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Chris Hollins

Republicans want to ban voting at night

Give me a break.

Chris Hollins

Texas Republicans have made it clear that voter suppression is a legislative priority, and one of their biggest targets involves Harris County.

State Rep. Jared Patterson filed a bill last week that would restrict voting hours at early voting locations to between 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. On Twitter, Patterson argued that his bill was filed in response to early voting that occurred in Harris County.

“I filed HB 2293 because of irregularities in Harris County polling hours of operation and the opportunity for voter fraud when no one is looking,” wrote Patterson.

Though many Texas Republicans have claimed the 2020 election was rampant with voter fraud, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has produced only 16 cases, which all involved incorrect addresses.

In 2020, Harris County utilized a number of innovations to safely increase voter turnout in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Eight voting locations throughout the city held early voting until 10 p.m. and one day of 24-hour voting. The locations were strategically placed in neighborhoods that were most likely to benefit workers with non-traditional hours.

According to the Houston Chronicle, over 10,000 Harris County residents voted overnight from October 29 to October 30. The former county clerk for Harris County, Chris Hollins noted on Twitter that HB 2293 would impact “first responders, medical professionals, and shift workers.”

Of course, the overnight early voting locations were from the same early voting locations that had operated during the day. Indeed, the ones that had nighttime hours just stayed open past the usual closing times. The allegations of “irregularities” and “fraud” are just shibboleths, meant to demonstrate continued fealty to Donald Trump and the Big Lie of the 2020 election. The purpose of this bill is simply to make voting less accessible. The least they could do is to be honest about that.

This is hardly the only bill to restrict voting – John Coby has rounded up a bunch more, and of course there’s a crap-ton of voter suppression bills in statehouses around the country, with states that President Biden flipped like Arizona and Georgia on the forefront. Democrats can stave off some of this if they can overcome the ridiculous obstacles in the Senate (which include a couple of their own Senators) and pass the two voting expansion bills the House has approved. These bills cover a heck of a lot, and if you want to look at it in a particular way, they’re targeting Texas with these two bills.

“It would be a huge, huge deal for Texas voters,” said Grace Chimene, president of the League of Women Voters of Texas, a group that supports the legislation. “It’s like having a new Voting Rights Act that would protect the rights of voters, make it fair and equal access to voting here in Texas.”

State lawmakers are now pushing a slew of new restrictions on voting, including bills that would make voting by mail more complicated and would scale back hours for polling places.

The federal legislation would stop those efforts, but its changes to how political boundaries are drawn may have some of the biggest effects on Texas, where Republicans control the Legislature and are expected to draw districts that benefit GOP candidates for the next 10 years as Texas becomes an increasingly competitive state. Texas lawmakers will also be drawing boundaries for two to three more seats in Congress.

The bill would take redistricting out of the hands of lawmakers and create independent panels to draw boundaries — something already in place in several states.

The bill also includes provisions to prevent the drawing of districts to break up communities of color, which could have a big impact on Texas’ increasingly diverse — and Democratic trending — suburbs, said Michael Li, an expert on redistricting who serves as senior counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

The legislation would create a legal framework to test districts for gerrymandering and would expedite the legal challenges that are almost certain to follow Texas’ new maps, as well.

“This is the pushback to all the efforts going on in states including Texas to rollback longstanding voter practices,” Li said.

From your lips to Joe Manchin’s ears, Michael. Still, there’s real work to be done here, which very much includes winning enough state offices to pass our own voting rights bills. We know how hard that’s going to be. On the plus side, passing the two federal bills might make Ken Paxton’s head explode, and that should make anyone want to support them.

Do we still have to worry about the Elections Administrator’s office?

I’m a little hesitant to bring this up, but…

Isabel Longoria

This year, Harris County began the process of consolidating the two offices that have historically handled elections — the county clerk and the tax assessor-collector’s office — under one roof.

Isabel Longoria, a special advisor on voting rights to the county clerk, was sworn in to lead the new office last month.

“Fundamentally the office is shifting from being reactive to proactive,” Longoria told the Signal. “Under the tax office and county clerk offices, since elections and voter registration were just one part of what they did, it was always kind of like, ‘oh shit elections are coming, now what’ or ‘oh shit, we’ve got to register voters, now what’ — now we have the capacity to say that this is our focus year-round.”

Harris County voters are already benefiting from some new practices, some they can see and some they can’t. Election results in the county are now updating every thirty minutes, and behind the scenes, election officials are working more closely together. For example, Longoria said the heads of both the voter registration and elections department were in the same room at NRG on election day.

[…]

Earlier this month, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sent a letter to Harris County informing them that Longoria’s newly created office did not exist. Paxton argued that the county violated Texas election code by creating the office without the proper timing and without appropriately informing the Texas Secretary of State. He gave the county two weeks to take “corrective action” before his office would intervene.

Harris County Commissioners Court was unmoved by the threat, the county attorney replied to Paxton detailing the paperwork, and nothing has come of it since. And business as usual has continued at the elections administrator’s office, Longoria said.

“I think he just wanted to make sure we filed our paperwork, and we did,” Longoria said. “That’s it. It’s one of those things where… yeah… nothing happened.”

That story was published on December 14, right after the District B runoff, which was the first election fully administered by the new office. It was also two weeks after Ken Paxton’s temper tantrum about the slow notification of the office’s creation and the appointment of Longoria as the chief. It’s now been four weeks since Paxton raised the possibility of taking Harris County to court if they didn’t take “corrective action” within two weeks. I guess Vince Ryan’s email to Paxton settled the matter, which suggests that maybe Paxton was making a much bigger deal over a minor boo-boo than he needed to make. Of course, he’s been a pretty busy man since then, what with being raided by the FBI and trying to overturn the election and all, so maybe he just hasn’t gotten back around to this. Sometimes these things just take longer than you think they will, you know?

The Harris County Election Security Task Force

I hadn’t realized that this was a thing, but it was and I’m glad it was.

A task force formed to ensure the security of the November election in Texas’ biggest county has found no evidence of wrongdoing after finishing its work.

The Harris County Election Security Task Force was made up of the Harris County Precinct 1 constable’s office, the district attorney’s office, the county attorney’s office and the county clerk’s office. In a report published Friday, the task force said it “received approximately 20 allegations of wrongdoing that needed to be elevated to the level of a formal investigation.”

“Despite claims, our thorough investigations found no proof of any election tampering, ballot harvesting, voter suppression, intimidation or any other type of foul play that might have impacted the legitimate cast or count of a ballot,” the report says.

[…]

The task force operated from Oct. 13 through Nov. 3, which was Election Day, according to the report. Undercover officers made 6,311 visits to 122 early voting and 806 Election Day polling sites. The task force responded to 77 calls for service. And it used four explosive-detecting K-9 units to to make 323 sweeps of polling locations, as well as “continual sweeps” while voters dropped off ballots at NRG Stadium on Election Day. (The task force found no explosives.)

“We all worked together to ensure our elections, which are the lifeblood of democracy, were free and fair and that any and all allegations were thoroughly investigated,” Ogg said.

The report is here, and it’s an easy read. This is good from a pragmatic perspective, in that it was good for the various law enforcement agencies to work together and coordinate efforts, and it was good from a transparency perspective, as each incident is detailed along with the response and resolution. You should read through the incident reports, which begin on page 8 and are the bulk of the document. Incident #2 was the subject of some fever-swamp “reporting” on right wing websites – a fellow Democrat who had come across one of those stories emailed me about it early on, and I noted in my reply to them the various ways in which it sounded like BS – while incident #22 was the Aguirre situation, which the report noted was referred to the DA’s office. The fact that in addition to responding to calls from the public, the task force made regular proactive checks on voting locations to ensure their safety was retroactively reassuring to me. It also had an actual, positive effect, unlike the fear-mongering and snipe hunting our state leaders engaged in. Put this down as another innovation from 2020 that we should keep on doing in the future.

Ken Paxton’s attempted jihad against Harris County

Wow.

Best mugshot ever

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More on the TDP 2020 audit

I’m very much looking forward to seeing the final report, but I don’t have a clear idea of the objectives from this story.

[Unsuccessful State House candidate Brandy Chambers’] election night confusion mirrors the second-guessing going on within the Texas Democratic Party, the members of which received every advantage they hoped for in 2020 — enough campaign cash to keep pace with a well-funded GOP, a polarizing candidate at the top of the Republican ticket and historically high voter turnout — but still gained virtually nothing.

