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Election 2020

Interview with Isabel Longoria

Isabel Longoria

Following on to my interview with Chris Hollins, today I have for you a conversation with our brand new and first-ever Election Administrator in Harris County, Isabel Longoria. Longoria is a former legislative staffer who ran for City Council in District H in 2019 and lost in a runoff to incumbent CM Karla Cisneros. She was hired by Hollins to be part of the County Clerk’s election staff for the 2020 election, so when she stepped into the Administrator role it was mostly a continuation of what she had already been doing. If you’ve ever talked with Longoria before, you know she’s a highly detail-oriented person who can go deep into the weeds on policy and technical issues, and she has an abiding love for the elections process. We talked about all that and more:

We enter now into a fallow period for local elections – it’s an off year for Houston, and who knows what will happen with the HISD Trustees. I’ll do what I do with the races that are on the docket, but in the meantime if you think there’s someone I really ought to talk to and whose insights would be of interest to you and my other readers, let me know.

Interview with Chris Hollins

Chris Hollins

To put a bow on this long, strange trip that was the 2020 election season, I have a couple of interviews to bring you with key players from the election. The first is with Chris Hollins, the now-former Harris County Clerk who stepped into that role in June, just before the primary runoffs were to take place and as the second COVID wave was beginning. Hollins had the task of putting new processes in place to make that runoff election safe and successful, then scaling it all up for November, when about ten times as many people would be participating. We know how well that turned out, and how much acclaim Hollins got for his team’s achievements and his leadership, so let’s just go right to the interview, in which we go into greater detail about what happened and what we learned from this crazy election.

Next up: An interview with Isabel Longoria, the first-ever Harris County Election Administrator. Let me know what you think.

What the Early Voting Ballot Board does

They were especially important this year.

In the wake of the Nov. 3 general election, the air is filled with an overwhelming amount of disinformation about vote counting, specifically as it relates to mail ballots and provisional ballots. In Michigan, two Republican members of the Board of Canvassers of Wayne County, which includes Detroit, first refused to certify the election results there and then reversed their decision. This troubling incident rightfully made the national news. But it should be noted why: because it is an exception to the rule.

It is with this in mind that I feel compelled to offer my experience as the presiding judge of the Harris County Early Voting Ballot Board.

Every county in Texas has an Early Voting Ballot Board (EVBB) that is charged with two primary tasks: qualifying mail ballots and qualifying provisional ballots. Each of these boards is comprised of an equal number of Republicans and Democrats nominated by their respective county party chairs and appointed by the county election board (which is comprised of the two party chairs, the county judge, the county clerk, the voter registrar and the sheriff).

As partisan political appointees in an historically divided political climate, one might expect that the EVBB would reflect the toxic divide. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are regular people, and we look like Harris County. We are CPAs, city employees, entrepreneurs, health professionals, homemakers, lawyers, non-profit workers, retirees, technicians, veterans and everything in between. Our identities are indicative of the beautifully diverse community that is Harris County, and we each bring our unique lived experiences to our work. We are committed to the integrity of our democratic process and an unwavering dedication to free and fair elections.

[…]

For mail ballots, our primary job is to determine whether or not the voter was the person who voted the ballot. The principal evidence we review in this process is the signature on the vote-by-mail application and the signature on the mail ballot carrier envelope. We also check voter registration status. All of this is done in pairs — one Republican and one Democrat. And so in order for a mail ballot to be accepted, a Republican and a Democrat must agree that the voter voted the ballot and did not violate the Election Code. Ninety nine percent of the time, we agree. For those instances where there is a question, multiple teams — always one Republican and one Democrat — conduct the review. Sometimes we call the voter, sometimes we coordinate with the voter registrar’s office about registration issues. If we cannot agree, the presiding judge makes the final call. This happens a tiny fraction of the time — literally with only a bit more than half a dozen of the over 179,000 mail ballots we processed.

For provisional ballots, we are fact finders. For the vote to be accepted, the voter who cast the provisional ballot must have been registered to vote on time and must have not already cast another ballot in the election. So again in bipartisan pairs, we review each provisional ballot affidavit completed at the polling location and check them against county records. We work closely with the voter registrar to determine registration status and with the county clerk to determine whether or not the voter has already voted. As with mails ballots, each provisional ballot is subject to a multi-tiered bipartisan review process and 99 percent of the time, Republican and Democrat EVBB members agree.

See here for more on the Early Voting Ballot Board. It should be noted, the signature they review on the mail ballots are on the envelope, before it is opened, so there’s no indication how the person in question voted. And if you’re wondering how it is they got their work completed so quickly, the answer is they didn’t – they had an early start, on October 14. The whole process took four weeks, but three of those weeks were before Election Day. Makes all the difference. Go read the rest.

Early voting starts today for District B runoff

At long last, the voters in District B will get to elect a new City Council member.

Here’s the Chron story.

Cynthia Bailey

Tarsha Jackson, a consultant and criminal justice organizer, and Cynthia Bailey, a neighborhood advocate, both aim to bring fresh, grassroots energy to the district. Jackson won 20.9 percent of the vote in the 14-candidate general election last November. Bailey came in second with 14.5 percent.

[…]

District B has been represented by Jerry Davis, who faced a term limit last year, for nine years. It has the second-highest concentration of Black residents in the city (47 percent), stretching from historic neighborhoods such as Kashmere Gardens and Greater Fifth Ward to Acres Homes and Greenspoint.

Early voting begins Wednesday, pauses for Thanksgiving and resumes Nov. 30 through Dec. 8.

Jackson has the institutional and financial edge. The progressive organization she used to work for, the Texas Organizing Project, is supporting her bid. Jackson has $21,000 in campaign cash to Bailey’s $3,000, according to the most recent campaign finance filings.

Bailey, though, proved a gritty campaigner last year, surprising other candidates in the field by reaching the runoff. She is known to some as the “Mayor of Settegast.”

Tarsha Jackson

Jackson, 49, was thrust into activism and organizing after her son was arrested for kicking a teacher in elementary school.

She helped advocate for reform legislation in 2007 that ensured young people would not be sent to state jail for misdemeanors. Jackson ultimately became Harris County criminal justice director for TOP, which aims to mobilize Black and Latino communities across the state.

As an organizer, she has been involved in Harris County’s historic bail settlement, has called on the city to end what she calls a “debtors’ prison” system that can jail people for failing to pay fines, and this summer led a report of recommendations for police reform.

Jackson hopes to bring that activist spirit to City Hall on council.

She said the defining issue for District B is poverty. District B has the poorest median household income ($33,257) in the city. Nearly 40 percent of the district’s roughly 193,000 residents live in a household that brings in less than $25,000 per year.

“I’ve watched my communities be left behind in all areas. Infrastructure, jobs, the schools that I went to,” Jackson said. “Once we start addressing income disparities, getting people to work, that’s going to start fixing some of the issues.”

For that reason, Jackson said a top priority would be job training. She plans to push for stronger community benefit agreements when the city gives tax incentives to developers. Those deals can include provisions about hiring local workers, including affordable housing and funding for community programs.

“Let’s make sure we’re benefiting from the dollars we’re putting out,” Jackson said.

Another priority would be flooding and illegal dumping. Jackson said she would push for more regular maintenance and cleanings for drainage ditches and bayous, and seek to broaden access to dump sites, which she said require a driver’s license and matching electricity bill. Many renters lack those documents, which contributes to dumping, she said.

I did an interview with Cynthia Bailey in November of 2019, which was intended for that year’s December runoff. That was before all the craziness about her eligibility to be on the ballot and the long drawn-out legal process that finally wrapped up a couple of months ago. I don’t know how relevant this is now, given how much has changed since we spoke, but here it is:

I did make contact at the time with Tarsha Jackson for an interview as well, but by the time we connected the runoff had already been pushed back, and we agreed to try again later once the legal maneuvering had ended. That didn’t happen, as I did not get back to her, so this is the best I can do.

The PDF map of early voting locations is here, along with the times they will be open. Note that there are also runoffs for the cities of Baytown, Humble, La Porte, and Nassau Bay, and there is at least one EV location in each of those places. There are also three drive-through EV locations, two in District B and one in Baytown. Get out there and vote while you can.

Counties of interest, part four: Around Bexar

Part 1 – Counties around Harris
Part 2 – Counties around Dallas/Tarrant
Part 3 – Counties around Travis

Pop quiz, hotshot: Close your eyes, or cover the table below, and name for me the seven counties that border Bexar. Go ahead, I’ll wait.


County       Romney    Obama    Trump  Clinton    Trump    Biden    Shift
=========================================================================
Atascosa      7,461    5,133    8,618    4,651   12,020    5,865   -3,827
Bandera       7,426    1,864    8,163    1,726   10,050    2,503   -1,985
Comal        39,318   11,450   45,136   14,238   62,260   24,369  -10,023
Guadalupe    33,117   15,744   36,632   18,391   47,423   28,706   -1,344
Kendall      14,508    3,043   15,700    3,643   20,064    6,008   -2,591
Medina       11,079    4,784   12,085    4,634   15,599    6,731   -2,573
Wilson       12,218    4,821   13,998    4,790   18,457    6,350   -4,710

Unless you’re a true geography nerd, or just a very aware (or well-traveled) resident of the area, I’m guessing you didn’t get all seven. Comal, which you pass through on your way to Austin, and Guadalupe, to the east as you travel I-10 to or from Houston, are the gimmes. They’re also the two largest, with Comal and more recently Guadalupe blending into Bexar from a development perspective. I’ve talked a lot about Comal County, which has tripled in population since 1990 and which puts up big numbers for the Republican Party; I call it Montgomery County’s little brother, but it’s doing its best to try to catch up. I think it feels a little to me like Montgomery because it’s also this booming suburb a few miles away from the big city, with enough distance to be its own separate entity but with any remaining vacant space between them rapidly vanishing.

Guadalupe, on the other hand, feels more remote to me because for most of my time in Texas, there was very little between Seguin and Loop 1604, and even then there wasn’t much between 1604 and Loop 410. That change is more recent, and to my eyes more dramatic since I don’t travel that way all that often and had just been very used to the former emptiness. It’s really interesting to me that while Comal is still getting redder, Guadalupe is more or less holding in place, with Republican growth only slightly outpacing Democratic growth as its population has blossomed. Guadalupe feels more rural to me while Comal feels more suburban, but maybe that’s because I’ve spent much more time in New Braunfels (I have family there) than in Seguin. I’d love to hear more about this from anyone in this part of the state.

I just don’t know much about the other counties, from the north through the west and around to the south and southeast of Bexar. I’ve been to Kendall (in particular, the town of Boerne) and Bandera, but not since the 80s. Kendall and Medina seem like long-term candidates for suburban sprawl, as both have a piece of I-10 and Medina has I-35 running through it. I know nothing at all about Wilson and Atascosa. I’m going to stop here because I don’t want to babble, but again if someone reading this can tell us more about the future prospects in these counties, please do so.

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.

Beware color-coded county maps

I spotted this on Twitter the other day and it got me thinking:

A larger view of the embedded image is here. It was just barely large enough that I was able to compare it to my now-favorite map of Texas counties and figure out what most of those blue places are. (I didn’t work my way through all of them, for various reasons that included my eyesight and my sanity.) I snagged the Texas portion of that image, pasted it into Paint, doubled it in size, and then labeled some of the counties of interest. My handiwork, such as it is, is here. Take a look at that for a minute, then let’s come back and discuss the two main problems with imagery of this kind.

Ready? Problem number one is that you don’t get any sense of the absolute size of the shift, in either direction, from this image. Harris County, which I feel confident you can find even though I have unkindly drawn lines through it to point to other counties of interest, is rendered in medium blue, to show a 10-20 point shift in preference. But that shift represents over 200,000 total votes in favor of Democrats. That didn’t just help to carve into the overall vote lead that Republicans have had in the state, it has enabled Democrats to entirely flip county government, including the judiciary and numerous appellate benches, while also netting a Congressional seat and two State Rep seats. Contrast that to Starr County, which has gotten so much attention and which is among the dark red counties along the southern border, which moved about eight thousand votes towards Republicans. That shift was more significant at the Presidential level, by the way – it’s a bit less than a five thousand vote shift in the Senate and Railroad Commissioner races. Not nothing, and definitely a cause for concern for Democrats, but nowhere close to as substantial as the shift in Harris County. But you would never know that, and the color coding makes it even more misleading.

Problem two is related to problem one but manifests itself in a slightly different way. That problem is that this shift is about the percentage difference between 2012 and 2020. Before I get to the specifics, let me try to explain why this gives a distorted description of the problem with a sports example. Suppose the Texans are playing the Ravens. At the end of the first quarter, the Ravens lead 14-7, which is to say that the Ravens have scored 66.7% of the points in the game. In the second quarter, the Ravens score another touchdown and also add a field goal, while the Texans score a touchdown. That makes the score 24-14 at halftime, and it means that the Ravens scored only 58.9% of the points in the second quarter. Which, if you go by the math used in Nate Cohn’s map, a fifteen-point shift in the Texans’ favor – they went from being down 33 points in the first quarter to being down only eighteen points in the second quarter. Look at them mounting a comeback!

