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October 31st, 2020:

November 2020 Early Voting Day Eighteen: Records were broken

I know, I skipped Day Seventeen, but since the daily EV totals came in at a more manageable hour last night (since early voting once again ceased at 7 PM), I was able to get the latest totals in.

So Thursday was our first ever (but hopefully not last) experience with 24-hour voting. How did it go? Let’s start with a tweet to illustrate:

It was just before 10 PM that Harris County officially set a new record for election turnout.

Harris County on Thursday broke its all-time voter turnout record with one day of early voting remaining, the Harris County Clerk’s Office announced on Twitter.

The office had not released the early voting numbers as of press time. Eight polling locations remained open overnight into Friday.

[…]

Harris County Clerk Christopher Hollins created an ambitious $27 million election plan for this year, making several changes that include nearly tripling the number of early voting sites, adding drive-thru voting, sending mail ballot applications to all registered seniors and hiring more than 11,000 poll workers.

Those additions also included a 24-hour voting period from Thursday to Friday — a gesture that experts characterized as largely symbolic.

“Even if they net only a few voters, it speaks volumes about the clerk’s commitment to making voting easy to everyone,” said University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus.

You can call it symbolism if you like, but that commitment really matters. We should have at least one all-night voting option in every election going forward, and Harris should not be the only county doing it.

The rest of the state is voting heavily, too.

The number of voters who cast ballots in the Texas early voting period this year has now surpassed the total number of people who voted in all of 2016.

Through Thursday, 9,009,850 have voted so far this year, with one day of early voting left. That amounts to 53% of registered voters. In 2016, 8,969,226 Texans cast a ballot in the presidential race. Texas has added 1.8 million registered voters since the 2016 election, and overall percentage turnout is still below 2016’s turnout of 59.4%.

By the time all the Election Day votes and mail-in ballots are counted, Texas will likely hit record-breaking turnout levels this election, surpassing 60% of registered voters for the first time since the early 1990s. The surge in votes is in part due to high turnout during early voting and increases in registered voters in Texas’ growing urban and suburban counties. But other factors of timing are also at play.

At Gov. Greg Abbott’s order, Texas voters received an extra six days of early voting in hopes that the polls will be less crowded during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The added time, coupled with a push from leaders in both parties for Texans to cast their ballots early, could be a reason for a boost in early turnout so far, experts say.

All true, but some places have been doing more early voting than others.

Let’s see where we wound up, and we’ll take some guesses about where we’re headed. The Day Eighteen 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. Let’s put this baby to bed.


Election     Mail      Early      Total
=======================================
2008       52,502    678,312    754,499
2012       66,310    700,216    766,526
2016       94,699    882,580    977,279
2018       89,098    766,613    855,711
2020      170,410    709,428    879,838

As a reminder, I’m just comparing the last two weeks of 2020 early voting to the two weeks of early voting in other years. There were another 554K in-person ballots cast before the starting point of this table. The mail totals are up to date. It’s a little confusing, I know, but it was impossible to make a direct comparison otherwise.

Also as a reminder, the mail vote totals here are the totals through the last day of early voting. More mail ballots come in over the weekend and till Tuesday, so the final tally for mail ballots that you see on the Election Night returns are higher. That will be the case this year as well. As of Friday, 68.0% of all mail ballots have been returned. We might get to 70% by Tuesday, which all things considered would be pretty good.

I vividly remember how dumbfounded we all were with the 2008 early voting totals. Early voting was still relatively new in 2008, and up till that point it was still the case that most actual voting happened on Election Day. That led to some pretty wild projections of final turnout for 2008, all predicated on the belief that only half of all the people who were going to vote had voted. As you may imagine, that turned out to be wrong, and this was the beginning of the period when we came to expect most of the voting to happen before Election Day. (Note that for lower-turnout odd-year municipal elections, it is still the case that most voting happens on Election Day.)

There’s a bit of a 2008 feel to this election, both in terms of (mostly Democratic) enthusiasm, but also for the “we’ve never seen anything like this before” sensation. I won’t argue with anyone who thinks turnout will be less than usual on Election Day, but what might we expect? Here’s how our comparison elections have gone:


Year     Early    E Day  Early%
===============================
2008   746,061  442,670  62.76%
2012   775,751  427,100  64.49%
2016   985,571  353,327  73.61%
2018   865,871  354,000  70.98%

“Early” counts mail and early in person votes. Again, remember that these are now the final mail totals, which include the ones that came in after the last day of early voting. Going by this, you might expect between 25 and 30 percent of the vote to happen on Tuesday. I can be persuaded that the range for this election is more like 20-25%. That’s still another 300K votes or so, which is consistent with 2016 and 2018


Vote type       Mon     Tue     Wed     Thu     Fri     Week
============================================================
Mail          6,407     569   4,652    5,460  3,572   20,660
Drive-thru    5,448   6,145   6,403    7,873  9,564   35,433
In person    46,727  50,746  50,726   61,301 77,170  286,670
Total        58,582  57,460  61,781   74,634 90,306  342,763

Vote type     Week 1    Week 2    Week 3      Total
===================================================
Mail          75,504    74,246    20,660    170,410
Drive-thru    54,105    39,264    35,433    128,802
In person    499,099   348,227   286,670  1,133,096
Total        628,708   461,737   342,763  1,435,221

My totals have the same math error in them from yesterday, which happened sometime this week, so while the final Mail and Total vote type values are correct, they don’t add up if you do the sums yourself. This is the peril of adding up the Drive-thru totals manually and subtracting them from the Early values to present them as two separate entries. I somehow managed to avoid screwing that up until Wednesday or so, and now I can’t make them balance. It is now my mission in life to get our new Elections Administrator to provide these subtotals going forward and spare me this shame.

