5,599    27,552
Maverick        6,300        111     6,653       623
Montgomery      9,701     48,921    10,585    71,451
Nueces         12,345     12,553    13,426    18,871
Smith           4,704     22,826     6,362    27,668
Starr           6,729         15     3,410     1,089
Tarrant        71,876    105,317    73,410   129,628
Travis        113,070     39,177   108,831    46,416
Webb           21,137      1,426    17,675     2,963
Williamson     25,681     35,675    26,067    47,431

The first thing you might notice is that the final numbers for Starr and Maverick counties are less than the final EV totals I had. How can that be? I double-checked the final EV totals on the SOS webpage, and they are now as they were then, 6,895 for Maverick and 5,188 for Starr. I may not know much, but I know that election totals go up, not down. How do I explain this?

I went and looked at the Starr County Elections page to see what I could find. What I found is that the turnout numbers they presented for the Democratic and Republican primaries are indeed different than what the SOS reported for the gubernatorial races, by a fair amount. While there were 3,410 votes cast in the Governor’s race on the Democratic side in Starr, and 1,089 on the Republican side, total turnout for Democrats was given as 6,456, with 1,444 as the total for Republicans. You can see if you scroll through that some races, like the CD28 Dem primary, got a lot more votes than the gubernatorial primary. I figured maybe the action was a bit heavier downballot, and that seemed to be true on the Dem side in that there were a lot more votes cast in the eight Justice of the Peace races. There were still undervotes, which were easier to comprehend as they were a lot closer to the “total votes” figures for each race, but if you added up all the votes in those eight JP precincts, you get the 6,456 and 1,444 figures cited.

Make of that what you will. The transition from the “actual total turnout regardless of who voted in what race” to the “total that actually voted in this race” was jarring, in this case because the undervote rate was so low. I have no idea what it might have been in 2018, so I can’t draw any conclusions. As for Maverick County, I couldn’t find a report from their website, just what the SOS had. Insert shrug emoji here.

Anyway. I didn’t have an agenda for this post, just an intention to keep the promise made before. I’ve got some other posts about primary voting in the works and will run those in the coming days.

There were mail ballots not included in the count on Election Day

Oof, this is bad.

Harris County Election Administrator Isabel Longoria’s office on Saturday announced that they have identified approximately 10,000 mail-in ballots that were not added to the original count on Election Night.

The county said that approximately 6,000 of the uncounted ballots were for the Democratic primary and approximately 4,000 were for the Republican primary.

“The oversight occurred between the hours of 1 and 4 a.m. as the political parties that make up the Central Count Committee were reviewing ballots,” Longoria’s office said in a press release.

They said the votes were scanned into the tabulation machines but not transferred, which meant they were not being counted in the unofficial count on Election Night. The votes are set to be added to the final count when the Central Count Committee next meets on Tuesday, according to the elections administrator’s office.

The county says it has reached out to the Secretary of State’s office as an investigation into what happened takes place.

“We are committed to full transparency and will continue to provide updates as they are available,” Longoria’s office said.

[…]

In a statement Sunday to KHOU 11 News, the Harris County Elections Office said, “We are focused on ensuring that every ballot cast is accounted for through this canvassing process. We will continue to be transparent in that process through our updates but as you can imagine it is most critical that everyone on our team stay focused and commit all of their time to the task at hand. We will be discussing at commissioners court and that will be an opportunity for broadcast to hear from our office.”

The Chronicle story adds a little more.

“While we understand the seriousness of this error, the ability to identify and correct this issue is a result of a lengthy, rigorous process and is a positive example of the process ultimately working as it should,” the elections office said.

The Secretary of State’s office said they notified Harris County officials of the oversight on Friday after they noticed a discrepancy on the election night reconciliation form, which indicated a difference of 10,072 between the number of ballots counted and the number of eligible votes cast.

“We agree that this is the process working as it should, and we note that it’s only because this Election Night reconciliation form is now required for all 254 counties that we were able to identify the discrepancy and work with the county to find out exactly what happened,” said secretary of state spokesman Sam Taylor.

I guess these are votes that were counted, but the official totals were not updated correctly to reflect this. That’s my interpretation of the statement, I could be wrong. I hope we get some clarity from the official vote canvass on Tuesday.

The first thought one has when seeing something like this – okay, the first thought I had – was “six thousand votes could be enough to change the outcome in some races”. So I went and reviewed all of the results, for both parties (four thousand votes is a lot, too). I looked at all of the close results, to see if the trailing candidate in a two-person race or the third-place finisher in a runoff situation might have a chance to catch up.

The first thing I did was to see how the candidates did with mail ballots in the posted results, on the assumption that the uncounted ballots will likely be similar to the counted ones. In all but two races on the Democratic side, the leading candidate also did better in mail ballots than the trailing candidate. (Example: Joe Jaworski, in second place in the AG primary by less than 1,500 votes statewide, received 4,129 mail ballots to third-place finisher Lee Merritt’s 1,658 mail ballots.) That doesn’t rule out the possibility that the trailing candidate could catch up, but it would require those uncounted ballots to be extremely different from the ones that are already in the official total. I consider that to be sufficiently unlikely as to be nearly impossible.

There were two races where the trailing candidate did better in mail ballots than the leading candidate. One such race is for the 263rd Criminal District Court, where incumbent Judge Amy Martin trailed challenger Melissa Morris by less than two percentage points. Martin led in mail ballots over Morris by a 5,489 to 4,012 margin, which is to say that she got 57.8% of the mail ballots. If we assume she got 57.8% of six thousand uncounted mail ballots, that’s 3,466 for her, and 2,534 for Morris, a net gain of 932 votes. But Morris led Martin by 2,520 votes overall, so that hypothetical net gain is not nearly enough to overcome the existing lead. By my count, Martin would need to win about 71% of the uncounted mail ballots to catch up to Morris. Not impossible, but not likely.

The other race was for County Civil Court at Law #4, where David Patronella finished third, about 4,000 votes behind Treasea Treviño. He also led Treviño in mail ballots, 3,753 to 2,342, with another 3,320 mail votes going to first place finisher Manpreet Monica Singh. If all of the mail ballots were only for Patronella and Treviño, Patronella would need nearly 5,000 of the 6,000 to gain entry into the runoff. With Singh earning about a third of the mail ballots on her own, there would likely be less than 4,000 total mail ballots left for the Patronella and Treviño, and the math from there is clear. This race isn’t going to change.

On the Republican side, there were fewer close races to begin with, and none that rose to this level of scrutiny. So at least we have that small bit of good news, which is that in the end it is very unlikely that any races will be affected by this error.

But holy crap, this is bad. It’s as basic an error as an election administrator’s office can make. Even if it doesn’t affect any results, people are justifiably going to be upset. It’s good that the error was caught before the vote was certified – that’s what the process should do – but it still took five days for it to be reported. The elections office has countered criticism of its slow election night reporting by saying they were focused on accuracy over speed. Needless to say, this undercuts that line of argument.