Except of course that on the actual scoreboard, the Ravens have extended their lead from seven points to ten points. The rate by which they are increasing their lead has slowed, but their lead is still growing. The Texans now have a larger deficit to overcome. Perhaps the trends are now in their favor, but the bottom line is that they’re still farther behind than they were before.

All that is why you should look at the light blue shift in Montgomery County, for example, with a cocked eyebrow. It is true, in 2012 Mitt Romney took 79.7% of the vote in Montgomery County to Barack Obama’s 19.0%, for a sixty point lead, while Donald Trump carried Montgomery by a mere 44 points, 71.2 to 27.4. But as we have discussed before, that translated into another 14K net votes for Republicans at the top of the ticket. The Democrats’ deficit continues to grow even as the Republicans’ rate of acceleration has declined. It’s comfort of the coldest kind. The same is very much true for Parker and Johnson counties, and for counties we have not yet discussed, like Comal and Medina and Ector and Midland.

It’s not all gloom and doom. In some places where the deficit increased, the rate of that increase dropped a lot, to the point where you could imagine it turning around in the next election. Lubbock County is an example of that – again, I’ll be going into that in more detail in a later post. In some counties, like Caldwell and Bastrop, there was actually a small gain between 2016 and 2020 after a bigger drop from 2012 to 2016, so while the overall gap is still significant, the direction is what you want. Imagine the Texans winning the second quarter of our game 7-6, so that they now trail 20-14. Denton and Collin counties, which are dark blue in the Cohn map, are the canonical examples here, though Brazos County makes a nice showing as well. We’re still trailing, but you can see how we get to the lead from here.

I don’t want you to look too skeptically at every blue spot that isn’t immediately identifiable as a Dem beacon. Dems really don’t need to win too many counties to carry Texas some fine day, because of their massive advantage in the biggest counties. We don’t need Montgomery County to turn blue to win the state. We don’t even need it to be on a path to turning blue. We just need the gap between Republicans and Democrats to quit growing, and maybe shrink a little. One way we were able to turn Harris County blue was that we could rally Democrats in heavily Republican areas because they knew their votes were important to flipping (and now maintaining) the county as a Democratic bastion. In Montgomery, that task is abstracted out one level further – there aren’t any local candidates who are likely to win, at a district or county level, so the motivation has to come from your votes mattering at the state level. It’s a heavier lift, since those statewide candidates won’t be as well known locally and will likely not spend much if any time there campaigning, and I have tons of respect for the effort made in spite of those conditions. We need that in more places around the state.

Again, we have discussed some of this before, and will discuss it again soon. I’m now thinking I need to adapt my Presidential-level vote series on “surrounding counties” to the Senate and other statewide races. That ought to keep me busy for the next few weeks.

Before we go, one more example that highlights both of the issues I have identified in this post. Take a look at King County, east of Lubbock and north of Abilene (Taylor County). Who would have expected a blue shift in a place like that? Well, here are the numbers for King County in 2012 and 2020:


Romney  Obama  Romney%  Obama%  Margin
======================================
   139      5    95.9%    3.5%    92.4

 Trump  Biden   Trump%  Biden%  Margin
======================================
   151      8    95.0%    5.0%    90.0

There was one vote in 2012 for Libertarian Gary Johnson, and no third-party or write-in votes in 2020. This is what a “blue shift” in King County looks like. I’m sure I’m as impressed as you are.

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.

Counties of interest, part two: Around the Metroplex

Part 1 – Counties around Harris

Dallas and Tarrant Counties are two big squares right next to each other, so I’m combining them into one post.


County       Romney    Obama    Trump  Clinton    Trump    Biden    Shift
=========================================================================
Collin      196,888  101,415  201,014  140,624  250,194  227,868   73,147
Denton      157,579   80,978  170,603  110,890  221,829  188,023   42,795
Ellis        39,574   13,881   44,941   16,253   56,651   27,513   -3,445
Johnson      37,661   10,496   44,382   10,988   54,523   16,418  -10,940
Kaufman      24,846    9,472   29,587   10,278   37,474   18,290   -3,810
Parker       39,243    7,853   46,473    8,344   61,584   12,789  -17,405
Rockwall     27,113    8,120   28,451    9,655   38,842   18,149   -1,700
Wise         17,207    3,221   20,670    3,412   26,986    4,953   -8,047

Most of the attention goes to Collin and Denton counties, for good reason. Even as they stayed red this year, they have shifted tremendously in a blue direction. Basically, a whole lot of Dallas has spilled over the county lines, and the result is what you’d expect. There’s not a whole lot to say here – demography, time, and continued organizing should do the trick.

But once you get past those two counties, it’s a whole lot of red. The Republicans have netted more total votes since 2012 from the other six counties than the Dems have from Denton. Parker County, west of Tarrant, home of Weatherford, ninety percent white and over eighty percent Republican, more than twice as populous now as it was in 1990, is A Problem. Johnson County, south of Tarrant and with nearly identical demographics as Parker while also growing rapidly, is right behind it.

I don’t know that there’s much to be done about those two. There does appear to be more promise in Ellis (south of Dallas, home of Waxahachie), Kaufman (southeast of Dallas), and Rockwall counties. The first two are slightly less white than Parker and Johnson, and all three saw enough growth in Democratic voters in 2020 (at least at the Presidential level; we’ll need to check back on other races) to mostly offset the growth in Republican voting. It’s almost certainly the case that proximity to Dallas County is better for Democratic prospects than proximity to Tarrant. Again, that doesn’t address a big part of the problem, but it at least provides a place to start.

I don’t have a whole lot more to offer, so I’m interested in hearing what my readers from this part of the state have to say. I’ll be honest, I had not given any thought to the geography of this before I started writing these posts. Hell, in most cases I had to do some research to know which counties to look up. I hope that by doing so I’ve helped you think about this.

Please stop with the straight ticket voting anecdotes

Either bring me some real data or leave these just so stories alone.

Rep. Sarah Davis

Judging from Donald Trump’s unpopularity in Dallas County, Morgan Meyer and Angie Chen Button should have been doomed this November.

Meyer and Button are the only two remaining Republican state House members in the state’s second-most-populous county, where former Vice President Joe Biden’s margin over Trump was nearly 32 percentage points.

The margins were slimmer in Button’s and Meyer’s districts: Biden won Button’s district by 9 percentage points and Meyer’s by 14.

Still, the two Republicans will be returning to the Texas House next year. According to unofficial vote counts as of Friday, Button eked out a win by 223 votes. (Her Democratic opponent, Brandy K. Chambers, conceded last week, saying she won’t call for a recount.) Meyer won by a larger, but still narrow, margin of 1,634 votes.

What appears to have been their lifeline was a willingness of some Texas voters to split their tickets, rejecting Trump but nonetheless pulling the levers for the Republican Party’s other candidates. And it may have been aided by lawmakers’ decision to eliminate straight-ticket voting in the state, starting with this year’s election.

“Republicans are probably breathing a sigh of relief that they didn’t invite people to take the easy way out” and do straight-ticket voting, said Sam Martin, an associate professor at Southern Methodist University. “The decision to end straight-ticket voting came at exactly the right moment for them.”

“It gives conservatives the opportunity to vote against Trump, but stick with their team,” Martin said.

Republicans weren’t the only beneficiaries of split tickets, however: State Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, and Eddie Morales Jr., who will replace state Rep. Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass, won their Democrat-held seats near the Texas-Mexico border after Trump carried each district by more than 50% of the vote share.

You know who wasn’t a beneficiary of the removal of the straight ticket option? Sarah Davis, who was ousted this year after winning in 2018, in a district that Beto O’Rourke carried with 60% of the vote, with the straight ticket option still available. This year she had a better opponent, and enough voters decided it was time for a change.

The issue is not the straight ticket option. People always had the ability to hit the straight ticket button and then change whatever votes they want to. They also had the option of not using it. People who wanted to vote a straight ticket, whether that meant pushing one button or 54 buttons (as was the case in Harris County this year), did so. It just took them longer. As the story notes later on, there are just fewer people who see value in splitting their tickets these days. If you want to lament that, I say place your blame on Newt Gingrich and Mitch McConnell. In the meantime, this horse is dead. Please stop hitting it.

Counties of interest, part one: Around Harris

There’s been so much focus in the past couple of years about the suburbs and how their traditional voting patterns have changed. I wanted to use the election results we have to take a closer look at what that means. My approach is to look at the results in the counties that surround the large urban counties in Texas, and see what we can infer from the Presidential election data since 2012. A few things to note before we get started.

– I will be looking at the counties that border Harris, Dallas/Tarrant, Travis, and Bexar. I’m skipping El Paso because there’s only one county in the state that is adjacent to it.

– I’m using Presidential results from 2012, 2016, and 2020. As we have discussed, this is only one dimension to the data, but I want to keep this fairly simple. We can discern direction from these numbers, and that’s good enough for these purposes.

– I’m going back to 2012 to provide some extra context. I could have gone back further, and maybe I will take a look at trends since 2004 in some counties at a later date, but I think keeping this study to after the 2010 election, when rural areas gave up the pretense of supporting Democrats at any level, makes more sense.

– In the chart below and in subsequent posts, “Shift” is the change in net votes from a Democratic perspective, from 2012 to 2020. A positive number means Democrats did better in 2020 than in 2012, and a negative number means Republicans did better. So for example, Obama trailed in Brazoria County by 36,431 votes, but Biden trailed by 28,159 votes, so a shift in the Democrat direction by 8,282 votes. Obama lost Chambers County by 8,997 votes, Biden lost it by 13,346 votes, so a shift of 4,329 away from Dems. Make sense?

All right. Let’s start with the seven counties that border Harris County.


County       Romney    Obama    Trump  Clinton    Trump    Biden    Shift
=========================================================================
Brazoria     70,862   34,421   72,791   43,200   89,939   61,780    8,282
Chambers     11,787    2,790   13,339    2,948   17,343    3,997   -4,349
Fort Bend   116,126  101,144  117,291  134,686  157,595  195,191   52,578
Galveston    69,059   39,511   73,757   43,658   93,306   58,247   -5,511
Liberty      17,323    5,202   18,892    4,862   23,288    5,779   -5,388
Montgomery  137,969   32,920  150,314   45,835  193,224   74,255  -13,920
Waller        9,244    6,514   10,531    5,748   14,206    8,130   -3,346

The first thing that should be clear is that just because a county borders a big urban county, that doesn’t mean it’s suburban. For sure Montgomery and Fort Bend and Brazoria and Galveston meet that definition, though all four of those counties also have some very rural areas, but I daresay no one thinks of Chambers or Liberty or Waller that way. Yet while the first four are seen as places of booming population growth, the other three are doing their share of growing, too. Chambers County has doubled in population since 1990. Waller County has more than doubled in that timespan. Liberty County is up by almost 75%.

But they’re still small. None has a city with more than ten thousand people in it, so they don’t have much in common with the other counties. Maybe it’s different for you, but while I personally know plenty of people in Brazoria, Fort Bend, Galveston, and Montgomery Counties, I know all of one in the other three. I drive through Waller now and then on my way to Austin or to Camp Allen when my daughters were going there, but I couldn’t tell you the last time I was in Chambers or Liberty.

I say all this to note that while Montgomery is the driving force behind the Republican strength in this area, with Galveston right behind it thanks to places like Friendswood and League City, the other three counties have increased the Republican bottom line over the past few elections by a significant amount as well, with far fewer people in them. Jane Robinson would be the incoming Chief Justice of the 14th Court of Appeals if Chambers County had had the same numbers in 2020 as they had in 2016. It makes a difference.

Part of the reason I’m doing this is just to highlight the places where we’re losing ground, if only so we can be aware of it. We’ve got our arms around Fort Bend County, and Brazoria is starting to head in the right direction. Montgomery and Galveston are problems, but we have infrastructure in those places, and just by virtue of being suburban I have some reason to think we’ll get to a turning point. I have no idea what exists in the other three counties to promote Democratic policies or candidates. We need a strategy for these places, and the resources to carry it out. We don’t need to win them – we’re no more likely to win Chambers than we are to win Montgomery any time soon – but we at least need to keep up with Republican voter growth.

That’s a theme I’m going to return to more than once a I proceed through these. I don’t pretend to know what the right answers are, I’m just trying to make sure we know there are problems that need to be addressed. I hope you find this helpful.

The poll workers’ stories

Some good news.

With a record 2,431,457 registered voters on the rolls in Harris County, there were several reasons poll workers expected a huge turnout and they got it, but not on Election Day.

Two judges working two of the locations in northwest Harris County with the largest turnouts in the county both saw voters take advantage of extra days and utilize extended hours for voting.

“It was impressive the number of people who turned out,” said John Baucum who served as precinct judge at the city of Jersey Village location.

Harris County set a record for the total number of voters ever participating in an election with 1,649,573 casting ballots, but it fell just shy in the percentage of registered voters who showed up at the polls with 67.84 percent.

The last time a presidential race garnered more than 70 percent of the voters in Harris County was in 1992 when Bill Clinton defeated incumbent President George W. Bush. At least 71.68 percent or 942,636 of the 1,315,010 registered voters cast their vote in the election.

