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voter suppression

The next round of voter suppression bills are coming

Brace yourselves.

Texas Republicans spent most of the 2021 legislative session focusing on election security — and this year, it’s a top priority for them again.

GOP leaders are discussing a range of election security measures, from higher penalties for voter fraud to broader power for the attorney general to prosecute election crimes. Many of them target Harris County, which Republicans have spent the past two years chastising for back-to-back elections blunders.

“Harris County is the big problem,” said state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Houston Republican who plans to file close to a dozen election bills this legislative session. “You’ve got the nation’s third-largest county that has had multiple problems with multiple election officers, to the point where one had to resign, and the problem is that it’s too big a piece of the electorate to ignore.”

Harris County Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum did not respond directly to the criticism, but said the office supports any legislation that increases voter registration and access to voting.

“Right now, we are focused on implementing new systems to promote the efficiency with which our office runs elections,” Tatum said in a statement.

[…]

Bettencourt said he’s considering a bill that would raise the charges for some voting-related misdemeanors, such as failing to provide election supplies.

He also questioned the existence of — and the accountability measures for — the election administrator position in Harris County. [Isabel] Longoria was the first, appointed under a newly created office in late 2020; Tatum was named as her replacement last July.

“That’s somebody that’s supposed to have better acumen and better results than elected officials, but the reverse has been proven to be true in Harris County,” Bettencourt said. “One of the things we’re going to have to explore is: Why aren’t the elected tax assessor-collector and the elected county clerk — which are, quite frankly, both Democrats — why are they not running the election, where there’s some public accountability?”

I’ve said this multiple times before, but as a reminder for the slow kids in the class, many counties have election administrators, including many Republican counties like Tarrant and Lubbock. Ed Emmett first proposed the idea for Harris County. There were problems with elections back when the County Clerk – specifically, Stan Stanart – was in charge of running them. This is nothing but a pretext.

Beyond Harris County, lawmakers are looking at a slate of statewide elections reforms, starting with returning the penalty for illegal voting to a felony instead of a misdemeanor. The Legislature lowered the punishment when it passed Senate Bill 1, but top Republicans — including Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — have pushed to return it to the stiffer penalty.

Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan, whose chamber amended the bill to include the lower penalty, rejected the idea when it was first floated during a series of 2021 special sessions.

“This important legislation made its way through the House after several thoughtful amendments were adopted,” he said. “Now is not the time to re-litigate.”

[…]

State Rep. Jacey Jetton, a Richmond Republican, said he’s exploring legislation to facilitate [the mail ballot] process, such as enabling election officials to check all identification numbers associated with an individual at the Texas Department of Public Safety. He also wants to review the system’s new online mail ballot tracker and ensure it’s working properly.

Republicans have also introduced bills to further investigate election fraud, to limit the state’s early voting period from two weeks to one, and to set earlier deadlines for handing in mail ballots. And some of them are hoping to give Attorney General Ken Paxton stronger authority to prosecute election crimes, after the state’s highest criminal appeals court ruled in 2021 that he could not unilaterally take on such cases.

Currently, Paxton can only get involved if invited by a district or county attorney, according to the court’s ruling. The decision led to an outcry from top Republicans, including Abbott and Patrick, who called for the case to be reheared.

Paxton encouraged his supporters to launch a pressure campaign and flood the court with calls and emails demanding, unsuccessfully, that they reverse the decision. The move prompted a complaint to the State Bar accusing Paxton of professional misconduct for attempting to interfere in a pending case before the court.

Much of this is also covered in this Trib story. I don’t know if Speaker Phelan will be persuaded or arm-twisted into changing his mind about making whatever minor infractions into felonies, but I hope he holds out. I commend Rep. Jetton for his interest in reducing the number of mail ballot rejections, though I have a hard time believing anyone can get such a bill through the Lege. As for Paxton’s continued desire to be Supreme Prosecutor, the CCA’s ruling was made on constitutional grounds. I feel confident saying that a constitutional amendment to allow this will not pass.

Anything else, however, is fair game and just a matter of whether the Republicans want it to pass or not. They have the votes and they have the will, and there’s basically nothing Dems can do to stop them. They’ll fight and they’ll make noise and they’ll employ the rules and pick up the occasional small-bore victory, but in the end they have no power. You know the mantra: Nothing will change until that changes.

And yes, it really is all about voter suppression, even if Texas Republicans are better than their Wisconsin colleagues at keeping the quiet part to themselves. It’s certainly possible that these laws aren’t as good at actually suppressing the vote as they’re intended to, but that’s beside the point. If they keep making it harder to vote, and they keep making it costlier to make an honest mistake in voting, and that cost is almost entirely borne by Democratic-leaning voters of color, it’s suppressive. The debate is about the extent, not the existence.

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

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

The only criminal involved

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paxton sued over his deranged ballot access opinion

Good.

The only criminal involved

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Losing Candidates File Election Contests in Harris County

That’s the subject of the following email I got in my inbox yesterday, and I can’t do any better than that for a post title.

Additional Losing Candidates File Election Contests in Harris County

Houston, Texas – Today, several losing Republican candidates filed election contests to void the more than 1 million votes cast in Harris County’s November 2022 election. Thus far, the Harris County Attorney’s Office has identified filings by (and we expect more filings to be made today):

  • Mark Montgomery, former candidate for Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 6 (lost to Judge Kelley Andrews)
  • Matthew Dexter, former candidate for Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 12 (lost to Judge Genesis Draper)
  • Brian Staley, former candidate for Harris County Civil County Court at Law No. 4. (lost to Judge Manpreet Monica Singh)
  • Mark Goldberg, former candidate for Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 8 (lost to Judge Erika Ramirez)
  • Bruce Bain, former candidate for the 269th District Court (lost to Judge Cory Sepolio)
  • Michelle Fraga, former candidate for the 281st District Court (lost to Judge Christine Weems)
  • Elizabeth Buss, former candidate for the Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 5 (lost to Judge David Fleischer)
  • Chris Daniel, former candidate for Harris County District Clerk (lost to Marilyn Burgess)

These filings are in addition to previously announced contests by:

  • Erin Lunceford, former candidate for the 189th District Court (lost to Judge Tamika Craft)
  • Tami Pierce, former candidate for the 180th District Court (lost to Judge DaSean Jones)
  • Alexandra Mealer, former candidate for Harris County Judge (lost to Judge Lina Hidalgo)
  • Mike May, former candidate for State Representative District 135 (lost to Representative Jon Rosenthal)

Below is the statement from the County Attorney released this morning:

“This is a shameful attempt by a group of losing candidates who couldn’t win the hearts and minds of Harris County voters and are now throwing nonsensical legal theories at the wall to see what sticks. Each of them should be deeply embarrassed and these claims should not be taken seriously by the public,” said Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee. “These losing candidates are finally laying bare what we all know to be true – for them, it’s not about improving elections or making sure our elections are secure, it’s about playing games with our democratic systems and refusing to accept the will of the voters.”

