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October 25th, 2022:

November 2022 Day One EV totals: The in person experience

Here’s your Chron story about Day One of early voting.

More than 60,000 registered voters Harris County decided Monday they couldn’t wait any longer to cast a ballot for their choices in the 2022 midterm election.

Monday was the first day of early voting in Texas, and more than one out of every 50 Harris County turned out to cast their ballots, according to the Harris County Elections Administration office. Voters this year are casting votes for Texas governor and Harris County judge, along with dozens of other state and local races. In Harris County, a printed-out ballot would be 20 pages long, officials said

Few problems were reported at the county’s 99 early voting locations Monday, but voters did find themselves standing in line waiting to cast their votes.

[…]

Texas now has nearly 17.7 million voters, which is 1.9 million more than four years ago, according to the Texas Division of Elections.

Harris County alone has about 2.6 million registered voters. Since 2018, about 230,000 people have been added to the rolls in Texas’ most populous county.

Most people across the state are expected to vote early, which has been the trend for Texas elections since 2008.

Whether this year’s midterm will have record turnouts remained to be seen. Elections officials in the largest counties outside of Harris County said turnout appeared to be slightly lower on the first day of early voting, compared to the 2020 and 2018 elections.

Here’s the story about voter registration totals, which I’ll get into separately. You’re here for the daily EV totals, and I aim to please:


Year     Mail    Early    Total
===============================
2014   41,520   20,215   61,735
2018   52,413   63,188  115,601
2022   21,779   60,834   82,613

I’m just focusing on midterm elections this time. The third week of early voting in 2020 makes any comparisons there hard to do. Final EV totals from 2018 are here and from 2014 are here. The Day One totals for 2022 are here.

Two things to note. One is that the mail ballots are way down, not just from 2018 but also from 2014. I saw some speculation about this on Twitter, as statewide mail ballots are also way down, that it’s mostly Republicans giving up on voting by mail due to the constant brainwashing about it by their lord and master The Former Guy. We can’t be sure about that, but it’s a reasonable hypothesis. We’ll know for sure when the votes get tallied. I’d guess that some number of other mail voters have also decided just to vote in person and not mess with that hassle now.

Two, the in person total for today is pretty close to what we had in 2018. Remember how much we freaked out about the turnout that year? I suspect in the end we’ll be pretty close, and may very well surpass it. Remember, we have a lot more voters now, so for a similar percentage of turnout the absolute total will be higher, and I also think we may have more Election Day voting, with probably more Republicans waiting till then. I’ll feel better about making pronouncements after a few days of actual voting.

I will try to post these daily, but may fall a day behind depending on how busy my evenings are. For now, this is where it is. Have you voted yet?

UH/Hobby poll: Mealer 47, Hidalgo 45

They’re the only outfit that has polled Harris County so far, so at least there’s a basis for comparison.

A new poll of Harris County voters shows that Alexandra del Moral Mealer and Lina Hidalgo are neck and neck in the race for county judge as early voting begins Monday.

Mealer, a Republican, held a slight lead over the Democratic incumbent Hidalgo, winning 47 percent of likely voters compared to Hidalgo’s 45 percent, according to the new poll from the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston.

The margin of error in the poll, however, is 3.9 percent, and 8 percent of likely voters were still undecided. That suggests that “the county judge race in Harris County is a statistical dead heat, with del Moral Mealer and Hidalgo effectively tied in regard to the vote intention of Harris County likely voters,” the poll said.

The Hobby School conducted the poll by texting likely Harris County voters and directing them to an online survey, which 625 people filled out.

Poll results show that the county judge contest is significantly closer than the gubernatorial race in Harris County, with Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke holding an 8-percent lead over Republican Greg Abbott.

[…]

Mealer held a 19-percent lead over Hidalgo among white voters, 56 percent of whom said they plan on voting for Mealer. The race is neck and neck among Latino voters, who favor Mealer over Hidalgo 47 percent to 44 percent, within the poll’s margin of error. Black voters overwhelmingly support Hidalgo, the poll said, by a rate of 73 percent to 17 percent.

The Hobby School also polled 350 likely voters in Precinct 4 for their opinions on the commissioner race between Jack Cagle and his Democratic challenger, Lesley Briones. Cagle, the Republican incumbent, leads Briones 40 percent to 35 percent, but 25 percent of likely voters remain undecided, the poll shows.

