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absentee ballots

If we’re lucky, Congress will short circuit the Lege’s attempts to curtail voting

That would be nice.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Elections have consequences. So does the Republican enabling of the worst, most corrupt chief executive in the nation’s history. Hence, the first piece of legislation to be introduced in the new Democratic Senate will be S. 1, The for the People Act of 2021. The bill from Incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is a companion to H.R. 1 in the House, a bill with the same title and largely similar provisions to restore and protect voting rights, tackle dark money in politics, and make ethics reforms for public servants.

This could be the legislation that breaks the filibuster, and that will be a challenge for some Republicans to oppose. The House passed a version of the bill soon after retaking the majority in the last Congress, but no Republican in the Senate had to face a vote on it because Mitch McConnell just refused to bring the bill to the floor. Upping the stakes is Project Lincoln, the never-Trumper Republicans who made a big splash against Trump and his enablers in the GOP. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent has the scoop that Project Lincoln supports it. “If Republicans want to move past Trump and repudiate Trumpism in all its forms, they need to pass foundational reforms to democracy,” Reed Galen, co-founder of the group told Sargent. “Senate Republicans must make a choice: Do they stand for democracy or are they the new Jim Crow caucus?”

Here’s some of what they have to decide on: universal registration of eligible voters and simple voter registration maintenance available to all voters online, Election Day voter registration, limiting voter purges by states and requiring early voting, as well as restricting hurdles states can impose on voting and vote by mail; restoration of the protections in the Voting Rights Act overturned by the Supreme Court and blocked by McConnell; and independent redistricting commission in the states to end gerrymandering. On the dark money front, it would impose new disclosure requirements both on donations and on lobbying, and require presidents and vice presidents to release their tax returns.

Some of these things directly address bills that will be or have been introduced this session, while others would allow Democratic agenda items to bypass that insurmountable obstacle. HR1 also addresses redistricting, but it is not clear that it will address it for this reapportionment cycle or if it would wait till 2031. That seems like a risk to me, but it may also be a moot point if the legislation can’t be passed in a timely fashion. And of course, anything Congress passes will be litigated, and that which is not litigated will be subject to various weaselly attempts to get around it. So no matter what, this is a long-term story. But at least there’s a chance it could be one with a more affirming narrative.

SCOTUS rejects TDP petition on vote by mail

Back to the lower court, I think.

The U.S. Supreme Court turned away a Democratic bid to force universal vote-by-mail in Texas, leaving intact a state law that lets people cast no-excuse absentee ballots only if they are 65 or older.

The Texas Democratic Party and its allies argued unsuccessfully that the law violates the Constitution’s 26th Amendment, which says the right to vote “shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of age.”

Voting by mail became a sharply partisan issue amid President Donald Trump’s unsupported contentions that the practice led to widespread fraud in the November election. Texas’s Republican governor and attorney general urged the Supreme Court to reject the Democratic appeal.

A divided federal appeals court in September rejected the 26th Amendment claim, saying the Texas law didn’t make it more difficult for anyone to vote. The panel left open the possibility the law could be challenged as a violation of the Constitution’s equal protection clause.

The Supreme Court also rejected Texas Democrats in June, when the justices refused to reinstate a trial judge’s order that would have let any voter request an absentee ballot to avoid the risk of contracting Covid-19. That order, which was blocked by the appeals court, was designed to govern the 2020 election and might have boosted Democrats’ prospects.

See here for the last update, which was a petition for review of the Fifth Circuit ruling that kept intact the existing law on vote by mail in Texas as the original lawsuit that claimed the existing law violated the 26th Amendment is litigated. If I understand this correctly, the original case needs to be re-argued, with guidance from that Fifth Circuit ruling, and then once there is a ruling on the merits, we’ll go through the appeals process again. Or maybe not, if Congress and President Biden can pass a new Voting Rights Act that would allow for this nationally. I don’t see that particular provision in there now, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t or wouldn’t be there. Anyway, it’s kind of a non-starter now, since the effort was to make that happen in 2020, but it’s never too late to make it easier to vote. Just don’t expect anything to happen in the short term, outside of what Congress may do. Reuters has more.

How bad will the attack on voting be this session?

Hard to say, but there’s no reason to be particularly optimistic.

As the country’s political polarization reaches a boiling point — illustrated vividly Wednesday by the violent takeover of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of the president who believed his false claims that the election was stolen — Texas Republicans are seeking to make some of the nation’s strictest voting laws even stricter.

They say the unrest sparked by the events Wednesday is likely to invigorate discussions over the matter in the state Legislature, where the 2021 session will begin Tuesday.

Several election-related bills have been filed by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle — though their aims are in direct opposition, with Democrats looking to ease up laws they see as suppressing the vote and Republicans trying to curb the opportunities for the fraud they say plagued the 2020 election.

Democrats have filed about two-thirds of the election-related bills, with the other third coming from Republicans.

“If this week has highlighted anything, it’s that we need to protect and encourage democracy and that it’s fragile,” said Rep. John Bucy III, an Austin Democrat who sits on the House Elections Committee. “And so these types of bills are worth the investment.”

Election integrity was voted one of the Texas GOP’s top eight legislative priorities in 2020 by its members. Republican bills include measures to tighten mail voting restrictions and stop governors from changing election laws during disasters, two concerns that President Donald Trump raised in his election challenges.

[…]

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, filed legislation that would codify a Texas Supreme Court decision that blocked Harris County from sending mail ballot applications to every registered voter in the county ahead of the November election. Texas is one of 16 states that require voters to have an excuse to vote by mail.

Bettencourt said Harris County’s move to mail the applications “would have certainly caused more voter confusion” because most recipients would not have been eligible for an absentee ballot. The state Supreme Court ruled last year that voters’ lack of immunity to the coronavirus alone does not qualify as a disability that makes them eligible to vote by mail, but could be one of several factors a voter may consider.

Other bills filed by Republican lawmakers aim to correct the voter rolls, such as one filed by newly elected Sen. Drew Springer that would require voter registrars to do various checks for changes in address on an annual basis.

Springer said the bill was inspired by an Ohio law that the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 upheld that allows the state to purge voters from the registration rolls if they do not return a mailed address confirmation form or don’t vote for two federal election cycles. The Texas bill would require registrars to use data from the U.S. Postal Service and property records for inactive voters to identify possible changes of address, then to send the notice requesting confirmation of their current residence.

The Bettencourt bill, as described, doesn’t concern me much. Even in 2020, and even with all of the COVID-driven changes to election procedures, not that many people voted by mail, and the vast majority of those who did were over 65. Those folks will get their vote by mail applications one way or another. Unless there’s more to this, this bill is all show.

The Springer bill is potentially more concerning, but the devil will be in the details. I continue to have hope for a revamped federal law that will do a lot to protect voting rights that will blunt the effect of efforts like these, but it’s very much early days and there’s no guarantees of anything yet.

I did not excerpt a section of the story in which Rep. Steve Toth will propose a constitutional amendment that would require a special session of the Legislature in order to renew a state of disaster or emergency declaration past 30 days. It’s presented as a voting rights-adjacent measure, prompted in part by Greg Abbott’s extension of the early voting period, but as we discussed many times last year, there’s a lot of merit in asserting the role of the Legislature in these matters. I don’t trust Steve Toth any more than I trust Steven Hotze, but on its face this idea is worth discussing. It also would require a substantial number of Dems to support it, so there’s room for it to be a positive force. We’ll see.

There are bills put forth by Dems for obvious things like online voter registration, same day registration, no excuses absentee balloting, and so forth, all of which have little to no chance of being adopted. I’ve said before that I think people like voting to be easy and convenient for themselves and that Democrats should campaign on that (among other things), so I’m delighted to see these bills. I just know they’re not happening this session.

Beyond that, I’m sure there will be worse bills filed than what we’ve seen here. I won’t be surprised if there’s a push to amend the voter ID law to include absentee ballots, now that those are no longer seen as Republican assets. I’m sure there will be a bill officially limiting mail ballot dropoff locations, and maybe one to limit early voting hours. For sure, there’s a significant contingent of Republicans that would like to make voting extra super inconvenient for everyone, as well as make the penalties for whatever minor offense Ken Paxton can find to charge someone with as harsh as possible:

Laugh at the lunacy that is Allen West all you like, the man is in a position of influence. Note also the attack on drive-through voting, which is another likely target even without this hysteria. I don’t know how far the Republicans will go, but they’ll do something. We can do what we can to stop them, and after that it’s all about winning more elections. It’s not going to get any easier.

What is the direction of voting by mail?

It was different in 2020, but that doesn’t mean it’s permanently different.

Democratic voters in Texas were more likely to cast their ballots by mail than Republican voters in the last election.

Today, that may sound like a forgone conclusion, but that wasn’t the case four years ago. Absentee ballots, which only certain groups of Texans are eligible to use, have traditionally been a tool utilized by the GOP, and in 2016, counties reported that higher percentages of Republican voters cast absentee ballots than Democratic voters.

The reason for the swap? It came from the top. Experts and political operatives note that President Donald Trump spent months attacking the credibility of mail-in voting to his Republican base while national and state Democrats launched their largest-ever push to support the method as a safe option to vote in the pandemic.

Other factors at play this election season in Texas included an increase in participation by younger voters who lean Democratic, many of them college students living out of state. Democrats also were more likely to take coronavirus risks and precautions more seriously, leading them to look for ways to stay out of the polls during the pandemic, experts on both sides of the aisle said.

In total, Texans cast 1 million absentee ballots before Election Day, up from less than 500,000 in 2016, according to the Texas secretary of state’s office.

[…]

In November, about 39% of all ballot-by-mail voters had most recently voted in the Democratic primary, compared to about 26% who had most recently voted in the Republican primary, said GOP consultant and data analyst Derek Ryan, who tracks statewide voting trends. The rest did not vote in the primaries, Ryan said. Just over 2 million people voted in each primary in March.

That’s almost a complete flip from 2016, when 41% of people who voted by mail in the general election had voted in the Republican primary, while only 26% had voted in the Democratic primary, Ryan said.

More than 120,000 mail-in voters in November had never voted in a primary or general election before, Ryan said.

Overall, the influx of mail-in votes for Democrats didn’t give them a notable advantage, given that the GOP kept their majorities in state offices.

What it means for the future of participation in mail voting in Texas remains to be seen after an outlier year in which the pandemic led to an election unlike any other.

The story has more data about how voting by mail went in 2020, and quotes a friend of mine who’s a COVID long-hauler and took advantage of voting by mail for the first time this year because her health is now fragile. Some of this data we’ve discussed before, mostly from the daily early voting reports that Derek Ryan was putting out.

My personal sense is that for all the obvious reasons 2020 was mostly an outlier, and will not cause a large change in voting behavior. To the extent that it does cause changes, it will be mostly from the over-65 crowd that is already allowed to vote by mail. There may be some lasting damage to Republican vote by mail efforts, but as that did not appear to have any significant effect on the past election, it’s unlikely to have much effect on future elections. I think there is some risk inherent in a “do most of your voting on Election Day” strategy that hasn’t been discussed, and that’s the greater risk that an exogenous event on Election Day, such as bad weather or physical problems like a sewer overflow, that can have a negative effect on turnout. Not my problem, of course, and if it ever does happen in a way that might affect the outcome of an election, the irony will be so rich it will clog your arteries.

That said, there has been a multi-year effort by Democrats to push voting by mail for eligible voters. The HCDP has been aggressively pushing mail ballot applications to its over-65 voters for several cycles now, and there are similar programs being done by the TDP and other county parties. I don’t see that changing, and it may well be that more people respond to those entreaties in future years, but by its nature this is somewhat limited. The total number of mail ballots returned in Harris County in 2020 was about 180K, making it about 10.8% of all ballots cast last year. In 2016, there were 101K mail ballots cast, which was 7.6% of the total. It’s just not that big a change.

Really, the seismic change in 2020 was the shift to early in-person voting, where nearly as many people voted in 2020 (1,273,936) as in all of 2016 (1,338,898). That was aided by the third week of early voting, which we won’t have going forward barring any changes to the law, as well as the intense interest in that election. That’s a change in behavior that I could see sticking, as was the case with early voting after the 2008 election. Before 2008, it was assumed that less than half the vote came in early. In recent elections before 2020, the general wisdom was that about 70 to 75% of the vote was early (including vote by mail). In 2020, almost 88% of the vote was cast before Election Day. Maybe it won’t be quite that high in 2022 and 2024, but I think the expectation is that early voting is make or break, and Election Day matters that much less. (Which, to be fair, mitigates that risk I spoke of earlier. As we just saw in Georgia, though, if you’re not getting your voters out early, you may not be able to catch up later.)

Even then, this was one year, and who knows what the next election will bring. Also, as discussed elsewhere, this pattern holds much more for even-year elections than odd-year elections. We kind of get the year off in 2021, as there are no city of Houston races to be had, though there are some races of interest elsewhere in the state. If there’s one lesson to be taken from the 2020 voting experience, I say it’s that people liked having options for how and where and when to vote. To the extent that Republicans try to take that away, which remains to be seen, the Dems should be up front about the fact that we like having those options as well, and we think they should be a permanent feature of our elections. Vote how you want, we say.

The Republican war against Harris County

To be fair, it’s not just Harris County that’s in the crosshairs, it’s the big urban counties, and cities in general. But it’s real and it’s dangerous and it’s anti-democratic.

Republicans in the Texas Legislature are gearing up to bar local governments from hiring lobbyists, punish cities that reduce their police budgets and restrict county judges’ power during future pandemics when lawmakers convene in Austin later this month.

The measures are sure to escalate the long-running feud between Texas’ conservative leaders and the mostly Democratic officials who run the state’s largest cities and counties. And while higher profile items such as coronavirus relief and redistricting are expected to eat up much of the 140-day session, Republicans have made clear they will carve out time for items such as the lobbying ban.

“In terms of (taxpayer-funded) lobbying, it’s morphed into a kind of partisan struggle,” said Michael Adams, chair of the political science department at Texas Southern University. “The Dems were hoping, particularly in the House of Representatives, they would fare better (in the November elections). But that didn’t happen, and so we still see the dominance of the Republican Party in all branches of the state government. And certainly I think they will send a signal.”

Local officials have been bracing for an especially difficult session since October 2019, when House Speaker Dennis Bonnen was caught on tape saying he had tried to make that year “the worst session in the history of the legislature for cities and counties.” Bonnen said he made his goal evident to “any mayor, county judge that was dumbass enough to come meet with me.”

[…]

Last session, Republicans nearly ushered through a bill to prevent large cities and counties from spending tax revenue on lobbying, but the measure died in the final days when voted down in the House. Bonnen in 2019 announced he would not seek re-election after he was heard on the same tape recording targeting fellow Republicans who opposed the lobbying ban.

Though the Legislature does not begin until Jan. 12, lawmakers already have filed numerous bills related to cities and other local entities. State Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, has proposed making cities liable for damages if they release someone from custody who was the subject of a federal immigration detainer request and that person commits a felony within 10 years.

A bill filed by state Rep. Jared Patterson, R-Frisco, would prevent cities and counties from requiring businesses to adopt labor peace agreements — in which employers agree not to oppose unionization efforts in exchange for employee unions agreeing not to go on strike — in order to receive a contract. State Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, has filed legislation that would allow business owners to halt local laws in court if the law “would result in an adverse economic impact” on the owner.

