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Williamson County

DPS asks to be rewarded for its abject failure at Uvalde

I like to think that I don’t get easily shocked, but this did it to me.

The Texas Department of Public Safety wants $1.2 billion to turn its training center north of Austin into a full-time statewide law enforcement academy — starting with a state-of-the-art active-shooter facility that would need a nearly half-billion-dollar investment from Texas taxpayers next year.

“You play like you practice,” DPS Director Steve McCraw told budget officials last month. “You need to practice in a real environment.”

If approved, the requested $466.6 million “down payment,” as McCraw called it, in the state’s 2024-25 budget — which won’t be finalized until the middle of next year — would be the start of a six-year proposal to turn the nearly 200-acre Williamson County DPS Tactical Training Center complex in Florence into a Texas law enforcement academy for use by agencies across the state, he said.

The $1.2 billion project figure does not appear in the agency’s legislative appropriations request, which comes at a time when agencies are making their bids for a share of a historic state cash surplus in the next biennium — and against the backdrop of an emotional debate over what the state needs to do to prevent more mass killings.

A “state-of-the-art” active-shooter facility would be built with the first round of funding next year and could be used “right off the bat,” independent of the rest of the proposed upgrades, to immediately enhance active-shooter response by Texas law enforcement, McCraw said in a brief presentation before the Texas Legislative Budget Board on Oct. 4.

If fully funded over the next three budget cycles, the training academy would cost $1.2 billion and eventually include dormitories, a cafeteria and other elements, McCraw said.

“It’s a cost we recognize as a cost that can’t be borne in any one session. It takes time to build it,” McCraw said of the proposed academy.

He did not specify whether the center would charge fees for other law enforcement agencies to use the facility, if it would draw down any federal funding or what it would cost to run the center beyond the six-year construction budget.

DPS officials did not respond to repeated requests for a copy of the proposed plans for the active-shooter facility or the larger multiyear proposal for the academy, information about whether additional land purchases would be needed or the breakdown of the cost estimate for the upgrades.

The proposed active-shooter facility was part of a presentation made by McCraw to captains at the Texas Highway Patrol, an arm of the DPS, according to meeting minutes obtained by The Texas Tribune. The minutes said the facility would include the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training program — an active-shooter response training system developed 20 years ago at Texas State University in San Marcos that has been the national standard for active-shooter training for a decade.

[…]

Pete Blair, executive director of the ALERRT center at Texas State, said his San Marcos facility is used for several types of first-responder training as well as active-shooter training on site.

Blair hasn’t seen the DPS plans for the proposed site but said a facility that would be considered state of the art might include reconfigurable walls, cameras and similar technological upgrades.

That’s the sort of technology that would be found at facilities like the federal Military Operations in Urban Terrain facility in Quantico, Virginia, which has 17 structures including a school scenario. Another of the nation’s top-tier facilities is at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers Glynco campus, a 1,600-acre facility near Brunswick, Georgia.

Most of the quarter-million first responders the Texas ALERRT center has worked with in the past two decades were trained somewhere besides the Texas State center in San Marcos, Blair said.

“I will say there is a need for training facilities across the state,” Blair said. “We’ve always had more demand than we have money to provide training. So every cycle, it’s been a situation of us having to put departments on the waitlist and say, ‘We’re coming to you, but it’s going to be a while.’”

Here’s my proposal for DPS active shooter training: A single PowerPoint slide that says “Don’t stand around with your thumb up your ass while kids are being murdered.” I can deliver that for a lot less than $1.2 billion, and the results can’t possibly be any worse than what we already had. The idea that we could turn mass shooter situations into a growth industry is just…I can’t. I’m going to go eat some pie. Reform Austin.

Precinct analysis: Early voting versus Election Day

In his pre-election analyses of the early vote, Republican consultant Derek Ryan (whose numbers I have used in the past) suggested that there was still a significant number of regular Republican voters who had not voted yet, which could make Election Day redder than early voting was. I thought I’d take a look at the data to see how accurate that was. Short answer: Pretty accurate.


Candidate   Early%  E-Day%  Total%  Ratio
=========================================
Abbott     53.75%   57.05%  54.80%   1.06
Beto       45.14%   40.98%  43.81%   0.91
Others      1.11%    1.97%   1.39%   1.77

Note that “Early” here includes mail ballots, as the Secretary of State website combines mail ballots with early in person ballots to give that number. “Ratio” is just the Election Day percentage divided by the Early percentage, which you can interpret to mean that Abbott did about six percent better on Election Day while Beto did about nine percent worse. The Others include the Libertarian and Green candidates plus two write-ins. I am greatly amused by the fact that their voters are the real traditionalists for voting on Tuesday.

If you’ve followed the numbers from Harris County, you know that Democrats overall did at least as well on Election Day as they had done in early voting. I assumed there was a range of outcomes here, so I sorted the data by Abbott’s Ratio, to see where he did best and worst – relatively speaking – on Election Day. Here are a few counties of interest for each. First, where he improved on Election Day:


County                Abbott     Beto  Others
=============================================
Travis Early          24.07%   74.83%   1.10%
Travis E-Day          30.52%   66.96%   2.52%

Bastrop Early         53.93%   44.58%   1.50%
Bastrop E-Day         64.15%   33.53%   2.32%

Williamson Early      47.73%   50.94%   1.33%
Williamson E-Day      54.19%   43.20%   2.62%

Hays Early            42.52%   56.01%   1.46%
Hays E-Day            46.87%   50.30%   2.84%

Bowie Early           73.12%   25.96%   0.92%
Bowie E-Day           80.32%   18.17%   1.52%

Dallas Early          34.85%   64.18%   0.97%
Dallas E-Day          38.08%   60.02%   1.90%

There are numerous small counties in there that I haven’t listed, I’m just highlighting the ones of interest. Travis County was in fact the top Ratio value for Greg Abbott – he did 29% better on Election Day than he did in early voting. This is where I point out that “doing better (or worse) on Election Day” is not the same as doing well (or poorly). That said, Abbott did well enough on Election Day in Williamson County to nudge past Beto’s vote total for that county. Now here are a few where Abbott dropped off on Election Day:


County                Abbott     Beto  Others
=============================================
Fort Bend Early       47.58%   51.07%   1.35%
Fort Bend E-Day       44.72%   52.94%   2.33%

Lubbock Early         70.30%   28.64%   1.06%
Lubbock E-Day         67.54%   30.49%   1.97%

Harris Early          45.06%   53.79%   1.15%
Harris E-Day          43.31%   54.45%   2.24%

Gregg Early           73.76%   25.52%   0.72%
Gregg E-Day           71.09%   27.35%   1.56%

Jefferson Early       56.56%   42.33%   1.10%
Jefferson E-Day       54.61%   43.38%   2.01%

It’s interesting to me to see Central Texas counties filling up that first table, while the Houston area is more present in the second one. I could have included Waller, Wharton, and Chambers in the latter as well. Whether that’s a fluke or a tendency, I couldn’t tell you. But it’s finding weird things like this that makes doing this kind of exercise so much fun.

Does any of this matter on a more macro level? Again, I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t think it matters that much, in the sense that the votes all count the same and from the perspective of a campaign’s win number it doesn’t make a difference. It’s certainly nice to have a bunch of votes banked before Election Day – if nothing else, it mitigates some risk from bad weather and technical difficulties at voting locations. But ultimately, either your voters show up in the numbers you need or they don’t. I think this data is interesting, and it may suggest some strategies for how better to deploy campaign resources. Beyond that, it’s what you make of it.

State Bar complaint against Ted Cruz was dismissed

This story ran a few days ago.

Not Ted Cruz

A lawyer group that brought ethics complaints against Trump attorneys is trying to make it tougher for lawyers to use the legal system to overturn elections.

The group, called the 65 Project, aims to change bar rules of professional conduct in 50 states and the District of Columbia to eliminate “fraudulent and malicious lawsuits” against fair election results.

“Lawyers purport to be self-regulatory and special stewards of the rule of law,” Paul Rosenzweig, a group advisory board member, told reporters Wednesday. “They failed in that responsibility” with the 2020 election.

The effort is a new front in the group’s self-described battle to protect democracy from abuse of the legal system. 65 Project has already filed 55 state bar ethics complaints against lawyers for former President Donald Trump over their efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

The group’s targets have included former Foley & Lardner partner Cleta Mitchell, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and lawyers Joseph diGenova and Boris Epshteyn.

Part of 65 Project’s new effort includes proposing rules to prevent attorneys in public office from violating attorney standards by amplifying false statements about elections.

The group is focusing initially on about a dozen states, including Ohio, Wisconsin, Texas, and Pennsylvania, and DC, said Michael Teter, a former Utah assistant attorney general who is Project 65’s managing director.

See here for the background. The Bloomberg Law story says that all of the 65 Project’s complaints are active, but that is not accurate. According to the DMN, which I was able to quickly peruse before the paywall came up, the complaint was dismissed by the State Bar of Texas on June 13, a few weeks after it was filed. The reason, as noted in the sub-head of the story, is that the State Bar said they lacked oversight since Cruz was acting as a Senator and not a lawyer; their dismissal letter didn’t address the merits of the complaint. A minor consolation, that. We are still waiting for a ruling in the complaint against Ken Paxton; a ruling by a different judge in the case against Paxton deputy Brent Webster does not bode well for the complainants, but I suppose it’s not over till it’s over. There’s still a possible appeal of that ruling, which as far as I know has not yet been filed. I fear all of them will get away with it, which is too depressing to contemplate. We’ll know soon enough.

District court judge dismisses State Bar complaint against Brent Webster

This is a bad ruling, and it needs to be appealed.

A Texas district judge has dismissed a professional misconduct lawsuit against a top aide of Attorney General Ken Paxton seeking to discipline them for their effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

Milam County Judge John W. Youngblood ruled last week that his court lacked the jurisdiction to rule on the matter, agreeing with the attorney general’s argument that doing so would violate the separation of powers doctrine by interfering in an executive branch matter.

“To find in the commission’s favor would stand for a limitation of the Attorney General’s broad power to file lawsuits on the state’s behalf, a right clearly supported by the Texas Constitution and recognized repeatedly by Texas Supreme Court precedent,” Youngblood wrote.

A similar case filed by the State Bar against Paxton is still before a Collin County judge and has not yet been decided.

[…]

Jim Harrington, a member of Lawyers Defending American Democracy, a coalition of lawyers including two former State Bar presidents, who filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the State Bar, called the ruling a “legal charade.” The group also filed complaints that prompted the bar to file suits against Paxton and Webster.

“The logic of the judge’s decision is that, if a lawyer works for the Attorney General, there is no way to hold the lawyer accountable for ethical violations and professional misconduct,” Harrington said in a statement. “In other words, the attorney general’s office is above the law. That is contrary to the principle of the Constitution, and we hope the State Bar will appeal the ruling.”

Ratner, a co-founder of the group and a Maryland attorney, said he, too, was disappointed in the ruling and added that it misconstrued the premise of the suit.

“While separation of powers authorizes the Attorney General to decide what lawsuits to file on the State’s behalf, we believe it does not authorize him to make misrepresentations and dishonest statements to a court in violation of his duties as a Texas-licensed lawyer,” Ratner said. “That’s what’s involved here.”

See here for the background, and here for a copy of the letter the judge sent. Not a formal opinion, though I suppose he could still write one, just a one page letter. Obviously, if this judge fully bought into Ken Paxton’s sleazy and self-serving line of defense, it doesn’t bode well for the complaint against him. I think Jim Harrington has this exactly right, and I hope the State Bar has the wisdom and the guts to appeal this. Anything less would be a dereliction of their duty. The Trib has more.

SCOTx answers the Fifth Circuit’s questions

Some late-breaking SB1 lawsuit news.

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

[…]

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

State justices rejected that request.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

State Bar finally files that professional misconduct lawsuit against Paxton

We’ve been eagerly awaiting this.

Best mugshot ever

A disciplinary committee for the State Bar of Texas on Wednesday filed a professional misconduct lawsuit against Attorney General Ken Paxton for his attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential elections in four battleground states won by President Joe Biden.

The filing in Collin County by the Commission for Lawyer Discipline, a standing committee of the state bar, is an extraordinary move by the body that regulates law licenses in the state against the sitting attorney general. It stems from complaints against Paxton for a lawsuit that the U.S. Supreme Court threw out, saying Texas lacked standing to sue and that Paxton’s political opponents called “frivolous.”

It seeks a sanction against Paxton, which will be determined by a judge, that could range from a private reprimand to disbarment.

In its filing, the commission said Paxton had misrepresented that he had uncovered substantial evidence that “raises serious doubts as to the integrity of the election process in the defendant states.”

“As a result of Respondent’s actions, Defendant States were required to expend time, money, and resources to respond to the misrepresentations and false statements contained in these pleadings and injunction requests even though they had previously certified their presidential electors based on the election results prior to the filing of Respondent’s pleadings,” the lawsuit read.

The lawsuit also says Paxton made “dishonest” representations that an “outcome determinative” number of votes were tied to unregistered voters, votes were switched by a glitch with voting machines, state actors had unconstitutionally revised their election statutes and “illegal votes” had been cast to affect the outcome of the election.

The lawsuit says Paxton’s allegations “were not supported by any charge, indictment, judicial finding, and/or credible or admissible evidence, and failed to disclose to the Court that some of his representations and allegations had already been adjudicated and/or dismissed in a court of law.”

The complaint asks for a finding of professional misconduct against Paxton, as well as attorney’s fees and “an appropriate sanction.”

[…]

The lawsuit against Paxton stems from multiple complaints filed by Kevin Moran, president of the Galveston Island Democrats; David Wellington Chew, former chief justice of the Eighth District Court of Appeals; attorney Neil Kay Cohen; attorney Brynne VanHettinga; and Gershon “Gary” Ratner, the co-founder of Lawyers Defending American Democracy.

See here, here, and here for some background; this post contains some technical details from the original complaint. As far as I can tell, this encompasses all of the 2020 election-related complaints against Paxton; there’s a separate complaint having to do with his threats against the Court of Criminal Appeals for not letting him prosecute “voter fraud” cases at his discretion, whose disposition is not known to me at this time. There’s also the complaint against Brent Webster, which will be litigated in Williamson County, and more recently a complaint against Ted Cruz that will presumably take some time to work its way through the system. That first 2020 election complaint against Paxton was filed last June, so it took nearly a year to get to this point. I have no idea if that’s a “normal” time span for this – I suspect nothing about this is “normal” anyway.

One more thing: I presume this was filed in Collin County because that’s where Paxton passed the bar, or some other technical reason like that. The Chron adds a bit of detail about that.

Under the state bar’s rules, disciplinary suits are filed in the county in which the attorney primarily practices. If there’s more than one, the bar files in the county where the attorney lives — Paxton indicated Collin County. Similarly, the suit against Webster was filed in his hometown of Williamson County. That determination is up to the subject of the suit, according to the rules.

Also per the bar’s rules, these suits are heard by an appointed judge from another district.

In Paxton’s case, it will be Judge Casey Blair of Kaufman County, a Republican elected in 2014. Webster’s case will be heard by Judge John Youngblood of Milam County, also a Republican who was first appointed by Gov. Rick Perry in 2011 and first elected in 2012.

Good to know. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

SCOTx ponders the questions the Fifth Circuit asked it about SB1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More State Bar disciplinary stuff

A new twist, as a new player enters the picture.

Best mugshot ever

The Texas State Bar has filed a suit in Williamson County district court against First Assistant Attorney General Brent Webster for his involvement in the state’s lawsuit seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 election, alleging Webster committed professional misconduct by making false and misleading statements in the petition.

A similar disciplinary suit is expected against Paxton, who reiterated Friday his contention that the group is targeting him because it disagrees with his politics. As of Friday afternoon, no suit had been filed.

Texas’ 2020 suit before the U.S. Supreme Court was almost immediately tossed, and Trump’s own Justice Department found no evidence of fraud that could have changed the election’s outcome. The bar is treating the case as a frivolous lawsuit as it seeks sanctions including possible disbarment for the two public officials.

“I stand by this lawsuit completely,” Paxton said on Twitter. “I am certain that the bar will not only lose, but be fully exposed for what they are: a liberal activist group masquerading as a neutral professional association.”

Then-Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins, the state’s chief litigator who resigned about a month after the election challenge was tossed, was notably absent from the filing, though Hawkins never explained why, raising questions about whether he supported the legal challenge. Solicitor generals are typically involved in all major appellate litigation.

[…]

The bar complaints against Paxton and Webster alleged that their petition to overturn the 2020 election was frivolous and unethical, and that it includes statements that they knew to be false. In Webster’s case, it is clear that the bar agrees.

“Respondent’s representations were dishonest,” the suit states. “His allegations were not supported by any charge, indictment, judicial finding, and/or credible or admissible evidence, and failed to disclose to the court that some of his representations and allegations had already been adjudicated and/or dismissed in a court of law.”

The suit also alleges that Webster “misrepresented” that Texas had “uncovered substantial evidence,” raising doubts about the integrity of the election and had standing to sue before the U.S. Supreme Court. The four battleground states that Texas sued — Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin — were then forced to have to spend time, money and other resources responding to these claims, it said.

The suit does not specify what type of punishment the bar recommends for Webster.