The contests being filed request that the more than one million votes cast in Harris County be voided and the county hold another election for the races being challenged (e.g., Harris County Judge, 189th District Court, 180th District Court, etc.).

“These election contests are frivolous attempts to overturn the votes of more than a million residents in the third largest county in the country. The county will now have to spend substantial resources handling these contests, time that could instead be spent serving the people of Harris County,” added County Attorney Menefee. “Voters have moved on. Public servants have moved on. These losing candidates should move on too.”

See here and here for the background. The judge in the Lunceford contest was assigned on December 13, I don’t know what has happened since then. I do know that at least one more loser has filed a loser’s contest, but I don’t care to give any of this any more validity. You can read the Chron story here and their explainer about election contests here. I think the Trib story contains the most relevant bit of information:

The Election Day problems were unlikely to have been substantial enough to swing the results of the Harris County judge’s race, according to Bob Stein, a political science professor at Rice University.

Nearly 70% of voters cast their ballots during the early voting period, but Mealer only cites issues on Election Day itself.

“I’m extremely doubtful that there is a legitimate legal challenge here,” Stein said. “It’s not like voters were told they couldn’t vote or that they had to go home. They were discouraged because the lines were long, or because they were told they’d have to wait.”

Those challenges do not amount to voter suppression, Stein said, but merely suggest that Harris County should operate fewer, better-resourced polling locations.

To make its case, Mealer’s legal team will have to find evidence that more than 18,000 voters were unable to cast ballots on Election Day, and that all of those voters planned to vote for Mealer, Stein said.

And every voter who might have been discouraged by issues at one location could have gone to another one, which would have been at most a couple of minutes away by car. Even at the highest end of the estimate of locations that had issues, more than 90% of them did not. We have multiple locations at which anyone can vote precisely as a hedge against problems at any one specific location. In the old days, when you had to vote at your precinct location, you really were screwed. Now you can just go somewhere else. Even in the case of the loser who lost to DaSean Jones by 449 votes, it’s extremely hard to imagine there could have been enough people who encountered problems and could not vote anywhere else and would have voted for the loser to make a difference. This is all bullshit and should be seen as such. Campos and the Texas Signal have more.

November 2022 mail ballot rejection report

Still getting better, still some room to improve.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judge assigned to hear election loser contest

From the inbox, a press release from Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee:

Judge David Peeples will preside over the election contest filed by Republican candidate Erin Lunceford to void the results of her race for the 189th District Court in the November 2022 Harris County General Election. Judge Peeples has set an initial status conference for today, Tuesday December 13, at 3:00 p.m.

“This will be an important case, and I’m glad to see it’s progressing,” said Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee. “The County will participate in the case, and we plan to make clear that it would be a grave injustice to throw out more than a million legally cast votes, especially given Ms. Lunceford’s completely baseless theories. Each of those votes represents a Harris County resident who participated in our democratic process. That is a sacred act, and we’re going to fight to protect it.”

Judge Peeples is based in San Antonio, and was appointed by the Honorable Susan Brown, the Presiding Judge of the Eleventh Administrative Judicial Region of Texas. Texas law disqualifies the judges in a county from presiding over an election contest filed in that county.

This contest is one of two current requests by losing Republican candidates to throw out the results of the November 2022 election in certain races. The other challenge is regarding State Representative District 135, which will be heard in the State House of Representatives.

“This election took countless hours of work not only by county employees, but by election judges and workers from both parties. We should be looking for ways to support these public servants rather than constantly undermining the hard work it takes to run an election in the third largest county in the country,” added County Attorney Menefee.

See here for the background. If the name sounds familiar, it may be because Judge Peeples was the jurist who ruled that the abortion bounty hunter law SB8 violated the state constitution last December, though he did not issue a statewide injunction against it. I did not see any news items related to this, so what you see here is all I know. Hopefully we will hear more about how this is progressing quickly.

At least we avoided violence

I’ve tried and failed to come up with a better post title than that for this.

After two years of fears of electoral dysfunction and violence, voting rights advocates breathed bated sighs of relief this week as Texas finished a relatively calm midterm election cycle.

“It was a little bit better than I thought, but I also had very low expectations,” said Anthony Gutierrez, executive director of the voting rights group Common Cause Texas. “We were really concerned about violence at the polls, and most of that was pretty limited.”

But he’s not celebrating.

Citing thousands of voter complaints received throughout the midterm cycle, Common Cause and other voter advocacy groups want the Texas Legislature to bolster voter protection and education measures and revisit recently passed laws that empowered partisan poll watchers.

The complaints ranged from long lines, malfunctioning machines and delayed poll site openings to harassment, intimidation, threats and misinformation. Common Cause received at least 3,000 such complaints on its tipline, Gutierrez said, and most of the harassment, misinformation and intimidation allegations came from voters of color, sparking fears that there were targeted efforts to quell election turnout in 2022 and future contests.

Other voting rights groups said this week that they saw a similar number of complaints. They warned that even isolated incidents can have reverberating effects on voter confidence or exacerbate political tensions that are already at dangerous levels.

“It could be chilling to thousands and thousands of voters,” said Emily Eby, senior election protection attorney for the Texas Civil Rights Project. “We can’t underestimate the impact of fear entering the voting equation.”

The 2022 cycle was the first major electoral contest since the passage of Senate Bill 1, a package of voting laws that the Texas Legislature pursued in part due to unfounded claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election. The legislation tightened mail-in voter identification requirements, banned drive-thru and 24-hour voting and curtailed early-voting hours.

Voting and civil rights groups warned at the time that the new law — coupled with rising election denialism — would disproportionately disenfranchise voters of color in Texas. In 2020, Texas had the most Black eligible voters in the nation, the second-largest number of Hispanic eligible voters and the third-largest number of Asian eligible voters, according to Pew Research Center. Texas has routinely ranked among the nation’s most restrictive for voting due to, among other things, its tight rules on mail-in and absentee ballots. This year, Texas ranked 46th out of 50 states for ease of voting, according to the Election Law Journal’s annual Cost of Voting Index.

I drafted this right after the election and am just running it now. You can read the rest, I don’t have much to add. I was pleasantly surprised that early voting went as smoothly as it did, and while there were some polling place issues in Harris County they were snafus and not the result of intimidation or sabotage, despite the risible efforts to nullify the results. There were some issues with poll watchers elsewhere in the state but I didn’t hear of anything here. Nationally, at least at this very minute, there seems to be a moment of reckoning for election denialism, though given the results here there’s no reason to believe any Texas Republican has had anything remotely close to a change of heart on that score. I too am glad we made it through this election without anything horrible happening, but I don’t know that I’m more optimistic about 2024. Ask me again later, I sure hope I can give a different answer.

