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Attorney General

More on the lawsuit against Paxton’s deranged ballot access opinion

There are actually three counties suing him, not just the one I had originally noted.

The only criminal involved

At least three Texas counties — Tarrant, Williamson, and Harris — have sued Attorney General Ken Paxton and are asking a judge to strike down a legal opinion he released last year that says anyone can access voted ballots right after an election. The lawsuits allege Paxton’s opinion violates state and federal law, contradicts his own previous direction on the issue, and exposes local election administrators to potential criminal charges.

For decades, the attorney general’s office advised counties that voted ballots were to be kept secure for 22 months after an election, a timeframe mandated by federal law and Texas state election code. But only months before the November 2022 general election, even though neither law had changed, Paxton released an opinion saying the documents could be released to anyone who requested them, almost right after the ballots were counted.

Now, counties and election officials across the state are stuck. They can follow Paxton’s new opinion — which is only a written interpretation of the law — and potentially open themselves up to criminal penalties for violating state law, or they can defy the state attorney general and open up themselves to costly lawsuits.

That’s why now the counties are asking a judge to step in and settle the question.

Paxton’s office did not respond to emails requesting comment. Paxton so far has filed a response only to Tarrant County’s lawsuit, which was filed in October and was the first of the three challenges. Paxton’s office denied the county’s claims.

Experts say the move by three different counties to challenge the Texas attorney general’s legal opinion speaks to the complicated position it has put local election officials in. His opinion, they say, has caused chaos, and has no basis in state law.

“These counties don’t have a choice. They have to worry about whether Ken Paxton is going to take action against them,” said Chad Dunn, an Austin-based attorney and an expert on Texas election law. Dunn said Paxton’s opinion “is laughable. The election code is clear. I’ll be just shocked if the state court system ends up agreeing with Ken Paxton and the ballots are public.”

[…]

The Texas attorney general’s office, including Paxton’s own administration, has affirmed this interpretation of the law since the 1980s. The practice of keeping the ballots preserved and confidential for 22 months, experts say, prevents the documents from being tampered with or compromised and protects the documents’ reliability in case there’s a request for recount or other election challenges.

Paxton released his opinion in August after a request from state Sen. Kelly Hancock and state Rep. Matt Krause, both Republicans, who said members of the public and legislators desired “to audit the outcome of Texas elections.” In a footnote, Paxton acknowledged that the attorney general’s office had issued a previous opinion in 1988, before he took office, saying unauthorized access to the ballots during the preservation period is prohibited. But the new opinion offers no clear explanation of his decision to change a decades-old precedent.

Paxton’s office “does not have the authority to make or change the law; that is a responsibility that solely rests with the Texas Legislature,” Tarrant County’s lawsuit says.

Paxton’s new opinion does not address the potential criminal exposure of election officials, who could be charged with a misdemeanor amounting to $4,000 in fines or up to a year in jail, or offer a clear timeframe of how quickly election clerks must provide the records to requesters.

“The Election Code provides a few limited circumstances where the custodian has express authority to access ballots prior to the 22-month expiration. Responding to [public information] requests is not one of those circumstances,” the Williamson County lawsuit says.

The three lawsuits are technically challenging Paxton’s Public Information Act decisions — which experts say is not an uncommon practice — and not his legal opinion directly. In order for counties to be able to challenge an attorney general’s opinion in court, the counties must have “standing and show a reason why it affects” them said Bob Heath, an Austin-based election and voting rights lawyer and a former chair of the opinions committee of the Texas attorney general’s office. The counties are doing so through the Public Information Act challenges that are based on Paxton’s decision, which Heath says is “wrong.”

“That’s a way to get to this opinion, and the opinion obviously poses a real problem for counties or for election administrators and county clerks,” Heath said.

See here, here, and here for the background. I don’t have much to add to what I’ve already said, I’m just waiting to see when the court will issue a ruling. After that, it’s a matter of what the Supreme Court will do. I have some hope, but these days that always has to be tempered with extreme anxiety. Stay tuned.

Paxton sued over his deranged ballot access opinion

Good.

The only criminal involved

The Williamson County attorney’s office has sued Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, claiming a ruling he made that gives the public immediate access to ballots after an election violates state law.

County officials, the lawsuit said, can be charged with a misdemeanor if they release the information before a 22-month period required by the state election code that ballots must be kept confidential.

[…]

Three people requested to see the Williamson County ballots on Aug. 17, 2022, and Aug. 23, 2022, from different county elections, including all 2021 elections and the March 2022 primary, according to the lawsuit. The only reason they gave for their request was that the attorney general had ruled on Aug. 17, 2022, that ballot information could be released before the 22-month waiting period if there was a public information request for it, said the lawsuit.

County officials, the lawsuit said, did not want to release the information before the 22-month waiting period was over, saying the information was confidential, according to the Texas Election Code.

The attorney general’s office responded in a Nov. 9 letter saying that the ballot information is public information and that the county must release it immediately, the lawsuit said.

The county disagreed with Paxton’s ruling, saying the Texas Legislature “has decreed that the voted ballots remain secure for the 22-month preservation period and has criminalized the unauthorized access to those ballots,” according to the lawsuit.

“The Attorney General does not have the authority to overrule the expressed command of the Legislature by ruling that the Open Records Act supersedes the Election Code provision.”

The lawsuit also said that Paxton had made multiple rulings the county had received in 2022 “that the ballots and cast vote records were confidential during the 22-month preservation period” before Paxton changed his mind and ruled that the public must be allowed access to the ballots.

Linda Eads, a law professor at Southern Methodist University and a former deputy attorney general for litigation for the state of Texas, said she was shocked by Paxton’s August ruling.

“Section 66.058 (of the Texas Election Code) is specific and makes clear that election information is deemed confidential and must be treated as such, even if the more general statute Section 1.012 says election information is public information,” said Eads.

See here and here for some background. The courts have on occasion been willing to put a check on Paxton’s power, and I hope this will be one of those times. At least we’re in the state courts, so the Fifth Circuit won’t be involved. The Lege could modify the law in question to moot the claim, but with any luck there won’t be the time or the inclination to do that in this session. We may have to worry about it again in 2025, but we have enough to occupy ourselves with now, so let’s not borrow trouble.

Is trap-neuter-return illegal?

A question that could affect a lot of cities, including Houston.

Trap, neuter, return programs are popular across Texas as a way to control feral cat populations. But one local official is now posing a thorny question: Are they legal?

Brazoria County District Attorney Tom Selleck has asked the attorney general’s office to determine whether the initiatives run afoul of animal cruelty laws that criminalize abandonment.

Selleck insists he is not trying to put an end to the programs, but instead wants clarification as several cities in his area consider their use.

“We’re certainly not saying it’s a bad program, quite the contrary, I think it has some excellent benefits,” he said. “I just don’t want somebody getting arrested over it. I’d like to know what my parameters are as a prosecutor.”

Attorney General Ken Paxton has yet to issue the opinion that could have sweeping implications for animal control efforts in Dallas and other cities. In addition to managing stray cat populations, the programs are also credited with cutting back on nuisance mating behaviors like fighting, yowling and marking.

Generally the programs work like this: Stray cats are trapped, then sterilized and vaccinated by a veterinarian before being returned to where they were found. Animals that have been through the process are often marked with a clipped ear.

In his November letter, Selleck questioned whether the programs may conflict with a state law that makes it a crime to abandon “unreasonably an animal in the person’s custody.”

“Returning the animal into the wild, without making reasonable arrangements for another individual to take custody of said animal, operates as a form of abandonment, by letter of the law,” he wrote. “If the abandonment is made unreasonably, such as leaving the stray in an open and unsafe environment, then that may support a conviction.”

Danielle Bays, a senior analyst for cat protection and policy at the Humane Society of the United States, pushed back on that notion.

“It’s not as if these cats are being left to fend for themselves,” Bays said. The stray cats are returned to the same place they were trapped, she said, often where they’re being fed or cared for by people.

“I don’t know of anywhere where people have actually been charged with abandoning cats when they return them to where they were found,” she said. “If you’re taking those cats and releasing them somewhere else, if you were just dumping them somewhere, that’s not the same thing.”

I get where DA Selleck is coming from – certainly as an officer of the court he wants to make sure he’s in compliance with the law – but I dunno, if the issue has never come up before and so many cities have been doing this without any problems, maybe it’s not an issue? Houston is one of those cities, so we have some skin in this game. Selleck says that he hopes the AG’s office will return an opinion in time for the Lege to take action if needed, a sentiment with which I agree. That said, if there really is a concern, there’s no reason not to ask a legislator right now to craft and carry a bill that would clarify the law and remove the potential conflict. Why take the chance on the opinion landing after the bill filing date, or the Lege not having the time to move it after the opinion drops? If it’s an issue, take action now. That’s my opinion.

Precinct analysis: The better statewide races

PREVIOUSLY
Beto versus Abbott
Beto versus the spread
Hidalgo versus Mealer

As noted before, Greg Abbott got 490K votes in Harris County, far less than the 559K he received in 2018 running against Lupe Valdez. Of the other six races for statewide executive offices, three were similar in nature to the Governor’s race and three were friendlier to Republicans. This post is about the first three, and those are the races for Lite Guv, Attorney General, and Ag Commissioner. For those of you whose memories stretch back as far as 2018, yes those were the three best races for Dems after the Beto-Cruz race for Senate as well. Let’s look at the numbers.

Lieutenant Governor


Dist  Patrick  Collier     Lib
==============================
HD126  35,244   23,460   1,482
HD127  38,578   26,405   1,691
HD128  31,548   13,748   1,148
HD129  36,347   26,966   1,802
HD130  44,307   20,934   1,434
HD131   5,886   24,670     933
HD132  34,417   25,498   1,374
HD133  31,931   27,421   1,396
HD134  28,262   51,502   1,828
HD135  16,373   23,514   1,050
HD137   7,690   13,164     650
HD138  30,328   25,534   1,383
HD139  11,536   31,304   1,246
HD140   5,850   12,681     647
HD141   4,494   20,290     851
HD142   8,641   25,030   1,043
HD143   8,469   15,270     804
HD144  11,551   14,029     854
HD145  12,368   32,031   1,449
HD146   8,285   33,018   1,148
HD147   8,809   36,618   1,383
HD148  15,383   20,840   1,065
HD149  11,923   19,315     824
HD150  33,548   22,898   1,431

CC1    65,573  204,223   7,632
CC2    94,272  105,549   6,218
CC3   214,555  146,441   8,815
CC4   107,368  129,927   6,251
							
JP1    58,698  126,202   5,083
JP2    21,608   29,498   1,599
JP3    34,975   41,776   2,126
JP4   166,204  128,604   7,578
JP5   137,161  147,432   7,185
JP6     4,941   17,062     885
JP7    11,370   65,643   2,250
JP8    46,811   29,923   2,210

Dist Patrick% Collier%    Lib%
==============================
HD126  58.56%   38.98%   2.46%
HD127  57.86%   39.60%   2.54%
HD128  67.93%   29.60%   2.47%
HD129  55.82%   41.41%   2.77%
HD130  66.45%   31.40%   2.15%
HD131  18.69%   78.34%   2.96%
HD132  56.16%   41.60%   2.24%
HD133  52.56%   45.14%   2.30%
HD134  34.64%   63.12%   2.24%
HD135  40.00%   57.44%   2.56%
HD137  35.76%   61.22%   3.02%
HD138  52.98%   44.60%   2.42%
HD139  26.17%   71.01%   2.83%
HD140  30.50%   66.12%   3.37%
HD141  17.53%   79.15%   3.32%
HD142  24.89%   72.10%   3.00%
HD143  34.51%   62.22%   3.28%
HD144  43.70%   53.07%   3.23%
HD145  26.98%   69.86%   3.16%
HD146  19.52%   77.78%   2.70%
HD147  18.82%   78.23%   2.95%
HD148  41.25%   55.89%   2.86%
HD149  37.19%   60.24%   2.57%
HD150  57.96%   39.56%   2.47%

CC1    23.64%   73.61%   2.75%
CC2    45.75%   51.23%   3.02%
CC3    58.02%   39.60%   2.38%
CC4    44.09%   53.35%   2.57%
			
JP1    30.90%   66.43%   2.68%
JP2    41.00%   55.97%   3.03%
JP3    44.34%   52.96%   2.70%
JP4    54.96%   42.53%   2.51%
JP5    47.01%   50.53%   2.46%
JP6    21.59%   74.55%   3.87%
JP7    14.34%   82.82%   2.84%
JP8    59.30%   37.90%   2.80%

Attorney General


Dist   Paxton    Garza     Lib
==============================
HD126  35,146   23,166   1,681
HD127  38,480   26,208   1,817
HD128  31,566   13,692   1,110
HD129  36,386   26,643   1,914
HD130  44,397   20,427   1,713
HD131   5,857   24,875     694
HD132  34,454   25,125   1,539
HD133  31,901   26,700   1,898
HD134  28,201   50,706   2,371
HD135  16,314   23,615     964
HD137   7,704   13,091     643
HD138  30,154   25,204   1,732
HD139  11,438   31,372   1,145
HD140   5,605   13,078     466
HD141   4,487   20,489     610
HD142   8,580   25,228     859
HD143   8,346   15,595     594
HD144  11,375   14,337     662
HD145  12,220   32,097   1,425
HD146   8,320   32,991     999
HD147   8,731   36,766   1,206
HD148  15,221   20,981   1,035
HD149  11,876   19,423     706
HD150  33,382   22,726   1,595
							
CC1    65,204  204,223   7,257
CC2    93,611  106,606   5,426
CC3   214,042  144,575  10,162
CC4   107,284  129,131   6,533
							
JP1    58,125  125,740   5,522
JP2    21,364   29,906   1,317
JP3    34,843   42,072   1,833
JP4   165,760  127,783   8,087
JP5   136,969  146,132   7,898
JP6     4,815   17,369     687
JP7    11,411   65,835   1,804
JP8    46,854   29,698   2,230

Dist  Paxton%   Garza%    Lib%
==============================
HD126  58.58%   38.61%   2.80%
HD127  57.86%   39.41%   2.73%
HD128  68.08%   29.53%   2.39%
HD129  56.03%   41.03%   2.95%
HD130  66.73%   30.70%   2.57%
HD131  18.64%   79.15%   2.21%
HD132  56.37%   41.11%   2.52%
HD133  52.73%   44.13%   3.14%
HD134  34.70%   62.39%   2.92%
HD135  39.89%   57.75%   2.36%
HD137  35.94%   61.06%   3.00%
HD138  52.82%   44.15%   3.03%
HD139  26.02%   71.37%   2.60%
HD140  29.27%   68.30%   2.43%
HD141  17.54%   80.08%   2.38%
HD142  24.75%   72.77%   2.48%
HD143  34.02%   63.56%   2.42%
HD144  43.13%   54.36%   2.51%
HD145  26.72%   70.17%   3.12%
HD146  19.66%   77.97%   2.36%
HD147  18.69%   78.72%   2.58%
HD148  40.88%   56.34%   2.78%
HD149  37.11%   60.69%   2.21%
HD150  57.85%   39.38%   2.76%
			
CC1    23.57%   73.81%   2.62%
CC2    45.52%   51.84%   2.64%
CC3    58.04%   39.20%   2.76%
CC4    44.16%   53.15%   2.69%
			
JP1    30.69%   66.39%   2.92%
JP2    40.63%   56.87%   2.50%
JP3    44.25%   53.43%   2.33%
JP4    54.95%   42.36%   2.68%
JP5    47.07%   50.22%   2.71%
JP6    21.05%   75.94%   3.00%
JP7    14.44%   83.28%   2.28%
JP8    59.47%   37.70%   2.83%

Dan Patrick (481K votes) and Ken Paxton (480K) were the two low scorers among Republicans. Mike Collier and Rochelle Garza both had leads against them of just over 100K votes, right in line with Beto’s lead against Abbott. That’s not as robust as what Dems did in 2018 as we know, but I can’t blame Collier and Garza for that. They were still top scorers, it was mostly that the environment wasn’t as good for them.