The early diagnosis: A national push to avoid in-person campaigning because of the pandemic was ruinous, especially with Latino voters who are key to the party’s fortunes in Texas. Early polls were skewed against conservatives and gave Democrats a false sense of security. Republicans effectively characterized calls to defund the police as a threat to public safety. And the party’s message did not connect with the average voter worried about recovering from the economic hurt inflicted by COVID-19.

Texas Democrats believe the lack of in-person campaign events and door-knocking especially hurt them come Election Day, as Republicans continued to meet with voters.

“This was probably the most difficult thing that we faced — the most impactful thing in our election,” Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said. “You had the Republican Party engaged in all of these races in a massive canvassing campaign and bragging about it. … We were left at a very, very severe disadvantage.”

Hinojosa said President-elect Joe Biden’s campaign had advised down-ballot candidates to avoid in-person events and that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee issued similar rules for its candidates, threatening to withhold funds from campaigns if they went door to door.

About two months before the election, Hinojosa said, he’d heard concerns from congressional candidates and organizers who said they “were having a hard time reaching Hispanic voters by the phone. … They really needed to be freed to knock on doors.”

But the national officials wouldn’t budge, he said.

A DCCC spokesman confirmed that there was a nationwide policy directing candidates not to canvass in person during the pandemic but denied that the organization threatened to take away funding from Texas Democrats if they persisted.

[…]

The members demanded 12 action items to move forward, including changes in senior leadership, the creation of a 10-year strategic plan and a request for assistance from states where Democrats had successfully run campaigns this cycle.

“The ultimate goal was ‘let’s start a conversation.’ It was not meant to be petty or divisive,” said Jen Ramos, a member of the state party’s executive committee and co-author of the letter. “We just decided that we’ve got to be firm about this but also really have a means to healing.”

[…]

“Republicans were talking about how we could keep you working,” [SDEC member and letter co-author Kendall] Scudder said. “Democrats were talking about shutting the economy down. Democrats were being the most responsible, but sometimes you don’t love the parent who spanks you. You love the parent that buys you candy.”

Scudder said the party must improve its communication with minority voters and stop pushing only issues that “we ascribe to them as important,” such as immigration for Latino voters or criminal justice reform for Black voters.

[Committee co-chair Chris] Hollins said the committee will meet soon to settle on an initial list of objectives. Revamping party messaging is at the top of his list, too — especially as it relates to the specific identity and goals of the Texas Democratic Party and how they differentiate from those of more liberal states.

See here for the background and some more information about the letter. While it’s important to really understand what happened and learn from it, I hope this committee looks forward at least as much as it looks back. Every election is unique in its own ways, and I think the conditions of 2020 are especially singular. We already know that there’s no debate about issue of in-person campaigning – everyone agrees it was a net negative, and no one has any plans to try it again, so it’s not like this is some new ongoing advantage the Republicans have gained. Figure out what if anything was good about the other forms of campaigning everyone did, recommend ways to build it into future campaigns, and more on.

As far as the messaging stuff goes, I feel like it’s the post-2004 election all over again, though at least this time we won the Presidency. So much time and effort and money and think-pieces were spent on What The Democrats’ Message Needs To Be and How Do We Connect With Those Bush Voters and so on, and then Hurricane Katrina happened and public opinion turned sour on the Iraq War, and Democrats dominated the next two elections. I’m not suggesting that things will magically turn around and get better, nor am I saying that the post-2004 effort had no lessons for us, but I am saying that events can and will shape the political environment in substantial and unforeseeable ways, and that’s why we need to be looking forward as much as possible, while doing everything we can to make the opportunity we have in front of us – fixing the economy, successfully rolling out the COVID vaccine, getting people back to work, protecting our democracy, and more – so that the future environment is as filled with recent positive achievements we can point to as possible. Nothing succeeds like success.

My viewpoint in that paragraph is affected greatly by this WaPo story about the national Democratic reckoning; it’s where the post-2004 parallels occurred to me, because so much of the language was familiar. Again, I agree there’s a ton of value in auditing what just happened so we can understand what went well and what did not, and what we can learn from each. I just don’t want to get too bogged down in that, because what we do now, over the next 12-18 months will, I guarantee you, have a bigger effect on the 2022 election. If we’ve made progress in making people’s lives better, and we’ve been up front about taking credit for it, which is one trick from the Trump playbook that we really do need to appropriate, then we’ll be in good shape.

One last thing, which I have not seen mentioned in any of these “what did Dems screw up in 2020” stories is the effect of disinformation, propaganda, and fake news on voters’ behavior. We are seeing the effect of the constant barrage of bullshit coming from Trump and too many Republican leaders to count in the lawsuits, the increasing threats of violence from riled-up fringe types, the outrageous legislation being proposed around the country, and so forth, but that barrage began well before the election, and it’s being aimed at immigrants and people of color as well, with the same dispiriting effect. There was plenty of evidence of this occurring before the election, and I personally believe it’s a key part of the explanation for why Trump did better among Latinos and Asian-Americans than he had done before. Any strategy to improve Democratic performance, whether in Texas or nationally, has to take this into account. We can’t stop the liars from lying, but we can and we must figure out a way to blunt the effect of that lying. If that’s not a pillar of our plans going forward, then those plans are inadequate and not meeting the moment.

Commissioners Court rejects Paxton allegation about Elections Administrator

Straight to the point.

Best mugshot ever

The Democrats on Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday rejected an opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in which he said they illegally created an independent elections office and hired an administrator.

The move invites a potential lawsuit from the attorney general, which Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis said he was confident the county would win.

“This is another example of (Attorney) General Paxton using his office to attack the voting rights of Texans,” Ellis said.

He noted that Paxton sued to prevent counties from installing more than one drop box for mail-in ballots during this fall’s general election. The attorney general also convinced the Texas Supreme Court to block Harris County’s plan to send mail ballot applications to all 2.5 million registered voters. Paxton also had issued an opinion suggesting the county’s drive-thru voting arrangements violated the state election code.

[…]

In a written response to Paxton Tuesday, [County Attorney Vince] Ryan acknowledged that Harris County had not promptly informed the state of those actions. He said, however, that Texas law says the delays do not change their validity.

Harris County joined more than 100 other Texas counties in creating an independent elections office, which combines the election management role of the county clerk with the voter registration duties of the tax assessor-collector.

The three Democrats on Commissioners Court voted in favor of the change, arguing it is more efficient. The two Republicans were opposed, saying it created an administrator who is unaccountable to voters.

The court was similarly divided in Tuesday afternoon’s discussion. Democratic County Judge Lina Hidalgo dismissed Paxton’s threat as a distraction and said Longoria must be able to do her job.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle, a Republican, said Ellis’s criticism of Paxton was unfounded. The attorney general has a duty to ensure the law is followed, he said.

“When Paxton says we didn’t follow the rules, I don’t think there is some evil intent,” Cagle said.

See here for the background, and let’s put aside for the moment the laughable idea that Ken Paxton has any moral authority when it comes to telling people to obey the rules. I dismissed Paxton’s threats as mere bluster, but I’m an Internet smartass. There are no real consequences when I’m wrong about something. I certainly hope Vince Ryan is right about this – and as a side matter, I hope incoming County Attorney Christian Menefee was consulted and is on board with this, because it will be his mess to clean up if Ryan and the rest of us are wrong. I guess we’ll find out soon enough if we’re about to be dragged into a prolonged court battle, or if this was indeed just hot air. The Texas Signal and the Chron’s Erica Greider have more.

Paxton has a tantrum about the Harris County Election Administrator

Someone is going to have to help me understand this, because I’m clearly missing something.

Best mugshot ever

Harris County failed to follow the Texas Election Code when it created an independent election administration office, rendering the office and the appointment of Isabel Longoria as administrator null and void, according to Attorney General Ken Paxton.

In a Nov. 25 letter to the county attorney’s office, Paxton said Harris County did not inform the secretary of state in a timely fashion, as required by law, when it created the new office in July and when an administrator was selected in October to run it.

“As a result, neither the Commissioners Court’s July 14, 2020 order nor the Election Commission’s October 30, 2020 appointment of (Isabel) Longoria to the position holds any legal weight,” Paxton wrote. “In short, the Harris County Office of Election Administrator does not exist.”

Longoria’s appointment should be rescinded, the attorney general said.

County Clerk Teneshia Hudspeth referred questions to County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who deferred to the County Attorney’s office. First Assistant County Attorney Robert Soard said all required documentation regarding the election administration office has been sent to the secretary of state.