Swanson also filed a bill that would abolish the Harris County Department of Education, unless voters decide to continue it through a referendum on the November 2022 ballot. Conservative lawmakers have long sought to shutter or study closing the agency, the last remaining countywide education department in Texas.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, filed legislation that would codify a Texas Supreme Court decision that blocked Harris County from sending mail ballot applications to every registered voter in the county ahead of the November election. Swanson filed the House companion bill.

That’s a lot, and it doesn’t count the revenue cap, or this little gem that I had been unaware of:

During the 2019 legislative session, Abbott quietly backed a bill that would have maintained the current system in Texas’ rural Republican regions while changing it in more densely populated, mostly Democratic counties. That bill, which failed, would essentially have allowed the Republican governor to pick judges in the state’s Democratic areas, while Republican voters picked judges in the conservative areas.

I have to say, on reading all this my first reaction was why would anyone in Harris County want to be governed by people who hate us and want to do us harm? Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if Harris County were its own state. We’d have something like ten electoral votes all on our own, and we wouldn’t have to deal with this kind of bullshit.

It wasn’t always like this, of course. It’s not that long ago that “local control” was a Republican slogan rather than a quaint idea. But it’s also not that long ago that Harris was a Republican stronghold, and the radical shift in philosophy isn’t a coincidence. It’s very much of a piece with the Trump administration’s attacks on blue states, and of the increasingly bizarre and undemocratic legal arguments being made about this past election, including the one that the Supreme Court briefly considered that federal courts could overrule state courts on matters of state administration of elections. It has nothing to do with federalism or “states’ rights” or local control or any other mantra, but everything to do with the fact that Republicans don’t recognize any authority that isn’t theirs. If they don’t like it, it’s not legitimate, and the laws and the voters can go screw themselves.

This, as much as anything, is the tragedy of Dems not being able to retake the State House. With no check on their power, the Republicans are going to do what they want, and the best we can do is try to slow them down. It makes the 2022 election, and the continued need to break through at the statewide level, so vital. I’ll say it one more time, nothing will change until we can win enough elections to change the balance of power in this state. And if someone can give me an answer to that “how can Harris County become its own state” question, I’m listening.

So is anyone going to try to collect Dan Patrick’s reward money?

Here’s a nice little research paper for you:

On November 10, 2020, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick put out a press release stating, in relevant part, “[S]tarting today [I] will pay up to $1 million to incentivize, encourage and reward people to come forward and report voter fraud. . . . Anyone who provides information that leads to an arrest and final conviction of voter fraud will be paid a minimum of $25,000.” This concise Article analyzes whether Patrick’s statement constitutes an offer that contractually obligates him to pay in the event someone accepts by completing the requested action. Additionally, the potential existence of a campaign finance violation is considered.

[…]

Conclusion

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s press release likely constitutes an offer that would contractually obligate him to pay if someone accepts by completing the requested action. While a short tweet alone is likely not enough to constitute a contractual offer for a $25,000 reward, 28 Patrick’s press release probably is. Given the details provided, Patrick’s position as Lieutenant Governor, and the absence of any indication of it being a joke, a reasonable person would likely assume that completing the requested performance would entitle him to the stated payment.

Patrick should not only be concerned about a potential obligation to pay out the promised reward money but also the potentiality of a campaign finance violation. His press release announcing the award explicitly refers to supporting Trump in his efforts to identify voter fraud.29 And it is likely the case that Trump views such accusations of voter fraud favorably.30

You should download and read the whole thing, it’s short and sufficiently non-technical. My takeaway from this is that someone, perhaps on behalf of Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, should pursue this in court. There’s some merit to the claim that Patrick’s ridiculous offer meets the definition of a contract, and if nothing else it will make him spend time and money defending himself while keeping his dumb business in the news. I can think of worse things to do in 2021. Thanks to commenter Wolfgang for unearthing this little gem.

The proper level of seriousness

Meet John Fetterman (if you haven’t already), Lt. Governor of Pennsylvania and America’s foremost Dan Patrick troll.

John Fetterman

All John Fetterman wants for Christmas is the $3 million he says Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick owes him.

The Democratic lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania has been trolling his Republican counterpart for weeks to collect on the $1 million Patrick offered in November for evidence of fraud in the Nov. 3 election. Three supporters of President Donald Trump have now been charged in separate voter fraud schemes in Pennsylvania. Fetterman says they should all count for bounty purposes.

The most recent charges came this week — against the second Pennsylvania man to be accused of casting a ballot for Trump in the name of his deceased mother.

“We hit the jackpot with this last one,” Fetterman said. “There are three documented cases — three.”

“All I want for Christmas is my handsome reward from Dan Patrick,” Fetterman tweeted on Dec. 18 with a Christmas tree and pleading face emoji. Fetterman says he’ll donate the proceeds to food banks in the form of gift cards to Sheetz and Wawa, competing Pennsylvania convenience stores with die-hard followings.

Patrick has responded to Fetterman just once, in a tweet in November that read: “Faith in the electoral process is a serious issue. Transparency is critical. PA Dems brought this on themselves w/ last minute changes to election laws and counting ballots behind closed doors. Respond to the reports. Answer the questions. Stop the snide put-downs and #getserious”

Fetterman says he is serious — about debunking the false allegations being thrown at his state. He has taken the lead in Pennsylvania pushing back on bogus claims of voter fraud circulated by Trump and his allies. Patrick — honorary chairman of Trump’s campaign in Texas — and his million-dollar reward are helping to disprove those claims, Fetterman says.

“While it’s undoubtedly and undeniably hilarious these cases involved Trump voters and their dead mothers, it’s irrelevant because it documents how truly rare voter fraud is and how impossible it is to truly pull it off,” Fetterman said.

Fetterman has spent the last six weeks hounding Patrick, who he says is “just such a Trump simp, it’s just pathetic.”

“The thing that’s so especially galling is that people like him were smearing our state when we actually had an impeccable election,” Fetterman said. “They keep trying to malign and smear the quality work done by both sides — we’ve got way more Republican counties than Democratic counties. He’s smearing Republicans and Democrats alike when he impugns the electoral integrity.”

“If you’re going to smear my state, then you need to pay up, because we delivered what you asked for,” he said.

I trust you recall the Dan Patrick “one million dollars for voter fraud” challenge. Of course it was a ridiculous stunt by a shameless publicity whore – anyone else remember the time then-Sen. Dan Patrick, in his first term, brought a million dollars in actual cash to a press conference he’d called because he wanted to make sure everyone understood how much money that was? – and I doubt he gave it much thought beyond approving the media release, but I suspect Fetterman’s response caught him flat-footed. The prune-faced responses from Patrick and his press secretary would suggest they had no planned answer for anyone who took his “challenge” seriously. As such, he’s been thoroughly owned by someone who played the game at a much higher level than he did.

The great irony of this is that the relentless efforts by clowns like Patrick and Ken Paxton – and Greg Abbott before Paxton – to find and prove “voter fraud” on anything grander than a “dude who tried to cast a ballot for his dead mother” level is the best proof anyone could offer of the lack of same. I call this a “Bigfoot hunt” because the parallel is so clear – after decades of Bigfoot hunter tromping around the woods and forests without a single bone, footprint, pelt, or piece of scat to offer as proof of existence, what reasonable person could conclude anything other than there ain’t no such thing? We have literally tons of evidence of creatures that lived hundreds of millions of years ago, but not even one lousy sample of Bigfoot DNA. We have millions of dedicated “voter fraud” hunters, and they can’t come up with anything better than the Fetterman-supplied dude in Forty Fort impersonating his dead mother. You tell me what it means.

Ken Paxton’s attempted jihad against Harris County

Wow.

Best mugshot ever

Attorney General Ken Paxton tried to get the Trump administration to revoke millions in federal COVID relief funding that Harris County budgeted for expanding mail-in voting earlier this year, newly revealed records show.

Paxton wrote in a May 21 letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that Harris County’s plan was an “abuse” of the county’s authority and an “egregious” violation of state law. The letter was obtained and published by the Citizens For Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

“We respectfully ask the department to scrutinize its award of CARES Act funding to Harris County in light of the county’s stated intent to use federal funding in violation of state law, and to the extent possible, seek return of any amounts improperly spent on efforts to promote illegal mail-in voting,” Paxton wrote. “Without implementing adequate protections against unlawful abuse of mail-in ballots, the department could be cast in a position of involuntarily facilitating election fraud.”

The letter to Mnuchin illustrates the lengths Paxton went in his efforts to stop Harris and other counties from making it easier to vote by mail during the pandemic, which included suing Harris County as it tried to send mail ballots applications to all 2.4 million of its registered voters. The mail-ballot application push was part of the county’s $27.2 million plan to expand voting options, funded in large part through CARES Act money.

[…]

The Treasury Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether Mnuchin heeded Paxton’s request to investigate how Harris County used the funding.

In a written statement, County Judge Lina Hidalgo said that the loss of the funds “would have knocked the floor out of our citizens’ ability to vote safely” during an important election held in the middle of a global pandemic.

“This attempt to cut off emergency federal funding for fellow Texans is indefensible,” she said. “To do so in secret is truly a shame and I’m relieved this is now out in the open.”

Members of the Texas Democratic Party accused the attorney general of “picking fights” to distract from his personal life.

“In the middle of the biggest pandemic in American history, every Texan should have been afforded the opportunity to vote as safely as possible. Indicted Texas Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton continues to try to pick fights to distract away from his personal life and his abuse of office. Paxton is a carnival barker who has made Texas a laughingstock with his ridiculous inquiries and lawsuits. To restore trust in the Attorney General’s office, we must all band together to vote him and his abuse of power out in 2022.”

I suppose if there’s one thing that the year 2020 has been good for, it’s to serve as a reminder to me that I am still capable of being shocked. I can’t say that I’m surprised, because it was clear from the beginning that then-County Clerk Chris Hollins’ aggressive efforts to make voting easier, ably funded by Commissioners Court, were going to draw a heated response. I guess I had just assumed that the lawsuits filed by Paxton and others against the various things that Hollins pioneered were the response, with bills filed in the 2021 Legislature the culmination, but I had not expected this.

It is interesting that Paxton chose to fire this particular shot in secret. We would have found out about it at the time if he had succeeded, of course, but it’s strangely out of character for Paxton to do something like this under cover of darkness. Say what you will about Ken Paxton, the man does not lack confidence in the correctness of his positions. I don’t know what his motivation was for not being front and center about this – I mean, we saw the lawsuit he filed to overturn the election. Shame, or fear of being publicly dragged, are not inhibitions for him. Maybe he was afraid of spooking Secretary Mnuchin, who is generally less cartoon-y in his villainy. I’m open to suggestion on this point.

The story mentions that this letter came from the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which led me to this:

CREW obtained Paxton’s letter to Mnuchin as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Treasury Department, which remains ongoing.

The lawsuit in question is over the appointment of Louis DeJoy as Postmaster General. We might never have found out about this scurrilous and cowardly action otherwise.

I was going to spend more time in this post pointing out that Paxton’s allegations were 1) essentially baseless, and 2) should have been made in a lawsuit, as this would have fallen squarely under his law enforcement authority if Harris County were indeed breaking the law as he claimed, but honestly that CREW article laid it out thoroughly, so go read that for those details. The main takeaway here is that this wasn’t just a partisan dispute, which could and should have been carried out in public as so many other mostly ginned-up voting “controversies” this year were, it was 100% unadulterated bullshit from our despicable Attorney General. He’s not feeling any pressure to step down from his fellow Republicans, and do brace yourself for a pardon from our Felon in Chief, so it really is up to us to vote his sorry ass out in 2022. The Texas Tribune has more.

TDP asks SCOTUS to review age discrimination claim in mail voting

From the inbox:

Today, the Texas Democratic Party and voters filed their final brief with the U.S. Supreme Court, seeking its review of the case filed last Spring which challenged the constitutionality of Texas’s law that limits voting by mail, without excuse, to voters age 65 and older. The 26th Amendment prohibits “denying or abridging” the right to vote based on age, which Texas law does. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled in September that so long as all voters can vote in person, it does not abridge the right to vote if the state provides some voters with additional voting options. The Texas Democratic Party and voters argue this ruling runs contrary to the 26th Amendment and is inconsistent with U.S. Supreme Court precedent.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to confer regarding this case on January 8, 2021. On January 11, 2021, at 10:00 am ET, the Court will issue its orders list for the 2021 term. At that point, the Court may grant review of the case, deny review, or hold the case over for further consideration at a later time. If the Court grants review, the case could be heard this term, with a decision before Summer or it could decide to hear the case in its term beginning Fall of 2021. If the court denies review of the case, it will return to the U.S. District Court in San Antonio, where it will proceed to the final trial and, thereafter, potentially go back through the appeals process.

See here for my last update on this case, and here for a copy of the filing, which in fancy lawyer-speak is a “petition for a writ of certiori”. SCOTUSblog has a concise summary of the case so far. The brief makes three arguments, of which the first two are technical and boring to non-lawyers, but the third is a straightforward claim that the Fifth Circuit erred in its ruling:

The error in the Fifth Circuit’s reasoning was powerfully illustrated by the statement respondents’ counsel made at oral argument: “[I]f a state were to pass a law saying that White people must vote by personal appearance but Black people can vote by personal appearance or by mail-in balloting, …. the Fifteenth Amendment would not prohibit that law because that law does not deny or abridge the right to vote within the meaning of the Fifteenth Amendment.” Or. Arg. Rec. at 41:27-42:07. To state that position is to show its indefensibility.

1. The Fifth Circuit treated “abridge” as solely a temporal restriction: In its view, a state’s law does not “abridge” the right to vote when it adds voting opportunities for some, so long as one manner of voting remains in place for those not given the new voting opportunity. See BIO App. 38a. That holding is inconsistent with this Court’s precedents that the concept of abridgement “necessarily entails a comparison” of “what the right to vote ought to be.” Reno v. Bossier Par. Sch. Bd., 528 U.S. 320, 334 (2000).

Contrary to the Fifth Circuit’s arid resort to dictionary definitions of “abridgment,” BIO App. 33a34a, the proper baseline under the Fifteenth, Nineteenth, Twenty-Fourth, and Twenty-Sixth Amendments is given in the text of those amendments themselves. Those amendments provide that the right to vote shall not be abridged “on account of” or “by reason of” specific characteristics: “race,” “sex,” taxpaying status, or “age.” By their plain terms, those amendments call for a comparison between the law’s treatment of voters of different races, sexes, taxpaying statuses, or ages—not between the scope of the right a particular voter enjoyed yesterday and the scope of the right he or she enjoys today. It cannot be that the Fifteenth Amendment would have nothing to say if a jurisdiction gave white voters an early voting period, as long as it left untouched a preexisting ability for Black voters to cast a ballot in person on election day. But that perverse consequence is exactly what the Fifth Circuit’s logic commands.

The reason why the voting amendments use the word “abridge” is not to create a temporal comparison, but to make clear that any race-, sex-, taxpaying-, or age-based suffrage rule, and not only categorical denial of the right to vote, is covered. The Voting Rights Act, which was enacted to enforce the Fifteenth Amendment, illustrates this point. While Section 5, the provision at issue in Bossier Parish involved a statute with language explicitly requiring a temporal comparison, Section 2 echoes the Fifteenth Amendment text and requires an inter-voter comparison. Section 2(a) prohibits practices that result “in a denial or abridgement” of the right to vote on account of race or color or membership in a specified language minority. 52 U.S.C. § 10301(a). Section 2(b) declares that a violation of that prohibition occurs, among other things, when the plaintiff group has “less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice.” 52 U.S.C. § 10301(b) (emphasis added). That understanding of abridgment is also, as the petition explains, more consistent with this Court’s decision in Harman v. Forssenius, 380 U.S. 528 (1965). See Pet. 20-22.