And now we have a judicial loser contesting the election

The Republicans did warn us they’d be sore losers.

Republican judicial candidate Erin Lunceford filed a petition Wednesday seeking a new election in Harris County’s 189th judicial district court race after losing by 2,743 votes out of more than 1 million ballots cast.

Lunceford’s opponent, Democrat Tamika Craft, won the election by 0.26 percent of the vote.

The petition, which names Lunceford as the contestant and Craft as contestee, claims numerous violations of the Texas Election Code, including a failure to provide a sufficient amount of ballot paper to 25 polling locations.

Harris County Republican Party Chair Cindy Siegel indicated there could be more election contests to come.

“During the last month, we’ve had a lot of our candidates that were in very close races that have been talking to us wanting to know the information that we’ve accumulated and have reported,” Siegel said. “Several of them are considering election contests.”

Andy Taylor, general counsel for the Harris County GOP, is representing Lunceford.

Taylor accused Harris County Elections Administrator Cliff Tatum, who took over the office starting in August, of intentionally causing ballot paper shortages in Republican-leaning neighborhoods.

“If it was just mismanagement, it was just gross incompetence, wouldn’t one think that the lack of paper would apply equally and uniformly across the map, so that there would be roughly an equivalent number of Democratic stronghold precinct neighborhoods as well as Republican precinct stronghold neighborhoods?” Taylor said. “And, yet, that’s not the way it’s breaking.”

Taylor alleged 80 percent of polling places with paper shortages on Nov. 8 were in areas considered Republican strongholds.

“I want to send a message to the Harris County elections administrator,” Taylor said. “Mr. Tatum, your day of reckoning has just started.”

In a statement, Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee said his office will keep a close eye on Lunceford’s election contest.

“I’m disappointed to see another losing candidate challenging the results of their election. Judge Lunceford previously served on the bench, so I trust she understands the seriousness of asking a court to disregard the votes of over a million residents across Harris County,” Menefee said. “This case will focus on the details of every aspect of the November 8 election in Harris County. My office will be involved in the case every step of the way to ensure people’s votes are protected.”

The petition is filed in Harris County, but the case will be heard by a judge from outside the county, according to Menefee’s office.

So many things to say, so I’ll bullet-point it:

– This is different from the ridiculous election contest filed in HD135 by a candidate that lost by 15 points and over 6,000 votes. That one would be heard in the House by a House committee, if Speaker Phelan for some reason doesn’t toss it as a frivolous waste of time. This one will be heard in a courtroom.

– As a reminder and a general principle, never believe a word Andy Taylor says.

– To put it another way, good luck proving intent. Also, reports from the field on Election Day about paper issues were very much coming from Democratic sites. The Texas Organizing Project didn’t file its lawsuit to extend voting hours because of problems in The Villages and Cy-Fair.

– Random fact: In 2020, Democrat Jane Robinson lost her race for Chief Justice of the 14th Court of Appeals by 1,191 votes out over over 2.3 million cast, a margin of 0.06 percent of the vote. You know what she did? She conceded gracefully and went on with her life.

– Another reminder: There were 782 voting locations on Election Day, and you could vote at any of them. There were a half-dozen voting locations within walking distance of my house on Election Day. Anyone who ran into a problem at one location could have gone to another. By all accounts, there were maybe 20-25 sites that have paper issues. That left a mere 750 or so alternatives, including ones that would have been very close by.

– In other words, please find me the people who showed up to vote at a location that was having paper problems, and did not wait for them to be fixed, did not go to another location, did not come back later, and as a result did not vote. You really gonna claim that there were over two thousand of them, and all of them were going to vote for Erin Lunceford?

– Did I mention that the Republicans opposed the extension of voting hours in Harris County (and not in red-voting Bell County, which also had voting location issues), and also opposed the counting of provisional ballots cast by people who voted after 7 PM? As I said before, the obvious way to deal with delays in opening a given voting location is to push back the closing time for it. But the Republicans opposed that at every turn.

– Can you imagine what the Republican response to this would be if it were a Democrat complaining about voting location problems? You could have voted elsewhere! You could have voted early! It’s your own damn fault you didn’t vote! Look at how zealously they opposed all of the efforts to expand voting access in the pandemic, including the third week of early voting that Greg Abbott ordered. You’re immunocompromised and you want to vote by mail or from your car because you’re afraid of a deadly disease? Too bad!

– The remedy, if they somehow win on these laughable claims, would be to redo the entire damn election. To say the least, that is a massive, massive upending of the regular democratic order. The amount of evidence they’d need to provide to come close to justifying such an ask, I can’t even begin to comprehend.

– But really, this is all about making noise and trying to cast doubt on the election administrator’s office and government in general in Harris County. It’s just the Big Lie in a slightly sanitized package.

Your periodic reminder that Ken Paxton’s vote fraud claims are bullshit

A long Chron story that documents the bullshit.

The only criminal involved

The first of the big cases to fizzle was in Gregg County.

Prosecutors and local politicians announced an investigation soon after county commissioner candidate Shannon Brown won the March 2018 Precinct 4 primary by only five votes. But it wasn’t until six weeks before the 2020 general election that Paxton unveiled a 134-count indictment charging Brown, his wife and two election workers with illegally rounding up mail ballots.

“We have a county commissioner under indictment for mail ballot fraud,” Sen. Bryan] Hughes said last year at a signing ceremony for his elections bill in nearby Tyler. “Anybody who tells you there is no voter fraud in Texas is telling you a very big lie.”

Early this year, however, the case quietly and dramatically shriveled. Each defendant admitted to a single misdemeanor infraction. Brown, who apologized for one technical election code violation, stayed in office. (He lost re-election in this spring’s Democratic primary.)

Officials have repeatedly refused to explain how a 134-felony indictment deflated to a four-misdemeanor violation. District Attorney Tom Watson, who is leaving office at the end of the year, did not return calls.

Another signature case took a hit this summer when a Hidalgo County jury acquitted former Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina of 12 counts of election fraud.

Molina was arrested in 2019 for “orchestrating an organized illegal voting scheme,” according to an attorney general’s office news release. Prosecutors said he tried to persuade voters to change their addresses — in some cases to an apartment complex he owned — so they could vote for him.

Molina, who won the 2017 race by more than 1,200 votes, said the case was instigated by a political opponent. At his August trial, he said he had relied on published opinions from the Texas Secretary of State and attorney general to try to decipher a vague state law describing where a person could claim to live for voting purposes. He noted the Legislature changed the law in 2021 to include more precise language.

