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October 25th, 2020:

Weekend link dump for October 25

“A Disturbing Twinkie That Has, So Far, Defied Science”.

I could not possibly care less about the future job prospects of current Trump staffers. Let them struggle to find honest work, maybe it will help them understand their prior decisions.

Scalzi on living in Trump Country, four years later.

RIP, Tab, diet soft drink of choice for many an 80s-era sorority sister.

“The concept of containing hot spots isn’t new, but it’s being tested under new pressures as authorities try to avoid a dreaded resurgence of illness and deaths, this time with economies weakened from earlier lockdowns, populations chafing at the idea of renewed restrictions and some communities complaining of unequal treatment.”

“A Long List of Shady Financial Mysteries Trump Still Refuses to Explain”.

“Senator David Perdue (R-GA) attacked Kamala Harris with a racist trope and then refused to apologize. Who is backing his campaign? A bunch of corporations that claim to be committed to fighting racism.”

“In 2017, President Donald Trump and the Wisconsin GOP struck a deal with Foxconn that promised to turn Southeastern Wisconsin into a tech manufacturing powerhouse. In exchange for billions in tax subsidies, Foxconn was supposed to build an enormous LCD factory in the tiny village of Mount Pleasant, creating 13,000 jobs. Three years later, the factory — and the jobs — don’t exist, and they probably never will.”

“How TV’s Top Cop Shows Are Changing Their Approach to Law & Order”.

“President Donald Trump’s sprawling political operation has raised well over $1 billion since he took the White House in 2017 — and set a lot of it on fire.”

Whatever they were wasting money on, it wasn’t paying legal bills.

“Given current polling of the presidential race, it is possible to imagine three scenarios, either on November 4 or on days soon thereafter: a narrow Trump victory in the Electoral College, with a huge loss in the popular vote; a Biden landslide in which Trump claims he lost because of a “rigged” election; or a very close and potentially flawed election going into overtime that could lead to a prolonged struggle over the presidency and the country. Each of these presents its own set of challenges for American democracy.”

“Both sides of the landmark showdown over marriage equality have announced that whatever differences they may have had, the one thing we can all agree on is that Amy Coney Barrett doesn’t belong within an abortion protest buffer zone of the United States Supreme Court.”

Susan Collins is very disappointed with this story.

“Phil Collins’ ex-wife and the man she left him for (VIA TEXT!) have apparently launched an armed occupation of Collins’ $33M Miami mansion, and I have no idea why you people are tweeting about anything else.” I haven’t even read the linked story because the deep-cut Genesis puns in the replies were so good.

In more conventional music news, this is amazing: “I, Tom Lehrer, and the Tom Lehrer Trust 2000, hereby grant the following permission: All the lyrics on this website, whether published or unpublished, copyrighted or uncopyrighted, may be downloaded and used in any manner whatsoever, without requiring any further permission from me or any payment to me or to anyone else.” It’s the hits plus a lot of songs I did not know. But act fast, this website will be taken down in 2024.

RIP, Spencer Davis, rock and blues musician best known for “Gimme Some Lovin'”.

“In this regard, it made perfect sense for Democratic Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar to stream themselves playing Among Us, a multiplayer game where players work as a team to figure out who is sabotaging the crew of their spaceship, on Twitch to 400,000 viewers alongside Piker, Pokimane, and other popular streamers on Tuesday night. Their game play, and exhortations to the audience to vote, were being watched by mostly younger and largely sympathetic minds that have been primed by Destiny, Piker, and others.”

RIP, James “The Amazing” Randi, magician, skeptic, debunker of bullshit. Mark Evanier adds a few words.

RIP, Shelley Buschur, Houston art car artist.

“If the U.S. had followed Canadian policies and protocols, there might have only been 85,192 U.S. deaths—making more than 132,500 American deaths ‘avoidable.’ If the U.S. response had mirrored that of Germany, the U.S. may have only had 38,457 deaths—leaving 179,260 avoidable deaths.”

RIP, Jerry Jeff Walker, Texas music icon. 2020 truly is the worst.

SCOTX reinstates Abbott’s mail ballot dropoff location limit

They can move fast when they want to, that’s for sure.