My thoughts on final turnout haven’t changed. Assuming the early plus mail vote is 80% of final turnout, then we will see about 360K voters on Tuesday, which gets us up right to 1.8 million, or close to 75% turnout overall. Even if you think we’re at 85% of final turnout, we’re still talking almost 1.7 million voters, which is about 68% turnout. Hell, we’re already at 58% turnout for the county. People have shown up to vote, bigtime.

Here’s the Derek Ryan email for Thursday.

Yesterday, Texas surpassed the total turnout from the 2016 General Election. A total of 9,033,154 people have voted through yesterday. In 2016, 8,969,226 people voted. That is impressive, but Texas’ population has grown and the number of registered voters has grown as well, so it’s not surprising that the number of people who vote has increased. What amazes me even more is that we’re at 53.3% turnout. If 500,000 people end up voting today (we’ve averaged 512k each day), that would put turnout at 56.2%. The total turnout percentage in 2016 was 59.4%. We could end early voting only three percentage points away from matching the 2016 turnout percentage.

So, yes, I am still of the belief that we will surpass 12 million voters / 73% turnout. If I’m wrong, you have my permission to withhold payment for providing these daily reports. If I’m right, feel free to create a GoFundMe account to raise funds to send me to Las Vegas where I can put my prediction skills to real work.

There are still 3.6 million registered voters who voted in at least one of the last four General Elections (2012, 2014, 2016, and/or 2018) who have NOT voted yet.

Voters who have most recently voted in a Republican Primary have a 400,000 vote advantage over voters who have most recently voted in a Democratic Primary, but that advantage pales in comparison to the 4,182,000 people who have voted early and have no previous Republican or Democratic Primary election history.

Let’s talk about that 4.1 million number for moment. The presidential and statewide campaigns likely have modeling data they use to determine who these people are and who they likely voted for. I can’t provide that sort of detail. What I can provide is a breakdown of this group based on how their precinct has performed in the past. Of the 4.1 million voters without primary history, 1.7 million live in precincts which typically vote 60%+ Republican; 1.2 million live in precincts which typically vote 60%+ Democratic; and 1.2 million live in precincts in the 40% – 59.9% range. Naturally, there are Democrat voters who live in Republican precincts and Republican voters who live in Democratic precincts, so it is important to note that this isn’t a precise measure for determining any outcomes. What it can provide us is an idea as to where these voters are coming from within the state.

The full report is here. I’ll append the final email when I get it. I may have some further thoughts about this EV process before Tuesday. I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip through the data.

Meet your new Election Administrator

Solid choice.

Isabel Longoria

The Harris County Elections Commission on Friday appointed Isabel Longoria as the county’s first election administrator, who will assume the voter registration and election management duties that currently fall to the county clerk and tax assessor-collector.

Longoria, a 32-year-old currently serving as a special adviser to the county clerk on voting rights, will lead the new elections administration office created by Commissioners Court in July. Most of the large urban counties in Texas already had adopted the administrator model, which allows one official to be responsible for all election-related duties.

County Clerk Christopher Hollins, who is running the current general election, will step down from his role next month. He previously told the Chronicle he had no interest in the administrator job.

[…]

An obscure five-member body called the county election commission selected Longoria on a 3-2 vote. County Judge Lina Hidalgo, Hollins and Harris County Democratic Party Chairwoman Lillie Schecter voted in favor; Harris County Republican Party Chairman Keith Nielsen and Tax Assessor-Collector Ann Harris Bennett were opposed.

Nielsen and Bennett previously had objected to appointing an elections administrator who is not accountable to voters.

Harris County will still have an elected county clerk and tax assessor-collector. However, they no longer will be responsible for any election-related duties. Historically, the roles were bifurcated because the tax assessor until the 1960s was responsible for collecting a poll tax.

See here for the background, and give my interview with Commissioner Ellis a listen to understand why he pushed for this. I was at best ambivalent about the idea, but he did a lot to persuade me. Picking Isabel Longoria, who is smart and accomplished and will for sure be a force for good with respect to voting rights and expanding access to the vote, does even more. I know that the ideal was to have someone in place before the election, so that person could get familiar with Harris County’s elections operations, but Longoria is already there, so that’s also a plus. Here’s an interview I did with Longoria last year when she was a candidate for City Council District H. I think she’ll do a great job, and I have high expectations.