“Nobody tried to hide anything,” added his lawyer, Jaime Pena.

It is unclear how Molina’s verdict will affect the still-pending cases of his wife and more than a dozen residents alleged to have reported moving into Edinburg to vote for him.

There’s more, but you get the idea. One key point that the story makes is that Paxton will pile on the charges – for example, including an individual charge for each alleged illegal vote – even though there’s no legal advantage in doing so, as any punishment would be concurrent and not consecutive, meaning that 100 convictions would result in the same jail time as one conviction. But by doing so he can make the claim that there are “hundreds” of pending cases, even if the reality is a handful of defendants each with a bunch of charges for the same alleged offense. It’s the oldest play in the book, one he inherited from Greg Abbott back when it was Abbott’s job to pursue vindictive yet utterly baseless charges against people who for the most part did nothing criminal. The fear and the screaming headlines are the point.

To be fair, this sort of bullshit is happening in plenty of other places. It’s just that the primary effect is to ruin people’s lives and to scare others into not voting. We’re not dealing with rational actors here, but that doesn’t mean they can’t do real damage. And we’re in for another at least two years of it here.

Mail ballot rejections were down for November

Good, but still room for more improvement.

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

So what if anything will come of that SCOTx ruling on the extra voting time?

I have no idea.

The Texas Supreme Court on Tuesday set the stage for a legal fight over whether to count ballots Harris County voters cast during an extended hour of voting ordered by a lower court.

That lower court ordered that the state’s most populous county extend voting hours until 8 p.m. after several polling places were delayed in opening. The state’s highest civil court blocked that ruling and ordered Harris County to separate ballots cast by voters who were not in line by 7 p.m., the normal cutoff for voting in Texas. The Supreme Court’s order followed a request by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to reverse the lower court’s order. The Supreme Court posted the order on Twitter at 8:30 p.m.

It’s unclear how many votes were cast during the extra hour of voting, but Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee raised the prospect that the state would ask for those votes to be thrown out. The attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether they would pursue such action.

Voters who got in line after 7 p.m. were required to cast a provisional ballot, which the county had already said would take more time to process and would not be initially counted in election night returns. Harris County is home to nearly 2.6 million registered voters.

The order to keep polls open an extra hour at nearly 800 polling places came after the Texas Organizing Project sued Harris County, citing issues at numerous polling locations that opened more than one hour late Tuesday. Many Harris County voting locations also experienced voting machine malfunctions that caused delays and temporary closures throughout the day, the lawsuit claimed. The county did not fight the request for extra voting time.

“We didn’t oppose the original relief because we want to make sure every single eligible voter in Harris County has the chance to cast their ballot, and there were polling places that had some issues,” Menefee said. “But the Supreme Court of Texas will decide what happens here.”

In its request for extra voting time, the Texas Organizing Project argued the delayed openings violated the Texas Election Code because polling locations that opened after 7 a.m. would not remain open to voters for 12 hours. State law says polls must be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

In a court motion filed earlier Tuesday, the attorney general’s office argued that a county’s failure to open polls at 7 a.m. does not justify ordering them to remain open past 7 p.m.

[…]

“We went to court because these closures and errors, especially in communities of color across Harris County, robbed voters of the opportunity to cast their ballot,” said Hani Mirza, the voting rights program director at the Texas Civil Rights Project, which filed the lawsuit. “These folks got to the polls early, wanting to do their civic duty, and they would have were it not for these issues.”

Earlier in the day, a state district judge also ordered polling places to remain open an extra hour in Bell County in Central Texas. It is unclear if the attorney general’s office is also challenging that extension.

See here for some background, and here for a Twitter thread from the TCRP about their filing. At this point, I don’t believe any election is close enough to be potentially affected by however many provisional votes there could be. (I have no idea what that number is now, we’ll find out after the election is canvassed.) It would be nice to settle this as a matter of law and precedent, of course, and I would strongly argue that the voters shouldn’t be put in a position to be disenfranchised because of issues with a polling location – sometimes things go very wrong and it’s nobody’s fault – but I’m under no illusion that the Supreme Court will see it that way. Honestly, they’ll probably declare it moot once the provisional ballot numbers are confirmed, and that may be the best result we can hope to achieve. At least then there will be hope for the next time these things happen.

UPDATE: From the Chron:

Harris County officials declined to provide the number of voters who cast ballots during the extended period. The state’s highest civil court ordered these ballots be set aside until it issued a final ruling. In the meantime, all the votes during this period remain in legal limbo.

The Harris County district judge ordered that votes after the original 7 p.m. closing time be cast as provisional ballots, which are not counted until election workers confirm a voter’s eligibility.

Harris County Election Administrator Clifford Tatum declined to state how many ballots were cast during the extended period, but said Wednesday he didn’t believe any races would be affected by those provisional votes – or any provisional ballots left to count for other reasons.

“I don’t believe there are enough provisional ballots,” he said.

[…]

As of unofficial results, at least four district and county judicial races that flipped from Democrat- to Republican-held were close, separated by vote margins in the thousands and one as small as about 500.

As noted above, incumbent judge Dasean Jones is currently trailing by 465 votes, the closest countywide race. Jones won on Election Day with 50.24% of the vote. That means that if there are 10,000 provisional votes resulting from the problems with voting locations – this is, I want to emphasize, a huge over-estimate of the number of provisional ballots, but it’s a nice round number and will be nicely illustrative – and they vote at the same percentage for Jones, he’d have a net gain of 48 votes (524 to 476 for Jones). Of course, these problems occurred at specific locations which likely have more partisan characteristics – there’s no reason why they’d vote in exactly the same way as the county overall. Jones would need to win these 10K votes with 52.33% in order to pull ahead. If there are 5,000 provisional votes, he’d need to win them with 54.66% of the vote. If it’s 1000 provisional votes, it would need to be 73.3% of the vote. You get the idea. I don’t think it would be impossible for Dasean Jones to win with these votes, but unless those are extremely Democratic locations, the math is pretty challenging. For the candidates who lost by larger margins, even if those margins are tiny in absolute terms, it quickly becomes impossible to make up the ground. This is why recounts basically never change the outcome of even the closest elections.

UPDATE: There were still votes being counted when I wrote this. Looks like mostly mail ballots – there are another 1,116 of them in the latest report. County turnout is just over 1.1 million now. The bottom line, since mail ballots were much more Democratic than in person ballots, is that as of this writing Dasean Jones is now trailing by 165 votes, having closed the gap by 300. However, I think this is the end of that line. But if indeed there are a significant number of provisional ballots and they are mostly accepted, then the chances that Jones could edge ahead are greater than what the math had suggested before. I still think it’s unlikely, but it’s less unlikely now.