Gov. Greg Abbott’s controversial order to limit Texas counties to one mail-ballot drop-off site was allowed to remain in effect Saturday by the Texas Supreme Court.

The court blocked a previous appellate court ruling that had briefly struck down Abbott’s order, which was widely decried by voting rights groups as a voter-suppression tactic. The lawsuit to overturn Abbott’s order is still pending.

In Harris County, more than 1 million voters have cast ballots during early voting, shattering previous records. Multiple drop-off sites had been set up for voters until Abbott issued his order, which he said would “stop attempts at illegal voting.”

State District Judge Tim Sulak had previously ruled that Abbott’s order would “needlessly and unreasonably increase risks of exposure to COVID-19 infections” and undermine the constitutionally protected rights of residents to vote, “as a consequence of increased travel and delays, among other things.”

Less than 24 hours after the Third Court of Appeals reinstated the district court ruling that had halted Abbott’s order. Clearly, SCOTX does not have a “we close at 5” mentality. It should be noted that this is not the end of the line. From the Statesman:

Acting soon after receiving an emergency appeal on Gov. Greg Abbott’s behalf, the Texas Supreme Court issued an order Saturday that temporarily barred counties from opening more than one drop-off site for mail-in ballots.

The court order keeps in place Abbott’s 3½-week-old proclamation that barred multiple drop-off locations that had opened in several counties, including Travis County, until the Supreme Court can determine the legality of Abbott’s limit.

With an eye on the fast-approaching Nov. 3 election, the court also set tight deadlines, requiring legal briefs in the case to be filed before 5 p.m. Monday.

A ruling could come as soon as Monday night, though the Supreme Court gave no indication when it might act.

In theory, SCOTX could issue a ruling on the appeal on Tuesday or Wednesday, and we could get a few days of having multiple dropoff locations if the lower court order is upheld. Not great, but better than nothing. I think the odds of that happening are pretty slim, but it’s possible, and this is the best case scenario. At least you know what to hope for.

In practical terms, this means very little at this point. Very few people had ever used mail ballot dropoffs before. Existing law only allows for them to be used on Election Day – Abbott’s executive order extended that to all of early voting, which is an improvement even if his subsequent order limits it to a significant degree. Voting by mail is limited to begin with, and the vast majority of that small universe mailed their ballots in. Allowing people to drop them off at one of twelve locations instead of just one was an innovation, one of many that County Clerk Chris Hollins pioneered, and it was a welcome one in this year of COVID chaos, but losing it is more of an inconvenience than an impediment.

All that said, there is zero justification for Abbott’s order. People who wanted to drop off their mail ballots still had to go to an official County Clerk location, hand their ballot to an election judge, and show ID to have their ballot accepted. Fears of “fraud” and professions of “protecting election integrity” are empty shibboleths, the “thoughts and prayers” of vote suppression. Abbott imposed this limit as a sop to the extremists in his party who were already mad at him for adding an extra week to early voting. Hollins’ innovation made voting easier and more convenient. Abbott’s order made it harder and less convenient. That’s all there is to it.

I’ve said this before, but I firmly believe that a large majority of people like easier and more convenient voting, and support efforts to make it happen. There are lots of things the Democrats should un on in 2022. To me, this needs to be one of the big criticisms of Abbott – and Dan Patrick, and Ken Paxton, and every single member of the Supreme Court – in that election. Being on the side of “easier and more convenient” is the side to be on.

Rep. Senfronia Thompson files for Speaker

One hat in the ring, who knows how many to go.

Rep. Senfronia Thompson

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson, the longest-serving woman and Black person in the history of the Texas Legislature, filed Friday to run for speaker of the Texas House, making her the first to enter what’s been a quiet race so far to replace retiring Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton.

Thompson, a Houston Democrat, has filed ahead of a November general election in which Democrats are confident they will regain control of the House for the first time in nearly two decades. If elected, she would be the first Black woman to serve as speaker.

Thompson’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Thompson is not the only candidate expected to enter the race, which has had a different tempo and tone from the last one in 2018. The uncertainty surrounding which party will be in control of the lower chamber in 2021 has kept the race relatively quiet; by this time two years ago, several candidates had already declared that they were seeking the gavel.