Basically, the Fifth Circuit said that giving one set of voters (in this case, voters over the age of 65) something extra (no-excuses absentee ballots) was fine and not a form of discrimination against other voters, who were still able to vote. The TDP argues that the correct interpretation of the 26th and other amendments to the constitution is that not giving the under-65 voters the same benefit as the 65-and-older crowd is an abridgement of their rights, and thus unconstitutional. I think the plaintiffs have a solid argument, but as we know I Am Not A Lawyer, and also this particular Supreme Court is nobody’s friend when it comes to voting rights. We’ll know in January if we’ll get a short-term resolution or if this goes back to the trial court for a do-over.

Now we wait on SCOTUS

The state of Texas filed its reply to the defendants’ responses to its democracykilling lawsuit, and, well, it’s something.

Best mugshot ever

This brings us the Texas AG Ken Paxton’s reply–or, rather, replies, as there are multiple filings, including a motion to enlarge the word-count limit, a supplemental declaration dated today from Charles Cicchetti, and a new affidavit prepared yesterday from one Lisa Gage.

The first reply brief focuses on rebutting the factual and legal claims made by the four defendant states. The brief starts with the facts, and AG Paxton’s choice of emphasis here is quite interesting, as the brief leads with an extended defense of statistical stupidity contained in the initial filing and the Cicchetti declaration (hence the newly drafted supplemental declaration which is attached). Here, the Paxton brief argues “Dr. Cicchetti did take into account the possibility that votes were not randomly drawn in the later time period but, as stated in his original Declaration, he is not aware of any data that would support such an assertion.” In other words, because he does not know anything about the two sets of voters, it was okay to assume they were identical for purposes of assessing the statistical likelihood that they would vote differently. That this is the lead argument in the reply tells you most of what you need to know. (Well, perhaps not, as other parts of the factual discussion misrepresent claims made by defendant states or repeat claims that were considered and rejected in other suits over the past month.)

On the law, the Texas reply essentially argues that the handful of attorneys in the Texas AG’s office who were willing to sign on to the brief know more about the election laws of Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania than do the Attorneys General and Secretaries of State of those various states. It further argues that although state legislatures have “plenary” authority to set the manner in which states select electors, this somehow does not include the authority to authorize the involvement of courts and election agencies, and that the U.S. Supreme Court, not the supreme courts of the respective states, should be the final authority on the meaning of relevant state laws and constitutional provisions. (Yay federalism!)

The other Texas filing, styled as a reply in support of Texas’s plea for emergency injunctive relief, is not much better. It does, however, deploy a powerful use of capitalization in the Table of Contents (“Texas IS likely to prevail”). Note that Texas does not have to worry about any of the defendant states responding in kind (“Texas IS NOT likely to prevail”) because this is the last brief to be filed.

In this brief, Texas argues that it is not seeking to disenfranchise voters. Rather, Texas argues, “Defendant States’ maladministration of the 2020 election makes it impossible to know which candidate garnered the majority of lawful votes.” Of course, to the extent this were true, Supreme Court intervention would not be necessary. If the relevant state legislatures concluded that the results of the elections within their states were indeterminate–that the voters had failed to select electors on election day–they could act, but they have not. Here Texas repeats its arguments that federalism requires the Supreme Court ordering state legislatures to act and possibly even hold new elections because Texas does not like how other states have run their elections.

It’s already time for some tweets.

One possible way to avoid that outcome is for SCOTUS to shut this shit down hard.

The easy thing for the Supreme Court to do is simply deny Texas permission to file the complaint (and deny the motions to intervene as moot) and be done with it. No fuss, no muss.

But the court should do more. It is perfectly ordinary and appropriate for the justices to write an opinion explaining the various reasons why they are rejecting Texas’ request. Indeed, the minority of justices who think that the court is required to accept original actions like Texas’ may well write short opinions of their own or note that they think the case was properly filed. So there is nothing overreaching if a majority of the court explains why the case is meritless.

The justices’ decision whether to do that needs to account for this extraordinary, dangerous moment for our democracy. President Donald Trump, other supportive Republicans, and aligned commentators have firmly convinced many tens of millions of people that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. If that view continues to take hold, it threatens not only our national politics for the next four years but the public’s basic faith in elections of all types that are the foundations of our society.

A simple five-page per curiam opinion genuinely could end up in the pantheon of all-time most significant rulings in American history. Every once in a long while, the court needs to invest some of its accumulated capital in issuing judgments that are not only legally right but also respond to imminent, tangible threats to the nation. That is particularly appropriate when, as here, the court finds itself being used as a tool to actively undermine faith in our democratic institutions — including by the members of the court’s bar on whom the justices depend to act much more responsibly.

In a time that is so very deeply polarized, I cannot think of a person, group or institution other than the Supreme Court that could do better for the country right now. Supporters of the president who have been gaslighted into believing that there has been a multi-state conspiracy to steal the election recognize that the court is not a liberal institution. If the court will tell the truth, the country will listen.

I’m not so sure I share the optimism, but I agree it would be the best thing that SCOTUS could do.

More Republicans have lined up to join Paxton on his lemming suicide bomber dive, including some who are seemingly claiming their own elections are also tainted.

Maybe the most ridiculous thing about this ridiculous moment, is that among the 126 Republican House members who have signed on to a document that they know to be not just false in its content, but malicious in its intent, are 19 from states that are the subject of the suit.

So Representatives like Doug Collins and Barry Loudermilk in Georgia are arguing that their own elections were fraudulent. Except, of course, they’re not making that argument. They’re not making any argument. They’re just hoping to gain “street cred” from adding their signatures to a list of people who support Trump rather than America.

You know who else is on Team Dictatorship? Dan Crenshaw, that’s who. This Dan Crenshaw.

U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw told Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie that a woman who reported sexual assault at a VA hospital had filed frivolous complaints when she and Crenshaw served in the same Navy command, according to testimony by several senior officials in a report by the agency’s watchdog.

Investigators said they were troubled by the way Wilkie and his agency handled the outcry of the woman, who is now a Democratic aide in the House of Representatives.

The Houston Republican’s link to matter, first reported by Newsweek magazine, was included in a report released by the agency’s inspector general on Thursday. The report details a number of apparent problems with the agency’s handling of complaints filed by the veteran, Andrea Goldstein, who alleged a VA hospital contractor “bumped his entire body against mine and told me I looked like I needed a smile and a good time.”

[…]

Senior VA officials told investigators that Crenshaw passed along information about Goldstein to Wilkie, the report says, which both Crenshaw and Wilkie have denied.

The report points to an email Wilkie sent Chief of Staff Pamela Powers and Brooks Tucker, assistant secretary congressional and legislative affairs, after a fundraiser that he and Crenshaw both attended. It said: “Ask me in the morning what Congressman Crenshaw said about the Takano staffer whose glamor (sic) shot was in the New York Times.”

While Wilkie told investigators that Crenshaw approached him at the December 2019 fundraiser and brought up the veteran, he claimed that Crenshaw merely told him they served together. When investigators asked Wilkie why that information was enough to merit the email he sent after the fundraiser, he responded, “Well, I don’t remember. I have no idea.”

Both Powers and Tucker, however, told investigators they recalled Wilkie making comments about the veteran’s reputation “based on information they understood he received from Congressman Crenshaw.”

The report also says Deputy VA Secretary Jim Byrne told investigators that Wilkie had “verified with Congressman Dan Crenshaw that the veteran had previously filed frivolous complaints when the two were serving in the same command in the Navy.”

Crenshaw and his staff refused to answer VA investigators’ questions about the matter, the report says. Crenshaw’s office did not respond Thursday to a request for comment.

The Newsweek story is here. Remember Crenshaw’s craven refusal to answer questions about this the next time he tweets some garbage about how “all cases should be heard, all investigations should be thorough”. As a reminder, the Chron endorsed Crenshaw for re-election. The Orlando Sentinel has apologized for endorsing Rep. Michael Waltz, one of Crenshaw’s fellow members of the Sedition Caucus. I await the Chron taking similar action; merely excoriating Ken Paxton and Ted Cruz, without even mentioning Crenshaw for his role in this debacle, is insufficient.

Montana Governor Steve Bullock has observed, as part of his own amicus filing against the Paxton mess, that Texas did not include his state as a defendant even though Montana made the same kind of changes that Georgia et al did that Paxton finds so objectionable. Of course, Trump carried Montana, so it’s totally different. Governor Bullock also knows how to bring the snark:

SCOTUS may act on the Texas case even before I finish drafting this post, so let me wrap up while the outcome is still unknown. First, a few words from Adam Serwer about why Trump has so many rats following behind his rancid Pied Piper act:

To Trump’s strongest supporters, Biden’s win is a fraud because his voters should not count to begin with, and because the Democratic Party is not a legitimate political institution that should be allowed to wield power even if they did.

This is why the authoritarian remedies festering in the Trump fever swamps—martial law, the usurpation of state electors, Supreme Court fiat—are so openly contemplated. Because the true will of the people is that Trump remain president, forcing that outcome, even in the face of defeat, is a fulfillment of democracy rather than its betrayal.

The Republican base’s fundamental belief, the one that Trump used to win them over in the first place, the one that ties the election conspiracy theory to birtherism and to Trump’s sneering attack on the Squad’s citizenship, is that Democratic victories do not count, because Democratic voters are not truly American. It’s no accident that the Trump campaign’s claims have focused almost entirely on jurisdictions with high Black populations.

From Elizabeth Dye at Above the Law:

But perhaps we shouldn’t get waylaid in Constitutional and procedural niceties, lest we distract ourselves from the point that THIS IS BATSHIT. The state of Texas has filed a facially nonsensical suit purporting to vindicate the rights of the Defendant states’ legislatures from unconstitutional usurpation by overweening governors and state courts, a usurpation which supposedly violates the Elections Clause. And the proposed solution is for the Supreme Court itself to violate the Elections Clause by postponing the electoral college vote, thus usurping Congress’s power to “determine the Time of choosing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.”

And instead of saying, “Slow your roll, Ken Paxton! We’ve been banging the drum about states’ rights for two hundred years now. It’s kind of our thing, you know?” the intervenor states are all in on this Frankenstein hybrid of vote dilution and anti-federalism. Rather than acknowledging the reality of Trump’s loss, these attorneys general would rather attach their names to a complaint which claims that it’s just mathematically impossible for Biden to have won those four Defendant states because, ummm, Clinton lost them. Don’t ask how Trump was able to flip Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan after Obama won them in 2012 and 2008 — that formula is still being calculated.

Never mind that Texas’s governor Greg Abbott extended early voting by a week, the same dastardly usurpation of legislative prerogative which supposedly voids the election in the Defendant states. Pay no attention to the fact that Mississippi also allows votes to be counted if they arrive within three days of the election, which Paxton argues is patently illegal. Or that Utah conducted this election entirely by mail, which is, according to the complaint anyway, prima facie evidence of intent to allow vote fraud. IOKYAR.

The Trump motion to intervene is little more than a cleaned up version of the president’s Twitter feed, drafted by John Eastman, a law professor at Chapman University who is nonetheless confused about birthright citizenship and recently penned a racist Newsweek editorial wondering if Kamala Harris was eligible to run for president.

Mentioning this John Eastman character brings us to the final tweets, because all good blog posts about election theft end with tweets. These two are embedded in that ATL article:

As noted before, Lawrence Joseph is the outside counsel Ken Paxton hired for his lawsuit, since the Solicitor General declined to come on board. Wheels within wheels, y’all.

And finally, nothing could sum up this entire experience better than this:

From the neighborhood of New Heights in the city of New Houston and the state of New Texas, I wish you all a happy weekend. CNN has more.

UPDATE: Didn’t have to wait long, as it turns out.

The US Supreme Court on Friday rejected Texas’s unprecedented last-ditch effort to challenge President-elect Joe Biden’s win in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia, and Wisconsin by suing those four states in the high court.

At least a majority of the justices concluded that Texas lacked standing to bring the case at all, a threshold the state had to clear before the case could go any further.

“Texas has not demonstrated a judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another State conducts its elections,” the court wrote in the brief order.

No justice noted that they had dissented from the decision to knock out Texas’s case from the start. It would have taken at least five justices to agree to hear the case, but the justices don’t have to individually indicate how they voted, so there’s no way to know the vote breakdown for certain. Justice Samuel Alito Jr., joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, wrote that they believed the court had to allow Texas to file its lawsuit, but they wouldn’t have granted any other relief that the state requested.

It was a significant loss not only for Texas, but for President Donald Trump, who had asked to intervene in the case and spent the the past two days tweeting about why the justices should effectively hand him an election that Biden won. The court denied all of the other motions filed in the case as moot once it decided Texas couldn’t bring the case at all, which ended Trump’s bid to get before the justices.

There’s plenty more stories out there – go to Google News or Trending on Twitter if you haven’t come across any others. The Electoral College meets on Monday, and after that it really is over, though one presumes the delusions will continue. I’m going to finish with some more tweets. You should go outside and enjoy the day.

Not sure how I feel about this. It’s right there in the Constitution, but it’s also overturning the will of the voters, which is what the Sedition Caucus was trying to do. I am happy to have a discussion about this, however. Let these bastards explain why they haven’t violated the Constitution.

Speaking of bastards and being in opposition to the Constitution:

Yeah, I don’t even know what to say to that. But I would very much like to know what every elected Republican thinks about it. Let’s get them all on record, shall we? Rick Hasen has more.

I remain pessimistic about the chances of good voting bills passing

This Trib story suggests that with Republicans doing well in the high turnout 2020 election, and with the emergency measures that were implemented to expand voting access, the odds of getting a bill passed to make some forms of voting easier are as good as they’ve ever been.

Lawmakers and voting rights groups have been fighting over updates to Texas’ election systems for years, but issues heightened by the coronavirus pandemic have launched a new conversation over voter access.

This January, primarily Democratic lawmakers heading into the next legislative session are honing in on problems like backlogs in processing voter registrations, an unprecedented flood of mail-in ballots and applications that overwhelmed some elections offices, and a lack of viable alternatives to voting in person.

Outnumbered by GOP members in both chambers, Texas Democrats have seen their efforts to expand voter accessibility thwarted at virtually every turn for years.

But the pandemic-era challenges combined with strong Republican performance at the polls — which may have been boosted by record-breaking voter turnout across the state — has some lawmakers and political operatives believing there’s potential for conservatives to warm up to voting legislation that could improve accessibility.

A main reason is that voters of all political camps experienced some of these new ideas when they were introduced during the pandemic — things like drive-thru voting pilot programs, multiple ballot drop-off sites, turning in mail ballots during early voting and extended early voting — or realized that others, like online registration, would have made voting in the pandemic easier.

“My guess is [lawmakers are] going to hear from their Republican voters that they like to do this, and there will start to be Republicans championing these things, and they’re championing them from a majority point of view,” said Trey Grayson, a former Republican Kentucky secretary of state who was previously director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard University. “I would be shocked in five years if Texas didn’t have more of these reforms in place.”