Paxton completes his housecleaning

Only loyalists left.

Best mugshot ever

The last of the seven top aides who accused Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton of criminal violations has resigned from the agency.

Ryan Bangert, who served in one of the agency’s highest posts as deputy first assistant attorney general, resigned Wednesday, he told The Texas Tribune. The attorney general’s office did not respond to a request Wednesday seeking to confirm Bangert’s employment status.

“It has been my honor and privilege to serve alongside the men and women of the Office of the Attorney General,” Bangert said in a statement. The Dallas Morning News first reported the information.

Two of the other whistleblowers were fired last week, two more were put on leave, and two others have already resigned — leaving the sprawling agency without seven of its top officials. A spokesman for Paxton denied that the firings were retaliation, citing unspecified violations of agency policy.

See here for the previous update. Just a coincidence that this all happened at this time, I’m sure. Having such a mass exodus, mostly forced, of one’s most trusted staff isn’t a great sign no matter how you spin it. Even if we believe Paxton’s story that a bunch of rogue underlings cooked up this lie about him to distract from their own bad behavior, the fact would remain that he hired and trusted all those people who then went on to do such bad things. I’ll agree that’s better than if those allegations about him are true, but it still paints a picture of a guy who isn’t good at his job. But better incompetent than incarcerated, I suppose. Only if you buy his story, of course. And I see no reason to do that.

It’s still not too late to prevent a big spike in COVID infections

But it will be soon.

A rise in COVID-19 cases has health care officials and government leaders pleading with Houstonians: Act now to prevent, or at least minimize, a third wave of infections across Greater Houston.

“This feels a lot like late May, early June when we saw the early warning signs that things were beginning to increase,” Dr. Marc Boom, president and CEO of Houston Methodist, told the Chronicle on Tuesday, “and then things slipped out of our control.”

According to a Chronicle analysis, the seven-day rolling average for newly reported cases was 1,044.2 as of Monday in an eight-county Houston area. That’s the highest since Oct. 8. In the summer, the rolling average peaked July 17 at 2,432.7.

The rate at which the virus is spreading, called the reproduction rate, reached 1.18 across a nine-county Houston area as of Monday, according to the Texas Medical Center. A number below 1, which the Houston area did report for a few weeks, means the virus is burning out. A number above 1 means that virus spread is increasing. During the COVID-19 spike this summer, Houston’s reproduction rate was in the 1.5-1.7 range when things were getting out of control, Boom said.

Finally, the seven-day average for COVID test positivity rate was 4.2 percent for TMC hospital systems as of Monday. It had been 3.4 percent last month.

For the city, Mayor Sylvester Turner on Monday reported the positivity rate was 6.5 percent as of Oct. 21. Statewide, the positivity rate was 9.42 percent as of Monday.

[…]

Houston-area case increases are not as severe as in other parts of the country and state. In the U.S., 489,769 new cases have been reported since Oct. 20. There are surges in Wisconsin and other Midwest states. In El Paso, state health officials converted a convention center into a makeshift hospital to ease the crush of patients.

Still, Shreela Sharma, an epidemiologist at UTHealth School of Public Health, knows how quickly COVID cases can climb. And she said the number of new cases in the Houston region is roughly 40 percent higher than when the summertime peak began. That means if a third wave does occur, it would start with a higher baseline.

The time is now to wear masks, practice social distancing and wash your hands.

“Our window is right now,” she said. “We could rapidly lose that window over the next few weeks.”

Yes, that is the one piece of good news. We know how to get a handle on this, and we’ve been doing it all along. Wear your mask – yes, wear it while voting, too – maintain social distancing, and avoid indoor gatherings. This week’s colder weather excepted, we’re in much better shape to handle the winter than the northern climes, because for most of our winter it’s still perfectly amenable outside for activities and dining and whatnot. Again, just don’t be an idiot. Do the things that you know you need to do. The alternatives are so, so much worse.

One more thing:

Researchers with Houston’s Health Department will monitor the wastewater flushed from 60 schools and 15 senior living homes in the city for COVID-19 in hopes of catching outbreaks before they arise in clinical testing.

City council on Wednesday unanimously approved $11.5 million in federal COVID-19 spending. Included in that was $221,000 to buy the sampling equipment needed to expand the city’s existing wastewater testing program into K-12 schools in areas with high positivity rates.

People shed the novel coronavirus through feces, regardless of whether they experience symptoms. The samplers will be installed in manholes outside the schools, and researchers will analyze them, looking for the virus.

“It’s very granular,” said Dr. Loren Hopkins, the health department’s chief environmental science officer. “We don’t expect to see any positives at all, we expect to see nothing… If we see something in a school and we see it two days in a row, then we know someone in that school is shedding the virus.”

The department would then alert the school and deploy the more traditional, clinical testing, according to Hopkins.

Don’t laugh, this is an effective method of contact tracing. It’s already been used successfully by the city. Now, if there are people who can test wastewater to see if your poop has the COVID virus in it, you can damn sure keep wearing your mask.