While the voter rolls have increased almost twice that number since 1992, participation seems to be on an uptick and so is early voting.

“Yes, it’s the most voters we’ve ever had,” confirmed Roxanne Werner, director of community relations for Harris County Clerk Chris Collins.

[…]

Baucum said he believed the process in his precinct was fair.

“Voting day, when they come into that center, you want them to know that their vote counts, that the process was fair, and their ballot was in secret. I think as a team we make sure that it happens,” he said.

Baucum was grateful for his staff who worked tirelessly to ensure a fair election.

One of the difficulties with staffing, especially on election day, is securing rare interpreters.

“We have to be prepared for any voter to walk in,” he said. “Before countywide voting, we would have a Spanish and English interpreter, and maybe in southwest Houston you might have had a Chinese or Vietnamese interpreter, now we’re required to have all of them. We were able to have all of those plus one of our clerks spoke Portuguese and German,” he said. “We were probably overprepared.”

“Those are the challenges you see with countywide voting. We’ve been able to find the people to fill those spots,” he said.

For Matt Harris, serving as an alternate judge for the Richard and Meg Weekley Community Center was exciting since the location led the county in early voting with 29,810.

“This was my first time. It was an interesting experience. I’m glad I did it and I’ll probably continue to do it,” he said. “I think it’s important for my age group to be involved in the process.”

The 38-year-old moved to Texas from Illinois a decade ago in search of job opportunities.

“My wife graduated from college right after the recession hit Illinois really hard. We tried things there for a while, but nothing panned out,” he said.

They pulled up roots and moved to the Houston area where they found 30-40 postings for her job versus only two or three for the same in Illinois.

He took the training for being a precinct judge twice.

“Originally I was scheduled to work the primaries in March and didn’t get to and did the training a second time which was very helpful,” he said.

He also received a reference manual which provided invaluable information for judges.

He said the Weekley Center has been a voting location for at least the 10 years he’s lived in the area.

Until he moved to Texas, he really wasn’t involved in politics so much.

“I always pushed it to the side because it’s (Illinois) always been a blue state and I’m conservative,” he said.

As we now know, final turnout was 1,656,686 after provisional ballots were cured. Both of the election workers quoted are Republicans, and as you can see they both thought the process was fair, accessible, and generally well done. It would be nice if some of our Republican leaders felt that way, too. Honestly, if the Chron wants to talk to a couple of election workers and let them tell their stories every week till we run out of them, that would be fine with me. The single best thing to come out of this election – OK, the second best thing – was the joy and enthusiasm so many people had for participating in it, for feeling like their votes mattered and their voices were heard. I’ve lived my entire life in an atmosphere of cynicism and detachment towards our democracy, and this is the first time I can recall it being more cool to be into it than to be sarcastic about it. It’s better this way.

A closer look at county races, Part 2

Part One is here. As before, this is about taking a closer look at the counties where Democrats made gains from 2016.

Collin County: Our reach may have exceeded our grasp, but it’s important to note that progress was made. A quick recap, comparing 2016:


CD03: 61.2% - 34.6%
Statewides: GOP 59-62%, Dem 32-35%
HD33: 62.6% - 34.1%
HD66: 57.4% - 38.7%
HD67: 56.6% - 39.7%
HD70: 67.1% - 28.5%
HD89: 63.5% - 32.7%

No candidates for District Court, Commissioner’s Court, countywide offices, or Constable. One candidate for Justice of the Peace.

To 2020:


CD03: 55.1% - 42.9%
Statewides: GOP 54-57%, Dem 42-44%
HD33: 59.0% - 41.0%
HD66: 49.6% - 48.9%
HD67: 51.7% - 48.3%
HD70: 61.8% - 38.2%
HD89: 59.4% - 38.5%

Candidates for seven of nine District Court benches (all in the 42-44% range), County Tax Assessor (41%), and both Commissioners Court seats (41% and 39%).

Still no candidates for any of the four Constable races. Hard to say how competitive any of them might have been, at least until a full canvass is available, but in Constable Precinct 3, the unopposed Republican got 115K votes, with 88K undervotes. Given that unopposed candidates always get more votes than candidates with major party opponents, this was probably not far from a 50-50 race. I’d be eyeing this office in 2024 if I’m a Collin County Democrat. Overall, a shift of about six or seven points down for the GOP and up for the Dems.

Denton County: Same basic story as Collin, except that we held the one State Rep race we won in 2018. Here’s the same presentation, for 2016:


CD24: 53.7% - 42.0%
CD26: 65.2% - 30.7%
Statewides: GOP 60-62%, Dem 32-34%
HD63: No Dem
HD64: 61.6% - 38.4%
HD65: 56.3% - 43.7%
HD106: No Dem

One candidate for District Court (36.3%), no candidates for any county race.

And 2020


CD24: 45.9% - 50.4%
CD26: 59.5% - 38.4%
Statewides: GOP 55-58%, Dem 40-43%
HD63: 67.4% - 32.6%
HD64: 54.9% - 45.1%
HD65: 48.5% - 51.5%
HD106: 58.5% - 41.5%

Still just one candidate for District Court, getting 42.6%. Both County Commissioner races were challenged, but still no candidates for any of the six Constable spots. Here I can’t say which if any may have been competitive, as the election night returns don’t tell me the undervotes. No matter how you look at it, you want to get some Dem candidates in these races, to help with downballot turnout.

Hays County: Like Williamson, a flip to Dems, with some downballot success as well. The big prize here was HD45, where Rep. Erin Zwiener knocked off incumbent Jason Isaac in 2018, two years after Isaac had been unopposed for re-election. Rep. Zwiener easily held on against Carrie Isaac, winning with 53.3% of the vote. In 2016, Lamar Smith took the CD21 portion of Hays 53-39, Roger Williams won the CD25 portion of Hays 60-35, and statewide Republicans won with 47-49% over Dems with scores in the 40-44% range. Rebecca Bell-Metereau lost in SBOE5 49-46. There was one District Court race, with an unopposed Republican, the Democratic candidate for Sheriff lost by 13 points, and there was no Dem running for Tax Assessor. There were a mix of Dem and GOP winners, some unopposed, for Commissioners Court, Justice of the Peace, and Constable.

In 2020, Wendy Davis took the CD21 piece 49-46, while Julie Oliver held Roger Williams to a 57-41 edge. (There’s also a piece of CD35 in Hays County. Pound for pound, Hays is at least as sliced up at the Congressional level as Travis County is.) Statewide Dems were now universal winners in Hays, ranging from Chrysta Castaneda’s 49.8% to Elizabeth Frizell’s 53.1%. Rebecca Bell-Metereau won in SBOE5 50.5% to 44.8%. Hays County now had a second District Court seat, won by a Democrat, and a new County Court at Law seat, also won by a Dem. The same Republican judge who was unopposed in 2016 was unopposed in 2020 as well. Dems now had challengers for both Sheriff and Tax Assessor, and while they both lost it was 51-49 in each. Dems had a challenger for Commissioners Court in Precinct 3, losing 52-48 after not contesting the position in 2016. The Dem Constable who won Precinct 2 by 110 votes in 2016 was re-elected by 2,500 votes in 2020. I’d say Hays is a bit like Harris County in 2012, where Dems are the majority but they do better at the top of the ticket, and aren’t quite able to knock out Republican countywide officeholders. There are definitely opportunities here going forward.

Brazoria County: This is more a story of stasis than progress. Trump carried Brazoria County by 29K votes in 2016, and he carried it by 28K votes in 2020. I’d rather go this direction than the other one, but we’re not getting anywhere at that rate. If we pull the curtain back a little farther, here’s the margin of victory in Brazoria County for the Republican Presidential candidate in each election since 2004: 34,758 (04), 29,035 (08), 36,441 (12), 29,591 (16), 28,159 (20). The long-term arc is fine, it’s just slow.

Republican statewides won the county with leads in the 30-34K range in 2016, and roughly the same in 2020. The percentages are closer, because that’s how ratios work, but the absolute difference in votes is more or less the same. That’s why I always aim to report both figures in posts like this, because you need both dimensions to understand what is really happening. For what it’s worth, Sri Kulkarni lost the CD22 portion of Brazoria by 6K votes after Mark Gibson lost it by 14K in 2016, but in the end that didn’t amount to much. I see Brazoria as being similar to Fort Bend twenty years ago, with a lot of work needed to move it in the same direction that Fort Bend has gone.

That’s all I’ve got for this exercise. There are some opportunities out there, but nothing can be taken for granted. Broadly speaking, the key is to run candidates in these downballot races – for one, there’s winnable contests out there, and for two, this is a key component to building a bench of future candidates. And not to put too fine a point on it, but as we have seen in Harris County, having a good county government is a big win on its own.

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.

Harris County posts updated election results

From Twitter:

You want to get my attention on Twitter, that’s a good way to do it. For comparison purposes, the unofficial final election night returns that the Clerk’s office sent out are here. The still-unofficial (because they haven’t yet been certified by Commissioners Court) results are here, though that URL may be temporary. A couple of highlights:

– Final turnout is now given as 1,656,686, an increase of 7,113 over the originally given total of 1,649,573. Turnout was 68.14% as a percentage of registered voters.

– Joe Biden’s lead over Donald Trump grew from 212,152 total votes to 217,563 total votes. The final score is now 918,193 to 700,630 for Biden.

– A couple of the close races changed by tiny amounts. Lizzie Fletcher’s margin of victory grew from 10,217 to 10,475 total votes. Jon Rosenthal lost 17 votes off his lead to Justin Ray to finish exactly 300 votes ahead, while Gina Calanni fell an additional 59 votes behind Mike Schofield.

– The two appellate court races cited by Adams-Hurta were of great interest to me. Amparo Guerra is leading on the SOS election night results page over Terry Adams by 1,367 votes out of 2.3 million votes cast. Meanwhile, Jane Robinson trailed Tracy Christopher by 4,311 votes. Could either of these races be affected? I had to check the other county election results pages as well, to see what final results were now in. This is what I got:


County       TC EN      JR EN      TC fin     JR fin   Change
=============================================================
Austin      11,440      2,680      11,606      2,698     -148
Brazoria    91,378     57,684      91,378     57,684        0
Chambers    17,200      3,720      17,200      3,720        0
Colorado     7,351      2,281       7,351      2,281        0
Fort Bend  161,423    176,466     161,532    176,662       87
Galveston   94,759     54,178      95,355     54,623     -151
Grimes       9,305      2,647       9,318      2,650     - 10
Harris     734,315    838,895     733,878    841,923    3,465
Waller      14,245      7,501      14,302      7,556     -  2
Washington  12,852      3,905      12,852      3,905        0

Total    1,154,268  1,149,957   1,154,772  1,153,702

County       TA EN      AG EN      TA fin     AG fin   Change
=============================================================
Austin      11,468      2,632      11,632      2,649     -147
Brazoria    91,430     57,174      91,430     57,174        0
Chambers    17,180      3,656      17,180      3,656        0
Colorado     7,393      2,217       7,393      2,217        0
Fort Bend  162,238    175,460     162,338    175,664      104
Galveston   95,057     53,375      95,643     53,820     -151
Grimes       9,351      2,570       9,364      2,572     - 11
Harris     728,402    842,905     727,952    845,951    3,496
Waller      14,303      7,459      14,364      7,508     - 12
Washington  13,043      3,784      13,043      3,784        0

Total    1,149,865  1,151,232   1,150,339  1,154,995

The first table is Tracy Christopher (TC) versus Jane Robinson (JR), the second is Terry Adams (TA) versus Amparo Guerra (AG). The first two columns represent the Election Night (EN) numbers as posted on their SOS pages, the second columns are the final numbers now posted on the county sites. Brazoria, Chambers, Colorado, and Washington still have their Election Night results up, so those have no changes. The Change column is from the Democratic candidates’ perspective, so a negative number means the Republican netted more votes.

Not surprisingly, the Harris results had the biggest effect, but in the end the winners were the same. Robinson now trails by an even smaller 1,070 vote margin, while Guerra has a bit more room to breathe with a 4,656 vote lead. Given the deltas in the other counties, my guess is that both Dems will see a small net loss. A real nail-biter in both cases, and it wouldn’t have taken much to change the outcomes. For what it’s worth, the two Dems who won these races this year were both Latinas, the two Dems that lost were not. Both Veronica Rivas Molloy and Amparo Guerra had larger leads in Harris County than Jane Robinson and Tamika Craft had, and that was what ultimately propelled them to victory. Maybe that would be different in a different years – Dems won all these races in 2018, remember – but this year it was consequential.

I suppose it’s possible there could be recounts in some of these races, but honestly, nothing is close enough to be changed. It’s a rare year that has no recounts, though, so we’ll see. Commissioners Court will certify the Harris County results on Tuesday, the statutory deadline.

So how did my simple projection work out?

Remember this? I divided the counties up by how much their voter rolls had grown or shrunk since 2012, then used the 2016 turnout levels and 2018 results to project final numbers for the Presidential election in 2020. Now that we have those numbers, how did my little toy do? Let’s take a look.