Quinn Carollo Jr. is one of those Republican voters who said he applauded efforts in Texas to make it easier to vote. He was thrilled by Texas’ lengthy early voting period — which had been expanded from two weeks to three weeks because of the pandemic. He moved in recent years from Alabama, which doesn’t have early voting.

“There was plenty of opportunity to get by there and vote without dealing with a lot of lines on Election Day,” said Carollo, a 49-year-old transportation manager for a chemical company in Houston. “So I really enjoyed that. I’m all for it.”

Carollo said he’d like to see the longer voting period become a permanent part of Texas law, along with other reforms that might make voting easier and more accessible.

[…]

Bills already filed include legislation that would allow for online voter registration for those with driver’s licenses or state IDs, on-site voter registration at the polls during early voting and on election day, making election days state holidays, universal mail-in balloting, easing voter ID restrictions and allowing felony probationers and parolees to vote.

The idea of moving registration online is worth considering, given that some 41 other states have already implemented it, said Justin Till, chief of staff and general counsel for Republican state Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, who sponsored the 2019 bill that eliminated mobile polling sites and who has filed election fraud legislation to be considered this session.

“I don’t think it would be a problem if we were to transition. I know a lot of people are still hung up on the IT security part of it, which I get.” Till said. “So long as it’s a sound system, it will work fine and the other states that have implemented it thoughtfully have done so successfully.”

Till said Bonnen’s office would consider measures that could ease or expand access during early voting and eliminate long travel and wait times, such as extending the early voting period to three weeks and allowing counties to keep polling sites open beyond the state required minimum.

“If you can achieve that satisfaction point where everyone gets an opportunity to vote as quickly and as easily as they can, then you’re good,” Till said.

Voting rights advocates say that the experiences of millions of new voters in Texas this year could translate into election changes that are driven by the voters, not politics.

“I think a lot of people that had not been affected by some of the problems in our election systems were affected this time,” said Joaquin Gonzalez, staff attorney for the Texas Civil Rights Project. “So there are probably a lot more legislators who are hearing about it more from all walks of the aisle.”

A new “driving force” behind some legislation will be pressure to address or retain some voting initiatives that were born out of the pandemic, said Derek Ryan, a Republican consultant and voter data analyst in Austin.

These could include increased access to curbside voting, extended early voting periods and expanding countywide voting and online voter registration — the latter of which Ryan said was hit or miss with Republicans and “one of those issues that kind of splits the party.”

Among those that are anticipated but haven’t been filed yet are bills dealing with drive-thru voting, allowing 24-hour polling sites and making permanent a pandemic-era order by GOP Gov. Greg Abbott extending the early voting period to three weeks — all of them ideas that first appeared in some counties during the pandemic, several activists and lawmakers said.

”I think that after any election, we figure out that there are better ways to do things, and so there’s always some election legislation that kind of tries to clean up some of the process, but I think you’re probably going to see that even more so because of the pandemic,” Ryan said.

Maybe, but I’m going to see some hard evidence of this before I buy into the idea. The one place where maybe I can see something happening is with online voter registration, mostly because Republicans made a show of trying to register new voters this cycle, and running into the same problems everyone else who has ever tried to do this has run into, and that was even before the pandemic hit. The fact that there’s a staffer for a Republican legislator talking about it is of interest. I’m willing to believe something may happen here. As for everything else, my counterarguments are as follows:

1. The first bill out of the gate is a bill to restrict county election administrators from sending vote by mail applications to eligible voters, for no particular reason other than Paul Bettencourt’s sniffy disapproval of Chris Hollins doing it. It’s not an auspicious start, is what I’m saying.

2. While Greg Abbott did extend the early voting period and did allow for mail ballots to be dropped off during the early voting period (before then cracking down on where they could be dropped off), all of the prominent innovations like drive-through voting and 24-hour voting and multiple drop boxes were pioneered by local election administrators, most of whom were Democrats, with Chris Hollins in Harris County and Justin Rodriguez in Bexar County being among the leaders. I’d feel like this would be more likely if Abbott and the Lege were ratifying Republican ideas, rather than giving their stamp of approval to Democratic inventions. I admit that’s attributing a level of pettiness to Abbott and the Republicans in the Lege, but if we’re talking about the process being driven by feedback from the voters, I’ll remind you that the chair of the state GOP, several county GOP chairs, activists like Steven Hotze, and more were the plaintiffs in lawsuits that targeted not only the Hollins/Rodriguez-type innovations, but also Abbott orders like the third week of early voting. Plus, you know, the extreme animus that Donald Trump fed into Republican voters about mail ballots and other vote-expanding initiatives. What I’m saying is that while some Republican voters undoubtedly liked these new innovations and would approve of them becoming permanent, the loudest voices over there are dead set against them. We’d be idiots to underestimate that.

3. All of which is a longwinded way of saying, wake me up when Dan Patrick gets on board with any of this. Nothing is going to happen unless he approves of it.

4. Or to put it another way, even if these innovations help Republicans, even if everyone can now say that expanding turnout is just as good for Republicans as it is for Democrats, it’s still the case that making it harder to vote is in the Republican DNA; I’m sure someone will post that decades-old Paul Weyrich quote in the comments, to illustrate. I don’t believe that the experience of one election is going to change all these years of messaging.

5. To put that another way, Republicans might be all right with things that make it easier for them to vote, as long as they don’t make it easier for Democrats to vote. They’re absolutely fine with things that make it harder for Democrats to vote – and by “Democrats” I mostly mean Black voters, as far as they’re concerned – and if those things also make it harder for some of their people to vote, it’s an acceptable price to pay. Making it easier to vote, as a principle, is not who and what they are. I’ll be happy to be proven wrong, but until then I’ll be taking the under.

What the Early Voting Ballot Board does

They were especially important this year.

In the wake of the Nov. 3 general election, the air is filled with an overwhelming amount of disinformation about vote counting, specifically as it relates to mail ballots and provisional ballots. In Michigan, two Republican members of the Board of Canvassers of Wayne County, which includes Detroit, first refused to certify the election results there and then reversed their decision. This troubling incident rightfully made the national news. But it should be noted why: because it is an exception to the rule.

It is with this in mind that I feel compelled to offer my experience as the presiding judge of the Harris County Early Voting Ballot Board.

Every county in Texas has an Early Voting Ballot Board (EVBB) that is charged with two primary tasks: qualifying mail ballots and qualifying provisional ballots. Each of these boards is comprised of an equal number of Republicans and Democrats nominated by their respective county party chairs and appointed by the county election board (which is comprised of the two party chairs, the county judge, the county clerk, the voter registrar and the sheriff).

As partisan political appointees in an historically divided political climate, one might expect that the EVBB would reflect the toxic divide. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are regular people, and we look like Harris County. We are CPAs, city employees, entrepreneurs, health professionals, homemakers, lawyers, non-profit workers, retirees, technicians, veterans and everything in between. Our identities are indicative of the beautifully diverse community that is Harris County, and we each bring our unique lived experiences to our work. We are committed to the integrity of our democratic process and an unwavering dedication to free and fair elections.

[…]

For mail ballots, our primary job is to determine whether or not the voter was the person who voted the ballot. The principal evidence we review in this process is the signature on the vote-by-mail application and the signature on the mail ballot carrier envelope. We also check voter registration status. All of this is done in pairs — one Republican and one Democrat. And so in order for a mail ballot to be accepted, a Republican and a Democrat must agree that the voter voted the ballot and did not violate the Election Code. Ninety nine percent of the time, we agree. For those instances where there is a question, multiple teams — always one Republican and one Democrat — conduct the review. Sometimes we call the voter, sometimes we coordinate with the voter registrar’s office about registration issues. If we cannot agree, the presiding judge makes the final call. This happens a tiny fraction of the time — literally with only a bit more than half a dozen of the over 179,000 mail ballots we processed.

For provisional ballots, we are fact finders. For the vote to be accepted, the voter who cast the provisional ballot must have been registered to vote on time and must have not already cast another ballot in the election. So again in bipartisan pairs, we review each provisional ballot affidavit completed at the polling location and check them against county records. We work closely with the voter registrar to determine registration status and with the county clerk to determine whether or not the voter has already voted. As with mails ballots, each provisional ballot is subject to a multi-tiered bipartisan review process and 99 percent of the time, Republican and Democrat EVBB members agree.

See here for more on the Early Voting Ballot Board. It should be noted, the signature they review on the mail ballots are on the envelope, before it is opened, so there’s no indication how the person in question voted. And if you’re wondering how it is they got their work completed so quickly, the answer is they didn’t – they had an early start, on October 14. The whole process took four weeks, but three of those weeks were before Election Day. Makes all the difference. Go read the rest.

Our nanny state and vote by mail applications

Sen. Paul Bettencourt purses his lips and wags his finger and is very disappointed in your county government.

Republican state lawmakers have filed bills to codify the Texas Supreme Court decision that blocked Harris County from sending mail ballot applications to all of its 2.4 million registered voters.

Senate Bill 208, authored by Sens. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston; Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe; Brian Birdwell; Bob Hall and Kel Seliger, would stop election officials from sending absentee ballot applications, regardless of eligibility. State Rep. Valoree Swanson, a Republican from Houston, filed a companion bill, House Bill 25.

“We must recognize the obvious that we didn’t need to mail 2M+ absentee ballot applications to registered voters in Harris County to have a record 11.2 million Texas voters cast their ballots in November,” Bettencourt said in a statement. “It is important to note that the 66.2% turnout in 2020 was without wasting taxpayer money by doing shotgun mailings to everyone on the voter roll.”

Harris County Clerk Christopher Hollins’ plan to do so, an attempt to make voting easier during the pandemic, was thwarted after the county’s Republican Party sued. The Texas Supreme Court ruled in early October that Hollins would be exceeding his authority, though two lower courts had previously approved of the mass mailings.

Hollins had already sent out nearly 400,000 applications to Harris County voters who were 65 and older by the time the suit arose. The proposed legislation filed this month would extend to even such mailings to eligible voters because they would prevent counties from sending any unsolicited mail ballot applications.

Emphasis mine. So that first sentence about codifying the State Supreme Court decision is misleading, since this bill would now prohibit something the Court explicitly allowed. Let’s be clear about that.

Let’s also be clear that there’s no valid justification for this bill. If the voters of Harris County don’t like the way that Commissioners Court appropriates and spends money, the voters of Harris County have a simple and direct way to express that disapproval. This is Paul Bettencourt and others expressing their disapproval of Harris County voters, because he has that power.

I’m sure there will be more bills like this one, and while most of them probably won’t pass I’ll be surprised if this one manages to fail. the good news, for what it’s worth, is that the Harris County Democratic Party can continue its very successful campaign of sending mail applications to its voters, then following up with them to ensure they get and return their mail ballots. I won’t be surprised if there’s some dropoff in mail voting in the next couple of elections, as people were motivated to vote by mail due to the pandemic, but I’d expect most of those voters to just go back to voting in person. This is a legislative temper tantrum, and it can some day be fixed, but don’t forget that it happened. Republicans like Paul Bettencourt want it to be hard to vote, and they will do what they can to make it hard to vote. We should make a bigger deal about this in our campaigns.

What might the Lege do to make voting easier, or harder?

I confess, I didn’t read most of this story about the various problems some people had in voting, and the various theories as to what was happening during voting, mostly because it contained way too many quotes from Jared Woodfill. I’m going to focus on one piece of this, and then jump to the question I posed in the title.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

In Texas, which was recently ranked 50th in the nation by the Election Law Journal for ease of voting, the stories of disenfranchisement in this election are plentiful, because the hurdles state lawmakers have erected to registering and voting create many chances for the system to fail.

The state GOP leadership has steadfastly resisted modernizing voter registration, including blocking attempts at online registration. Voter ID laws, limits on qualifications for absentee ballots and rigidity in the mechanics of balloting all weed out untold numbers of voters along the way.

“These things will feed into the ability of someone to either participate easily and conveniently and effectively, or for someone to encounter barrier after barrier after barrier and at some point throw up their hands in disgust and quit trying,” said Tammy Patrick, senior adviser to the elections team at the Democracy Fund in Washington, D.C.

It certainly was difficult for East Texas resident Serena Ivie, who had to reeducate herself on the registration process after sitting out elections for 20 years.

Ivie wanted to vote for President Donald Trump because she worried about the direction of the country if he left office. She sent in her voter registration application in early September, she said.

She figured out too late that her registration was never activated, and she still has not gotten an explanation, she said.

Ivie, 49, is angry that the state hasn’t created easy, online registration since the last time she voted.

“I was disappointed that I’d let myself down, and I really felt that I screwed up,” Ivie said. “It’s a huge letdown, and I, in turn, feel like I am letting my country down.”

There really is no good reason why our voter registration process is so antiquated. There is a good reason why the law that controls how voter registration may be done has not been updated in forever, and that’s because the Republicans have opposed it, as we have covered here numerous times. Not all Republicans, to be sure – the bill cited in that post had numerous Republican co-sponsors, but never got a hearing in committee. The difference now is that Republicans have been actively registering voters these days, and as they discovered, it’s harder than it needs to be. There is also now a very limited form of online voter registration available, thanks to a federal lawsuit. These two factors may finally allow for our voter registration laws to be dragged into the 21st century. I wouldn’t bet on it until someone like Greg Abbott announces support for it, but the possibility exists.

Unfortunately, that’s probably about where the potential good news ends. There’s a zero percent chance that any expansion will be made to voting by mail – I’d be more worried about some bills that will attempt to make it harder, or perhaps to define “disability” in a way that would explicitly exclude pandemic-related risk factors. Along the same lines, I expect there to be bills that codify limiting ballot dropoff locations to one per county, and to limit if not outlaw drive-through voting that isn’t part of the already-allowed curbside voting for people with (perhaps more strictly defined) disabilities. Finally, as part of the larger conversation about the role and power of the Governor and the Legislature during a disaster, there may be legislation that codifies the Governor’s ability to do things like extend early voting hours as part of a disaster response. A bill like that doesn’t have to be bad, but it would be easier to make it bad than to make it good.

As far as I’m concerned, the best case scenario here is keeping trash like that from getting passed. Maybe the new Speaker will put his thumb on the scale in a good way, or maybe Republican legislators will have heard from enough voters that they liked the longer early voting period and/or drive-through voting to mess with it, or maybe they’ll just be too damn busy with all of the other business they’ll have to deal with to have time for this. I’m just saying be prepared for some nonsense here. It’s coming, and we need to be ready for it.

UPDATE: Bill pre-filing is now open, and there are numerous election-related bills already, including one that would “prohibit state officers and employees from distributing applications for early voting ballots”. I’m sure you can guess what motivated that. Remember that zillions of bills get filed but only a handful make it through, so don’t draw conclusions from any of this just yet.

A few words about election security

Lisa Gray talks to my friend Dan Wallach about everybody’s favorite subject.

If I’m aiming to steal an election, what’s the best way to go about it? Are mail-in ballots the easiest?

If your goal is to steal an election, there are so many different things you could do. Really the question is, are you trying to be stealthy about it? Or are you perfectly OK with making a giant public mess? Because if you don’t mind making a mess, the easiest way to steal an election is to break the voter registration system — to cause long lines, to cause voters to give up and walk away.