The suit against Webster was sparked by a March 2021 complaint by Brynne VanHettinga, an former member of the bar who described herself as a “citizen concerned about fascism and illegal overthrow of democracy.” VanHettinga could not be immediately reached Friday.

See here and here for some background. Looking at that Trib story that I based yesterday’s post on, I see it also includes a couple of paragraphs about the action against Brent Webster, who replaced Jeff Mateer after he was purged as a whistleblower against Paxton, and who co-authored the self-exoneration report from that saga. I was not aware of any State Bar complaints against Webster in this matter – the two against Paxton were filed after the VanHettinga complaint against Webster. A Google News search on VanHettinga’s name only yielded the Chron and Trib stories. You can see what a challenge it is to keep up with all this.

As for the Paxton piece of it, this is more of the story I blogged about yesterday. The main thing to learn, which the Trib story also noted, is that there hasn’t yet been a lawsuit filed against Paxton. It sounded like that would be filed in Travis County when it happens, but maybe this means it will happen in Williamson instead. Since it seems that the judge will be selected from the broader judicial administrative region, it’s not clear that where the trial itself is matters.

Fifth Circuit asks SCOTx for help on some SB1 issues

The Twitter summary:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More data about mail ballot rejections

Keep it coming.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Talking Points Memo was also on this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

2022 primary early voting statewide

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

Injunction granted in lawsuit over criminal penalties for election officials who encourage voting by mail

That’s a somewhat complicated headline for this.

A new Texas law that keeps local election officials from encouraging voters to request mail-in ballots likely violates the First Amendment, a federal judge ruled late Friday.

Following a testy three-hour hearing earlier in the day, Federal District Judge Xavier Rodriguez temporarily blocked the state from enforcing the rule against Harris County’s election administrator until the rest of a lawsuit plays out. Although the scope of Rodriguez’s preliminary injunction is limited, the judge dealt the first legal blow to new elections restrictions and voting changes Republican lawmakers enacted last year.

The injunction applies to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and local county prosecutors in Harris, Travis and Williamson counties.

The state is expected to quickly appeal the ruling. The lawsuit was brought by Harris County election administrator Isabel Longoria and Cathy Morgan, a volunteer deputy registrar who is appointed to help register voters in Travis and Williamson counties.

Feb. 18 is the last day for counties to receive applications for mail-in ballots for the March 1 primary.

Rodriguez previewed his order throughout a Friday morning hearing during which he repeatedly pressed the state’s attorneys — with increasing exasperation — to fill in what he cataloged as ambiguities in the new law. The challenged provision makes it a state jail felony for election officials to “solicit the submission” of an application to vote by mail if the voter did not request it.

Rodriguez took particular issue with the lack of a clear definition for what constitutes soliciting when talking to voters, even those 65 and older who automatically qualify to vote by mail under the state’s strict rules.

“It has a chilling effect,” Rodriguez said while questioning a state attorney Friday morning. “They don’t know when they’re going to run afoul of this vague [law].”

His comments followed testimony from Longoria and Morgan, who said they feared the civil and criminal penalties that could come from violating the broad prohibition.

Longoria said her office was now taking a “passive” approach to voter outreach in regard to voting by mail, with staffers “gingerly” weighing their words while answering voters’ questions about their options.

“When it comes to voting by mail, I have to be very careful with my words,” Longoria said from the witness stand. “I stop mid-sentence sometimes at town halls. … I’m tentative to overreach at the moment.”

Morgan testified that she was concerned the law applied even to volunteers like her, given that her role is formally certified by county election offices. She offered examples of voters she no longer felt she could help navigate the vote-by-mail process. That included an 88-year-old voter whom Morgan would typically call at the start of every year to remind her that she has to reapply for mail-in ballots.

State attorneys said that the law did not apply to volunteers like Morgan and argued the government can prohibit interactions between local election officials and voters without running afoul of the First Amendment.

[…]

And even the state’s witness — Keith Ingram, the Texas secretary of state’s director of elections — indicated the threat of prosecution loomed over election officials. While Ingram was on the stand, Rodriguez presented him with hypothetical interactions between Longoria and voters, asking if she could recommend voting by mail to someone who appeared to qualify.

“I would be very careful about that,” Ingram responded. “You wouldn’t want to recommend” voting by mail as an option “because you’d be worried about prosecution,” he said.

Throughout the hearing, Rodriguez also pressed for the reasoning behind the anti-solicitation provision, interrupting the state’s questioning of Ingram in search of an answer. Ingram said he didn’t know the purpose of the provision.

Eventually, Will Thompson of the Texas attorney general’s office told Rodriguez that the provision was meant to limit “official encouragement” of voting by mail, indicating the state preferred people vote in person even if they qualify to vote by mail.

“We’re not taking the position that the Legislature is opposed to voting by mail,” Thompson said. “That doesn’t mean the Legislature wants resources to be used toward nudging people toward voting by mail.”

See here for the background, and here for a copy of the ruling. The Statesman has a couple of key bits from the ruling:

In his order, Rodriguez rejected Paxton’s argument that the solicitation ban targets government speech, which isn’t protected by the First Amendment because the state is allowed to regulate how public employees perform official duties.

But, the judge noted, Longoria and Morgan do not work for the state. Longoria is employed by Harris County, and Morgan is a volunteer registrar.

Rodriguez also rejected Paxton’s claim that granting the injunction would interfere with the orderly operation of Texas elections. The judge said his order does not affect any voting procedures, change the vote-by-mail process or affect voting deadlines or eligibility.

“Nor does it require that election officials start soliciting applications to vote by mail — it simply prevents the imposition of criminal and civil penalties against officials for encouraging people to vote by mail if they are eligible to do so,” Rodriguez wrote.

None of that will stop the Fifth Circuit from doing what the Republicans ask them to do since that’s what they believe their job is, but at least he tried. For anyone who thinks that it’s hysterical to imagine Longoria or Morgan being prosecuted for these actions, Rob Icsezen and Dana DeBeauvoir would like to have a word with you.

Reporter Edward McKinley and plaintiffs’ attorney Sean Morales-Doyle have good Twitter threads with more details, so go check them out. The main argument was that this provision of SB1 criminalizes speech on the basis of its content and the viewpoint expressed, since Longoria could talk all day about not voting by mail but risked arrest if she said the opposite. This is a preliminary injunction, and whether it survives the Fifth Circuit or not there will be a trial on the merits later this year, and you can bank on it going all the way to SCOTUS. The Supreme Court is occasionally solicitous of the First Amendment, if it approves of the speech in question, so who knows what they might do. In the meantime, we have a small victory, for now, against SB1. There will be a lot more litigation over the rest of that law to come. The Chron has more.

Don’t expect the absentee ballot fiasco to improve

Things are working as planned.

Signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott in September, the voting law known as Senate Bill 1 contained an array of new restrictions on the state’s voting process and narrowed local control of elections.

Among its many provisions — and the earliest to be tested — are new rules for voting by mail. Absentee voters are now required to include a state identification number like a driver’s license number or a partial Social Security number on their applications for a mail-in ballot. Those numbers must match information in a voter’s record or their application will be rejected.

Regular mail-in voters must submit new applications each year, and when counties began accepting them this year, the rejection rates were staggering. Hundreds of applications were deficient, in some cases missing an ID number. In other cases, voters had listed a number that didn’t appear to be on file with the local elections office.

The secretary of state’s office has been working to backfill its records to include both driver’s license numbers and Social Security numbers for most voters, but various Texas counties — including some of the state’s largest — did not know they were supposed to check the state’s database along with their own when trying to validate an application.

Election officials across the state said they either weren’t aware the driver’s license numbers had been uploaded to the state database, known by election administrators as TEAM, or weren’t aware that the new numbers would not sync with their local databases. To them, it appeared the numbers were missing from a voter’s record.

“There were several large counties that are offline that were not aware that they’d have to go beyond their internal systems, and I’m one of them,” said Chris Davis, the Williamson County elections administrator. (Counties that use a local database are known as “offline counties.”)

The discrepancy helped drive an initial 50% rejection rate of applications in Travis County, the “vast majority” of which officials attributed to the new rules, before offline counties learned the new driver’s license numbers had not been pushed to their local databases. The rejection rate had dropped to 27% in figures Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir released Tuesday, though the total number of applications the county received had more than doubled by then.

The rejection issues led to a public spat between DeBeauvoir, a Democrat, who criticized the state for not providing counties with comprehensive guidance, and the secretary of state’s office, which zeroed in on the county’s rejection of an “unusually large” share of applications in a press release calling on officials to correct “erroneous” rejections.

But the information gap over matching ID numbers went beyond Travis County. While “waiting to get clear instructions” from the state, Vona Hudson, the election administrator in rural Tom Green County, said she was running into ID issues with 40% to 50% of the applications coming in.

Hudson didn’t get clarity on the syncing problems until a last-minute webinar held by the secretary of state’s office Tuesday morning to address “frequently asked questions” about the new ID requirements.

In a statement this week, the governor’s office put the blame for issues with the new rules on county officials “erroneously interpreting the law” instead of asking the state for assistance.

“The bottom line is that counties should not be rejecting valid mail ballot applications,” said Nan Tolson, a spokesperson for the governor. “The Secretary of State’s office will continue to work with counties across the state to combat the misinformation being spread by county election officials and ensure that all valid mail ballot applications are processed.”

But beyond the confusion over how to match numbers, early figures released by some of the state’s largest counties showed that a bigger problem was applications coming in with no ID numbers on them at all.

For example, Bexar County initially rejected 125 applications because voters provided a driver’s license number that was not in their voter record, while 200 were rejected because the ID section was not filled out. Thirty applications were rejected because the voter submitted an outdated application form that didn’t include the new ID field.

Of the 208 applications Harris County initially rejected based on the new rules, 137 were rejected because voters had not filled out the new ID requirements. As of Jan. 14, county officials said they had rejected another 172 applications that lacked ID numbers.

In its update Tuesday, Travis County said about half of the 509 applications it had rejected did not include any ID information.

County officials said they were also hamstrung in how much education they could provide voters about the new requirements. In SB 1, Republican lawmakers made it a state jail felony for an election official to “solicit the submission” of an application to vote by mail if the voter did not request it — a broad prohibition election officials said has made them fearful that once unremarkable voter outreach efforts could now be construed as criminal.

SB 1 also made it a state jail felony for local election officials to proactively send applications to voters who did not request them, even if voters automatically qualify to vote by mail because of age. Political parties can still send out unsolicited applications on their own dime.

“It’s understandable if you’re focusing on what’s most important in a given week or a given month that you might lose track of some of these other issues, and I think that goes for secretary of state as well,” Remi Garza, the president of the Texas Association of Election Administrators, said of the miscommunication between the state and the counties.

But this was a foreseeable situation, said Garza, who serves as the elections administrator for Cameron County.

Voting rights advocates have panned state Republican leadership over the issues, both because the problems were forewarned and because the law’s implementation date has not allowed election officials enough time to roll out its new requirements. Over the last year, advocates questioned how voters were expected to know which ID number might be on their voter record when they aren’t required to provide both while registering to vote.

Lawmakers bear “the responsibility to foresee problems in the implementation of a law,” said James Slattery, a senior staff attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, who testified on the ID issues at the Legislature.

“They are now reaping what they’ve sown,” said Slattery. “Though I should say it’s really the voter reaping what they’ve sown, which is the tragedy of all this. At the moment, it’s the voters that are facing the consequences.”

It would be nice to think that the Republicans who passed this atrocity will hear it from their voters who have been adversely affected. I just don’t think there will be that much blowback on them. For one thing, it’s still the case that only a limited number of people even can vote by mail, so the people feeling the brunt of this are a relatively small group. Of those that are Republicans – since let’s face it, those are the only ones that Greg Abbott and company care about – you have to figure that Donald Trump has made voting by mail a lot less attractive to them. And, as we have seen, Republican voters don’t seem to mind laws that make their lives worse as long as they believe that it’s making the lives of people they don’t like even more worse. So, while there is still the potential for disaster that will very much affect only Republicans in the near future, I don’t expect there to be much pressure on the people responsible for it. This was a feature, not a bug. If there isn’t a federal law to clear out some of these obstacles, we’re going to be stuck with it until we can elect enough Democrats to change the law. Given that the State Senate is pretty well out of reach for the foreseeable future, even with a great result elsewhere this is going to take some time.

Lots of mail ballot applications are being rejected now

This is a feature, not a bug.

Hundreds of Texans seeking to vote by mail in the upcoming March primary elections are seeing their applications for ballots rejected by local election offices trying to comply with stricter voting rules enacted by Texas Republicans last year.

Election officials in some of the state’s largest counties are rejecting an alarming number of mail-in applications because they don’t meet the state’s new identification requirements. Some applications are being rejected because of a mismatch between the new identification requirements and the data the state has on file to verify voters.

Under Texas’ new voting law, absentee voters must include their driver’s license number or state ID number or, if they don’t have one, the last four digits of their Social Security number on their applications. If they don’t have those IDs, voters can indicate they have not been issued that identification. Counties must match those numbers against the information in an individual’s voter file to approve them for a mail-in ballot.

In Harris County, 208 applications — roughly 16% of the 1,276 applications received so far — have been rejected based on the new rules. That includes 137 applications on which voters had not filled out the new ID requirements and 71 applications that included an ID number that wasn’t in the voter’s record.

In Travis County, officials said they’ve rejected about half of the roughly 700 applications they’ve received so far, with the “vast majority” of rejections based on the new voting law.

In Bexar County, officials have rejected 200 applications on which the ID section was not filled out. Another 125 were rejected because the voter had provided their driver’s license number on the application, but that number was not in their voter record.

“It’s disturbing that our senior citizens who have relished and embraced voting by mail are now having to jump through some hoops, and it’s upsetting when we have to send a rejection letter [when] we can see they’ve voted with us by mail for years,” said Jacque Callanen, the Bexar County election administrator.

[…]

Throughout last year’s protracted debate over the new voting law, state lawmakers were warned about potential issues that could arise from the new ID matching requirements, in part because the state does not have both a driver’s license and Social Security number for all of the roughly 17 million Texans on the voter rolls. Voters are not required to provide both numbers when they register to vote.

Last summer, the Texas secretary of state’s office indicated that 2,045,419 registered voters lacked one of the two numbers in their voter file despite the office’s efforts to backfill that information in the state’s voter rolls. Another 266,661 voters didn’t have either number on file.

Those numbers have since dropped. As of Dec. 20, 702,257 voters had only one number on file, while 106,911 didn’t have either, according to updated figures provided by the Texas secretary of state’s office.

Meanwhile, 493,823 registered voters didn’t have a driver’s license on file, which is the first number voters are asked to provide on both applications to register to vote and applications to vote by mail.

The new law is also tripping up voters who may be unaware of the new ID requirements. Callanen said she had to reject 30 voters who submitted an outdated application form that didn’t include the new ID field. Election officials in Williamson County, which has processed a total of 305 applications to vote by mail, said the same issue plagued a chunk of the applications that they rejected.

The sources of the outdated applications are unclear. While the Legislature banned county election officials from proactively sending out applications to vote by mail, even to voters who automatically qualify, voters can still receive unsolicited applications from campaigns and political parties.

This was both easily predictable and widely predicted. Since this election is a primary, and people have to request a specific party’s ballot, it would be very interesting to know how many rejections came from each party, and what percentage of the total number of requests for each party were rejected. Most likely it’s more or less evenly split, but you never know. Unintended consequences are everywhere.

I want to extend a little bit of grace to the employees of the Secretary of State’s office, who have had to do a massive update of their guidance for elections officials in a very short time. The fault lies entirely with the Republicans that shoved this travesty through, and with the raving lunatic former occupant of the White House, whose narcissism and dishonesty compelled his minions to pass such laws. But the lion’s share of the grace goes to the various elections administrators, who are on the business end of this mess. If you want a mail ballot, make sure you fill out the current form correctly, and get your request in ASAP.

Some commentary from Twitter:

That last one is more of a general comment, but you get the idea. In the meantime, Common Cause tells you how to take some control of the situation:

Voters who have applied for a mail ballot can check their status online at https://teamrv-mvp.sos.texas.gov/BallotTrackerApp/#/login. Voters who do not have internet access can call their county clerk’s office for information.

For voters planning to vote by mail in the March 1 primary election, the deadline for mail ballot applications to be received by the county’s Early Voting Clerk is Friday, February 18, 2022.

There’s more, so read the rest. Campos has more.

The botched “non-citizen” voter purge continues

At some point we need to recognize the fact that our Secretary of State’s office is completely, and maybe maliciously, inept at doing this.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas’ last attempt to scour its voting rolls for noncitizens two years ago quickly devolved into a calamity.

The state flagged nearly 100,000 voters for citizenship checks and set them up for possible criminal investigation based on flawed data that didn’t account for immigrants who gained citizenship. After it became clear it was jeopardizing legitimate voter registrations, it was pulled into three federal lawsuits challenging its process. Former Secretary of State David Whitley lost his job amid the fallout. And the court battle ultimately forced the state to abandon the effort and rethink its approach to ensure naturalized citizens weren’t targeted.

This fall, the state began rolling out a new, scaled-down approach. But again, the county officials responsible for carrying it out are encountering what appear to be faults in the system.

Scores of citizens are still being marked for review — and possible removal from the rolls. Registrars in some of the state’s largest counties have found that a sizable number of voters labeled possible noncitizens actually filled out their voter registration cards at their naturalization ceremonies. In at least a few cases, the state flagged voters who were born in the U.S.