I’m willing to accept that there were difficulties on Election Day due to relatively new voting machines plus the paper ballot scanners, and people having their first experiences with them. I’m old enough to remember when people thought the eSlate machines were confusing and hard to use. I’m willing to accept that the ridiculous new requirements on mail ballots, which were rolled out in a chaotic fashion by the Secretary of State’s office, caused all kinds of havoc for election administrators everywhere, and forced election office workers to spend many hours trying to track down voters whose mail ballots needed to be fixed. I’m willing to accept that everyone was operating on little sleep at the time that this error happened. But it’s such a basic error, with such potentially enormous consequences that we luckily appear to have avoided, that there needs to be accountability for it. That has to fall on Isabel Longoria, the person in charge of the Elections Office. I get no joy from saying this, but Harris County is already in the state’s crosshairs, and we have to do better. I don’t see a way forward that doesn’t include a new person in charge of the Elections Office. We’ll see what Commissioners Court says.

Yeah, the mail ballot thing was a huge mess

We still don’t know how huge.

Election day has come and gone, but it remains unclear how many Texans were unable to vote after trying to cast ballots by mail under new Republican laws restricting that voting option.

In the first test of new voting rules passed last year, the votes of several thousand Texans remain in jeopardy because they failed to comply with stricter ID requirements for voting by mail. Some frustrated voters had to overcome multiple hurdles to correct mistakes in time for their votes to be counted. Others gave up on voting absentee altogether.

The scale of disenfranchisement will not be known for at least another week, as voters still have time to cure ballots that were found defective because they did not include newly required ID numbers. But in various counties, the percentage of ballots being rejected has ballooned well beyond previous rejection rates. Because of Texas’ strict eligibility criteria for voting by mail, older voters and voters with disabilities will be the most affected.

“People have said this law was enacted to stop voter fraud, but honestly we’ve just seen voters who are qualified have to do the process twice, sometimes three times. Sometimes they quit,” said Lisa Wise, the elections administrator for El Paso County, where more than 1,000 ballots have been initially rejected.

Heading into primary election day Tuesday, counties reported initial rejection rates anywhere between 8% to 30%, with the ID requirements tripping up a significant share of voters in counties large and midsize, red and blue.

By contrast, less than 2% of mail-in ballots were rejected in the 2018 primary election, according to data from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. The count of ballots marked for rejection because of the ID rules in Harris County alone — 11,135 as of Feb. 28 — easily surpassed the total number of ballots rejected statewide — roughly 9,400 — in 2018. The number of faulty ballots in Harris may still grow as late-arriving mail-in ballots are processed this week.

[…]

An early wave of rejected requests sent voting advocates and county election officials into a scramble, trying to get out word of the new requirements even as faulty applications were already on their way to county offices. Concerns the requirements would lead to a spike in rejected ballots, on which voters also had to provide the ID numbers, reached top state officials. That included Texas Secretary of State John Scott, the state’s chief elections officer, who on a Feb. 10 virtual town hall admitted he was worried mail-in voters would leave off the new ID information on completed ballots.

“That’s the part of this that is my biggest concern going forward as we get into the election cycle,” Scott said.

By then, his concern had already come to fruition. Earlier in the day, Harris County had reported they had flagged more than 1,000 mail-in ballots — 40% of the mail-in ballots returned up to that point — to be sent back to voters because they lacked an ID number. During the town hall, Fort Bend elections administrator John Oldham said about half of the 500 ballots returned to his county up to then were missing ID numbers.

“We hope that number will go down, but I fear that it won’t,” Oldham said.

I had some hope of that as well, when I saw the mail ballot numbers from the first day of the second week, but it was an illusion. This whole thing has been a disaster, for voters and election workers and election administrators and the process itself. The Republicans who pushed it are too cowardly to respond to questions about it now. We really need to know the full scope of the mess that they created. And we really need to work extra hard to ensure that everyone who wants and needs to vote by mail this fall is able to.

Maybe suing to stop the vote count isn’t the best way to get the vote counted

Just a thought.

The Harris County Elections Division released the final, unofficial primary elections results early Thursday, following a GOP petition to impound the records which stopped vote counts hours earlier.

Citing malfunctions and a lack of testing of election machinery, Harris County Republicans alleged their party’s voters experienced irregularities that affected their vote count, according to the petition.

“For example, some voters were able to successfully submit their votes for the first page of their ballot but were unable to submit their votes for the second page of their ballot,” the petition, filed by Harris County Republican Party Chairman Cindy Siegel, states.

Republicans also alleged in the petition that improperly tested election machinery provided to them at various locations had issues with scanning ballots.

[…]

The petition, looking to impound the county’s elections records, was filed at 5:18 p.m. Wednesday, halting the vote count just before the 7 p.m. deadline.

Judge Ursula Hall of the 165th District Court denied the petition, according to court records, instructing Longoria to provide a status update at 11:30 p.m. and allowing the vote count to resume almost two hours after it had been stopped.

“At the time the petition was filed and the Central Count Board halted counting, Harris County Elections had tabulated approximately 99 percent of the ballots cast on Election Night,” Longoria said in an email Wednesday night.

I talked about some of this yesterday. Nearly all of the votes were counted by 1 PM on Wednesday. There were clearly some equipment issues, which caused problems with vote counting. We didn’t have those problems last November, though there were other issues that affected how long it took for results to be posted, so it would be good to understand why we had these problems this time around. I suspect that some of it was that there were voters using these machines for the first time, as the elections office mentioned. Turnout last November was 230K, while the combined Democratic and Republican turnout this week was over 340K. I suspect that there were a significant number of March voters who weren’t November voters – these are very different election contexts – so it may have been that there were a lot of newbies. If that is the case, then we really need to put a lot more resources into voter education, because we’re going to have more than twice that many people, maybe three times that many people, voting this November. Indeed, turnout in November 2018 was over 1.2 million, so that’s a hell of a lot more newbies. We need to get that ironed out, if it was a significant factor.

It’s also clear that the mail ballot issue was a problem, because it forced the elections office to spend a lot of time trying to contact voters whose ballots had been rejected, many of whom then had to trek to the office to fix them in person. The HCDP needs to work on that for its own voters, because that provision was aimed at us and it will take a chunk out of our vote total if we don’t do everything we can to minimize it. And I will say again, we deserve to have a full accounting of whose ballots and ballot applications got rejected along the way and what happened to them after.

Beyond that, to repeat what I said last November, we need to get some clear communication from the elections office about what did happen and why it happened and what they learned from it. I don’t put any faith in the Republican complaints – after the lawsuits some of them filed in 2020, they have zero credibility on these matters – but Commissioners Court can sure do their part to get some answers when the results are canvassed. There were some issues, from the new voting machines that many people hadn’t used before to the ridiculous mail ballot bullshit to some election judge shortages to various technical problems that can crop up. We have two low-key May elections, plus maybe a tiny June election (runoffs for the specials), and then a huge November election that really really really needs to run smoothly. The process to make that happen starts now.