Overall, it looks like Collier and Garza did about as well percentage-wise as Beto did. Collier actually did a tiny bit better in HD133, and both did better in HD134. In some cases, like HD132 and HD138, Collier and Garza were about equal with Beto but Patrick and Paxton were a point or two behind Abbott. That looks to me to be the effect of the larger Libertarian vote in those races – there were about 29K Lib votes in these two races, while there were about 16K third party and write-in votes for Governor. At least in those cases, you can make the claim that the Libertarian received votes that might have otherwise gone to the Republican.

In the Ag Commissioner race, Sid Miller got 507K votes to top Abbott’s total, but he was aided by not having any third party candidates. Susan Hays did pretty well compared to the other Dems in that straight up two-way race:

Ag Commissioner


Dist   Miller     Hays
======================
HD126  36,872   22,678
HD127  40,060   25,992
HD128  32,447   13,641
HD129  38,091   26,236
HD130  46,273   19,792
HD131   6,091   25,170
HD132  36,189   24,576
HD133  34,548   25,581
HD134  31,793   48,687
HD135  17,174   23,491
HD137   8,207   13,090
HD138  32,276   24,389
HD139  12,291   31,372
HD140   5,904   13,079
HD141   4,667   20,779
HD142   9,047   25,391
HD143   8,631   15,710
HD144  11,849   14,344
HD145  13,871   31,301
HD146   8,922   33,114
HD147   9,761   36,482
HD148  16,238   20,657
HD149  12,270   19,513
HD150  34,895   22,408
						
CC1    71,746  202,649
CC2    97,753  106,167
CC3   224,670  141,583
CC4   114,198  127,074
						
JP1    64,850  122,675
JP2    22,256   29,898
JP3    35,923   42,332
JP4   173,381  126,119
JP5   145,619  143,496
JP6     5,243   17,412
JP7    12,266   66,242
JP8    48,829   29,299

Dist  Miller%    Hays% 
=======================
HD126  61.92%   38.08%
HD127  60.65%   39.35%
HD128  70.40%   29.60%
HD129  59.21%   40.79%
HD130  70.04%   29.96%
HD131  19.48%   80.52%
HD132  59.56%   40.44%
HD133  57.46%   42.54%
HD134  39.50%   60.50%
HD135  42.23%   57.77%
HD137  38.54%   61.46%
HD138  56.96%   43.04%
HD139  28.15%   71.85%
HD140  31.10%   68.90%
HD141  18.34%   81.66%
HD142  26.27%   73.73%
HD143  35.46%   64.54%
HD144  45.24%   54.76%
HD145  30.71%   69.29%
HD146  21.22%   78.78%
HD147  21.11%   78.89%
HD148  44.01%   55.99%
HD149  38.61%   61.39%
HD150  60.90%   39.10%
		
CC1    26.15%   73.85%
CC2    47.94%   52.06%
CC3    61.34%   38.66%
CC4    47.33%   52.67%
		
JP1    34.58%   65.42%
JP2    42.67%   57.33%
JP3    45.91%   54.09%
JP4    57.89%   42.11%
JP5    50.37%   49.63%
JP6    23.14%   76.86%
JP7    15.62%   84.38%
JP8    62.50%   37.50%

Miller was definitely a slight notch up from the first three. How much of that is the lack of a third choice versus some other consideration I couldn’t say, but you can see it in the numbers.

I’ll get into it a bit more in the next post when we look at the higher-scoring Republicans, but my sense is that these three Dems, plus Beto, received some crossovers. Beto and Collier and Garza had enough money to at least run some ads, while Hays was still running against perhaps the highest-profile (read: got the most negative news for his ridiculous actions) incumbent after those three. We have definitely seen races like this, certainly in elections going back to 2016 – Hillary versus Trump, Biden versus Trump, Beto and the Lite Guv/AG/Ag Commish triumvirate this year and 2018. We saw it with Bill White in 2010, too – as I’ve observed in the past, White received something like 300K votes from people who otherwise voted Republican. That’s a lot! Democrats can persuade at least some Republicans to vote for their statewide candidates, but only under some conditions. If we can get the baseline vote to be closer, that could be enough to push some people over the top. We’re still working on the first part of that equation.

Like I said, I’ll get into that a bit more in the next post. Looking at what I’ve written here, I need to do a post about third party votes, too. Let me know what you think.

More on the post-marijuana decriminalization referendum conflict

The Trib takes a long look.

The fight in several Texas cities to decriminalize marijuana has entered a new phase, as some city leaders have rebuffed voter-approved rules that largely end criminal enforcement against having small amounts of the substance.

Last month, residents in Denton, San Marcos, Killeen, Elgin and Harker Heights overwhelmingly approved ballot measures that sought to ban arrests and citations for carrying less than 4 ounces of marijuana in most instances. They also approved new rules blocking cities from funding THC concentration tests, plus removing marijuana smell as a probable cause for search and seizure in most cases.

Winning over voters was just half the battle.

Since then, organizers behind the ballot questions in some cities have clashed with their city and county leaders who are tasked with putting the new laws in place, as well as law enforcement. Those officials have said the effort violates state law and hinders police officers.

The battle has been the toughest in Harker Heights, a town of 33,000 about 55 miles southwest of Waco. Despite the proposition winning more than 60% of the votes, the City Council decided to repeal the ordinance just two weeks later. City Manager David Mitchell said in a subsequent letter that the decision to decriminalize should be left to the state.

For Harker Heights residents who supported decriminalizing marijuana, the repeal is a stinging show of disrespect for their exercise of democracy.

“I don’t do any kind of drugs nor does my wife, but we’re here for the vote,” said Brian Burt, who casted his ballot for the proposition.

“A vote is a vote,” Alexandra Burt chimed in. “We are also aware that minorities disproportionately take the brunt of the law, so it is time for that proposition to go through.”

To force the City Council’s hand, the Burts and hundreds of other residents backed a new petition by Ground Game Texas, a progressive group that co-led the decriminalization campaign, to put the council’s decision to repeal on the May ballot and revive the ordinance in the meantime.

Julie Oliver, the group’s executive director, said the council’s decision to revoke a popular choice by voters has backfired.

“Shutting down someone’s vote is ill-advised, so this has really brought the community together,” she said.

Organizers across the state facing similar pushback also say they would prefer the Texas Legislature to pass laws that would decriminalize or even legalize marijuana — though they acknowledge how unlikely that is given the state’s conservative power structure.

“We can all see the way that this country is heading, state by state, but it looks like Texas is going to be one of the last,” said Deb Armintor, a Decriminalize Denton organizer and a former City Council member who championed decriminalization during her two terms. “There’s no point in cities waiting.”

[…]

Several cities and towns have since followed. Elgin, a city of about 10,500 people that sits just east of Austin, voted to decriminalize by almost 75%. Its council has made the least amount of noise in putting the ordinance in place.

Other city and county officials, however, have raised concerns about a statute from the Texas Local Government Code that says municipal bodies like city councils and police departments “may not adopt a policy under which the entity will not fully enforce laws relating to drugs.”

Last month, Republican Bell County District Attorney Henry Garza cited it when asking the police chief of Killeen, where close to 70% of voters favored decriminalization, to reverse his order telling officers to follow the vote. Following a pause, Killeen City Council approved the ordinance on Dec. 6 after removing the section banning officers from using marijuana smell as probable cause for search and seizure.

“The amendment was not preferable but now our residents do not have to fear an arrest that will affect their employment opportunities, education opportunities and housing opportunities,” said Louie Minor, a Bell County commissioner-elect who worked on both the Killeen and Harker Heights campaigns.

More recently, Republican Hays County Criminal District Attorney Wes Mau requested an attorney general opinion about the ordinance’s enforceability over similar questions. Mano Amiga — the group co-leading the effort in San Marcos — immediately pushed back, as voters had passed the proposition by almost 82% and the City Council already approved it in November.

Mau said he has “no plans to file a lawsuit” in his last month of office. His Democratic successor Kelly Higgins supports decriminalization.

“The Attorney General cannot overturn the referendum, nor am I asking him to,” Mau said in a statement to The Texas Tribune. “But an opinion as to whether the ordinance is enforceable may be helpful to the City moving forward.”

In the North Texas suburb of Denton, where voters approved decriminalization by more than 70%, the City Council has also certified the initiative, thus enacting the ordinance. But organizers worry about its enforcement because City Manager Sara Hensley has opposed implementing parts of it due to similar issues. Organizers responded in November with a memo arguing that Hensley doesn’t have policymaking authority and that the city has discretion to enact policies conserving scarce resources.

See here and here for some background. I take the concerns of the opponents seriously, even as I would have voted for these measures myself. I expect the Legislature will respond, most likely in a disproportionate matter, to these referenda if they are not at least modified by those city councils. I also think this is a fight worth having, in the courts as well as at the ballot box. There really is a significant disconnect between public opinion and legislative action on this matter. So far, too many people who disagree with the Republicans in general and the Lege/Greg Abbott/Dan Patrick in particular have nonetheless voted for them, or not shown up to vote against them. The point here is to try to change some minds of the former and motivate more of the latter. At the very least, that means seeing this through, whatever happens along the way. I do think the pro-decriminalization side will eventually prevail, but who knows how long that may take. Letting up won’t make it happen any sooner.

Hays County DA questions San Marcos marijuana ordinance passed by voters

Add this to the pile.

San Marcos voters passed a marijuana ordinance this November that would halt San Marcos police from arresting people for low-level marijuana offenses. Now, the Hays County district attorney is looking to Texas leaders for their opinion on the ordinance.

Hays County District Attorney Wes Mau sent a letter to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton requesting his opinion on San Marcos’ marijuana ordinance on Thursday, December 8.

“I am asking for the opinion because San Marcos officials are justifiably concerned that if the ordinance is legally or constitutionally void, then if the city disciplines officers for enforcing the marijuana law, as the ordinance requires, the city could be liable,” Mau said to MySA in an email.

In the letter, Mau noted that the ordinance would attempt to stop officers from using the smell of marijuana as probable cause.

“It is inconsistent with state and federal law for an ordinance to declare that the odor of marijuana may never be used as probable cause for a search or seizure when, as a matter of law, there are certainly times when the odor of marijuana constitutes probable cause under state or federal law,” Mau said in the letter. “The determination of probable cause is to be made on a case-by-case basis by the judicial branch.”

[…]

The ordinance went into effect on November 17 and covers possession of up to four ounces, but doesn’t cover THC oil and only applies to the San Marcos Police Department.

Mau said in the email to MySA that the local government code and the Texas constitution appear to prohibit an ordinance like the one that got passed.

“The attorney general cannot overturn the referendum, nor am I asking him to, but an opinion as to whether the ordinance is enforceable may be helpful to the city moving forward,” Mau said in the email to MySA.

I think this is a slightly different case than what we saw in three other cities that passed similar referenda only to see their City Councils pass laws modifying or nullifying them. If this is a valid concern, then it makes sense to seek an opinion rather than let the situation play out and deal with the inevitable lawsuits later. I presume that if the AG opinion aligns with this concern, then San Marcos’ city council will have a decision to make about that ordinance. I’ll keep an eye on this, because the likelihood that there will be more of these referenda passed by voters around the state is very high, and the same question would apply in those places as well. Reform Austin has more.

Abbott is now attacking immigration-focused non-profits

Always be finding a new enemy, that’s the motto.

Gov. Greg Abbott called Wednesday for the state to investigate whether nonprofit organizations have helped people enter the country illegally, adding another talking point to his border hawk arsenal and another headache to humanitarian relief groups that help migrants in Texas.

Abbott made his request in a letter to Attorney General Ken Paxton in which he cited the increased number of migrants expected at the border once Title 42 — a federal public health order issued near the start of the pandemic that officials have used to turn away migrants at the border — comes to an end in a few days at a time of record migrant crossings. Earlier this week, 1,500 people waded across the low waters in the Rio Grande and into El Paso in one crossing, stressing the city’s limited resources to deal with migrants.

Without citing any evidence, Abbott said he had received reports that nongovernmental organizations — a term that generally refers to nonprofit, humanitarian groups — “may be engaged in unlawfully orchestrating other border crossings through activities on both sides of the border, including in sectors other than El Paso.”

“In light of these reports, I am calling on the Texas Attorney General’s Office to initiate an investigation into the role of NGOs in planning and facilitating the illegal transportation of illegal immigrants across our borders,” Abbott wrote, adding that he is ready to “craft any sensible legislative solutions [Paxton’s] office may propose that are aimed at solving the ongoing border crisis and the role that NGOs may play in encouraging it.”

Abbott’s office did not respond to a question asking what reports his office was citing. Fox News reported Monday that Mexican police had escorted 20 buses from other parts of Mexico to nongovernmental organizations at Mexican border cities. The outlet reported that the migrants then walked from the nongovernmental organizations and crossed illegally into El Paso.

Texas does not have jurisdiction over Mexican nongovernmental organizations, and the reporting did not allege any improper action by a U.S.-based nongovernmental organization.

Still, nonprofit groups working to help migrants on the border say Abbott’s call for investigations could make their jobs harder. The move drew an immediate rebuke from Democratic lawmakers and local officials.

“Governor Abbott’s decision to investigate NGOs that are providing humanitarian care for migrants is shameful and intended to intimidate and instill fear in non-profit and faith-based organizations that exemplify the values we should all aspire to,” U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, said in a statement. “Most border NGOs that work tirelessly on the border help provide temporary shelter, food and hospitality to migrants, most of whom will be awaiting adjudication of their asylum claims with sponsors they have in different parts of the country. They have been doing this work for decades and deserve our praise, not persecution.”

Dylan Corbett, executive director of the El Paso-based Hope Border Institute, said in a statement that Abbott’s language was “alarming and an unequivocal attempt to intimidate humanitarian organizations working on the front lines.”

“This is a moment for border communities to come together to meet a humanitarian challenge. We need the support and collaboration of the government at all levels, not political grandstanding that dangerously approaches criminalizing Good Samaritans,” Corbett said.

In Texas, nonprofits that aid migrants play a crucial role. Once migrants are released by federal officials into border cities, which frequently do not have the resources to deal with the large number of people crossing the border, these groups help temporarily house the migrants and help them find transportation to other parts of the country. In many areas, immigration officials bring migrants to nonprofit groups once they have already been processed by the federal government and are free to be released.

[…]

But without the nonprofits’ work, border cities would likely have more migrants roaming the streets without any way to move on if they’re trying to reach a different destination where they may have family members or a support group to help them until their immigration process is finalized. Abbott has even partnered with some nonprofit groups to carry out his policy of busing migrants to Democrat-led cities like Washington, D.C.New YorkChicago and Philadelphia.

Nothing quite captures the zeitgeist of the modern “conservative” movement like an old white guy wildly overreacting to some bullshit story he just saw on Fox News. I bet Abbott was a top-notch chain email forwarder back in the day.