But it would be totally obvious if that had happened. And at least as far as we know, it hasn’t happened. The other obvious way that you can break an election is, of course, with misinformation. If you can convince the voters to vote in a way different than they were originally planning — because of a conspiracy theory or whatever — that’s also an excellent way of manipulating the outcome of an election.

Manipulating voting machines in the tabulation process is actually a lot more work, especially if you want to do it subtly. And at least so far, that doesn’t seem to be happening.

Are mail-in ballots inherently less reliable than votes counted on Election Day?

Once we have paper ballots, whether they’re paper ballots that are cast in person, or paper ballots that are returned through the mail, the security of that system is actually pretty good. I’m not as worried about ballot-box stuffing and things like that. The things that concern me more are when you have a system with no paper at all — which, of course, is how we vote here in Harris County.

This is probably the last year that Harris County will be using that electronic paperless voting system. We’ll see.

Probably the place where we’re seeing the most excitement with tight elections now is in Georgia. The state of Georgia used to use a paperless electronic system that would have been relatively straightforward to manipulate, if that was what you wanted to do.

But they’ve replaced it! The whole state of Georgia now votes using a “ballot marking device,” where you touch the screen, select your preferences, and then it prints a paper ballot. As long as Georgia voters actually bother to look at it, and say, “Yep, that’s who I was planning to vote for,” the risk of undetected tampering goes down significantly.

[…]

How should we handle future elections? Those eSlate machines have got to go. But what else, for American elections’ sake, do we need to do?

Let’s start with Harris County. Harris County is using a type of voting machine that they first purchased in the early 2000s. They had a warehouse fire in 2010, so all of our machines are actually quite a bit newer than that, because after the fire, they had to buy new ones.

Those are new versions of ancient tech? My adult kids voted for the first time in Harris County this year, and they were both astounded by what they called “1990s technology.” Those clunky dials! It’s like using a Blackberry in 2020.

It’s exactly like using a Blackberry in 2020. It’s time for these machines to be retired. Our previous county clerk Diane Trautman had said that that was her plan, and she’d started the process — vendors doing dog-and-pony shows, members of the community invited to show up and watch presentations. All of that was in process when COVID hit.

[Trautman resigned because of health problems, and Chris Hollins was an interim replacement.] Now we are going to have an appointed election administrator, Isabel Longoria, who handles voter registration and manages elections. So Longoria is going to be responsible for picking up where this all left off. I don’t know their timeline. I don’t know their plans. But definitely it’s time to move on from the eSlates.

I expect that they will be very interested in having a bigger vote-by-mail solution. The state may or may not make it easier for voters to vote by mail. That’s an unfortunately partisan process, even though it shouldn’t be. All Washington State, Oregon and Colorado vote by mail — 100% of the vote.

But Texas doesn’t believe in no-excuse vote by mail, so I expect that we’re also going to see new voting machines of some kind. Every new voting machine that’s worth buying prints a paper ballot of some sort. That is likely the direction that we’re headed.

There will be pricing issues and cost issues. There will be questions like, Does it support all of the languages that Harris County requires? Does the tabulation system do all the things that we need? Is the vendor going to give us a good price? All that is in play. This is as much about a large government procurement process as it is about voting in particular.

I expect that will all play out next year. They will announce a winner of the procurement, and then we’ll start seeing these new machines used in smaller elections, where there are fewer voters and there’s less attention being paid. In a smaller election, things can go wrong, and it won’t be the end of the world.

Most of this is familiar to us, from the swan song of the eSlate machines to the plans to get new voting machines for the 2021 elections, which will be an off year for city races, thus making it even smaller than usual. I’ll be keeping a close eye on what kind of machines we may get, as this will be the first major task of Isabel Longoria’s tenure as Election Administrator. Lisa and Dan also talk about the exemplary voting experience we had here in Harris County in 2020, which we all hope and expect will be the template going forward. Check it out.

A few observations from the final unofficial countywide data

This is still unofficial, and there will still be some overseas/military ballots to be counted as well as some provisional ballots to be cured, but the count of the votes cast by Election Day is over, and we have the current final totals, broken down by vote type for each race. So let’s have a stroll through the data and see what we come up with.

– While Republican voting strength increased on Election Day compared to mail and early in person voting, Democrats still won Election Day. As far as I can tell, every Democrat who was on the whole county’s ballot beat their Republican opponent on Election Day, except for one: Genesis Draper, the appointed and now elected Judge of County Criminal Court #12, who lost Election Day by about 6,000 votes. She still won her election by 78,000 votes, so no big deal. Te’iva Bell, now the elected Judge of the 339th Criminal District Court, won Election Day by fourteen (yes, 14) votes out of 183,492 ballots cast in that race. She won by just over 100K votes overall.

– Democrats did especially well in mail ballots – in the judicial races, the number was usually around 60% for the Democratic candidate. That staked them to an initial lead of 27-40K, with usually a bit more than 160K mail ballots being cast. It’s amazing to realize how much that has shifted from even the recent past – remember, Republicans generally won the mail ballots in 2018, though they lost them in 2016. I don’t know if they quietly walk back all the hysterical “MAIL BALLOT FRAUD” hyperbole and go back to using this tool as they had before, or if that’s it and they’re all about voting in person now.

– As far as I can tell, no one who was leading at 7 PM on November 3, when the early + mail ballot totals were posted, wound up losing when all the votes were in. No one got Ed Emmett’ed, in other words. Gina Calanni and Akilah Bacy led in mail ballots, but lost early in person votes by enough that they were trailing going into Election Day. Lizzie Fletcher, Ann Johnson, and Jon Rosenthal lost the Election Day vote, but had won both mail and early in person voting, and that lead was sufficient to see them through.

– As noted, a very small percentage of the vote was cast on Election Day – 12.28% of all ballots in Harris County were Election Day ballots. That varied by district, however:


Dist     Total   E-Day   E-Day%
===============================
CD18   251,623  33,109    13.2%
CD29   161,673  30,274    18.7%

SD04    89,122   8,385     9.4%
SD06   187,819  34,996    18.6%

HD133   91,137   8,650     9.5%
HD134  111,639   9,389     8.4%
HD137   33,344   5,035    15.1%
HD140   33,614   7,325    21.8%
HD143   39,153   6,693    17.1%
HD144   32,522   6,989    21.5%
HD145   44,514   7,774    17.5%

Definitely some later voting by Latinos. Note that Sarah Davis won Election Day with 66% of the vote. There just weren’t enough of those votes to make a difference – she netted less than 3K votes from that, not nearly enough to overcome the 10K vote lead Ann Johnson had.

– There’s a conversation to be had about turnout in base Democratic districts. Countywide, turnout was 67.84% of registered voters. Of the strong-D districts, only HD148 (68.58%) exceeded that. Every strong-R or swing district was above the countywide mark, while multiple strong-D districts – HDs 137, 140, 141, 143, 144, and 145 – were below 60%. HD140 had 51.36% turnout, with HD144 at 51.81%. Harris County is strong blue now because Democrats have done an outstanding job of expanding out into formerly deep red turf – this is how districts like HDs 132, 135, and 138 became competitive, with HD126 a bit farther behind. As we discussed in 2018, deepest red districts are noticeably less red now, and with so many votes in those locations, that has greatly shifted the partisan weight in Harris County. But it’s clear we are leaving votes on the table – this was true in 2018 as well, and it was one reason why I thought we could gain so much more ground this year, to make the state more competitive. The focus now, for 2022 and 2024 and beyond, needs to be getting more votes out of these base Democratic districts and precincts. For one thing, at the most basic level, these are our most loyal voters, and we need to pay them a lot more attention. At a practical level, we need more out of these neighborhoods and communities to really put the state in play. We’ve figured out a big part of the equation, but we’re still missing some key pieces. That needs to change.

(Yes, I know, we have just talked about how perhaps some low-propensity Latino voters are much more Republican than their higher-propensity counterparts. We do need a strategy that has some thought and nuance to it, to make sure we’re not committing a self-own. But to put this in crass marketing terms, your strongest customers are the ones who have already bought your product in the past. We need to do better with them, and we start by doing better by them.)

– I’ll have more data going forward, when I get the full canvass. But in the meantime, there was one other group of people who had a propensity for voting on Election Day – people who voted Libertarian. Get a load of this:


Race         E-Day%  Total%
===========================
President     1.89%   1.03%
Senate        3.33%   1.81%
CD02          3.18%   1.59%
CD07          3.57%   1.77%
CD09          5.82%   2.97%
CD22          8.23%   5.33%
RRC           3.62%   2.08%
SCOTX Chief   4.50%   2.35%

You can peruse the other races, but the pattern holds everywhere. Seems to be the case for Green candidates as well, there are just far fewer of them. Not sure what that means, but it’s a fun fact. By the way, the Libertarian candidate in CD22 got 3.87% overall. Not sure why he was so much more popular in Harris County.

Tarrant County has gone (tentatively) blue

At the Presidential level, with votes still being counted.

Though President Donald Trump has been declared the winner in Texas, former Vice President Joe Biden has taken the lead with the latest results in Tarrant County.

Biden had a 427 vote lead in the county after a new batch of votes were added Thursday afternoon.

Around 824,312 ballots have been cast in Tarrant County, according to the county’s election results website.

Tarrant County had a reported 1,185,888 registered voters for the election cycle, per the same website, which meant turnout was 69.51% for this year’s presidential election.

The vote count between Trump and Biden was separated by just a mere 427 votes just before 3 p.m. Thursday, according to the county’s results website.

Tarrant County officials say members of the Ballot Board from different parties have remade and verified 13,636 defective ballots.

The county says it plans to have all ballots counted by the end of the day Friday. Over 15,000 absentee ballots are pending processing.

You can see the Tarrant County election results here. There are still overseas and provisional ballots, and as of the time that story was posted it was not known how many more ballots are being reviewed. Biden’s advantage in the mail ballots was over 13K, which as of this writing was just enough to overcome Trump’s lead in early voting and Election Day voting. Looking down the ballot, the statewide Dems generally trailed by between four to six points, with the Democratic District Court candidates usually falling about seven points short, and the Democratic Sheriff candidate, running against a problematic incumbent, lost by five and a half. Roughly speaking, they’re a few points closer to winning countywide races everywhere on the ballot than Harris County Democrats were in 2004.

Democrats of course fell short in all of the State Rep races that they challenged this year, which in many ways was the more important metric. As commenter blank observed, redoing Tarrant’s State Rep districts in 2021 will present some challenges for Republicans, who have a lot of incumbents in tight spots. It’s not crazy to think that there could be a Dallas-like year for Tarrant down the line if they try to get too cute.

We’ll worry about that later. In the meantime, I need to figure out what new county is the closest proxy for the statewide Presidential results. Between Beto in 2018 and now Biden, Tarrant is officially too blue to serve that role.

Followup omnibus Election Day post

Wanted to clear up some loose ends from the late night/early morning post and add a couple of things I’d missed the first time around. I’ll have a longer “thoughts and reactions” post probably tomorrow.

– The district results from last night appear to be the same this morning, which means: No Congressional flips, Dems flip SBOE5 and SD19, Dems flip HD134 but lose HD132, for a net one seat gain the the Senate and zero seats in the House. I don’t know how many people would have bet on no net changes to Congress and the State House.

– One other place where Dems made gains was the Courts of Appeals. Dems won the Chief Justice seats on the Third (anchored in Travis and Williamson counties) and Fourth (anchored in Bexar but containing many counties) Courts of Appeals, plus one bench on the First Court (anchored in Harris, won by Veronica Rivas-Molloy) and three on the Fifth Court (Dallas/Collin, mostly). Dems fell short on three other benches, including the Chief Justice for the 14th Court, though the other result on the First Court was really close – Amparo Guerra trails Terry Adams by 0.12%, or about 3K votes out of over 2.25 million ballots. The key to Rivas-Molloy’s win was her margin of victory in Harris County – she won Harris by 133K votes, while Guerra won Harris by 114K, Jane Robinson (Chief Justice 14th Court) won Harris by 104K, and Tamika Craft (14th Court) won Harris by 90K. With Galveston, Brazoria, and Chambers County all delivering big for the Republicans, that big lead that Rivas-Molloy got in Harris was enough to withstand the assault.

– Final turnout was 1,649,457, which was 67.84%. That fell short of the loftier projections, but it’s still over 300K more votes than were cast in 2016. The new Election Night returns format at harrisvotes.com does not give the full turnout breakdown by vote type, but the PDF they sent out, which you can see here, does have it. The breakdown: 174,753 mail ballots, 1,272,319 in person early ballots, 202,835 Election Day ballots. Note that these are unofficial and un-canvassed numbers, and will change by some amount when the vote is certified, as some late overseas and military ballots arrive and some provisional ballots are cured.

– Another way to put this: 10.6% of all ballots were mail, 77.1% were early in person, and 12.3% were cast on Election Day. Just the early in person votes is a higher percentage of “before Election Day” tallies than any previous year. Will this be a new normal, at least for high-turnout even-year elections? I have no idea. Those extra days of early voting, plus all of the sense of urgency, surely contributed to that total. I don’t know that we’ll match this level going forward, but it won’t surprise me if the standard is now more than 80% of all votes are cast before Election Day (again, in even-year elections; who knows what will happen in the odd years).

– For what it’s worth, the closest countywide race was decided by about 76K votes; the next closest by about 90K, and the rest over over 100K. What that means is that if somehow all 127K of those votes cast at drive-through locations during the early voting period were suddenly thrown out, it’s highly unlikely to affect any of those races. I suppose it could tip a close non-countywide race like HD135, and it could reduce Veronica Rivas-Molloy’s margin in Harris County to the point that she’d lose her seat on the First Court of Appeals. I can’t see that happening, but I wanted to state this for the record anyway.

I’ll have more thoughts tomorrow.

UPDATE: The SOS Election Night Returns site now shows Amparo Guerra leading by about 1,500 votes, or 0.06 points, in the First Court of Appeals, Place 5 race. Not sure where the late votes came from, but they helped her, and they helped Jane Robinson, who is still trailing but by less than 5,000 votes, or 0.18 points.

A few thoughts about Election 2020 before Tuesday

Just a brain dump, to get this all out there before we find out what happened. Let’s start with this:

After the conclusion of three weeks of early voting, 9.7 million Texans have cast ballots, crushing previous early voting totals in the state and setting Texas on a course for record turnout in this Tuesday’s general election.

At least 9,709,376 voters cast early ballots, according to preliminary final numbers released by the Texas Secretary of State and the counties on Saturday morning. That is 57.3% percent of registered voters, just shy of the overall turnout of 59.4% in 2016 by 2 percentage points.

Of those early votes, 8,738,363 were cast in person; 971,013 were cast by mail.

Early voting, which Gov. Abbott extended by six days this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, has already eclipsed total votes during the 2016 general election, when 8,969,226 Texans voted.

Texas has added 1.8 million registered voters since the 2016 election. Texas has not surpassed 60% turnout of registered voters since the early 1990s.

Harris County, Texas’s most populous county, leads the state with 1.4 million votes cast. Among large counties, Collin County outside of Dallas has the highest early voting turnout with 69%.