Initial post-election wrapup

Just a few updates and observations to add onto what I posted yesterday morning. Any deeper thoughts, if I have them, will come later.

– Cheri Thomas and William Demond won their races for the 14th Court of Appeals. I didn’t mention them yesterday, just too much to cover.

– Also didn’t mention any of the SBOE races, four of which are headed to runoffs on the Dems side, including SBOE4 in Harris County. Those were all open or (with SBOE11) Republican-held seats. The three incumbents were all winners in their races – Marisa Perez-Diaz (SBOE3) and Aicha Davis (SBOE13) were unopposed, while Rebecca Bell-Metereau (SBOE5) easily dispatched two challengers.

– All of the district court judges who were leading as of yesterday morning are still leading today.

– Harold Dutton also held on in HD142, but the final result was much closer once the Tuesday votes were counted. He ultimately prevailed with less than 51% of the vote.

– Cam Cameron took and held onto the lead in HD132 (he had trailed by four votes initially), defeating Chase West 52.8 to 47.2, about 300 votes.

– Titus Benton was still leading in SD17, though his lead shrunk from 484 in early voting to 275.

– I touched on this in the runoff roundup post, but the perception that Jessica Cisneros was leading Rep. Henry Cuellar was totally a function of the order in which the counties reported their results. I say this because if you click on the race details for the CD28 primary on the SOS election returns page, you see that Cuellar led by more than 1,500 votes in early voting; he stretched that to about a 2,400 vote lead in the end, though it was just barely not enough to get to 50%. But because Bexar County was first out of the gate and thus first to be picked up by the SOS, and Cisneros ran strongly there, it looked like she was about to blow him out. There are a couple of tweets from Tuesday night that did not age well because of that.

– Statewide, the Dem gubernatorial primary will be a bit short of 1.1 million votes, up a tiny bit from 2018, while the GOP primary for Governor is over 1.9 million votes, comfortably ahead of the 1.55 million from 2018. More Republicans overall turned out on Tuesday than Dems statewide. In Harris County, it looks like the turnout numbers were at 157K for Dems and 180K for Republicans, with about 43% of the vote in each case being cast on Tuesday. Dems were down about 10K votes from 2018, Rs up about 24K. In a year where Republicans are supposed to have the wind at their backs and certainly had a lot more money in the primaries, I’m not sure that’s so impressive. That said, March is not November. Don’t go drawing broad inferences from any of this.

– At the risk of violating my own warning, I will note that the CD15 primary, in a district that is now slightly lean R and with the overall GOP turnout advantage and clear evidence of more GOP primary participation in South Texas, the Dem candidates combined for 32,517 votes while the Republicans and their million-dollar candidate combined for 29,715 votes. Does that mean anything? Voting in one party’s primary, because that’s where one or more local races of interest to you are, doesn’t mean anything for November, as any number of Democratic lawyers with Republican voting histories from a decade or more ago can attest. Still, I feel like if there had been more votes cast in that Republican primary that someone would make a big deal out of it, so since that didn’t happen I am noting it for the record. Like I said, it may mean absolutely nothing, and November is still a long way away, but it is what happened so there you have it.

– In Fort Bend, County Judge KP George won his own primary with about the same 70% of the vote as Judge Hidalgo did here. Longtime County Commissioner Grady Prestage defeated two challengers but just barely cleared fifty percent to avoid a runoff. The other commissioner, first termer Ken DeMerchant, didn’t do nearly as well. He got just 14.3% of the vote, and will watch as Dexter McCoy and Neeta Sane will battle in May. I confess, I wasn’t paying close attention to this race and I don’t have an ear to the ground in Fort Bend, so I don’t know what was the cause of this shocking (to me, anyway) result. Sitting County Commissioners, even first timers, just don’t fare that poorly in elections. Community Impact suggests redistricting might not have done him any favors, but still. If you have some insight, please leave a comment.

– As was the case in Harris, a couple of incumbent judges in Fort Bend lost in their primaries. I don’t know any of the players there, and my overall opinion of our system of choosing judges hasn’t changed from the last tiresome time we had this conversation.

This came in later in the day, so I thought I’d add it at the end instead of shoehorning it into the beginning.

Harris County election officials are still counting ballots Wednesday morning for the Tuesday Primary Election. Despite the Texas Secretary of State John B. Scott saying officials will not finish counting ballots by the deadline, Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria said she’s confident counting votes will be done.

“It’s going to take a couple of days to finish the entire process as we’ve always seen,” Longoria said. “I don’t have concerns about counting the election ballots for this election.”

[…]

Harris County Voting Director Beth Stevens said the paper ballot system slows down the process for both voters and election workers.

“We’re working with paper here, what we know is we have hundreds of thousands of ballots processed accurately and securely here in our central counting station and we’re working with 2.5 million registered voters,” Stevens said.

In addition to voter registration identification mishaps, and mail-in ballot rejections, Harris County election officials also said damaged ballots have become an issue in the counting process. According to Stevens, damaged ballots have to be duplicated before being scanned by electronic tabulators and counted in at the central polling location. Officials said this could take some time.

“There was a negative attempt to make Harris County look bad in this moment and it’s completely unnecessary because we are processing as appropriate,” Stevens said. “Voters can be sure that paper ballots and electronic media that go with that is the most safe and secure ballot in the country.”

And this.

More than 1,600 ballots in Harris County were not read properly by the county’s new voting machines because of human error, the elections administration office said, resulting in a slower tabulation process for Tuesday’s primaries.

The new system requires voters to take paper ballots with their selections from a voting machine and feed it into a counting machine. Voters did this incorrectly in some cases, said elections office spokeswoman Leah Shah, making the ballots unreadable. Instead, those ballots were re-scanned at the county’s election headquarters, an extra time-consuming step.

Shah said Harris County’s long primary ballot required voters to feed two sheets of paper instead of the usual one, increasing the chance of error if they are inserted the wrong way or inadvertently creased or wrinkled. The 1,629 incorrectly scanned ballots represent less than 1 percent of the nearly 500,000 primary ballots cast.

“These are margins of error that are already accounted for, built in to how we process the ballot,” Shah said. “But we also understand the importance of having the paper trail and having that extra layer of security and backup.”

Voter Sara Cress, who ran the county’s popular elections social media accounts in 2020, said the first page of her ballot became wrinkled in her hand as she filled out the second page. When she attempted to feed the scuffed sheet into the counting machine, it would not take.

“I tried it twice, and then two poll workers tried it over and over again, and it just was giving errors,” Cress said.

[…]

Shah said new requirements under SB1, the voting bill passed by the Legislature last year, placed additional strain on county elections staff. She said 30 percent of the 24,000 mail ballots received have been flagged for rejection because they fail to meet the law’s ID requirements.

Elections staff have been calling those voters, who mostly are over 65, to inform them of the March 7 deadline by which they must provide the correct information or their ballots will not be counted.