I make dumb jokes about stuff like this because honestly I’m not sure what else I can do right now. I’d love to hear some good strategic ideas because I’m fresh out, and the next election is obviously too far away to be of any importance right now. Maybe there was hope for some kind of action at the federal level in the lame duck section, but that’s not looking great right now either.

The immigration framework proposed by two bipartisan lawmakers that would have passed permanent relief for young undocumented immigrants in exchange for harsh border measures has reportedly failed.

Thom Tillis and Kyrsten Sinema “did not strike a deal that would have been able to secure the necessary 60 votes in the evenly divided Senate during the lame-duck session,” congressional officials told CBS News. John Cornyn “and other members of GOP leadership said there was scant Republican support for the plan,” CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez tweeted Wednesday.

The termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program through right-wing courts is not a matter of if, its a matter of when, and passage of a deal during the lame duck represented the last chance to pass some sort of relief before an anti-immigrant Texas judge issues his decision. Kevin McCarthy has already promised he’ll pass no humane relief, as part of his campaigning to become speaker. That includes a corrupt bargain targeting Department of Homeland Security Sec. Alejandro Mayorkas for impeachment.

The immigration proposal came as young immigrants (as well as the farmworkers who feed America) rallied for legislative action before the current congressional term ends in January, and was a sweet-and-sour deal attempting to garner the 10 Republicans needed to overcome the Jim Crow filibuster.

The sweet: Relief for DACA recipients, who for five years have been watching the program be attacked by Republicans, both at the federal government level and in the courts. The sour: Harsh border enforcement measures, including an extension of Stephen Miller’s anti-asylum Title 42 policy for at least another year. CNN had also reported increased border security funding, anywhere from $25 billion to $40 billion, on top of the billions that border agencies already get. But apparently, none of that was enough to convince 10 members of the GOP caucus, according to Cornyn.

Cornyn, since we’re already discussing him, once made a laughable claim in a campaign ad that he’s supported legalization for undocumented immigrant youth, and that he’s actually been fighting for them behind the scenes. But given a real, high-stakes chance to do something about, like right now during the lame duck session and as an end to the DACA program is inevitable, he’s done nothing but throw cold water on the proposal.

It’s not hard to boil all this down to Republicans just not wanting to do anything about DACA recipients—even when presented with the kind of border measures they love—because they want to keep using immigrants as a political tool.

I guess nothing is truly dead until they all adjourn, but this is where we are right now. And as long as the Republicans feel like they’re doing better with the system remaining broken, why should they do anything different? The Chron and Daily Kos have more.

Ken Paxton’s hatred of LGBTQ+ people continues unabated

Item #1: Texas attorney general’s office sought state data on transgender Texans.

The only criminal involved

Employees at the Texas Department of Public Safety in June received a sweeping request from Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office: to compile a list of individuals who had changed their gender on their Texas driver’s licenses and other department records during the past two years.

“Need total number of changes from male to female and female to male for the last 24 months, broken down by month,” the chief of the DPS driver license division emailed colleagues in the department on June 30, according to a copy of a message obtained by The Washington Post through a public records request. “We won’t need DL/ID numbers at first but may need to have them later if we are required to manually look up documents.”

After more than 16,000 such instances were identified, DPS officials determined that a manual search would be needed to determine the reason for the changes, DPS spokesperson Travis Considine told The Post in response to questions.

“A verbal request was received,” he wrote in an email. “Ultimately, our team advised the AG’s office the data requested neither exists nor could be accurately produced. Thus, no data of any kind was provided.”

Asked who in Paxton’s office had requested the records, he replied: “I cannot say.”

[…]

Public records obtained by The Post do not indicate why the attorney general’s office sought the driver’s license information. But advocates for transgender Texans say Paxton could use the data to further restrict their right to transition, calling it a chilling effort to secretly harness personal information to persecute already vulnerable people.

“This is another brick building toward targeting these individuals,” said Ian Pittman, an Austin attorney who represents Texas parents of transgender children investigated by the state. “They’ve already targeted children and parents. The next step would be targeting adults. And what better way than seeing what adults had had their sex changed on their driver’s licenses?”

[…]

The records obtained by The Post, which document communications among DPS employees, are titled “AG Request Sex Change Data” and “AG data request.” They indicate that Paxton’s office sought the records a month after the state Supreme Court ruled that Paxton and Abbott had overreached in their efforts to investigate families with transgender children for child abuse.

Paxton’s office bypassed the normal channels — DPS’ government relations and general counsel’s offices — and went straight to the driver license division staff in making the request, according to a state employee familiar with it, who said the staff was told that Paxton’s office wanted “numbers” and later would want “a list” of names, as well as “the number of people who had had a legal sex change.”

During the following two months, the employee said, the DPS staff searched its records for changes in the “sex” category of not only driver’s licenses but also state ID cards available from birth, learner’s permits issued to those age 15 and up, commercial licenses, state election certificates, and occupational licenses. The employee spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid retaliation for describing internal state discussions.

DPS staff members compiled a list of 16,466 gender changes between June 1, 2020, and June 30, 2022, public records show. In the emails, DPS staff members repeatedly referred to the request as coming from the attorney general’s office as they discussed attempting to narrow the data to include only licenses that had been altered to reflect a court-ordered change in someone’s gender.

DPS staff members did spot checks on the data, examining records that included names of specific individuals, according to records and the state employee familiar with the inquiry. But it was hard to weed out driver’s licenses that had been changed in error, or multiple times, or for reasons other than gender changes.

“It will be very difficult to determine which records had a valid update without a manual review of all supporting documents,” an assistant manager in the DPS driver’s license division wrote in an email to colleagues on July 22.

On Aug. 4, the division chief emailed staff members, “We have expended enough effort on this attempt to provide data. After this run, have them package the data that they have with the high level explanations and close it out.” On Aug. 18, a senior manager emailed to say a data engineer had “provided the data request by the AG’s office (attached).”

Last month, The Post made a request to Paxton’s office for all records the attorney general’s office had directed other state offices to compile related to driver’s licenses in which the sex of the driver was changed, as well as related emails between Paxton’s office and other state agencies.

Officials indicated that no such records existed.

“Why would the Office of the Attorney General have gathered this information?” Assistant Attorney General June Harden wrote in an email to The Post, later adding, “Why do you believe this is the case?”

If it did, Harden said, any records were probably exempt from release because of either attorney-client privilege or confidentiality.

Marisol Bernal-Leon, a spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, later emailed that the office “has reviewed its files and has no information responsive to your request” for either records it had requested from DPS or emails between the attorney general’s office and DPS.

Separately, DPS provided The Post with a half-dozen documents spanning three months that referenced the request by Paxton’s office.

When The Post shared copies of the records that had been provided by DPS, Assistant Attorney General Lauren Downey noted that “none of the records provided by the Texas Department of Public Safety are communications with the Office of the Attorney General. Our response to your request was accurate.”

Downey did not reply to questions about why the DPS emails refer to the request as originating from the attorney general. Paxton’s office has yet to respond to another public records request for any records of its contact with DPS concerning driver’s license changes via means other than email, including phone calls, video meetings and in-person exchanges.

It’s the brazen lying about it that really kicks this up a notch. I can’t think of a good reason for a public official to need this data, or to bypass the normal channels for requesting it, but there are plenty of bad reasons for it. Because data tends to be messy, you can see how potentially thousands of people who were not Paxton’s intended targets could have been caught up in whatever malevolent scheme he cooked up for them. In a way it’s too bad this came to light before that could have happened, because the harassment of such a large number of people might have been an actual scandal that could damage him. Now it’s just another unfair MSM hit piece that Paxton’s enablers can ignore.

And in case that wasn’t enough, we also got news item #2: Texas fights federal rule that would outlaw LGBTQ discrimination in state adoptions and foster care.

Attorney General Ken Paxton is suing the federal government to preserve Texas’ ability to include religious groups that won’t place kids with same-sex couples in the state’s adoption process without losing federal funding.

With his lawsuit filed Monday in federal court in Galveston, Paxton continued a yearslong, cross-country legal fight over anti-discrimination rules for adoption and foster programs drafted under the Obama administration that languished under former President Donald Trump and have never been enforced.

The rule on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination, known as the SOGI rule, prohibits recipients of federal funds for adoption and foster programs from discriminating on the basis of age, disability, sex, race, color, national origin, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation or same-sex marriage status.

A Texas law passed in 2017 allows religious organizations that contract with the state to refuse to work with LGBTQ couples who are seeking to foster or adopt. The law requires the state to ensure there are other providers to work with LBGTQ children or families who are refused help by a religious provider, although there is no specific process for ensuring that happens.

Losing federal funding would be a major blow for Texas’ foster care budget. Federal money accounts for nearly a quarter of the $550 million the state spends on residential care each year, and another $58 million supports case work for foster children who qualify for the funds, according to the attorney general’s complaint.

[…]

The anti-discrimination rule has been the subject of court battles. In 2019, Texas joined the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston to sue the federal government over the rule, arguing it would prevent the religious group from becoming a provider of child welfare services. Shortly after the suit was filed, the Trump administration announced a rollback of the rule.

But Paxton is now seeking to have the rule thrown out preemptively as other groups are suing to compel its enforcement.

[…]

Bryan Mares, the government relations director at the National Association of Social Workers Texas, said the state law allowing religious providers to refuse services to LGBTQ couples creates a supply issue for the LGBTQ children in the foster system who need affirming homes.

“It makes it much more difficult to find families who might already identify as part of the LGBTQ community to bring children that are in the system into their home,” Mares said of the law. “It really just impedes our ability to prioritize LGBTQ youth placements into homes where they are being supported in a way that they need.”

A 2018 analysis of Texas licensed child-placing agencies by the Center for American Progress found that nearly half of them had statements of faith listed on their websites, but only 10% had expressed specific willingness to work with LGBTQ foster and adoptive parents. “Given this landscape, and the religious exemptions and lack of legal protections … prospective parents may understandably become discouraged about finding a welcoming agency and choose to abandon their efforts,” the report concluded.

Pretty sure that’s the intent. I’ve run out of accurate descriptors for Paxton and his shameless hate. At this point, I don’t know what can be done to stop him. He certainly acts as though there is nothing in his way and no possible consequences for anything he does.

SCOTx allows provisional votes to be counted

Good.

The Texas Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that Harris County can include about 2,100 ballots cast during an extra hour of Election Day voting when officials certify the midterm results. But the state’s highest civil court also ordered Harris County to determine whether those late-cast ballots would affect the outcome of any races — and kept alive Attorney General Ken Paxton’s challenge to counting them.

It’s a win, at least temporarily, for Harris County officials in a fight against Paxton’s attempt to discard thousands of midterm ballots as election results are set to be certified Tuesday.

In an interview Tuesday, Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee said that about 2,100 provisional ballots cast after 7 p.m. Election Day should be counted. Those ballots were cast after a district court judge ordered Harris County polling places to remain open an extra hour because many locations had opened late that morning.

“The votes that were cast during that time period pursuant to a court order are still perfectly legal. And there’s nothing in the law that prohibits them from being counted,” Menefee said. “So our perspective is that those provisional ballots are no different than any other provisional ballots — they are to be counted.”

Harris County officials argued as much in a filing to the Texas Supreme Court on Tuesday. That came one day after Paxton petitioned the Supreme Court to toss the late-cast ballots.

[…]

In at least one race, the provisional ballots could impact the outcome. After provisional and mail-in ballots were counted, the incumbent for Harris County’s 180th Criminal State District Court, DaSean Jones, went from trailing Republican Tami Pierce to leading by less than 500 votes, the Houston Chronicle reported.

See here for the background and here for the court’s order. It’s just one page long, and the gist of it is this:

In this mandamus proceeding, which challenges Harris County election officials’ processing of the “later cast votes,” we grant the following temporary relief under Rule of Appellate Procedure 52.10(b):

  • Respondents are directed to conduct the canvass of the November 2022 election as required by the Election Code.
  • As part of the canvass, respondents are ordered to separately identify in the vote tabulations the number of “later cast votes” for each candidate in each race and for or against each proposition, so that candidates, the parties, and this Court may ascertain whether the “later cast votes” would be outcome-determinative and so that the parties can assess the extent to which further litigation is warranted.
  • Respondents are ordered to provide the Court with a copy of the canvass results, including the separately tabulated “later cast votes,” as soon as they are available.

The petition for writ of mandamus remains pending before this Court.

I presume that last line is there in the event the provisional ballots have an effect on the 180th Criminal District Court race, in which event (again, I presume) the merits of the arguments will have to be addressed. Lawyers, please feel free to correct me as needed. The only other race that is close enough to be even theoretically affected by the provisional ballots is the County Criminal Court #3 race, where Porsha Brown trails by the even smaller margin of 267 votes. However, given that the provisional votes cast on Election Day favored Democrats, it’s even less likely for that race to be affected, and it would be impossible for both of them to be in a position to change.

I maintain as I said yesterday that it is highly unlikely that the 180th Court will be affected. If you throw out all of the Election Day provisional ballots, DaSean Jones still leads by 89 votes. There are apparently 2,100 provisional Election Day ballots in question, out of 2,555 total E-Day provisionals and 2,420 that included a vote in this race. The odds that Jones could lose the entire 360 vote net he got from the E-Day provisionals plus another 90 votes in this subset of the total ballots just strike me as extremely remote. I wish the stories that have been published about this would go into more detail about this as I have done – yes, I know, math is hard, but you could at least use “highly unlikely” language to offer some context. By the time this runs in the morning we’ll know what the official canvass says, and from there we’ll see if an election challenge will follow.

The Chron story, from a bit later in the day, has more details.

While the provisional ballots are included in the official count certified by Commissioners Court, the Supreme Court also is ordering the county to include in the final canvassed results a separate report that details the votes of the “later cast votes for each candidate in each race.” That way, candidates can determine whether this group of ballots would change the outcome of their race and “assess the extent to which further litigation is warranted.”

Given that Harris County voters cast more than 1.1 million ballots overall, the 2,000 provisional ballots have little chance of changing most election outcomes. However, a handful of candidates in tight races may consider legal challenges over election results.

“At this point, we do not anticipate that it impacts the outcome of any races,” Harris County First Assistant County Attorney Jonathan Fombonne said. “Of course the [Texas Supreme Court] proceedings remain pending and the court could rule on something. And of course there can always be election contests. Many of those races were close, and it wouldn’t surprise us to see candidates filing election contests.”

[…]

On Election Night, the Texas Organizing Project, Texas Civil Rights Project and ACLU of Texas obtained a court order from a judge requiring all Harris County polling locations to extend voting hours until 8 p.m. after the groups argued in a lawsuit that late openings at some polling locations prevented some residents from voting.

Voters who were in line by 7 p.m. were able to vote normally, while those who arrived between 7 and 8 p.m. were allowed to cast provisional ballots.

That evening, in quick succession, Paxton’s office filed its writ of mandamus asking the Texas Supreme Court to vacate or reverse the court order, and the Supreme Court responded by staying that order, saying votes cast after 7 p.m. “should be segregated,” without specifying whether they must be excluded from the final count.

Because the proceedings are still ongoing, it is too soon to know whether the ability to extend voting hours in the future could be impacted.

“The court hasn’t specified whether or not that’s legal,” Fombonne said. “The proceedings are pending. There may be an opinion in the future that addresses that question.”