“We feel confident that, after they review this, all misunderstandings will be cleared up,” Soard said.

Longoria said in a statement that the county attorney had advised her there were no procedural issues with the creation of her office; she will continue working.

[…]

The Election Code requires counties to inform the secretary of state within three days of creating an elections administration office. Within six days, it must inform the state of the appointment of an administrator.

Paxton said Harris County waited two weeks to inform the secretary of state it had created the elections administration office and three weeks to formally disclose the hiring of Longoria as administrator, a senior aide in the County Clerk’s Office.

Harris County must take “corrective action” within 14 days, the attorney general said, or the state may take the issue to court. Paxton did not respond to a question asking why his office did not address Harris County’s error in July.

County Attorney Vince Ryan placed an item on Tuesday’s Commissioners Court agenda to discuss the matter.

Here’s the relevant statutes relating to an Elections Administrator:

Sec. 31.031. CREATION OF POSITION. (a) The commissioners court by written order may create the position of county elections administrator for the county.

(b) The order must state the date the creation of the position of administrator is effective. The effective date may not be later than 12 months after the date the order is adopted.

(c) To facilitate the orderly transfer of duties on the effective date, the order may authorize the commissioners court to employ the administrator-designate not earlier than the 90th day before the effective date of the creation of the position, at a salary not to exceed that to be paid to the administrator.

(d) Not later than the third day after the date the order is adopted, the county clerk shall deliver a certified copy of the order to:

(1) the secretary of state; and

(2) each member of the county election commission.

Sec. 31.032. APPOINTMENT OF ADMINISTRATOR; COUNTY ELECTION COMMISSION. (a) The position of county elections administrator is filled by appointment of the county election commission, which consists of:

(1) the county judge, as chair;

(2) the county clerk, as vice chair;

(3) the county tax assessor-collector, as secretary; and

(4) the county chair of each political party that made nominations by primary election for the last general election for state and county officers preceding the date of the meeting at which the appointment is made.

(b) The affirmative vote of a majority of the commission’s membership is necessary for the appointment of an administrator.

(c) Each appointment must be evidenced by a written resolution or order signed by the number of commission members necessary to make the appointment. Not later than the third day after the date an administrator is appointed, the officer who presided at the meeting shall file a signed copy of the resolution or order with the county clerk. Not later than the third day after the date the copy is filed, the county clerk shall deliver a certified copy of the resolution or order to the secretary of state.

(d) The initial appointment may be made at any time after the adoption of the order creating the position.

The relevant sections relating to timing are highlighted in bold. As was noted in the comments to the Chron story, there’s nothing in the laws to say what happens if a county, for whatever the reason, fails to do the paperwork in a timely fashion. Saying that the appointment is null and void for being a few days late is to be the equivalent of saying that because there were a couple of precincts in Wayne County that didn’t exactly balance we need to throw out every vote in the county. I may not be a lawyer, but I can tell when the remedy doesn’t fit the alleged infraction. And if we’re going to be super-technical about it, then let Commissioners Court rescind and re-appoint Longoria today, and notify the Secretary of State later in the day via email, fax, Fed Ex, town crier, and unfurling a giant poster with Isabel Longoria’s picture on it outside the SOS office tomorrow morning. Will that suffice?

This part puzzles me even more:

Republican State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, a frequent critic of local Democrats, urged Commissioners Court to revoke Longoria’s appointment.

“Appointing an administrator of elections in the nation’s third largest county should have been made by following the prescribed legal process to the letter,” Bettencourt said in a statement. “The attorney general’s letter is specific that the duties of that office should be returned to the elected county clerk and tax assessor-collector.”

The dispute is the latest in a series of disagreements between Texas leaders and Harris County officials over how the state’s largest county runs its elections. Paxton and state Elections Director Keith Ingram see their actions as reigning in rogue local leaders; Hidalgo and county officials view them as unnecessary micromanagement.

I mean, we’re aware that all of the election innovation that made Ken Paxton and Paul Bettencourt SO MAD last month was done by the County Clerk, right? Not a non-partisan official whose bosses include the Chair of the Harris County GOP? I’m trying real hard here, but I fail to see what they think they’d be gaining by putting Teneshia Hudspeth in charge of running elections. Do they think she wouldn’t keep doing what she did while Chris Hollins and Diane Trautman were in charge? Have they forgotten that she’s an elected Democrat? Seriously, what is their angle here? I mean, other than being little pettifoggers with a grievance. Like I said up front, someone help me understand this one.

Interview with Chris Hollins

Chris Hollins

To put a bow on this long, strange trip that was the 2020 election season, I have a couple of interviews to bring you with key players from the election. The first is with Chris Hollins, the now-former Harris County Clerk who stepped into that role in June, just before the primary runoffs were to take place and as the second COVID wave was beginning. Hollins had the task of putting new processes in place to make that runoff election safe and successful, then scaling it all up for November, when about ten times as many people would be participating. We know how well that turned out, and how much acclaim Hollins got for his team’s achievements and his leadership, so let’s just go right to the interview, in which we go into greater detail about what happened and what we learned from this crazy election.

Next up: An interview with Isabel Longoria, the first-ever Harris County Election Administrator. Let me know what you think.

I remain pessimistic about the chances of good voting bills passing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our nanny state and vote by mail applications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Federal judge denies Hotze petition

Hopefully, this will be the end of this particular nonsense.

A federal judge Monday rejected a request by a conservative activist and three Republican candidates to toss out nearly 127,000 votes cast at drive-thru polling sites in Texas’ most populous, and largely Democratic, county.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen, a George W. Bush appointee, follows two earlier decisions by the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court rejecting similar efforts by Republicans challenging the validity of drive-thru voting in Harris County. Although Hanen’s ruling is still expected to be appealed quickly, it appears to clear the way for counting the early voting drive-thru ballots on Election Day.

In his ruling from the bench, Hanen said he rejected the case on narrow grounds because the plaintiffs did not show they would be harmed if the drive-thru ballots are counted. He noted, however, that the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals could think differently if the cases reaches them.

If he had ruled on the larger issues in the case, Hanen said he would have rejected the request to toss out votes already cast. But Hanen said he would have shut down Harris County’s drive-thru polling places for Election Day, because the tents being used for the sites don’t qualify as “buildings” under state election law.

“If I were voting tomorrow … I would not vote in a drive-thru just out of my concern as to whether that’s illegal or not,” he said. “I am going to order the county to maintain all the drive-thru voting records … just in case the 5th Circuit disagrees.”

Ten percent of Harris County’s in-person early voters cast their ballots at the county’s 10 drive-thru locations. Dismissing the votes would have been a monumental disenfranchisement of voters in a presidential election besieged with fights over voter suppression and fraud.

The judge ruled from the bench after a hearing with plaintiffs, the county and numerous Texas and national voting rights and political groups joining Harris County to argue that the drive-thru program was legal under Texas election law.

See here, here, and here for the background. This is obviously a great relief, because as ridiculous as this lawsuit was, the cost of an adverse ruling was sky-high. There will be an appeal, but it looks like that will be to stop drive-through voting on Election Day, not to continue the pursuit of throwing these votes out. I think.

On that note: You saw Judge Hanen’s words about voting at a drive-through location today. Drive-through locations will be open today, and if you have the need to use one, then use it. I believe there’s form you can use to attest to your need to vote curbside, which is legally different than drive-through and which is expressly allowed under Texas law (the whole dispute here ultimately boils down to the allegation that drive-through voting is an illegal expansion of curbside voting). Otherwise, I agree with the lawyers who say just park and go inside to vote. Don’t take the chance that this could come up again after the election.

Statements from the ACLU and the Texas Civil Rights Project are beneath the fold, and a statement from the Texas Democratic Party is here. This Twitter thread by Raffi Melkonian is a terrific blow-by-blow account of the hearing and ruling, with some explanations thrown in for the non-lawyers. The Chron, Houston Public Media, the Press, Mother Jones, Politico, and Daily Kos have more.

UPDATE: And so the appeal is happening in the night. Here’s another Twitter thread to keep track. I hope like hell I don’t have to rewrite this whole damn post in the morning.

UPDATE: As of 9 PM, no actual filing yet.