The issue with the printers is one reason why the new voting machines were rolled out last year, when they could be tested in a lower-turnout environment. Fewer initial disruptions, but perhaps not enough actual testing to work through all the problems. Going to need a lot more voter education, and more stress testing on those machines. The fiasco with the mail ballots, which is 100% on the Republicans, is putting a lot of pressure on the elections staff. None of this had to happen like this. I mean, if we’re going to talk voter education, not to mention training for county election workers, that was a complete failure on the state’s part. It’s easy to dump on the Secretary of State here, and they do deserve some blame, but they too were put in a no-win spot by the Republicans.

As far as the rest goes, the early voting totals were up at about 7:20 or so on Tuesday night. Initial results came in slowly, as you could tell from my posts yesterday, but almost all of the voting centers had reported by 1 PM yesterday. I do believe there will be some improvement with the printers before November. At least we have two more chances to work out the kinks before then, with the primary runoffs, the May special election, and possibly May special election runoffs. Here’s hoping.

A roundup of runoffs

I was going to just do a basic recap of all the primary races that will require runoffs, and then this happened, and I had to do some redesign.

Rep. Van Taylor

U.S. Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano, has decided to end his reelection campaign after he was forced into a primary runoff amid 11th-hour allegations of infidelity.

Taylor made the stunning announcement Wednesday, hours after he finished his five-way primary with 49% of the vote, just missing the cutoff for winning the primary outright. The runner-up was former Collin County Judge Keith Self, who is now likely to become the next congressman for the 3rd District.

“About a year ago, I made a horrible mistake that has caused deep hurt and pain among those I love most in this world,” Taylor wrote in an email to supporters. “I had an affair, it was wrong, and it was the greatest failure of my life. I want to apologize for the pain I have caused with my indiscretion, most of all to my wife Anne and our three daughters.”

The day before the primary, the conservative outlet Breitbart News posted a story that Taylor had had a monthslong affair with a Plano woman, Tania Joya, who he had paid $5,000 to keep quiet. The publication reported that she provided it a phone screen shot purporting to be communications with Taylor and a bank record showing that she deposited $5,000 into her account. The Texas Tribune has not been able to independently verify the report.

[…]

Taylor has until March 16 to remove his name from the runoff ballot, which he plans to do, according to a spokesperson. After he does that, Self is automatically the Republican nominee for the district. There is a Democratic nominee for the seat, Sandeep Srivastava, but they face long odds after the district was redrawn last year to favor Republicans.

Holy shit. There’s a link to that article in the Trib story, which I refuse to include. It’s one of the less important aspects of this story, but the timing is curious. Why not publish this earlier, if that’s what you’re going to do, and not take the chance that he could win without a runoff? It gets a whole lot more complicated for the Republicans if he withdraws after winning the primary, and he came quite close to doing just that. I don’t understand any of this.

Anyway, this is where I was originally going to start this post. Here’s a list of the races that have gone into overtime. You can also read the Decision Desk wrapup for some more details.

Statewide Dem

Lite Guv – Mike Collier vs Michelle Beckley.

AG – Rochelle Garza vs Joe Jaworski. As of Wednesday afternoon Jaworski had less than a 2K vote lead over Lee Merritt. When I first looked at this, it was a 3K lead, with all of the remaining ballots in Harris County, where Jaworski started the day with a 6K vote lead over Merritt. That had shrunk to a bit less than 5K votes by the afternoon, which almost made my logic that Jaworski would easily hold his lead look idiotic, but the gap appears to have been too large for Merritt to overcome. But who knows, there may be a bunch of late-fixed mail ballots out there, so let’s put a pin in this one.

Comptroller – Janet Dudding vs Angel Vega.

Land Commissioner – Sandragrace Martinez vs Jay Kleberg.

Congressional Dem

CD01 – JJ Jefferson vs Victor Dunn.

CD15 – Ruben Ramirez vs Michelle Vallejo, who has a 300-vote lead over John Rigney.

CD21 – Claudia Zapata vs Ricardo Villarreal.

CD24 – Jan McDowell vs Derrik Gay, who rebounded after my initial bout of pessimism to finish in second place.

CD28 – Rep. Henry Cuellar vs Jessica Cisneros. Cisneros had a big early lead that was mostly a function of the order in which the counties reported their results. Cisneros crushed it in Bexar County, then watched as Starr, Webb, and Zapata erased her lead. In the end, if what I’m seeing is the actual final tally, it was Cuellar who missed winning outright by nine (!) votes. This one could change to a Cuellar win as the overseas and provisional votes are tallied, and then of course there may be a recount. Hold onto your hats.

CD30 – Jasmine Crockett vs Jane Hope Hamilton.

CD38 – Diana Martinez Alexander vs. Duncan Klussman. This is the only Congressional runoff in Harris County for Dems.

SBOE Dem

SBOE1 – Melissa Ortega vs Laura Marquez. The third-place finisher had big charter school backing, so this race can go back to being one you don’t need to know about.

SBOE2 – Victor Perez vs Pete Garcia.

SBOE4 – Coretta Mallet-Fontenot vs Staci Childs. This is in Harris County, it’s the seat Lawrence Allen vacated in his unsuccessful run for HD26. I’ll put this one on my to do list for runoff interviews.

SBOE11 – Luis Sifuentes vs James Whitfield. Double-timer DC Caldwell finished third, while also losing in the Republican primary for this same seat to incumbent Pat Hardy. Let us never speak of this again.

State Senate Dem

SD27 – Morgan LaMantia vs Sara Stapleton-Barrera.

State House Dems

HD22 – Joseph Trahan vs Christian Hayes.

HD37 – Ruben Cortez vs Luis Villarreal

HD70 – Cassandra Hernandez vs Mihaela Plesa. This one was an almost even split among three candidates, with third place finisher Lorenzo Sanchez 29 votes behind Plesa and 102 votes behind Hernandez. Another overseas/provisional vote count to watch and another recount possibility.

HD76 – Suleman Lalani vs Vanesia Johnson. This is the new Dem-likely seat in Fort Bend.

HD100 – Sandra Crenshaw vs Venton Jones.

HD114 – Alexandra Guio vs John Bryant. Bryant was a Dem Congressman in the 90’s, in the old CD05. After winning a squeaker against Pete Sessions in 1994, Bryant tried his luck in the primary for Senate in 1996, eventually losing in a runoff to Victor Morales. Bryant just turned 75 (why anyone would want to get back into the Lege at that age boggles my mind, but maybe that’s just me), while Guio is quite a bit younger. Should be an interesting matchup. This was a five-way race with everyone getting between 17 and 25 percent, so endorsements from the ousted candidates may make a difference.

HD147 – Jolanda Jones vs Danielle Bess.

Harris County Dems

185th Criminal District Court – Andrea Beall vs Judge Jason Luong.

208th Criminal District Court – Beverly Armstrong vs Kim McTorry. Judge Greg Glass finished third.

312th Family District Court – Teresa Waldrop vs Judge Chip Wells.

County Civil Court at Law #4 – Manpreet Monica Singh vs Treasea Treviño. David Patronella was in second place after early voting, but fell behind as the Tuesday votes came in.