Hani Mirza, legal director of the Texas Civil Rights Project’s voting rights program, was part of the team that sought the court order extending voting hours this year. The group also filed a lawsuit in 2018 obtaining a similar court order in Harris County. Mirza said in the case four years ago, Paxton’s office did not ask the Texas Supreme Court to intervene.

Nor did Paxton’s office intervene this year when voting hours were also extended by one hour in Bell County because of early morning glitches with check-in systems. The Bell County attorney confirmed last week that a court order there had not been challenged by the Attorney General’s Office or another party.

“It doesn’t make any sense outside of, obviously, cynical partisanship and these targeted actions against Harris County, the most diverse county in the state” Mirza said.

That sort of addresses my question above about the last line in the SCOTx order. We’ll just have to keep an eye on that. The election has been certified by Commissioners Court, which if nothing else avoids the drama of any further delays. As to who might file a contest, again we’ll have to see. Seems like a lot of fuss for something that is unlikely to go anywhere, but who knows.

Paxton sues to prevent some provisional votes from being counted

On brand. Always, always on brand.

Best mugshot ever

The Texas Attorney General’s office is attempting a last-minute intervention to toss out 2,000 provisional ballots before a Harris County Commissioners Court meeting Tuesday to certify the November election.

The ballots in question were cast during a one-hour period on Nov. 8.

“Although the ballots were processed, Harris County now intends to include them in the final vote canvass,” Christopher Hilton, chief of the Attorney General’s office general litigation division said Monday. “We have never agreed that these ballots can be part of the final election results, and this afternoon we’re going to ask that the Texas Supreme Court rule that these late-cast votes should be excluded as Texas law requires.”

The petition was filed Monday afternoon. Hilton declined to comment on why the office did not ask for the ruling sooner.

“A court of law ordered Harris County to keep the polls to open for an additional hour on Election Day and people across our county cast their ballots during that time,” Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee said in a statement. “My office is going to do everything we can to protect every single vote that was cast. Republican, Democrat, or Independent — no eligible voter should have their ballot thrown out because the Attorney General can’t accept the results of Harris County elections.”

[…]

According to emails shared with Chronicle, parties including the Texas Attorney General’s office, Harris County Attorney’s office, Texas Civil Rights Project, Harris County Republican Party and Harris County Democratic Party all signed off an agreement on Nov. 11 for processing the provisional ballots.

First Assistant County Attorney Jonathan Fombonne wrote the Harris County Attorney’s office was approving the agreement “based on the understanding that the Texas Supreme Court’s order does not prohibit the tabulating of those votes as long as the ballots themselves remain segregated.”

Kimberly Gdula, deputy chief of the Attorney General’s office general litigation division, signed off on the agreement in an email: “The State is good with this.”

However, Sunday evening, two days before the commissioner’s court meeting to certify the election results, Hilton, the chief of the Attorney General’s office general litigation division, sent an email to the parties questioning the legal basis for including the provisional ballots cast after 7 p,m. in the final count and seeking clarification “so that the parties can pursue any legal remedies, if necessary.”

In a statement Monday, Harris County Attorney’s office spokesperson Roxanne Werner said: “Representatives from the Attorney General’s office and the Harris County Republican Party asked for the language describing that process to be removed from the agreed order, leaving Harris County to process and count the late ballots as they would other provisional ballots while ensuring they were kept segregated. All parties were put on notice that the votes would be counted.”

“This 11th-hour ask to throw those votes away should not be tolerated, especially considering the State rejected the County’s offer to hold off on counting these votes while it sought clarification from the Supreme Court,” Werner added.

See here and here for some background about the litigation that allowed polling locations to remain open until 8 PM. As the story notes, Bell County had similar issues with some polling locations and also got a court order allowing locations to remain open until 8 PM, which the AG’s office has not opposed. The main takeaway here is that not only can you not trust anything Paxton says, you also can’t trust anything his office says, even if they sign their names to it. No wonder he’s having a hard time retaining staff.

As a reminder, and as you can see from the report released by the Elections Office on the 18th, DaSean Jones netted 360 votes from the provisional ballots cast on Election Day. However, he is leading by 449 votes, so if you threw out all of the E-Day provisionals, he would still be ahead by 89 votes in his race. He had already overcome the 165-vote deficit he had in earlier reports thanks to the counting of cured mail ballots, which had gained him 259 votes.

It’s actually not clear from the story how many ballots we’re talking about. The story refers to “2,000 provisional ballots”. I can’t tell if this is just using a round number because exact figures are confusing or if this is the exact figure. There were 2,555 provisional ballots cast on Election Day, of which 2,420 included a vote in the DaSean Jones – Tami Pierce race. I guess it’s theoretically possible that of the provisional E-Day ballots that were specifically cast by people who got in line after 7 PM (because if you were already in line you were always allowed to vote), Jones had a net advantage of at least 450 over Pierce. To say the least, that would be an extraordinary circumstance. (*)

I point this out to say that barring something truly weird, Paxton’s bad faith filing will not – can not – have any effect on any race. That doesn’t change the fact that his filing is trash and should be rejected by SCOTx on the grounds that these people deserve to have their votes counted. The remedy for having to vote late because of voting location problems is to extend voting hours to accommodate those that were affected. Just like what happened in Bell County (won by Greg Abbott 59.04% to 39.52%, in case you were curious), which the AG has accepted as fact. I for one don’t see any difference between the two.

(*) I did search on the Supreme Court webpage for Paxton’s mandamus filing, which might have been more specific and thus answered my questions. Looking on the Electronic Filings search, I think this case is number 22-1044. However, the hyperlink for that case didn’t work when I tried it, and searching for the case via that number returned no results. If you can do better than I did, or if the webpage eventually fixes itself, let me know.

UPDATE: The Trib story also references “2,000 ballots”, which does not help clear up my confusion. They also refer to the overall total of about 4,000 provisional ballots – the actual overall total is 4,333, of which 1,778 were cast early and are clearly not at issue. So, until I hear otherwise, it is my contention that these provisional ballots are not enough to alter any race’s result, and also that this doesn’t matter because all of the ballots should be counted. We’ll see what the Court says.

What AG “task force”?

Who knows?

Best mugshot ever

The fact that Paxton – who helped lead the charge to overturn the 2020 national election results and promoted false claims that it was stolen – now planned to send people from his office to monitor Harris County elections was seen as an intimidation tactic by local Democrats and non-partisan voting rights organizations. Several implored the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division to send federal election monitors to watch the state election monitors, a request the federal government has since granted.

But for all the attention on the effort in the lead up to Election Day, very little was actually known about it. Who was on the task force and how big was the operation? What exactly would they be doing? Where in Harris County would they be stationed? Here’s what the Chronicle was able to learn.

[…]

Has anyone in Harris County seen or interacted with members of Paxton’s task force?

Spokespeople for the Republican and Democratic parties in Harris County reached out to their teams that manage election workers to ask this same question. They said nobody on their team had reported any interactions from Paxton’s office yet.

“Imagine they’re here, but no reports that I’ve heard yet,” said Genevieve Carter, the Republican Party spokesman in Harris County, in a text message.

“Just checked with our elections folks,” Elisha Rochford, of the Democratic Party in Harris County, wrote in a text. “We have not heard anything about the AG’s office task force being in HC. We haven’t had any election workers report seeing anyone from AG.”

Alan Vera, a well-known conservative activist who has made numerous complaints about election problems in Harris County, said “I have not heard from anyone.”

Paul Bettencourt, a Republican state senator from Houston who has often complained about how Harris County administers elections, said he wasn’t aware of a team being sent to Houston from Paxton’s office. He said he would make some calls, but didn’t learn anything more. He said he believes the AG’s office is working with the Secretary of State’s office “remotely.”

Does the task force actually exist?

The Chronicle wasn’t able to find any evidence of a team from the attorney general’s office dispatched to Harris County.

See here, here, and here for the background. I don’t know if there was ever supposed to be a real “task force”. Maybe it was but it failed to materialize due to incompetence, laziness, or a lack of employees. Maybe it was always a stunt. Maybe it was 11-dimensional chess intended to mess with our minds and get the feds all scurrying about, in which case, mission accomplished, I guess. All I know is that the absence of Ken Paxton is always better than the alternative, so I’m going to chalk this up as a win.

Justice Department agrees to send election monitors

Good.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced Monday it will send election monitors to three Texas counties — Harris, Dallas and Waller — to keep an eye on local compliance with federal voting rights laws on Election Day.

Monitors from the Justice Department are regularly deployed across the country for major elections, with Texas counties making the list for at least the past decade under both Democratic and Republican administrations. The three Texas counties are among 64 jurisdictions in 24 states that will have a federal presence Tuesday.

The department did not specify how it made its selections for monitoring, though Harris and Waller counties have made the list in the last four presidential and midterm elections. Harris and Dallas are the state’s largest and second-largest counties. Rural Waller County is home to Prairie View A&M University, a historically Black campus.

Voters can send complaints on possible violations of federal law to the DOJ through its website or by calling 800-253-3931. Polls open at 7 a.m. on Election Day.

See here and here for the background. When Ken Paxton and his minions are involved, you need all the help you can get. And while the early voting period was pretty calm, we know there’s a lot of bad stuff lurking. I feel better having these folks in the city. Politico and the Press have more.

The Ken Paxton problem is bigger than Ken Paxton

It’s that there’s just no accountability, barring the election result we’re all desperately hoping for.

Best mugshot ever

In the wake of the 2020 presidential election, Republican officials around the country have been giving increasing attention and resources to investigating election crimes. Most have focused on the alleged wrongdoing of voters.

But Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is also working a different angle: His office has been criminally investigating the people who help run elections.

Over the past two years, Paxton’s office opened at least 10 investigations into alleged crimes by election workers, a more extensive effort than previously known, according to records obtained by ProPublica. One of his probes was spurred by a complaint from a county GOP chair, who lost her reelection bid in a landslide. She then refused to certify the results, citing “an active investigation” by the attorney general.

In at least two of the cases, Paxton’s office unsuccessfully tried to indict election workers, attempts that were first reported by the Austin American-Statesman. In the remaining eight investigations identified by ProPublica, it is unclear just how far the probes went. As of mid-October, none of the cases resulted in criminal charges.

The story covers the ordeals of Dana DeBeauvoir and Rob Icsezen, both of whom Paxton tried to indict for incidents that any unbiased observer would have taken to be at worst honest misunderstandings. He even pursued those charges in neighboring Republican counties instead of the counties where the “crime” allegedly happened. Put aside for the moment the mess and dysfunction going on in that office, and the alleged criminality of Paxton himself. The office of Attorney General is traditionally one that pursues civil cases, not criminal ones, yet the guy in charge is off pursuing quixotic political indictments while letting human traffickers go free because they can’t keep track of witnesses. I’m old enough to remember when that sort of thing would have been a huge scandal, the kid of screwup that might force an official to resign because they had lost the faith of the public.

Not anymore, though. Short of it becoming a national story, there’s no way to focus enough attention on that kind of scandal to make it become an issue for anyone but the most plugged-in news-watcher. Republican voters don’t care, and neither do Greg Abbott or Dan Patrick or the Republicans in the Legislature, who at least nominally have some oversight of the Attorney General. At this point, Ken Paxton could murder someone on Sixth Street, and I doubt more than a handful of Republican legislators would call for him to step down. The only way that this Legislature will become interested in that oversight role will be if Rochelle Garza wins, at which point they’ll become very invested in having a say over what the AG does and does not do. Ken Paxton is what happens when people with power believe, with complete justification, that they can act with impunity.

DMN\UT-Tyler: Abbott 50, Beto 44 (LV) – Abbott 47, Beto 44 (RV)

Pick your preference.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott holds a 6 percentage point lead over Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke as the race to the Nov. 8 election grinds toward the finish line, a poll released Sunday by the University of Texas at Tyler shows.

The poll of 973 likely voters contacted randomly Oct. 17-24 shows Abbott ahead 50% to O’Rourke’s 44%. When the field is expanded to registered voters, 1,330 of whom were contacted, Abbott’s lead shrinks to just 3 points.

The results differ from a recent poll by the University of Texas Politics project that showed the incumbent with a strong 11-point edge, and with one conducted by Beacon Research that was commissioned by the Democratic Policy Institute that showed just a 3-point difference in Abbott’s favor. But UT-Tyler’s findings are in line with several non-aligned polls conducted in late summer. The margin of error for the “likely voters” breakout is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

Moving down the ballot, Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was leading Democratic challenger Mike Collier 44%-35% among likely voters and Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton was ahead of Democrat Rochelle Garza 42%-38%. Like Abbott, Patrick and Paxton are seeking third terms.

The poll’s data is here. I appreciate the fact that they gave us both a likely voter and registered voter result – this pollster has done that in the past, but it wasn’t always presented in a way that made it clear. I also appreciate that this story mentioned other polls and where this one fit in rather than rely on the ridiculous language of this candidate or that losing or gaining ground when comparing one isolated poll result to another, different, poll result. Having context is always better than not having context.

These numbers look reasonable enough. Both Beto and Abbott get about the same amount of support from their own voters, with independents split evenly. Beto does well among Black (78-16) and Latino (59-36) voters while Abbott crushes with white voters (63-31). Of interest in the AG race, one possible reason for Rochelle Garza to be the top performer, is that she is at 47-33 among indies, a significant difference from the Governor’s race. That’s of a small sample of a single poll, so don’t put any actual weight on it, but I’ll file it away for later if it becomes relevant. Even with their LV sample, there were a lot of “don’t know” responses in the Lite Gov and AG races, so who knows what that means. I don’t know if we’re expecting any more poll data at this point – now that we have actual votes, polling becomes of less value – but for what it’s worth, this is where we are.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention that in their September poll, which was of registered voters, Abbott was leading 47-38.

Endorsement watch: Ash for Garza

You can say that again…

Here’s his opinion piece, which I hope gets picked up by some larger papers.

Rochelle Garza

My parents came to America from ex-Yugoslavia with no property or money. They had to learn American English and America’s customs. Like so many immigrants, they built a life in America for my brother and me. And they both became proud U.S. citizens.

Our family’s story of authoritarianism has informed nearly every aspect of my life. It propelled me into the profession of law, to safeguard the freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution. It compels me to represent people accused of violating those laws and who can’t afford an attorney. And it is why I am a Libertarian. I fight every day to ensure that the State does not overstep its authority, and to protect our freedoms.

That’s also why I decided to run for Attorney General of Texas. A democracy should offer choices. With only two major political parties on the ballot in an extremely important race, I entered this race to give Texans a third choice.

But on the eve of the election, giving Texans a third choice feels inadequate. The stakes are now simply too high for me to settle merely to be another option for Texans who, like me, love our state, love our country and value our freedoms.

I have thought long and hard how to say this, and I don’t say this lightly. Ken Paxton is the poster child for corruption and authoritarianism. And if he is allowed to continue, we might have to be the ones to flee.

The office of the Attorney General is incredibly powerful and not very well understood. Basically, it acts as the police officer for the state, enforcing our laws.  At least, that’s what it’s meant to do. Under Ken Paxton, it is a weapon that is used against innocent Texans. It is also a tool for him to avoid obeying the law himself. Like a bad cop on steroids, he is using his insider knowledge to get away with crimes, and his very great power to take away our freedoms, from intimidating people from voting to stealing property owners’ land.

I know that many voters are reluctant to throw away their votes on a third-party candidate. So if you feel that your vote may not count, then voting for Rochelle Garza is the better choice. Therefore, I am taking the extraordinary of recommending Rochelle Garza for Attorney General over Ken Paxton. Not voting or voting for me may not be enough.