UPDATE: OK, the petition has been filed. They are just asking for drive-through voting to be halted for Election Day. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Hopefully, this is the final final update:

You can see the denial in its glory here. The remaining drive-through location will be at the Toyota Center, which no one can deny is a building; the reason that Judge Hanen would have halted drive-through voting on Election Day is because the law is actually different for Election Day than it is for early voting, specifying “buildings” instead of “structures”. At this point, there really isn’t anything left to litigate. Happy voting to whoever will be doing so today.

(more…)

Today is Election Day

It almost feels unreal, doesn’t it? Like some people have been saying while on line at voting locations, we’ve been waiting four whole years for this. Now it’s here, Texas is considered a swing state, the Lege is in play, multiple Congressional districts are up for grabs, turnout is off the charts. And also we’ve got feral lunatics out on the highways and filing frivolous lawsuits, and of course a malevolent and unpredictable President who’s a coward and a bully but also has a whole lot of minions willing to do dirty work for him. So yeah, these are anxious times.

Your task is to vote, if you haven’t already. And when I say “vote”, I mean vote for Joe Biden and MJ Hegar and Democrats up and down the ballot, because there’s only one way we’re going to get those Trump minions out of power and that’s to vote them out. There are over 800 locations available in Harris County today, with voting from 7 AM to 7 PM. Find a convenient and not-too-crowded location and do the thing. As long as you’re on line by 7 PM you get to vote, but really, don’t wait that long. Make a plan to get there as early as you can.

I will of course be up till all hours this evening following the returns, and will post stuff as I can. The few days after an election are chaotic for me under the most benign and normal of circumstances, so things may be a little weird for the rest of the week. We’ll get through this together. I’m on Twitter and will probably have some things to say while we’re parsing the numbers tonight.

I’m assuming there will be a press release from the County Clerk about today’s voting, and I will add it to this post when I get it. It was a busy day for them yesterday, obviously. I want to thank and congratulate the entire staff of the Clerk’s office, from Chris Hollins on down, for doing such a fantastic job running this election. I truly hope the innovations they implemented and the commitment they showed to making it easier for people to vote become the new normal statewide. Let’s also not forget Judge Hidalgo and Commissioners Ellis and Garcia for putting up the money for this. Voting could have always been this convenient. Now that we know that, let’s never go back to how it was before.

I’m not in the predictions business, but feel free to say what you think will happen today in the comments. I’ll have the data when it’s available.

UPDATE: Who needs a press release when you have a Twitter thread?

A few thoughts about Election 2020 before Tuesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe bullet points will help.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SCOTX rejects Hotze petition to throw out drive through votes

One piece of good news.

A legal cloud hanging over nearly 127,000 votes already cast in Harris County was at least temporarily lifted Sunday when the Texas Supreme Court rejected a request by several conservative Republican activists and candidates to preemptively throw out early balloting from drive-thru polling sites in the state’s most populous, and largely Democratic, county.

The all-Republican court denied the request without an order or opinion, as justices did last month in a similar lawsuit brought by some of the same plaintiffs.

The Republican plaintiffs, however, are pursuing a similar lawsuit in federal court, hoping to get the votes thrown out by arguing that drive-thru voting violates the U.S. constitution. A hearing in that case is set for Monday morning in a Houston-based federal district court, one day before Election Day. A rejection of the votes would constitute a monumental disenfranchisement of voters — drive-thru ballots account for about 10% of all in-person ballots cast during early voting in Harris County.

[…]

Curbside voting, long available under Texas election law, requires workers at every polling place to deliver onsite curbside ballots to voters who are “physically unable to enter the polling place without personal assistance or likelihood of injuring the voter’s health.” Posted signs at polling sites notify voters to ring a bell, call a number or honk to request curbside assistance.

The Harris County Clerk’s Office argued that its drive-thru locations are separate polling places, distinct from attached curbside spots, and therefore can be available to all voters. The clerk’s filing with the Supreme Court in the earlier lawsuit also said the Texas secretary of state’s office had approved of drive-thru voting. Keith Ingram, the state’s chief election official, said in a court hearing last month in another lawsuit that drive-thru voting is “a creative approach that is probably okay legally,” according to court transcripts.

Plus, the county argued in a Friday filing that Texas’s election code, along with court rulings, have determined that even if the drive-thru locations are violations, votes cast there are still valid.

“More than a century of Texas case law requires that votes be counted even if election official[s] violate directory election laws,” the filing said.

See here and here for the background. I’m glad to see SCOTX affirm my faith in them. They’re partisan, but I didn’t think they would want to set their reputations, and the court’s legitimacy, on fire for such a blatant and sloppy effort to disenfranchise thousands of people. So we’ve got that going for us, which is nice.

There’s still the matter of that federal lawsuit, for which there will be a hearing this morning at 10:30. I have no idea when there might be a ruling – it’s not out of the question that the judge could rule immediately upon the completion of the hearing – but it’s still looming out there. If you were one of the 126K+ drive-through voters, you can add yourself to the lawsuit as an intervenor, and put your experience on the record. Just fill out this form – quickly, the hearing is at 10:30 as noted – and you’ll have done your part. Here’s hoping. The Statesman has more.

UPDATE: From Twitter:

The attached brief is custom-made to convince a partisan Republican judge to throw out the plaintiffs’ petition. Let’s hope this helps.

Hotze and Woodfill take their fight against drive-thru voting to federal court

Just another quiet Saturday…

Mark can be a bit of an alarmist, but that doesn’t mean he’s wrong. For what it’s worth, Rick Hasen thinks this suit is without merit, though again worth worrying about given the deranged nature of parts of the federal judiciary these days.

Mark Stern flagged this new lawsuit filed in federal court which seeks to throw out over 100,000 ballots cast by Harris County, Texas voters who voted using drive-thru voting in Texas. There was an earlier lawsuit in state court seeking to block this means of voting on grounds that it purportedly violated Texas law, but the Texas Supreme Court rejected that claim. This new lawsuit is making the same novel claims under the “independent state legislature” doctrine that any actions by any state court or state agency not specifically authorized by the legislature is an unconstitutional usurpation of the legislature’s power. It’s this same audacious and unproven theory that formed the background for the outrageous 8th Circuit order this week over segregating ballots in Minnesota. The lawsuit has been assigned to Judge Hanen (a judge who had struck down all of Obamacare at one point before being reversed), who has already scheduled a hearing.

On the merits, this case should be a sure loser, but given how crazy things are getting in the federal courts these days, I cannot be 100 percent confident in my predictions. Here are some of the reasons this suit should be thrown out decisively

You can click over and read Hasen’s reasons, and you can read these threads by law professor Michael Morley and Buzzfeed News reporter Molly Hensley-Clancy for more reasons. You should also remember that at the end of the day, Jared Woodfill is a complete moron, and anything that relies on his legal acumen is likely to fall well short of the mark. Again, that doesn’t mean that a pliant federal judge won’t give him what he wants. It just means that would be the only reason why he’d succeed. Democracy Docket has intervened, and Josh Marshall, whose post alerted me to Mark Joseph Stern’s tweets, has more.

In the meantime, the State Supreme Court will also be dealing with this tomorrow.

The Texas Supreme Court drew alarmed attention Friday after directing Harris County to respond to a petition that seeks to invalidate more than 117,000 votes cast in drive-thru lanes.

The court’s interest came as an unwelcome surprise to voting advocates and Harris County officials who were banking on a quick dismissal of the petition, filed by two GOP candidates and a Republican member of the Texas House.

[…]

The petition — filed by state Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, GOP activist Steven Hotze and two Republican candidates in Harris County — argued that drive-thru voting is an illegal expansion of curbside voting, which state law reserves for voters who have an illness or disability that could put them at risk if forced to enter a polling place.

The court responded by giving Harris County until 4 p.m. Friday to file a legal brief responding to the petition, raising fears that the Supreme Court was giving consideration to tossing out tens of thousands of ballots.

However, it takes only one justice on the nine-member court to request a response to a petition, and there is no way of knowing how many justices were interested in Harris County’s response because the court does not disclose that information.

In addition, before tossing out the votes, the court would have to acknowledge that 117,000 Harris County voters had visited a drive-thru polling site by Thursday night, including more than 42,000 drive-thru votes that were cast since justices first had a chance to stop the practice a week earlier but did not.

In a memo prepared for Harris County on the issue, noted Austin lawyer C. Robert Heath said the bid to void drive-thru votes faces the daunting challenge of overcoming a key legal supposition — that state laws are to be interpreted in favor of preserving the right to vote.

“If a court or other authority were to decide to invalidate those votes, it would require ignoring or overruling more than a century of Texas law,” Heath concluded.