The secretary of state’s office says it is following the settlement agreement it entered in 2019 — an arrangement that limited its screening of voters to those who registered to vote and later indicated to the Texas Department of Public Safety that they are not citizens. Flagged voters can provide documentation of their citizenship in order to keep their registrations, officials have pointed out.

But the issues tied to the new effort are significant enough that they’ve renewed worries among the civil rights groups that forced the state to change its practices. They are questioning Texas’ compliance with the legal settlement that halted the last review. And for some attorneys, the persisting problems underscore their concerns that the state is needlessly putting the registrations of eligible voters at risk.

“We’re trying to get a grasp of the scale, but obviously there’s still a problem, which I think we always said would be the case,” said Joaquin Gonzalez, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, which was involved in the 2019 litigation. “It’s definitely something we were concerned would happen if they tried to restart this process.”

[…]

Texas’ voter citizenship review has persisted through the tenure of multiple secretaries of state and has been backed by state Republican leaders who have touted the broader review effort as a way to ensure the integrity of the voter rolls, though there is no evidence that large numbers of noncitizens are registered to vote.

The current iteration was formally initiated in early September before the appointment of the state’s new secretary of state, John Scott, who helped former President Donald Trump challenge the 2020 presidential election results in Pennsylvania.

That’s when the state sent counties 11,737 records of registered voters who were deemed “possible non-U.S. citizens.” It was a much smaller list than the one it produced in 2019, when it did not account for people who became naturalized citizens in between renewing driver’s licenses or ID cards they initially obtained as noncitizens.

But when Bexar County received its list of 641 flagged voters, county workers quickly determined that 109 of them — 17% of the total — had actually registered at naturalization ceremonies. The county is able to track the origin of those applications because of an internal labeling system it made up years ago when staff began attending the ceremonies, said Jacque Callanen, the county’s administrator.

Election officials in Travis County said they were similarly able to identify that applications for 60 voters on the county’s list of 408 flagged voters — roughly 15% of the total — had been filled out at naturalization ceremonies.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, another group that sued the state in 2019, is still assessing the extent to which the state’s new attempt to review the rolls may be defective. But those figures alone should give everyone pause, ACLU staff attorney Thomas Buser-Clancy said after The Texas Tribune provided him those tallies.

“What we do know is that every time the secretary of state tries to do something like this it fails and that these efforts, which inevitably ensnare eligible voters, should not be happening,” Buser-Clancy said.

In an advisory announcing the revised process, the secretary of state’s office told counties that they should first attempt to “investigate” a voter’s eligibility. If they are unable to verify citizenship, the county must then send out “notices of examination” that start a 30-day clock for the voter to submit proof of citizenship to retain their registration. Voters who don’t respond with proof within 30 days are removed from the rolls — though they can be reinstated if they later prove their citizenship, including at a polling place.

Beyond the figures from Bexar and Travis counties, local election officials in other counties, including Cameron and Williamson, confirmed they’ve heard back from flagged voters who are naturalized citizens. After mailing 2,796 notices, officials in Harris County said 167 voters had provided them with documentation proving their citizenship. In Fort Bend, officials received proof of citizenship from at least 87 voters on their list of 515 “possible noncitizens.” Last week, Texas Monthly reported on two cases of citizens in Cameron County who were flagged as possible noncitizens.

See here, here, and here for not nearly enough background on this. The simple fact is that if the SOS process is generating such high error rates, especially for things that should be easily checked and thus avoided, the process itself is clearly and fatally flawed. Some of this is because, as anyone who works with databases can tell you, data is hard and messy and it’s easy to make mistakes when trying to figure out if two different text values are actually the same thing. And some of it is clearly because the SOS and the Republicans pushing this don’t care at all if there’s some collateral damage. That’s a feature and not a bug to them. If it’s not time to go back to the courts and get another stick to whack them with, it will be soon. Reform Austin has more.

Precinct analysis: The new State House map

Like it or not, we have new State House districts. We may as well acquaint ourselves with them. The coverage we’ve had so far has focused on the 2020 election numbers to say whether a district will be red or blue or (in a limited number of cases) purple. I think that we need to see more data than that to get a full picture. I’ve spent a bunch of time on this site looking at how districts changed over the course of the past decade. This post will do the same for the new State House districts. I may do the same for the other types of districts – we’ll see how busy things get once filing season opens – but for now let’s look at how things are here.

We now have a full set of election data for the new districts. All of the data for the new State House districts can be found here. I am using election data for these years in this post: 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018, and 2020

If you want to remind yourself of what the map looks like, use the district viewer, which allows you to zoom in all the way to street level. What would have happened in the last decade if we had had this map in place following the 2011 session?

2012 – 59 seats won by Obama
2014 – 51 seats won by Davis
2016 – 64 seats won by Clinton
2018 – 66 seats won by Beto
2020 – 65 seats won by Biden

This shows a couple of things. One is just how bad a year 2014 was. Two, how effective the 2011/2013 map was for the conditions that existed at the time. Note that with this map, the big shift towards the Democrats happened in 2016, not 2018. I have to wonder how things might have played out in 2018 and 2020 if that had been our experience. After that, it gets a lot more static. I’ll tell you which districts were won by Beto but not Clinton, and which district was won by Beto but not Biden, later in this post.

Enough setup. You’re ready for some numbers, right? I know you are. I’ve broken this down more or less by region, and am including districts that are within 20 points in the 2020 results.


Dist  Obama  Romney Obama%Romney%    Biden   Trump Biden% Trump%
================================================================
014  14,134  29,676  31.5%  66.1%   30,840  38,146  43.5%  53.8%
020  19,803  40,618  31.9%  65.4%   44,651  58,876  42.2%  55.6%
045  20,079  21,248  47.0%  49.8%   48,915  32,987  58.4%  39.4%
052  16,708  28,942  35.7%  61.8%   44,974  49,046  46.7%  51.0%
054  18,164  22,668  43.9%  54.7%   26,960  31,067  45.5%  52.4%
055  17,348  26,906  38.5%  59.8%   30,054  36,826  43.9%  53.8%
118  21,895  25,284  45.7%  52.8%   36,578  34,584  50.6%  47.9%
121  25,850  47,798  34.5%  63.8%   50,133  52,533  48.1%  50.4%
122  21,516  48,130  30.4%  68.1%   50,094  59,855  44.9%  53.7%

Call this the “Central” region – HD14 is Brazos County, HDs 20 and 52 are Williamson, HD45 is Hays, HDs 54 and 55 are the infamous “donut” districts of Bell County, and the other three are Bexar. Couple things to note, as these themes will recur. One is that if there’s a district you think might belong but which isn’t listed, it’s probably because it just doesn’t qualify as a “swing” district any more. A great example is HD47 in Travis County, which was a 52-47 district for Mitt Romney in 2012. In 2020, however, it was won by Joe Biden by a 61-36 margin. HD45 is more or less the same, but I included it here as a borderline case.

Looking at the shifts, it’s not too hard to imagine the two Williamson districts moving into (back into, in the case of HD52) the Dem column, in a future election if not this year. Note also that HD118 was once a red district. It’s one of the two that Beto flipped and which Biden held. Sure, it’s accurately described in all of the coverage of the special election runoff as being more Republican than the current HD118, but one should be aware of the direction that it has traveled. I won’t be surprised if it outperforms the 2020 number for Dems in 2022. (No, the result of this special election runoff doesn’t change my thinking on that. It’s not the first time that Republicans have won a special election in HD118.)

Not all districts moved so dramatically – that parsing of Bell County looks like it will be durable for the GOP, at least at this time. The other two Bexar districts were a lot more Democratic at the Presidential level than they were downballot, so one has to wonder if the splits we see here are entirely about Trump, or if they will be the leading edge for Dems as the 2016 Trump numbers were in places like CD07 and all of the Dallas House districts that Republicans once held.


Dist  Obama  Romney Obama%Romney%    Biden   Trump Biden% Trump%
================================================================
034  28,030  19,409  58.4%  40.4%   32,171  26,232  54.4%  44.3%
035  19,519   5,678  76.7%  22.3%   22,629  16,478  57.3%  41.7%
036  21,416   7,022  74.5%  24.4%   26,905  19,328  57.6%  41.4%
037  21,580  17,109  55.2%  43.7%   27,740  26,576  50.6%  48.4%
039  23,219   8,076  73.5%  25.6%   27,861  18,679  59.2%  39.7%
041  20,882  15,585  56.6%  42.2%   33,385  25,616  56.1%  43.0%
074  25,903  16,270  60.5%  38.0%   31,415  28,538  51.7%  46.9%
080  26,122  16,344  60.9%  38.1%   27,099  29,572  47.3%  51.6%

Here we have South Texas and the Valley, where things are not so good for the Dems. Again, the districts you don’t see here are the ones that are not swing districts; check out the linked numbers to see for yourself. HD41 was pretty stable, and I will note that the current version of HD74 was carried by Trump, so the new map is a bit friendlier to the Dems, at least for now. HD80 is the Beto district that Biden lost, and as with every other Latino district we’re just going to have to see how it performs in a non-Trump year. If State Rep. Alex Dominguez, the incumbent in HD37, does indeed primary Sen. Eddie Lucio, that puts another Dem seat squarely in the danger zone. (Modulo the pending litigation, of course.)


Dist  Obama  Romney Obama%Romney%    Biden   Trump Biden% Trump%
================================================================
033  16,134  40,104  28.2%  70.1%   35,618  53,384  39.3%  58.9%
057  13,506  30,350  30.3%  68.0%   36,387  47,660  42.6%  55.8%
061  15,178  34,157  30.3%  68.1%   43,274  50,795  45.2%  53.0%
063  20,983  40,571  33.5%  64.8%   42,303  47,444  46.4%  52.0%
065  18,851  36,946  33.3%  65.2%   43,265  51,231  45.1%  53.4%
066  19,348  41,191  31.5%  67.0%   43,902  51,608  45.2%  53.1%
067  16,268  32,870  32.6%  65.7%   39,889  47,769  44.6%  53.5%
070  23,926  36,395  38.9%  59.2%   45,111  35,989  54.7%  43.6%
084  17,622  30,644  35.8%  62.3%   25,604  36,144  40.7%  57.5%
089  18,681  39,334  31.6%  66.6%   39,563  49,499  43.5%  54.5%
093  13,971  29,638  31.6%  67.0%   34,205  45,799  42.0%  56.2%
094  23,934  46,010  33.6%  64.6%   37,985  45,950  44.4%  53.8%
096  22,912  42,668  34.5%  64.2%   39,472  48,073  44.4%  54.1%
097  21,540  40,721  34.0%  64.4%   38,218  46,530  44.3%  53.9%
099  17,899  33,551  34.2%  64.2%   31,245  43,999  40.8%  57.5%
106  12,893  30,578  29.2%  69.3%   38,447  50,868  42.4%  56.2%
108  26,544  58,932  30.7%  68.1%   54,481  55,364  48.9%  49.7%
112  24,601  44,320  35.2%  63.4%   44,881  45,370  48.9%  49.4%

So much action in the Multiplex. HD33 is Rockwall and a piece of Collin. HDs 61 and 70 are Collin, HD57 is Denton. I have lumped HD84 in here as well, even though it’s Lubbock and it remains on the fringe, but I don’t care. We will make a race out of that district yet! HDs 108 and 112 in Dallas are also much more Republican downballot than they were at the top, and while I think they will eventually fall, it’s unlikely to be in 2022. HD70, by the way, is the other district that flipped Dem in 2018.

Everywhere else I look, I see districts that are about as competitive as the formerly Republican-held districts of Dallas County were circa 2012. (Note how none of them have made an appearance in this post.) Look at how huge those splits were a decade ago. A decade in the future, either we’re going to be grimly hailing the evil genius of this gerrymander, or we’re going to be chuckling about Republican hubris and how if they’d maybe thrown another district or two to the Dems they could have saved themselves a bucketful of losses.


Dist  Obama  Romney Obama%Romney%    Biden   Trump Biden% Trump%
================================================================
025  16,141  33,014  32.4%  66.2%   29,441  43,675  39.7%  58.9%
026  14,574  36,701  32.4%  66.2%   37,863  47,532  43.7%  54.8%
028  15,831  33,229  31.9%  67.0%   36,213  46,580  43.1%  55.4%
029  18,280  37,848  32.1%  66.5%   32,787  46,758  40.6%  57.9%
126  18,574  47,202  27.9%  70.7%   35,306  50,023  40.8%  57.8%
127  19,674  45,760  29.7%  69.1%   38,332  53,148  41.3%  57.3%
129  21,321  45,292  31.5%  66.9%   38,399  51,219  42.2%  56.2%
132  13,399  31,974  29.1%  69.5%   35,876  46,484  42.9%  55.6%
133  21,508  45,099  31.8%  66.7%   40,475  42,076  48.4%  50.3%
134  34,172  42,410  43.7%  54.3%   66,968  38,704  62.5%  36.1%
138  20,133  40,118  32.9%  65.6%   37,617  42,002  46.6%  52.0%
144  17,471  16,254  51.1%  47.6%   25,928  20,141  55.6%  43.2%
148  20,954  19,960  50.4%  48.0%   34,605  24,087  58.1%  40.5%
150  14,511  34,552  29.2%  69.6%   34,151  45,789  42.1%  56.5%

Finally, the Houston area. HDs 25 and 29 are Brazoria County, HDs 26 and 28 are Fort Bend. The now-in-Fort-Bend HD76 slides in here as another former swing district, going from 51-48 for Romney to 61-38 for Biden. I threw HD134 in here even though it’s obviously not a swing district by any reasonable measure in part because it was once the epitome of a swing district, and because damn, just look at how far that district shifted towards Dems. The open HD133 is unfortunately another one of those redder-downballot districts, so even though it’s an open seat don’t get your hopes up too much for this cycle. Maybe later on, we’ll see.

I’m fascinated by HD144, which like HD74 is now slightly more Dem than it was under the existing map. I guess Republicans had other priorities in the area. As for HD148, it’s a little jarring to see it as a genuine swing district from 2012, though it barely qualifies as of 2020. Rep. Penny Morales Shaw has complained about the changes made to her district, not just geographically but also by reducing that Latino CVAP by almost ten points. Finally, I will note that while the GOP shored up HD138, it’s another district that used to be a lot redder than it is now. Again, we’ll just have to see how resilient that is. That “genius/hubris” divide will largely come down to places like that.

I hope this helped shed some light on what these districts may be going forward. As always, let me know what you think.

Comings and goings

Rep. Lloyd Doggett will run in a new district again.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett

Longtime U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, has decided to run for reelection in Texas’ 37th Congressional District, opting to vie for one of Texas’ two new congressional districts — a bright-blue seat concentrated in Austin — rather than his current district, which reaches down to San Antonio.

Doggett announced the decision Sunday in an email to supporters and then shared it in person Monday outside Bryker Woods Elementary School in Austin.

“Nobody, me included, has any entitlement to public office, but Bryker Woods does issue reports cards,” Doggett said, “and I’m ready for my neighbors to grade my service in Congress and my devotion to the families of this city.”

Doggett currently represents the 35th Congressional District, which runs from Austin down along Interstate 35 to San Antonio. The proposed 37th District is far more compact, contained almost entirely within Travis County, home to Austin. Both are currently safely Democratic districts — and likely to remain so after redistricting.

[…]

Doggett also survived the last round of redistricting by switching districts, changing to the 35th District, which was new at the time. It was drawn to be a Hispanic-majority district, and Doggett faced a primary against then state Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio. But Castro ultimately ran for the San Antonio-based 20th Congressional District after its Democratic incumbent, Charlie Gonzalez, announced his retirement.

Doggett’s chances of reelection in the new district are high. He has served in Congress since 1995 and a built a massive campaign war chest, totaling $5.4 million as of Sept. 30.

Doggett’s decision to run in CD-37 means there will be an open seat in CD-35.

Potential Democratic candidates for the 37th District have included state Rep. Gina Hinojosa of Austin and Wendy Davis, the former Fort Worth state senator and 2014 gubernatorial nominee who unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin, last year.

Doggett was first elected in what was then CD10. In the DeLay re-redistricting of 2003, he moved to what was then CD25, then into CD35 as noted. I’m just going to leave this here:

Someone needs to start a project to track down everyone who has been continuously represented by Lloyd Doggett since 1995.

Rep. Doggett may or may not get some real competition for CD37. I’d make him a heavy favorite against pretty much anyone. As for CD35, that will likely draw a crowd.

Progressive firebrand and Austin City Council Member Greg Casar is likely to run for Congress in Texas’s 35th District, he told the Texas Observer in an interview.

“It’s very likely that I’m running,” says Casar, who has formed an exploratory committee to examine a run for the district that runs from Austin to San Antonio. “The maps haven’t been signed into law yet, but shortly after they are, I will make things much more official.”

[…]

The prospect of a newly open seat in a heavily Democratic majority-minority district sets the stage for a potential primary battle.

State Representative Eddie Rodriguez, who’s served in the Legislature since 2003, is reportedly “taking a hard look” at a run for the 35th; his southeast Austin state House district sits almost entirely within the new 35th boundaries. Also, longtime San Antonio Representative Trey Martinez Fischer requested that lawmakers draw him into the 35th, indicating that he may also run. Claudia Zapata, a progressive activist in Austin, is currently the only officially declared candidate. Casar’s home and his north-central council district are in the 37th, right along the border with the 35th.