This is a pivotal moment in American history that we are facing. Our way of life hangs in the balance. Ken Paxton isn’t playing politics-as-usual. He is taking pages from the authoritarian playbook. And we cannot afford to play politics-as-usual. That is why I am taking this unheard-of step.

We must kick Ken Paxton out of office in order to save our liberties.

While Rochelle is the Democratic candidate, there is a lot of overlap with our Libertarian values.  She believes in legalizing marijuana and is against using public domain to steal our land for an ineffective border wall. I believe not only that she will respect the rule of law but that she will fight for our freedoms.

While we have seen some prominent Republicans endorsing Democratic candidates this cycle, I can’t recall a situation like this before, in which a candidate running in a partisan race endorsed one of their opponents. I’d have to search to find the examples, but it’s happened in primaries and special elections and non-partisan races, usually when one candidate for whatever the reason suspends their campaign. If you can think of a recent on-point example to accompany this, please leave a comment.

Does this make much of a difference in the race? Probably not much. It will be interesting to see if Ash score less than his Libertarian peers, as that will at least provide some kind of metric. And it only really matters if Paxton fails to get at least fifty percent of the vote. Whatever happens, I thank Mark Ash for recognizing the stakes of this race, and doing his part to make a difference.

Charges dropped against Hervis Rogers

Good, but this whole thing was an enraging travesty and in no way makes things right.

Hervis Rogers

Voter fraud charges against Hervis Rogers, who garnered widespread attention for waiting hours in line to vote at a Houston polling location during the March 2020 presidential primary, have been dismissed.

Attorney General Ken Paxton ordered Rogers’ arrest in July 2021 on charges that he voted while on parole. Over a year later, after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reiterated that the attorney general doesn’t have the ability to unilaterally prosecute election crimes, a district court judge has dropped the two counts of illegal voting against Rogers.

“I am thankful that justice has been done,” Rogers said in a statement.

Rogers is over 60 years old, so a conviction could have resulted in what amounted to a life sentence.

“It has been horrible to go through this, and I am so glad my case is over. I look forward to being able to get back to my life,” he added in the statement.

See here for the background. As a reminder, Hervis Rogers was initially jailed on a $100,000 bond – which is higher than what is often assessed on murder suspects – in Montgomery County. Not Harris County, where he voted, but Montgomery because Ken Paxton figured he’d have a better shot at conviction there. Literally everything about this was wrong, and it’s only because the Court of Criminal Appeals actually applied the state constitution that an even larger miscarriage of justice was avoided. Now if there were justice, Hervis Rogers would be able to sue not only the state of Texas but Ken Paxton personally for the needless suffering inflicted on him. None of that is going to happen, but the one thing we can do is vote Ken Paxton out of office, and never give him the chance to do this to someone else. The Chron has more.

UT/Texas Politics Project: Abbott 54, Beto 43

Not great.

With in-person early voting set to begin in Texas on October 24, the latest University of Texas/Texas Politics Project poll finds Gov. Greg Abbott leading Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke in the gubernatorial race, 54%-43%, among Texans likely to vote in the 2022 election. While more than half of Republican voters say immigration and border security is the most important issue area informing their vote, Democratic voters’ attention is divided among a list of several issues, topped by abortion.

The poll surveyed 1,200 self-declared registered voters using the internet from October 7-17 and has a margin of error of +/- 2.83 for the full sample. From among this overall sample, likely voters were defined as those respondents who indicated that they have voted in every election in the past 2-3 years; or those respondents who rated their likelihood to vote in the November elections on a 10-point scale as a 9 or a 10. This likely voter screen yielded a pool of 883 likely voters, with a margin of error of +/- 3.3% for the full likely voter sample.

Beyond the two major party candidates, Green Party Candidate Delilah Barrios and the Libertarian Party’s Mark Tippets each earned 1% support while 2% preferred an unspecified “someone else.”

[…]

The results among likely voters found Republican candidates maintaining wide leads in the five other major races for statewide office. In all of the trial ballots, including for governor, undecided, but likely, voters were asked whom they would choose if forced to make a decision. All results for the trial ballots report the results of the initial question combined with this “forced” response. (The poll summary reports the share of voters who expressed no preference in the initial question in each race.)

Lt. Governor. Incumbent Dan Patrick led Democratic challenger Mike Collier, 51%-36%, in their rematch of the 2018 race.

Attorney General. Incumbent Republican Ken Paxton leads Democrat Rochelle Garza 51%-37%.

Comptroller of Public Accounts. Two-term incumbent Republican Glenn Hegar leads Democrat Janet Dudding 47%-35%.

Agriculture Commissioner. Incumbent Sid Miller leads Democrat Susan Hayes 51%-39%.

Land Commissioner. Republican State Senator Dawn Buckingham leads Democrat Jay Kleberg 47%-36%.

The generic ballots for the U.S. House of Representatives and the Texas legislature also revealed continuing advantages for Republican candidates: Republicans lead 53%-44% in the generic ballot for the U.S. House of Representatives, and 53%-42% for the Texas legislature.

This is upsetting mostly because the August poll had Abbott up by only five and had shown a slight but steady drift towards Beto over time. The one caveat here is that the previous polls were of the full registered voters sample, and this is of “likely voters”, which is about three-fourths of the original. It’s not a direct comparison as a result, though of course the pollsters will have done what they think is best to reflect the electorate accurately. If they provided numbers for the full sample in October, I didn’t see them.

The October poll data is here and the August data is here. The underlying atmosphere has not changed in any significant way. Biden’s approval was 40-52 in August and it’s 39-52 in October (the approval numbers are still based on the full sample in each case). Abbott went from 46-44 to 47-44. Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton were actually slightly worse in October, going from 38-37 to 37-39 for Patrick and from 37-38 to 36-39 for Paxton. Either a lot of people changed their minds or that likely voter screen is a big difference maker.

I’ve put my faith in the “the screen is too tight” beliefs before without much success, so I don’t want to go overboard here. If these numbers are accurate, they don’t bode well for Harris County either, suggesting Beto might end up with 52 to 54 percent. At the high end, as I’ve said before, I’d still feel pretty confident about Harris County Dems. Less than that, and I would expect Republicans to win at least some races. Maybe this year is another inflection point, and maybe the dip in the gap between Harris and the state that we saw in 2020 following years of games will not be a one off. No way to know until we start to see some real numbers.

The poll also includes this demographic breakdown in the vote:

White/Anglo: Abbott 64%, O’Rourke 32%
Hispanic: O’Rourke 48%, Abbott 48%
Black: O’Rourke 86%, Abbott 11%

Those are the strongest numbers Beto has had for Black voters in awhile. They’re not great for white voters – compare to the Marist poll, for example, which had Abbott leading Beto by a much smaller 57-37 margin among those voters – and this is another poll that has Beto with no advantage among Hispanic voters; note that was also true in the Marist poll. We saw a great disparity in Hispanic preferences in the 2020 polls, and in the end the ones that showed a smaller lead for Dems were more accurate. I don’t know what else to say here.

I will add that we saw one more poll result released yesterday, from the Democratic AG’s Association (DAGA), which claimed Rochelle Garza was trailing Ken Paxton by two points, 48-46. That linked poll memo is the entire thing – no Beto/Abbott numbers, no Biden approval numbers, no crosstabs, nothing – and it’s basically an internal poll, so maintain a higher level of skepticism for this one. I will note the following from the memo:

The survey was conducted between October 12th-16th using live calls to landlines, SMS text-to-web and live calls to cell phones, and an online panel. The sample includes 879 registered voters and is weighted to reflect a likely 2022 Texas general electorate. The margin of error is +/- 3.24% at a 95% confidence interval.

The results of the survey show that when asked who they’ll vote for as Attorney General and Texas undecided voters are allocated to a candidate, Paxton is only ahead by 2 points, within the margin of error for the survey, landing at 48% Paxton, 46% Garza, with 6% of voters say they’re voting for Libertarian Mark Ash in the AG race.

Another “likely voter” result, though with less detail. They also seemingly pushed the initial non-respondents into picking a side, which I had initially frowned at but I guess if the UT/TPP folks can do it, they can too.

Harris County asks for federal vote monitors

I agree with this.

Houston and Harris County officials are asking the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division to send monitors to assist in the upcoming November election in response to a letter the county received from the Texas secretary of state’s office this week informing it that state election observers would be monitoring the county’s election and vote tally.

The request to the federal agency was sent Thursday by County Judge Lina Hidalgo, County Attorney Christian Menefee and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.

In a statement, Menefee questioned the state’s intentions in sending election monitors to the county.

“We cannot allow unwarranted disruptions in our election process to intimidate our election workers or erode voters’ trust in the election process,” Menefee said. “As the county attorney, I will be at central count on Election Night, ensuring outside forces do not interfere with our elections. I hope the Department of Justice will be there, too.”

[…]

In response to the local leaders’ request for federal election monitors, the secretary of state’s office said in a statement that suggestions made by local leaders were a “cynical distortion of the law.”

The office reiterated that its decision to send monitors to Harris County was a matter of routine.

“The Texas secretary of state’s office has sent election inspectors to Harris County every year and has never before seen a request for the Department of Justice to ‘monitor the monitors,’” the statement said. “This request is based on a completely false premise and misunderstanding of Texas election law and is being used to spread false information about the actual duties of our election inspectors — dedicated public servants who will be present in Harris County to observe only and to ensure transparency in the election process from beginning to end.”

Mary Benton, the mayor’s communications director, said: “Mayor Turner welcomes a discussion with the U.S. Department of Justice. He is confident that if they send election monitors to Harris County, they will operate effectively to ensure that no registered voter’s rights are trampled on as they attempt to cast a ballot legally.”

See here for the background. I don’t care if the SOS is miffed about this, but even if we take them at their word there’s still the Attorney General’s “task force”, which absolutely cannot be trusted and needs to be watched like a tachyon in a particle accelerator. This was absolutely the right move. Reform Austin and the Texas Signal have more.

Interview with Rochelle Garza

Rochelle Garza

You are probably well acquainted with the current Attorney General of Texas. My goal here is to help acquaint you with the person who should be the next Attorney General of Texas, Rochelle Garza. A Brownsville native and fifth-generation Texan, Garza got her law degree at UH and made a name for herself in 2018 by fighting for reproductive rights for immigrant teens in detention and winning her case against the Trump administration at the Supreme Court. She has been a staff attorney for the ACLU and is now a managing partner at her own firm. She has served on the board of Jane’s Due Process, the State Bar of Texas’ Laws Relating to Immigration and Nationality Committee, and the Cameron County Bar Association. I don’t really have to tell you that she’s a far better person than the incumbent is, do I? We get into all of the reasons why she would also be a far better Attorney General in the interview:

PREVIOUSLY:

All interviews and Q&As through the primary runoffs
Susan Hays – Ag Commissioner
Luke Warford – Railroad Commissioner
Michelle Palmer – SBOE6
Chuck Crews – HD128
Cam Campbell – HD132
Stephanie Morales – HD138
Robin Fulford – CD02
Laura Jones – CD08
Teneshia Hudspeth – Harris County Clerk
Amy Hinojosa – HCDE Trustee, Precinct 2
Andrea Duhon – HCDE Trustee, Precinct 4

As always, everything you could want to know about the Democratic candidates can be found at the Erik Manning spreadsheet.

Trib profile of Rochelle Garza

Good story with a lot of details you probably don’t know about the Democratic candidate for Attorney General. It also includes this bit of annoying news:

Rochelle Garza

Polls show the contest is the tightest of all statewide races. Garza, 37, is within single digits of Paxton, who was endorsed by former President Donald J. Trump but long plagued by legal trouble that has turned him into the most vulnerable among Republican incumbents. Indicted seven years ago for securities fraud charges still pending, Paxton is under investigation by the FBI after several former aides claimed he abused his office by helping a wealthy donor. The whistleblowers sued Paxton after he fired them. Paxton has denied wrongdoing.

But despite the incumbent’s weaknesses, Paxton is still popular with Texas Republicans. Garza remains the underdog, battling her own low name recognition and a fundraising disadvantage in an expensive statewide race that is already demanding considerable resources for travel and TV ads.

“Garza is clearly competitive in this race, but she’s competitive based on Paxton’s weaknesses, because she’s not well known,” said Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University.

The Democratic establishment “does seem reluctant to put money behind her campaign, even though it’s the closest race and Paxton has weaknesses that make him the most vulnerable of statewide office holders,” Jillson said. “So they’re hanging back.”

The Garza campaign had nearly $500,000 on hand as of July, after raising about $1.1 million. Paxton has raised more than $8 million and still has about $3.5 million on hand to spend during the same period. The next campaign finance reporting deadline is in October.

Bill Compton, a Dallas lawyer who’s often donated to Democratic candidates in the past, would agree with Jillson. He said he’s still hesitant to write a check to Garza, whom he described as “an unknown.”

Compton attended the Dallas Democratic Forum where Garza spoke earlier in the day and said he liked what he heard. But he and others view the candidate right now only as an “alternative” to Paxton.

[…]

The Democratic Attorneys General Association launched a digital ad buy targeting attorney general candidates in various states, including Texas, said Geoff Burgan, a spokesperson for the group. “We’ve also provided focus groups, polling, and video throughout her time as the nominee,” Burgan said in an email.

Indirectly, Garza was helped by the messy, Republican primary and runoff that included many negative ads targeting Paxton.

“These were Republicans in these ads saying, “I don’t trust Ken Paxton to be attorney general,” Burgan said. “These are people that Republican voters listen to.”

Candidates without name recognition typically work with their donors to raise enough money to talk to the general public over a period of months, said Jillson, the political scientist. “You introduce yourself with a series of ads and then slam your opponent toward the end,” he said.

“And she just hasn’t had the money to do that and doesn’t have the money today,” Jillson said.

Garza said her campaign outraised Paxton in the last reporting period: “We have the momentum.”

“I keep telling folks this is our race to lose,” Garza said. “This is the closest we have come in almost 30 years and it’s time we elect a Democrat to this office.”

On the one hand, the Attorney General race usually doesn’t draw much money. On the other hand, I couldn’t explain Bill Compton’s reasoning if you gave me an answer key and a psychological profile of him. The story refers to recent polling, in which Garza is generally the closest Democratic candidate to their opponent, albeit by point or two and often with more undecideds. I’m always skeptical of stories about how this downballot Dem or that is “the Democrats’ best chance of winning statewide office” because I think the ticket will rise and fall mostly on how the guy at the top does and what the national environment is like, but we have seen crossover support for Paxton opponents before. I expect we’ll see it again, and for sure some extra cash would help with that. I still think the best thing that can happen to Rochelle Garza – and Mike Collier, and Susan Hays, and the rest – is that Beto wins or comes very, very close. It’s a lot easier to see her and others’ paths to victory from there.

You can add “incompetent” to “corrupt” when describing Ken Paxton

I can’t say this is a surprise, but it is shocking.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s staff this month quietly dropped a series of human trafficking and child sexual assault cases after losing track of one of the victims, a stumble in open court emblematic of broader dysfunction inside one of America’s most prominent law offices.

The Republican has elevated his national profile in recent years, energizing the right by rushing into contentious court battles that have affected people far beyond Texas. He has fought access to abortion, Democratic immigration policy and the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

But as Paxton seeks to fend off legal troubles and win a third term as Texas’ top law enforcement official, his agency has come unmoored by disarray behind the scenes, with seasoned lawyers quitting over practices they say aim to slant legal work, reward loyalists and drum out dissent.