Commissioners Court, Precinct 4 – Lesley Briones vs Ben Chou.

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1, Place 2 – Sonia Lopez vs Steve Duble.

Republicans

Not really interested in a complete rundown, but it’s Paxton versus P Bush for AG, Dawn Buckingham versus Tim Westley for Land Commissioner, and Wayne Christian versus Sarah Stogner for Railroad Commissioner. At least that last one will be interesting.

As noted yesterday, it will be Alexandra Mealer versus Vidal Martinez for the nomination for County Judge. I have no feelings about this.

I will put some other primary news and notes in a separate post. Let me know if I missed a race.

Some thoughts on Primary Day

Will we learn more about the mail ballot debacle?

Mail ballot usage during early voting has dropped precipitously since 2018, with tens of thousands of voters — especially Republicans — ditching the forms after two years of the GOP’s baseless claims that absentee voting facilitates fraud.

By the end of early voting on Friday, roughly 77,000 mail ballots had been processed in Texas’ 15 most populous counties, representing .7 percent of registered voters there. Four years ago, the total was 126,000 — about 1.3 percent of voters in those counties. (The Secretary of State does not provide statewide early voting totals for the 2018 election.)

The dropoff is most dramatic among Republicans, whose party has repeatedly alleged, without evidence, that state-approved expansions of mail ballots during the pandemic led to widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

During the last midterm primary election in 2018, more than 67,000 Republicans in the state’s most populous counties filled out a mail ballot by the close of early voting. This year, the total hasn’t cracked 27,000.

The number dropped slightly for Democrats, too. More than 50,000 Democratic voters in those counties have cast an absentee ballot this year, compared to 59,000 in 2018.

[…]

By the time the application deadline passed on Feb. 18, Dallas County had rejected about 15.7 percent of all forms, the majority of them for a missing or incorrect ID. In Travis County, the rejection rate was 9 percent.

Now, county officials are dealing with the same problem for the actual ballots, which must be submitted by Tuesday. As of Friday, 30 percent of mail ballots were rejected over the new ID law in Harris County. In Dallas, it was 27 percent.

We’ve discussed this before. We need to know more about what happened with mail ballots. Remember, there were two parts to this, one for the application for the mail ballot, and one for the ballot itself. How many applications, from each party, were initially rejected for not using the right form or not being filled out correctly, with the right voter ID information? How many of those were subsequently fixed, and how many were never resolved? Of the mail ballots that were then sent out and returned, how many from each party were initially rejected for (again) not having the right voter ID information included? How many of those were then fixed and successfully submitted? Of the people who didn’t get their mail ballots fixed and returned, how many then voted in person? How many people who voted by mail in the 2020 and/or 2018 primaries and who are still on the voter rolls did not vote at all this year? More data, please!

What do you think the Expectations Line is for the gubernatorial primaries?

What will likely be the biggest heavyweight battle for governor of Texas in nearly 30 years is just days away from getting underway in Texas.

While Gov. Greg Abbott and Democrat Beto O’Rourke have been sizing each other up and jabbing at one another in nearly every corner of the state, both have unfinished business on Tuesday. But first they need to finish off a collection of underfunded primary challengers.

What little public polling there has been suggests neither Abbott nor O’Rourke has much to worry about on Tuesday, but that hasn’t stopped an urgency from slipping into the stump speeches as they plead with supporters to go vote.

“We’ve got to get everyone turned out,” O’Rourke told a crowd of supporters in McAllen in the Rio Grande Valley last weekend despite a recent University of Texas poll showing him winning the primary with 90 percent of the vote. “We’ve got to make sure we reach out to everybody.”

The same poll had Abbott avoiding a runoff by holding on to 60 percent of the vote in his primary. Yet in El Paso earlier this week at a get-out-the-vote rally, Abbott warned his supporters that “freedom itself is on the ballot.”

The article is mostly about the forthcoming general election battle between the two, but I’m curious what number the pundits will have in mind for their percentage of the vote in the primaries. Remember, when Beto got 61.8% in the three-way 2018 primary, it was seen as underperforming, even to the point of speculation from some corners that the overall Beto experience was overhyped. I think we know how that turned out. I also think we all expect Beto to do a lot better than 61.8% this time around, even though he has a bigger field and one opponent who managed to draw some attention, even though she’s basically been invisible since then. Beto is much better known this time and he’s been at least as active as he was in 2018, so maybe 75% for him? There are always some people who do their own thing. The only number that really matters is 50%+1, and after that it’s all in the interpretation. I’m not going to worry about it.

As for Abbott, I fully expect him to win without a runoff. (I still think Ken Paxton will, too, but I won’t be surprised to be wrong about that.) Abbott got 90% against two no-names in 2018 (I will give you $1 right now if you can tell me who they were without looking it up), but he ain’t getting that much this time around. Being forced into a runoff will be seen (correctly) as a disaster for Abbott, but if he clears the fifty percent line, I think he’ll be seen as the winner regardless of by how much. Remember, Rick Perry in 2010 got only 51% of the vote in his primary, but because he led KBH by 20 points (because no one took Debra Medina seriously) it was seen as a resounding victory for him. I think Abbott wins in round one, Huffines and West split the super-crazy vote so that he has a sizeable margin against each of them, and nobody talks much about the primary afterwards. Anyone disagree with that?

Of course, your vote in the Republican primary for Governor is really a vote for your favorite jackboot billionaire. Also mostly true in the Republican legislative primaries. Maybe we should talk a little more about that?

Here’s the Derek Ryan email for the end of early voting:

Good afternoon! Early voting wrapped up on Friday and the final totalsare that just over one million people voted early (or by mail) in the 2022 Republican Primary and 620,000 people voted early (or by mail) in the 2022 Democratic Primary. That means roughly 6% turnout on the Republican side and 3.6% turnout on the Democratic side.

In the 2020 Republican Primary, 54.5% of votes were cast by mail or during early voting. If those percentages hold up this year, that would equate to around 1.85 million votes being cast in the Republican Primary. (In the 2018 Republican Primary, there were 1.5 million votes cast.)

In the 2020 Democratic Primary, 49% of votes were cast by mail or during early voting. If those percentages hold up this year, that would equate to around 1.3 million votes being cast in the Democratic Primary. (In the 2018 Democratic Primary, there were one million votes cast.)

The average age of voters in the Republican Primary is 62.6 years old while the average age of voters in the Democratic Primary is 58.5 years old.

14.1% of votes cast in the Republican Primary are voters who did not vote in any party’s primary between 2014 and 2020. On the Democratic side, that percentage is 13.8%. These are individuals who have been general election-only voters, but it also includes voters who have moved to the state, just become eligible to vote, and individuals who have been registered to vote but haven’t participated in an election over the last eight years.

Only half of voters who voted in all four of their party’s last four primary elections ended up voting early. Over 85% of these individuals typically end up voting in a midterm primary election and there are 248,000 of these on the Republican side and 107,000 on the Democratic side who have not voted early.