That story is all about CM Casar, and you can read it if you want to know more about him. I’m mostly interested in the name game at this point.

Moving along, we will have a new open State House seat in Bexar County.

State Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, who bucked his party on a number of major issues this year, announced Wednesday he will not seek reelection.

In an email to constituents, Larson said he was following through on legislation he has repeatedly introduced that imposes a term limit of 12 years on any elected official at the state level.

“As a strong proponent of term limits, will follow the limits we previously proposed in this legislation,” Larson wrote.

Larson was first elected in 2010 to represent House District 122 in the San Antonio area.

He had been increasingly expected to pass on a 2022 reelection campaign as he grew disillusioned with his party and potential GOP candidates lined up for his seat. Larson was the only Republican to oppose the GOP’s priority elections bill that led House Democrats to break quorum this summer. He also was the only Republican to vote against legislation that Republican supporters argued would crack down on the teaching of critical race theory in Texas classrooms. More recently, he filed a long-shot bill during the current special session to provide rape and incest exemptions for Texas’ new near-total abortion ban, despite previously voting for it.

Rep. Larson, who had been targeted by Greg Abbott in the 2018 primary, was sure to draw challengers this primary as well. He’s also now got his 12 years in, which means he’s fully vested in the pension. That’s always a propitious time to pull the plug. As noted before the current HD122, which began the decade as the most Republican district in Bexar County, has moved sharply towards Democrats. It was also significantly changed in redistricting, and was made more red than it had been in 2020, but could still be competitive in the near future. Maybe if a more wingnutty Republican wins, that timetable could move up.

Also moving districts due to the new map:

State Rep. James Talarico, D-Round Rock, announced Wednesday he is moving to run for reelection in a different House district because his current district is being redrawn to be more favorable to Republicans.

Talarico said he would run in nearby House District 50, where the Democratic incumbent, Celia Israel, is not seeking reelection as she prepares to run for Austin mayor. He announced the new campaign with the support of the biggest names in Democratic politics in Texas, including Beto O’Rourke, Wendy Davis and Joaquin Castro.

Talarico currently represents House District 52, which is set to become redder in redistricting — going from a district that President Joe Biden won by 10 percentage points to one that Donald Trump would have carried by 4. HD-50, meanwhile, is likely to remain solidly blue after redistricting.

[…]

Whether Talarico can avoid a competitive primary for HD-50 is an open question. Earlier Wednesday, Pflugerville City Councilman Rudy Metayer announced he was exploring a run for the seat. Metayer is also the president of the Texas Black Caucus Foundation, and he released a list of supporters topped by two of the state’s most prominent Black politicians, state Sens. Borris Miles of Houston and Royce West of Dallas.

HD-50 is more diverse than the district Talarico, who is white, currently represents. In a series of tweets announcing his new campaign, Talarico prominently highlighted how he “call[s] out White supremacy on the floor,” a reference to his outspoken advocacy against Republican legislation aiming to restrict the teaching of “critical race theory” in Texas classrooms.

Talarico was part of the over 50 House Democrats who broke quorum this summer in protest of the GOP’s priority elections bill, though he was part of the first several to return, causing friction with some in his own party.

See here for more on Rep. Israel. I have to think that HD52 will still be attractive to someone on the Democratic side; that person may have a harder time of it than Rep. Talarico, but a 4-point Trump district is hardly insurmountable, and I’d bet on further change in a Dem direction. As for Talarico, I’ll be very interested to see how big a deal his coming back in the first wave from the quorum break is in his primary. I’m sure the subject will come up.

Closer to home:

State Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, announced Tuesday he will not seek another term to the Texas House.

Huberty, who has represented House District 127 since 2011, said in a statement that “it is time for new opportunities in life.”

“I have thought long and hard about this decision,” Huberty said. “It’s been an honor to represent the people and communities of District 127 at the Texas Capitol, and I’m proud of the work our team has accomplished.”

During the 2019 legislative session, Huberty helped spearhead reforms to the state’s school finance system, which included $6.5 billion to improve public education in the state and pay teachers, plus $5.1 billion to lower school district taxes.

Huberty said Tuesday that his “interest in and passion for public education remains at my core” and said he believed that the school finance reform legislation from 2019 “will have a lasting impact for the school children of Texas for a long time to come.”

Another fully-vested-in-the-pension guy. Funny how those things work out. Rep. Huberty, like several of his colleagues, is one of those increasingly rare serious-about-policy types, who has done some good work with public education. As his district remains pretty solidly Republican, at least in the foreseeable future, the best we can hope for is someone who isn’t a total clown emerging from the Republican primary. Say a few Hail Marys and toss some salt over your shoulder.

And speaking of Republicans with policy chops, this was not unexpected but is still bad.

Amarillo state Sen. Kel Seliger, a Republican who often butted heads with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and was known to be a key swing vote for his party, will not seek reelection.

“After thoughtful consideration and with the reassurance of my family, including my new very vocal granddaughter, I have decided not to be a candidate for re-election to the Texas Senate,” Seliger said in a statement. “I am forever grateful for my family, supporters, staff, and those who. have worked on my behalf since 2004. Thank you for placing your trust in me as your Texas State Senator.”

Seliger said he will serve out the remainder of his term, which ends in January 2023. He has represented Senate District 31, which covers the Panhandle, South Plains and the Permian Basin, since 2005. Prior to that, he served four terms as mayor of Amarillo.

In the Legislature, Seliger was known as an advocate issues of public education, higher education and local control. He led the Senate Higher Education Committee for three sessions between 2013 and 2017. But as parts of the Republican Party in Texas shifted toward support of private school vouchers and against policies passed in Democrat-leaning municipalities, Seliger was often criticized for not supporting those stances and derided as a “liberal.”

[…]

As recently as Monday, Seliger was still breaking with Republican leadership in what he said was deference to his constituents. He was one of the only Republicans in office who openly opposed legislation to ban employers from requiring COVID-19 vaccines, saying the proposal, pushed by Gov. Greg Abbott, was “anti-business.” Earlier in the 30-day special session, Seliger was the sole GOP vote in the Senate against a bill that would clear the way for party officials to trigger election audits. Seliger reportedly said he opposed the legislation because it is an “unfunded mandate of the counties, and I’m opposed to big government.”

His maverick streak led to frequent conflict with Patrick, a conservative firebrand who presides over the Senate. In 2017, Seliger voted against two of Patrick’s legislative priorities: a bill restricting local governments’ abilities to raise property tax revenues and another one providing private school vouchers. The next session, Patrick stripped Seliger of his chairmanship of the Higher Education Committee prompting a back and forth with Patrick’s office that escalated to Seliger issuing a recommendation that a top Patrick adviser kiss his “back end.” (Seliger ultimately apologized, but only for directing the comment at the adviser and not at Patrick himself.)

There used to be a lot of Kel Seligers in the State Senate, and in the Republican Party. Now they run the gamut from Joan Huffman to Bob Hall, and the next person to be elected in SD31 is almost certainly going to be on the Bob Hall end of that spectrum. We sure better hope we can beat Dan Patrick next year.

Finally, here’s a non-legislative vacancy that may have an effect on the House delegation in 2023.

The race for Bexar County judge is wide open as the 2022 election approaches.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff confirmed last week that he would not seek reelection next year. Wolff has served as the county’s leader since 2001. Local political scientists say they expect a packed Democratic primary, though the number of officially declared candidates currently sits at zero.

So far, only state Rep. Ina Minjarez has publicly announced interest in the seat; she tweeted that she was exploring a run after Wolff announced his decision not to run again.

“I’ve received countless calls from community members for me to consider running for Bexar County Judge; with today’s news I’ve decided to form an exploratory committee,” she wrote on Oct. 6.

Rep. Minjarez was the only legislator mentioned in that story, but County Judge is a pretty good gig, so others may check this out. Being a County Judge is also a decent stepping stone to higher office, if that’s on one’s path. I will keep an eye on that.

With the mapmaking done, I expect we’ll start to hear about more people getting in, getting out, and moving over. And the January finance reports are going to tell us a lot. Stay tuned.

Galveston ISD mask mandate remains, Round Rock gets halted

Good.

A Galveston County judge Thursday denied an attempt by Attorney General Ken Paxton to stop Galveston ISD from requiring masks, according to a court document.

Judge Kerry Neves ruled against Texas’ request for a temporary restraining order on mask mandates in the district.

According to court documents, a hearing on the matter is set for Sept. 28.

See here for the background. That’s the whole Chron story – the Galveston County News covered this as well, but they’re behind a paywall so I can’t see it. Paxton scored an initial win against Paris ISD in his second round of lawsuits, though that happened without Paris ISD being in the courtroom. It would seem he used that same tactic in Round Rock.

A state district judge in Williamson County has temporarily blocked the Round Rock school district from enforcing its mask mandate, according to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who sued the school district.

In a tweet Thursday night, Paxton’s office declared “Another WIN!” in its legal fight against school districts that have defied Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive orders banning schools from requiring masks. Paxton sued Round Rock along with Elgin and other school districts with mask mandates last Friday.

[…]

In a statement, Round Rock school district leaders said they had not been officially served or notified by Paxton’s office of the order. District officials also said they were not given the opportunity attend any court proceedings to oppose the order, but they said they would “comply with any lawfully issued court order.”

“We will also use all proper and available legal proceedings to challenge this order and vigorously defend its long-established lawful authority to provide a safe and healthy learning environment for Round Rock ISD students and staff, including during this pandemic,” the statement said. “The district continues to strongly encourage and recommend the use of masks in accordance with guidance from our local health authorities.”

I totally get Paxton playing dirty, but what is up with these judges letting it happen? Do they have no responsibility to at least inquire why there’s no opposing counsel? I’m puzzled, to say the least.

As for the other affected districts, I did a quick Google News search and didn’t see any news for them. I would assume there will be more rulings in the coming days, but for now as far as I can tell this is where we are.

Judges in Harris County implement mask mandate

It’s what all the responsible public officials are doing.

State judges in Harris County voted unanimously Tuesday to implement a mask mandate in courthouses that will supersede Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on such mandates, according to three judges who participated in the meeting.

The anticipated courthouse ban comes as Dallas County officials and school officials in districts across the state have begun bucking up against Abbott’s latest coronavirus ban, which prioritizes Texans’ right to make their own choices over the health emergency.

The local judges’ order comes amid a surge of COVID-19 infections boosted by the delta variant. The judges, who asked to remain anonymous because the order was not yet official, said the mandate should go into effect imminently, as soon as it is signed by an administrative judge.

The new rule calls for masks to be used by everyone — vaccinated or not — inside civil, criminal, family and juvenile court buildings. County Attorney Christian Menefee said it would also apply to county judges if they are in a shared building with district judges.

The state judges’ mandate follows a memo Friday from the Office of Court Administration that informed judges, clerks and court staff that the infection, hospitalization and death rates have recently spiked and that they have power to enact rules independent of the executive branch. This delineation of executive and judicial power derives from the Texas Constitution, but also the separation of powers in the U.S. Constitution, according to judges, lawyers and law professors interviewed by the Chronicle.

The state courts take their direction on operation orders from the Texas Supreme Court, which allows judges to continue holding hearings remotely and to “modify or suspend any and all deadlines and procedures, and take any other reasonable action to avoid exposing court proceedings and participants to the threat of COVID-19,” according to the Friday memo from court administration in Austin.

[…]

“My understanding is that judges have been free to handle this whatever way they want,” said Menefee, the county attorney. “The Supreme Court has allowed judges to retain their authority to set conditions for their own courts. The Texas Supreme Court has not politicized the issue by issuing a rule.”

Menefee declined to comment on whether the county is contemplating a mask mandate for employees.

This has come up before, with Williamson County implementing a similar mandate last week, following Dallas and Bexar counties. I noted it in passing here, as it happened at the same time as the city of Houston mask mandate for its employees. So far, no pushback from Abbott or Paxton on either of those, and as such it is reasonable to assume this will pass by without fallout as well. Until it does draw a response, I guess – I can’t figure out what those guys are thinking right now. Maybe they’re too busy with all the lawsuits. I expect this will come up at the next Harris County Commissioners Court meeting, and I look forward to seeing what they do given the current set of facts on the ground.

Mayor Turner tells city employees to mask up

We’ll see how it goes.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner told city employees Monday that they again must wear masks when they are at work and unable to socially distance, a requirement that could run afoul of Gov. Greg Abbott’s latest executive order.

Turner’s memo mentioned the recent uptick in cases because of the delta variant of the coronavirus and the importance of remaining vigilant against the spread of the virus.

“Therefore, effective Wednesday, August 4, 2021, all city employees able to medically tolerate a face covering shall wear a face covering that fully covers the individual’s nose and mouth upon entering the city premises and while on city premises in an area where social distance measures are difficult to maintain,” Turner wrote.

That includes bathrooms, elevators, meeting rooms and offices where people cannot sit at least 6 feet apart, Turner said.

The governor’s order, signed last week, appeared to bar such mandates. Abbott’s office Thursday evening did not respond to a request for comment.

“No governmental entity, including a county, city, school district and public health authority, and no governmental official may require any person to wear a face covering or to mandate that another person wear a face covering,” the order stated.

Mary Benton, the mayor’s communications director, said the city was within its rights to take the action, despite the governor’s order.

“The mayor has a right and responsibility to ask city employees to wear face coverings indoors to help stop the virus from spreading,” Benton said. “With the rise in the delta variant cases and high numbers of unvaccinated individuals, Mayor Turner is doing what is necessary to keep (city) employees healthy, so they can provide for their families and the city can ensure that government services are provided to the public without interruption.”

I mean, we’ll see. Not only has Abbott refused to consider any state action to fight COVID, he’s issued an executive order banning localities from taking any action, which includes school districts and also includes mask mandates. I have a hard time believing that neither he nor Ken Paxton will respond, though to be fair the last time Paxton tried to block a city from doing a mask mandate, he was largely unsuccessful. Sure seems like it can’t hurt to try at this point, though I hesitate to suggest that there’s not a next level Abbott could take this to.

The Chron story notes that Dallas County courts have put out their own mask mandate as well. I would like to see Harris County follow suit on that. If nothing else, flood the zone a little. Fort Bend County has raised its threat level, which comes with a blanket call for everyone to mask up, while retail outlets are starting to move in that direction as well, because they kind of have to. The more everyone actively works to limit the spread of COVID, the worse and more out of touch the actions of Greg Abbott will appear.

One more thing:

Today would be an excellent day for the Supreme Court to rule that Abbott’s veto of legislative funding was unconstitutional.

UPDATE: This is also good.

President Joe Biden directly called out Gov. Greg Abbott’s order banning mask mandates in a speech Tuesday in which he begged Republican governors to “please help” curtail a rapidly growing fourth wave of COVID infections.

Biden condemned states that have banned public schools and universities from requiring workers and students to wear masks or get vaccinated, saying “the most extreme of those measures is like the one in Texas that say state universities or community colleges can be fined if it allows a teacher to ask her un-vaccinated students to wear a mask.”

“What are we doing?” Biden said. “COVID 19 is a national challenge and … we have to come together, all of us together, as a country to solve it.”

“If some governors aren’t willing to do the right thing to beat this pandemic, then they should allow businesses and universities who want to do the right thing to be able to do it,” he said. “I say to these governors: Please help. If you aren’t going to help, at least get out of the way of people who are trying to do the right thing. Use your power to save lives.”

“Lead, follow, or get out of the way” can apply to many situations. This is one of them. As above I’m sure Abbott will have something to say in response, but maybe this time he will find it a challenge to defend the indefensible. One can hope, anyway.

Day 13 quorum busting post: Just a reminder, the voter suppression bill still sucks

I’ll get to that in a minute, but first there’s this bit of business.

Rep. Philip Cortez

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, signed a civil warrant for the arrest of state Rep. Philip Cortez, a San Antonio Democrat who rejoined his colleagues in Washington, D.C., on Sunday to help prevent the passage of a GOP-backed election bill.

The warrant is not likely to have impact since Texas law enforcement lacks jurisdiction outside the state. It is the first one signed by the speaker since more than 50 House Democrats left the state to block Republicans from having the quorum needed to pass legislation during the special legislative session that began earlier this month.

Last week, Cortez returned to Austin from Washington in what he said was an attempt to engage in “good faith dialogue” about House Bill 3, the election legislation. Other Democrats criticized Cortez’s move, saying the lawmaker did not first consult with them before returning to Austin.

By Sunday though, Cortez was back in Washington, saying in a statement that talks with lawmakers in Austin on negotiating the legislation “have not produced progress.”

In a statement Monday, Phelan said that Cortez “has irrevocably broken my trust and the trust of this chamber” after the lawmaker “represented to me and his fellow members that he wanted to work on policy and find solutions to bring his colleagues back to Texas.”

“As a condition of being granted permission to temporarily leave the House floor, Rep. Cortez promised his House colleagues that he would return,” the speaker said. “Instead, he fled the state.”

Cortez, who chairs the House Urban Affairs Committee, did not directly address the warrant in a statement Monday that said he owes “a duty to my constituents to do everything I can to stop this harmful legislation.”

I didn’t blog about the Cortez situation at the time. There were conflicting reactions from different House Dems, with some being quite pointed in their criticism of his actions, saying he was not representing them. It seems clear from the Chron story that some but not all of that has been cleared up.