An Associated Press investigation found Paxton and his deputies have sought to turn cases to political advantage or push a broader political agenda, including staff screenings of a debunked film questioning the 2020 election. Adding to the unrest was the secretive firing of a Paxton supporter less than two months into his job as an agency advisor after he tried to make a point by displaying child pornography in a meeting.

The AP’s account is based on hundreds of pages of records and interviews with more than two dozen current and former employees, many of whom spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation or because they were not authorized to talk publicly.

In the small town of Gatesville, the fallout was felt this month with the collapse of cases dubbed “Operation Fallen Angel.” Six of the people indicted last year on allegations that they were involved in a scheme to force teenage girls to “exchange sexual contact for crystal methamphetamine” are now free. One is being held in the central Texas community on other charges. An eighth died in jail.

“It’s absolutely broken. It’s just broken. You don’t do it this way,” Republican District Attorney Dusty Boyd said of the attorney general’s office, which took over the cases from his five-lawyer team. “I made the mistake of trusting them that they would come in and do a good job.”

[…]

After the dramatic exit of Paxton’s top staff in 2020, those brought into senior roles included a California attorney who donated $10,000 to help Paxton fight his 2015 securities fraud indictment and Tom Kelly Gleason, a former ice cream company owner whose father gave $50,000 to the attorney general’s legal defense fund.

Gleason was fired less than two months into his new job as a law enforcement adviser. Paxton’s office has not disclosed why, but three people with knowledge of the matter said Gleason included child pornography in a work presentation at the agency’s Austin headquarters.

The people said Gleason displayed the video — which one of them described as showing a man raping a small child — in a misguided effort to underscore agency investigators difficult work. It was met with outrage and caused the meeting to quickly dissolve.

Afterward, Paxton’s top deputy, Brent Webster, told staff not to talk about what happened, according to one of the people.

Gleason, who began his career as a police officer in the late 1970s, did not respond to voicemails, text messages, emails and letters left at this home and business. A lawyer who has represented him also did not respond to an email seeking comment.

As of August, payroll data show the number of assistant attorneys general — the line lawyers who handle daily case and litigation work — in the criminal prosecutions division was down more than 25% from two years ago. The data, which was obtained under public records law, show the group that handles financial and white-collar cases was cut by more than half and merged with another division.

“This is scary to me for the people of Texas,” said Linda Eads, who served as a deputy attorney general in the early 2000s, when she said it was rare for any division to have more than two or three vacancies.

Boyd said staff turnover in Paxton’s human trafficking unit contributed to the collapse of the cases in Gatesville. In the last two years, Republican lawmakers have doubled the division’s budget to $3 million, but Boyd questioned whether it was well spent.

On Sept. 13, the attorney general’s staff wrote in court papers that they were dismissing three trafficking cases because a witness had recanted and dropping the other four because they were “unable to locate victim.”

“For Pete’s sake, you’re the AG’s office. You can’t find the victim?” Boyd said. “The culture is broken.”

There’s more so read the rest, but honestly, how much more do you need? Screwing up a human trafficking case – which they took away from the locals in Coryell County – because they lost track of a victim, and hiring a failson of a big donor who thought it was a good idea to include actual video of a violent sex crime against a child in a presentation…this is an office for which the word “dysfunctional” is not nearly strong enough. This story needs to get a lot more attention. And for crying out loud, vote for Rochelle Garza in November. This is what you’re supporting if you don’t.

The Paxton subpoena-fleeing saga gets more ridiculous

Because of course it does.

Best mugshot ever

Lawyers in an abortion lawsuit tried for days to subpoena Attorney General Ken Paxton before sending a process server to his home Monday, and notified his office that their server was there before Paxton fled in a truck driven by his wife, according to court records detailing the communication.

Paxton said he left his house in a truck driven by his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, because a “strange man” made him fear for his safety; his attorneys say they didn’t know he’d be served the subpoena at his home.

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman quashed the subpoena on Tuesday, but attorneys for the plaintiffs have asked him to reconsider and require Paxton to testify. Pitman has not yet ruled on that motion, or the merits of the case, which concerns whether nonprofit groups, known as abortion funds, can help Texans pay to get abortions out of state.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in August, names Paxton as one of the defendants, and the plaintiffs sought to call him to testify at the preliminary injunction hearing Tuesday.

Four days before the hearing, on the morning of Friday, Sept. 23, Austin attorney Elizabeth Myers emailed assistant attorney general Amy Hilton, saying that since it was not clear whether Paxton intended to be at the hearing, they were going to issue a subpoena out of “an abundance of caution.”

“I assume you’d like for us to serve that through you, but will you please confirm by noon today that you will accept service,” Myers wrote. “Otherwise, we’ll start the personal service process. I’d really prefer not to have to do that, of course.”

Hilton did not confirm whether they could accept the subpoena on Paxton’s behalf, so the lawyers had a process server deliver the subpoena to Paxton’s office Friday afternoon, emails indicate.

But on Sunday, attorneys from the Texas attorney general’s office told Myers that the subpoena was invalid because it was served through Paxton’s office but sought to depose him in his individual capacity, according to the plaintiffs’ motion before Pitman.

Attorneys for the state said that Paxton would be represented in his official capacity at the hearing by assistant attorneys general, and “declined to clearly indicate whether they would accept a revised subpoena,” according to that motion.

“Myers then indicated that this meant General Paxton needed to be served personally, and Ms. Myers asked if General Paxton’s counsel knew where General Paxton was so that he could be located and served,” the filing reads.

The representatives from Paxton’s office declined to provide that information but said they would determine whether they could accept a subpoena on his behalf, the filing says. By Sunday evening, though, Hilton said they did not yet have an answer for the plaintiffs’ legal team.

“Please let me know ASAP if you are authorized to accept service so I can adjust our process server instructions,” Myers wrote in an email sent Sunday at 6:50 p.m.

The attorney general’s office acknowledged in a motion filed Tuesday that they were aware that the plaintiffs’ attorneys were going to attempt to serve Paxton with a subpoena. But they did not know that that meant they “intended to attempt personal service on Ken Paxton at his private residence.”

See here and here for the background. The story goes on from there, with the plaintiffs trying to get an answer from the AG’s office about how best they can do this totally normal procedural thing and getting stonewalled, then a flunky from the AG’s office whining about the plaintiffs doing what they said they would do if they couldn’t get an answer from them. It’s a level of clownishness from the AG’s office that even I hadn’t expected from them, which probably means I need to recalibrate my cynicism again. There was a time when I would have wondered if the people who keep defending Ken Paxton might be feeling even a little bit of shame at these displays, and then I remember that those people haven’t felt any shame since at least 2015, so there you have it. I don’t know what else there is to say.

CCA tells Paxton again that he’s not the supreme prosecutor

Good, but this isn’t over. It just means that the fight will have shifted.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s last-ditch attempt to regain the power of his office to unilaterally prosecute election cases was rejected by the state’s highest criminal court Wednesday.

The Court of Criminal Appeals instead upheld its previous ruling that says that the attorney general must get permission from local county prosecutors to pursue cases on issues like voter fraud. Paxton had been fighting to overturn that ruling as the issue of prosecuting election fraud has become fraught in recent years. Paxton sought to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and has aggressively pursued individual cases of fraud, outraging some voting rights advocates who see the punishments as too harsh for people who made honest mistakes.

Last December, eight of the nine members on the all-GOP court struck down a law that previously allowed Paxton’s office to take on those cases without local consent. The court said the law violated the separation-of-powers clause in the Texas Constitution.

In the aftermath, Paxton, joined by Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, led a political push to get the court to reconsider its decision, warning that it would allow cases of fraud to go unpunished. His office filed a motion asking the Court of Criminal Appeals to rehear the case, vacate its previous opinion and affirm an appellate court’s judgment, which was in his favor.

The court’s decision Wednesday came with no explanation, though one judge wrote a concurring opinion.

“I still agree with our original decision handed down in December, when we recognized that the specific powers given to the Attorney General by the Texas Constitution do not include the ability to initiate criminal proceedings—even in cases involving alleged violations of the Election Code,” Judge Scott Walker wrote.

Two judges dissented in the case.

See here and here for the background. It’s good that the CCA was able to withstand the political pressure to change their ruling to something that sated Paxton’s blood lust, but that pressure isn’t going to just dissipate on its own. The usual suspects are now agitating for the Legislature to step in and change the law. As far as I can tell, the CCA made its ruling not on statutory grounds but on Constitutional grounds (*), and as such it would take a Constitutional amendment to change this. Which is good news because the Lege won’t have a two-thirds Republican majority in both chambers, which would be needed for this to happen. But that doesn’t mean they won’t try it anyway, and if it comes back through the courts again on those grounds, who knows what could happen. You know what the solution to this is, I don’t have to tell you. The Chron has more.

(*) Noted in some of the coverage of this is that the same ruling means that Paxton couldn’t unilaterally decide to pursue prosecutions of any abortion “crimes” he likes, either. The Lege is sure to work on bills that would allow DAs from other counties to prosecute such charges in the event that the DA of the county in question chooses not to, so that may not make much difference. That same logic might also apply to whatever “vote fraud” charges these guys want to include, too.

Hispanic Policy Foundation: Abbott 51, Beto 44

One more poll to look at.

There’s an old adage that says the more things change, the more they stay the same. And according to our new poll, that applies to politics in Texas as well, as support for Republicans remains strong across the board heading into the November elections.

“Texas Decides” is a joint effort between the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation (THPF) and TEGNA Texas stations WFAA, KHOU, KENS and KVUE. It draws on a survey of 1,172 likely Texas voters that was taken between September 6, 2022, and September 15, 2022. It has a confidence interval of +/- 2.9%. The report reviewed the vote intention for the November 2022 Texas elections.

The election will be held November 8. Early voting starts October 24.

Part 1 of this poll, released here, takes a look at the major statewide races across Texas in the coming election. Parts 2 and 3, which will be released later this week, will respectively focus on the Hispanic population’s opinions of the candidates and on culture war issues.

The poll found that Republican incumbent Greg Abbott leads Democrat Beto O’Rourke by seven points (51% to 44%) among likely voters. Among most likely (almost certain) voters, the lead grows to 10 points (53% to 43%). Just 1% of voters in both categories (likely/most likely) says they’ll vote for Libertarian Mark Tippetts and Green Party candidate Delilah Barrios.

“Gov. Abbott’s strength among rural and Anglo voters continues to bolster his intransigent structural support in the 2022 race for Texas Governor,” THPF CEO Jason Villalba says of the poll’s results. “While O’Rourke has shown himself to be a worthy and hard-working adversary, unless there is a marked shift in the composition of the November electorate, Governor Abbott will remain the political and thought leader of Texas politics. Only new voters will be able to shift the tide.”

Perhaps the poll’s most significant finding in the gubernatorial race is the fact that voters seem hardened in their choices, with little room for movement come November. In fact, 95% of all likely voters who say they’ll vote for Abbott tell us they are “certain” about their vote choice. On the other side, 94% of all likely voters who will back O’Rourke say they are “certain” about that choice.

And when you break down support among race, Abbott holds a nearly two-to-one advantage over O’Rourke among white voters, with the incumbent being a 63% choice to his challenger’s 33%. O’Rourke has a strong advantage with Black voters, however, up 79% to Abbott’s 16%. The support margin is closer among Hispanic voters, with 53% intending to vote for O’Rourke and 39% for Abbott.

Poll data is here. In April, this pollster had the race at 50-42 for Abbott. Since I made such a big deal about it the last time I blogged about a poll, this one has a partisan split of 43 GOP, 41 Dem, 14 Indie, 2 “other”. Other results from this poll:

Dan Patrick 48, Mike Collier 42
Ken Paxton 47, Rochelle Garza 42
Dawn Buckingham 46, Jay Kleberg 38
Sid Miller 48, Susan Hays 41
Wayne Christian 44, Luke Warford 37

No love for the Comptroller’s race, I guess. As I have said before, I don’t care for the distinction between “likely” voters and “super duper extra likely” voters, but you do you. This poll shows very little change between April and now, which is to say pre-Dobbs and post-Dobbs, so either not much has changed in the Texas landscape since then, or something has changed but pollsters other than the UT/Texas Politics Project aren’t picking it up. I’m just going to leave it there.

Run, Kenny, run!

Peak Ken Paxton.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton fled his home in a truck driven by his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, to avoid being served a subpoena Monday, according to an affidavit filed in federal court.

Ernesto Martin Herrera, a process server, was attempting to serve the state’s top attorney with a subpoena for a federal court hearing Tuesday in a lawsuit from nonprofits that want to help Texans pay for abortions out of state.

When Herrera arrived at Paxton’s home in McKinney on Monday morning, he told a woman who identified herself as Angela that he was trying to deliver legal documents to the attorney general. She told him that Paxton was on the phone and unable to come to the door. Herrera said he would wait.

Nearly an hour later, a black Chevrolet Tahoe pulled into the driveway, and 20 minutes after that, Ken Paxton exited the house.

“I walked up the driveway approaching Mr. Paxton and called him by his name. As soon as he saw me and heard me call his name out, he turned around and RAN back inside the house through the same door in the garage,” Herrera wrote in the sworn affidavit.

Angela Paxton then exited the house, got inside a Chevrolet truck in the driveway, started it and opened the doors.

“A few minutes later I saw Mr. Paxton RAN from the door inside the garage towards the rear door behind the driver side,” Herrera wrote. “I approached the truck, and loudly called him by his name and stated that I had court documents for him. Mr. Paxton ignored me and kept heading for the truck.”

Herrera eventually placed the subpoenas on the ground near the truck and told him he was serving him with a subpoena. Both cars drove away, leaving the documents on the ground.

On Twitter, the attorney general said his sudden departure was motivated by concerns for his family’s safety.

“It’s clear that the media wants to drum up another controversy involving my work as Attorney General, so they’re attacking me for having the audacity to avoid a stranger lingering outside my home and showing concern about the safety and well-being of my family,” he wrote in a tweet.

You can see the affidavit here. I mean, seriously. If this had been a story in The Onion, I’d have rolled my eyes at it for being too on the nose. All this because Paxton was too much of a weenie to give a deposition in a lawsuit that had little to do with him. Other people have righteously mocked Paxton for his Brave Sir Robin impression, and now I will as well.

I think I’m done now. What a miserable, sniveling coward Ken Paxton is. The kindest thing we can all do for him now is to vote for Rochelle Garza, so that he and his family can go back home.

Spectrum News/Siena College: Abbott 50, Beto 43

A new pollster enters the chat.

Less than two months from Election Day, Republican Governor Greg Abbott has a seven-point, 50-43%, lead over Democratic challenger, former Congressman, Beto O’Rourke. In the race for Lieutenant Governor, incumbent Republican Dan Patrick is up by nine points, 49-40%, over Democratic challenger Mike Collier. In the race for state Attorney General, incumbent Republican Ken Paxton has a five-point advantage, 47-42%, over Democratic challenger Rochelle Garza according to a new Spectrum News/Siena College (SCRI) poll of likely Texas voters released today.

Abbott has a 47-46% favorability rating, while O’Rourke has a negative 39-52% favorability rating. Patrick has a negative 33-36% favorability rating, compared to Collier’s 13-12% favorability rating. Paxton has a negative 29-41% favorability rating while Garza, like Collier is unknown to about threequarters of Texas likely voters, and has a 13-12% favorability rating.