As we have discussed before, high turnout is generally more favorable to Democrats, but not universally, and there’s been plenty of activity in heavily Republican counties:

Comal County is like Montgomery County’s little brother, and Guadalupe is pretty Republican, too. That said, it’s important to keep in mind the distinctions between “percentages”, especially when we are talking about increases, and absolute numbers. Comal County cast 62K ballots total in 2016; I don’t know what their early voting numbers were in 2016, but a 26% increase over their final turnout would be close to 80K votes. Harris County has had a *net increase* of over 80K votes so far, with Election Day still to come. A 26% increase in total final turnout in Harris County would mean about 1.67 million total voters, or an increase of about 350K from 2016, and at this point that’s the low end. In short, Harris County is big. Always keep that in mind.

If you go back to the Derek Ryan report from Thursday, when “just” nine million people had voted, the electorate at that point was 52.1% female, and 43.4% male. (Not all people specify their gender on their voter registration.) Assuming that hasn’t radically changed as of Friday, that means that something like 800K more women than men have voted in Texas. (In Harris County, the gender ratio was 55.3 to 44.3, a gap of a bit more than 150K.) Given the greater preference for Joe Biden among women, that could be a factor in how this election turns out.

Now let’s talk about how easy, or not-easy, it was to vote in Texas this year. There’s a lot, but I’ll try to be concise. Let’s start with this:

Maybe bullet points will help.

– I agree – and have said on this blog – that the actual impact of the “one dropoff location” order and rulings is minimal. Hell, I didn’t even know that dropping off mail ballots was a thing you could do until this year. I think it’s fair to say that the number of people who have used this option in the past can be counted on your fingers. I don’t know how many people would have used it this election, but even if we’re talking five figures, it’s on the order of five percent of total turnout. People had plenty of other options available to them, including the Reliant Arena dropoff location (which is in many ways more accessible than the Clerk’s office downtown), the US mail, and voting in person. I have a hard time believing anyone was truly disenfranchised by this.

– But all of that is beside the point. The multiple dropoff locations, all at official County Clerk offices, was consistent with the letter and intent of the law, and the amended order to limit them to one, which came more than two months after Harris County announced its dropoff plan, was an obvious partisan exercise that had no basis or reason other than to make voting less convenient, and to slap down an innovative Democratic County Clerk in a heavily Democratic county. On every level, this was a screw-you to Chris Hollins and Harris County.

– Yet even there, we must acknowledge that Greg Abbott did in fact expand access to voting. That third week of early voting was huge – I’m sure that Allen West and the seething hordes of the Republican base are super pissed about that. Plus, the fact that mail ballots could be dropped off during early voting at all was the result of Abbott’s executive order, the same one that allowed for the extra week of early voting. State law as written only allows mail ballots to be dropped off on Election Day. Abbott expanded that. He weaseled out later on, but he was weaseling on himself

– So one might claim, as John Cornyn did on Twitter, that it can’t be all that hard to vote in Texas, because so many people are doing it this year. But once you get past Abbott’s original executive order – which, you may recall, the State GOP and Harris County GOP, among others, tried to kill via the courts – it was local officials, with Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins as the exemplar, backed by $31 million from the Democratic majority on Commissioners Court – that did all the work to make it easier. And again, Republicans from Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton down to dregs like Steven Hotze and Jared Woodfill, fought them every step of the way.

– Finally, we have to acknowledge that whatever was done to make voting easier this year, we started from a baseline of voting not being easy, in so many ways. One big reason why the effect of the “one mail ballot dropoff location per county” ruling was minimal is precisely because access to mail ballots is so limited, and we saw that play its way out in the courts. If counties had to spend large amounts of money setting up early voting locations, it’s in part because the Legislature took away the option of temporary voting locations in the 2019 session, not to mention the removal of straight-ticket voting, which meant it would take longer for people to vote and might lead to longer lines at voting locations. We haven’t even talked about Texas’ notoriously strict voter ID law, or its refusal to allow online voter registration or same-day voter registration, or its recent efforts to purge voter rolls, or the problems of how hard it is for people with disabilities to vote, and on and on and on. If we have heroic levels of turnout this year, it’s in spite of all these obstacles.

– So my bottom line is that while turnout this year has been truly remarkable, and I hope that the results will be equally remarkable, none of this should obscure the fact that we have a lot of room to improve. And the only way that will happen is if we win enough election to make the systemic changes we need.

Hope that wasn’t too long. I’m out of thoughts for now. Go vote if you haven’t already.

There’s still a lot of work to be done to make it easier to vote

The ease of access for disabled voters is still a huge unaddressed issue.

Val Vera finally cast his ballot after sitting for two hours in his van outside a Denton County polling place. He wasn’t waiting on people in line ahead of him, but for an elections clerk to respond to his phone calls.

Vera, 52, is disabled and decided to vote curbside this election, an option every county is required to offer any voter whose health would be harmed by entering the polls, or who is physically incapable of doing so.

“In an ideal world, curbside voting at your polling site, there’s the designated parking spot,” said Molly Broadway, voting rights specialist at Disability Rights Texas. “There’s a sign that lets you know that this is where curbside voting is going to happen, and there’s a call button, essentially, that one can access, which will alert the poll worker inside the building of your presence.”

For millions of disabled Texas voters, casting a ballot has long been challenging enough, even without a pandemic and explosive turnout in a high-octane election cycle. Using curbside voting, mail-in ballots and other aids, they must navigate a system that in some parts of Texas has been slow to accommodate their needs.

With fears of contracting COVID-19 compelling more voters to explore options to avoid setting foot in a polling place, disability rights advocates say the process has become an exercise in persistence for even more disabled voters.

In 2012, 30% of disabled voters nationwide reported difficulties at polling places, according to a Rutgers University study. In Texas, a newer Rutgers study estimates, about 15% of those eligible to vote in the general election are disabled — almost 3 million people.

Lisa Schur and Douglas Kruse, professors who helped conduct the study, said lack of accessibility causes disabled people to vote at lower rates than the general population. Without barriers, they estimate, 3 million more disabled Americans would have voted in 2012. Though it’s hard to determine the extent without solid data, the pandemic could limit people’s access even further.

[…]

Disability Rights Texas tries to help voters navigate hurdles they run into at the polls. This year, Broadway said, increased voter turnout, coupled with increasing visibility for disability rights over the past few years, has spawned more calls than usual, and not just for curbside voting.

Chase Bearden, deputy executive director of the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, said his organization heard reports of long lines at one polling place that strayed into grassy patches difficult to navigate in a wheelchair. Matt Plummer, a wheelchair user, said when he went to vote in Tarrant County, his wife had to make selections for him because he couldn’t reach the touch screen at the back of the machine.

Disabled voters in Texas are also allowed to use mail-in ballots, which helps some voters, but those aren’t entirely accessible either.

Kenneth Semien Sr. said he considered voting by mail but decided to go in person. To submit a mail-in ballot, Semien would have to rely on someone else to mark it for him because he is blind. Not only would that strip away his independence, he said, but he also would have no assurance the person was actually marking his choices instead of their own. Semien is involved in an ongoing federal lawsuit against the Texas secretary of state that is seeking more accessible mail-in ballots, and he thought an alternative way to vote would be available by the time November rolled around.

Instead, Semien cast his ballot in person at the same polling location he’s used in Jefferson County for the past 15 years. Once he arrived, a security guard he knew helped guide him through the line, telling him where to walk so he could stop on the taped X’s on the floor.

As he stepped up to vote, he said, the poll worker took a long time finding where to plug his headphones in so his screen reader could read the ballot to him. Such technical issues sometimes leave people unable to vote, and this one almost made Semien miss his bus back home.

Each time before he goes to vote, Semien calls ahead to make sure the polling location will have someone on staff trained to use the accessible voting machine. Typically, he said, he’s told what he wants to hear, but problems crop up when he arrives.

“It is just terrible that you have to keep repeating these things, but every time we go to the polls we deal with some of the same issues, you know, if the equipment is not available for some reason, they hadn’t gotten set up yet, even though I called before,” Semien said.

I searched my archives but didn’t find a post about Kenneth Semien’s lawsuit – there’s been so many voting rights lawsuits this year I just can’t keep up with them all – but I found this story and a copy of the complaint via Google.

A big part of this is voting locations. Harris County settled a lawsuit last year about the accessibility of its voting locations. Our county, led by County Clerk Chris Hollins, did a tremendous amount to make it easier for everyone to vote – usually over the objections and legal obstacles thrown up by Republicans – but it would be good to review what worked and what still needs improvement. This is going to take a law – really, there should be both state and federal legislation to address this – and money, but most of all it will take commitment, both to listening to the community and their advocates, and following through on what they need. We can absolutely improve this experience for millions of Americans, including millions of Texans, but we have to do the work.

Of course Republicans have benefited from voting by mail

Obviously. And yes, even in recent elections.

The coronavirus pandemic is expected to drive millions of Americans to vote by mail this year, a shift that data suggest is underway even in Texas, where only some voters are allowed to cast mail ballots.

Texas’ Republican leaders this year have fought efforts to expand mail balloting or have questioned its integrity, with some echoing President Donald Trump’s baseless claims that mail ballots are a source of rampant fraud.

And yet, historically, mail ballots in Harris County clearly have favored Republicans, a Houston Chronicle analysis of election data shows.

Though the GOP presidential candidate narrowly lost Harris County in 2008 and 2012, for example, the Republican ticket won three quarters of the 300 voting precincts in which the most mail ballots were cast in both elections.

That trend held even in 2016, when Trump lost the county badly but still won two-thirds of the 100 voting precincts in which the most mail ballots were cast.

What most drives the partisan skew in mail ballots, University of Houston political scientist Jeronimo Cortina said, is Texas’ status as one of the few states to require voters younger than 65 to have an excuse to cast a ballot by mail.

“The constituency of the Republican Party tends to be older,” he said. “I wouldn’t say that Republicans are more likely to vote by mail just because they’re Republicans, but maybe because being Republican is correlated with other demographics that make you more likely to vote by mail, in comparison to Democrats.”

(This story was from the first week of early voting. It’s been sitting in my drafts because there’s been such a crazy amount of news, and you know how it goes. I’m trying to publish all of these election-related drafts I have before Tuesday. You’ve been warned.)

I have no idea why the Chron went with this clunky “on a precinct basis” analysis. I guarantee you, when the next Democrat wins a statewide race, the Republican will have won far more counties than the Democrat. Those counties will almost all be far smaller than the Dem-won counties, and so on balance the Dem will win more votes. Why make this more complicated than it needs to be?

I mean, in the 2018 election, there were more Republican straight ticket votes cast by mail than there were Democratic straight-ticket votes. Democrats dominated that category for both phases of in person voting, but the mail universe leaned Republican. Greg Abbott won the mail vote, but lost the county overall. John Culberson, Mike Schofield, Gary Elkins, losers all, won the mail ballot race. Dems did win the 2016 mail vote, but if you scroll through the individual races, the Republican candidates – those who won and those who lost – did a little better with mail voters than they did overall.

It’s not that long ago that mail ballots were utterly dominated by Republicans. They put money into it, and they reaped the reward. It was then-HCDP Chair Lane Lewis who piloted a program to get mail ballot applications to eligible Democratic voters and then push them to use them, which grew into a big success for Dems here and became a model for the state party. It’s not rocket science, the Dems didn’t do anything revolutionary, they just put sufficient resources into a plan and executed it.

And this cannot be stressed enough: Republicans completely exempted mail ballots from their odious and racist voter ID law, which they rammed through in 2011, because they knew full well that voting by mail benefited them. This was part of the litigation against the voter ID law, because the over-65 population was (and still is) so much whiter than the state as a whole. The reason Republicans are melting down over mail ballots and screaming “fraud!” every time the subject comes up isn’t because this is some long-held belief of theirs. It’s because voting by mail is no longer their private playground. The Democrats have gotten good at it, and that is something they cannot abide. If there’s one thing that’s clear from all this, it’s that the Republicans will hurt their own voters if they believe the action they’re taking hurts Democratic voters more. That’s what this is all about.

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.

One last, desperate attempt to kill drive-though voting

These guys really suck. Not much more can be said.

A new challenge to Harris County’s drive-thru voting sites, filed by two GOP candidates and a Republican member of the Texas House, asks the state Supreme Court to void ballots “illegally” cast by voters in cars.

That could put more than 100,000 ballots at risk, drawing sharp criticism from Democrats and raising fears among voters, including those with disabilities and others who were directed into drive-thru lanes as a faster method of voting.

[…]

One of the unsuccessful challenges was filed by the Republican Party of Texas. The second was from the Harris County GOP, activist Steven Hotze, and Sharen Hemphill, a GOP candidate for district judge in Harris County. Neither petition sought to void votes.

That changed with the latest petition filed shortly before 11 p.m. Tuesday by Hotze, Hemphill, GOP congressional candidate Wendell Champion, and state Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands.

The new petition asks the all-Republican Supreme Court to confiscate memory cards from voting machines at drive-thru locations and reject any votes cast in violation of state election laws.

The petition argues that drive-thru voting is an illegal expansion of curbside voting, which state law reserves for voters who submit a sworn application saying they have an illness or disability that could put them at risk if forced to enter a polling place.

“Hollins is allowing curbside/drive-thru voting for all 2.37 million registered voters in Harris County. This is a clear and direct violation of his duties,” the petition argued.

But Hollins has said drive-thru voting is just another polling place with a different layout and structure, and that it was approved by the Texas secretary of state’s office before being adopted.

Vehicles form lines and enter the voting area one at a time, where a clerk checks each voter’s photo ID, has them sign a roster and hands over a sanitized voting machine. Voting typically takes place in large individual tents, and poll watchers can observe the processing of voters no differently than in traditional voting locations, Hollins has argued.

See here for the previous entry. As I said yesterday, I just don’t believe the Supreme Court will do this. It’s such a drastic step to take, it’s punitive towards a lot of voters who had every reason to believe they were doing something legal, it would be an enormous partisan stain on the court and the justices, four of whom are on the ballot themselves, and as I said if the court felt such an outcome was in play, they could have clearly signaled it earlier to minimize the effect on the voters. Maybe I’m naive, or willfully blind. This just seems like a bridge way too far. I guess we’ll find out.

November 2020 Early Voting Day Sixteen: All through the night

This post is scheduled to publish before 5 AM today. When that happens, voting will still be happening in Harris County.

In Harris County this year, residents can vote where the Rockets or Texans play, from the comfort or their cars, or on Sundays. And on Thursday, they can vote at any time of day.

The County Clerk on Thursday will leave eight early voting sites open for 24-hours, an effort to make voting easier for residents who may have non-traditional schedules or who may be eager to avoid lines.

“Whether you’re a first responder who clocks in and out at 5 a.m., a medical professional working to save lives around the clock, someone keeping shelves full at grocery stores, or a shift worker keeping our port running, we want to give you the opportunity to cast your vote at a time that is convenient for you and four family,” Harris County Clerk Christopher Hollins said in a statement.

The 24-hour option is one of several innovations in Hollins’s ambitious $27 million election plan for this year; others include nearly tripling the number of early voting sites, drive-thru voting, sending mail ballot applications to all registered seniors and hiring more than 11,000 poll workers.

And as I have said before, this is absolutely a thing we should make standard going forward. Massive kudos to Chris Hollins for his innovative thinking, which has made voting in Harris County so much better.

I’d say this deserves a video:

Maybe even two:

The Day Sixteen 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 last Monday, except with 628K votes already in the bank. The first table is totals for the “normal” early voting time period for each year.