A couple of things to acknowledge first. The most up to date voter registration numbers show that the group of counties that looked to have lost voters since 2012 have actually gained them, at least in the aggregate. Second, the actual turnout we got so far exceeded past numbers that we literally couldn’t have nailed this, at least not at a quantitative level. So with that in mind, let’s move forward.

We start with the counties that had seen growth of at least 10K voters on their rolls since 2012. There were 33 of these. Here are the numbers I had in my initial review, updated to include what happened this year.


Romney  3,270,387   Obama    2,792,800
Romney      53.9%   Obama        46.1%
Romney +  477,587

Trump   3,288,107   Clinton  3,394,436
Trump       49.2%   Clinton      50.8%
Trump  -  106,329

Cruz    3,022,932   Beto     3,585,385
Cruz        45.7%   Beto         54.3%
Cruz   -  562,453

Trump   4,119,402   Biden    4,579,144
Trump       47.4%   Biden        52.6%
Trump  -  459,742

Year  Total voters   Total votes   Turnout
==========================================
2012    10,442,191     6,157,687     59.0%
2016    11,760,590     7,029,306     59.8%
2018    12,403,704     6,662,143     53.7%
2020    13,296,048     8,765,774     65.9%

When I did the original post, there were 12,930,451 registered voters in these 33 counties. As you can see, and will see for the other groups, that increased between August and November, by quite a bit. As you can see, Trump did considerably worse than he had in 2016 with these counties, but better than Ted Cruz did in 2018. That says it all about why this race wasn’t as close as the Beto-Cruz race in 2018. My projection had assumed 2016-level turnout, but we obviously got more than that. Here’s what I had projected originally, and what we would have gotten if the 2020 results had been like the 2018 results from a partisan perspective:


Trump   3,533,711   Biden    4,198,699
Trump  -  664,988

Trump   3,975,236   Biden    4,723,310
Trump  -  748,074

Fair to say we missed the mark. We’ll see how much of a difference that would have made later. Now let’s look at the biggest group of counties, the 148 counties that gained some number of voters, from one to 9,999. Again, here are my projections, with the updated voter registration number:


Romney  1,117,383   Obama      415,647
Romney      72.9%   Obama        27.1%
Romney +  701,736

Trump   1,209,121   Clinton    393,004
Trump       75.5%   Clinton      24.5%
Trump  +  816,117

Cruz    1,075,232   Beto       381,010
Cruz        73.8%                26.2%
Cruz   +  694,222

Trump   1,496,148   Biden      501,234
Trump       74.0%   Biden        26.0%
Trump  +  994,914

Year  Total voters   Total votes   Turnout
==========================================
2012     2,686,872     1,551,613     57.7%
2016     2,829,110     1,653,858     58.5%
2018     2,884,466     1,466,446     50.8%
2020     3,112,474     2,022,490     65.0%

As discussed, there’s a whole lot of strong red counties in here – of the 148 counties in this group, Beto carried ten of them. They had 2,929,965 voters as of August. What had been my projection, and how’d it go here?


Trump   1,264,954   Biden      449,076
Trump  +  815,878

Trump   1,496,148   Biden      501,234
Trump  +  994,914

The margin is wider due to the higher turnout, but Biden actually did a little better by percentage than Clinton did, and was right in line with Beto. This is obviously an area of great need for improvement going forward, but the projection was more or less right on target, at least from a partisan performance perspective. But as you can see, even with the more optimistic projection for Biden, he’s already in the hole. Like I said, this is an area of urgent need for improvement going forward.

Now on to the last group, the 73 counties that had lost voters from 2012, at least going by the August numbers. As you can see, that turned out not to be fully true:


Romney     182,073   Obama      99,677
Romney       64.6%   Obama       35.4%
Romney +    82,396

Trump      187,819   Clinton    90,428
Trump        67.5%   Clinton     32.5%
Trump  +    97,391

Cruz       162,389   Beto       79,237
Cruz         67.2%   Beto        32.8%
Cruz   +    83,152

Trump      226,104   Biden     105,490
Trump        68.2%   Biden       31.8%
Trump  +   120,514

Year  Total voters   Total votes   Turnout
==========================================
2012       517,163       284,551     55.0%
2016       511,387       286,062     55.9%
2018       505,087       243,066     48.1%
2020       546,997       335,110     61.2%

As you can see, that decline in registrations has reversed, quite dramatically. I didn’t check each individual county – it seems likely that some of them are still at a net negative – but overall they are no longer in decline. Good for them. As you can also see, Biden performed a little worse than Clinton and Beto, but close enough for these purposes. Let’s compare the projection to the reality:


Trump      187,587   Biden      91,561
Trump +     96,026

Trump      226,104   Biden     105,490
Trump  +   120,514

Put the best-case scenario from the first group with what we got in the last two, and we could have had this:


Trump    5,697,488   Biden   5,330,034
Trump       51.67%   Biden      48.33%

Which is pretty close to what I had projected originally, just with a lot more voters now. The actual final result is 52.18% to 46.39%, so I’d say my method came closer to the real result than most of the polls did. Clearly, I missed my calling.

All this was done as an exercise in frivolity – as I said at the time, I made all kinds of assumptions in making this projection, and the main one about turnout level was way wrong. The point of this, I think, is to show that while Dems have indeed improved greatly in performance in the biggest counties, they haven’t done as well everywhere else, and while the marginal difference from Obama 2012 to Clinton 2016 and Biden 2020 isn’t much, the overall direction is wrong (even as Biden improved somewhat on the middle group over Clinton), and we’re going to have a real problem making further progress if we can’t figure out a way to improve our performance in these smaller counties. There is room to grow in the big and growing counties – these include some fast-growing and very red places like Montgomery and Comal, for instance – but we’re going to reach diminishing marginal growth soon, if we’re not already there. We need to step it up everywhere else. I’ll be returning to this theme as we go forward. Let me know what you think.

By the way, we’re still counting votes here in Texas

In case you were wondering.

Harris County is still counting ballots, too, just like counties all across Texas. We’re not focused on that right now, because Texas went to President Donald Trump on election night. But more than 100 people are working around the clock inside NRG Arena, Harris County’s election headquarters.

Isabel Longoria, election administrator, walked us through what’s happening.

“Quite frankly, the process of democracy right now is about tedious accuracy,” that is being double-checked by a ballot board of made up of both Republicans and Democrats, Longoria said.

“A lot of it is just on a computer. So for the mail ballots, for example, you get a person’s signature from their application and the signature from the ballot and you have a Democrat and a Republican just saying, yes, yes, question. Yes, yes, question. And anything that’s questioned goes to a specialized team,” that will reach out to a specific voter to verify that all information on the ballot is correct, Longoria said.

“I can say our staff is running on fumes. We’ve been working 24/7,” Longoria said.

The whole process is being monitored by about a dozen poll watchers.

[…]

The Texas Election Code requires all 254 Texas counties certify their election results no later than 14 days after the election, or in this case, by Nov. 17.

What will happen is that the official canvass will be presented to Commissioners Court, at their November 17 meeting, and they will certify it at that time. Military and overseas ballots were still being received as of Monday, which was the deadline for that. There are no races at the county, state, or federal level in Harris County that are close enough for a recount, so once all the ballots are tallied, that will be that. The point is, ballots are still being counted right here in Texas. See this Twitter thread by the County Clerk for more.

More early data from State Rep districts

From Derek Ryan on Twitter:

Couple of things, as we wait for the rest of the data – I hope to get at least a draft canvass from Harris County soon, and may look at some other counties’ data as I can; the full state data will likely be published in March or so.

– I have covered some of this, all from Harris County. Ryan’s data is around the state.

– I previously noted that HDs 31 and 74 were pretty purple already; I would expect HD34 to join them when that data is available. I should note that despite those Trump numbers, the Dems in those districts did just fine – Rep. Ryan Guillen won HD31 with 58%, Rep. Abel Herrero took HD34 with over 59%, and Eddie Morales won the open HD74 with 54%. If we’re going to argue that Democrats were too ambitious in 2020 – I would not make that argument, but I have seen others at least suggest it – then one might also argue that Republicans were not ambitious enough.

– I have no doubt that Republicans will take these numbers under serious consideration, and I won’t be surprised if they try to draw another Republican-friendly district in the Valley, to accompany HD43.

– Which doesn’t mean they’ll succeed. Someone reminded me on Twitter that Cameron County voted for George W. Bush in 2004. He also got almost 45% in Hidalgo County, and almost 57% in Nueces County. Republican Presidents running for re-election have done well in South Texas before. Perhaps we all forgot about that. We know now that was not the start of a trend.

– That said, I believe that a county or district electing a candidate from one party while supporting Presidents and Senators from another party is an unstable situation, one that sooner or later topples over. See: all of the rural districts that used to elect Democrats to Congress and the Lege while voting 60-70% Republican otherwise, and Sarah Davis in HD134. If statewide Dems do well in these districts again in 2022 and 2024, we can go back to thinking of them as blue. If not, then we do indeed have a whole new ballgame.

(The same is true, of course, for the urban/suburban districts that Republicans won but Biden carried. In those at least we have more than one election’s worth of data to contemplate.)

– And again, we should remember that the Biden/Trump numbers are just one data point. As noted, it’s entirely possible in some of these districts that Trump’s numbers will be well above, or well below, the norm. We’ll need to consider the entire range.

– The implied question in all of this is, what does this data mean for 2022? The answer is, we just don’t know. We haven’t had two elections in a row that looked the same in this state. There are plausible scenarios that make 2022 potentially good for Dems, and that make 2022 bad for Dems. Hard to believe, I know, but we have to let the things happen that will affect those possible outcomes.

More to come as we get more data. Reform Austin is also on this.

For a million bucks, I’ll tell you where to find Bigfoot

That’s about as likely to happen as this is.

As GOP lawyers and leaders frantically search for proof of fraud to back allegations of election irregularities, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick offered to pay tipsters at least $25,000 for information leading to a conviction for voter fraud.

Patrick, one of President Donald Trump’s biggest boosters in Texas, said Tuesday the payments would be capped at $1 million. The money to encourage and reward tipsters would come from Patrick’s campaign fund, which held almost $15.5 million at the end of June.

Democrats dismissed the offer as a desperate and cynical stunt.

Complaining of fraud, Trump has claimed victory in last week’s election despite projections showing Democrat Joe Biden with more than enough electoral votes and despite Biden receiving almost 5 million more votes nationwide — a lead that has widened as more votes get counted.

But a flurry of lawsuits challenging the results in a number of states have failed to gain traction for Trump and Republican organizations, in part because judges have noted a lack of evidence of actual fraud.

Patrick, hoping to find supporting evidence, asked tipsters to turn their information over to law enforcement.

There are a million ways to dunk on this kind of idiocy, and I suppose it’s a sign of self-awareness that Patrick didn’t set up a 1-800 number for people to call. Honestly, though, nothing I could come up with could possibly top this:

He supplies a link to a news story in the subsequent tweet. (Here’s a story that turned out to be a lie, thus preserving Patrick’s millions for someone else.) You can close down Twitter today, there’s nowhere to go from here. The Trib has more.

The next elections

Just a reminder, there are two elections on the calendar for December:

See here for the background. The first link in that tweet goes to this County Clerk press release, which came out right after the election was officially set by the court. Doesn’t look like early voting information is available at harrisvotes.com yet, but I expect it will be soon. Oh, and if somehow you or someone you know who lives in the district is not registered to vote, the deadline to do so and vote in this election is tomorrow.

Meanwhile, up north:

Gov. Greg Abbott announced Saturday that Dec. 19 will be the date for the special election runoff to succeed state Sen. Pat Fallon, R-Prosper.

The runoff in Fallon’s solidly red district pits state Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, against fellow Republican Shelley Luther, the Dallas salon owner who was jailed earlier this year over her refusal to close her business due to coronavirus restrictions.

Early voting for the runoff will start Dec. 9, Abbott said.

Luther and Springer finished close together in the Sept. 29 special election, which included three other Republicans and a Democrat. Luther edged out Springer, 32.17% to 31.93%, ahead by 164 votes out of 68,807 total.

That story is from October – there were just too many other things happening around then to blog about a two-months-out special State Senate election, but now is a better time for that. If Rep. Springer wins, then there will be another special election to fill his seat. Some years we get a fair bit of shuffling after the November election. In 2019, we had a special election to fill SD06 after now-US Rep. Sylvia Garcia was elected in CD29, then another special election to fill HD145 after now-Sen. Carol Alvarado won that race. Specials were also needed in HDs 79 (Joe Pickett resigned due to health issues) and 125 (Justin Rodriguez was appointed to Bexar County Commissioners Court). You never know what may happen this year. One way or another, it’s always election season somewhere.

Looking ahead to 2022

Continuing with the brain dumps, which are my post-election tradition. This is a collection of thoughts about the next big election, in 2022.

As I said earlier, I take no position on the question of what effect the disparity in door-to-door campaigning had. I can buy there was some effect, but we have no way of how much of an effect it was. The good news is, whatever the case, this isn’t a trend, it’s a one-time effect of an election in a pandemic. I feel pretty confident saying that barring anything extraordinary, traditional door-knocking will be a big component of everyone’s 2022 campaigns. Perhaps Democrats will have learned something useful from this year’s experience that will enhance what they can do in 2022; admittedly, what they have learned may be “this sucks and we never want to do it this way again”.