“Governor Abbott, who won a landslide thirteen-point race against Democratic challenger Lupe Valdez four years ago, has a seven-point lead with over six weeks until Election Day. Abbott has the support of 95% of Republicans and O’Rourke has the support of 93% of Democrats, while independents tilt toward Abbott by one point,” said Don Levy, SCRI’s Director. “White voters favor Abbott by over two-to-one, 64-31%, while Black voters prefer O’Rourke 79-10% and a majority of Latinos, 58-36%, plan to vote for O’Rourke.”

The crosstabs are here. The headline on the Chron story for this refers to Abbott’s lead “widening”, which I object to on the grounds that there’s no earlier Spectrum/Siena poll to compare this one to. I don’t like comparing one pollster’s poll to another’s because they all do slightly different things. Nobody asks me these about these things, so here we are.

Now, if we want to do comparisons to other polls, I will note that this one actually has solid numbers for Beto in terms of support from Dems, as well as from Black and Latino voters. Compare to the DMN/UT-Tyler poll from earlier this week that had Beto only winning Dems by a 77-12 margin, and multiple polls saying that Abbott is getting upward of 15% of Black voters. Why is the overall result not so great if these subsamples are so good? My guess would be that this sample’s partisan distribution is a bit weird – 27% Dem, 34% GOP, 32% Indie/Other (the remaining 8% are a mystery). The DMN/UT-Tyler poll had those distributed as 33-40-27, and in general I expect the Dem share to be higher than the Indie share.

Having written that, I decided I had to go back through earlier poll results to do a comparison. With one exception, my expectation matched the data:

UT-TPP: Dem 42, GOP 48, Indie 10

Echelon: Dem 35, GOP 43, Indie 20

UH/Hobby Center: Dem 41, GOP 46, Indie/unsure 13

Quinnipiac: Dem 24, GOP 30, Indie 36, Other 10

I went back as far as June. Not all of the recent results I’ve blogged about included partisan breakdown data that I could find. Color me surprised at some of the ranges here. You can make of all this what you will, it’s what I noticed.

DMN/UT-Tyler: Abbott 47, Beto 38

Insert shrug emoji here, and insert link to the unreadable DMN story here. I’ll give you the main results of interest and then a few comments after that.

Abbott 47, Beto 38
Patrick 39, Collier 28
Paxton 37, Garza 30
State House GOP 50, Dem 48

The August poll had Abbott up 46-39. As I said in other posts while resisting the urge to attribute “momentum” to Beto, I find the claim that a one point shift for each candidate represents a “gain” for Abbott to be a bit tendentious. Like with other polls, the subsample that I tend to look at when considering these results is the partisan subsamples. Here, Beto wins Democrats by a lethargic 77-12, with Abbott at 85-8 among Republicans. It was 81-12 for Beto in August, with Abbott at the same level among Rs. I find the claim that more than ten percent of people who would credibly self-ID as Democrats support Greg Abbott to be implausible. I’ll just leave it at that.

I know that the Lite Guv and AG races are lower profile, but as I’ve said before, poll results this late in the cycle that can’t give me a better idea of how many people will vote for “the Republican” versus “the Democrat” are not ones I put much weight in. It is possible to do better than that. It’s especially humorous to me given the near-100% response rate for the Texas House race. The conjunction of these things doesn’t make much sense to me.

One last thing, in their suite of issues questions, this poll finds slightly less support overall for abortion rights, as approval for overturning Roe v Wade went from 42-49 in August to 46-46 in September, while the question on abortion being mostly or completely illegal versus mostly or completely legal went from 44-55 in August to 49-50 in September. This stands at odds with other recent polling. Which doesn’t mean it’s wrong, just that I will cast a skeptical eye at it. The claim I saw in the snippet of the story I could read that this had to do with Abbott doing a lot of advertising strikes me as not very likely. Polls can be weird, which is why we try to look at them in bunches where possible.

UPDATE: I missed on first reading that this was a poll of registered voters, not “likely” voters, which is what all of the other recent polls have been. That explains the lower response numbers in the Lt. Governor and AG races. With their likely voter screen, this poll has Abbott up 50-39. My stated concerns about the likelihood of so many self-described Democrats saying they will vote for Greg Abbott remain.

UT/Texas Politics Project poll: Abbott 45, Beto 40

Feels kind of familiar.

Gov. Greg Abbott leads his Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke by 5 percentage points, according to a new poll from the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.

The survey found that Abbott received 45% of support among registered voters, while 40% supported O’Rourke and 4% supported third-party candidates. Three percent of respondents named “Someone else” as their choice, and 8% said they have not thought about the race enough to have an opinion.

The result is almost identical to the margin from when the pollsters last surveyed the race in June, finding Abbott ahead of O’Rourke 45% to 39%.

The latest survey also gave Republican incumbents single-digit leads in two other statewide races. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick led Democrat Mike Collier by 7 points, and Attorney General Ken Paxton registered a 5-point advantage over Democrat Rochelle Garza. More voters remain undecided in those contests than in the gubernatorial election — 20% in the lieutenant governor’s race and 21% in the attorney general one.

See here for the previous UT/TPP poll, and here for the pollsters’ report. The Lite Guv and AG numbers are 39-32 for Patrick and 38-33 for Paxton, and I just don’t give much weight to results that have such high numbers of non-responses. Joe Biden clocks in with a 40-52 approval rating, up from 35-55 in June. Abbott was at 46-44, up from 43-46 in June.

You may look at this and conclude that there’s been no noticeable boost in Democratic fortunes since the Dobbs ruling. Based just on post-Dobbs polls (minus that Echelon poll) that may be correct. I will note, however, that Abbott has slowly been losing ground to Beto in this particular poll over time:

February: Abbott 47-37
April: Abbott 48-37
June: Abbott 45-39
August: Abbott 45-40

I will also note that this poll, like previous ones, has generic US House/Texas House questions. If you look in the crosstabs for this poll (questions 21 and 22), those numbers are 47-43 and 46-43 in favor of Republicans, respectively. It was 46-41 GOP for both in June, and 48-39 (Congress) and 47-39 (The Lege) for the GOP in April. So while maybe not a sharp turn, there has been a gradual bend all along.

UH-TSU Texas Trends poll: Abbott 49-Beto 42, and Hidalgo 52-Mealer 42

From their webpage, scroll down to Report 1 and Report 2:

  • In the race for governor, Republican Greg Abbott leads Democrat Beto O’Rourke by 7% among likely voters, 49% to 42%, with 7% undecided and 1% intending to vote for Libertarian Mark Tippetts and 1% for the Green Party’s Delilah Barrios.
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  • Abbott holds a 29% (61% to 32%) lead over O’Rourke among white voters while O’Rourke holds a 57% (72% to 15%) lead over Abbott among Black voters, a 15% (53% to 38%) lead among Latino voters and a 9% (48% to 39%) lead among those voters with a mixed or other ethnic/racial identity.
  • Abbott and O’Rourke are deadlocked at 45% among women voters, while Abbott enjoys an 18% (55% to 37%) lead over O’Rourke among men.
  • In the race for lieutenant governor, Republican Dan Patrick leads Democrat Mike Collier by 6% among likely voters, 49% to 43%, with 8% undecided.
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  • Patrick holds a 26% (60% to 34%) lead over Collier among white voters while Collier holds a 63% (78% to 15%) lead over Patrick among Black voters, a 14% (51% to 37%) lead among Latino voters and a 5% (44% to 39%) lead among those voters with a mixed or other ethnic/racial identity.
  • Collier holds a narrow 1% lead over Patrick among women voters (46% to 45%) while Patrick enjoys a 15% (54% to 39%) lead over Collier among men.
  • In the race for attorney general, Republican Ken Paxton leads Democrat Rochelle Mercedes Garza by 3% among likely voters, 45% to 42%, with 10% undecided and 3% intending to vote for Libertarian Mark Ash.
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  • Paxton holds a 23% (56% to 33%) lead over Garza among white voters while Garza holds a 61% (75% to 14%) lead over Paxton among Black voters, a 16% (51% to 35%) lead among Latino voters, and a 15% (45% to 30%) lead among those voters with a mixed or other ethnic/racial identity.
  • Garza holds a 5% lead over Paxton among women voters (45% to 40%) while Paxton enjoys a 13% (51% to 38%) lead over Garza among men.

In addition to the statewide election analysis of likely voters, the 2022 Texas Trends survey looks at the race for county judge in Harris County, the nation’s third largest county and Texas’ largest, with a population of more than 4.5 million residents.

While the non-election related reports we will subsequently release focus on all Harris County adults aged 18 years and older, this county-specific election report is based on the analysis of a sample population of 195 likely voters, with a confidence interval of +/- 7.0%. Given the small size of this population, caution should be used in interpreting the results due to the comparatively large margin of errors surrounding all of the estimates.

This county-specific election study is presented as the second report in the overall series, and it includes the preferences for candidates running for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general in addition to county judge.

  • The vote intention in the race for Harris County judge is 52% for Democrat Lina Hidalgo and 42% for Republican Alexandra del Moral Mealer, with 6% undecided.

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  • This 10 percentage point lead by Hidalgo is notably higher than the 1 percentage point lead she garnered in the Hobby School election survey released in July.
  • Del Moral Mealer holds a 19 percentage point advantage over Hidalgo among white voters, 58% to 39%.
  • Hidalgo holds a 71 percentage point advantage over del Moral Mealer among Black voters, 79% to 8%, and a 44 percentage point advantage among Latino voters, 69% to 25%.
  • Hidalgo enjoys a 14 percentage point lead over del Moral Mealer among women, 53% to 39%, but only a 2 percentage point lead among men, 50% to 48%.
  • Del Moral Mealer enjoys a 16 percentage point lead over Hidalgo, 56% to 40%, among the combined Silent Generation/Baby Boomers cohort, and Hidalgo a comparable 16 percentage point lead over del Moral Mealer among Generation X, 54% to 38%.
  • Hidalgo is the overwhelming favorite of the combined Millennials/Generation Z cohort, with a 40 percentage point lead in vote intention over del Moral Mealer, 67% to 27%.

That’s a lot to take in, but it’s all there on their site. Note that while this poll references the UH/Hobby poll from July that had Abbott up 49-44 and had Judge Hidalgo only up by one point, 48-47, this one is different in two ways. One is just simply that this poll is a collaboration between UH and TSU whereas the previous one was all UH. I don’t think that makes any real difference, but there it is anyway. The other is that the July poll of Harris County was (I assume, anyway) a separate sample of 321 voters, while this one is (again, I presume) a subsample of 195 likely voters from the larger all-state population of 1,312. I don’t know why they chose to do it this way, and I hope someone will correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s how I read it.

The full data for the statewide report is here, and for the Harris County subsample here. My observations, bullet-point-style:

– The July poll was also post-Dobbs, so at least as far as these surveys go there’s not been any change in the overall environment since then. Insert anodyne statement about individual data points and move on.

– In the July poll, Beto was down five overall and led in Harris County by nine; in this poll Beto is down seven overall and leads in Harris County by 13 (it was 51-42 in July and it’s 53-40 in September, as you can see in the second report). Again, if there were a live feed of me as I typed up this post, you would have seen me shrug right there. Beto beat Cruz in Harris County by a 58-41 margin in 2018, and he’s within range of that in this poll, though as noted one with a higher-than-usual margin of error. All I’m saying here is that historically there’s been a relationship between the statewide percentage for a Dem candidate and that same candidate in Harris County. As such, in general if Beto is doing better in Harris I’d expect him to be doing better across the state. But we’ll see.

– That July poll had Mealer leading Hidlago among Latino voters by three points. This one has Hidalgo up among those same voters by 44. I feel very confident saying that it cannot be the case that both of those figures were accurate. Maybe they’re both off, but if one is right then the other is extremely wrong.

– I didn’t post the generational numbers for the statewide races, but overall Hidalgo did much better than the others. Of course, this is a subsample of a subsample, so be super duper cautious in drawing any conclusions from this. For what it’s worth, in the three statewide races the Dems were around 55% for the Millennial/Gen Z cohort and the Republicans were in the 30-35 range.

– The main reason Rochelle Garza is closer to Ken Paxton than Beto and Collier are to Abbott and Patrick is that Paxton has less support overall, clocking in at 45%. Most likely, this is just a number of Abbott/Patrick voters moving into the “don’t know” pile in this race. Maybe they’re really not sure how they’re voting, and maybe they’re Republicans who don’t want to admit, even in a webpanel, that they’re voting for Paxton. I do think Garza has a chance to be the top Dem performer, but I don’t think you can necessarily conclude that from this poll, as her level of support is in line with Beto and Collier. She did do best in Harris County, leading Paxton 54-36 in that sample, compared to 53-40 for each of the other two Dems.

– This is not the first poll I’ve seen this cycle that had Abbott getting about 15% of Black voters, which is about five points better than I’d normally expect. I don’t know if this is sample weirdness or if there’s something there, like the Trump bump among Latinos was visible in some 2020 polls, though not all.

– Finally, as far as Latino voters go, imagine me shrugging again. Some of what we saw in 2020 was low-propensity voters turning out, but not all of it. I genuinely have no idea what to expect.

Of course the redistricting lawsuit trial will be delayed

All we ever get is delays.

The legal fight over the shape of Texas political representation for the next decade won’t be decided until next year after a federal panel agreed Tuesday to delay a trial over new political maps.

The federal three-judge panel hearing the case pushed the start of the trial, which was originally scheduled for Sept. 28, following a flurry of disputes over discovery that left both the state and the various plaintiff groups questioning whether they’d have enough time to prepare to make their cases in a federal court in El Paso.

The court said it would announce a new trial at a later time.

The maps passed by the Legislature in 2021 have already gone into effect and are being used for the first time in this year’s elections, but the litigation could decide whether those maps need to be changed to ensure that voters of color have a fair say in choosing their representatives in elections for years to come.

The state faces a broad catalog of challenges to its four political maps, including its congressional and statehouse maps, that could affect a litany of districts. The legal claims, stemming from nearly a dozen consolidated lawsuits, include allegations of intentional discrimination, vote dilution and racial gerrymandering. The Republican-drawn maps largely serve to bolster the party’s dominance, giving white voters greater control of political districts throughout the state.

At issue in the delay were ongoing fights to compel Gov. Greg Abbott, the Texas attorney general’s office and other Republican elected officials to turn over thousands of documents that the state has been fighting to keep concealed. With less than a month until the scheduled start of the trial, the state and the plaintiffs groups were also jostling over various depositions in which state lawmakers relied on asserting legislative privilege to avoid divulging information on how the maps were drafted.

Redistricting cases are complex, with plaintiffs carrying the burden of proving wrongdoing by the state. The release of the disputed documents, the plaintiffs argued, could reveal new facts that could require additional depositions.

“Were the September 28 trial setting to hold, the Court could rule in advance of the upcoming legislative session. This would have been a clear benefit to all parties. But a ruling on only partial evidence does justice for none,” some of the plaintiffs wrote in a joint advisory filed with the court last week.

But the delay is not without risk.