[…]

Thompson, known better as “Ms. T” to colleagues and other Capitol goers, has served in the chamber since 1973, making her the second longest-serving member in the House. She has been mentioned repeatedly among both Republicans and Democrats as a potential candidate, with members pointing to her legislative experience and inroads with colleagues as perhaps her best case for a House that has a challenging agenda heading into the 2021 legislative session.

There are many potential Speaker candidates, but as I said in that post, if Rep. Thompson wants this, it’s hard to imagine other Dems opposing her. I’m sure she will be talking to those other potential candidates over the next few days, if she hasn’t been already. It won’t surprise me if they line up behind her.

There are of course a bunch of important things the next Legislature will have to tackle, from COVID response to a crap-ton of election and voting issues to redistricting to the budget to executive authority and the role of the Lege in dealing with crises. But even before we get to any of that, there’s a big question about how the Lege will operate. I mean, maybe you haven’t heard, but the COVID situation isn’t getting any better right now. I don’t have a whole lot of faith in Greg Abbott to impose restrictions again, so I’m not expecting it to be all that different come January. How exactly is the Lege going to conduct its business if it’s not safe for them all to be clustered in a stuffy room for hours at a time? What are they going to do if twerps like Briscoe Cain ignore a rule mandating masks in the Capitol? I don’t mean to be indelicate, but Rep. Thompson is 81. Rep. Alma Allen is 81, Tom Craddick is 77, Doc Anderson is 75, Harold Dutton is 75, and Phil Stephenson is 75. More than a few others are north of 60; not all of them have their age listed when I look them up on the Trib directory of State House members, but you get the point. The health and safety of every Member, as well as their staff and everyone who works at the Capitol is on the line, and as of today we have no idea what they plan to do about it. The next Speaker has some big things to do before a single vote is taken.

Please don’t screw up SD19 this time

Here’s hoping.

Rep. Roland Gutierrez

If elected to the Texas Senate, Roland Gutierrez promises not to end his tenure in federal prison. During a September phone call, the six-term state House rep assured me: “I’ve led my life as a responsible person; my parents raised me right.”

It’s a low bar. But Democrats in state Senate District 19—a sprawling district rooted in San Antonio that sweeps down to Eagle Pass and all the way out to far West Texas—have to start somewhere. The last liberal to hold the seat, Carlos Uresti, stepped down in 2018 just before being sentenced to 12 years’ incarceration for fraud and bribery. Now, after cinching the Democratic nomination in July, it’s up to Gutierrez to carry the torch of noncriminal progressive governance in SD-19.

The race won’t make the marquee this November. In Texas, the big-ticket fights are over the presidency, the U.S. Senate, and the state House. But a Gutierrez win would reassert Democratic control of a historically blue stronghold. It could also force a battle at the Capitol over the state Senate’s supermajority voting rules. And lastly—forgive me, reader, for mixing hope and Texas politics—it could even get the ball rolling on legal marijuana.

Standing in Gutierrez’s way: The Republican who’s held the seat the last two years, a former game warden by the name of Pete Flores—the bespectacled, cowboy hat-wearing embodiment of one of the Democrats’ worst electoral blunders in recent years.

I will pull one small piece of consolation out of the debacle that was the SD19 special election from 2018: After Flores’ stunning victory, I read more than one story, and many more than one quote from Republican elected officials like Dan Patrick, that were somewhere between skeptical and openly contemptuous of the idea that there was going to be a “blue wave” in Texas that year. I think we all know how that turned out, and it served as yet another reminder that weird low-turnout special election results just aren’t terribly predictive of anything.

All we really need to happen here is for 2020 to be a normal year, more or less, for Gutierrez to win and fix this error. In 2016, and again in 2018, SD19 was basically a ten-point Democratic district, with some variation on both ends. Carlos Uresti won it by 16 points in 2016. Gutierrez likely won’t do quite that well, as being the incumbent ought to help Flores a bit, but 2020 ought to be a pretty good year for Dems overall, with Bexar County giving Gutierrez a boost. I admit to being a little concerned about Gutierrez’s mediocre fundraising, but again, all we really need is typical performance from this district. Losing SD19 in the 2018 special election was upsetting, but in the end you could see how it happened. Losing it again this year would be inexcusable. Let’s not let that happen, mmmkay?