There are a couple of things that concern me as we start our journey towards 2022. The first is that after four long years of hard work, with one rewarding election cycle and one disappointing cycle, people will be less engaged, which needless to say will make keeping the ground we have gained, let alone gaining more ground, that much harder. I think people will be focused on bringing change to our state government, but we can’t take this for granted. People are tired! These were four years from hell, and we all feel a great weight has been lifted. I get it, believe me. But we felt this way following the 2008 election, and we know what came next. We cannot, absolutely cannot, allow that to happen again. We know what we need to do.

Second, and very much in line with the above, the national environment matters. What President Biden will be able to accomplish in the next two years depends to a significant extent on the outcome of those two Georgia Senate runoffs, but however they go we need to remember that there are significant obstacles in his way. Mitch McConnell and the Republicans were greatly rewarded for their all-out obstructionism throughout the Obama presidency. We can’t control what McConnell et al do, but we can control our reaction to it. Do we get discouraged and frustrated with the lack of progress, or do we get angry with the people whose fault it really is? How we react will be a big factor in determining what the national mood in 2022 is.

I’m already seeing people give their fantasy candidate for Governor. They include the likes of Beto O’Rourke, Julian Castro (my choice), Cecile Richards, Lina Hidalgo, and others. I don’t know who might actually want to run – it is still early, after all – but we just need to bear in mind that every candidate has their pros and cons, and we need to worry less about matters of personality and more about building coalition and continuing the work we’ve been doing.

For what it’s worth, four themes I’d like to see our eventual candidates for Governor and Lt. Governor emphasize: Medicaid expansion, marijuana legalization, emergency/disaster preparedness and response, and improving the voter experience, with a focus on online voter registration. The first two have proven they are popular enough to be adopted by voter initiative in deep red states, the third is obvious and should include things like hurricanes, flooding, and drought in addition to pandemics in general and COVID-19 in particular, and the fourth is something there’s already bipartisan support for in the Lege. Let Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick defend the status quo here.

(Increasing the minimum wage was also a ballot initiative winner in states like Florida, and it generally polls well. I very much support raising the minimum wage, but don’t have as much confidence that it would be an electoral winner here. I’m open to persuasion otherwise.)

Here are some numbers to contemplate as we look towards 2022:

I’d attribute the regression in performance in the biggest 15 counties to Republican improvement more than Democrats falling short – as noted multiple times, Democrats hit new highs in the big urban counties, but so did the GOP. There’s still room for growth here, especially in an environment where turnout level is much more volatile, but the marginal growth is smaller now. Putting that another way, there’s no longer a deficit of voter registration in these counties. We need to maintain and keep up with new population growth, but we’re not behind where we should be any more. If we do that, and we prioritize maximizing our own base, we’ll be fine.

It’s the bottom two groups that we need to pay some attention to. A lot of these counties have medium-sized cities in them, and that’s an obvious place to focus some effort. (I’ve been beating that drum for months and months now.) But we really need to do something about the small rural counties, too, or face the reality of huge vote deficits that we can’t control and have to overcome. I know this is daunting, and I have no illusions about how much potential for gain there is here, but I look at it this way: If Donald Trump can convince some number of Black and Latino people to vote for him in 2020, after four years of unrelenting racism and destruction, then surely nothing is impossible. I think marijuana legalization could be a good wedge issue here. Remember, the goal is to peel off some support. A few points in our direction means many thousands of votes.

It’s too early to worry about legislative and Congressional races, because we have no idea what redistricting will wrought. I think we should be prepared for litigation to be of limited value, as it was this decade, and for the Republicans to do as much as they can to limit the number of competitive districts. They may be right about it in 2022, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be right in subsequent years.

In Harris County, we should expect competitive primaries for all of the countywide positions, and for many of the judicial spots. Judge Lina Hidalgo has done an outstanding job, but we know there are people who could have run in 2018 who are surely now thinking “that could have been me”. Don’t take anything for granted. We need to keep a close eye on the felony bail reform lawsuit, and news stories about how the current judges are handling bail hearings, because we are going to have to hold some of our folks accountable. We need to make sure that all of the Republican justices of the peace have opponents, especially the ones who have refused to do same-sex marriages.

Overall, there’s no reason why we can’t continue to build on what we have done over the past decade-plus in Harris County. Complacency and disunity will be our biggest opponents. The rest is up to us.

What might the Lege do to make voting easier, or harder?

I confess, I didn’t read most of this story about the various problems some people had in voting, and the various theories as to what was happening during voting, mostly because it contained way too many quotes from Jared Woodfill. I’m going to focus on one piece of this, and then jump to the question I posed in the title.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

In Texas, which was recently ranked 50th in the nation by the Election Law Journal for ease of voting, the stories of disenfranchisement in this election are plentiful, because the hurdles state lawmakers have erected to registering and voting create many chances for the system to fail.

The state GOP leadership has steadfastly resisted modernizing voter registration, including blocking attempts at online registration. Voter ID laws, limits on qualifications for absentee ballots and rigidity in the mechanics of balloting all weed out untold numbers of voters along the way.

“These things will feed into the ability of someone to either participate easily and conveniently and effectively, or for someone to encounter barrier after barrier after barrier and at some point throw up their hands in disgust and quit trying,” said Tammy Patrick, senior adviser to the elections team at the Democracy Fund in Washington, D.C.

It certainly was difficult for East Texas resident Serena Ivie, who had to reeducate herself on the registration process after sitting out elections for 20 years.

Ivie wanted to vote for President Donald Trump because she worried about the direction of the country if he left office. She sent in her voter registration application in early September, she said.

She figured out too late that her registration was never activated, and she still has not gotten an explanation, she said.

Ivie, 49, is angry that the state hasn’t created easy, online registration since the last time she voted.

“I was disappointed that I’d let myself down, and I really felt that I screwed up,” Ivie said. “It’s a huge letdown, and I, in turn, feel like I am letting my country down.”

There really is no good reason why our voter registration process is so antiquated. There is a good reason why the law that controls how voter registration may be done has not been updated in forever, and that’s because the Republicans have opposed it, as we have covered here numerous times. Not all Republicans, to be sure – the bill cited in that post had numerous Republican co-sponsors, but never got a hearing in committee. The difference now is that Republicans have been actively registering voters these days, and as they discovered, it’s harder than it needs to be. There is also now a very limited form of online voter registration available, thanks to a federal lawsuit. These two factors may finally allow for our voter registration laws to be dragged into the 21st century. I wouldn’t bet on it until someone like Greg Abbott announces support for it, but the possibility exists.

Unfortunately, that’s probably about where the potential good news ends. There’s a zero percent chance that any expansion will be made to voting by mail – I’d be more worried about some bills that will attempt to make it harder, or perhaps to define “disability” in a way that would explicitly exclude pandemic-related risk factors. Along the same lines, I expect there to be bills that codify limiting ballot dropoff locations to one per county, and to limit if not outlaw drive-through voting that isn’t part of the already-allowed curbside voting for people with (perhaps more strictly defined) disabilities. Finally, as part of the larger conversation about the role and power of the Governor and the Legislature during a disaster, there may be legislation that codifies the Governor’s ability to do things like extend early voting hours as part of a disaster response. A bill like that doesn’t have to be bad, but it would be easier to make it bad than to make it good.

As far as I’m concerned, the best case scenario here is keeping trash like that from getting passed. Maybe the new Speaker will put his thumb on the scale in a good way, or maybe Republican legislators will have heard from enough voters that they liked the longer early voting period and/or drive-through voting to mess with it, or maybe they’ll just be too damn busy with all of the other business they’ll have to deal with to have time for this. I’m just saying be prepared for some nonsense here. It’s coming, and we need to be ready for it.

UPDATE: Bill pre-filing is now open, and there are numerous election-related bills already, including one that would “prohibit state officers and employees from distributing applications for early voting ballots”. I’m sure you can guess what motivated that. Remember that zillions of bills get filed but only a handful make it through, so don’t draw conclusions from any of this just yet.

It’s a range, not a number

I don’t have full canvass data yet, but as I have said, I have Presidential data courtesy of Greg Wythe. Here are a couple of districts of interest:


Dist     Biden    Trump   Biden%   Trump%
=========================================
CD02   170,707  178,840    48.1%    50.0%
CD07   168,108  141,749    53.5%    45.1%

SBOE6  387,589  367,658    50.6%    48.0%

HD126   35,693   38,313    47.6%    51.1%
HD132   51,384   49,821    50.0%    48.5%
HD133   42,556   46,453    47.2%    51.5%
HD134   66,889   42,027    60.5%    38.0%
HD135   39,345   35,846    51.6%    47.0%
HD138   33,739   30,928    51.4%    47.2%

CC2    153,300  153,394    49.3%    49.3%
CC3    231,808  218,167    50.8%    47.8%
CC4    233,594  238,468    48.8%    49.8%

JP2     51,115   35,546    58.3%    40.5%
JP3     70,725   53,284    56.4%    42.5%
JP4    200,061  235,435    45.3%    53.3%
JP5    233,798  197,420    53.5%    45.2%

So Biden carried four districts in which the Democratic candidate lost – SBOE6, HD132, HD138, and County Commissioners Court Precinct 3. He also carried Constable/JP precinct 5, where the Democrats won the JP race but lost for Constable. He came close in CD02 and HD133, as well as some other places. Biden also lost Commissioners Court Precinct 2 by a whisker. What do we take away from this?

First, a reminder that none of these districts will be the same in 2022. All of them, including CC2, will be redrawn. CC2 was more Democratic in 2016 and 2018, but still pretty close in 2016. I’m pretty sure the Commissioners will have a long look at these numbers before they begin their decennial task.

I don’t want to go too deep into these numbers, partly because none of these districts (except the JP/Constable districts, most likely) will exist as is in 2022, but also because as the title implies, they’re only part of the story.

It is pretty much always the case that there’s a range of outcomes in each district. We saw Hillary Clinton greatly outperform Donald Trump in 2016 in basically every district. It was so pervasive, and in some cases so large, that I had a hard time taking it seriously. As you may recall, I was initially skeptical of CDs 07 and 32 as potential pickups because in other races, the Republicans carried those districts with some ease. Harris County Republican judicial candidates generally won CD07 by ten to twelve points in 2016, which meant that a lot of people who voted for Hillary Clinton also voted mostly if not entirely Republican down the ballot. Which number was real?

We know how that turned out. And in 2018, we saw a similar phenomenon with Beto O’Rourke, who quite famously carried 76 State Rep districts. He also outperformed every other Democrat on the ticket, some (like Justin Nelson and Mike Collier and Kim Olson) by a little, others (like Lupe Valdez) by a lot. Once again, what was reality? Here, I confess, I wasn’t nearly as skeptical as I was with the Clinton numbers. I – and I daresay, the entire Democratic establishment and more – saw the potential in those numbers, but we were only looking at the top end.

That doesn’t mean that number wasn’t real, any more than the Hillary Clinton number wasn’t real. But it did mean that it wasn’t the only indicator we had. I don’t have the full range of numbers yet from this election, but I think we can safely say that the Biden figures will exist in a range, the same way that the Clinton and Beto numbers did. If I had to guess, I’d say that Biden will be at the top of more Republican districts, like HD133, but maybe below the average in the Latino districts. I will of course report on that when I have that data.

So when we have new districts and we know what the partisan numbers are in them, how should we judge them? By the range, which may span a big enough distance to make each end look like something completely different. We don’t know what we’re going to get, and won’t know until we’re well into the thick of the election. It’s fine to believe in the top end, as long as we remember that’s not the only possible outcome. For more on the Harris County results, see Jasper Scherer on Twitter here and here.

A few words about election security

Lisa Gray talks to my friend Dan Wallach about everybody’s favorite subject.

If I’m aiming to steal an election, what’s the best way to go about it? Are mail-in ballots the easiest?

If your goal is to steal an election, there are so many different things you could do. Really the question is, are you trying to be stealthy about it? Or are you perfectly OK with making a giant public mess? Because if you don’t mind making a mess, the easiest way to steal an election is to break the voter registration system — to cause long lines, to cause voters to give up and walk away.

But it would be totally obvious if that had happened. And at least as far as we know, it hasn’t happened. The other obvious way that you can break an election is, of course, with misinformation. If you can convince the voters to vote in a way different than they were originally planning — because of a conspiracy theory or whatever — that’s also an excellent way of manipulating the outcome of an election.

Manipulating voting machines in the tabulation process is actually a lot more work, especially if you want to do it subtly. And at least so far, that doesn’t seem to be happening.

Are mail-in ballots inherently less reliable than votes counted on Election Day?

Once we have paper ballots, whether they’re paper ballots that are cast in person, or paper ballots that are returned through the mail, the security of that system is actually pretty good. I’m not as worried about ballot-box stuffing and things like that. The things that concern me more are when you have a system with no paper at all — which, of course, is how we vote here in Harris County.