In the brief requested by the Supreme Court, Harris County lawyers argued that there is nothing illegal about drive-thru voting, nor can votes cast that way be considered illegal.

“Uncountable votes are those that resulted from clear fraudulent behavior,” they argued. “There is nothing about an eligible voter casting an in-person vote from their car that renders their vote illegal, fraudulent, or not countable.”

The brief argued that drive-thru voting is just another polling choice with a different structure. Vehicles enter the voting area, typically a large individual tent, one at a time. A clerk checks each voter’s photo ID and has them sign a roster before handing over a sanitized voting machine.

More importantly, the county said, drive-thru voting was approved by the Texas secretary of state’s office before being adopted and was used, without objection, in the July primary runoff election.

Reform Austin also covered this, with a focus on Harris County’s response, so go check that out. This is another reason why we need comprehensive legislation, at both the state and national levels, to clarify, affirm, and assert the right to vote, and to explicitly ratify different methods to expand voting access. If nothing else, that is needed to ward off future bullshit lawsuits like these.

As for this one, I maintain my belief that SCOTX is unlikely to do anything radical. You are free to freak out as you see fit over either of these.

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story on this.

UPDATE: If you participated in drive-through voting and want to intervene in this federal lawsuit, fill out this form.

November 2020 Early Voting Day Eighteen: Records were broken

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

The rest of the state is voting heavily, too.

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s see where we wound up, and we’ll take some guesses about where we’re headed. The Day Eighteen daily EV totals are here. You can find the daily totals for 2008 and 2012 (and 2016 as well, but I’ve got a separate link for it) here, for 2016 here, and for 2018 here. Let’s put this baby to bed.


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

Here’s the Derek Ryan email for Thursday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet your new Election Administrator

Solid choice.

Isabel Longoria

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

One last, desperate attempt to kill drive-though voting

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 2020 Early Voting Day Sixteen: All through the night

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’d say this deserves a video:

Maybe even two:

The Day Sixteen daily EV totals are here. You can find the daily totals for 2008 and 2012 (and 2016 as well, but I’ve got a separate link for it) here, for 2016 here, and for 2018 here. I’m just going to keep on keeping on with the pretense that early voting actually began last Monday, except with 628K votes already in the bank. The first table is totals for the “normal” early voting time period for each year.


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

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


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

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

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

Here’s the Derek Ryan email.

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

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

Have you voted yet?

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

November 2020 Early Voting Day Fifteen: Now with evening hours

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Day Fifteen daily EV totals are here. You can find the daily totals for 2008 and 2012 (and 2016 as well, but I’ve got a separate link for it) here, for 2016 here, and for 2018 here. I’m just going to keep on keeping on with the pretense that early voting actually began last Monday, except with 628K votes already in the bank. The first table is totals for the “normal” early voting time period for each year.


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Full report is here. Have you voted yet?

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

Because we like starting with tweets:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Day Fourteen daily EV totals are here. You can find the daily totals for 2008 and 2012 (and 2016 as well, but I’ve got a separate link for it) here, for 2016 here, and for 2018 here. I’m just going to keep on keeping on with the pretense that early voting actually began last Monday, except with 628K votes already in the bank. The first table is totals for the “normal” early voting time period for each year.


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

November 2020 Early Voting Day Thirteen: In the home stretch

Twitter time:

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

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


Election     Mail      Early      Total
=======================================
2008       45,361    314,252    359,613
2012       53,131    362,827    415,958
2016       80,681    486,060    566,741
2018       76,947    429,009    505,956
2020      149,750    387,293    537,043

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


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

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

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

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

Bill Kelly: Voting Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Having a Clerk who values democracy matters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wonder why.

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

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

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

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

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

November 2020 Early Voting Day Twelve: Second Saturday

Where we are.

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

November 2020 Early Voting Day Eleven: We reach one million

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

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

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

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

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

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

Way to go, Fort Bend!

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

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

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


Election     Mail      Early      Total
=======================================
2008       40,059    220,046    260,105
2012       53,131    260,274    313,405
2016       77,445    374,679    452,124
2018       64,832    315,030    379,862
2020      145,177    322,324    467,501

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


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

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

Here’s your Derek Ryan email:

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

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

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

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

SCOTX rejects challenges to drive-through voting

Halle-fricking-lujah.

Voters in the state’s most populous county can continue casting their ballots for the fall election at 10 drive-thru polling places after the Texas Supreme Court Thursday rejected a last-minute challenge by the Texas and Harris County Republican parties, one of many lawsuits in an election season ripe with litigation over voting access.

The court rejected the challenge without an order or opinion, though Justice John Devine dissented from the decision.

[…]

Though the program was publicized for months before the ongoing election, it was not until hours before early voting started last week that the Texas Republican Party and a voter challenged the move in a state appeals court, arguing that drive-thru votes would be illegal. They claimed drive-thru voting is an expansion of curbside voting, and therefore should only be available for disabled voters.

Curbside voting, a long-available option under Texas election law, requires workers at every polling place to deliver onsite curbside ballots to voters who are “physically unable to enter the polling place without personal assistance or likelihood of injuring the voter’s health.” Posted signs at polling sites notify voters to ring a bell, call a number or honk to request curbside assistance.

The lawsuit also asked the court to further restrict curbside voting by requiring that voters first fill out applications citing a disability. Such applications are required for mail-in ballots, but voting rights advocates and the Harris County Clerk said they have never been a part of curbside voting.

The Harris County clerk argued its drive-thru locations are separate polling places, distinct from attached curbside spots, and therefore available to all voters. The clerk’s filing to the Supreme Court also said the Texas secretary of state’s Office had approved of drive-thru voting. Keith Ingram, the state’s chief election official, said in a court hearing last month in another lawsuit that drive-thru voting is “a creative approach that is probably okay legally,” according to court transcripts.

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for County Clerk Chris Hollins’ attempt to get the Secretary of State on record about this. The decision came down a couple of hours after County Judge Lina Hidalgo (among others) called on Greg Abbott to do the same. This would have been a monumental middle finger to the voters of Harris County, and an utter disgrace for the Supreme Court, had they upheld the Republican challenge. I don’t know what took them so long, but if they’re going to be slow about it, they’d better get it right, and this time they did. Exhale, everyone.

We shouldn’t leave this item without giving Hollins the victory lap he deserves:

There’s a bit more on Hollins’ Twitter feed. When he says that every county should do it like this, he’s absolutely right. You can see all the SCOTX denials here, and the Chron has more.

(Oh, and let’s please do remember this when John Devine is up for election next. The rest of the court may have done the right thing, but that guy has truly got to go.)

November 2020 Early Voting Day Ten: Closing in on 2016

A couple of tweets to get us started:

I talked about the likely percentage of people with no voting history in yesterday’s roundup. These folks include some number who did vote in 2018, and among them will be those who turned 18, or became citizens, or had moved to Texas in the interim. It will also include a lot of these brand-new voters. It seems likely this cohort will tend to favor the Democrats, though we can’t know just yet how that will shake out.

For the record, there were 732,037 registered voters in Travis County in 2016, and 477,588 of them voted, giving 65.8% of their vote to Hillary Clinton. Seems likely they’ll do a lot better this year. The Statesman had a story about the early vote in Travis County so far, but I thought Susan’s tweet was more on point.

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


Election     Mail      Early      Total
=======================================
2008       37,381    170,629    208,010
2012       50,790    201,962    252,752
2016       73,043    293,440    366,483
2018       59,332    249,383    308,715
2020      136,851    260,831    396,682

The in person early vote total declined again, though it would still be enough by itself to maintain the pace needed to match 2016’s final turnout during the EV period. Despite that, the overall total from Thursday actually exceeded Wednesday because of a huge number of returned mail ballots. Here’s the daily breakdown so you can see what I mean:


Vote type    Monday  Tuesday Wednesday  Thursday    Total
=========================================================
Mail         17,106   12,216    10,097    21,928   136,851
Drive-thru    6,347    7,578     6,834     5,145    80,009
In person    67,679   62,173    55,557    49,698   734,206
Total        91,132   81,967    72,488    76,771   951,066

We are now at 96.5% of 2016’s early vote (plus mail ballot) turnout of 985,571. I think we can safely assume we will pass that today. We are also now at 71.0% of 2016 total turnout. We passed 2012’s early vote total (777,067) and 2008’s early vote total (746,025) on Wednesday. We could reach their final turnout totals (1,188,731 for 2008, 1,204,167 for 2012) early next week. Total early vote turnout from 2018 was 867,871, and we passed that Wednesday. Total 2018 turnout was 1,219,871, so we could pass it along with 2008 and 2012 on the same day. With eight days to go, we will need to average 48,479 votes per day to reach 1,338,898 total votes. The mail ballots returned has already exceeded the 101,594 from 2016, and there’s 110,583 ballots still out there. (Though some people who got mail ballots have been voting in person and turning the mail ballots back in. I’ll have more on that over the weekend.)