The poll also indicated that the county’s $1.2 billion bond proposals, supported by county Democrats and opposed by Republicans, could pass a referendum in the November election. The most popular proposal was the most expensive — a $900 million bond for road improvements, including drainage projects. It enjoyed support from 63 percent of likely voters, according to the poll.

See here for their previous poll from July, which had Hidalgo up 48-47 among likely voters, for which the poll data is here. I’ll be referring to that in a minute. The poll’s landing page is here and data for this poll is here. Note that in the early version of this story, the Chron had Cagle up 45-30, but if you look at the poll data document, it’s supposed to be 40-35. A huge number of Democrats in the poll are undecided, so there’s plenty of room for Briones to grow.

The one other sort-of poll of Harris County was the UH-TSU Texas Trends poll from September, which had Hidalgo up by 52-42 and winning Latino voters by a wide margin. This is not a direct comparison, however, because that was a smaller sample (195 voters) taken from a statewide poll. This October poll has a sample size of 625 while the July poll was from 325 voters, which meant the earlier one had a larger margin of error. Hold onto that thought for a minute.

The July poll has a slightly more Republican electorate – 43% Dem, 40% GOP, to 36-30 in this sample, with more independents in October – and basically no self-proclaimed Dems voting for Mealer. The July poll had Beto up over Abbott 51-42 among likely voters, while this one has Beto up 50-42. Assuming nothing weird with the undecided voters, this would have Beto on track for about 54% in Harris County, and we know what that means. This poll says that about 6% of Beto voters are voting for Mealer with 10% of Beto voters undecided; 95% of Abbott voters are voting for Mealer, only 1% for Hidalgo, and the rest undecided.

Taken as a whole, this would suggest that Mealer has had some success chipping away at Hidalgo’s base of support. Maybe that’s true, and if so that would be a key to her winning. I’ve expressed my skepticism about the Latino vote breakdown in these polls before, but the thing that really made me cock and eyebrow this time around was Mealer leading Hidalgo 48-43 among millennial/Gen Z voters; Hidalgo had led among this cohort 52-42 in July. These are the most Democratic voters in the state, and while this is surely a small enough subsample to make comparisons across the two polls dicey at best, I have to say, I find that unlikely. Alas, they don’t break down the Governor’s race data in the same fashion, so I can’t tell if their younger voter sub-population is weird as a whole or just weird in this way. For what it’s worth, in what is an even smaller subsample, Lesley Briones leads Jack Cagle among the younger cohort 33-32, with a bunch of undecideds. Make of that what you will.

Speaking of subsamples and margins of error, this bit from the Chron story made me grind my teeth:

The race is neck and neck among Latino voters, who favor Mealer over Hidalgo 47 percent to 44 percent, within the poll’s margin of error.

Emphasis mine. That’s not how this works. You have to calculate the margin of error for the subsample if you want to invoke it in this way, not the MoE for the entire poll. Latinos were 27% of the sample in this poll, which is about 170 voters total. The margin of error for 170 voters is about 7.5% – just google “margin of error calculator” to see for yourself. This is why you have to be extra careful with subsamples in a poll.

Houston leads the way in resettling Afghan refugees

Nicely done.

The sudden crush of thousands of Afghans who arrived in Houston last fall forced local refugee resettlement agencies to drastically expand services in a matter of weeks.

Houston’s role as the top destination for evacuated Afghans stressed these agencies, which had diminished in scope following Trump-era cuts to refugee resettlement.

But leaders for these groups say there’s an unforeseen silver lining to the logistical hurdle of resettling more than 5,500 Afghans: Refugee resettlement in Houston is back and organizations are better prepared to welcome refugees from around the world.

“That was a test,” said Ali Al Sudani, who oversaw the quick expansion of refugee resettlement at Interfaith Ministries of Greater Houston last fall. “That’s going to help us prepare for coming years.”

[…]

In the unpredictable world of refugee resettlement, organizations rely on a mix of public and private funds to maintain their programs. Agencies get money from the U.S. State Department for each new person they resettle. So when the Trump administration dropped the number of refugee arrivals to a fraction of Obama-era numbers, that funding stream largely dried up.

The Houston area has been a historic hub for refugee resettlement. During the time of these funding cuts, local agencies took a major hit, limiting their capacity to serve local refugees. Larger groups got help from the region’s deep-pocketed philanthropists. But one small Houston-area organization retained just a single staffer to handle all new arrivals; other agencies shuffled positions or didn’t replace staff when people quit.

Elsewhere in the U.S. small refugee resettlement agencies shut their doors.