What AG “task force”?

Who knows?

Best mugshot ever

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does the task force actually exist?

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

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

Justice Department agrees to send election monitors

Good.

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

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

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

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

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

Fewer mail ballots rejected in November

Good, but still could be better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

John Scott keeps wanting to have it both ways

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How long has it been since the Fifth Circuit upheld a voter suppression law?

However long it’s been, they’re back at it.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A federal appeals court on Wednesday revived a 2021 Texas law that set new residency requirements for voter registration, including one that civil rights groups alleged essentially blocked college students from signing up.

The ruling by a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court’s ruling that blocked most of the law for creating an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote.

[…]

The judges found the groups, LULAC and Voto Latino, failed to prove they had endured harm as a result of the law and therefore lacked standing.

“It’s unfortunate that we have such a conservative, anti-voting rights 5th Circuit,” LULAC President Domingo Garcia said. “We’ve been representing Latinos of Texas since 1929. This is the first time in recent memory a court has ruled we do not have standing. We believe we were right on the merits that this is a voter suppression bill that should be overturned.”

Garcia added that the group plans to request a rehearing by the full court, which is often considered one of the most conservative courts in the country.

Senate Bill 1111, which took effect Sept. 1 of last year, requires that anyone using a P.O. Box to register must also provide documentation of a physical residential address, such as a photocopy of a driver’s license.

It also prohibits voters from establishing or maintaining a residence “for the purpose of influencing the outcome of a certain election.”

Lastly, it bars voters from establishing a residence in a place they have not inhabited or at a previous residence, unless they live there at the time of the designation and intend to remain there.

“It’s a recognition of the obvious that they really didn’t have standing and they are not harmed because all (the bill) does is simply say: Don’t register at an impossible address,” said state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, who authored the bill.

LULAC and Voto Latino had argued that the law had forced them to have to divert resources toward educating the public about the changes and it chilled their speech when it came to what they could say about how to register to vote.

Garcia said LULAC spent more than $1 million to counteract election laws like SB 1111, but the judges sided with Texas in finding that the group failed to show how such expenses were directly related to that law, as several election laws were passed in 2021.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel mostly left the P.O. Box provision in-tact, reasoning that the state has an interest in preventing voter registration fraud and the request for verification of a physical address is not a severe burden. A response to that request with a new address, Yeakel clarified, should be considered a change of address with no further action needed.

Yeakel had enjoined the two other provisions. He argued that there are valid reasons for changing an address that may influence the outcome of an election but not in a malicious way, such as “voting, volunteering with a political campaign, or running for an elected office.”

The final provision relating to where a person lives or intends to stay would make registration near-impossible for college students, senators or other groups of people who live in multiple locations throughout the year, Yeakel said.

“The burden imposed is ‘severe,’ if not insurmountable,” Yeakel wrote. “Such an insurmountable burden is not easily overcome … And the possible repercussions are not just complete disenfranchisement, but also criminal liability.”

See here for the background. You will note that I anticipated this outcome, so at least I’ve got that going for me. I would just like to know, if this law is constitutional, if we can prevent certain lowlife perennial candidates from registering at warehouses around town for the purposes of establishing “residency” to run for office. I’m sure the Fifth Circuit will be able to justify that, I would just like to see them do it.

Charges dropped against Hervis Rogers

Good, but this whole thing was an enraging travesty and in no way makes things right.

Hervis Rogers

Voter fraud charges against Hervis Rogers, who garnered widespread attention for waiting hours in line to vote at a Houston polling location during the March 2020 presidential primary, have been dismissed.

Attorney General Ken Paxton ordered Rogers’ arrest in July 2021 on charges that he voted while on parole. Over a year later, after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reiterated that the attorney general doesn’t have the ability to unilaterally prosecute election crimes, a district court judge has dropped the two counts of illegal voting against Rogers.

“I am thankful that justice has been done,” Rogers said in a statement.

Rogers is over 60 years old, so a conviction could have resulted in what amounted to a life sentence.

“It has been horrible to go through this, and I am so glad my case is over. I look forward to being able to get back to my life,” he added in the statement.

See here for the background. As a reminder, Hervis Rogers was initially jailed on a $100,000 bond – which is higher than what is often assessed on murder suspects – in Montgomery County. Not Harris County, where he voted, but Montgomery because Ken Paxton figured he’d have a better shot at conviction there. Literally everything about this was wrong, and it’s only because the Court of Criminal Appeals actually applied the state constitution that an even larger miscarriage of justice was avoided. Now if there were justice, Hervis Rogers would be able to sue not only the state of Texas but Ken Paxton personally for the needless suffering inflicted on him. None of that is going to happen, but the one thing we can do is vote Ken Paxton out of office, and never give him the chance to do this to someone else. The Chron has more.

Of course voters of color has more mail ballots rejected

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

Harris County asks for federal vote monitors

I agree with this.

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our big mail ballot test is now underway

Sure hope we do better this time.

Harris County officials on Monday urged residents to follow the correct mail voting guidance as the end-of-the-month deadline to apply for mail-in ballots for the 2022 midterm elections nears.

This year’s primary elections in March experienced a surge in mail ballot rejections due to voter confusion over new requirements passed under Senate Bill 1. The new law requires residents to provide their Texas drivers license number or Social Security number when applying for a mail ballot and on the envelope containing their completed ballot. The number must match the number associated with their voter registration.

The Texas Secretary of State earlier this year said voters could put both numbers on their ballots and applications to avoid having them rejected.

Across the state, more than 12 percent of all mail ballots – nearly 25,000 – were rejected during the primaries. The rate was six times what it was in the 2018 midterm election. In Harris County, the rejection rate reached 40 percent initially before falling to 19 percent.

Areas with sizable Black populations were 44 percent more likely to see their ballots rejected than heavily white areas, according to a New York Times analysis based on data by the Harris County election administrator’s office.

Ballot rejection numbers were driven down by the time of the primary runoffs after election officials in some counties included additional instructions about identification requirements with voters’ mail ballots.

[…]

Since the primaries, the Elections Administration Office has implemented new measures to ensure a smoother voter experience for the midterms, according to Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum. That includes the addition of customer support specialists to assist mail-in voters and dozens of community events to raise awareness of proper voting procedures, Tatum said.

As you know, I’ve blogged about this a lot – see here for the most recent entry. I was encouraged by the improvements in the two May elections, but there are still a lot of people who will be voting for the first time under the new law, and the potential for a lot of rejections remains. My older daughter, now attending college out of state, will get to experience it herself. I hope these efforts have the desired effect. If you or someone you know will be voting by mail for the first time this fall, follow the instructions and use both the drivers license number and the SSN unless you know for sure which number you used on your voter registration. Don’t let your ballot get tossed out. KUHF has more.