Here’s your Derek Ryan email.

We’ve reached the halfway point of the early voting period and over one-third of registered voters in Texas have voted (5,887,488 people).

Those in the political world who know me know that I have an obsession with Loving County. Loving County has 111 registered voters and 29 of those people have voted early (6.9% have no previous election history in the last eight years). For reference, 876,887 people have voted in Harris County.

The full report is here. Gotta say, twelve million seems doable. Crazy, isn’t it?

Hollins calls on Secretary of State to defend drive through voting

Good.

Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins is seeking assurance from Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughs that her office is “committed to defending the votes” cast at the county’s drive-thru voting sites, the subject of two lawsuits currently before the state Supreme Court.

In a letter sent to Hughs Tuesday, Hollins cited prior support from state election officials, including Elections Director Keith Ingram, for the legality of drive-thru voting. He asked Hughs to confirm by noon Wednesday that the office stands by those statements.

By noon, Hollins had not received a response from Hughs, according to a spokeswoman for the clerk’s office.

A spokesman for Hughs said the office had received Hollins’ letter, but he declined to say whether Hughs or anyone from her office planned to respond. He also did not say whether Hollins had accurately characterized the position of state elections officials on drive-thru voting.

[…]

In his letter to Hughs, Hollins wrote, “Your office has repeatedly expressed that drive-thru voting fit the definitions and requirements for a polling place provided in the Texas Election Code for both Early Voting and Election Day.” During a court proceeding, Hollins wrote, Ingram called drive-thru voting “a creative approach that is probably okay legally.”

Last Friday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a guidance letter in which he suggested Harris County’s use of curbside voting does not pass legal muster. He wrote that state law “makes no provision for polling places located outdoors, in parking lots, or in parking structures.” The state election code also does not allow “‘drive-thru’ voting centers at which any voter may cast a ballot from his or her vehicle regardless of physical condition,” Paxton wrote.

“Curbside voting is not, as some have asserted contrary to Texas law, an option for any and all voters who simply wish to vote from the comfort of their cars when they are physically able to enter the polling place,” Paxton wrote.

You can see a video call with Hollins about this here, his official statement here, and further coverage from Chron reporter Jasper Scherer here. The concern at this point is not just that the Supreme Court might put a halt to what Harris County has been doing, but that they might invalidate the 70K+ votes that have been cast by drive-through voting. The contempt for voters that this would display, at this super late hour, is breathtaking. I can’t even begin to wrap my head around that. I don’t know what else to say.

I don’t know when the Supreme Court might rule on this facially ridiculous challenge, but I will note that not only was it filed after early voting had begun, it’s now been a week since it was filed with SCOTX. They’re taking their sweet time about this. I hope that means that they’re not willing to stick a knife in this, but all I have is hope. Again, what this writ represents is plain and simple contempt for voters. There’s no other principle here.

On a side note, we also have this:

That is of course in reference to this turd of a Fifth Circuit ruling, and it’s exactly what we’d expect from the Clerk’s office. Every other election administrator in this state should follow their example.

November 2020 Early Voting Day Nine: Starting to run out of clever subtitles

And now, for something slightly different, Part One:

This was hard for Jacob Monty.

As a lifelong Republican, the 52-year old Houston attorney has been in the trenches with former President George W. Bush, never voted for a Democrat for president and even was part of President Donald Trump’s National Hispanic Advisory Council.

But there he was on Wednesday at a Texas Democratic Party press conference, going public with his decision to vote for Joe Biden for president.

“This is not a decision I took lightly, I love the GOP,” said Monty who has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to GOP causes over the years.

But Monty said voting Trump out is the only way he sees to save the GOP he grew up in.

“I’ve not changed my philosophy, I’ve just determined that Donald Trump is an existential threat to America and a threat to the GOP,” he said, adding that he’s still voting Republican down the ballot.

Well, there’s one Biden/Cornyn voter, which addresses a point I’ve raised a time or two in discussing polls. We thank you for your moral decision, sir.

Slightly Different Part Two:

A “Seinfeld” reunion of sorts is in the works — to raise money for Texas Democrats as the state continues to see robust early voting turnout.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander and Larry David are slated to share behind-the-scenes stories and dish about their favorite episodes online in a “fundraiser about something” hosted by Seth Meyers.

“We knew that we had to reunite for something special and the movement on the ground for Texas Democrats up and down the ballot is the perfect opportunity to do just that,” the three stars said in a joint statement. “Texans are getting out to vote in droves and showing the world that Texas has never been a red state, it’s been a non-voting state.”

The event begins Friday, and you can find more information about it here. You can insert your own Seinfeld quote or GIF, Lord knows there’s a million of ’em. It sure is nice to be on the receiving end of some positive attention, isn’t it?

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


Election     Mail      Early      Total
=======================================
2008       34,527    126,394    160,921
2012       47,265    150,722    197,987
2016       70,023    217,111    287,134
2018       55,106    190,445    245,551
2020      114,923    205,988    310,814

Things continue to slow down a bit, at least as far as in person voting goes. The early voting period in 2016 was quite active, and unlike the comparison I’m doing with this year, when the universe of people who haven’t voted yet is now much smaller, there was still a lot of room to grow. It won’t surprise me if Week 1 of 2016 catches all the way up to Week 2 of 2020 by Friday or so. Nonetheless, we remain comfortably at a pace to reach 2016’s entire turnout before the end of early voting.


Vote type    Monday  Tuesday Wednesday    Total
===============================================
Mail         17,106   12,216    10,097  114,923
Drive-thru    6,347    7,578     6,834   74,864
In person    67,679   62,173    55,557  684,508
Total        91,132   81,967    72,488  874,295

We are now at 88.7% of 2016’s early vote (plus mail ballot) turnout of 985,571, and at 65.3% of 2016 total turnout. We passed 2012’s early vote total (777,067) and 2008’s early vote total (746,025) on Wednesday. We could reach their final turnout totals (1,188,731 for 2008, 1,204,167 for 2012) early next week. Total early vote turnout from 2018 was 867,871, and we passed that today. (This tweet only counted ballots cast in the 2016 Presidential race; it did not include undervotes or absentee ballots, so it is not a true measure of “turnout”.) Total 2018 turnout was 1,219,871, so we could pass it along with 2008 and 2012 on the same day. With nine days to go, we will need to average 51,623 votes per day to reach 1,338,898 total votes. The mail ballots returned has already exceeded the 101,594 from 2016, and there’s 130,993 ballots still out there.

The Derek Ryan email is here. One thing to highlight:

I’ve had quite a few people point out that women make up a much larger portion of the early voters than men. Through yesterday, 52.1% of voters have been women, 43.1% have been men, and 4.8% don’t have a gender listed on the Secretary of State’s list of registered voters. I think it’s worth pointing out that there are more women who are registered to vote in Texas than men. The breakdown of all registered voters is 50.9% women, 45.3% men, and 3.8% with no gender information listed.

The first page of my report includes a breakdown based on which previous elections each voter has participated in.

[…]

Voters with previous Democratic Primary history (who have not voted in a previous Republican Primary) have seen their share of the vote decrease by 6.9% since my first report. Voters with previous General Election history (who have not voted in any party’s primary) have increased their share by 4.1% and voters with no General Election or Primary Election history have increased their share by 2.7%.

The report, which is through Tuesday, is here. If we really are headed towards twelve million people voting, then the share of people with no previous voting history is going to get pretty high, probably around 25%. I mean, total turnout from 2016 was under nine million, and in 2018 it was about eight and a half million, so there’s a big gap to make up. Similarly, the number of people with general election history but no primary history will also get bigger. Republicans had 2.8 million voters in their 2016 primary, and there were two million Dems in 2020. Even assuming there are some primary voters from other elections that are still around, we’re not even halfway to twelve million. The million dollar question is, who are these people voting for?

November 2020 Early Voting Day Eight: Any idea what pattern we’ll follow?