This is the joint lawsuit with multiple plaintiffs; the Justice Department lawsuit, which survived a motion to dismiss in June, is being heard separately. The plaintiffs in this lawsuit scored a couple of wins recently relating to documents that must be disclosed to them. Those rulings obviously weren’t the end of the dispute, and so we have delays. The risk mentioned is that a final ruling would not be made in time for the Lege to make any required adjustments to the maps for the 2024 election. Remember, unless the primaries get moved back, which would affect the Presidential races, we need maps by October or so, to accommodate filing season and any updates that county election officials need to make. That’s not a lot of time. We’ll see when the new trial date is scheduled, but keep that time frame in mind. Unless we want to wait until 2026 – which, as we know from previous decades’ experience, is hardly out of the norm – the clock is very much ticking.

Another lawsuit over Uvalde public information

This all really is ridiculous.

The Texas Tribune, along with a group of other news organizations, filed a lawsuit Monday against the city of Uvalde, the Uvalde County Sheriff’s Office and the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District asking a judge to order the release of records related to the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary School.

The lawsuit states that the local entities have unlawfully withheld information detailing the actions of their dozens of law enforcement officers who responded to the massacre, which the news organizations requested under the Texas Public Information Act. These records include 911 calls, radio traffic, officer body camera footage, police reports, training materials and school surveillance footage.

“For more than three months, the City of Uvalde, Uvalde CISD and Uvalde Sheriff’s Office have resisted the community’s calls for transparency and accountability,” said Laura Lee Prather, a First Amendment lawyer at Haynes Boone who represents the plaintiffs. “Their obfuscation has only prolonged the pain and grief of this tragedy. Today we are asking the Uvalde District Court to heed the call of the community and recognize that the public is entitled to these records under Texas law. We ask that the court grant our petition so that the people of Uvalde can understand the truth about what happened that fateful day.”

[…]

The Tribune and other news organizations also previously filed suit against the Department of Public Safety over its refusal to release records related to the shooting. The agency’s director publicly pinned much of the blame for the flawed police response on the Uvalde school district police chief, though DPS has repeatedly declined to detail the actions of most of its 91 officers who were on the scene.

The city, county and school district have sought permission from the state’s attorney general to withhold information requested by the news organizations. Under the state’s public records law, documents can be exempted from public disclosure in certain circumstances. The lawsuit states that even after the attorney general informed the city of Uvalde that it could not withhold some documents sought by journalists, the city has yet to release them.

Other news outlets that joined Monday’s lawsuit include ProPublica, The New York Times Co., The Washington Post, Gannett, NBC News, ABC News, CBS News and Dow Jones & Co.

See here for some background on the previous lawsuit against DPS. That one was filed in Travis County, this one in Uvalde County. DPS had also been sued by State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, but it was dismissed for not having been filed correctly. I’m about as unsympathetic to the claims of whatever secrecy these entities have made, and even more so for their lack of action where they don’t even have that excuse. The public deserves to know, and these entities are just covering their asses. It’s long past time for us all to find out more about what happened.

Paxton finds a new way to be two-faced

I mean, what were we supposed to believe?

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton stunned election administrators across the state last week when he released an opinion that, in theory, would allow anyone to access ballots almost immediately after they were counted.

Records show that, as recently as five days before the office released that opinion, it was providing the exact opposite guidance to counties.

“The information at issue is confidential for at least 22 months after election day,” a public records opinion from the office, dated Aug. 12, reads. “Accordingly, the district attorney’s office must withhold the information at issue.”

Then, five days later, Paxton released his new opinion. “Members of the public” the new guidance read, are welcome to inspect “voted ballots during the 22-month preservation period.”

“What a difference five days makes,” said Chris Davis, elections administrator in Williamson County.

The record shows that Tarrant County did not receive the opinion telling it not to release the ballots until Aug. 22 — five days after Paxton issued his new opinion. This left the county unsure of how to proceed, and by that time, it had already challenged the new opinion in court. Paxton’s office did not respond to questions about what, if anything, changed in the five day period between the contradictory opinions.

[…]

Tarrant County’s court challenge to Paxton’s new opinion was filed as part of an ongoing records dispute. Citing yet another opinion issued to the office this summer, this one dated July 26 and also instructing the county not to release ballots, attorneys for the county’s election department asked the judge to find Paxton’s new opinion “erroneous.”

“On August 17, 2022, the Attorney General issued a formal opinion concluding for the first time in almost 40 years that voted ballots are not confidential,” they wrote. “The Attorney General’s most recent interpretation is erroneous, and the Court should not follow it.”

In addition to the opinions issued to Tarrant County and dated July 26 and Aug. 12, records provided to Votebeat show Paxton’s office provided identical advice in opinions dated June 16 and Aug. 1.

“We have two documents coming from the same office saying opposite things,” Tarrant County Elections Administrator Heider Garcia told Votebeat. “We’ve got to figure out what’s the path we’re going to walk to do our job.”

Garcia has clear reason to be concerned about the ruling. Earlier this year, after the 22 month window for the March 2020 primary lapsed, a group of activists spent weeks inside his office examining the 300,000 ballots cast by Tarrant County voters. The request took Garcia weeks to fulfill, and then required a dedicated room with videotaped surveillance and a staffer’s supervision.

“You want it as safeguarded as possible in case you actually do have a criminal investigation or some sort of proceeding where [ballots] become evidence,” Garcia said. “Ballots are really easy to alter. You just grab a Sharpie and draw a line on them and now how do you know if it’s been altered or not? Having absolute protection on the physical document, to me, is extremely important.”

See here for the background. I cannot think of a good reason for the sudden turnaround, not to mention the chaos caused by the out-of-order delivery of the contradicting opinions in Fort Worth. The simplest explanation is sheer incompetence. Which would be a surprise given that office’s track record – they’re evil, but they’ve been pretty effective at it. If you have a better idea, by all means say so.

I trust that the irony of Heider Garcia’s words in that last paragraph aren’t lost on anyone. The single biggest threat to the security of the ballots is the idiots that demand to “audit” them, who have to be watched like hawks to ensure they don’t accidentally or deliberately spoil them. I hope that the madness this all represents is helping to drive home the message that Republicans are a clear threat to democracy, as the January 6 hearings and confidential-document-theft-a-palooza have been doing. There are plenty of other things to be talking about as well, from guns to abortion to LGBTQ rights to climate change and renewable energy, but we can’t lose sight of this one. Whatever it’s going to take to convince people they can’t trust the Republican Party as it now exists, we need to be doing it.

Paxton issues deranged opinion on access to ballots

This is utterly chaotic. And completely out of the blue.

Best mugshot ever

A legal opinion released by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton last week will almost certainly throw county elections offices into chaos after November, experts say, exposing election clerks to possible criminal charges and materially reducing the security of every ballot cast in the state.

Federal and state law require that ballots be kept secure for 22 months after an election to allow for recounts and challenges — a time frame Texas counties have had set in place for decades. Paxton’s opinion, which doesn’t stem from any change to state law, theoretically permits anyone — an aggrieved voter, activist or out-of-state entity — to request access to ballots as soon as the day after they are counted. Such requests have been used by activists all over the country as a way to “audit” election results.

The opinion from Paxton doesn’t carry the force of law, but experts say it will almost certainly serve as the basis for a lawsuit by right-wing activists. The opinion has already impacted elections administrators across the state, who told Votebeat that they’ve seen an onslaught of requests since Paxton released it.

“[Paxton’s office wants] to throw a monkey wrench into the operations of vote counting, especially if they think they might lose, and Paxton is in a close race as far as I can tell,” said Linda Eads, a professor at Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law and a former deputy attorney general for litigation for the state of Texas. She said she was “shocked” by the opinion.

[…]

Paxton’s office sought input from the secretary of state’s office prior to issuing the decision, which was requested by state Sen. Kelly Hancock and state Rep. Matt Krause, both Republicans. In no uncertain terms, the secretary of state’s office  — which is run by a Republican appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott — recommended keeping the current waiting period.

“The voted ballots are the core of the election process and the prohibition on disturbing the ballots (except in limited circumstances as permitted by the Election Code) preserves the integrity of the election itself,” wrote Adam Bitter, general counsel for the office, in a letter obtained by Votebeat through a public records request. “Handling of the voted ballots themselves opens up the possibility of accidental or intentional damage or misplacement that could call into question the election after the fact.”

Paxton’s office did not respond to specific questions about why he disagreed with Bitter’s conclusion, nor did he respond to requests for comment.

For months, election administrators in Texas and across the country have been fielding records requests from activists intent on re-examining every ballot cast in every election since November 2020 — or, in some cases, even earlier. In Tarrant County, volunteers with a conservative group occupied a room in the elections office for weeks this summer, examining 300,000 ballots from the March 2020 primary, which were made available by the county 22 months after the election.

Ballots are kept in secure lock boxes for 60 days, and then transferred to another secure facility for the remainder of the waiting period in order to comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1960, a federal law which, in part, requires ballots be securely stored for 22 months. In 2017, the Republican-dominated Texas Legislature even amended state law to specify “22 months,” updating state standards to mirror federal requirements.

In the letter to the attorney general’s office, Bitter, the general counsel for the secretary of state’s office, wrote that an election clerk may effectively have to break state law in order to comply with a request for ballots so soon after an election.

Texas law says that if the ballots’ legal custodian, typically a local election official, “makes unauthorized entry into the secure container containing the voting ballots during the preservation period, or fails to prevent another person from making an unauthorized entry, the custodian has committed a Class A misdemeanor,” Bitter wrote.

Paxton’s opinion, experts say, does not appropriately address the potential criminal exposure.

Matthew Masterson, who previously served as the Trump administration’s top election security official and now is Microsoft’s director of information integrity, said that Paxton’s opinion will make it impossible for election administrators to appropriately ensure that ballots are kept secure. The security controls exist for a good reason, he said, and undermining them has serious implications.

“If you open up the floodgates and give anyone access to the ballots throughout that process, you have broken that chain of custody to the point where you would not be able to prove that this was the ballot a given voter cast,” Masterson said.

The opinion itself provides little guidance as to how long or for what reasons election administrators can block access to such ballots, leaving administrators across the state concerned about their ability to appropriately comply.

“If I read this literally as a layman, I think I’m required to provide ballots the day after an election before the results have even been canvassed,” said Chris Davis, elections director in Williamson County, who said such a release would make it impossible for counties to confidently conduct recounts that would stand up to legal scrutiny.

“I don’t know if the drafters of this opinion have a firm grasp on how ballot security and ballot processing is done at the county level,” he said.

There’s more, go read the whole thing, and add on this tweet thread from story author Jessica Huseman. There’s absolutely no justification for this – state and federal law are clear, and nothing has changed about them. It’s just chaos intended to give a boost to Big Lie enthusiasts, and as the story notes later on, it’s potentially a conflict of interest for Paxton since he himself is on the ballot this year, and everyone agrees it’s likely to be a close race.

County election officials around the state are already reporting getting a bunch of requests, some of which appear to be part of a coordinated effort. I think Harris County has the right response here.

Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee says the county is not releasing the ballots, arguing the opinion Paxton issued in the name of election integrity last week runs afoul of the law.

“Attorney General Ken Paxton is distorting the law to fuel conspiracy theories, encouraging reckless behavior that erodes public trust in our democratic process,” Menefee said in a statement. “The law is clear that these voted ballots are confidential and it’s a crime for anyone to access them unless authorized by law.”

Menefee said Harris County had received more than three dozen requests to inspect ballots since Paxton issued his opinion. The county attorney’s office did not respond to a request for more information about the requests, including who submitted them.

[…]

Federal and state laws requires ballots be securely stored for 22 months after an election, in part to preserve them for recounts or challenges to election results. Menefee said Paxton’s opinion “directly contradicts” a separate opinion his office issued last month, as well as an opinion issued by the AG’s office more than 30 years ago, which both concluded that ballots are confidential for 22 months following an election.

“Our election workers should not have to fear being criminally prosecuted because the attorney general wants to play politics and try to rewrite laws,” Menefee said. “Everyone who has closely read the law agrees the ballots are confidential: the Secretary of State’s Office, counties across the state, and his own office just a month ago. Harris County will continue to follow Texas law, not the Attorney General’s ‘opinion.’”

That’s what I, a non-lawyer who has no responsibilities in these matters, would have done. It is highly likely that a lawsuit will result. No one wants that, but sometimes having the fight is the most straightforward way to resolve the dispute. If that’s what we have to do, then so be it.

DMN/UT-Tyler: Abbott 46, Beto 39

Here we go again with the DMN/UT-Tyler poll, which if nothing else always provides something to talk about. The unreadable DMN story is here. The Chron has a story with a semi-ridiculous headline about how Abbott has slightly increased his lead in the race. This is semi-ridiculous because the topline result is 46-39 in his favor, exactly what it was in the DMN/UT-Tyler poll from May. The comparison they are making is to polls from July, so if you want to go there it’s up from a five point lead in the UH Hobby Center poll, up from a six point lead in the UT Politics Project poll, but down from an eight point lead in the CBS News poll. This is why I prefer to compare between polls of the same type, and why I specify when comparing to other polls. It’s also why I preferred to stay away from “Beto is gaining” narratives in July, because as I said all it takes is one poll that shows a slightly bigger lead for Abbott and it all gets blown up.

Anyway. The poll data is here and I’ll give you the highlights with a few comments.


Abbott    46
Beto      39
Other     13
DK         1

Patrick   36
Collier   28
Other     15
DK        21

Paxton    34
Garza     32
Other     15
DK        18

Dem       48
GOP       50

“Other” is the sum of named Libertarian and Green candidates (one of each in the Governor’s race, just one in the other two) plus the “Other” response. For obvious historic reasons, I don’t expect any of these numbers to be that high in November; this is mostly people not committing to an answer at this time for whatever the reason. The fourth listing is for the generic “which party are you voting for in the US House race” question. Note that this was 49-48 for Republicans in May, and 52-45 for Republicans in February.

The main thing I’ll say about these individual results is that Beto gets only 81-12 support among Dems, with Abbott getting 85-8 among Republicans. Somehow, this poll reports 21% of Black voters supporting Abbott, which at least would explain the overall Dem numbers. Let’s just say I don’t find that particularly credible and move on. Beto has taken the lead among independents in this poll at 34-31; it was 36-29 among indies for Abbott in February and a bizarre 16-6 for Abbott in May – as I noted in the earlier post, that reporting seemed to be screwed up. Both Mike Collier (20-19) and Rochelle Garza (24-19) lead among indies as well. Neither was tested in May as they were still in primary runoffs.

Next is the approvals questions:


Name       Approve  Disap  None
===============================
Biden           41     56     3
Abbott          47     49     4
Beto            43     43    13
Patrick         41     39    20
Paxton          41     40    19

For Beto, the question is asked as whether you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of him. President Biden was at 39-58 in May, so this is an improvement. Abbott was at 46-50 in May, Beto was 42-44, Paxton basically the same at 42-41. Dan Patrick had a strange 50-41 approval result in May – this is more in line with other results and overall expectations.

Two issue questions about abortion:

Do you approve or disapprove of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and allow states to decide abortion policy?


Strong approve        31
Somewhat approve      11
Somewhat disapprove   10
Strong disapprove     39

Should abortion be illegal in all cases, illegal in most cases, legal in most cases, or legal in all cases?


All illegal     31
Mostly illegal  13
Mostly legal    30
All legal       25

I’ve copied the exact wording. Abortion polling is complex and highly dependent on how questions are worded. The one thing that is totally clear is that there is little support for the current law, which basically allows for no exceptions.

We’ll see if we get more results soon. August and September is usually a busy time for such data. As always, take any individual result with skepticism, not because they are untrustworthy but because they are each just one data point.