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November 3rd, 2015:

Election Day: Get yourself to the polls

From County Clerk Stan Stanart:

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Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart strongly encourages citizens who plan to vote on Tuesday, Nov. 3 to be prepared before voting on Election Day. “It is very important for voters to know the answers to Where, When, Who and What before heading to the polls on Election Day,” said Stanart, the chief election official of the county.

Where do I go to vote?

In Texas, on Election Day a voter must vote at the precinct where the voter is registered to vote. Voters can find their Election Day polling location by searching on their name or address on the Harris County Clerk’s election website at www.HarrisVotes.com.

When can I vote?

Polling locations are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Voters in line to vote by 7 p.m. are allowed to vote.

Who and what is on my ballot?

Voters can only vote on candidates and measures for districts in which they reside. Voters can view what they will see on their specific ballot by searching on their name or address on the “Find Your Poll and View Voter Specific Ballot” link at www.HarrisVoter.com. Voters may print their sample ballot to study and take with them into the voting booth.

What must I bring to the poll be able to vote?

A voter is required to present one of the following forms of photo identification at the polling location:

  • Texas driver license issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS);
  • Texas Election Identification Certificate issued by DPS;
  • Texas personal identification card issued by DPS;
  • Texas concealed handgun license issued by DPS;
  • United States military identification card containing the person’s photograph;
  • United States citizenship certificate containing the person’s photograph;
  • United States passport.

Voters who do not present an acceptable form of photo identification may cast a “provisional ballot”. For the provisional ballot to be counted, the voter must present one of the required photo identifications to the Voter Registrar within 6 days after the election.

Voters cannot wear or display items that promote a candidate, proposition or a party inside of the polling location and should be aware that use of personal electronic devices, including cell phones, is prohibited. Voters may bring in documents that will assist the voter to vote.

“A well-informed voter helps make the voting process a more efficient and positive experience for all,” concluded Stanart. Voters may visit www.HarrisVotes.com or call 713.755.6965 for more election information.

Go here to find your polling place or to browse the list of all polling locations in Harris County. Unlike some elections where there tends to be some consolidation of polling locations, the vast majority of precinct locations should be open today.

Need a ride to the polls? Here’s one option:

Voting on election day is a big decision. We want you to think about what’s important to you – not how you’re going to get to and from your local polling place.

That’s why we’re offering new users in every Uber city throughout Texas a free ride to and from the polls (up to $15 each way) on November 3rd.

Check out this link to find your local polling place and other helpful Texas voting information.

Note that this only applies to new users – you need to sign up with promo code TexasVOTES to qualify – though it is good anywhere Uber operates in Texas. It’s crass promitionalism, but it’s crass promotionalism for a good cause. If you’d rather not hand your personal information over to a venture capital-funded company, there’s another option to consider:

[Metro is] offering free rides on our local buses and trains to all registered voters.

Simply carry your voter registration card and show it to the bus driver, or be ready to show it to a fare checker on our trains. Not sure where to vote? Go to HarrisVotes.com to find your polling location. The free rides do not apply to our Park & Ride buses.

Make your voice count tomorrow – and get to your polling place, courtesy of METRO.

You can then go here to plug in your starting address and the address of your polling place to get your ride mapped out. No excuses, y’all.

I’m an early voter, and judging from my Facebook feed so are a number of my friends, but by no means all of them. I’m certainly hoping that the share of people who vote like me will be higher today than it was during the EV period. We’ll know in a few hours. I will be at the KTRK studio tonight, doing some blogging, possibly dusting off my dreading looking ahead to the runoffs. See you tonight.

More on MUDs

The Chron covers this topic.

A few months ago, a cabinet maker and his wife were recruited to move into a manufactured home parked on a dirt road that was plowed into the woods on the west side of Conroe in Montgomery County.

Daniel and Deborah Spiecher are now the only residents of a newly created municipal utility district, or MUD, carved from 82 acres of land there. They are also the only ones eligible to vote Tuesday on $500 million in proposed bonds to develop that tract.

In fact, they are among just seven voters who will decide the fate this week of $1.07 billion in bonds for roads, water, sewer and recreational facilities in three such districts that were recently formed in this fast-growing county north of Houston. The debt will be repaid with taxes imposed on future residents and businesses. While some believe the MUDs provide a means to bring about high-end development in an orderly way, critics say they are out of control, with developers manipulating the democratic process to essentially take on the roles of cities and borrow hundreds of millions of dollars to make public improvements.

Montgomery County resident Adrian Heath decries the lack of transparency and citizen input into what critics call “rent-a-voter” MUD elections. Heath notes that the billion-dollar MUD proposals make the contentious, countywide election over a $280 million road bond package look like “kid stuff.”

Yet an attorney representing one of the developers for the three MUDs refers to these initial seven voters as “urban pioneers.”

“They move onto the land and help establish new communities, paving the way for the future homeowners,” said Angela Lutz, the attorney for Stoecker Corp., which plans to develop land covered by a separate MUD on Conroe’s west side and also north of The Woodlands. She stressed these elections are completely legal, as well as being “typical and ordinary” and the way MUDs have operated for decades.

[…]

Without MUDs, much of Harris County and The Woodlands would not exist today, he said. In order for MUDs to be confirmed in an election as state law requires, developers have to move residents onto their property to vote, Melder said.

