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November 23rd, 2015:

Precinct analysis: Old reliables, newcomers, and everyone else

I have three more views of the 2015 electorate, now that I have a copy of the voter roster. With that, and with the past rosters that I have, I can try to paint a more detailed picture of who voted in this election, and perhaps make some comparisons to past elections. Today we’re going to look at voting history. How many voters this year were new, how many had voted in one or more recent elections, and how do those numbers compare to previous years?


Year    All 3   1and2   1and3   2and3   Just1   Just2   Just3    None
=====================================================================
2015   59,639  13,150  26,170   8,714  33,993   6,566  17,964 101,603
2013   46,582  22,044   4,721  13,148  12,239  20,690   6,046  48,662
2011   44,744   9,706  15,360   4,302  15,559   2,830   5,394  19,927
2009   55,117   5,818  22,122  25,227  10,907   7,684  20,218  38,755

vote-button

Let me translate what those column headers mean. “All 3” is the number of people in that election who had voted in each of the three prior city elections. For the year 2015, that means the number of people who had voted in 2013, 2011, and 2009. For 2013, that means the number of people who had voted in 2011, 2009, and 2007. I trust you get the idea for 2011 and 2009; I have rosters going back to 2003, so that’s as far back as I can do this exercise. These are your old reliable voters – year in and year out, they show up and vote.

The next six columns specify one or more of these prior elections. A 1 refers to the election immediately before, a 2 refers to the election before that – i.e., two elections before – and a 3 is for three elections before. Again, for 2015, those elections are 2013 (“1”), 2011 (“2”), and 2009 (“3”). Thus, the column “1and2” means all the people who voted in 2013 and 2011, but not 2009. “1and3” means means all the people who voted in 2013 and 2009, but not 2011. “2and3” means all the people who voted in 2011 and 2009, but not 2013. Along similar lines, “Just1” means all the people who voted in 2013 but not 2011 or 2009, and so forth. Substitute other years as appropriate, and you’ve got it. Lastly, “None” means the people who had voted in none of the past three elections. These are your new voters.

I presume I don’t have to tell you that 2015 was indeed an outlier in this regard. We knew going in that years with high profile referenda have higher turnout than other years, and that’s what happened here. In addition, you have to remember that “high turnout” is a relative thing. Turnout for the Harris County portion of the city of Houston was 268,872, which is more than any odd-year election since 2003, but pales in comparison to the turnouts of recent even years in which city props have been on the ballot. In 2010, for example, 389,428 voters came out in the Harris County part of Houston – 40.9% turnout – with 343,481 casting a vote on the red light camera referendum. In 2012, for the four bond items and two charter amendments up for a vote, there were 565,741 voters, with as many as 435,836 ballots cast. Point being, there are a lot of even-year city voters. Some number of them decided to vote this year as well. I’m not in a position to quantify it further than that, but at a guess based on the other years, I’d say 30 to 50 thousand of those 101,603 were true newbies, while the rest had some prior voting history in Harris County. As we’ve discussed before, new people move in all the time, and some other people become newly eligible due to turning 18 or becoming citizens. If and when I get more details on that, I’ll be sure to share them.

Here’s another way of looking at the data: The proportion of each class of voter for these elections.


Year   All 3   2 of 3   1 of 3   0 of 3
=======================================
2015   22.3%    17.9%    21.9%    37.9%
2013   26.8%    22.9%    22.4%    27.9%
2011   38.0%    24.9%    20.2%    16.9%
2009   29.7%    28.6%    20.9%    20.9%

“2 of 3” and “1 of 3″ refers to voters who had voted in two of the previous three elections, and one of the previous three elections, respectively. Again, the share of new voters this year was clearly higher than in other years. It’s no surprise that the share of new voters was so low in 2011. It was a low turnout year – just over 117,000 voters in total – so you’d expect that a large majority of them would be the regulars. By the same token, the old reliable share this year was lower than usual, for the same reason. I’m fascinated by how stable the 1 of 3” share was across the four races. As we saw in the table at the top, the one prior election in question can be any of the three predecessors. It’s not just folks who’d been new the year before. That number is directly affected by the turnout levels of the election in question and the one before it.