Bill Kelly: Voting Matters

(Note: The following is a guest post that was submitted to me. I occasionally solicit guest posts, and also occasionally accept them from people I trust.)

The national headlines have highlighted the increased turnout among Harris County voters, and rightfully so. But rather than discuss or project what that increase is likely to mean for election results, it is worth noting the actual mechanics of how so many of our neighbors are able to cast these early votes.

Chris Hollins, our Harris County Clerk, and his team have rolled out an impressive and imaginative early voting plan. Commissioner’s Court deserves credit for making the needed investments so that citizens in Harris County can safely access the ballot even during this pandemic.

Now I’ve been working in campaigns in Harris County since 2003, but this is the first time we have operated under a Democratic County Clerk for a general election. And the difference it has made is truly amazing, and I hope people can tell the subtle changes that are making a significant difference in giving voters access.

First, there is the timing. Governor Abbott’s decision to expand the normal 12 day early voting period to 18 days was critical to promoting a safer – and less crowded – voting experience. The tremendous turnout we have seen in the last 9 days would have packed polling locations without this additional time.

Days are made up of hours, and the investment by Harris County to keep polls open from 7am to 7pm is actual a big deal. Under previous clerks, early voting hours were restricted to the hours between 8:30am to 4:00pm during the first 5 days of early voting.

It is common sense and now self-evident that more people are turning out when the polls are open longer at more convenient times for voters.

What I want to point out is that proposition remains true in reverse: fewer voters access early voting when there are fewer hours.

While Harris County was operating under restrictive hours, Tarrant, Travis, and Dallas Counties all offered more hours for early voting. The Harris County excuse? It would cost more.

Having a Clerk who values democracy matters.

Second, locations – locations – locations. Today, there are 122 early voting locations around Harris County. In 2018, that number was close to 40. Again, this is not a difficult concept, but to see the scale of progress is really amazing.

Aside from tripling the number, nowhere is the location accessibility factor more visible than on our major college campuses. Having early voting locations at the University of Houston (Go Coogs!), Rice, and Texas Southern is a game changer.

In 2008, the closest early voting locations to each of these campuses was the Fiesta near NRG or the HCC Southeast location near I-45 South & 610.

For anyone familiar with Houston geography, these locations are not convenient – at all – to any of these campuses.

Again, Harris County choose not to place an easily accessible early voting locations before Hollins did for any general election. If you think this was an accident, I’d point to the campus openings of Rice in 1912, UH in 1939, and TSU in 1946. It should not take over 70 years to get an early vote site on these campuses.

Investing in over 100 locations in a county of 4.7 million should be the new normal – if the goal is to increase voter access and participation.

Finally, election day itself has been transformed to offer greater access. In campaign after campaign in the 2000s, the message of “you can early vote anywhere in the county” would quickly pivot to “you can ONLY vote in your neighborhood precinct.”

You wanna see a campaign manager in a panic? Tell them their election day doorhangers have the wrong polling location.

While Harris County clung to this system, Fort Bend creating election day Voting Centers, which allowed anyone in the county to vote at these locations on election day. It was an easy message to point toward a location where every voter in the county could vote. Another choice made that made voting less accessible.

Now, voters in Harris County can vote at ANY voting location on election day. For low propensity voters, the ease of pulling into a polling location and hearing, “yes, you can vote here,” again helps more voters participate in voting.

Timing, locations, and countywide access are all concrete policy changes that have been instituted by the Harris County Clerk since 2018. But these changes should not be the end point.

Even before the voting process begins, state policy looks to restrict access in ways that are laughable. The lack of online voter registration in Texas is a clear indictment of suppression policy. Despite statewide support for the policy, Senator Carol Alvarado faced opposition on her bill to create this online voter registration system by Republicans in Harris County.

Wonder why.

To be clear, the Texas Election Code allows for astronauts to voter from space . . . but does not allow for online voter registration. Seriously.

Online registration is less expensive, much cleaner with data input, and is unquestionable easier for citizens looking to register than mailing in an application.