Cortez said in a Monday morning interview that he decided to rejoin his Democratic colleagues in the nation’s capital after three unsuccessful meetings last week with state Rep. Andrew Murr of Junction, the GOP sponsor of the elections measure.

He and Rep. John Turner, D-Dallas, one of the few Democrats who decided not to flee the state, had gone into negotiations with “six or seven pressure points” that they’d hoped to address — mostly concerning provisions in the bill that deal with the role of partisan poll watchers. But Cortez said Murr wouldn’t budge until Democrats came back to Texas.

“There was not any positive progress in terms of being able to move forward and improve the bill or improve the language of the bill, and upon seeing that, I decided to return back to D.C. and join my colleagues,” he said.

[…]

State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie and the head of the Texas Democratic Caucus, issued a statement Sunday night lauding Cortez as a “valued member of our caucus” who colleagues welcomed back to D.C. “with open arms.”

It was a de-escalation of a bitter back-and-forth that at times played out over social media last week as Democrats expressed frustration over Cortez’s departure, which he did not discuss with the delegation beforehand. Abhi Rahman, a Democratic aide, called Cortez a “gutless coward who has earned himself a primary challenge.”

Rahman said in an interview Monday that public pressure likely pushed Cortez to return.

“This isn’t the time for negotiations on voting,” Rahman said.

No one ever said this was for the faint of heart.

I don’t know enough about what Cortez thought he was doing, or whether he had sufficient buy-in to do what he did, but I do know that this bill continues to suck, and while it will never be worthwhile from our perspective, it could be made to be less actively harmful.

Amid all the fighting, most lawmakers have apparently overlooked a provision that would force counties to automatically reject some mail-in ballot applications. Here’s why: The Republican-authored legislation would require voters to submit either their driver’s license number or a partial Social Security number when applying to vote by mail. That number would then be cross-checked with the state’s voter-registration database. Most applicants would be fine, because almost 90 percent of all registered Texas voters have both their Social Security number and driver’s license number in the database. However, 1.9 million voters—about 11 percent of the total—have only one of the two numbers on file with the state.

During late-night testimony to a committee of the Texas House on July 10, Chris Davis, the elections administrator for Williamson County, explained that most of the voters with only one number on file wouldn’t remember which number they filed, often many years earlier, and would have to guess. “You have a 50 percent chance of the voter guessing wrong,” said Davis. Guess wrong and your application would be rejected, even if it’s been twenty years since you used your Social Security or driver’s license number to register to vote. “I challenge any person on the committee: do you remember what you filled out when you got your voter registration? I certainly don’t. And I’m in the business of this. And if [the numbers] don’t match, we’re rejecting.”

[…]

First during the regular session and then again in the ongoing special session, the authors of the “election integrity” legislation increasingly weakened crucial guardrails protecting the security of mail ballots. In addition to the new ID-matching requirements, it now contains a flawed way for voters to “cure,” or fix, a rejected mail-in ballot.

Enrique Marquez, spokesperson for House Speaker Dade Phelan, declined to answer questions about why the House moved the bill forward without addressing the ID-matching and curing issues, nor would he say whether there was any specific plan for addressing these issues if the House Democrats return to Austin. “There are no bills that can be considered on the floor until Democrats return home,” Marquez wrote in an email. “However, House Bill 3 author Andrew Murr has repeatedly stated he will work with all his colleagues to make the best bill possible.” (Murr’s chief of staff said Murr was aware of the problem and “looked forward to working with colleagues about remedying concerns about how differing numbers could result in a ballot not being counted.”)

Davis said many Republicans have failed to listen to the complaints of election officials, ignoring suggestions for improvements to nonpartisan, process-related issues. “It’s just like ‘Who is steering this bus?’” Davis told me. “They are following the pattern of only listening to their ‘the steal is real’ base and not consulting with any county elections officers.”

Davis said that while he decided to testify before the House, he chose not to give testimony before the Senate because Bryan Hughes, a Mineola Republican who chairs the State Affairs Committee, had brushed him off so many times before. Davis said he reached out to Hughes’s office about the ID-matching problem multiple times, but never received confirmation that a fix was in the works. Two legislative staffers, one working for a Republican and one for a Democrat, confirmed that the Texas secretary of state’s office had also advised legislators that the ID-matching provision needed to contain a failsafe for voters who do not have both numbers in the registration system, but the changes were never made. The staffers requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about negotiations. “Why are [election administrators] going to waste our time testifying?” asked Davis, who was appointed to his nonpartisan job by the Williamson County Commissioners’ Court. “They don’t care what we have to say. They haven’t from the beginning.”

County election administrators say the ID-matching provision imposes significant burdens on their offices, and they are unclear how to enforce it. Under the new language, the ID number—either a partial Social Security number or a driver’s license number—would have to be written on the envelope, forcing counties to spend thousands of dollars redesigning envelopes in order to accommodate a privacy flap that poll workers would peek under to check the number. “We’ve joked about whether it should be a scratch-off,” Davis said. If poll workers make an error or if voters, for example, transpose two numbers by accident, the application would be rejected with little opportunity for the voter to address the problem. “We don’t have time for that,” Davis said. “We’re getting down to registration deadlines by the time we receive a lot of these. There’s no time for the voter to mail another one.”

You should read the rest to learn more about the “curing” issue, in which untrained partisans get to review mail ballots and determine whether the signature on the (unopened) envelope matches the signature that’s on file from when you registered to vote. As the bill stands now, there’s no way to appeal if your ballot is rejected, and no opportunity to fix it, even though this kind of “curing” is standard and easily done in many states. This would also be redundant if the driver’s license or Social Security number matches, since the point of that is to verify identity. There are simple fixes, and the Republicans in the Lege have been aware of them for months, yet here we still are. There might be room to get the Dems back if dumb stuff like this were taken out or fixed, but the Republicans say they can’t or won’t do any of that until the Dems return on their own. That ain’t gonna happen, at least not in this session.

One thing that will happen:

Texas House Democrats who left the state to block GOP-backed efforts to enact new voting restrictions will testify on those proposals before a U.S. House subcommittee this week.

State Reps. Senfronia Thompson of Houston, Nicole Collier of Fort Worth and Diego Bernal of San Antonio are expected to make appearances on Thursday before the civil rights and civil liberties subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform in a specially called hearing on contentious Texas legislation that would rewrite state election laws. The hearing will come in the middle of Texas Democrats’ third week in Washington, D.C., offering them a more formal stage on which to make their case against the legislation that prompted them to decamp to the U.S. capital.

“America is facing the most sweeping assault on the voting rights of the people since passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965,” U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, who chairs the subcommittee, said in a statement. “Texas is now Ground Zero in this battle, and we are honored to have these Texas lawmakers come to testify before our subcommittee about the struggle to defend basic democracy in their state.”

Again, the House isn’t really the problem, the Senate is, and it’s the ridiculous fidelity to the filibuster that’s at the heart of it. I refuse to give up hope, but time is not on our side. But at least our people in DC will get to be heard.

Precinct analysis: State House district changes by county

Introduction
Congressional districts
State Rep districts
Commissioners Court/JP precincts
Comparing 2012 and 2016
Statewide judicial
Other jurisdictions
Appellate courts, Part 1
Appellate courts, Part 2
Judicial averages
Other cities
District Attorney
County Attorney
Sheriff
Tax Assessor
County Clerk
HCDE
Fort Bend, part 1
Fort Bend, part 2
Fort Bend, part 3
Brazoria County
Harris County State Senate comparisons
State Senate districts 2020
State Senate district comparisons
State House districts 2020, part 1
State House districts 2020, part 2
Median districts
State House district changes by demography

One more look at how state house districts have changed over the decade. For this exercise, I’m going to look at some key counties and the State Rep districts within them.

Bexar:


Dist  12-16R  12-16D  16-20R  16-20D  12-20R  12-20D Dem net
============================================================
122   -1,304  10,628  12,204  21,091  10,900  31,719  20,819
121   -4,020   6,534   6,059  15,078   2,039  21,612  19,573
116     -583   6,014   3,546  10,281   2,963  16,295  13,332
117    4,532   8,828  14,927  22,921  19,459  31,749  12,290
123   -1,427   5,225   3,742   9,272   2,315  14,497  12,182
124      330   5,077   5,877  11,756   6,207  16,833  10,626
125   -1,081   4,378   4,753   9,350   3,672  13,728  10,056
120     -184     863   4,503  10,856   4,319  11,719   7,400
119    1,062   3,428   6,041  10,507   7,103  13,935   6,832
118    1,391   3,719   6,633   7,790   8,024  11,509   3,485

Bexar County doesn’t get the props it deserves for contributing to the Democratic cause. Each of its ten districts became more Democratic in each of the two Presidential cycles. Where Bexar had gone 51.56% to 47.04% in 2012 for Obama, it went 58.20% to 40.05% for Biden. Obama had a net 23K votes in Bexar, while it was +140K votes for Biden. The two districts that shifted the most heavily towards Dems are the two Republican districts (HD117 went Republican in 2014, then flipped back in 2016), with Biden carrying HD121 as Beto had done in 2018, and HD122 coming into focus as a potential long-term pickup (modulo redistricting, of course). Both HDs 121 and 122 were over 60% for Romney, with HD122 at almost 68% for him. Both can and surely will be shored up in the next round of mapmaking, but the long term trends don’t look good for the Republicans holding them both.

Tarrant:


Dist  12-16R  12-16D  16-20R  16-20D  12-20R  12-20D Dem net
============================================================
092   -1,102   3,986   4,166  13,144   3,064  17,130  14,066
094   -3,344   2,238   2,655  10,231    -689  12,469  13,158
096      821   4,468   6,527  15,522   7,348  19,990  12,642
098     -489   6,891   8,798  13,948   8,309  20,839  12,530
097   -3,267   3,654   6,147  11,472   2,880  15,126  12,246
101     -734   3,487   4,523   9,808   3,789  13,295   9,506
093    2,751   5,180   9,984  15,697  12,735  20,877   8,142
091      401   2,489   5,437   8,897   5,838  11,386   5,548
090     -180   2,391   3,170   5,496   2,990   7,887   4,897
095     -613  -2,745   2,727   7,752   2,114   5,007   2,893
099    2,757   3,282   9,686  11,208  12,443  14,490   2,047

I know everyone sees Tarrant County as a disappointment in 2020. Beto broke through in 2018, we had a bunch of close districts to target, and the Republicans held them all even as Biden also carried Tarrant. The point here is that Democrats made progress in every district, in each cycle (the dip in predominantly Black and heavily Democratic HD95 in 2016 notwithstanding). That includes the strong Republican districts (HDs 91, 98, and 99), the strong D districts (HDs 90, 95, and 101), and the five swing districts. Tarrant will be another challenge for Republicans in redistricting because like in Harris they have mostly lost their deep red reserves. HD98 went from being a 75% Romney district to a 62% Trump district last year. They can spread things out a bit, but remember what happened in Dallas County in the 2010s when they got too aggressive. I’m not saying that’s what will happen in Tarrant, but you can see where the numbers are.

Collin:


Dist  12-16R  12-16D  16-20R  16-20D  12-20R  12-20D Dem net
============================================================
067   -3,022   8,595   6,135  19,411   3,113  28,006  24,893
066   -4,911   8,517   4,001  14,432    -910  22,949  23,859
089    1,038   6,667   9,980  17,338  11,018  24,005  12,987
033    4,656   8,268  18,234  20,233  22,890  28,501   5,611
070    7,648   8,675  21,284  25,686  28,932  34,361   5,429

Denton:


Dist  12-16R  12-16D  16-20R  16-20D  12-20R  12-20D Dem net
============================================================
065   -1,378   6,440   6,048  16,110   4,670  22,550  17,880
106    8,757  11,138  21,190  29,280  29,947  40,418  10,471
064    3,003   6,205   8,257  15,136  11,260  21,341  10,081
063    2,642   6,129  16,382  17,279  19,024  23,408   4,384

I’m grouping these two together because they have a lot in common. Both shifted hugely Democratic over the decade, in each case across all their districts. Both contain a district that was added to their county in the 2011 redistricting. HDs 33 (72-26 for Romney in 2012, 60-38 for Trump in 2020) and 106 (68-31 for Romney in 2012, 54-45 for Trump in 2020) were supposed to be super-red, but didn’t stay that way. I might have thought that the southernmost districts in each county – i.e., the ones closest to Dallas and Tarrant – would be the bluest, but that is not quite the case. HD65 is in southeast Denton, where it is almost entirely adjacent to HD115, but HD63 is the reddest district in Denton (61-37 Trump) and it is the other district on Denton’s south border, though it aligns almost perfectly with HD98, the reddest district in Tarrant. HD64 is the next most Dem district in Denton, and it’s in the northwest quadrant, catty-corner to HD65. I have to assume this is a function of development more than who its closest neighbors are; I’m sure someone who knows Denton better than I can comment on that.

In Collin, HDs 66 and 67 are on the southern end of that county, but so is HD89, where it abuts Rockwall County more than it does Dallas. HD70 is north of 67 and 89, and HD33 (which contains all of Rockwall County) is the outer edge of the county to the west, north, and east, dipping down into Rockwall from there. Both counties continue their massive growth, and I expect them to have at least one more district in them next decade. Republicans have more room to slosh voters around, but as above, the trends are not in their favor.

There are of course other counties that are growing a lot and not in a way that favors Republicans. Here are two more of them.

Williamson:


Dist  12-16R  12-16D  16-20R  16-20D  12-20R  12-20D Dem net
============================================================
136       52  10,901   7,842  22,330   7,894  33,231  25,337
052    2,422   8,335  11,479  22,872  13,901  31,207  17,306
020    7,373   2,895  20,820  14,926  28,193  17,821 -10,372

Fort Bend:


Dist  12-16R  12-16D  16-20R  16-20D  12-20R  12-20D Dem net
============================================================
026   -4,573   9,082   7,327  13,556   2,754  22,638  19,884
028    4,053  14,090  19,260  24,010  23,313  38,100  14,787
027     -461   4,708   6,324  13,724   5,863  18,432  12,569
085    2,908   5,495  10,258  10,161  13,166  15,656   2,490

HD20 also includes Milam and Burnet counties, and I suspect that’s where most of the Republican growth is. HD85 also includes Jackson and Wharton counties. The previous version of HD52 had flipped Dem in 2008, the first such incursion into the formerly all-red suburbs, before flipping back in 2010, but neither it (55-42 for Romney) nor the newcomer HD136 (55-41 Romney) were ever all that red. There were some maps drawn in the 2011 redistricting process (not by Republicans, of course) that carved HD26 out as a heavily Asian swing district (it went 63-36 for Romney as drawn), but it just needed time for the “swing” part to happen. Of the various targets from 2018 and 2020, it’s one that I feel got away, and I wish I understood that better.

Brazoria:


Dist  12-16R  12-16D  16-20R  16-20D  12-20R  12-20D Dem net
============================================================
029      496   8,084  10,828  15,387  11,324  23,471  12,147
025    1,759     215   8,293   3,874  10,052   4,089  -5,963

Galveston:


Dist  12-16R  12-16D  16-20R  16-20D  12-20R  12-20D Dem net
============================================================
024    2,403   3,959  13,045   8,928  15,448  12,887  -2,561
023    3,847     346  11,123   7,296  14,970   7,642  -7,328

Montgomery:


Dist  12-16R  12-16D  16-20R  16-20D  12-20R  12-20D Dem net
============================================================
015   -1,563   7,905  13,226  15,512  11,663  23,417  11,754
016    7,437   2,437  16,088   7,160  23,525   9,597 -13,928
003    7,758   1,807  17,456   8,286  25,214  10,093 -15,121

We’ve looked at these counties before, this is just a more fine-grained approach. Note that HD03 includes all of Waller County, HD25 includes all of Matagorda County, and HD23 includes all of Chambers County. HD23 was already Republican in 2012 when Craig Eiland still held it (Romney carried it 54.6 to 44.2) and while it has gotten more so since then (Trump won it 57.5 to 41.0), that has mostly been fueled by the Republican growth in Chambers. I did a quick calculation on the data from the Galveston County election results page, and Biden carried the Galveston part of HD23 by a slim margin, 29,019 to 28,896. (Republican rep Mayes Middleton won that part of the district 29,497 to 27,632, so this tracks.) The rest of Galveston, the northern part that’s all Houston suburb, is much more Republican, but like with these other two counties one can see a path forward from here. What to do about the likes of Chambers County, that’s another question.

HD29 in Brazoria should have been a target in 2018 but the Dem who won the primary dropped out of the race, and there was no traction that I could see there in 2020. I expect that district to get a little redder, but the same story as elsewhere applies in that the geographic trends are a force that won’t be stopped by boundary lines. As for Montgomery, there are your signs of progress right there. HD15 is still very red, but as I’ve said before, the first goal is to bend the curve, and we’re on the right track there. HD15 is basically the Woodlands and Shenandoah, just north of HD150, while HD03 wraps around it and HD16 is the north end of the county.