Election     Mail      Early      Total
=======================================
2008       49,558    513,888    563,446
2012       61,972    549,816    611,788
2016       89,271    700,697    789,968
2018       81,609    605,851    687,460
2020      161,378    553,520    714,898

There were 61K votes on, with 4,652 of them coming by mail, making Wednesday busier in person and back to normal for mail. At that same level for Thursday and we’ll be close to 2016 final turnout, and at that same level for both Thursday and Friday and we’ll approach 1.4 million for the EV period. I’ll bet the over for each.


Vote type       Mon     Tue     Wed     Thu     Fri     Week
============================================================
Mail          6,407     569   4,652                   11,628
Drive-thru    5,448   6,145   6,403                   17,996
In person    46,727  50,746  50,726                  148,199
Total        58,582  57,460  61,781                  177,823

Vote type     Week 1    Week 2    Week 3      Total
===================================================
Mail          75,504    74,246    11,628    161,378
Drive-thru    54,105    39,264    17,996    111,365
In person    499,099   348,227   148,199    995,525
Total        628,708   461,737   177,823  1,268,268

I’ve screwed up somewhere in my separation of the drive-through vote from the non-drive-through in-person vote, and as a result my tally is 2,013 less than what shows up on the daily sheet, which has 1,270,281 total votes. I can’t figure it out, but it’s not worth worrying about at this point. If Thursday is even slightly better than Wednesday, we’ll equal 2016 total turnout. I think we’ll make it to 1.4 million by 7 PM tomorrow, but if not we’ll be pretty close.

Here’s the Derek Ryan email.

We have officially surpassed 50% turnout. Through yesterday, 8,525,424 Texans have voted early. It was pointed out to me by The Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith that when we look at the numbers through today (tomorrow’s report), we will have surpassed the total number of people who voted in the 2016 General Election.

As a reminder, there are still four million voters who have voted in a previous General Election who have NOT voted yet. A few weeks ago, I said we would probably get to 12 million votes cast. I’m feeling a little bit better about that prediction.

Have you voted yet?

UPDATE: We made it to the 2016 final turnout level, on Thursday night just before 10. Here’s the press release. I’ll report on the final Thursday numbers tomorrow, and the final EV numbers on Sunday.

November 2020 Early Voting Day Fifteen: Now with evening hours

In case you haven’t heard, Texas is in play.

It’s six days from a presidential election, and the anchor of the Republican Electoral College coalition—Texas—is a toss-up. That is not just us being goofballs and throwing around dramatic words. “Toss-up” is the status to which forecasters at both the Cook Political Report and Inside Elections shifted the Texas presidential race on Wednesday. NBC News had done so the previous day. And the Biden campaign, which has been reluctant to devote resources to an expensive state it didn’t expect to need to win, has chosen in the last few days of the campaign to spend a valuable resource: a three-stop visit from its vice presidential candidate on Friday, the state’s last early voting day.

The race still tilts Republican in polling, with the FiveThirtyEight forecast predicting about a 3-point victory, and a 70 percent win probability, for Donald Trump. But a couple of factors have made Texas difficult to accurately forecast. As Cook noted, there’s not much experience in measuring Texas as a battleground state, so analysts and pollsters—who underestimated Democrats’ strength in the state in 2018—are going in somewhat blind. And the sheer population growth in Texas over the past four years, matched by its soaring early-voting turnout rates this cycle, add more uncertainty to the final result.

The early turnout in Texas has been astounding. On Wednesday afternoon, with six days remaining until the election, nearly 8.2 million votes had been cast—or 91 percent of the total number of votes cast in the state in 2016. The next closest state, as of this writing, was Montana at 81 percent of its 2016 total; nationally, voters have cast 54 percent of the total votes in 2016. Rapidly growing counties like Hays, Collin, Denton, and Williamson outside major metropolises were among the first counties in the country to surpass their 2016 totals.

Texas, as Democratic strategist and TargetSmart CEO Tom Bonier told me, is “at a higher level of engagement than any other state.” And a big part of what’s driving that, he said, is voters who didn’t vote in 2016.

“You look at it from the Biden perspective, how do you win Texas?” Bonier said. “Well yeah, you need to do better from a persuasion perspective among a lot of the likely voters, but you also have to change the electorate. And you’ve got to bring new people in who weren’t there in 2016. And that’s clearly happening.” More than 2 million people have voted in Texas already who didn’t vote in 2016, he said, or over 27 percent of all ballots cast. And 300,000 of those surge voters, he said, are seniors.

“Generally when we look at surge vote, we’re looking at young voters, we’re looking at African American voters, we’re looking at Latino voters,” Bonier said. “We’re not usually talking about seniors. But it’s happening. It’s happening in Texas, it’s happening in other competitive states, and it seems to be favoring Democrats at this point.” The number of Black voters over 65 who’ve voted in Texas, he said, “exceeds the total number who voted entirely in the 2016 election.”

The Day Fifteen 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 last Monday, except with 628K votes already in the bank. The first table is totals for the “normal” early voting time period for each year.


Election     Mail      Early      Total
=======================================
2008       47,413    443,267    490,680
2012       59,304    491,349    550,653
2016       86,456    626,627    713,083
2018       79,879    557,246    637,125
2020      156,726    496,391    653,117

Tuesday was within about a thousand votes of Monday, but with more in person votes (likely due to the extended hours) and fewer mail votes – only 569 total mail ballots were counted on Tuesday. I don’t know if that represents the end of the line, more or less, for mail ballots or if that was an aberration – we’ll see when I get Wednesday’s numbers.
Day One of Week Three was slower than any of the five weekdays from Week Two, though the in person total was close to last Thursday’s. It was above the mark for Saturday and Sunday, and has us back ahead of the pace to equal or bypass 2016 total turnout during the EV period. The mail ballots returned so far represent 62.7% of the 249,848 ballots sent out, considerably less than the 76% of ballots returned in 2016, but as we know some number of people who got them have decided to vote in person instead. So I wouldn’t make too big a deal about it.

In the four previous years that I’m tracking, the Friday vote tally was the highest. In 2008, the daily total went up a bit each day from Monday to Friday, and in the other years the Monday through Thursday totals were about the same, then they took a big leap on Friday. My guess is we’ll have something more like that, but with the overnight hours at eight locations on Thursday, maybe that will be a bit different. As the pace we are on right now, we will approach 2016 final turnout on Thursday, and how much we zip past it will depend whether we get a 2008 increase on Friday or an increase like the other years.


Vote type       Mon     Tue     Wed     Thu     Fri     Week
============================================================
Mail          6,407     569                            6,976
Drive-thru    5,448   6,145                           11,593
In person    46,747  50,758                           97,505
Total        58,602  57,472                          116,074

Vote type     Week 1    Week 2    Week 3      Total
===================================================
Mail          75,504    74,246     6,976    156,726
Drive-thru    54,105    39,264    11,593    104,962
In person    499,099   348,227    97,505    944,831
Total        628,708   461,737   116,074  1,206,519

We officially passed the final turnout totals from 2008 and 2012 on Tuesday, and went past the 2018 total on Wednesday morning. The only remaining hill to climb is 2016 final turnout, and we need 44,126 voters per day to get there. I’m feeling pretty good about that. Getting all the way to 1.4 million by 7 PM Friday is not out of the question if turnout ticks up a bit – with days like Monday and Tuesday, we’d be at around 1.32 million going into Friday morning, so we’d need 80K on Friday to reach that mark. That’s a bit aggressive, but not far out of line with previous years, and we could get a modest increase before Friday as well. By one account I heard on Tuesday there were about 600K Harris County voters considered “more likely than not” who hadn’t yet voted. If we approach 1.4 million by the end of Friday, then 1.7 million final turnout is well within reach, and 1.8 million is in play. Take a deep breath and think on that for a minute.

And now that you’re all calm and happy, I regret to inform you that the usual cadre of nihilist wingnuts have gone back to the Supreme Court to demand that all 100K-plus votes that have been cast at the Harris County drive-through locations be tossed out, despite the previous rejection of such a challenge. I’ll blog the news story about this tomorrow, but I’m not wasting any time worrying about that. I think if SCOTX were of a mind to take such action they would have dropped a hint about it when they rejected the original mandamus, and would be more likely to take that drastic action while voting was still going on, to give people a chance to try again. Honestly, though, I think this is a bridge too far for them. You can feel free to worry about it if you want, though.

Here’s your Derek Ryan email to cleanse the palate.

Through yesterday, 48% of voters have voted early (either in person or by mail). Nine counties have surpassed the total number of votes which were cast during the entire 2016 General Election. Those counties are: Denton, Collin, Williamson, Fort Bend, Hays, Comal, Rockwall, Guadalupe, and McCulloch. I’m not sure what’s going on in Brady (McCulloch County), so if you know if there’s a hot local contested election going on that’s boosting turnout, I’d love to know.

We will likely see a few more counties added to that list after today’s votes are added to the mix. I read on Twitter that Travis County may be added to the list once today’s votes are added. It was on Twitter, so it must be true, right?

Currently, voters who most recently voted in a Republican Primary have about a 350,000 vote advantage over voters who most recently voted in a Democratic Primary. As a reminder, I look at voter’s primary history over the last four primaries when determining this. Also, voting in a specific party’s primary does not automatically mean that person is voting for that party’s candidates this election. But, everyone is dying to know what the trends are and this is a way to gauge who is showing up.

It is also important to know that there are 3.5 million people who have voted early who have not voted in a primary election…1.6 million of these come from the top five most populous counties and 1.9 million come from the remaining counties.

Full report is here. Have you voted yet?

SCOTX upholds Abbott’s limit on mail ballot dropoff locations

I’m shocked, I tell you, shocked.

In what’s expected to be the final ruling on the matter, the Texas Supreme Court has upheld Gov. Greg Abbott’s order limiting Texas counties to only one drop-off location for voters to hand deliver their absentee ballots during the pandemic.

The ruling, issued Tuesday by the all-Republican court, is the final outcome in one of a handful of lawsuits in state and federal courts that challenged Abbott’s order from early this month. A federal appeals court also sided with the Republican governor in an earlier ruling, overturning a lower court’s decision.

The state lawsuit argued that the governor doesn’t have authority under state law to limit absentee ballot hand-delivery locations, and that his order violates voters’ equal protection rights under the state constitution. The suit was filed in Travis County by a Texas-based Anti-Defamation League, a voting rights advocacy group and a voter.

In their opinion, the justices wrote that Abbott’s order “provides Texas voters more ways to vote in the November 3 election than does the Election Code. It does not disenfranchise anyone.”

See here for the previous update. In a narrow and technical sense, the Supreme Court is correct. Abbott did in fact expand voting options with his original order, which not only added that extra week to early voting but also allowed for mail ballots to be dropped off during the early voting period. State law only allows for that on Election Day, one of many problems that will need a legislative fix in the near future. But we all know that the purpose of his amended order, more than two months after Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins had announced his plan to have dropoff locations at all 12 County Clerk offices, and several days after people began using those locations, was to issue a rebuke to Hollins for having the nerve to innovate like that, and to throw a bone to the howling nihilists in his own party that were attacking him for taking any step to make voting easier. The limit served no legitimate purpose, and was done in haste and with politics in mind. It is what it is at this point, and as with every other ad hoc obstacle thrown in our path, the voters have adjusted. We’ll be coming for you soon, Greg. The Chron has more.

Try not to get sick before Election Day

If you suffer a late illness that prevents you from getting to a polling place, you will need a doctor’s note to get an absentee ballot.

Texas voters who get sick shortly before Election Day and can’t go to the polls will still need a doctor’s note before they can get an emergency absentee ballot, a state appeals court ruled Friday.

Voting rights group MOVE Texas will not appeal the temporary ruling further. Instead, as a fallback, the group has established a free telehealth service with volunteer physicians to provide the necessary documentation for sick voters seeking absentee ballots starting Saturday, the executive director said.

The Texas 3rd Court of Appeals’ ruling, overriding a state district court order, said implementing the lower court’s ruling “would change the longstanding requirements governing late mail-in ballots and risk voter confusion.” The case will still be reviewed further after the election.

MOVE Texas first challenged existing election law in a Travis County court after reports this summer detailed voters who tested positive for the coronavirus in the days before the primary runoff election struggling to cast ballots.

Unlike applications for absentee ballots received before the general deadline, which was Friday, Texas law dictates that voters submitting applications for emergency absentee ballots must provide certification from a doctor that the voter has developed an illness that would keep them from being able to vote in person.

In the July primary runoffs, two Austin voters tested positive for the new coronavirus and were put under self-quarantine orders shortly after the cutoff date for mail-in ballot applications. They asked a Travis County district judge to waive the requirement for a doctor’s note but lost their case.

On Oct. 2, MOVE Texas filed a challenge in court, arguing that the state’s criteria for applying for emergency absentee ballots is unconstitutional and imposes an undue burden on the right to vote. Travis County District Judge Tim Sulak agreed, ruling against the requirement for a doctor’s note last week.

[…]

Preparing for the loss in the 3rd Court of Appeals, Galloway said the group designed a fallback program to connect sick voters to volunteer physicians who will meet via videoconference.

“It’s completely up to the physician if they want to issue the waiver or not,” Galloway said. “If so, they can do it digitally. That voter is then set and it’s at no cost to them to be able to complete the application and turn it into the elections department.”

Probably for the best at this point. I remember the earlier story, but if I blogged about it at the time, I can’t find the post.

Let’s be clear about three things. One, this is likely to affect a tiny, tiny number of people. The set of circumstances under which someone would be affected by this are super specific. It’s always worth worrying about anyone who faces obstacles to voting, but you can probably count the number of these people on your fingers. That said, if you haven’t voted yet, you could be a person affected by this.

Two, the main reason for all of this is our state’s restrictive laws for voting by mail. In a world where getting a mail ballot is easy – or even the default – problems like this go away. This specific situation could have been addressed by the court, but the big picture needs to be handled by the Legislature.

Finally, this is the argument for voting at your first opportunity. Life is uncertain. I get wanting to vote on Election Day, out of a sense of tradition or because you want to make sure that nothing comes up that might change your mind in a given race, or because a voting location that has meaning for you is only available on Election Day. The risk you take is that the longer you take, the greater the chances that something could come up that will complicate your ability to vote. I’m a committed early voter, and have been for years. Your mileage may vary. Just be aware of the tradeoffs.

November 2020 Early Voting Day Fourteen: Where will we end up?

Because we like starting with tweets:

That was from Sunday, after the UT-Tyler poll was factored in. As you may know, there have been two polls released since then, both favorable to Trump, so the above may be a fleeting snapshot in time. Enjoy it anyway.

The two polls I mentioned have their issues, and I will be covering them both, one today and one tomorrow. There have been a lot of polls of Texas, some better than others and some more publicized than others. It’s hard to keep up with them.

President Donald Trump frequently derides “phony polls” after he proved them wrong by defeating Hillary Clinton in 2016. But in Texas, some public polls had the opposite problem: They overestimated Trump’s margin of victory by 3 percentage points.

Two years later, polls in Texas yet again underestimated Democrats, including Beto O’Rourke, who came within 3 percentage points of unseating U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz after public polling showed him down by as many as 9 percentage points that October.

As Texas appears to be acting more like a swing state than it has in decades, O’Rourke and other Democrats have turned the idea that polling underestimates them into a sort of rallying cry as they seek to convince voters that Texas is actually in play for former Vice President Joe Biden, or that former Air Force pilot MJ Hegar could unseat longtime Republican Sen. John Cornyn.