Texans are choosing their new elected leaders right now. Much of the Texas political power structure does not want a larger voter turnout, which is directly reflected by the voting policy.

Harris County decided to invest in greater voter access. It is making a difference.

Bill Kelly works as the Director of Government Relations for Mayor Sylvester Turner. He has worked on the winning campaigns for Mayor Bill White (2003), State Rep. Hubert Vo (2004), Council Member Peter Brown (2005), State Rep. Ellen Cohen (2006), and the Harris County Coordinated Campaign (2008).

November 2020 Early Voting Day Twelve: Second Saturday

Where we are.

Harris County surpassed 1 million ballots cast Friday, setting an early voting record with seven days remaining, in spite of the lingering COVID-19 pandemic and a flurry of lawsuits over the management of the election.

The county reached the milestone at 3:14 p.m. as tens of thousands of voters again headed to 112 polling sites on a muggy October afternoon.

If residents continue at the current pace of more than 90,000 daily ballots, the total turnout record of 1.34 million set in 2016 will fall before Election Day on Nov. 3.

Turnout here through Thursday accounted for 15 percent of ballots cast in Texas, exceeding the number recorded by several states with more residents, including Indiana, Missouri and Maryland.

[…]

Women in Harris County have cast 56 percent of ballots so far, well above the three-point gender gap in 2018. Women are more likely to support Democrats, and President Trump is polling historically poorly with them.

Young voters also continue to show up at the polls, and those under 40 make up a larger portion of the in-person electorate than they did four years ago.

To date, voters under 29 make up 13.8 percent of the in-person early vote, nearly double their 7.4 percent in 2016. Voters 30 to 39 comprise 17.3 percent of the total, 5 points higher than the last presidential cycle. That cohort, too, is more likely to support Democrats than older voters, according to the Pew Research Center.

High turnout among these groups shows that Democratic voters are more enthusiastic than their Republican counterparts, Rice University political science Professor Mark Jones said. He said Republicans can make up ground on Election Day, but said Democrats are well-positioned to carry the county by 10 to 20 points.

“One of the real challenges for the GOP now is they know they’re behind,” Jones said. “The Democrats have gotten a large share of their voters to actually cast a ballot, whereas Republicans are still working to make sure those individuals go and vote.”

Jeronimo Cortina, a political scientist at the University of Houston, said the expected record total turnout is likely to provide Joe Biden a greater margin of victory here than Hillary Clinton’s 12-point win in 2016. He agreed that Republicans have an opportunity to narrow the gap on Election Day.

“At least so far … it seems there is a pretty good trend in terms of Democrats outvoting Republicans,” Cortina said.

[…]

In precincts carried by Clinton, and Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke, in 2018, participation has been mixed. The heavily white corridor from Oak Forest south to Meyerland, as well as predominantly African-American neighborhoods including Acres Homes, Sunnyside and parts of Third Ward have seen 60 to 90 percent of their 2016 vote total.

Mostly Latino communities, including those from Aldine south through Second Ward and Pasadena, still are reporting less than 60 percent of their 2016 totals. That may leave Democrats with more outstanding potential voters — but only if they show up.

Democratic State Rep. Armando Walle is confident they will, and said Latinos traditionally are more likely to vote on Election Day. Even though there are no Latino presidential or U.S. Senate candidates on the ballot, he said they are motivated to choose leaders who will succeed at managing the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately harmed Latinos in Texas.

“Those (voting) numbers will even out as the race goes on,” Walle said.

The record turnout so far also is likely due, in part, to new voters; Harris County’s voter rolls grew by 298,000 since 2016. That gives an edge to Democrats, political scientists say, because the new voters are more likely to be younger and people of color, both demographics that tend to support the party.

We won’t maintain that 90K voters per day pace. We pretty much can’t, and as you’ll see the daily trend has been downward since that boffo first week. But that’s okay, we only need about half of that 90K pace to reach 2016 final turnout by the end of early voting, and I still think we will do that.