Lubbock:


Dist  12-16R  12-16D  16-20R  16-20D  12-20R  12-20D Dem net
============================================================
084     -474     873   4,124   6,975   3,650   7,848   4,198
083    3,359     242  12,224   5,141  15,583   5,383 -10,200

Smith:


Dist  12-16R  12-16D  16-20R  16-20D  12-20R  12-20D Dem net
============================================================
006       67     938   6,922   6,208   6,989   7,146     157
005    4,565  -1,293   9,646   2,832  14,211   1,539 -12,672

These two districts, on opposite ends of the state, may seem odd to be paired together, but they have a couple of things in common. Both contain one district that is entirely within its borders (HD06 in Smith, HD84 in Lubbock) and one district that contains the rest of their population plus several smaller neighboring counties (HD05 also contains Wood and Rains counties, while HD83 contains six other counties). Both have a city that is the bulk of of its population (the city of Lubbock has over 90% of the population of Lubbock County, while a bit less than half of Smith County is in the city of Tyler). And both provide a bit of evidence for my oft-stated thesis that these smaller cities in Texas, which are often in otherwise fairly rural and very Republican areas, provide the same kind of growth opportunity for Democrats that the bigger cities have provided.

Both HDs 06 and 84 were less red than Smith and Lubbock counties overall: Smith County was 69-30 for Trump, HD06 was 68-32 for Matt Schaefer; Lubbock County was 65-33 for Trump, and HD84 was 61-39 for John Frullo. I didn’t go into the precinct details to calculate the Trump/Biden numbers in those districts, but given everything we’ve seen I’d say we could add another point or two into the Dem column for each. HD84 shows a clear Democratic trend while HD06 is more of a mixed bag, but it’s still a slight net positive over the decade and a damn sight better than HD05. HD06 is not close to being competitive while HD84 is on the far outer fringes, but that’s not the main point. It’s the potential for Democratic growth, for which we will need every little contribution we can get, that I want to shout from the rooftops. The big cities and big growing suburbs are our top tier, but we’d be fools to ignore the places like Lubbock and Tyler.

An alternate route to Medicaid expansion

I’m okay with this.

Texas Democrats have tried for years to convince Republican state leaders to increase access to Medicaid. Now they think they have found a way to do it with or without their help.

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett and lawmakers from 11 other GOP-led states introduced a measure this week that would give money directly to local governments that want to provide coverage for hundreds of thousands of low-income Texans who currently fall into what is known as the “coverage gap.”

The Cover Outstanding Vulnerable Expansion-eligible Residents (COVER) Now Act would allow counties to apply for the money directly with the federal government, and it would prohibit state leaders from retaliating against them if they do.

Doggett said his aim is to avoid conflict with Republicans.

“You have your ideological objections to Medicaid expansion — I don’t agree, but I accept your position,” he said. “At least let those local leaders who want to take advantage of this and who recognize both the health and economic advantages of doing it, at least let them do that, and walk away and see how it works.”

[…]

Doggett estimated that if Houston, San Antonio and Dallas alone signed on to the proposal, half of the state’s eligible uninsured population would gain access. All three cities are led by Democrats and have pushed for Medicaid expansion.

Statewide, more than 1.2 million Texans would be eligible for Medicaid if state officials were to expand the program, according to a study by the The Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University

More than two million people are thought to be in the coverage gap today, meaning they make too much to qualify for traditional Medicaid but not enough to qualify for subsidized insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Most are people of color, and the biggest group is in Texas, a state that has long had the highest uninsured rate in the country.

Anne Dunkelberg, a policy analyst for the left-leaning think tank Every Texan, said the new legislation would also increase funding to state health officials for any added administrative costs.

“Congressman Doggett’s bill really recognizes how entrenched the ultra conservative opposition to expansion is in Texas and the need to really connect the dots about what it’s going to take for us to get possibly a million and a half uninsured adults — the vast majority of them working — coverage,” she said.

I don’t know if the reconciliation process that Rep. Doggett envisions for this would be part of the infrastructure package or as a later budget bill, but either way there will be opportunities. I think the odds of it avoiding conflict with Republicans is basically zero, so the more important consideration is how well-defended it will be from Republican attempts to screw with it or obstruct it. We have seen too many examples in recent times of the state having control over federal money intended for local governments that have resulted in all kinds of bad outcomes, from the delays in appropriating COVID relief to the GLO’s screw job against Houston and Harris County. Cut the state completely out of it, and then hope it’s too difficult for a future Republican Congress or President to mess with it.

Assuming this does go through, I would expect quite a few more counties than those three cited would jump at this. Travis, El Paso, Fort Bend, Cameron, Webb, some other South Texas counties, probably Hays, would certainly take advantage. Nueces, Tarrant, and Williamson would be interesting to watch, and I bet this would add some spice to county races in Collin and Denton and maybe Brazoria. It’s possible that some Republican counties, especially ones with hospitals teetering on the brink of financial disaster, might decide to put aside politics and grab the money, as several Republican states have done. I could definitely see this making a huge dent in the uninsured population, and providing some fodder for the 2022 elections as well. It’s mostly a question of how durable it is, and that’s something that Rep. Doggett can work on. Here’s hoping.

Counties of interest, part three: Around Travis

Part 1 – Counties around Harris
Part 2 – Counties around Dallas/Tarrant

Travis County has been at the forefront of the Democratic renaissance in Texas, punching well above its weight with both performance and turnout. Its blue essence has been spilling over its borders into its neighbor counties, and overall the picture here is as bright as you’ll see anywhere. Let’s have a look:


County       Romney    Obama    Trump  Clinton    Trump    Biden    Shift
=========================================================================
Bastrop      14,033    9,864   16,328   10,569   20,486   15,452     -865
Blanco        3,638    1,220    4,212    1,244    5,429    1,905   -1,106
Burnet       12,843    3,674   14,638    3,797   18,721    5,615   -3,937
Caldwell      6,021    4,791    6,691    4,795    7,975    6,536     -209
Hays         31,661   25,537   33,826   33,224   47,427   59,213   17,910
Williamson   97,006   61,875  104,175   84,468  138,649  142,457   38,939

Williamson and Hays get all the ink, and they certainly present opportunities for further growth. I believe the same dynamic is here as it is in Dallas and Collin/Denton, which is that Travis County and all of its characteristics have simply expanded into the adjacent counties, making the distinction between the two, at least in the areas near the border, basically meaningless. I’ve long felt this about the southwest part of Harris County and Fort Bend. The numbers certainly bear it out.

Of great interest to me is that Bastrop and Caldwell counties took a step in the right direction in 2020, after going the wrong way in 2016. I was especially worried about Bastrop, home of Jade Helm hysteria, starting to slip away, but perhaps they too will begin to go the way of Hays as development from Travis creeps farther out along State Highway 71. Caldwell County was a pleasant surprise, as it is more of a rural county, and one I honestly hadn’t realized bordered Travis – you pass through Caldwell on I-10 between Houston and San Antonio – until I was reviewing the map I consulted for this post. Whatever happened in Caldwell in 2020 to get it moving in this direction, I approve.

That leaves Burnet and Blanco, both to the west and northwest of Travis. I haven’t been to Burnet since the 90s and may well be talking out of my ass here, but just looking at the geography, I could imagine some of the Travis overflow that had been going into Williamson going a little farther west into Burnet, and maybe that will blue it up a little. Just a guess, and even if there’s merit to it that’s likely not a short-term prospect. Until then, if Dem activist folks in Travis are looking for new worlds to conquer, I humbly suggest Burnet – and Bastrop, and Caldwell – as opportunities to consider.

A high level look at the changing suburbs

The Trib takes a broad and high-level look at what I’m digging into now.

Although they didn’t get the blue wave they expected, Democrats narrowed the gap with Republicans in five of the most competitive and populous suburban counties in Texas.

An analysis of the presidential vote in solidly suburban Collin, Denton, Fort Bend, Hays and Williamson counties, plus partly suburban Tarrant County, showed that Republicans went from an advantage of more than 180,000 total votes in those counties in 2016 to less than a thousand votes in 2020, according to the latest data.

“This was not, on a whole, a good night for Democrats, it’s not what they hoped,” said Sherri Greenberg, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s LBJ School of Public Affairs. “But Democrats did see some gains and some success flipping areas in the suburbs.”

[…]

Some of Democrats’ biggest gains happened in Central Texas. Williamson County, where Trump won by 9.7% four years ago, flipped in 2020 and went to Biden by just over 1%. Hays County, which Trump won by less than 1% in 2016, gave Biden a nearly 11% victory this year. Both counties also supported Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke in the 2018 midterm elections.

Greenberg said those two counties are a perfect example of the trend that is helping Democrats in the suburbs: a growing population, particularly in demographic groups that tend to be more left-leaning. Since 2010, Williamson County alone has added more than 160,000 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“You see a growing population, a younger population, highly educated. Those kinds of voters are moving towards the Democrats,” Greenberg said.

In the Greater Houston area, Fort Bend County, which supported Hillary Clinton in 2016, was even more favorable for Biden, who won by 37,000 votes, compared with Clinton’s roughly 17,000-vote margin in 2016.

Fort Bend’s population is 811,688, and 20% of the population is Asian, according to the U.S. census.

“That county has become pretty solidly Democratic, and that happened quickly,” Cross said. “And it’s because of these younger, more educated and more diverse voters. It’s an example of what the Asian American vote can change.”

In North Texas, in Denton and Collin counties, Republicans expanded their margins from the 2018 midterms, but compared with the 2016 presidential election, Democrats narrowed the gap: In Denton County, Trump’s 20% victory in 2016 shrunk to 8.1% this year, while his margin in Collin County fell from 16% to 4.6%.

Meanwhile in Tarrant County, where Fort Worth is surrounded by a tapestry of suburbs, counting is still ongoing, but the latest results show that Democrats might be able to flip the county.

Not all suburban counties became as competitive as Tarrant. In Montgomery County, north of Houston, where more than 270,000 people voted, Republicans still had a comfortable 44% margin in 2020, 7% less than in the 2016 presidential election.

All of this is true, and there are some nice charts in the story to look at, but it obscures a couple of points. One, with regard to Montgomery County, it’s not the percentage margin that matters, it’s the raw vote differential. Trump won Montgomery county by 104,479 votes in 2016. He won it by 118,969 votes in 2020. It’s nice that the second derivative of their growth curve is now negative, but we need to start shrinking that gap, not just slowing its acceleration. Joe Biden will end up about 650K votes behind Donald Trump. That’s about 160K votes closer than Hillary Clinton got. If we want to make it easier for Biden, or Kamala Harris, or someone else, in 2024, that’s the target. It’s preferable if Montgomery County is not making that job more difficult.

The other point is that this discussion leaves out too much. The reason I wanted to look at all the counties that surround the big urban areas is so we can be aware of the places that are growing into becoming like Montgomery – think Parker and Johnson Counties up north – as well as the small counties that punch well above their weight, like Chambers and Liberty. Maybe we don’t have a clear answer for those places yet, but we need to be thinking about them, and we need to make having a plan for them a priority. We’re just conceding too much ground otherwise.

A closer look at county races, Part 1

In this series of entries, I’m going to take a trip through the local election results pages on some counties of interest, to get a closer look at how they went this year and how that compares to 2016. We know Dems didn’t make the kind of gains they hoped for in Congress or the Lege, but there are other races on the ballot. How did things look there?

Harris County: We know the basic story of Harris County, where Republicans have claimed to get their mojo back. I’m not going to re-litigate that, but I will note that while things were mostly at stasis at the countywide and legislative levels, Dems flipped JP Precinct 5, long held by Republicans, though Constable Precinct 5 remained Republican. Beto carried all eight JP/Constable precincts in 2018, and while Biden only carried six in 2020, there still remain opportunities for Dems to win offices currently held by Republicans in Harris County.

Tarrant County: At a macro level, Dems were far more competitive in judicial races in 2020 than they were in 2016. None of the statewide judicial candidates got as much as 41% of the vote in 2016, while the range for statewide judicials in 2020 was 46.13% to 47.91%. In 2016, Dems fielded only one candidate for a district court bench; he lost by 15 points. In 2020, Dems challenged in 9 of 11 district court plus one county court race, with all candidates getting between 46 and 48 percent. This is basically where Harris County Democrats were in 2004, with more candidates in these races.

A little farther down the ballot, and Democrats flipped two Constable offices, in Precincts 2 and 7. Neither Republican incumbent had been challenged in 2016.

Fort Bend County: We know the topline, that Hillary Clinton won Fort Bend County in 2016, by a 51-45 margin. But there was no downballot effect – none of the statewide Democratic candidates won a plurality (all statewide candidates were below fifty percent). None of the Courts of Appeals candidates won, and none of the countywide candidates won, though most were around 48 or 49 percent. State Rep. Phil Stephenson won the Fort Bend part of HD85 by six points. Republicans won back County Commissioner Precinct 1 by finally running an untainted candidate against two-term incumbent Richard Morrison. Fort Bend was on the precipice, but it seemed like it had been there before.

As we know, Democrats broke through in a big way in 2018, and 2020 was more of the same. It’s not just that Biden carried Fort Bend by over ten points. It’s that every statewide Dem took a majority in Fort Bend, as did every Courts of Appeals candidates and every countywide candidate. Dems did not win back CC1, though challenger Jennifer Cantu did a smidge better than Morrison had done, but they did win the Constable race in Precinct 4; this was an open seat, as previous incumbent Trever Nehls ran unsuccessfully for Sheriff. Nehls had been unopposed in 2016.

Bexar County: Bexar is reliably blue at this point, and Biden’s 58-40 win is almost exactly in line with the October countywide poll we got. The big difference I see between Bexar 2020 and Bexar 2016 is in the legislative races. Phillip Cortez won HD117 back in 2016 by two and half points after having been swept out in the 2014 debacle. He won in 2020 by over 13 points. Tomas Uresti won HD118 in 2016 by ten points; Leo Pacheco won it in 2020 by seventeen. Rebecca Bell-Metereau lost the Bexar portion of SBOE5 in 2016 by 42K votes; she lost it by 24K votes in 2020, which is to say by 18K fewer votes. She won the district by 17K total votes, mostly boosted by Travis County, but she needed it to be closer in Bexar and it was. By the same token, Sen. Carlos Uresti won the Bexar portion of SD19 over challenger Pete Flores in 2016 by 34K votes. Incumbent Pete Flores lost the Bexar portion of SD19 to Roland Gutierrez by 33K votes, and he needed that margin to be as good as it was considering how the rest of the district went for Flores by 23K; Uresti had won the rest of the district by 3K in 2016. However you feel about the 2020 election in Texas, you would feel much worse about it if Rebecca Bell-Metereau had lost and Pete Flores had hung on. So thank you, Bexar County.

Williamson County: WilCo made news in 2018 when Beto carried the county, with MJ Hegar doing the same in CD31. I’ll get to the 2020 results in a minute, but first let’s remind ourselves where things were in 2016. Trump won WilCo by nine points over Hillary Clinton, John Carter beat Mike Clark in CD31 by 19 points, other statewide Republicans led by 16 to 19 points, and Tom Maynard led in SBOE10 by 16 points. State Rep. Larry Gonzalez had only a Libertarian opponent in HD52, Rep. Tony Dale won HD136 by eleven points. Republicans running for countywide office were all unopposed. The one Democratic victory was for County Commissioner, Precinct 1, which Terry Cook took with 51%.

Fast forward to 2020. Biden won Williamson County by about a point and a half – more than ten points better than Clinton in 2016. As with Tarrant County, his win was a solo at the county level, but the Democratic tide was much higher. Hegar lost to John Cornyn by three points, Donna Imam by five in CD31, and the other statewide Dems trailed by three to seven points. Tom Maynard carried WilCo in SBOE10 again, but only by four points. Dems had flipped HDs 52 and 136 in the 2018 wave, and both freshmen Reps were easily re-elected, James Talarico by three points in HD52, and John Bucy by 10 in HD136. Dems lost the two District Court races they challenged, and they lost for County Attorney, but they did oust the scandal-tainted Sheriff, by a massive 12 points. Terry Cook was re-elected as County Commissioner in Precinct 1 with over 57%, and Dems won Constable Precinct 1, while coming close in Precincts 3 (losing by five) and 4 (losing by two). It’s not at all hard to see Williamson as the next Fort Bend.

The point of all this is twofold. One is a reminder that there are more races than just the state races, and there’s more ways to measure partisan strength than just wins and losses. The other is that these much less visible races that Dems are winning is exactly what Republicans were doing in the 80s and 90s and into the aughts. Every election it seemed like I was reading about this or that traditionally Democratic county that had gone all Republican. There is a trend here, and we’d be foolish to ignore it. To be sure, this is happening in fewer counties than with the Republican march of the previous decades, but there’s a lot more people in these counties. I’ll take population over land mass any day.

I’ll be back with a look at more counties next time. Let me know what you think.

UPDATE: While I was drafting this, I received a press release from the TDP congratulating three Democratic Sheriffs-elect, all of whom had won offices previously held by Republicans: Eric Fagan in Fort Bend, Mike Gleason in Williamson – both of which were mentioned in this post – and Joe Lopez of Falls County, which is adjacent to McLennan and Coryell counties to the east; basically, it’s east of Waco. Falls was Republican at the Presidential level, with Trump carrying it 4,177 to 1,899, so I assume there was some reason particular to that race that assisted Lopez in his victory.

The “blue spine” and the rural counties

Point:

For the third consecutive election cycle, Democrats saw their advantage over Republicans grow in the 21 counties along Interstate 35, allowing them to further chip into the Republican dominance that has lasted for nearly three decades. The result was Joe Biden won over 46 percent of the vote in Texas, joining Texas native Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter as the only Democrats to get over 45 percent of the vote in Texas in a presidential race in 56 years.