This is probably the last year that Harris County will be using that electronic paperless voting system. We’ll see.

Probably the place where we’re seeing the most excitement with tight elections now is in Georgia. The state of Georgia used to use a paperless electronic system that would have been relatively straightforward to manipulate, if that was what you wanted to do.

But they’ve replaced it! The whole state of Georgia now votes using a “ballot marking device,” where you touch the screen, select your preferences, and then it prints a paper ballot. As long as Georgia voters actually bother to look at it, and say, “Yep, that’s who I was planning to vote for,” the risk of undetected tampering goes down significantly.

[…]

How should we handle future elections? Those eSlate machines have got to go. But what else, for American elections’ sake, do we need to do?

Let’s start with Harris County. Harris County is using a type of voting machine that they first purchased in the early 2000s. They had a warehouse fire in 2010, so all of our machines are actually quite a bit newer than that, because after the fire, they had to buy new ones.

Those are new versions of ancient tech? My adult kids voted for the first time in Harris County this year, and they were both astounded by what they called “1990s technology.” Those clunky dials! It’s like using a Blackberry in 2020.

It’s exactly like using a Blackberry in 2020. It’s time for these machines to be retired. Our previous county clerk Diane Trautman had said that that was her plan, and she’d started the process — vendors doing dog-and-pony shows, members of the community invited to show up and watch presentations. All of that was in process when COVID hit.

[Trautman resigned because of health problems, and Chris Hollins was an interim replacement.] Now we are going to have an appointed election administrator, Isabel Longoria, who handles voter registration and manages elections. So Longoria is going to be responsible for picking up where this all left off. I don’t know their timeline. I don’t know their plans. But definitely it’s time to move on from the eSlates.

I expect that they will be very interested in having a bigger vote-by-mail solution. The state may or may not make it easier for voters to vote by mail. That’s an unfortunately partisan process, even though it shouldn’t be. All Washington State, Oregon and Colorado vote by mail — 100% of the vote.

But Texas doesn’t believe in no-excuse vote by mail, so I expect that we’re also going to see new voting machines of some kind. Every new voting machine that’s worth buying prints a paper ballot of some sort. That is likely the direction that we’re headed.

There will be pricing issues and cost issues. There will be questions like, Does it support all of the languages that Harris County requires? Does the tabulation system do all the things that we need? Is the vendor going to give us a good price? All that is in play. This is as much about a large government procurement process as it is about voting in particular.

I expect that will all play out next year. They will announce a winner of the procurement, and then we’ll start seeing these new machines used in smaller elections, where there are fewer voters and there’s less attention being paid. In a smaller election, things can go wrong, and it won’t be the end of the world.

Most of this is familiar to us, from the swan song of the eSlate machines to the plans to get new voting machines for the 2021 elections, which will be an off year for city races, thus making it even smaller than usual. I’ll be keeping a close eye on what kind of machines we may get, as this will be the first major task of Isabel Longoria’s tenure as Election Administrator. Lisa and Dan also talk about the exemplary voting experience we had here in Harris County in 2020, which we all hope and expect will be the template going forward. Check it out.

A comparison to 2012

A lot of the takes on this election – and I’m guilty of this, too – involve comparisons to 2016 and 2018. That’s fair – those are the most recent elections, the only other elections that involve Trump, the patterns that we’ve been seeing had their start in 2016 and accelerated in 2018, which is what led to the inaccurate expectations for this year – but perhaps a slightly broader lens can help illuminate something that I think is being missed right now. So let’s cast our eyes all the way back to the ancient year of 2012, and see where we are today compared to then.

In 2012, Mitt Romney beat Barack Obama for President by 1,261,719 votes, and by nearly 17 percentage points. Donald Trump is leading Joe Biden by 648,690 votes, which is less than six percentage points. Joe Biden received 1,903,282 more votes than Obama did; Trump received 1,290,243 more votes than Romney did.

In 2012, Republicans won 95 seats in the State House; they would win 98 in 2014, and 95 again in 2016. Ninety-three of those were the same as in 2012; HD21 went red in 2014, and HD107 flipped blue in 2016. I know they’re doing a victory dance about holding onto the 83 seats they won in 2018, but it really needs to be emphasized that with this map that they drew, which gave them at least 95 seats in each of the first three elections where it was used, they were now topped out at 83.

In 2012, Republicans held 19 State Senate seats; they picked up a 20th in 2014. Today they hold 18. In 2012, Republicans held ten SBOE seats; they had won an 11th in 2010 but couldn’t hold it in a normal year. Today they hold nine. In 2012, Republicans held 24 Congressional seats. Today they hold 23. We certainly would have liked for that number to be lower, and we felt we had reasons to believe it would be lower, but it is still lower than it was in 2012.

In 2012 in Harris County, Republicans held all of the county court benches, most of the district court benches, all but one of the First and 14th Courts of Appeals benches (the one held by Dems, which had been won in 2008, would be lost in 2014), four out of five seats on Commissioners Court, and all of the following executive offices: District Attorney, County Clerk, Tax Assessor, District Clerk, Treasurer. Today, Democrats hold all of the county court and district court benches, about half of the appeals court benches, three out of the five seats on Commissioners Court, and all of the executive offices.

You can tell a similar story in Fort Bend County, where Dems now hold a three-out-of-five seat majority on Commissioners Court, and all of the executive seats and judicial positions that had a Democrat running for them in 2018 or 2020.

We can talk about other counties, like Williamson and Tarrant, but you get the idea. I don’t want to downplay the issues that Democrats face, or the disconnect between our goals for 2020 and our accomplishments, but I do want to point out that we’ve come a long way in eight years. We shouldn’t lose sight of that.

A first response to the Latino voting (and polling) question

For your consideration:

It’s very much not my intent to pin blame on anyone. As I noted in my post about how voting went in these Latino counties, which includes a lot of RGV counties as well as Bexar and El Paso, I’m just showing what happened. I think Jolt has done a lot of good work, a lot of hard and necessary work, and I salute them for it.

I can’t address the specifics of the numbers cited in those tweets – I don’t have his data, and the public data is quite limited right now. I do have some limited Harris County canvass data, courtesy of Greg Wythe, so I thought I’d bring that in here to continue the discussion. Here’s what I can say about how voting went in the five predominantly Latino State Rep districts in Harris County:


Dist   Trump  Clinton  Trump%  Clinton%  Margin
===============================================
140    6,119   21,009   21.8%     75.0%  14,890
143    8,746   23,873   26.0%     70.9%  15,127
144   10,555   15,885   38.3%     57.6%   5,330
145   10,102   23,534   28.7%     66.8%  13,432
148   14,815   31,004   30.3%     63.4%  16,279

      50,337  115,305   30.4%     69.6%  64,968

Dist   Trump    Biden  Trump%    Biden%  Margin
===============================================
140   10,175   22,651   30.3%     67.4%  12,476
143   13,105   25,109   33.5%     64.1%  12,004
144   14,415   17,174   44.5%     53.0%   2,759
145   15,198   28,200   34.1%     63.4%  13,102
148   20,207   40,821   32.2%     65.0%  20,614

      73,100  133,955   35.3%     64.7%  60,855

The first table is 2016, the second is 2020. Please note that while the percentages for each candidate is their actual percentage for all voters in the district, the totals at the bottom are just the two-candidate values. I apologize for mixing apples and oranges. We should note that while these five districts are the five predominantly Latino districts in Houston, there is some variance. HDs 140 and 143 have the largest Latino population totals by percentage, while the others have a significant minority of Anglo residents. HD144 includes the Pasadena area, while HDs 145 and 148 include parts of the Heights and surrounding neighborhoods. HD148 is probably the least Latino of the five, and is currently represented by Anna Eastman, who won the special election to serve the remainder of Jessica Farrar’s term, though she was defeated in the primary by Penny Shaw.

As you can see, Trump improved on his 2016 performance in all five districts. Biden got more votes than Clinton in all five districts, but had a lower percentage in all but HD148. The reason both Trump and Biden could see an increase in percentage in HD148 is because the third-party share of the vote was so high in 2016 – it was over six percent that year, but looks to be less than three percent this year. Overall, Trump lost these five districts by about four thousand fewer votes than he did in 2016, with about 20K more votes cast.

This is not an eye-popping change like what we saw in some RGV counties was, but it’s still a decline. I don’t know how much of that is from Latinos voting for Trump, and how much is from Anglo voters in these districts turning out for Trump. Jolt’s mission is to turn out Latino voters, and in the aggregate that’s going to be good for Democrats even if there are some rough spots, and even if it’s not quite as good as we might have expected. My approach is not as granular as it could be, so we shouldn’t draw broad conclusions from it. There are plenty of Latino precincts elsewhere in Harris County – HDs 137 and 138 will have quite a few – so there’s much more to be said. This is the data I have right now. Make of it what you will.

Menefee and Fagan

I’m delighted about the election of Christian Menefee as Harris County Attorney, and look forward to his inauguration.

Christian Menefee

Christian Menefee, the youngest and first African-American elected Harris County attorney Tuesday evening, took little time to celebrate his historic victory.

By 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, he was meeting with the office’s first assistant, beginning the transition process so he can hit the ground running in January. During his campaign, the 32-year-old litigator had pitched himself as a progressive advocate eager to work on issues, including bail reform.

“I ran for this office because I saw that it has a real opportunity to impact life for everyday people,” Menefee said Wednesday. “In every issue, the way I will approach it is, ‘how does this affect the collective good of the people of Harris County?’”

With the full, unofficial results tallied, Menefee bested Republican John Nation by more than 141,000 votes. He defeated three-term incumbent Vince Ryan in the March primary.

Menefee, who has never held public office, told the Houston Chronicle editorial board he wants to aggressively pursue polluters and also be a strong advocate of local control. Harris and other large urban counties in the state, which are run by Democrats, have clashed repeatedly in recent years with Republican state leaders on issues such as the COVID-19 response, eviction policies and election procedures.

The County Attorney’s Office essentially serves as the in-house law firm for Harris County, representing the interests of residents and public officials in lawsuits. Menefee said he wants to immediately fill 15 vacancies among the 120 staff attorney corps, and look to create additional positions in the future.

He said he also wants to help attorneys develop expertise in certain areas, such as election law, so the county can rely less on outside lawyers when those issues arise.

“I want to get the office constituted in a way that best utilizes our resources and puts us in the position to aggressively fight for the things I want to fight for,” Menefee said.

As I have said repeatedly, I thought Vince Ryan was an exemplary County Attorney, and I salute him for his three successful terms in office. But it was clear to me that Menefee had the better vision for the office, and the right attitude to take in this time of increasing hostility from state Republicans towards the values that we vote for in Harris County. He’s the right person for the job, and I can’t wait to see what he does with it.

Fort Bend is now almost all Democratic at the countywide level (County Clerk, Treasurer, and a couple of County Courts at Law, all unopposed in 2018, are the exceptions), and they made some history with their new Sheriff.

Democrat Eric Fagan made history Tuesday night as Fort Bend County voters elected him to be the county’s first Black sheriff since Reconstruction.

The victory of Fagan, a retired Houston police officer, comes two years after a blue wave brought two other people of color to top jobs in the highly diverse county: Brian Middleton was elected the county’s first Black district attorney, and KP George became its first Indian-American judge.

“Fort Bend is changing. It’s the most diverse county, in not just the state, but in the nation,” Fagan, 60, said of the changing politics. “Its leadership should reflect it.”

Fagan received 53 percent against Nehls, the Precinct 4 constable seeking to succeed his twin brother Troy as sheriff. In a win for Republicans, Troy Nehls was elected to an open congressional seat on Tuesday.

Fagan ran on a progressive platform — promising body cameras for sheriff’s deputies, improved mental health training and better community policing.

County voters hadn’t elected a black sheriff since Reconstruction. In 1869, Walter Moses Burton, a freed slave, was elected sheriff during a brief period of biracial county government following the Civil War. Burton taught himself to read and write and later was elected state senator. In that role, he pushed through a bill that helped establish the Prairie View Normal School, now Prairie View A&M University, which is Fagan’s alma mater.

“He started my school that I graduated from, Prairie View A&M University,” said Fagan. “It’s very historic and very great. It shows that Fort Bend County is growing and they’re embracing the diversity.”

Fagan previously worked for 31 years in the Houston Police Department, including on Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s security detail.

Fagan has listed a number of goals, including modifying the county’s 911 dispatch system to allow the closest officer to respond to calls; strengthening relations between the sheriff’s office and the community by creating a citizens review board to review questionable actions; and using mediation more to resolve disputes.

Congratulations and best of luck to you, Sheriff-elect Eric Fagan.

A few observations from the final unofficial countywide data

This is still unofficial, and there will still be some overseas/military ballots to be counted as well as some provisional ballots to be cured, but the count of the votes cast by Election Day is over, and we have the current final totals, broken down by vote type for each race. So let’s have a stroll through the data and see what we come up with.