The professional vote-deniers are out there

They’re probing the systems for weaknesses, a line that reminds me of the velociraptors in the original Jurassic Park. Except that the ‘raptors were sleek and efficient predators, while these guys are basically Pennywise with canned scripts and a huge wingnut-funded budget. The malice is still there, though.

Two of Donald Trump’s most prominent allies in his fight to overturn the 2020 election are leading a coordinated, multi-state effort to probe local election officials in battlegrounds such as Michigan, Arizona, and Texas ahead of the November election.

The America Project, an organization founded by Michael Flynn, a retired three-star general and former national security adviser, and former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne, has so far interviewed or attempted to interview officials in nearly 200 counties across eight swing states, according to copies of notes, recordings of the interviews, and other documents Votebeat found on web pages associated with the organization. The survey questions reflect the same debunked conspiracies and misleading information about elections that Flynn and Byrne have been propagating for years.

The survey questions appear intended to detect potential weaknesses in local election systems and gather detailed information about how elections are run. Election experts say the information could easily be used to fuel misinformation campaigns, disrupt voting, or challenge results.

“It seems consistent with their efforts to really understand how to manipulate the machinery of election administration in this country,” said Ben Berwick, counsel at national nonprofit Protect Democracy, a research and advocacy group.

In 2020, Byrne and Flynn were among the Trump loyalists who devised a plan to seize voting machines across the country and dig up enough evidence of fraud to persuade state lawmakers, Congress, or the vice president to overturn the election results. Now, they are focusing their efforts on the midterm election, with new strategies. A group backed by The America Project, for example, is attempting to purge voter rolls in Georgia ahead of the election.

The surveys are part of The America Project’s latest mission, dubbed “Operation Eagles Wings,” which is organized on foramericafirst.com, with web pages for each of the swing states the group is focused on. Key to the effort is building relationships with local election officials, according to two manuals for local volunteers on the organization’s websites. The officials are asked their opinions on debunked conspiracy theories, perhaps to determine whether they are like-minded individuals. Interviewers are also marking down which clerks are particularly helpful.

Berwick points out that it’s the mission of prominent Trump supporters to fill positions of power — from governors down to local clerks — with people who believe their allegations of election fraud and improprieties. Noting who does and does not support the cause, he said, may be the group’s way of determining “who will be sympathetic to their efforts in the future.”

Election officials have generally been friendly to their interviewers, but have also repeatedly assured them that their elections are fair, voting machines are secure, and voter rolls are accurate.

[…]

A key goal of Operation Eagles Wings is to create small volunteer teams across the country who observe the entirety of the election process, starting in part with the surveys, according to the manuals Votebeat found.

It’s the expansion of what they have dubbed “the Virginia model,” which refers to the work of Cleta Mitchell’s Election Integrity Network in Virginia to create a network for the state’s 2021 election, according to the manuals.* The America Project provided funding to that effort.

The larger Operation Eagles Wings initiative is aimed at educating “election reform activists on everything from grassroots training to election canvassing and fundraising,” according to The America Project’s website. The site claims the group provides training “for Americans who want to make sure there are no repeats of the errors that happened in the 2020 election.”

“We need to do everything in our power to protect the voting process from election meddlers who care only about serving crooked special interest groups that neither respect nor value the rule of law,” the homepage says.

Along with the surveys, the initiative encourages election skeptics to serve as poll workers and observers, perform in-person “voter registration audits,” and to visit “large farms, factories, businesses and especially care homes,” and ask residents whether anyone is forcing them to vote, according to the manuals.

It’s a long story and Votebeat does its typically thorough job of documenting the atrocities. I don’t know what the best way to respond to this is, but I do know that if we don’t figure it out, and find a way to fund it, we’re going to be screwed.

At least one local voter purge effort has been thwarted

For now, at least. Like flies to garbage, though, you know they’ll be back for more.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The Harris County Elections Administrator’s Office received a flood of affidavits this summer challenging the eligibility of thousands of registered voters throughout the county, accusing them of not living at the addresses listed on registration records.

None of the affidavits led to county elections officials removing any names from the voter rolls.

The affidavits are linked to efforts by a conservative grass-roots organization called the Texas Election Network, which earlier this year attempted to get Sunnyside residents to sign forms verifying the identities of registered voters living at their addresses.

Each affidavit alleges that numerous registered voters in Harris County “do not reside at the addresses listed on their voter registration records,” as required by state election law. Upon receiving a sworn statement challenging a voter’s residence, election officials must send a “Notice of Address Confirmation” to the voter in question.

The challenges were first reported by The New York Times, which found the affidavits disputed the eligibility of more than 6,000 voters.

In all, the Elections Administrator’s Office received 115 affidavits, according to Leah Shah, a spokesperson for the elections office.

Of those, Shah said, 66 were rejected because they “did not meet statutory requirements and contained incomplete information.”

Another 49 challenges came in after Aug. 10, the 90th day before the election. The National Voter Registration Act of 1993, known as the “motor voter act,” bars election officials from performing most voter roll maintenance activities within 90 days of a federal election. The restriction applies to any program intended to “systematically remove the names of ineligible voters from the official list of eligible voters,” including “general mailings and door to door canvasses,” according to the Justice Department.

Each of the forms submitted by various Harris County residents cited voter registration data retrieved by the Texas Election Network, along with the residents’ own canvassing efforts.

“I have personally been told by persons actually residing at these addresses that the challenged voter does not reside at that address and is not only temporarily absent from that address with an intent to return,” the affidavits read. “I am requesting that the Harris County Elections Administrator take the actions required by the Texas Election Code.”

Shah said the office “will work in coordination with the county attorney’s office to review and determine the validity of all challenges on a case-by-case basis” after the midterm election.

When the Texas Election Network’s canvassing efforts in Sunnyside came to light in early July, County Attorney Christian Menefee’s office said it was “investigating this issue and exploring legal options to protect residents and prevent this from happening again.”

Asked about the status of the investigation this week, county attorney spokesperson Roxanne Werner said, “Although we have not found any further activity by this group, we are continuing to monitor the situation and will take action if appropriate. We won’t allow any group to engage in illegal conduct to try and remove registered voters off the rolls.”

See here (scroll down) for the background. I do hope the County Attorney’s Office keeps an eye on this activity, because we know it’s ill-intentioned bullshit and it deserves to be closely scrutinized. Don’t ever give them an inch.

I wish I knew how to turn the heat down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More on the Gillespie County elections office resignations

From Votebeat, how this mess got started.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paxton finds a new way to be two-faced

I mean, what were we supposed to believe?