So that’s our first look at this data. I don’t have any broad conclusions to draw here, I just find this stuff amazing. Who would have guessed that over 2,800 people who voted in the low-turnout 2011 election had also voted in the low-turnout 2007 election, but not the higher-turnout 2009 or 2005 elections? Well, now you know. I’ll have more tomorrow.

Our partisan Mayoral runoff

I’m shocked, shocked to find that there are partisan interests in the Mayoral runoff.

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

Even though Houston elections officially are nonpartisan, the contest between Bill King and Sylvester Turner has evolved into a test of party might as voters prepare to elect the Bayou City’s first new mayor in six years.

King has framed the runoff as the choice between a businessman and a career politician, a common appeal by Republican candidates against Democratic incumbents. Trying to paint King as too extreme for Houston, Turner’s campaign has taken to invoking the tea party and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the latter-day bogeymen of the Democratic Party.

Meanwhile, the local Republican and Democratic parties have endorsed their favorites and affiliated groups are gearing up their ground games to phone bank and knock on doors for their preferred candidates.

The result is a race without overt party identification, but with all of the trappings of a partisan battlefield.

“We’ve seen across the country the intensity of the partisan division grow,” University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray said. “It’s not that the overall population has become more partisan and polarized, but people who vote, particularly in a low-turnout election like a Houston mayor runoff, tend to be partisans.”

Murray said he expects turnout to be about 20 percent in the Dec. 12 runoff to replace term-limited Mayor Annise Parker, down from 27 percent on Nov. 3.

[…]

Murray said the race is more partisan than usual for city races, attributing the dynamic in part to the equal rights ordinance thought to have brought many conservative Republicans to the polls.

“It’s not surprising that the Democrats particularly, since they have a significant edge in partisanship within the city, would try to make this a partisan race,” Murray said. “And Republicans hope that they can counter and in a low-turnout election get enough of their partisans to go to the polls to squeak out a win.”

I will note that 20% turnout for the runoff will equate to over 190,000 votes, which would be higher turnout than the 2013 or 2009 November races. The 2003 runoff had 220,725 votes, while the 2001 runoff had 326,254 votes. I feel confident saying we won’t reach that level. Both races were D versus R like this one, with Bill White winning by a huge margin in 2003 and Lee Brown squeaking by in 2001. The latter election had “first Latino Mayor of Houston” possibilities (so did the 2003 one, but by then the shine had largely come off of Orlando Sanchez), and it was heavily polarized by race. This runoff certainly won’t reach 2001 levels, and probably won’t reach 2003 levels, but I doubt it will be low enough for it to be particularly favorable to Republicans. I’ll say again, I think for King to win he’s got to blunt Turner’s appeal outside of his African-American base. That was the intent of the Bell endorsement, except that a large number of Bell voters were repulsed by it. The partisans are going to turn out, as they always have in these races. If Democrats of all stripes back Turner, he ought to win. If King can cut into that enough, he can win. That’s how I see it.

And before anyone bemoans all those dirty partisans besmirching their innocent non-partisan city race, please note that there are also significant policy differences between the two. HERO, the revenue cap, and Rebuild Houston are the headliners for that, but the list doesn’t end there. I for one would rather have a Metro Board Chair nominated by Turner than one nominated by King. It’s not like these guys largely agree on things and it’s just a matter of whose flag they fly. Sylvester Turner’s Houston and Bill King’s Houston will be different places. By all means, base your choice on that. From my perspective at least, the two roads lead to the same destination.

Paxton fires back at prosecutors

Incoming!

Best mugshot ever

Lawyers in Attorney General Ken Paxton’s ongoing securities fraud case have fired back against special prosecutors in the latest in a series of back-and-forth court filings.

In their Thursday filing, Paxton’s attorneys called the prosecutors’ reply to their motions to drop three felony charges “bombastic and diversionary.”

“Attorneys Pro Tem attempt sarcasm and inappropriate fictional analogies to mask their unsubstantive Reply that repeatedly misrepresents both Paxton’s arguments and the law,” the court filing said. “They are under the misguided belief that sound bites and quotes from fictional characters somehow trump law and documented facts.”

[…]

Paxton’s attorneys say the reply does not address their actual argument of improper grand juror qualification and that Paxton’s right to due process under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was violated.

The latest filing also claimed that prosecutors are enabling Oldner’s inappropriate actions as they “concoct a fiction that is unsupported in law or fact, to excuse his behavior.”