I’ve based most of my comparisons on 2018, as it’s a non-Presidential year, but there’s no reason not to take 2020 into account. Ryan will have two more reports after Election Day.

Finally, a bit of final turnout data from Hector DeLeon:

I’ve made my guesses, now we’ll see what the reality is. The 19th has more.

2022 primary early voting statewide

Turnout information for early voting for all counties is available on the Secretary of State website. They used to only have this for the 30 most populous counties, which skewed things in a Democratic direction, but a law passed in 2019 required the data to be made available for all counties. Now that early voting has been completed, let’s see what the totals looked like in other counties of interest around the state.

Unfortunately, we can’t make a direct comparison for some of the counties I was interested in because as noted the SOS only has EV data for thirty counties. So what I did instead was collect the final turnout information for the 2018 Senate primaries in both parties. What that means is that the data below is a bit skewed, since we’re comparing EV turnout to overall turnout. Even there, “overall turnout” is a bit misleading since there are always undervotes, and the data I’ve captured for 2018 doesn’t include that. The 2022 numbers includes everyone who showed up, the 2018 data only has the ones who voted in their Senate races. It’s the best I can do. Here’s what it looks like:


County       2018 Dem   2018 GOP  2022 Dem  2022 GOP
====================================================
Bell            7,282     18,149     4,550     9,574
Bexar          81,408     67,977    60,033    50,025
Brazoria       10,085     24,376     6,809    20,323
Brazos          5,131     12,365     2,241     7,902
Collin         34,669     66,078    20,784    43,779
Comal           4,150     17,662     3,040    13,530
Dallas        123,671     80,583    66,109    38,928
Denton         27,025     49,474    14,683    37,288
El Paso        54,184     12,096    20,320     9,199
Ellis           4,243     15,906     2,479     8,136
Fort Bend      29,322     34,707    25,646    28,275
Hays           11,397     11,881     7,316     8,210
Johnson         2,618     12,280     1,224     8,175
Lubbock         5,900     21,964     3,267    17,184
Montgomery      9,701     48,921     6,052    41,596
Nueces         12,345     12,553     6,682     9,962
Smith           4,704     22,826     3,933    15,481
Tarrant        71,876    105,317    38,674    70,021
Travis        113,070     39,177    58,329    23,357
Williamson     25,681     35,675    14,558    26,672

For the most part, nothing terribly exciting. Overall Democratic turnout is about 627K, about 62% of the 2018 Senate race total of 1.04 million. Republicans are at about 1.02 million, or about 66% of the way to the 1.55 million they had in their Senate primary. While I talked about the “premier races” driving turnout statewide in the last entry, conditions in an individual county can vary. High profile and/or expensive races for Congress, County Judge, or other local offices can have an effect. Different counties have different patterns for how much of the vote is cast early versus on Election Day. We also have to consider the effect of SB1 on mail ballots. So far this year there have been 49,888 Republican primary ballots cast by mail, compared to 71,329 for the Dems. We don’t know the total figures for 2018, but a look at the top 30 county numbers makes it clear that Republicans used mail ballots a lot more four years ago.

So overall I don’t see too much that stands out. The one place that is a bit remarkable is El Paso, where Democratic voting is down quite a bit from 2018. We know that Beto was a big draw overall in El Paso, more so in the general, but remember that in 2018 there was also the primary to succeed Beto in Congress, and it was a fairly expensive race that featured then-County Judge and now Rep. Veronica Escobar. I suspect that drove some people to the polls as well.

What about the South Texas/Rio Grande Valley counties that shifted red in 2020? Here’s the same sample I looked at before, updated for the 2022 numbers:


County       2018 Dem   2018 GOP  2022 Dem  2022 GOP
====================================================
Cameron        14,123      4,003    14,500     6,455
Hidalgo        37,739      7,050    31,924    10,398
Maverick        6,300        111     6,895       440
Starr           6,729         15     5,188       969
Webb           21,137      1,426    13,384     1,499

Definitely more participation on the Republican side, exceeding the final 2018 totals in all five counties, though overall those numbers are still quite low compared to the Dems. Democratic numbers in Cameron and Maverick have also topped their 2018 counterparts, and are not far behind in Hidalgo and Starr. I’m a little puzzled by Webb, since that’s the center of the CD28 primary battle, but maybe that’s a mostly-vote-on-Election-Day place. We’ll see tomorrow. Have you voted yet?

Final 2022 primary early voting totals

It’s been a strange two weeks for early voting, so let’s get to the wrapup. Here are your final early voting totals. The table for comparison:


Election    Mail   Early   Total
================================
2018 D    22,695  70,152  92,847
2018 R    24,500  61,425  85,925

2020 D    22,785 116,748 139,533
2020 R    22,801  82,108 104,909

2022 D    13,713  82,342  96,055
2022 R     9,684  96,439 106,123

As a reminder, 2018 final totals are here, and 2020 final totals are here. Please note that the “2018 final totals” file I have is actually from the penultimate day of early voting. I either never got the last day’s totals, or I forgot to save the file to my Google Drive. The numbers in the table above are from the Election Day report for 2018, which means that the mail ballots include those that came in between the Friday and Tuesday. It would have been a smaller number if I had that day-of EV report.

Clearly, mail ballots were down. I had thought that the good number of mail ballots returned on Tuesday heralded an upswing for them, perhaps because of corrected ones getting in, but that wasn’t to be. Indeed, the combined total for Dems over the remaining three days was just a bit higher than the Tuesday total. The mail ballot total for Dems this year so far is 60% of what it was four years ago, though that will tick up a bit as the last batch rolls in. The number for Republicans dropped even more, though that is undoubtedly due in part to Republicans swallowing the former guy’s propaganda about mail ballots. Both Dems and Republicans saw more in person voters, and I’d say for sure some of that is connected, more on the R side than the D side.

How many people were actually unable to vote as a result of the new and needless voter ID requirements for mail ballots is hard to say. If I have the time, I’ll try to compare the vote rosters for the two years, to see what the mail voters of both parties from 2018 did this year. I’m sure some number of them voted (or will vote on Tuesday) in person. For those that voted by mail in 2018 but fail to vote this year, it will still be hard to say why. Primaries always have low turnout, so a no-show this year may just mean lack of interest or opportunity, for whatever the reason. I hope someone with a better view of the data comes up with a more holistic and analytic report. I fear it will mostly be all anecdotal otherwise. For sure, any suggestion that Republicans may regret their new voting restrictions are extremely premature. I’ve not doubt that some Republican consultants would prefer not to have to do new things, but they’re not representative of the party as a whole. Believe me, if they ever do come to regret this change, they will make that clear.