The Chron provides five takeaways from early voting so far.

Democrats appear to be doing well in Harris County, but don’t call it a wave yet. Turnout to date has been strong in precincts carried by Trump and Clinton in 2016. Why is this good news for Democrats? Because Clinton won more precincts and carried the county by 12 points.

Harris County already is a blue county, and a similar Democratic turnout this year would mean another shellacking for local Republicans.

[…]

A surge in voter registration probably helps Democrats. Harris County added more than 298,000 voters since 2016. That is more than the population of Lubbock. Democrats disproportionately benefit from this, political scientists say, because new registrants are more likely to be younger and people of color, two groups that favor that party.

[…]

Democrats have an edge among primary voters. Through the first five days of voting, 27 percent of voters had cast a ballot in this year’s Democratic primary, compared to 15 percent who had voted in the Republican primary, according to an analysis by University of Houston political scientists Brandon Rottinghaus and Jeronimo Cortina. Fifty-nine percent of voters through Saturday had not voted in the primaries. Since Texas does not have party registration, primary voting history typically is one of the best indicators to determine how a resident will vote in a general election.

The one thing no one knows is how turnout ultimately will be. Sure, Harris County smashed early voting records with an unprecedented four-day streak of more than 100,000 ballots. The pace already has slowed, however, and the big question remains: Are more people going to vote overall or are voters casting ballots early or by mail to avoid Election Day crowds?

Here’s a tweet summary, which notes that the electorate is so far much more female than male (good for Dems, since Dems do better among women in the polls) and younger voters are showing up (also good for Dems). I will note that while this week is a bit slower than last week, we almost certainly couldn’t keep up that 100K per day pace, and we’re well on our way towards exceeding 2016 turnout during the EV period. We still have ten days of early voting to go, and we really could slow down a lot, but until then what we’re doing is piling up votes, with a lot of time left to pile them even higher.

The Day Eight daily EV totals are here. You can find the daily totals for 2008 and 2012 (and 2016 as well, but I’ve got a separate link for it) here, for 2016 here, and for 2018 here. I think I’ve decided to pretend we’re at the normal Day Two and compare to previous years, just with the knowledge that 628K people have already voted. We’ll see how long this makes sense. The “original” Day Two numbers are here.


Election     Mail      Early      Total
=======================================
2008       30,318     82,612    112,930
2012       44,092     98,671    142,763
2016       64,377    141,013    205,390
2018       53,947    127,969    181,916
2020      104,826    143,597    248,423

A bit slower than Monday, but still ahead of 2016 for in person votes – which, remember, is after there had already been six full days of voting – and with a lot more mail ballots. We’re still very much on pace to equal all of 2016 in the early voting period.


Vote type  Saturday   Sunday   Monday   Tuesday    Total
========================================================
Mail          8,807    8,249   17,106   12,216   104,826
Drive-thru    7,806    4,135    6,347    7,578    68,030
In person    57,675   30,361   67,679   62,173   628,951
Total        74,288   42,745  628,708   81,967   801,807

We are now at 81.4% of 2016’s early vote (plus mail ballot) turnout of 985,571, and at 59.9% of 2016 total turnout. With ten days to go, we will need to average 53,709 votes per day to reach 1,338,898 total votes. The 104,826 mail ballots returned has already exceeded the 101,594 from 2016, and there’s 140,270 ballots out there.

I will leave you with this:

Through Monday, 28% of registered voters have voted early (4,708,734 voters). The more interesting thing is that the total is half the total of all votes which were cast during the 2016 General Election…and we still have another week and a half of early voting (and Election Day too).

I’m not ready to give an exact number, but we will likely surpass 12 million people voting in this election. That would be 71% turnout. In 2016, turnout was 59.4% with 8,969,226 people voting.

That’s from the Derek Ryan email (data here). Twelve million seems high to me, but I don’t have a good counter-argument at this time. Have you voted yet?

November 2020 Early Voting Day Seven: It’s Day One all over again, sort of

Here’s a mid-day headline that needed some revision by the evening.

Harris County is on pace to reach half of of 2016’s total voter turnout by Monday evening, the county clerk reported.

By 11 a.m. Monday, the seventh day of early voting, more than 20,000 local ballots had been cast, putting the county on pace for about 690,000 total by the time polls close for the day at 7 p.m. That would be about 51 percent of the 1.3 million county voters who cast ballots in the presidential election four years ago.

The volume of voters has declined since last week, when more than 100,000 turned out for four consecutive days. The Harris County clerk’s website showed just one of 112 polling sites, the North Channel Branch Library, with a wait time exceeding 40 minutes at noon on Monday.

Across Texas, 4.1 million residents have cast ballots, more than any other state.

For whatever the reason, Monday started kind of slow. Things picked up later in the day, and the eventual total for the day exceeded that projection. I’ll get to the overall figures in a bit, but first the preliminaries. The Day Seven daily EV totals are here. You can find the daily totals for 2008 and 2012 (and 2016 as well, but I’ve got a separate link for it) here, for 2016 here, and for 2018 here. As this is essentially Day One for the normal early voting period, I’m going to compare today’s totals with the Day One numbers from previous years. In other words, a reprise of this post, with updated mail ballot totals.


Election     Mail      Early      Total
=======================================
2008       29,301     39,201     68,502
2012       40,566     47,093     87,659
2016       61,543     64,471    129,014
2018       52,413     63,188    115,601
2020       92,610     74,026    166,636

“Total” isn’t accurate for this year, but if today had been Day One, you can see that we still would have outpaced previous elections. The mail ballot certainly played a role in that, but the in person totals were a new high compared to the other years as well, even if they’re down a bit from last week. Like I said, we couldn’t keep up that pace forever. Now let’s update the numbers for 2020:


Vote type  Saturday   Sunday   Monday    Total
==============================================
Mail          8,807    8,249   17,106   92,610
Drive-thru    7,806    4,135    6,347   60,452
In person    57,675   30,361   67,679  566,778
Total        74,288   42,745  628,708  719,840

We are now at 73.0% of 2016 early turnout (including mail), and 53.8% of total 2016 turnout. At today’s pace, we’d reach 2016’s early vote turnout of 985,571 by close of business on Thursday. There were 101,594 mail ballots returned in 2016, and it seems likely at this pace we will pass that either today or tomorrow. A total of 244,359 mail ballots have been sent out, and so far 37.9% of them have been returned. My estimate remains that some 185K mail ballots will ultimately be cast, so we’re basically halfway there.

An average of 56,278 voters per day for the remaining 11 days of early voting is needed to equal final 2016 turnout of 1,338,898. That’s down from 59,182 yesterday. Oh, and we have a new number for voter registration:

If turnout as a percentage of registered voters is 61.33% as it was in 2016, then 1.52 million people will vote. If it’s 62.81% as it was in 2008, then 1.55 million will vote. Turnout of 68.62% is needed to get us to 1.7 million, as suggested by County Clerk Chris Hollins. I would not say that is out of reach.

Finally, here’s a interesting analysis of the vote through the weekend by Brandon Rottinghaus, with a nifty visualization from Jeronimo Cortina. Have you voted yet?

November 2020 Early Voting Day Six: And now we start the “normal” early voting period

I’m just going to jump right into the data here. The Day Six daily EV totals are here. You can find the daily totals for 2008 and 2012 (and 2016 as well, but I’ve got a separate link for it) here, for 2016 here, and for 2018 here. I’m going to be experimenting on how to give these numbers going forward, because we’re in such a different world these days:


Vote type  Saturday   Sunday    Total
=====================================
Mail          8,807    8,249   75,504
Drive-thru    7,806    4,135   54,105
In person    57,675   30,361  499,099
Total        74,288   42,745  628,708

Derek Ryan sent out an email that covered the first four days, which you can see here. For the table above, I broke out the drive-through votes from the other in person votes, because why not. And no, I didn’t know that mail ballots were delivered on Sunday, but apparently they are. Looking at the 2016 EV file, that was the same then, too. The more you know…

I’m going to throw some more numbers at you now.

– As of the end of Sunday’s early voting, 25.47% of all Harris County registered voters had turned out. There are, as noted, twelve more days of early voting to go.

– In 2016, total final turnout was 1,338,898. To equal that amount during the early voting period, an additional 710,910 people would need to vote. That’s an average of 59,182.5 per day. I don’t know that it’s necessary to get to this level by the end of early voting, but it would seem that it is well within the range of possibility. I’ll keep track of that as we go.