See here and here for the background. At this point, I think all future filings related to this should be more like this:

I’m far too amused by this case.

Now who’s messing with religious freedom?

What is Greg Abbott’s beef with faith organizations?

A prominent Texas faith organization signaled Friday that refugee resettlement agencies in the state may not comply with Gov. Greg Abbott’s order to turn away Syrian refugees, writing a letter “to express shock and dismay” with the directive.

The governor’s order “constitutes an unprecedented attempt on the part of a state agency to pressure private, nonprofit organizations to violate federal law and their federal contractual obligations,” wrote Bee Moorhead, executive director of Texas Impact, which works closely with resettlement agencies affiliated with religious institutions.

The letter asked the state to convene a meeting with resettlement agencies and federal authorities to clarify whether Abbott has the authority to issue such a directive.

Moorhead told the Houston Chronicle that among resettlement groups, “there seems to be some energy developing around convening them as a coalition to work on this issue.”

Moorhead’s letter came hours after the state’s top health official wrote refugee resettlement agencies in the state to say Texas was invoking its legal right to “require that you provide immediate and ongoing consultation with the Health and Human Services Commission Office of Immigration and Refugee Affairs (OIRA) regarding any plans that may exist to resettle Syrian refugees in Texas.”

“If you currently have plans to participate in the resettlement of any Syrian refugee in Texas, please notify us immediately, but not later than 4:00 p.m. Friday, November 20, 2015,” executive health Commissioner Chris Traylor wrote, adding the agencies should discontinue those plans and “further, please notify us immediately if, in the future, you learn that a Syrian refugee is proposed for resettlement with your organization.”

See here for some background, and here for a copy of the letter. The Statesman adds on.

Gov. Greg Abbott’s office appears headed toward a legal showdown with refugee resettlement agencies and their sponsoring faith organizations over Abbott’s efforts to keep any Syrian refugees from resettling in Texas in the aftermath of the Paris terrorist attacks.

Following Abbott’s directive, Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Chris Traylor on Thursday sent a toughly worded letter to 19 refugee resettlement agencies in Texas — including Caritas and the Refugee Services of Texas in Austin — asking that they scrap any plans to resettle Syrian refugees in Texas and that they notify his office by 4 p.m. Friday if they had any plans to resettle Syrians in the state.

Refugee resettlement is generally a federal matter done in cooperation with national and local nonprofit, often church-based, resettlement agencies. The states play a supportive role and pass federal money onto the local agencies.

However, in his effort to make good on his pledge to keep Syrian refugees from coming to Texas, Abbott, a former state attorney general, is relying on a section of the 1997 legislation authorizing the refugee resettlement program. It states that it is the intent of Congress that “local voluntary agency activities should be conducted in close cooperation and advance consultation with state and local governments.”

Traylor cites that provision in his letter, and warns, “We reserve the right to refuse to cooperate on any resettlement on any grounds and, until further notice, will refuse to cooperate with resettlement of any Syrian refugees in Texas.”

“It’s a very disturbing effort by the state to coerce nonprofit organizations into ceasing the important services that they normally provide to vulnerable refugees to allow them to integrate into our community,” said Denise Gilman, director of the Immigration Law Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law.

“The agency is seeking to force nonprofits to join the governor’s misguided policies that discriminate on the basis of national origin,” Gilman said. “Most disappointing of all is that those harmed will be families who have fled unspeakable violence in Syria, who have undergone a lengthy and cumbersome process to ensure that they present no threat, and who desperately need protection and support to recover some stability in their lives here in the United States.”

That’s religious nonprofits that Abbott is trying to coerce. At a time when for-profit corporations have been granted the right to impose the religious beliefs of their owners on their employees and when plaintiffs in a lawsuit who happen to be pastors getting subpoenaed is taken as an assault on freedom on religion. Again, this is Greg Abbott exerting government power to influence what religious organizations can do. I’m at a loss for words here. Thankfully, Lisa Falkenberg was able to find a few.

On issues like birth control, abortion and gay marriage, conservative politicians routinely charge into the fray like moral warriors, vowing to protect the sacred constitutional right to religious liberty.

Hobby Lobby. Kim Davis. They got your back.

But when it comes to a basic tenet of Christianity – caring for the stranger – the warriors have turned their swords against Scripture.

What would Jesus do, Greg? Feel free to ask a bishop if you need help with that.