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March 17th, 2016:

Reps. Green and Green want investigation of voting machine shortage

I have three things to say about this.

eSlateImage

Two Houston congressmen are asking the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate whether unequal distribution of voting machines and polling locations in Harris County disenfranchised minority voters during the March 1 primary election.

In a letter dated March 15, U.S. Reps. Al Green and Gene Green, both Houston Democrats, blamed insufficient voting machines and polling locations for “excessively long lines” in predominantly Hispanic and black precincts in Harris County. Citing local news reports, the congressmen indicated that long lines “deterred” minority voters from “exercising their right to vote that day.”

“The failure to distribute sufficient voting machines in predominantly Hispanic and African-American precincts in Harris County, in comparison to the resources made available in more affluent, predominantly Anglo precincts in the county, had a discriminatory impact on our constituents’ ability to participate in the political process,” the congressmen wrote.

[…]

The increased turnout — fueled by a heated Republican presidential race — left election officials scrambling to deliver additional voting machines to polling locations with long lines on election day. Still, some voters in Houston did not cast their votes until after 9:30 p.m. — hours after polls closed. Others reportedly abandoned their place in line without voting after waiting for hours.

The distribution of polling locations in primary elections is a responsibility of each county’s political party, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s Office, which oversees elections and voting. Using a formula based on previous voter turnout, county parties are charged with estimating voter turnout and determining the number of voting machines and polling locations needed.

Individual county parties ultimately decide whether that estimate should be higher or lower depending on other factors, such as a contested presidential primary, said Alicia Pierce, a spokeswoman for the state agency

County and party officials estimated that about 144,000 voters would cast a Democratic primary ballot. But more than 227,000 Democratic voters made it to the polls for the primary election.

On the Republican side, officials estimated 265,000 voters would turn out but almost 330,000 voters actually cast a ballot.

Lane Lewis, chairman of the Harris County Democratic Party, pushed back on allegations of unequal distribution of polling locations, saying there was nothing “nefarious” behind the wait times.

The long lines were a result of higher than expected turnout, he added, and there was little indication from early voting figures that voter turnout would be so high.

1. The formula is based in part on “the percentage of voter turnout for the office that received the most votes in the most recent comparable party primary election”, which in this case would be 2012. I don’t think the initial estimates were terrible at the time they were made, which as I understand it was late last year; in fact, I think they were quite defensible. The problem was that there was no way to adjust those estimates based on the on-the-ground and at-the-time conditions. And even taking that into consideration, the general consensus in the days between the end of early voting and Tuesday, March 1 was that more than half of the people who were going to vote had already voted. That was the real problem, as a good 57% of the vote was cast on Tuesday. To me, the main learning from this needs to be that the hotter the election, the more likely that people will show up on Election Day.

2. Compounding the problem was the consolidation of Election Day voting locations. Roughly half of Republican voting locations were folded into others, while the same was true for well more than half of Democratic precincts. This was also an effect of the initial underestimation of turnout, but because there are so few voting machines at Election Day polling locations, and because these were primaries where you had to consider each race individually – no “straight party” option – it made the lines longer. One can make a good case that voting centers, as they have in Fort Bend and other places but which are still “under consideration” in Harris County, could have greatly ameliorated this problem, if for no other reason than they will have more voting machines available at each location.

3. All that said, it’s wholly appropriate for the Justice Department to investigate, and make whatever recommendations they can. In the end, however, this is a problem that needs to be addressed locally. Trail Blazers has more.

UPDATE: The Chron story is here, and the Press has more, including a copy of the letter that was sent.

Simpson prevails in SD01 primary

All elections are now officially resolved, at least at the state level.

Rep. David Simpson

Two state representatives are set to face off for an open seat in the Texas senate after the third place candidate said Monday he will not request a recount.

After days of uncertainty with a razor thin margin separating the two candidates, a finalized canvass of the vote in the Senate District 1 Republican primary confirmed that state Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, had secured the second-place runoff spot over James “Red” Brown, a former army general.

“We are ready to move forward and excited about debating the issues,” Simpson said on Tyler’s CBS 19 on Monday night.