“Pollsters have a very hard time locating, tracking and counting the votes of likely Democratic voters,” O’Rourke said recently. “Even with the polling this tight, I think actually the advantage is to Biden.”

I’ll leave it to you to read the rest. I don’t know that the polls will necessarily underestimate Biden, as they did underestimate Beto – the final polling averages in 2016 were fairly accurate, as I have noted before. There is a lot of uncertainty this year – big turnout, super big early turnout, many newly registered voters – and the polls have varied wildly in things like Latino support for Trump, which has led to some big differences in overall numbers. Early turnout is very heavily female, and women poll much more strongly for Biden. Models factor a lot of stuff in, but they all have to make some assumptions.

The Day Fourteen 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 last Monday, except with 628K votes already in the bank. The first table is totals for the “normal” early voting time period for each year.


Election     Mail      Early      Total
=======================================
2008       46,085    376,761    422,846
2012       57,031    429,186    486,217
2016       85,120    555,383    640,503
2018       78,190    494,712    572,902
2020      156,157    439,488    595,645

One way you can see the shift to earlier voting for people is to compare Week One and Week Two for each of these pre-2020 years. In 2008 and 2012, Week Two early voting was generally higher each day than in Week One. That was not true in 2016 and 2018, where the daily levels were for the most part about the same or maybe a bit less in the second week. In those years, Week One had started at a higher level, so there was less room to grow, and in the end a lot more people wound up voting in the EV period. We saw crazy high daily totals in Week One this year, lower but still pretty good Week Two levels, and now we’re in the uncharted waters of Week Three. The only thing I expect to be the same is for the final day to be the busiest.

Day One of Week Three was slower than any of the five weekdays from Week Two, though the in person total was close to last Thursday’s. It was above the mark for Saturday and Sunday, and has us back ahead of the pace to equal or bypass 2016 total turnout during the EV period.


Vote type       Mon     Tue     Wed     Thu     Fri     Week
============================================================
Mail          6,407                                    6,407
Drive-thru    5,448                                    5,448
In person    46,747                                   46,747
Total        58,602                                   58,602

Vote type     Week 1    Week 2    Week 3      Total
===================================================
Mail          75,504    74,246     6,407    156,157
Drive-thru    54,105    39,264     5,448     98,817
In person    499,099   348,227    46,747    894,073
Total        628,708   461,737    58,602  1,149,047

For the next three days, there will be extended early voting hours, to 10 PM each day. I’m not going to be awake when the County Clerk sends out the daily totals, so for the rest of the week expect the updated figures to lag by a day. I’m very interested to see what effect the extended hours have – do the daily totals tick up in proportion to the extra three hours, or does the load just get spread out a bit more evenly? Same thing for the 24-hour voting, which will be happening at eight locations. How many people wander into an EV location at 2 AM? I can’t wait to find out. Note that even if the overnight tallies are low, they’re still worth doing, as this is about making it easier and more convenient to vote. One of those 24-hour EV locations is in the Medical Center, and you know there are plenty of people milling about there at all hours. I look forward to seeing this become the standard for future elections.

We are now about 40K away from surpassing 2008 total turnout, 55K from 2012 total turnout, and 70K from 2018. With a day like Monday, the first two are in range today. We need to average 47,463 over the next four days to surpass 2016. My next update will be tomorrow. Have you voted yet?

Not everyone will be sending in their mail ballot

I get this.

Samina Mirza had read enough in the news about U.S. Postal Service delays that she decided there was no way she’d trust the mail to deliver her ballot to Harris County election officials on time.

The 70-year-old retired nonprofit staffer had originally planned to drop off her ballot at a location near her home in Katy, until Gov. Greg Abbott issued a proclamation limiting counties to just one drop-off site.

“I wasn’t going to drive 25 miles to downtown Houston to use the dropbox because the nearest one was taken away, so I said ‘OK that’s fine, I’ll take a chance and just vote in person,’” said Mirza, who voted for Democrat Joe Biden for president.

Mirza is one of about 32,000 voters in Harris County and almost 9,600 in Bexar County who had received a mail-in ballot but chose to instead vote in person as of Wednesday — and there’s still a week and a half left of early voting to go. That’s about 13 percent and 9 percent of all voters who received mail ballots in each county, respectively.

About 759,000 Harris County residents had voted early in person by Wednesday and about 115,000 had done so by mail. In Bexar County, about 326,000 had voted in person and about 70,000 by mail.

“Since there are more people voting by mail in general, it does make sense that some people might change their mind for whatever reason and decide to vote in person,” said Roxanne Werner, Harris County spokeswoman. “Some people may have applied months ago, and with news about USPS and general situations changing, they may have decided to vote in person.”

[…]

Some who switched to in-person voting, like Mirza, cited concerns about the reliability of the mail. Others said they felt attached to their habit of in-person voting. Others still felt more reassured about the safety of the polling places with the longer early voting period, and after observing early voting procedures adapted for the pandemic.

The bottom line for all of the voters, though, was that in a high-stakes election that’s drawing record numbers of Texans to the polls, they didn’t want to take a chance that their vote would not count.

Still, it’s putting an extra burden on poll workers who are already stretched thin handling high turnout and trying to manage wait times that increase potential exposure to the virus.

Well, yes. That was one of the reasons why election administrators were encouraging people to vote by mail in the first place. Not that any of our fake fraud-obsessed Republican leaders cared. Had Harris and other counties been allowed to have more than one mail ballot dropoff location, that would have also worked. But as someone once said, it is what it is. At least these folks will still be voting – as we have observed, the harder the Republicans have made it to vote, the more determined everyone seems to be. Shouldn’t have to be this way, and someday we will make it better, but for now this is where we are.

If you received a mail ballot – not just an application, but an actual mail ballot – you must bring it with you and turn it in if you decide to vote in person. Your vote will be provisional otherwise. No big deal, people do this, just bring it with you. Or fill it out and mail it in (quickly!) or drop it off. Just make sure you vote.

November 2020 Early Voting Day Thirteen: In the home stretch

Twitter time:

As a point of comparison, total turnout in 2008 was 8,077,795, and in 2012 it was 7,993,851. One reason for this is that there’s over three million more registered voters since then. Be that as it may, if we haven’t already, we will surpass those numbers today.

The Day Thirteen 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       45,361    314,252    359,613
2012       53,131    362,827    415,958
2016       80,681    486,060    566,741
2018       76,947    429,009    505,956
2020      149,750    387,293    537,043

Sundays are short days, only seven hours of voting. The votes per hour was a bit under 4K, which would have been a pace of about 45K total for a 12-hour day. Only 560 mail ballots processed – I have no idea what the rules are for Sundays, some previous years counted mail ballots on Sundays, others did not.


Vote type   Mon-Fri     Sat     Sun     Week      Total
=======================================================
Mail         69,673   4,013     560   74,246    149,750
Drive-thru   30,913   5,392   2,959   39,264     93,369
In person   291,591  33,337  23,299  348,227    847,326
Total       392,177  42,742  26,818  461,737  1,090,445

Vote type   Week One  Week Two      Total
=========================================
Mail          75,504    74,246    149,750
Drive-thru    54,105    39,264     93,369
In person    499,099   348,227    847,326
Total        628,708   461,737  1,090,445

Basically, we need about 50K voters per day to reach final 2016 levels. I expect things to tick up a bit this week, with the likely usual rush on Friday, but at this point I have on idea what that means in this context. I fully expect that when all is said and done, another 500K people or more will have voted, but maybe more of them will be next Tuesday than we think. We’ll see. Note that today and Friday are normal 7 to 7 days for voting, while Tuesday through Thursday are 7 AM to 10 PM, with several locations going 24-hour from Thursday to Friday. The EV locations map says there are seven 24-hour locations, but I only see five such designated on the map. I’m sure that will get cleared up before then. Have you voted yet?

UPDATE: My bad, I didn’t scroll all the way down the list of voting sites, so I missed seeing a couple of them. Also, as per this tweet, there are now eight 24-hour voting locations from Thursday through Friday – you can see them listed more clearly here.

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.

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?

Abbott’s order limiting mail ballot dropoff sites blocked again

But that’s not the end of the story, so hang on.

A Texas appellate court on Friday stepped in to block Gov. Greg Abbott’s order limiting counties to just one mail-ballot dropoff site, but Harris County officials said they will wait until the case is resolved before reopening any additional sites.

A three-judge panel of the Third Court of Appeals in Austin ruled that there was “no reversible error” in a lower court’s ruling that put a hold on Abbott’s Oct. 1 order.

The Attorney General’s office said Friday that it planned to immediately appeal to the Texas Supreme Court.

The Republican governor had taken aim at Harris, Travis, Fort Bend and Dallas counties — all of which had either opened multiple dropoff sites or planned to do so in an effort to make mail-in voting more convenient and safer during the pandemic.

Abbott’s order, which triggered the back-and-forth legal battles, meant Harris County had to shut down 11 additional dropoff sites, adding to crowds at the main site at NRG Arena, just southwest of downtown Houston.

The appellate panel consisted of Republican Justice Melissa Goodwin and Democratic Justices Chari Kelly and Edward Smith; the latter two were elected in 2018 as part of a wave of 19 Democratic judicial wins that flipped the four major state appeals courts.

“We’re gratified that a bipartisan panel of the Third Court of Appeals agrees that Texans should have the right to return their absentee ballots easily and safely,” said Mark Toubin, regional director for the Anti Defamation-League Southwest, one of the groups that brought the suit.

See here for the background. Statesman reporter Chuck Lindell had tweeted yesterday morning that all the briefs had been filed, and a ruling was expected. Here’s more from his story.

The unsigned opinion by three justices on the 3rd Court — Democrats Chari Kelly and Edward Smith and Republican Melissa Goodwin — did not weigh the legality or constitutionality of Abbott’s order.

Instead, the panel determined that Sulak’s injunction should not be struck down because the judge did not abuse his discretion by issuing it.

“The trial court could have credited the evidence that decreasing the number of return locations leading up to election day would significantly increase congestion and wait times … which in turn would increase the risk of the voters utilizing this method of contracting COVID-19,” the panel said.

Friday afternoon, Paxton’s office told the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court to expect an appeal to be filed over the weekend.

You can see the opinion here. This is a nice ruling, and a bipartisan one, but as of today it means little because Harris County will not open any other dropoff locations until and unless the Supreme Court upholds the injunction. In practical terms, if this takes another week, it won’t mean much regardless. But maybe we’ll get a quicker ruling than that, you never know. The Trib has more.

November 2020 Early Voting Day Eleven: We reach one million

Let’s take a brief detour to Fort bend County.

Fort Bend County voters continue to smash early-voting records — with a greater share of voters turning out so far than in populous Harris and Dallas counties, according to a news release from the county judge in Fort Bend.

As of Wednesday, 38.65 percent of voters had cast ballots so far in Fort Bend compared to 35.5 percent in Harris and Dallas counties. During the second week of early voting, more than 20,000 votes a day have been casting ballots.

“We are doing everything we can to ensure safe, secure, and accessible voting in Fort Bend County, and it is a daily inspiration to see so many casting their ballots,” Fort Bend County Judge KP George said in a written statement.

Officials said 188,927 people had voted in person in Fort Bend County as of Thursday, which is about 39 percent of the county’s 483,221 registered voters. About 16,563 mail-in ballots had also been returned to the county.

With mail-in ballots included, a total of 205,490 ballots have been cast so far in Fort Bend, a diverse county that has been trending blue. That’s compared to a total of 200,251 votes cast during early voting in 2018 and 214,170 votes in 2016, according to a news release from the district attorney’s office.

Way to go, Fort Bend!

As for Harris County, it looks like we hit the 2016 early voting mark of 985,571 by about 1 PM yesterday, based on this tweet:

We hit one million around 3 PM or a bit later – the tweet was at 3:15, and the press release announcing it hit my mailbox at 3:45. The social media and PR staff over there are on top of it, let me tell you. For what it’s worth, I will note this much: As a percentage of registered voters, the 985,571 people who voted early or by mail in Harris County in 2016 were 45.15% of the RVs we had that year. This year, with 2,468,559 registered voters, 985,571 would only be 39.92% of the total. To get to 45.15%, we’d need to reach 1,114,504 voters. As of today, we’re at 41.36%. However, we’ve also only had eleven days of early voting, while the 2016 cycle had 12, as is usually the case. We need to get about 94K voters today to reach that same percentage for a twelve-day period. Feels a bit out of reach, but we’ll get close.

I’ll have that update for you tomorrow. In the meantime, the Day Eleven 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       40,059    220,046    260,105
2012       53,131    260,274    313,405
2016       77,445    374,679    452,124
2018       64,832    315,030    379,862
2020      145,177    322,324    467,501

A busier day in person than yesterday, basically at Wednesday’s level, but only 8,326 mail ballots returned, so the overall total was down from yesterday. It was still almost 70K votes in total, and the uptick in in-person votes on the Friday is in line with previous years. It was busy enough in 2016 that the earlier year has almost caught up, in a sense. Other than those first 600K+ votes, of course. Anyway, I’m very interested to see what today looks like, as it’s the first second Saturday of early voting we’ve ever had. Up through 2016, the Saturday of early voting was the busiest day of the first week, but that may not be the case here, given all the early voting action we’ve already had. But who knows? We’re officially in uncharted territory.


Vote type     Mon     Tue      Wed     Thu     Fri      Total
=============================================================
Mail        17,106  12,216  10,097  21,928   8,326    145,177
Drive-thru   6,347   7,578   6,834   5,145   5,009     85,018
In person   67,679  62,173  55,557  49,698  56,484    790,690
Total       91,132  81,967  72,488  76,771  69,819  1,020,885

We are now at 76.2% of 2016’s final turnout, and we are of course now past all early voting numbers. The next milestones for final turnout are 1,188,731 for 2008, 1,204,167 for 2012, and 1,219,871 for 2018. At a pace of about 70K a day, which is more or less what we were doing this week so far, we’ll pass them all by the end of the day Monday, and we’ll pass 2016’s number on Wednesday. We’ll need to average 45,430 per day to match 2016 by Friday. Can we keep it up? We’ll see!

Here’s your Derek Ryan email:

Through yesterday, 6,391,021 have voted by mail or in person (37.7% of all registered voters).

In my daily reports, I have spent a lot of time discussing who has voted, but I thought I would change things up a little today and discuss who has NOT voted. I ran the numbers and there are still over five million people who voted in the March Primary, the 2018 General Election, and/or the 2016 General Election who have not voted yet. Naturally, some of these people may not vote this year, but if 90% of these people end up voting, that puts turnout at nearly 11 million votes (and that’s before including any new voters who may show up to vote).

Of the five million who have not voted yet, 1.3 million have most recently voted in a Republican Primary and 900,000 have most recently voted in a Democratic Primary. The remainder are people who only vote in General Elections and have no primary election history.

You can see the full report here. “Yesterday” in that first paragraph meant Thursday, which was the tenth day of voting. I’d have to go back and chart each day’s daily total to see what kind of pace we’re on, but it’s not at all hard to see from these numbers so far why Ryan was projecting 12 million in total turnout. Some others are a little less bullish, but still predicting more than 11 million. Let’s see what the last seven days of early voting bring. Have you voted yet?