A key reason for Biden’s performance in Texas is what is happening along I-35 from Laredo, through San Antonio and Austin and up to the Dallas Metroplex.

It’s not a mystery. U.S. Census data shows a shift toward a more diverse, better educated and wealthier electorate since 2010, changes that favor Democrats.

Along I-35, Biden flipped traditionally red counties like Tarrant, Williamson and Hays, and did vastly better in Travis, Dallas and Bexar counties than Hillary Clinton did just four years earlier.

This is a major departure from the way Texans in those counties voted over the previous two decades. Back in 2014, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican at the top of the ticket, won the same counties by a combined 346,000 votes.

Two years later. Clinton would win that stretch by just over 116,000 votes over President Donald Trump. Then 2018 Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke won it by 440,000 votes over U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

Biden pushed his lead in the blue spine this year to nearly 500,000 votes.

That is a swing of more than 800,000 votes from Republicans to Democrats and explains why, along with Harris County’s march to solid blue, the state has seen increasingly competitive races at the top of the ballot since George W. Bush won Texas by 22 percentage points in 2004.

I’ve covered some of this before, and there was a similar Trib story published at around the same time, because it’s fertile ground and a reminder that even in defeat, Dems have gained a lot of ground over the past decade. Disappointing as the results were this year, we shouldn’t forget that.

One more thing:

At the same time the I-35 corridor is getting more Democratic, Republicans are facing challenges with their base of support in West Texas and East Texas. Those regions simply are not growing as fast as I-35. In the Panhandle, the 27 counties with a combined 250,000 voters saw just a 4 percent increase in voter registrations over the last four years. But Hays and Williamson County, with a combined 500,000 voters, registrations have grown a combined 25 percent over the same period.

Also covered this, because the Republican strength in the rural areas is still quite formidable. Even if the longer-term trends are in the Dems’ favor – and as things stand now, they are – we could still be talking about a couple of Presidential cycles before the two lines intersect. The clearest way to speed that up is for the Dems to figure out how to narrow the gap in rural Texas rather than wait it out.

And so on that note, we have the counterpoint, about the Republican red wall in the many rural counties. This story was from the day before the election, so there wasn’t time to blog about it, but it contained this nugget that made me set the article aside and come back to it as part of my usual postmortem analysis.

Among Democrats, there’s optimism that Biden-backing allies in rural Texas could not only prevent Trump from recreating his overwhelming 2016 margins in white, working class areas, the kind of support that offset his losses in the suburbs and among voters of color four years ago, but also make Trump’s path to victory in Texas all the more difficult.

“I’m also seeing a pretty substantial uptick in folks volunteering with Democratic-adjacent organizations,” said Amy Hull, 42, who lives in Tarrant County. “It’s been interesting to see people who were pretty tuned out four years ago become unapologetic about their politics and determined to do everything possible to make our community, state and country government work better for everyone.”

Republicans could especially take heart in rural areas that have only grown more red in recent election cycles. Take for example Jones County, which includes part of Abilene and went for John McCain by 47 points in 2008, Mitt Romney by 55 points in 2012 and Trump by 65 points in 2016.

The county GOP chair, Isaac Castro, said there is “a lot more enthusiasm” for Trump in Jones County compared to four years ago, when some local Republicans had reservations about his conservative credentials.

“I really think that this year he’s probably going to do better,” Castro said, adding that he was not worried about Trump losing statewide. “You know, West Texas is going to be strong for him again.”

Here’s how the vote has gone in Jones County since 2008, updated to include this year:


Candidates    Votes     Pct
===========================
McCain        4,203  72.37%
Obama         1,528  26.31%
Margin        2,675  46.06%
Total         

Romney        4,262  76.56%
Obama         1,226  22.02%
Margin        3,036  54.54%
Total

Trump         4,819  80.86%
Clinton         936  15.70%
Margin        3,883  65.16%
Total        10,101

Trump         5,621  84.00%
Biden           989  14.78%
Margin        4,632  69.22%
Total         9,635

The SOS election returns pages did not list the total number of registered voters in Jones County in 2008 and 2012, so that figure is only there for the two most recent elections. The trend is clear, and it has netted the Republican Presidential candidate an extra two thousand votes since 2008, though as you can see Joe Biden at least added on to Hillary Clinton’s meager vote total from 2016. May not seem like much, but there are a lot of counties like Jones out there (keep that chart Michael Li posted in mind), and it all adds up.

I’m going to be taking a deeper dive into this over the next couple of weeks, so hopefully we will all become more familiar with this theme. I think there is room to improve for the Dems, which doesn’t mean winning these areas but being more competitive in them so as not to continue falling behind, but more importantly I think we have to improve in them. It’s easy to say that counties like Jones are running out of room to increase their Republican yield, but there’s no reason to think they’ve reached that point yet, and much of the low-hanging fruit in the big urban areas for Dems have been harvested, too. The first step is to make the commitment, and I’m going to do what I can to convince you that it needs to happen. Stay tuned.

A few thoughts about Election 2020 before Tuesday

Just a brain dump, to get this all out there before we find out what happened. Let’s start with this:

After the conclusion of three weeks of early voting, 9.7 million Texans have cast ballots, crushing previous early voting totals in the state and setting Texas on a course for record turnout in this Tuesday’s general election.

At least 9,709,376 voters cast early ballots, according to preliminary final numbers released by the Texas Secretary of State and the counties on Saturday morning. That is 57.3% percent of registered voters, just shy of the overall turnout of 59.4% in 2016 by 2 percentage points.

Of those early votes, 8,738,363 were cast in person; 971,013 were cast by mail.

Early voting, which Gov. Abbott extended by six days this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, has already eclipsed total votes during the 2016 general election, when 8,969,226 Texans voted.

Texas has added 1.8 million registered voters since the 2016 election. Texas has not surpassed 60% turnout of registered voters since the early 1990s.

Harris County, Texas’s most populous county, leads the state with 1.4 million votes cast. Among large counties, Collin County outside of Dallas has the highest early voting turnout with 69%.

As we have discussed before, high turnout is generally more favorable to Democrats, but not universally, and there’s been plenty of activity in heavily Republican counties:

Comal County is like Montgomery County’s little brother, and Guadalupe is pretty Republican, too. That said, it’s important to keep in mind the distinctions between “percentages”, especially when we are talking about increases, and absolute numbers. Comal County cast 62K ballots total in 2016; I don’t know what their early voting numbers were in 2016, but a 26% increase over their final turnout would be close to 80K votes. Harris County has had a *net increase* of over 80K votes so far, with Election Day still to come. A 26% increase in total final turnout in Harris County would mean about 1.67 million total voters, or an increase of about 350K from 2016, and at this point that’s the low end. In short, Harris County is big. Always keep that in mind.

If you go back to the Derek Ryan report from Thursday, when “just” nine million people had voted, the electorate at that point was 52.1% female, and 43.4% male. (Not all people specify their gender on their voter registration.) Assuming that hasn’t radically changed as of Friday, that means that something like 800K more women than men have voted in Texas. (In Harris County, the gender ratio was 55.3 to 44.3, a gap of a bit more than 150K.) Given the greater preference for Joe Biden among women, that could be a factor in how this election turns out.

Now let’s talk about how easy, or not-easy, it was to vote in Texas this year. There’s a lot, but I’ll try to be concise. Let’s start with this:

Maybe bullet points will help.

– I agree – and have said on this blog – that the actual impact of the “one dropoff location” order and rulings is minimal. Hell, I didn’t even know that dropping off mail ballots was a thing you could do until this year. I think it’s fair to say that the number of people who have used this option in the past can be counted on your fingers. I don’t know how many people would have used it this election, but even if we’re talking five figures, it’s on the order of five percent of total turnout. People had plenty of other options available to them, including the Reliant Arena dropoff location (which is in many ways more accessible than the Clerk’s office downtown), the US mail, and voting in person. I have a hard time believing anyone was truly disenfranchised by this.

– But all of that is beside the point. The multiple dropoff locations, all at official County Clerk offices, was consistent with the letter and intent of the law, and the amended order to limit them to one, which came more than two months after Harris County announced its dropoff plan, was an obvious partisan exercise that had no basis or reason other than to make voting less convenient, and to slap down an innovative Democratic County Clerk in a heavily Democratic county. On every level, this was a screw-you to Chris Hollins and Harris County.

– Yet even there, we must acknowledge that Greg Abbott did in fact expand access to voting. That third week of early voting was huge – I’m sure that Allen West and the seething hordes of the Republican base are super pissed about that. Plus, the fact that mail ballots could be dropped off during early voting at all was the result of Abbott’s executive order, the same one that allowed for the extra week of early voting. State law as written only allows mail ballots to be dropped off on Election Day. Abbott expanded that. He weaseled out later on, but he was weaseling on himself

– So one might claim, as John Cornyn did on Twitter, that it can’t be all that hard to vote in Texas, because so many people are doing it this year. But once you get past Abbott’s original executive order – which, you may recall, the State GOP and Harris County GOP, among others, tried to kill via the courts – it was local officials, with Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins as the exemplar, backed by $31 million from the Democratic majority on Commissioners Court – that did all the work to make it easier. And again, Republicans from Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton down to dregs like Steven Hotze and Jared Woodfill, fought them every step of the way.

– Finally, we have to acknowledge that whatever was done to make voting easier this year, we started from a baseline of voting not being easy, in so many ways. One big reason why the effect of the “one mail ballot dropoff location per county” ruling was minimal is precisely because access to mail ballots is so limited, and we saw that play its way out in the courts. If counties had to spend large amounts of money setting up early voting locations, it’s in part because the Legislature took away the option of temporary voting locations in the 2019 session, not to mention the removal of straight-ticket voting, which meant it would take longer for people to vote and might lead to longer lines at voting locations. We haven’t even talked about Texas’ notoriously strict voter ID law, or its refusal to allow online voter registration or same-day voter registration, or its recent efforts to purge voter rolls, or the problems of how hard it is for people with disabilities to vote, and on and on and on. If we have heroic levels of turnout this year, it’s in spite of all these obstacles.

– So my bottom line is that while turnout this year has been truly remarkable, and I hope that the results will be equally remarkable, none of this should obscure the fact that we have a lot of room to improve. And the only way that will happen is if we win enough election to make the systemic changes we need.

Hope that wasn’t too long. I’m out of thoughts for now. Go vote if you haven’t already.

CD31 poll: Carter 43, Imam 37

Another interesting Congressional race poll.

Donna Imam

With less than two months to go until Election Day, an increasing number of eyes are looking toward Texas, where Republicans are fighting to keep their grip on the once-reliably conservative state.

There is perhaps no better sign of Texas’ shift toward Democrats than what’s happening in the state’s 31st Congressional District. The previously deep red district north of Austin has shifted dramatically in recent years, and a new poll obtained exclusively by COURIER shows incumbent Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) is vulnerable.

The poll, conducted by Public Policy Polling (PPP), found Carter leading challenger Donna Imam by only six points, 43-37 among 831 voters in the district. Libertarian Clark Patterson and Independent Jeremy Bravo tallied 10% of the vote combined, while 11% of voters remained undecided.

Imam performs particularly well with independent voters, leading Carter 44-28. She also appears to have significant room to grow, as 53% of voters said they were unsure whether or not they had a favorable opinion about her.

The poll also surveyed voters on the presidential race and found that President Donald Trump holds a narrow one-point lead (48-47) over Democratic nominee Joe Biden, a substantial shift from 2016 when Trump won the district 54-41.

[…]

While Democrats have set their eyes on several prizes across the state, the recent blue shift in the 31st has been particularly notable. Between 2002 and 2016, Carter won each of his elections by at least 20 points. But in 2018, Carter faced the fight of his career and narrowly edged out his Democratic challenger, MJ Hegar, by only three points. Hegar is now challenging Cornyn and finds herself down only 2 points in the district (48-46), according to the PPP poll.

You can see the poll data here. It’s a solid result in a district where Beto got 48.4% of the vote. Hegar ran just a shade behind Beto – he lost to Ted Cruz 50.5 to 48.4, while Hegar lost 47.6 to 50.6 – and this district has been on the radar for the DCCC (and for the Republicans, and for the national race-raters) from the beginning of the cycle. The problem has been finding a standout candidate, as there was a rotating cast of players in the primary, with nobody raising any money or making much noise until the runoff, when Imam finally started to edge forward. She still has to establish herself as a fundraiser – the DCCC is in town, but they’ve got plenty of fish to fry. I’ll be very interested in Imam’s Q3 finance report.

This poll is reminiscent of the polling in CD21, another near-miss district from 2018 with a similar demographic profile. In 2018, Joe Kopser lost to Chip Roy 50.2 to 47.6, Beto lost the district by a tenth of a point, and in 2016 Hillary Clinton lost it to Donald Trump 52-42. These latest polls have Biden up by one in CD21 and down by one in CD31, consistent with statewide polling that has Texas as a real tossup.

They key here has been the shift in voter preferences in Williamson County, which comprises a bit more than two-thirds of the district. Here’s how the Williamson County vote has gone in recent elections:


2012       Votes    Pct
=======================
Romney    97,006  59.4%
Obama     61,875  37.9%

Cruz      92,034  57.3%
Sadler    60,279  37.5%

Carter    96,842  60.9%
Wyman     55,111  34.6%


2016       Votes    Pct
=======================
Trump    104,175  51.3%
Clinton   84,468  41.6%

Carter   112,841  56.8%
Clark     74,914  37.7%


2018       Votes    Pct
=======================
Cruz      99,857  48.0%
Beto     105,850  50.8%

Abbott   112,214  54.1%
Valdez    90,002  43.4%

Patrick  101,545  49.2%
Collier   98,375  47.6%

Paxton    98,175  47.7%
Nelson   100,345  48.7%

Carter    99,648  48.2%
Hegar    103,155  49.9%

The story of 2018 was of the huge gains Democrats made in suburban areas like Williamson, but the thing here is that Dems gained about as many votes from 2012 to 2016 as they did from 2016 to 2018, with Republicans barely growing their vote at all outside of a couple of races. It wasn’t so much a shift as an acceleration, and it took WilCo from being on the fringes of competitiveness, where you could see it off in the distance from the vantage point of 2016 but figured it was still a few cycles away, to being a true swing district just two years later. If Dems can even come close to replicating that kind of growth in 2020, then CD31 is likely being undersold as a pickup opportunity. Obviously, the pandemic and the ambient chaos and pretty much everything else is a variable we can’t easily quantify. But the numbers are right there, so if CD31 does go Dem, we can’t say we didn’t see it coming.

One more thing: That 10% total for the Libertarian and independent candidates combined is almost certainly way too high. Libertarian candidates actually do pretty well overall in this district. The Lib Congressional candidate in 2012 got 3.7%, while a couple of statewide judicial candidates in races that also had a Democrat topped five percent. In 2016, the Libertarian in CD31 got 5.2%, with Mark Miller getting 7.1% in the Railroad Commissioner’s race. They didn’t do quite as well in 2018, however, with the Congressional candidate getting 1.9%, and the high water mark of 4.1% being hit in the Land Commissioner’s race. I’d contend that’s a combination of better Democratic candidates, with more nominal Republicans moving from casting a “none of the above” protest vote to actually going Dem. My guess is 2020 will be more like 2018 than 2016 or 2012, but we’ll see. In any event, I’d put the over/under for the two “other” candidates at five, not at ten. The Texas Signal has more.

Despite it all, voter registration keeps increasing

You love to see it.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Not even the worst pandemic to hit Texas in a century was enough to stem the surge in voter registrations that has remade the state’s electorate over the past four years.

Just since March, Texas has added nearly 149,000 voters even as the political parties and voter registration groups face new obstacles in signing up people in a world of social distancing and stay-at-home orders.

The state now has a record 16.4 million voters, 2.1 million more than it had just over four years ago — a 15-percent increase in registrations that is nearly equivalent to the voter rolls of the entire state of Connecticut.

“It is a totally different electorate than it was in 2016,” said Luke Warford, voter expansion director for the Texas Democratic Party.

Harris County and Bexar County have led the way in the last three months with voter registration efforts. In Harris County, voter rolls have grown by 16,000, while in Bexar they are up almost 14,000. Combined, the two counties account for one-fifth of the increase in registrations statewide.

Texas voter registration rolls historically have grown very slowly. From 2002 to 2012, the rolls grew by 800,000. But now, registration is in hyperdrive. Just since November of 2018, Texas has added almost 600,000 voters.

Some of the change is coming from transplants moving from other states, while many others are coming from minority communities that voter registration advocacy groups have targeted over the last four years.

In short, Brandon Rottinghaus, a University of Houston political science professor, said 2020 is setting up as a real shootout in regions of the state that have become more competitive because of the diversification and growth of the electorate.

“It’s another step toward Texas being a true battleground,” Rottinghaus said.

[…]

In Texas voters don’t register by party affiliation like many other states, making it unclear exactly how many Republican or Democratic voters are in the state.

But about one-third of the 1.3 million new voters since November 2018 come from three counties: Harris, Travis and Bexar — all deeply blue since 2016.

Harris and Bexar being at the top of the list doesn’t surprise Antonio Arellano, who is the leader of Jolt, a voter advocacy group focused on registering young Latino voters and getting them involved in politics. He said his group has been on the ground in those two counties.