The Republicans had more voters this year than the Dems did, after the Dems outvoted them in 2018 and 2020. Does this worry me? Not really. Like I said, primaries are low turnout. That means people don’t participate for a lot of reasons. I think the main reason normal people do – by “normal” I mean the non-activist and news junkie portions of the population – is when there’s a headline race that grabs their attention. There wasn’t one in the 2018 primary – Beto didn’t have to run a serious primary campaign because he didn’t have a serious primary opponent, and indeed he faced questions afterward when Dems barely broke 1 million total voters statewide (compared to 1.5 million for the GOP even though they didn’t really have a headline primary race that year either) and he got “only” 62% of the vote. He’s in the same position this year – the entire story of the race so far is about Beto versus Abbott, not Beto versus Joy Diaz. On the other hand, at least as much of the story on the Republican side is Abbott versus West and Huffines, and that’s before you factor in the clusterfuck of an AG primary. Those are the kind of races that draw people to the polls.

Look at it this way: In 2016, nearly 330K people voted in the GOP primary in Harris County, compared to 227K for Dems. The November vote went pretty well for Dems in Harris County that year.

As for final turnout, it’s a little hard to say because samples are small and context changes greatly from Presidential to non-Presidential years. A little more than 40% of the Democratic vote was cast on Election Day in 2018 and 2014, while more than half was cast in 2010 and 2006. More than half was cast on Election Day in 2020, 2016, and 2008, while slightly less than half was cast in 2012. Going just by 2018, we’d probably approach 170K for final turnout. Republicans in 2018 had about 45% of their vote on Election Day, which projects them to 185-190K overall. Take all of that with a huge grain of salt – I just don’t know how to factor in the mail ballot changes, the recent aggressively revanchist policy moves by Greg Abbott et al, and just the overall state of the world. All I can say is we’ll see.

I’ll have a look at the statewide numbers tomorrow. Let me know what you think.

Using the Texas model to protect voting rights

Some blue state needs to do this.

In the midst of the ongoing debate over Republicans’ siege on voting rights in states they control, here’s an unconventional suggestion: Democratic state legislators should take a page from the Republican playbook and empower private citizens to sue people who are “aiding and abetting” voter suppression efforts.

After all, that’s exactly what the Texas GOP has done with the abortion bill it enacted last year, which effectively bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, despite the fact that our Supreme Court has ruled that women have a constitutional right to abortion until a fetus is viable, which is generally about 24 weeks into pregnancy. As the Supreme Court declared in 1992 in its ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, there’s a “constitutionally protected liberty of the woman to decide to have an abortion before the fetus attains viability and to obtain it without undo interference from the State.”

[…]

While personally I believe this law is atrocious, if the GOP is going to use that legal model to infringe on the rights of women, why can’t Democrats use that same tactic to accomplish a monumental goal of their own: protecting voting rights? Democrats cannot simply roll over and let the GOP suppress the vote — and potentially rig elections — because new federal voting rights legislation was recently blocked by way of the filibuster in the U.S. Senate. Democrats need to be tenacious fighters on this all-important issue — and that means using every single tool available.

One way to show that commitment would be for states with Democratic governors and legislatures to enact laws that enable private citizens to sue anyone who is found “aiding and abetting” making it more challenging to vote. And if the person wins, they would be rewarded with $10,000 plus the cost of their legal fees from the defendant for each action they took that “aided and abetted” in restricting voting.

For example, New York could enact a law that enables people to sue any person in the state who is found “aiding and abetting” the GOP’s voter suppression efforts. This arguably would include elected New York Republican officials, such as Rep. Elise Stefanik, who championed former President Donald Trump’s election lies that have been used to justify the voter suppression laws in other states. That includes Stefanik claiming that President Joe Biden’s win in Georgia was because “more than 140,000 votes came from underage, deceased, and otherwise unauthorized voters — in Fulton County alone.” And in May, she was on Steve Bannon’s podcast, where she continued to further Trump’s “big lie.”

Lawsuits could also be potentially filed against GOP donors living in New York who give to organizations like the Republican National Committee, which has been vocally opposing federal laws to protect voting rights and continues to recognize Trump as its standard-bearer. This could all arguably be considered “aiding and abetting” the GOP’s voter restriction efforts.

The law could even be crafted so that Republicans in other states who engage in “aiding and abetting” the restriction of voting and do “business” in New York can be sued in the Empire State since it would arguably fulfill jurisdictional requirements. For example, when Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis — who touted and signed into law sweeping voting restrictions in his state — traveled to New York in September for a political fundraiser, he was in effect “doing business” in New York by targeting New Yorkers for their donations. And he would be fair game to catch a lawsuit under this hypothetical anti-voting restriction law.

Further justifying this law is that voter restrictions in any state ultimately affect those in blue states since they impact races for federal office, and those federal officeholders in turn can enact laws that impact the entire nation — such as on climate change and gun safety.

I get that this sounds unconstitutional and insane — but it’s built in the exact image of the Texas abortion law. A women’s right to abortion in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy is a constitutional right — just like freedom of speech. Given that the GOP-controlled Supreme Court didn’t swiftly strike down the Texas abortion law, it would be hard-pressed to strike down these “protect the vote” laws without exposing itself as being nothing more than an arm of the Republican Party.

I have no doubt that this Supreme Court is up to the challenge of justifying the Texas abortion law while knocking down this hypothetical statute, but having the fight and making them do it would definitely be worth the effort. I also agree that it’s all ridiculous, but given all that’s happened it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that this is the most feasible path available at this time. New York and California, y’all are the best bets for this. Someone please get the ball rolling on it.

2022 primary early voting, Day Eight : Time for the upswing

I still think it’s a little weird to have a day off from voting in the middle of early voting. Either tack on an extra day at one end or the other or modify the calendar to avoid the holiday. Or, you know, since Presidents Day is hardly a day of universal indulgence, maybe have voting on it anyway? I suppose some places might not be available, but maybe enough would be? I’m just thinking out loud here.

Anyway. Here are your Day Eight early voting totals. The table for comparison:


Election    Mail   Early   Total
================================
2018 D    12,915  36,835  49,750
2018 R    15,512  33,140  48,652

2020 D    18,503  54,325  72,828
2020 R    19,410  47,271  66,681

2022 D    10,843  40,001  50,844
2022 R     6,955  49,786  56,741

As a reminder, 2018 final totals are here, and 2020 final totals are here.

Final turnout in 2018 was 167,982 for Dems and 156,387 for Republicans. I don’t see any reason why those totals won’t be eclipsed this year, though maybe not by that much on the Dem side. For what it’s worth, yesterday was the strongest mail ballot day for Dems so far, including Day One, with 2,717 ballots returned. If we are managing to fix the problems that had caused a bunch of ballots to be rejected initially, that would be a big deal. I would still very much like to know how the rejection numbers, both for applications and returned ballots, break down by party.

Derek Ryan put out another report on Monday. Of interest:

A lot has been made about South Texas and whether Republican growth was a temporary trend under President Trump. In Cameron County, turnout in the Republican Primary is 76% of the way to reaching turnout in the 2018 Republican Primary. In Hidalgo County, turnout is 65% of the way to reaching the 2018 totals. This is with five days early voters (today and the remainder of the work week) and Election Day voters left to increase those numbers. On the Democratic side, turnout in Cameron County is 59% of the way to reaching the turnout in the 2018 Democratic Primary and 47% of the way in Hidalgo County.