“While the method may seem unusual, it has led to hundreds of thousands of high-quality and affordable homes in the Houston area,” said Lutz, the attorney for Stoecker.

However, others, such as University of Connecticut School of Law professor Sara Bronin, question the “lack of formal democratic process” in these MUD elections, utilizing a small voter pool that is “handpicked by the developer.”

Bronin, who wrote an article for the Fordham Law Review on Texas’ MUDs, notes how MUDs were originally designed only as a vehicle for supplying water to unincorporated areas. Since then, as the number of MUDs has proliferated, their power also has grown, she said.

“The lines are so blurred that you can’t tell much difference between a MUD and what a city can do,” she said.

See here for recent coverage from Your Houston News. The defenders of these MUDs (and their cousin, road utility districts or RUDs) make some good points, but the whole thing feels like magic to me – just put a few people in trailers on some undeveloped rural land, and voila! instant access to hundreds of millions of dollars in credit for your construction dreams – not to mention completely non-transparent. I mean, school bond issues have their share of problems, but at the end of the day every penny gets accounted for. Does anyone believe there isn’t a little grease built in to this process? Good luck finding it. I’d also guess that the sudden appearance of these subdivisions in what used to be pastures and piney woods contributes more than a little to Montgomery County’s inability to keep up with its own infrastructure needs, but that’s their problem. I get that this is legal, but it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, and it doesn’t mean that the original intent of these districts hasn’t been swept aside. Chalk this up as another reason why I prefer city living. We may have our own problems, but I at least have some say in how things are done.

Lawsuit against Uptown line dismissed

We haven’t heard the last of this, of that you can be certain.

A judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging a dedicated bus lane project in Houston’s Uptown area, but the ruling is not a final resolution of the dispute.

State District Judge Brent Gamble on Thursday dismissed the lawsuit filed by Cosmopolitan Condominium Owners Association against the Metropolitan Transit Authority. The dismissal did not specify why the lawsuit should not go forward, although Gamble indicated previously that unresolved questions made the lawsuit premature.

Both sides, however, said they viewed the dismissal as a step in their favor.

“It is my hope that now people will come together to make this the best project it can be,” said Metro chairman Gilbert Garcia.

Jim Scarborough, a Cosmopolitan resident and leader of the opposition to the bus lanes, said critics would have preferred that the judge halt the project. However, he said, the dismissal paves the way for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office to determine if another challenge is valid.

Because Metro’s 2003 referendum authorized the transit agency to build light rail rather than buses along Post Oak, opponents have challenged the use of Metro funds for the project. Paxton’s office was asked by State Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, to determine if the project violates what voters approved.

“We are pushing forward to the AG’s opinion,” Scarborough said. “There is no doubt in terms of our opinion what he is going to say.”

The dismissal by Judge Gamble received the case after another judge recused herself because of contact with a Metro lobbyist, is unlikely to end the opposition. Because Metro’s 2003 referendum called for light rail rather than buses along Post Oak, opponents have challenged the use of Metro funds for the project. That question has been posed to Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has not issued an opinion yet on the matter.

See here and here for the background. Judge Gamble received the case after another judge recused herself because of contact with a Metro lobbyist, which just adds a touch of absurdity to the whole thing. The irony of using the ballot language from 2003 to force the construction of light rail is not lost on me. Does Rep. Culberson know about this? I can’t figure out if this tactic makes the people behind this more clever than I might have thought, or just less subtle. I mean, we have all noticed that Metro isn’t actually paying for this construction, right? I don’t know why the 2003 referendum would even apply here, but then I’m not a super-genius like Andy Taylor, so what do I know? We’ll get that AG ruling in a few months, and one way or the other I expect we’ll wind up back in court. According to the story, the Uptown Management District hopes to have a contractor named by February; utility work along Post Oak began earlier this year and technical design of the bus lanes is expected within 60 days. Time is getting short to stop this.

Final 2015 EV statewide totals

Presented for completeness. Here are the 2015 EV totals from the top 15 counties, and here are the 2013 totals. And here is a handy table comparing the two:


County     13 total  15 total      Inc
======================================
Harris      101,694   193,966   90.73%
Dallas       22,119    42,392   91.65%
Tarrant      29,928    42,308   41.37%
Bexar        30,845    42,216   36.86%
Travis       34,672    27,224  -21.48%
Collin       18,506    27,836   50.42%
El Paso       4,864    11,255  131.39%
Denton       12,714    17,888   40.70%
Fort Bend    12,500    21,782   74.26%
Hidalgo      12,391     9,709  -21.64%
Montgomery    6,043    22,606  274.09%
Williamson   12,349    14,574   18.02%
Galveston     4,148     9,236  122.66%
Nueces       12,677     4,099  -67.67%

Total       315,450    487,091  54.41%

Here’s the previous statewide EV post; note that the rate of increase notched up from 51% to over 54%. For all the ballyhoo over how vigorous early voting was in Harris County, it only saw the fourth-largest increase overall. We know about Montgomery and its contentious road bond issue, but I have no idea about Dallas or El Paso or Galveston. Anyway, my point as before is that Harris wasn’t unique – if all these counties have an increase in early voting, for no obvious reason, it seems likely that behavior shifting is a part of it. We know that already from the daily rosters in Houston, but it never hurts to have corroboration.