While the coronavirus made registration drives impossible in traditional locations such as libraries, county fairs and large events, younger voters can still be found with direct messages on social media, text messages, and digital ads. The virus hasn’t affected those efforts at all.

“We harness culture, art and technology to get it done,” Arellano said.

Each year in Texas, 200,000 Latinos turn 18 — a population that is Jolt’s main focus.

Nice. The March voter registration figures are here, the January figures are here, and the November of 2018 figures are here. Harris County is right at 2.4 million, and I think we have a shot at getting to 2.5 million for November. As the story notes, average monthly voter registration figures are actually up since April, about double what it had been from November of 2018 through March. People have been working it, with Jolt, Battleground Texas, and Beto’s Powered by People all doing a lot of heavy lifting. You want to make a difference, get trained as a volunteer deputy voter registrar – the Harris County Tax Assessor has online ZOOM training sessions to become a VDVR – and join up with one of these groups. Every new voter matters.

I actually drafted this about a month ago, just before the primary runoffs, then as is sometimes the case kept putting off publishing it. Because I procrastinated, you can now see the state and county-by-county voter registration figures by looking at the contest details for the Senate runoff. But this post is even more of a delayed special than that. In the Before Times, I had drafted a story about where a lot of voter registrations were coming from – short answer, the I-35 corridor from San Antonio to D/FW – but between the primary and the world falling apart, I never got around to publishing it. I’m repurposing it for this post, so read on for what I had written a couple of months ago.

(more…)

Ready or not, here we vote

Hope it goes all right.

Poll workers [began] greeting voters from behind face masks and shields as early voting begins in primary runoffs that will look and operate differently from any Texas election in the past 100 years. Although the first statewide election during the pandemic is expected to be a low-turnout affair — primary runoffs usually see single-digit turnout — the contest is widely regarded as a high-stakes dry run for the November general election, when at least half of the state’s more than 16 million registered voters are expected to participate.

More than 30 runoffs are ongoing for party nominations to congressional, legislative and local offices. The most prominent race is the statewide Democratic contest to see who will challenge incumbent John Cornyn for U.S. Senate.

But the shot at working through a new set of considerations — and challenges — for running a safe and efficient election could be complicated by its timing. The runoff was postponed from May and takes place as the state’s tenuous grip on controlling the coronavirus outbreak unravels into record-high daily infection and hospitalization rates.

“We’re saying our prayers,” Jacque Callanen, the Bexar County elections administrator, said last week. “With this spike in the numbers, I’m praying our good ol’ election officials are going to hang in there with us.”

Like other administrators, Callanen worked to complete a census of the county’s regular fleet of election judges and workers, who tend to be older and at higher risk for complications from the coronavirus. She saw little drop-off, with most willing to work the election.

That was before the effects of Gov. Greg Abbott’s reopening of businesses and dismantling of local health restrictions were fully felt, and the county was reporting 30 or 50 new daily cases of people infected with the virus. In recent weeks, that number has skyrocketed to hundreds of new cases a day. If her prayers fail, Callanen has a set of backup county workers ready to step in.

[…]

Texans voting in person will be met with many of the precautions that have become customary at businesses and grocery stores, including 6-foot distance markers and plastic shields at check-in stations. Poll workers will be offering masks and hand sanitizer. At least one county is advising voters to bring umbrellas to shield them from the hot Texas sun while they wait.

But many regular polling sites will have far fewer voting booths — and probably lines out the door — or will be shuttered altogether as officials try to minimize breaches of social distancing.

Collin County election officials typically set up 20 to 25 voting machines at their main polling place in their office building, but they will only be able to fit eight machines 6 feet apart. It likely won’t be a problem for the runoff, but the county will have to be “as creative as possible” for November, said Bruce Sherbet, the county’s election administrator.

“All the things we’re doing for this will really be problematic for November,” Sherbet said. “It’s a tall challenge.”

In a possible bellwether for electoral troubles in November, some counties have lost polling places unwilling to host voters during the pandemic. In Williamson County, officials were informed last week that one of its busiest sites — a community center that primarily caters to older voters — was scrapping plans to reopen for voting. In Bexar County, Callanen had to pull the county courthouse — a longtime voting site — and several school sites off her list of polling places. In Travis County, officials ditched regular voting sites at nursing homes, grocery stores and Austin Community College.

Abbott’s postponement of election day from May 26 to July 14 granted election administrators more time to set up public health precautions. But with the runoff election moving forward at what is arguably the state’s worst point in the pandemic so far, poll workers will be forced to navigate keeping voters safe while safeguarding their right to vote.

In Chambers County, a smaller county east of Houston, County Clerk Heather Hawthorne was waiting on guidance from the Texas secretary of state’s office after the local public health authority asked if poll workers can direct masked voters and those not wearing masks to separate voting machines.

“Everybody is just trying to help figure out, as our Texas numbers grow, what we’re going to do to provide safe voting locations,” Hawthorne said.

See here and here for the background. Postponing the May election was the right call, based on conditions and what we knew at the time. The fact that Greg Abbott screwed up after that and left us in a more dangerous position now is a separate matter. For this election, which ought to be fairly low turnout, my strategy is going to be voting either early in the morning – like, right at 7 AM if my work calendar is open – or maybe between 9 and 10, when I figure the morning commuters are done and the lunch crowd hasn’t started to shuffle in. At least we’ll learn from this experience in a lower-stakes environment. And who knows, maybe something will go sufficiently wrong in a Republican runoff that state leadership will be forced to reckon with the problem in a broader sense than just mindlessly clinging to the idea that it’s sinful for anyone under the age of 65 to cast a mail ballot. Because let’s be clear, letting more people vote by mail, and being prepared for more people voting by mail, is the best answer here.

Here’s the perspective from Travis County, where turnout is likely to be higher than other places due to the SD14 special election.

Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir reports that a huge crush of mail voting requests by those 65 and older, who are automatically eligible to receive mail-in ballots, could foretell an exceptional turnout by runoff standards, and she promises that in-person voting in this novel circumstance is being conducted with extraordinary attention to public health.

“I don’t think we should be voting in person at all, quite frankly, in the middle of a pandemic,” DeBeauvoir, who would have preferred universal vote-by-mail under the circumstance, told the American-Statesman late last week. “Which is why we’re taking all of these extra precautions to try and make voting in person as safe as humanly possible.”

While the pandemic might logically be expected to depress turnout, DeBeauvoir said that in Travis County, the reverse may be the case.

While turnout for runoffs generally runs in single-digits, DeBeauvoir said this time, “it just might get as high as 30%.”

[…]

Ordinarily, she said, her office would get 1,000 to 2,000 requests for mail-in ballots for a runoff.

But by Friday, she said, “the levels of by-mail ballot requests we are getting are rivaling presidential levels. The most by-mail requests I’ve ever had for a presidential was 31,000. We already have more than 28,000 in house.”

Of those, she said, 85% are from those 65 and older, and another 12% are those with a disability, the other category that is automatically eligible to vote by mail.

But DeBeauvoir said that an estimated quarter of Travis County voters have disabilities, and that, despite the Texas Supreme Court decision that fear of the coronavirus alone was not sufficient reason to seek a disability ballot, that ruling also made clear that “a voter, using their own health history, can make a determination about their risk of injury to their health if they show up inside a public place.”

If so, they can check the “disability” box on the vote-by-mail request, and return it to her office, no questions asked, because, she said, election administrators do not and, under law, cannot check disability claims.

There is still time for any Travis County voter seeking a mail-in ballot to download the application from the clerk’s website, fill it out, check the appropriate box, sign it and return it to her office as long as it received by Thursday.

Attorney General Ken Paxton has issued warnings that anyone who advises voters that they can vote by mail simply out of fear of COVID-19 can be subject to criminal sanctions.

“Certainly there’s been an effort to make it seem very confusing. It is not confusing at all,” DeBeauvoir said.

“That’s why I am using very carefully picked language,” she said. “That’s why we have decided a voter, using their own health history, can make a determination about their risk of injury to their health if they show up inside a public place.”

If you haven’t and still want to, you can go here to apply for a mail ballot in Harris County – the deadline to submit is the same, this Thursday. Note that if you make an electronic application you must follow it up within four business days with a snail mail application, so don’t skip that part. It will be fascinating, and quite possible horrifying, to see if Ken Paxton targets some mail users for the purpose of making an example of them. The past history of election fraud prosecutions, which this Star-Telegram story catalogs nicely, is one part about persecuting people of color, and one part about loudly trumpeting initial arrests or investigations that eventually end very quietly in dropped charges, dismissals, acquittals, or plea bargains to minor misdemeanors. I won’t be surprised if we get something like that this year.

I will of course be posting early vote totals, but I’ll probably be a day behind, since I expect the results will come in sufficiently late to make it inconvenient for me to be up to date the following morning. Turnout expectations should be kept modest, but with the Senate race and several Congressional races it won’t be a total snoozefest. If Dems can get to 500K, that would be a record for them.

Javier Ambler

Remember his name.

Javier Ambler

Javier Ambler was driving home from playing poker on March 28, 2019, when he failed to dim the headlights of his SUV to oncoming traffic.

A Williamson County sheriff’s deputy initiated a stop and began chasing him for the minor traffic violation. After Ambler apparently refused to pull over, a pursuit that lasted 22 minutes and ended when Ambler’s Honda Pilot crashed north of Downtown Austin.

Minutes later, Ambler, a 40-year-old father of two, was dying on a neighborhood street.

Records obtained by the KVUE Defenders and the Austin American-Statesman reveal that deputies used Taser stun guns on him at least three times, even as he told them multiple times that he had a heart condition and could not breathe.

The circumstances of Ambler’s March 28, 2019, death have never been revealed. The Williamson County Sheriff’s Office tried to shield information from release since receiving its first request in February.

Ambler’s death was ruled a homicide, which officials said include “justifiable homicide.” Medical examiners listed his cause of death as congestive heart failure and hypertensive cardiovascular disease associated with morbid obesity “in combination with forcible restraint,” according to an in-custody report filed with the Texas Attorney General’s office. The report included no other details about Ambler’s autopsy, which hasn’t been released, but noted that he did not appear to be intoxicated by drugs or alcohol.

[…]

Plohetski and the KVUE Defenders learned about Ambler’s death in February from frustrated investigators who felt stymied in their quest to understand what happened.

The Williamson County Sheriff’s Office sought to keep confidential internal affairs records in the case after a request for information in late February.

On May 18, however, the Texas Attorney General ruled that the agency had no legal grounds to withhold information and ordered that at least some materials be released. Ten days later, the sheriff’s office provided a three-page internal affairs investigative report that found no wrongdoing by deputies.

Plohetski and the KVUE Defenders learned about Ambler’s death in February from frustrated investigators who felt stymied in their quest to understand what happened.

The Williamson County Sheriff’s Office sought to keep confidential internal affairs records in the case after a request for information in late February.

On May 18, however, the Texas Attorney General ruled that the agency had no legal grounds to withhold information and ordered that at least some materials be released. Ten days later, the sheriff’s office provided a three-page internal affairs investigative report that found no wrongdoing by deputies.

The deputy chased him for 22 minutes because Javier Ambler had his high beams on. When was the last time you were pulled over for that offense? What possible public safety goal would have been achieved by pursuing and then forcibly subduing Javier Ambler?

More from the Statesman:

The deputies’ decisions to chase and repeatedly use their Tasers on a man who simply failed to dim his lights prompts questions about the agency’s practice of pursuing drivers for minor crimes.

“It is of very serious concern to any of us who are in law enforcement that the decision to engage in that chase was driven by more of a need to provide entertainment than to keep Williamson County citizens safe,” said Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore.

Some 15 months after Ambler’s death, Moore’s civil rights division is still investigating the incident. After questioning from an American-Statesman reporter, she said her office plans to present the case to a grand jury.

[…]

As Deputy J.J. Johnson, who is regularly featured on “Live PD,” patrolled the quiet suburban roads just north of Austin last March, a film crew rode along with him.

When Ambler passed with his brights on at 1:23 a.m., the deputy turned his car around and flipped on the flashing lights.

Ambler didn’t stop. Johnson gave chase.

For the next 22 minutes, the two vehicles sped across highways and onto neighborhood streets. As he drove, Johnson narrated for the TV crew, telling them what he thought was going on in Ambler’s mind.

As they crossed into Travis County, Austin officers were instructed not to get involved in the pursuit because they are allowed only to chase dangerous criminals.

There’s a long, detailed account of what happened after that. Ambler was tasered four times, and told the deputies that he had congestive heart failure, was unable to breathe, and was trying but unable to comply with the orders they shouted at him, while sitting on top of him. They handcuffed him when he fell unconscious, and only realized a few minutes later that Ambler was not breathing.

You may be wondering, why was there a TV crew with Deputy Johnson?

Investigators say they are disturbed about what happened to Ambler and how the Williamson sheriff’s officials have responded to his death.

They are troubled that deputies went to such extraordinary lengths to capture Ambler for a minor offense. They also have grave concerns about the consequences of having “Live PD” camera crews at the scene.

“Live PD” did not respond to requests for comment on Monday. The footage shot that night has not aired.

In the past three years, more than half of the nearly 100 pursuits initiated by Williamson County deputies were for traffic violations, according to department records.

Chody said Monday that he does not believe the department’s current, more restrictive, pursuit policy was in place during the chase that led to Ambler’s death.

[…]

The case also adds fuel to a yearlong fight between Chody and Williamson County commissioners about his department’s participation in “Live PD.” Chody has said the show offers viewers a first-hand experience of policing, has raised the profile of his agency and is a valuable recruiting tool.

But Williamson County District Attorney Shawn Dick has said he’s concerned that “Live PD” refuses to provide prosecutors with video footage it collects while on patrol with deputies.

“It is getting very difficult for my prosecutors to uphold their statutory and Constitutional obligations to disclose evidence when prosecuting sheriff’s department cases,” Dick said.

Days after Dick raised those concerns in 2019, Williamson County commissioners ended a contract with the show.

In March of this year, however, filming resumed when Chody signed his own agreement with producers, prompting commissioners to issue a “cease and desist” order to the sheriff’s office.

Chody refused to comply, and in May, the county sued him.

“Sheriff Chody can perform the core duties of sheriff without the live TV show,” the lawsuit said. “But he doesn’t want to. Instead, Sheriff Chody seeks social media and TV exposure like a moth to a light bulb — and he’s flown out of his job description to get back on TV.”

I don’t even know what to say about that. But if you’re thinking that at least there’s video of the whole thing, well

Video filmed by a “Live PD” crew of an in-custody death of a black man last year has been destroyed and can no longer be turned over to Austin investigators, representatives of the reality TV show said Tuesday.

The disclosure by A&E Networks came a day after the Austin American-Statesman and KVUE-TV first reported details of the March 2019 death of Javier Ambler while being arrested by Williamson County sheriff’s deputies in connection with a traffic violation. The Austin American-Statesman is part of the USA TODAY Network.

A&E confirmed Tuesday that “video of the tragic death of Javier Ambler was captured by body cams worn on the officers involved as well by the producers of Live PD who were riding with certain officers involved.”

It said that the incident did not occur while the show was airing live and that the video was not broadcast later.

A&E’s statement said that Austin investigators had not asked for the video or to interview show producers. “As is the case with all footage taken by Live PD producers, we no longer retained the unaired footage after learning that the investigation had concluded,” the network said in a statement.

[…]

Three of four Williamson County commissioners Tuesday called for Sheriff Robert Chody to resign after learning of Ambler’s death and charges that Chody’s department had failed to provide evidence to Travis County investigators.

“The citizens have lost faith in him,” Williamson County Commissioner Russ Boles said.

The TDP and State Rep. James Talarico have also called for Sheriff Chody’s resignation; I’m sure others will follow. The point here is the same point that so many other people have been making, some for a very long time and others in recent weeks, which is that the death of black Americans at the hands of police officers happens all the damn time, in every state, and that fundamental, root-and-branch change is needed to stop it. It’s not a matter of “bad apples”, it’s the system. CBS News and the Texas Signal have more.

The May elections will not happen

Not in May, anyway.

Citing the state’s stay-at-home order, the Texas secretary of state is instructing municipalities to delay their May 2 elections.

In an email to local election officials sent Thursday afternoon, the state’s director of elections, Keith Ingram, said cities, towns and school boards that hadn’t pushed their upcoming elections to November “must take action to do so immediately” or risk facing a challenge in court.

“If you don’t move your May 2nd election, you are subjecting voters to health risks and potential criminal violations,” Ingram wrote. “Failure to postpone your election will put your election at severe risk for an election contest.”

[…]

Abbott issued an executive order Tuesday telling Texans to stay at home for the next month unless they are taking part in essential services and activities. In announcing his order, the governor made clear he expects all Texans to adhere to the guidance or face criminal punishment. The order lasts until April 30. Early voting for municipal elections would have started before then.

Although election workers are included under the federal government’s guidance on essential workers, that would not include voters, Ingram said.

Earlier in the week, the Trib had a previous story about a handful of cities, school boards, utility districts, and the like that were still planning on having their May elections, despite the earlier admonition to put them off till November. I can understand the arguments for wanting to proceed as scheduled, especially for elections that would be expected to have miniscule electorates, but really there was no good justification for it. This was the right thing to do.