I expressed curiosity about that early on as well. It should be noted that there were 14K Dem primary votes in Cameron County in 2018 compared to 4K for the Republicans, and nearly 38K Dem votes in Hidalgo in 2018 compared to 7K for the GOP. In other words, still a lot more Dem votes being cast in each county. We’ll see where they all end up, but so far this doesn’t look like it’s going to rewrite anyone’s paradigms. Ask me again after the primary is over.

2022 primary early voting, Day Seven : All caught up now

This year, the Monday of early voting was in Week One. In 2018 and 2020, it was in Week Two. Maybe we could do this at a time that doesn’t include Presidents Day? Just a thought. In any event, in all cases we have now had seven days of voting, and from here on out the days will line up. Let’s review where we are – remember, there was no voting yesterday, but each year’s totals below reflect seven voting days. Here are your Day Seven early voting totals. The table for comparison:


Election    Mail   Early   Total
================================
2018 D    11,208  30,714  41,922
2018 R    13,812  27,497  41,309

2020 D    16,651  44,349  61,000
2020 R    18,669  39,216  57,885

2022 D     8,126  31,348  39,474
2022 R     6,115  38,383  44,498

As a reminder, 2018 final totals are here, and 2020 final totals are here.

Dems are a little behind their 2018 pace so far, while Republicans are ahead of theirs. The Republican advantage has mostly been powered by in person voting – they are way ahead of their 2018 pace for in person voting, while having less than half as many mail ballots returned as before. Dems are slightly ahead on their in person pace but behind on mail ballots, for reasons we all know at this point. Saturday was a lighter voting day than I would have thought, though it was slightly ahead of the Dem daily average and below that for the Republicans. Both parties had near identical in person totals for each day over the weekend. Maybe this is where Dems start to catch up, or maybe Republicans just prefer voting during the week. Maybe we see more mail ballots get returned, as hopefully the many problems that have been experienced get fixed. We’ll know soon enough. Have you voted yet?

Hey, remember when disability rights advocates were worried about the voter suppression bill?

They were right to be worried. Because of course they were.

As polls opened up for early voting this week, disability advocates say they still do not have adequate guidance from the state about new voter assistance rules and worry that the lack of clarity on what constitutes a violation might dissuade people who provide assistance services from helping voters with disabilities.

Republicans enacted restrictions last year on the state’s voting process, including rules on how Texans can assist voters when casting ballots. Texans assisting other voters must now fill out paperwork disclosing their relationship, indicate whether compensation was provided and recite an expanded oath, now under the penalty of perjury, stating that they did not “pressure or coerce” the voter into choosing them for assistance.

Texans who offer or accept compensation for providing voter assistance would be in violation of the new rules, creating anxiety among those who assist people with disabilities as part of their job.

“There are voters with disabilities who use their personal aides or personal attendants to assist them in completing daily tasks, and voting is a daily task,” said Molly Broadway, a voting rights training specialist at Disability Rights Texas, adding that she has already received calls from assistants afraid of incurring criminal charges for activities that are usually part of their duties. “It’s a very present, very real need that exists.”

Texans who drive at least seven voters to the polls are also considered assistants and must comply with new rules on compensation. Broadway said she has heard concerns from nursing home employees who provide transportation to polling places.

The new legislation also limits any kind of voter assistance to “reading the ballot to the voter, directing the voter to read the ballot, marking the voter’s ballot, or directing the voter to mark the ballot.” But voters with intellectual and developmental disabilities might need additional help, such as gestures or reminders about how they had intended to vote, to get through the process, Broadway said.

Broadway has instructed those providing assistance to sign the expanded oath, inform poll workers about the help they’re providing to the voter and reach out to county election offices and request additional accommodations when necessary.

If an assistant appears to be breaching the new rules, poll watchers have been instructed to inform their county’s election administration office. Upon reviewing the case, election administrators may reach out to authorities to investigate the case.

If there’s evidence that an assistant was paid for their services, Potter County elections administrator Melynn Huntley said she would need to refer the case to the attorney general.

“We gather screenshots or copies of the actual papers that may have been signed or not signed, and then we submit them to the appropriate enforcement authority,” Huntley explained.

Brazoria County election director Lisa Mujica said her office has trained clerks around the new regulations for voter assistance. If an assistant appears to be violating the rules, clerks are instructed to step in and educate them about the limitations of their role.

But Chase Bearden, the deputy executive director at the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, said that’s part of the problem: Inadequate state guidance has created confusion among voters and leaves the responsibility of determining what may constitute a violation to election workers.

“At the end of the day, we aren’t sure how this is going to play out,” Bearden said. “We’re kind of in the dark and are hoping that most election workers will be fair and want to make sure that people get the assistance they need.”

The Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, Disability Rights Texas and other disability rights groups have said they have received little guidance from the secretary of state, which oversees elections, about the steps voters with disabilities should take if they need assistance that conflicts with the regulations established in the new rules.

See here for the background; don’t be confused by the bill number in that post, it became SB1 in the subsequent special session where it ultimately passed. There is of course a lawsuit filed by disability rights activists (among others) against this law, but it has not advanced to the point where action could be taken. (More on that lawsuit here.) Of course these issues were raised at the time, and of course bill authors Briscoe Cain and Bryan Hughes ignored them, because why would they care? And now, if a confused or poorly trained election worker decides that someone’s health assistant is violating the law, the matter may wind up in Ken Paxton’s hands, and we know how fairly and compassionately he handles these matters. So yeah, this is all a giant bag of suck. And that was the point.

Of course the Fifth Circuit put a hold on the SB1 injunction

There is nothing more reliable in this world than the Fifth Circuit giving Republicans everything they ask for.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has put a temporary hold on a preliminary injunction that had blocked enforcement of a rule that keeps local election officials from encouraging voters to request mail-in ballots, according to Harris County officials.

U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez last week halted enforcement of a provision of Senate Bill 1 that made it a crime for election officials to solicit mail-in ballots. The judge said the law likely violates the First Amendment.

[…]

Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee on Thursday expressed disappointment in the decision by the 5th Circuit, which has blocked a number of court challenges to conservative policies.

“I am disappointed that the Fifth Circuit has undone the preliminary injunction that protected Administrator (Isabel) Longoria’s First Amendment rights,” Menefee said in a written statement. “As the district court already determined, this law is unconstitutional and prevents election officials from encouraging people to vote by mail, including our seniors, our neighbors with disabilities, and our active-duty service members. One thing that’s clear from the high number of mail-in ballot applications being rejected is that our election officials should be empowered to explain the process and encourage folks to apply to vote by mail if eligible. Today’s decision allows the threat of criminal prosecution to loom over election officials trying to help voters.”

See here and here for the background. This court is a sham and a disgrace, and the only way forward is to pack it with judges that will actually apply the law. Don’t ask me when that is likely to happen.

Because I have nothing better to say, here are a couple of tweets from Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee:

Good luck with that. I wish I felt more optimistic, but it’s not like the Fifth Circuit will care.