– While Republican voting strength increased on Election Day compared to mail and early in person voting, Democrats still won Election Day. As far as I can tell, every Democrat who was on the whole county’s ballot beat their Republican opponent on Election Day, except for one: Genesis Draper, the appointed and now elected Judge of County Criminal Court #12, who lost Election Day by about 6,000 votes. She still won her election by 78,000 votes, so no big deal. Te’iva Bell, now the elected Judge of the 339th Criminal District Court, won Election Day by fourteen (yes, 14) votes out of 183,492 ballots cast in that race. She won by just over 100K votes overall.

– Democrats did especially well in mail ballots – in the judicial races, the number was usually around 60% for the Democratic candidate. That staked them to an initial lead of 27-40K, with usually a bit more than 160K mail ballots being cast. It’s amazing to realize how much that has shifted from even the recent past – remember, Republicans generally won the mail ballots in 2018, though they lost them in 2016. I don’t know if they quietly walk back all the hysterical “MAIL BALLOT FRAUD” hyperbole and go back to using this tool as they had before, or if that’s it and they’re all about voting in person now.

– As far as I can tell, no one who was leading at 7 PM on November 3, when the early + mail ballot totals were posted, wound up losing when all the votes were in. No one got Ed Emmett’ed, in other words. Gina Calanni and Akilah Bacy led in mail ballots, but lost early in person votes by enough that they were trailing going into Election Day. Lizzie Fletcher, Ann Johnson, and Jon Rosenthal lost the Election Day vote, but had won both mail and early in person voting, and that lead was sufficient to see them through.

– As noted, a very small percentage of the vote was cast on Election Day – 12.28% of all ballots in Harris County were Election Day ballots. That varied by district, however:


Dist     Total   E-Day   E-Day%
===============================
CD18   251,623  33,109    13.2%
CD29   161,673  30,274    18.7%

SD04    89,122   8,385     9.4%
SD06   187,819  34,996    18.6%

HD133   91,137   8,650     9.5%
HD134  111,639   9,389     8.4%
HD137   33,344   5,035    15.1%
HD140   33,614   7,325    21.8%
HD143   39,153   6,693    17.1%
HD144   32,522   6,989    21.5%
HD145   44,514   7,774    17.5%

Definitely some later voting by Latinos. Note that Sarah Davis won Election Day with 66% of the vote. There just weren’t enough of those votes to make a difference – she netted less than 3K votes from that, not nearly enough to overcome the 10K vote lead Ann Johnson had.

– There’s a conversation to be had about turnout in base Democratic districts. Countywide, turnout was 67.84% of registered voters. Of the strong-D districts, only HD148 (68.58%) exceeded that. Every strong-R or swing district was above the countywide mark, while multiple strong-D districts – HDs 137, 140, 141, 143, 144, and 145 – were below 60%. HD140 had 51.36% turnout, with HD144 at 51.81%. Harris County is strong blue now because Democrats have done an outstanding job of expanding out into formerly deep red turf – this is how districts like HDs 132, 135, and 138 became competitive, with HD126 a bit farther behind. As we discussed in 2018, deepest red districts are noticeably less red now, and with so many votes in those locations, that has greatly shifted the partisan weight in Harris County. But it’s clear we are leaving votes on the table – this was true in 2018 as well, and it was one reason why I thought we could gain so much more ground this year, to make the state more competitive. The focus now, for 2022 and 2024 and beyond, needs to be getting more votes out of these base Democratic districts and precincts. For one thing, at the most basic level, these are our most loyal voters, and we need to pay them a lot more attention. At a practical level, we need more out of these neighborhoods and communities to really put the state in play. We’ve figured out a big part of the equation, but we’re still missing some key pieces. That needs to change.

(Yes, I know, we have just talked about how perhaps some low-propensity Latino voters are much more Republican than their higher-propensity counterparts. We do need a strategy that has some thought and nuance to it, to make sure we’re not committing a self-own. But to put this in crass marketing terms, your strongest customers are the ones who have already bought your product in the past. We need to do better with them, and we start by doing better by them.)

– I’ll have more data going forward, when I get the full canvass. But in the meantime, there was one other group of people who had a propensity for voting on Election Day – people who voted Libertarian. Get a load of this:


Race         E-Day%  Total%
===========================
President     1.89%   1.03%
Senate        3.33%   1.81%
CD02          3.18%   1.59%
CD07          3.57%   1.77%
CD09          5.82%   2.97%
CD22          8.23%   5.33%
RRC           3.62%   2.08%
SCOTX Chief   4.50%   2.35%

You can peruse the other races, but the pattern holds everywhere. Seems to be the case for Green candidates as well, there are just far fewer of them. Not sure what that means, but it’s a fun fact. By the way, the Libertarian candidate in CD22 got 3.87% overall. Not sure why he was so much more popular in Harris County.

Tarrant County has gone (tentatively) blue

At the Presidential level, with votes still being counted.

Though President Donald Trump has been declared the winner in Texas, former Vice President Joe Biden has taken the lead with the latest results in Tarrant County.

Biden had a 427 vote lead in the county after a new batch of votes were added Thursday afternoon.

Around 824,312 ballots have been cast in Tarrant County, according to the county’s election results website.

Tarrant County had a reported 1,185,888 registered voters for the election cycle, per the same website, which meant turnout was 69.51% for this year’s presidential election.

The vote count between Trump and Biden was separated by just a mere 427 votes just before 3 p.m. Thursday, according to the county’s results website.

Tarrant County officials say members of the Ballot Board from different parties have remade and verified 13,636 defective ballots.

The county says it plans to have all ballots counted by the end of the day Friday. Over 15,000 absentee ballots are pending processing.

You can see the Tarrant County election results here. There are still overseas and provisional ballots, and as of the time that story was posted it was not known how many more ballots are being reviewed. Biden’s advantage in the mail ballots was over 13K, which as of this writing was just enough to overcome Trump’s lead in early voting and Election Day voting. Looking down the ballot, the statewide Dems generally trailed by between four to six points, with the Democratic District Court candidates usually falling about seven points short, and the Democratic Sheriff candidate, running against a problematic incumbent, lost by five and a half. Roughly speaking, they’re a few points closer to winning countywide races everywhere on the ballot than Harris County Democrats were in 2004.

Democrats of course fell short in all of the State Rep races that they challenged this year, which in many ways was the more important metric. As commenter blank observed, redoing Tarrant’s State Rep districts in 2021 will present some challenges for Republicans, who have a lot of incumbents in tight spots. It’s not crazy to think that there could be a Dallas-like year for Tarrant down the line if they try to get too cute.

We’ll worry about that later. In the meantime, I need to figure out what new county is the closest proxy for the statewide Presidential results. Between Beto in 2018 and now Biden, Tarrant is officially too blue to serve that role.

Initial thoughts about the election

And now for some reactions and analysis…

– The polls were garbage. Oy vey. Not just here, though they were definitely off here, underestimating Trump and the Republicans after doing the same to Beto and the Dems in 2018. This time, after all that national soul-searching following the 2016 state-level misfires (the national polling was fairly accurate overall in 2016), we got this flaming mess. Not my problem to solve, but I wonder how much of this is the known issue of “differential response” writ large. We know that in some circumstances, like when there’s been a big news event, one candidate’s supporters, or members of one party in general, may be more or less likely to answer the phone and respond to a pollster. It may be that just as a matter of course now, Republicans are less likely to respond to polls, in a bigger way than previously thought, and that had a disproportionate effect on the numbers. I’m just guessing here, but if that’s the case then perhaps the web panel approach to polling needs to be used more often. For what it’s worth, the UT/Texas Tribune and UH Hobby School polls from October, both of which had Trump up 50-45, used web panels. Maybe that’s a fluke, maybe they had a better likely voter model going in, maybe they were onto something that the others weren’t, I don’t know. But they came the closest, so they get the glory. As for the rest, thanks for nothing.

– Along those same lines, pollsters who did deeper dive polls on Latino voters, such as Univision and Latino Decisions, really need to question their methods and figure out how they went so mind-bogglingly wrong. I get that what we had, at least to some extent, appears to have been lower-propensity Latino voters turning out at surprisingly high levels for Trump, but damn, this is your job. You need to be on top of that.

– The old adage about “Texas isn’t a red state, it’s a non-voting state” can be safely buried for now. We had record-breaking turnout, over 11 million votes cast when we’d never surpassed nine million before, and yet Trump still won by six points while other statewide Republicans were winning by nine to eleven points. To be sure, that’s closer than 2016 was, but at this rate we’ll need to have thirty million people voting for Dems to catch up, and I feel confident saying that ain’t gonna happen anytime soon. The lesson here is that there are low-propensity Republican voters, too, and they are capable of showing up when they are persuaded. We saw that happen in 2018, and we saw it again this year.

I admit I bought into the hype, and put too much faith into the idea that the non-voters would be more consistently Democratic than Republican. To be fair, I think that was the case in 2018, as Democrats made huge gains relative to past off years. It’s certainly been the case in Harris County that increases in voter registration have led to significant increases in Democratic votes – I’ll get to this in more detail later in the post, but this can be pretty easily quantified, and it’s why Dems have been dominating the countywide races with increasing ease. It’s where those gains came from that seems to have been a difference-maker.

I don’t want to sell short what was accomplished here. Joe Biden got over 1.3 million more votes than Hillary Clinton; Trump improved on his total by about 1.15 million. Chrysta Castaneda got 1.36 million more votes than Grady Yarbrough. The statewide judicial candidates got between 3,378,163 and 3,608,634 votes in 2016; in 2020, the range was 4,762,188 to 4,899,270 votes. If you want to be particularly gruesome, Biden got 3.3 million more votes than Wendy Davis did for Governor in 2014. Granted, Trump outdid Greg Abbott by just over 3 million votes, but still. A lot more people now have voted for a Democrat in Texas than at any other point in history. Even as we pick through the wreckage, that’s worth keeping in mind.

So how do we close that remaining gap of 700K to one million voters statewide? One, we should remember that off year elections are far more volatile from a turnout perspective, and we need to do everything we can to make these new folks habitual voters while we continue to register and recruit new voters. Two, having dynamic statewide candidates, who can learn the lessons of these past elections while applying them to the environment they’re in, would help. And three, maybe we need to give another look to the reviled old “persuasion” strategy, and see how we can do a better job of peeling away some of the other guy’s voters. Easier said than done, but then that’s why I’m a blogger and not a campaign professional.

– By the way, if anyone asks you who the current all-time vote leader in Texas is, the answer as of 2020 is Supreme Court Justice Jane Bland, who tipped the scales at 6,002,233 votes. No one else topped six million. She was helped by not having a third-party opponent in the race; the Libertarians in three other races got between 254L and 283K votes.

– I take no position on the question about whether the Republicans’ continued use of traditional door-to-door campaigning during the pandemic, which the Democrats largely eschewed out of a sense of safety for their campaign workers and as a statement of living their values, was a factor in this election. The academic research on various methods of increasing turnout and persuading swing voters is mixed, and does not suggest that one method (such as door-knocking) is clearly superior to others (such as phone-banking). Winning teams always point to their methods and strategies as the reason why they won and the other team lost. I’m not saying this couldn’t have made a difference, or that it didn’t make a difference. It may have, and I have no way to disprove the assertion. I’m just saying that it’s anecdotal data, and I consider it to be such.

– Also, too: I saw people again cursing Beto’s name for not running for Senate this year. All I can say is that anyone who thinks Beto would have done better than Biden is not thinking clearly. He probably would have exceeded MJ Hegar, but there’s a lot of room between that and winning. With all the money that was spent in Texas this year, I do not buy the argument that having Beto on the ticket would have moved the needle for Dems.

– Speaking of money, hoo boy. I hope this isn’t the end of our candidates being able to raise enough of it. We’re going to need plenty in 2022.

– How much of an effect did the lack of straight ticket voting have? Far as I can tell, very little. In Harris County, there were 1,633,557 votes cast in the Presidential race. Way down at the bottom of the ballot, in the two At Large HCDE races, there were 1,551,731 and 1,548,760 votes. In other words, about 95% of the people who voted in the Presidential race also voted in these two HCDE races.

Now, if you look at the various judicial races, you will see that Democratic judicial candidates generally got 60-80K fewer votes than Biden, while most Republican judicial candidates (though not all) exceeded Trump’s total. Some of that was just crossover voting, which we knew was happening, but some of it may have been a greater propensity by Dems to skip some number of downballot races. It’s hard to say how much is each. For what it’s worth, 12 out of 15 Dem judicial candidates (district and county courts) who had a Republican opponent had fewer votes than MJ Hegar, who had 848K to Biden’s 911K, while 8 out of those 15 Republican opponents did better than John Cornyn’s 717K votes; Trump got 699K, and all but two of those Republicans did better than that, while no one came close to Biden.

So did the absence of straight ticket voting mean more crossovers in general? I will remind you, as I have done before, there’s always a range of outcomes in the judicial races, so there has always been some amount of crossover voting, just usually not that much. Why did MJ Hegar get so many fewer votes than Joe Biden did? Some of it was more voting for third party candidates – there were 22K votes for the Libertarian and Green Presidential candidates, and 42K such votes in the Senate race – some of it was the 26K fewer votes cast in the Senate race (about 98.5% of all Presidential voters also voted for a Senate candidate), and some of it was the 18K people who voted for Cornyn but not Trump. Make of that what you will.