In re: Latino voting so far, it’s not unusual for those voters to show up later in the cycle. Here’s a breakdown of early voting percentages for each State Rep district from 2016:


Dist    Early    Total  Early%
==============================
126    46,827   63,214   74.1%
127    58,934   75,620   77.9%
128    46,021   60,656   75.9%
129    50,423   71,355   70.7%
130    64,227   83,009   77.4%
131    34,175   47,459   72.0%
132    55,535   70,519   78.8%
133    58,215   78,173   74.5%
134    66,623   93,167   71.5%
135    46,733   61,619   75.8%
137    19,639   28,027   70.1%
138    39,337   52,787   74.5%
139    39,983   53,829   74.3%
140    17,949   28,652   62.6%
141    28,462   39,243   72.5%
142    33,908   46,243   73.4%
143    23,812   34,279   69.5%
144    18,563   28,120   66.0%
145    24,545   35,918   68.3%
146    36,001   50,081   71.9%
147    42,549   59,849   71.1%
148    36,334   49,819   72.9%
149    32,347   44,955   72.0%
150    60,267   78,180   77.1%

“Early” is the early in person vote plus mail ballots. Four of the five Latino districts – 140, 143, 144, and 145 – cast more than 30% of their total ballots on Election Day. No other district did that. So as far as that goes, I don’t see anything amiss. Obviously, these folks still need to turn out, but there’s no reason to think they won’t.

I’ll probably split my early-voting-so-far tables from Monday on to break things up into Week One, Week Two, and then each day from Week Three. I do think we will see an uptick on the last day or two of Week Three, as is always the case in a normal year’s Week Two, though it will be starting from a lower point than usual.

The Day Twelve daily EV totals are here. You can find the daily totals for 2008 and 2012 (and 2016 as well, but I’ve got a separate link for it) here, for 2016 here, and for 2018 here. I’m just going to keep on keeping on with the pretense that early voting actually began this Monday, except with 628K votes already in the bank. The “original” Day Four numbers are here.


Election     Mail      Early      Total
=======================================
2008       43,160    284,768    327,928
2012       53,131    331,667    384,798
2016       77,445    450,186    527,631
2018       73,478    394,671    468,149
2020      149,190    361,035    510,225

Yesterday was the first day you could reasonably call slow, with 38K in person voters and 4K mail ballots returned. That allows 2016 to pass 2020 by on total voters for the week, and 2018 to catch up on in person voters, as Saturday was twice as busy for them. Of course, that was the only Saturday for those years, so this isn’t really a straight comparison, it’s just the best facsimile I can come up with. Also, for reasons unclear to me, there were no mail ballots counted in 2012 and 2016, but there were in 2008 and 2018. Don’t ask, I don’t know.


Vote type   Mon-Fri     Sat     Sun    Week      Total
======================================================
Mail         69,673   4,013          73,686    149,190
Drive-thru   30,913   5,392          36,305     90,410
In person   291,591  33,337         324,928    824,027
Total       392,177  42,742         434,919  1,063,627

Vote type   Week One  Week Two      Total
=========================================
Mail          75,504    73,686    149,190
Drive-thru    54,105    36,305     90,410
In person    499,099   324,928    824,027
Total        628,708   434,919  1,063,627

Week Two has fallen well short of Week One – remember, Week One was only six days – probably by 125-150K after today is in the books. That would be the exact opposite of a “normal” year, where there’s only two weeks of early voting. This year, you had a lot of people who Could Not Wait to cast their ballot, and Week Two is basically the middle child, coming in between all that pent-up energy and the “oh, crap, early voting is almost over” realization. The average daily turnout for the (six-day) Week One was almost 105K, and the average daily turnout for the (six-day so far) Week Two is about 72.5K; I’ll recalculate that tomorrow to take Sunday into account.

Mail voting was about the same as before, though I expect that to level off some as we approach Election Day. Drive-through voting actually had a decent day yesterday, with a slightly larger crowd than either Thursday or Friday. I have no idea what to expect for the next six days, but I do still think that this coming Thursday and Friday will be busier than the four days before them, as that is the usual pattern. For the first time, the daily average needed to reach 2016 final turnout by Friday went up, though just by a bit, to 45,879. I still think we’ll get there, but now it’s more of a question than a sure thing. And let’s not forget, some people will still vote on November 3. That’s just how it is. Have you voted yet?