Brown’s campaign remained optimistic after election night due to outstanding provisional and military ballots. But after all were counted, each candidate gained 107 votes, putting Simpson at 28,395 to Brown’s 28,382 and leaving the margin of 13 votes unchanged.

Simpson will face state Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, in the runoff to replace retiring state Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, on May 24. Hughes drew more than 60,000 votes in the primary, falling just short of the majority he needed to avoid a runoff.

See here and here for the background. Red Brown was endorsed by Texas ParentPAC, so he was my preferred candidate in this race. I probably have a slight preference for Simpson over Hughes at this point – neither are any great shakes, but at least Simpson marches to his own drummer. Hughes came close to winning outright, though, so he would seem to be the favorite.

Another look at how long the Paxton case could take

The DMN makes the same comparisons that I have made.

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

Ken Paxton has spent eight months — the majority of his time as attorney general — under indictment.

The legal cloud shows no sign of dissipating.

How long the case takes to resolve depends almost entirely on decisions made by Paxton and his legal team. Depending on when a Dallas appeals court rules on their most recent challenge to his securities fraud indictments, this legal battle could stretch on for months — and perhaps years.

Those who’ve counseled other politicians in legal trouble said Paxton now has a tough choice between playing the waiting game and pushing for an expedited trial that could be a liability for his party during election season.

“It’s a real chess game when you’ve got something like this,” said Dick DeGuerin, a Houston attorney who defended former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay after their indictments. “The quicker it can be resolved, and resolved in their favor, the quicker they can get back to the job they’ve been elected to do — and get re-elected.”

[…]

Paxton and his attorneys have several possible paths ahead of them.

If they fail [at the Fifth Court of Appeals] in Dallas, they could forgo more appeals and proceed to trial. Or they could take the case all the way to the state’s top criminal court in Austin. The special prosecutors have the same option, if the Dallas bench decides to quash Paxton’s indictments.

Austin lobbyist Bill Miller said he has no doubt the case will end up in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

If he’s correct, the case may not be resolved for years. The appeals court is famously slow in its decision-making. DeLay’s case was more complicated than Paxton’s, but it took nearly a decade for the court to render a decision that vindicated the Sugar Land congressman.

And the longer Paxton’s case continues, the more it costs Collin County taxpayers, who must pay for his prosecution. The price tag so far has topped $254,000.

“This is a ‘full-in’ deal. No matter what the outcome is, the next level is ‘up,’” said Miller, who described himself as “a friend” of Paxton’s, but who added he hasn’t spoken to the attorney general about his strategy. “From my perspective, delay is the best thing because going to trial just gins up enormous bad press.”

[…]

[John Weekley, a Dallas-area political analyst and former Bush campaign consultant] said yet another option is available to Paxton. He suggested the attorney general consider what is best for his party this year, and delay his trial until just after the general election in November. This would ensure that other Republicans don’t see their races overshadowed by his criminal proceedings, but still gives him enough time to work on rehabilitating his image before his own re-election.

“If I were advising him, I would hope he would wait until right after the election, and then do what he has to do to dispose of this,” Weekley said. “Then, he has to work on his political reputation.”

See here for my attempt to put together a timeline for this. What the armchair quarterbacks in this story are saying is that there are three basic possibilities: 1) Delay as much as possible, mostly in the hope of getting a favorable result from an appeals court; 2) Push for as quick a resolution as possible because the longer this drags out the harder it’s going to be to pay for it, among other things; and 3) Just delay long enough to get past this year’s election, then try to get it resolved before 2018, as that is best for the GOP as well as for Paxton. My guess, for what it’s worth, is that Paxton will go with Option 1 and not worry too much about how he’s going to keep his lawyers paid. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it is entirely plausible to me that Ken Paxton could be on the ballot in 2018 having been convicted but appealing his conviction. I agree that there are plenty of other possible ways this plays out, and to be sure he could get off in any number of them. I don’t think Paxton cares about what the effect on the Republican Party as a whole may be – honestly, I’m not sure anyone currently in a position of power within the Republican Party has given that much thought – so this will take as long as it takes. We’ll get a much better idea of this once we have a ruling from the Fifth Court.

Texas blog roundup for the week of March 14

The Texas Progressive Alliance is ready for its annual overdose of college hoops as it brings you this week’s roundup.

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