– While I’m thinking about it, let me update that range-of-results table I just linked to:


2004 
Rep 524K to 545K
Dem 460K to 482K

2008
Rep 526K to 564K
Dem 533K to 585K

2012
Rep 550K to 580K
Dem 555K to 581K

2016
Rep 580K to 621K
Dem 643K to 684K

2020
Rep 690K to 740K
Dem 812K to 865K

So congratulations to Republicans, who have boosted their base vote by almost 200K since 2004, while Dems have increased theirs by over 380K. Five points was as close as any Republican got.

– Despite their successful defense of their Congressional and legislative seats, Republicans still face some tricky decisions in redistricting. Look at it this way – in an election year that clearly wasn’t as good for Dems as 2018 was, they still managed to hold onto all but one of the seats they won that year. The same map that gave Republicans 95 House members was only good for 83 this year, and it wouldn’t have taken much to knock that number down by a half dozen or so. Morgan Meyer and Angie Chen Button may have survived, but Dallas County is a problem for the GOP. Harris County has three safe Republican districts – HDs 127, 128, and 130 – four that are still pretty safe but have gotten a lot less so over the decade – HDs 126, 129, 133, and 150 – and two on the knife’s edge, HDs 132 and 138. That may have been hard to see from the vantage point of 2011, but the broad outlines of it were there, and as I have noted before, HDs 132 and 135 were already trending Dem in 2012, with both being a little bluer than they were in 2008 despite 2012 being a slightly lesser year for Dems overall. Who’s going to need protection, and whose seat may wind up on a target list a couple of cycles later because you didn’t understand the demographics correctly? In Congress, Dan Crenshaw won by a comfortable 14 points…in a district Ted Poe won by 24 points in 2016, and 32 points in 2012. How do you shore him up? Splitting pieces of Travis County into four Republican districts was a great idea, until it threatened the re-election of three of those Republicans. Who even knows how many Congressional seats we’ll have, given the chaotic nature of the Census?

Oh, and here in Harris County, I’m sure the Democratic majority on Commissioners Court will bolster Adrian Garcia in CC2, as the Republicans did for Jack Morman in 2010. The bigger question is do they go after their new colleague Tom Ramsey, or do they just not help him out and hope nature takes its course? That’ll be fun to watch.

I think that’s it for now. I’m sure more things will occur to me as we go. When I get a draft canvass, I’ll start doing the usual slicing and dicing.

So what happened in the Latino counties?

Let’s go to the data:


County       Trump  Clinton    Trump    Biden
=============================================
Bexar      240,333  319,550  303,871  440,823
Cameron     29,472   59,402   48,834   63,732
Dimmit         974    2,173    1,384    2,264
El Paso     55,512  147,843   81,235  168,801
Frio         1,856    2,444    2,812    2,421
Hidalgo     48,642  118,809   89,925  127,391
Jim Hogg       430    1,635      831    1,197
Jim Wells    5,420    6,694    7,077    5,094
Maverick     2,816   10,397    6,881    8,324
Nueces      50,766   49,198   64,467   60,749
Presidio       652    1,458      721    1,463
Starr        2,224    9,289    8,224    9,099
Webb        12,947   42,307   18,985   32,442
Willacy      1,547    3,422    2,437    3,097
Zapata       1,029    2,063    2,032    1,820
Zavala         694    2,636    1,490    2,864

Total      453,643  779,320  641,116  931,555

County      Trump% Clinton%   Trump%  Biden%
============================================
Bexar        42.9%    57.1%    40.8%   59.2%
Cameron      33.2%    66.8%    43.4%   56.6%
Dimmit       31.0%    69.0%    37.9%   62.1%
El Paso      27.3%    72.7%    32.5%   67.5%
Frio         43.2%    56.8%    53.7%   46.3%
Hidalgo      29.0%    71.0%    41.4%   58.6%
Jim Hogg     20.8%    79.2%    41.0%   59.0%
Jim Wells    44.7%    55.3%    58.1%   41.9%
Maverick     21.3%    78.7%    45.3%   54.7%
Nueces       50.8%    49.2%    51.5%   48.5%
Presidio     30.9%    69.1%    33.0%   67.0%
Starr        19.3%    81.7%    47.5%   52.5%
Webb         23.4%    76.6%    36.9%   63.1%
Willacy      31.1%    68.9%    44.0%   56.0%
Zapata       33.3%    66.7%    52.8%   47.2%
Zavala       20.8%    79.2%    34.2%   65.8%

Total        36.8%    63.2%    40.8%   59.2%

Webb County totals are early voting only – they have taken their sweet time getting those results. I have no prescriptions to offer, and even if I did, I’d be the wrong person to listen to for them. I’m just reporting what happened. As others have observed, in some counties Biden met or exceeded Hillary Clinton’s numbers from 2016, but Trump greatly increased his numbers from that election. You may recall that in the last NYT/Siena poll, Nate Cohn observed that higher turnout, at least beyond a certain point, didn’t actually benefit Biden, because sufficiently high Latino turnout wasn’t in his favor. Starr County was a particularly shocking example of that, but we see that in some larger counties like Hidalgo and Cameron, and to a lesser extent El Paso as well. In some counties – Maverick, Jim Hogg, Jim Wells, Willacy – it appears some Clinton voters may have switched to Trump, or not voted while non-participants from 2016 came in. Bexar County was the only clear improvement for Biden. If you had to pick only one county for that, Bexar would be the one, but there’s only so much it can do.

You can look at this two ways. Hillary Clinton netted 346K votes, while Biden netted 290K. That’s not all that much, but there’s the ground we could have gained given the higher turnout as well as the ground we lost. If Biden had performed at exactly the same level as Clinton, he’d have netted 415K votes. Adjust the final score to account for that, and Biden would have lost by four and a half points, instead of almost six. Wouldn’t have mattered in this case, but it wouldn’t have taken much. Plus, you know, better to make your task easier rather than harder.

Like I said, I have no solutions to offer. Plenty of smart people have plenty of ideas, and quite a few of them were raising issues before the election. Might be a good idea to listen to them. All I’m saying is that whatever happened here, it wasn’t what we wanted. If we want to avoid a repeat, we better get to work.

Followup omnibus Election Day post

Wanted to clear up some loose ends from the late night/early morning post and add a couple of things I’d missed the first time around. I’ll have a longer “thoughts and reactions” post probably tomorrow.

– The district results from last night appear to be the same this morning, which means: No Congressional flips, Dems flip SBOE5 and SD19, Dems flip HD134 but lose HD132, for a net one seat gain the the Senate and zero seats in the House. I don’t know how many people would have bet on no net changes to Congress and the State House.

– One other place where Dems made gains was the Courts of Appeals. Dems won the Chief Justice seats on the Third (anchored in Travis and Williamson counties) and Fourth (anchored in Bexar but containing many counties) Courts of Appeals, plus one bench on the First Court (anchored in Harris, won by Veronica Rivas-Molloy) and three on the Fifth Court (Dallas/Collin, mostly). Dems fell short on three other benches, including the Chief Justice for the 14th Court, though the other result on the First Court was really close – Amparo Guerra trails Terry Adams by 0.12%, or about 3K votes out of over 2.25 million ballots. The key to Rivas-Molloy’s win was her margin of victory in Harris County – she won Harris by 133K votes, while Guerra won Harris by 114K, Jane Robinson (Chief Justice 14th Court) won Harris by 104K, and Tamika Craft (14th Court) won Harris by 90K. With Galveston, Brazoria, and Chambers County all delivering big for the Republicans, that big lead that Rivas-Molloy got in Harris was enough to withstand the assault.

– Final turnout was 1,649,457, which was 67.84%. That fell short of the loftier projections, but it’s still over 300K more votes than were cast in 2016. The new Election Night returns format at harrisvotes.com does not give the full turnout breakdown by vote type, but the PDF they sent out, which you can see here, does have it. The breakdown: 174,753 mail ballots, 1,272,319 in person early ballots, 202,835 Election Day ballots. Note that these are unofficial and un-canvassed numbers, and will change by some amount when the vote is certified, as some late overseas and military ballots arrive and some provisional ballots are cured.

– Another way to put this: 10.6% of all ballots were mail, 77.1% were early in person, and 12.3% were cast on Election Day. Just the early in person votes is a higher percentage of “before Election Day” tallies than any previous year. Will this be a new normal, at least for high-turnout even-year elections? I have no idea. Those extra days of early voting, plus all of the sense of urgency, surely contributed to that total. I don’t know that we’ll match this level going forward, but it won’t surprise me if the standard is now more than 80% of all votes are cast before Election Day (again, in even-year elections; who knows what will happen in the odd years).

– For what it’s worth, the closest countywide race was decided by about 76K votes; the next closest by about 90K, and the rest over over 100K. What that means is that if somehow all 127K of those votes cast at drive-through locations during the early voting period were suddenly thrown out, it’s highly unlikely to affect any of those races. I suppose it could tip a close non-countywide race like HD135, and it could reduce Veronica Rivas-Molloy’s margin in Harris County to the point that she’d lose her seat on the First Court of Appeals. I can’t see that happening, but I wanted to state this for the record anyway.

I’ll have more thoughts tomorrow.

UPDATE: The SOS Election Night Returns site now shows Amparo Guerra leading by about 1,500 votes, or 0.06 points, in the First Court of Appeals, Place 5 race. Not sure where the late votes came from, but they helped her, and they helped Jane Robinson, who is still trailing but by less than 5,000 votes, or 0.18 points.

Omnibus Election Day post

I was up really late last night, and there’s still a lot of votes to be counted. The SOS website was mostly trash, but a lot of county election sites took their sweet, sweet time even reporting any Election Day results. So here’s what I know right now, and I’ll have more tomorrow.

– The Presidential race is still unsettled as a lot of votes are to be counted. That may take a few days, but indications are decent for Biden at this point.

– Not in Texas, though. Biden was approaching five million votes as I write this, but he was trailing by six percent. The other Dems running statewide were losing by nine or ten. Still a fair number of Republicans who didn’t vote for Trump, and that made things redder downballot than you might have expected from the topline result. In a sense, 2020 was like 2018, in that the top Dem outperformed the others running statewide, but the gap at the top was wider.

– As of this writing, Dems appear to be on track to picking up one SBOE seat (SBOE5), reclaiming SD19, and likely sweeping the Appeals Court races that are anchored in Harris County; I have not checked the other Appeals Court races. Ann Johnson has knocked off Sarah Davis in HD134, and Gina Calanni is losing in HD132. Jon Rosenthal has a slim lead in HD135, while the two remaining Dallas County Republicans (Morgan Meyer in HD108 and Angie Chen Button in HD112) are hanging in, though Button’s lead is slimmer than Rosenthal’s. All other State House incumbents are winning, and all of the open seats are being held by the same party, which means that if all these races remain as they are…the composition of the Lege will be exactly as it is now, 83-67. Not what we were expecting, to say the least.

– Also not what we were expecting: As I write this, no Congressional seats appear poised to flip. Reps. Lizzie Fletcher and Colin Allred were re-elected, and Republicans have held onto all of their imperiled districts. Chalk that up to Trump and the rest of the statewide Rs doing better than the polls had suggested. One unexpectedly close race is in CD15, where Rep. Vicente Gonzalez was only leading by 6K votes as I write this. That said, none of the Election Day results from Hidalgo County were in for that race – all other counties except tiny Wilson were fully reported – so I would expect Gonzalez to win by a larger margin in the end.

(I should note that there’s a dispute in CD23, because of course there is.)

– Which leads to the uncomfortable fact that Trump did a lot better in the predominantly Latino counties in the Valley. I’m not going to get into that at this time – I guarantee, there are already a thousand thinkpieces about it – but the pollsters that showed him doing better and Biden lagging Clinton from 2016 were the winners of that argument. There will be many questions to be answered about that.

– Nothing terribly interesting in Harris County. Dems won all the countywide seats, but as noted lost in HD132 and HD138, and also lost in County Commissioners Court Precinct 3, so the Court remains 3-2 Dem. Note that Commissioners Court does its own redistricting, and after the 2010 election the Republican majority made CC2 a bit redder. I fully expect CC3 to shift in the Dem direction in the next map – it too was made redder after 2010 – but we’ll see how much of a difference it makes. Tom Ramsey has his work cut out for him. One change way downballot was Democrat Israel Garcia winning in the Justice of the Peace Precinct 5 race, knocking off longtime incumbent Russ Ridgway. Precinct 5 Constable Ted Heap managed to hang on.

– With 683 of 797 voting centers reporting, there were 1,595,065 votes cast in the Presidential race. Way down at the bottom of the ballot, in the two HCDE Trustee At Large races, there were 1,516,025 and 1,513,125 votes cast, a dropoff of about five percent. I think that should settle the straight-ticket voting question, at least for now.

– Fort Bend County completed its transition to Democratic. All Democratic countywide candidates won, with Eric Fagan becoming the first Black Sheriff in that county. Congratulations to all the winners.

I’ll have much more to say soon, but this is where we are very early on Wednesday morning. Good night and try to remain calm.