Then, about a year ago, everything changed. In September 2021, planes began shuttling beleaguered Afghan families from U.S. military bases to Houston. Many were starting new lives with just a suitcase, limited or no English and still wrecked from the trauma of a violent and sudden departure from their homes.

Agencies staffed up and scaled up their operations — refugee resettlement was back.

It was a rough ride. Some frustrated Afghans waited weeks in extended stay hotels and overworked caseworkers drove pregnant mothers, who suddenly had to worry about insurance and health care costs, to doctor appointments. Social Security cards were mailed to addresses people had left.

Staff stepped up, working long hours to meet Afghan families’ needs, and faith communities, veterans, hotel owners also came together to lend a hand — one person even donated a cow that could be slaughtered according to halal guidelines. A significant boost in support could be attributed to Americans’ rare bipartisan support for this particular immigrant population, due in part to the fierce allyship of U.S. veterans who depended on Afghans during the 20-year occupation of their country.

More evacuated Afghans resettled in Houston than any other U.S. city — in fact, Houston took in more of these families than 47 U.S. states — some 5,600 evacuated Afghans. Houston became home for about half of all Afghans who resettled in Texas.

Now that early interventions — the airport pickups, the apartment placements and school enrollments — have concluded the next phase of services involves language education, career counseling and time-intensive case support to help immigrants file the paperwork to remain in the country legally.

I don’t really have anything to add here except “welcome”. It’s not that long ago that Greg Abbott was demonizing Syrian refugees, so at least we’re not going through that again. God bless all the helpers, and I wish our new neighbors the very best.

Endorsement watch: The bonds

The Chron endorses a Yes vote for the Harris County bond propositions.

The Castlewood subdivision in northeast Harris County was one of many neighborhoods blighted by Hurricane Harvey’s torrential rains. One too many floods inundated the shallow drainage ditches and cracked the asphalt streets. The well-kept character of the affordable single-family homes and small businesses frayed.

Five years later, thanks to the $2.5 billion 2018 flood control bond that Harris County voters approved, Castlewood has transformed. The asphalt roads have been replaced with fresh concrete and lowered to improve drainage. Roadside ditches were replaced with sidewalks and curbs, with an underground storm sewer.

This year, county commissioners are asking voters for another $1.2 billion bond, divided into three separate ballot referendums: $900 million for roads, drainage, and multimodal transportation; $200 million for parks; and $100 million for public safety facilities. If not for these periodic bonds, projects like the Castlewood improvements would either never happen or languish in the planning process for years until funds became available.

Every six to eight years, the county asks voters to authorize leveraging its strong credit — an AAA rating, according to Moody’s, S&P, and Fitch rating agencies — to issue debt for investments into improving county infrastructure. Some bonds are dedicated to specific types of projects — the 2018 bond that included the Castlewood improvements was put on the ballot after Harvey exposed the dire flood control needs across the county — while previous bonds, such as the 2015 $850 million infrastructure bond, were more broadly defined.

While these bonds typically get approved, many voters may be wondering why the county is once again asking them to go back to the well this year, particularly as each bond comes with a slight increase to their property tax bills. Why not fund projects through a pay-as-you-go model, such as the one that the city of Houston has for roads and drainage projects?

The reason is primarily statutory; even if the county wanted to adopt a pay-as-you-go system, it would require a change to state law. The Texas tax system essentially forces counties to use debt as the primary instrument for capital improvements. And because Harris County has a healthy cash balance and credit rating with a rapidly growing real estate market, it can borrow for cheaper than most jurisdictions.

If voters approve the 2022 bonds, each county precinct will receive a baseline of $220 million worth of funding, though some will receive more based on the “worst-first” criteria the county has adopted to prioritize projects based on the number of people they benefit.

The average homeowner would pay an additional $32 per year in property taxes for the life of the bond program — 25 years — based on estimated 2022 tax values. But voters likely won’t see that large of an increase for years, because the county continues to retire more and more debt each year. For instance, the county is spending $54 million less on debt than it did four years ago and will pay off approximately $193 million of its general obligation debt next year. And as more properties get built every year across the county, the tax burden will be spread out even further.

See here for the background. Bond issuances usually pass, and I don’t see anything to suggest these will have much trouble. There are also city of Houston bonds on the ballot, but as of Monday evening the Chron had not weighed in on them yet. I don’t know if their decision to not endorse in the non-criminal courts will carry over from the primaries to the general; if so, then those races still need their attention as well. Otherwise, I think they’re basically done.