Best mugshot ever

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paxton issues deranged opinion on access to ballots

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

Best mugshot ever

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

All of Gillespie County’s elections staff resigns

Who could blame them?

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Election officials and workers need our help

We’ve identified the problem. That’s good. Now let’s do something to fix it.

Misinformation about elections has led to violent threats against election workers in Texas and other states — including one who was told “we should end your bloodline” — according to a new report released by a House panel Thursday.

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform heard from one county election official in Texas that he received death threats after being singled out by out-of-state candidates who claimed the 2020 election was stolen. Those threats quickly escalated and eventually included his family and staff.

Tarrant County Elections Administrator Heider Garcia received social media messages including, “hunt him down,” “needs to leave Texas and U.S. as soon as possible,” and “hang him when convicted for fraud and let his lifeless body hang in public until maggots drip out of his mouth.”

The report said Garcia had to call law enforcement when his home address was leaked and calls for physical violence against himself and his family increased — eventually leading to threats against his children that included “I think we should end your bloodline.” Law enforcement determined that none of the threats broke the law, but they did provide coordination and additional patrol around his neighborhood.

The findings are the latest evidence of how former President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims that the 2020 election was rigged against him have taken root as they have been echoed by his supporters, including Texas Republicans who passed new voting restrictions last year.

The report comes as polling released this week indicates two-thirds of Texans who identify as Republicans still do not believe the 2020 election was legitimate. The June survey by the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin found 66 percent of Texas Republicans said they don’t believe President Joe Biden legitimately won the election. That was unchanged from February when they were asked the same question.

The report is part of a longrunning effort by congressional Democrats to push back on Trump’s claims and new voting restrictions in states, including Texas.

“Election officials are under siege,” said U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat who chairs the oversight panel. “They face growing campaigns of harassment and threats, all driven by false accusations of fraud.”

[…]

Garcia wrote that Sidney Powell, Trump’s former lawyer who sought to overturn the 2020 election, appeared on Fox News pushing bunk claims about voting machines turning Tarrant County blue. Garcia was also targeted by Michelle Malkin, a conservative commentator on Newsmax, and far-right website The Gateway Pundit.

Their attacks on Garcia came when Biden won the typically red county by 0.2 percentage points after Trump had led the initial count on election night, before late absentees and provisional ballots were included.

“What followed in the next 4 to 6 weeks was a terrible time of threats and concerns for the safety of my family, my staff and myself,” Garcia wrote.

The House panel in April sent letters to elections administrators in Texas, Arizona, Florida and Ohio asking how misinformation had impacted their work. The report’s findings are based, in part, on responses by Remy Garza, a Cameron County election official who is president of the Texas Association of Election Administrators.

Garza told the committee that during debates in the legislature over proposed changes to voting laws, public testimony frequently included “broad generalizations of alleged fraud” and “repeated misleading information about actions taken by the Harris County clerk responsible for the November 2020 election.”

Garza said the bills Texas Republicans passed were inspired by “false information” and were also sometimes impossible for elections administrators to implement. For instance, the state Legislature enacted a requirement for voting machines to produce a paper record without providing the necessary funds to cover the costs of converting existing equipment to comply, as well as other requirements that are not possible in counties that don’t have certain elections systems.

I have a hard time understanding how those threats against Heider Garcia’s family would not be considered violations of the law. If that’s the case, then the law needs to be updated, because we just can’t have that in a world where we also want free and fair elections run by competent people. Various provisions to offer protection to election officials were included in the voting rights bills that passed the House but were doomed by the filibuster in the Senate. I’m hopeful we’ll get an update to the Electoral Count Act of 1877 to shore up the weaknesses that Trump tried to exploit in 2020, but I seriously doubt that an amendment to include those election official protections could be added, for the same filibuster-related reasons. We’re going to need the same “hold the House and expand the Dem majority in the Senate” parlay to have some hope for this next year. I hope we can wait that long. The Trib has more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some good news.

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Law against some new voter registration restrictions is struck down

Good, though one must always remember the threat of the Fifth Circuit.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A federal judge on Tuesday night blocked a Texas law passed in 2021 that put new restrictions on people trying to register to vote in the state.

The decision by U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel was celebrated by one of the Latino groups that had sued the state and claimed the law was an attempt to disenfranchise Latino voters.

Senate Bill 1111 was passed during the 2021 Texas Legislative session. The bill, which passed the House and Senate on party-line votes, required people who register to vote using a P.O. box to provide proof of a home address to ensure that they vote only in eligible elections.

[…]

The law didn’t bar people from using P.O. boxes for voter registration, but required people registering to vote with a post office box to provide other proof, like a drivers license or utility bill, to show proof of address. The lawsuit called that requirement an unfair burden.

Part of the lawsuit challenged a section of the law that prohibited people from establishing residence “for the purpose of influencing the outcome of a certain election.” That language could lead to unintended consequences, the groups argued.

The groups, the Texas chapter of League of United Latin American Citizens and Voto Latino, also said they suffered direct harm from the law because they had to divert resources away from their missions to assist its members in overcoming new barriers to registration and voting.

In a summary judgement, Yeakel found that the groups had suffered “direct harms” to their finances and to their First Amendment rights under the law, and that the state used vague language in the law and that parts of the fail “any degree of constitutional scrutiny.”

The judge ruled that the law particularly burdened part-time and off-campus college students, who would be left unable to register both where they have moved and where they have moved from.

“The burden imposed is ‘severe,’ if not insurmountable,” Yeakel wrote. “Such an insurmountable burden is not easily overcome.”

The state was permanently enjoined from enforcing the parts of the election code created by S.B. 1111.

See here for the background. Democracy Docket, which was involved in the litigation, has a more detailed description of what was at issue and what the ruling says.

Specifically, the plaintiffs challenged three major provisions of S.B. 1111 that prohibited voters from registering to vote using a prior address after they moved, prevented voters from registering to vote where they did not live full time and created stricter ID requirements for those registering to vote using a P.O. box. Yesterday, the court prevented Texas officials from enforcing the first two provisions in full and the third P.O. box restriction in part (the court found that Texas cannot enforce the provision if it’s clear to registrars that voters do not permanently reside at the P.O. box address at which they register, but the state can otherwise enforce additional requirements for P.O. box registrations). This means voters will not be subject to the strict residency requirements in S.B. 1111 outside of proving their residence when registering using a P.O. box address.

In the order ruling in favor of the plaintiffs, the court illustrates S.B. 1111’s burden on college students who live on campus and want to register to vote: “The burden imposed [by SB 1111] is ‘severe,’ if not insurmountable. Such an insurmountable burden is not easily overcome. Certainly not by Texas’s stated interest in ensuring Texans only have one residence. Instead the law renders some Texans without any residence [to vote].” However, the court states that Texas’ interests “justify the PO Box Provision” in reference to voters claiming to live at PO box addresses: “Voter-registration fraud is at risk where voters improperly use a PO Box as their residence address; voters may have a PO Box from the United States Postal Service at many post-office locations in Texas, even if the voters’ home or business is elsewhere.” In cases where the voter is not claiming to live at the P.O. box address, the state has no interest in imposing this burden and cannot do so.

Given the shenanigans we see all the damn time with rich people registering at second houses or apartments of convenience (hello, Kubosh Brothers!) or warehouses for the purposes of running for a particular office, I have a hard time believing that Texas really has an interest in “ensuring Texans only have one residence”. Hell, even some people who lived and voted in other states have registered at Texas addresses for that purpose with no problems. The state of Texas, in its current political configuration, cares a lot about where some people say they live when they register to vote, and cares not at all about others. That in and of itself makes this law suspect. I approve of this ruling, but I am aware that the Fifth Circuit exists, and I would expect them to bat this aside as they do any time Ken Paxton comes calling. So don’t celebrate this one just yet. LULAC’s statement on the ruling is here.

Grifters always stick together

Two shitty tastes that taste even shittier together.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is pretty familiar with Catherine Engelbrecht. He’s been a guest on her podcast, chatting about their shared passion: rooting out voter fraud. They both have gone to great lengths to try to support former President Donald Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was stolen.

And when Engelbrecht, founder of the nonprofit True the Vote, has found herself in hot water, Paxton’s office has turned out to be a helpful ally.

Most recently, a state judge sided with Engelbrecht’s argument that it should be Paxton’s office – not a court – that should probe allegations made by a True the Vote donor who says he was swindled out of $2.5 million.

But more than a year after the case was dismissed, Paxton’s office won’t say whether it ever investigated the donor dispute. Last month, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting found that True the Vote had engaged in a series of questionable transactions that sent more than $1 million to Engelbrecht and other insiders, while failing to back up its voter fraud claims.

In the reporting of that story, Paxton’s office withheld financial documents and email communications from Reveal and issued contradictory and inaccurate statements about the nonprofit, which has been a leading voice in driving the voter fraud movement from the political fringes to the core of GOP ideology.

The embattled attorney general this year skated through a contested primary race. But he faces potential disbarment for attempting to overturn the 2020 presidential election results, is under investigation by the FBI, is getting sued by whistleblowers in his office and awaits trial for a seven-year-old felony indictment for securities fraud. In their lawsuit, former staff members have accused him of using his office to provide legal favors to an ally, saying he appointed a special prosecutor to target adversaries of a donor who was under investigation.

His office advocated on Engelbrecht’s behalf before the Texas Supreme Court in 2016 when she got into legal trouble with her previous nonprofit organization, King Street Patriots, for being overtly political. He appeared on her podcast in July 2020, during which Engelbrecht said she considers Paxton a friend.

“I can’t say thank you enough for the dignity and the respect that you bring to that office,” she said.

“I feel blessed to have this opportunity, especially in a time like this. It’s really a crisis,” Paxton replied.

“God bless you. God bless you, Ken Paxton, God bless you. And thank you for all that you and your team do,” Engelbrecht added.

See here for the earlier story of Engelbrecht’s 2020 election-related grifting. Of course Ken Paxton would be her buddy and would be there to help cover up her misdeeds. It’s his core competency. If Rochelle Garza wins election this year, she’s going to have to create an entire division at the AG’s office to investigate all of the malfeasance that Paxton buried, including his own. She may need multiple terms just to get to the bottom of it all. Go read the rest and remind yourself of what could be if she does win this fall.

A piece of the voter suppression law is blocked

Buckle up, this will take a bit of explanation.

Parts of a 2021 Texas voting law that cracked down on assistance for voters with limited English skills and voters with disabilities can no longer be enforced.

A federal judge in Texas issued a ruling last month striking down provisions in Texas’ new law, known as Senate Bill 1, that set limits on how people can help voters cast their ballots. State officials had until last week to appeal the ruling, but they declined. The office of the Texas attorney general has not responded to requests for comment.

Lisa Snead, a litigation attorney at Disability Rights Texas, said the court decision is a big win for voters with disabilities in the state.

“The provision of SB 1 limiting assistance … really limited what voters with disabilities could receive,” she said. “And it had a grave impact on voters who tried to vote in … elections in March and May.”

[…]

Among its provisions, SB 1 restricted assistance to only reading the ballot for a voter, marking the ballot for a voter, directing the voter to read the ballot and directing the voter to mark the ballot.

Groups including the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund went to federal court and argued that the voter assistance parts of SB 1 directly violate a 2018 injunction that ruled that similar limitations in Texas’ election code at the time violated the federal Voting Rights Act. The court agreed and also directed the state to change its training for voting assistants.

In addition, the court barred Texas from including those restrictions in the language of an oath an assistor must swear to when helping voters. SB 1 requires people aiding voters to fill out paperwork disclosing their relationship with the voter and whether they are compensated. It also requires they recite an oath under the penalty of perjury stating they did not “pressure or coerce” the voter into choosing them for assistance.

Debbie Chen with Organization of Chinese Americans of Greater Houston, which was the plaintiff in the 2018 case, said in a statement earlier this month that SB 1 made assistors afraid to answer voters’ questions in the state’s primary elections.

“Asian American voters with limited English often need to ask questions to understand the ballot and the voting process,” Chen said. “This is especially true for people who provide them with assistance and must translate the English ballot and the whole process on the spot.”

This lawsuit was filed in Travis County in September; there was another lawsuit filed at the same time in Bexar County, but that is not a part of this case. I did not see any news stories about the injunction that had been granted, so this is the first update that I’m aware of. The story refers to a 2018 injunction granted from a 2016 lawsuit over similar issues – see here for more on the lawsuit. I had noted the appeal of that injunction, but it seems I lost track of the litigation after that. Sometimes these things don’t make the news, and sometimes they only make the news in places I don’t see.

Anyway. The allegation here is that the latest voter suppression bill contained language that directly violated the terms of the 2018 injunction – in some cases, SB1 more or less directly quoted things that the court had said were enjoined. Some great work by the staff there, fellas. I’m a little surprised the state didn’t bother appealing this to the Fifth Circuit, even though that 2018 injunction had been narrowly tailored to comply with their order remanding the case back so it could be more narrowly written. Maybe there are some things even the Fifth Circuit won’t do. In any event, while there are still many issues with SB1, at least this won’t be among them. Kudos to all for getting this done. The Chron has more.