– In 2016, 76.4% of all mail ballots were returned. As of Sunday, 31.0% of all mail ballots had been returned. There were 123,999 mail ballots sent in 2016, and as of Sunday there had been 243,623 mail ballots sent. Mail ballots are still being sent – the original total was 238,062, and the deadline for requesting a mail ballot is October 23 (i.e., this Friday). If 76% of mail ballots are returned this year, over 185K votes will be cast by mail.

– This week is “normal” for early voting, at least as far as hours go. In Harris County, EV locations will be open 7 AM to 7 PM Monday through Saturday, then 12 PM to 7 PM on Sunday. There are extended EV hours the week after that, but we’ll discuss that later. I’m dying to see what the daily level of voting looks like this week. Have you voted yet?

November 2020 Early Voting Day Five: How not to look at the early voting totals

From Twitter on Friday:

You can click over to see the thread, but it’s based on the share of votes that came from precincts won by Hillary Clinton in 2016 versus the share of votes that came from precincts won by Trump in 2016. As of Day Three, the same share of votes from Clinton precincts had been cast in this year’s election, which led to the conclusion that Biden was not outperforming Clinton, at least not yet.

There are several problems with this approach. First and foremost is that “precincts” is too rough a measure to use. Precincts are not uniform in size – there are precincts with upwards of four thousand voters in them, and there are precincts with fewer than one thousand, even those with fewer than one hundred. There are precincts that would have gone well over eighty percent for one candidate or the other, and precincts that were close to fifty-fifty. People move, so over the course of four years a given precinct could be quite different in composition or size. And as we have seen, some people have shifted their voting preferences – college-educated white women, in particular – so one’s vote in 2016 isn’t quite as predictive of one’s vote in 2020 as one might think.

There’s also the fact that the main Democratic strategy is just simply adding to their pile of potential voters, and then turning out as many of them as possible. I’ve said multiple times and in several contexts that there are just simply more Democrats in Harris County than there are Republicans. We saw this illustrated very starkly in 2016, when the total number of Democratic voters increased a lot more from 2012 than the number of Republicans did. See here for my explanation of that. The core of the Democratic voter registration strategy is that most of the folks who had not been voting before were people that were likely to support Democrats, and the focus has been on getting them registered check) and then turning them out. That worked quite well in 2016 and in 2018, and it’s the plan for 2020.

Well, what about the data that we have that suggests most of the voters so far are the old reliables? I will remind you, we haven’t even gotten to the starting line for what would have been the early voting period for this year, and there’s already been a ton of votes cast with that full time span to get everyone else out. There are better ways to estimate what the electorate so far looks like, I’ve talked about this before, and it’s based on using a data model on the vote roster that gives every voter a score of how likely they are to vote D or R, and then sum it all up. There’s some assumptions baked in, and the quality of the data varies a bit from cycle to cycle, mostly because underlying conditions change, but on the whole it’s a reasonable picture. One thing we know is that the first Saturday of the early voting period is a banner day for Democrats, at least in Harris County. That was even true in disaster years like 2010. This year we have two Saturdays, so maybe things will be a bit different – for sure, this Saturday will not be the high-water mark for the week, which is a change from other years – but it is a reminder that different people vote at different times.

In fact, in recent elections, it’s been Democrats who have done better on Election Day than in early voting. Here’s a comparison of the straight ticket vote for the last three high-turnout races:


2012 early - 279,619 R, 259,664 D - 51.9% R, 48.1% D
2012 E day - 124,546 R, 147,327 D - 45.8% R, 54.2% D

2016 early - 308,027 R, 333,477 D - 48.0% R, 52.0% D
2016 E day -  93,636 R, 128,553 D - 42.1% R, 57.9% D

2018 early - 298,644 R, 355,861 D - 45.6% R, 54.4% D
2018 E day - 112,010 R, 159,951 D - 41.2% R, 58.8% D

“Early” combines the mail vote with the early in person vote. I skipped the third party straight-ticket vote for this comparison. Obviously, with a lot more of the vote occurring early, that part of the vote has a much greater effect on the outcome. My point is simply that in past years, the early vote was not necessarily indicative of where everything would end up. Dems in general were trailing in 2012 after early voting, and mostly caught up on Election Day. That was also true for candidates like Ann Harris Bennett in 2016, and Lina Hidalgo in 2018.

I should note that this pattern has also held true for the two most recent lower-turnout races, in 2010 and 2014, which were Republican-dominant years. Dems actually cast more straight ticket votes on Election Day in 2010 than Republicans did, though it wasn’t nearly enough to mitigate the losses they suffered. In 2014, Dems lost all three parts of the vote, but by a smaller margin on Election Day.

The one year where this pattern was broken was 2008 – Dems won the early vote, and Republicans won Election Day, though not by enough for the most part to win countywide. Now to be fair, this year resembles 2008 in a lot of ways – Democratic enthusiasm was through the roof that year, and no one was surprised to see the initial results on Election Night. It will not surprise me if Republicans do better on Election Day than they do in early voting. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll make up ground on Election Day – it may just mean they lose the day by less, as was the case for Dems in 2014. Remember, the thesis here is there are more Dems than Republicans. That means that if Republican turnout is pretty good so far – and it does seem to be – then it also means they’re going to run out of voters faster than the Dems. I’d submit that’s what happened in both 2016 and 2018.

All this is for Harris County. I can’t speak for other counties. In a place like Denton County, for example, where Dems made great strides in 2018 but were still outnumbered overall as of that year, it may be that the population growth there plus the level of enthusiasm on the Republican side is enough to not only hold off further Dem advances, but increase the Republican advantage. We won’t know, or at least I won’t know, until we start seeing results. The same strategy of registering more voters, on the same belief that they are on balance more Dem than Republican, holds there. How well it works remains to be seen.

And speaking of Saturday numbers, we now have them. The Day Five daily EV totals are here. You can find the daily totals for 2008 and 2012 (and 2016 as well, but I’ve got a separate link for it) here, for 2016 here, and for 2018 here. I’m just going to give these numbers today, because we’re now at a point where the day-to-day no longer makes sense:


Vote type  Saturday    Total
============================
Mail          8,807   67,255
Drive-thru    7,806   49,970
In person    57,675  468,738
Total        74,288  585,963

Derek Ryan sent out an email that covered the first four days, which you can see here. For the table above, I broke out the drive-through votes from the other in person votes, because why not. I’ve been meaning to ask if they’re tracking dropped off mail ballots separately, I need to follow up on that. Having a Saturday be at two-thirds the level of the Thursday and Friday would be deeply weird in a different year, but this year, who can say? I have no idea what to expect this week or next weekend. Early voting hours today are 12 to 7, instead of the usual 1 to 6, so maybe we’ll get 30-35K. If that’s about right, then with some 620K early and mail votes in the hopper as of Monday, the “normal” start for early voting, we’d need to average 60K votes per day to equal the 1.34 million total turnout from 2016. We’ll see how it goes on Monday and Tuesday, but yeah, I do think that’s within reach. It would mean something like 200K (for the lower end) to 400K (for the high-end Chris Hollins-predicted 1.7 million) voters left for Election Day. Like I said, we’ll see what the next week brings. Have you voted yet?

How hard it is to vote is a policy choice

Harris County tried to make it easier. The state GOP, various other Republican contingents, Greg Abbott, Ken Paxton, and others fought that choice every step of the way.

Much of the Democrats’ dream of turning Texas blue is pinned on ramping up turnout in Houston and other Texas cities where voters, many of whom are people of color, trend heavily their way.

In a bitterly contested election, overlaid with the fears and risks of an uncontrolled pandemic, Harris County has become a case study in raw politics and partisan efforts to manipulate voter turnout. Republican leaders and activists have furiously worked the levers of power, churning out lawsuits, unsubstantiated specters of voter fraud and official state orders in their bid to limit voters’ options during the pandemic.

Their power hemmed in by state officials, Houston Democrats have launched a robust effort to make voting as easy as possible, tripling the number of early and Election Day polling locations and increasing the county’s election budget from $4 million in 2016 to $33 million this fall. They reject GOP claims that making voting easier carries inherent risks of widespread voter fraud.

The battle lines were acknowledged in one of the many lawsuits Republican leaders and activists filed in the past few months attempting to rein in Harris County’s efforts to expand voting access.

“As Texas goes, so too will the rest of the country. As Harris County goes, so too will Texas,” the GOP lawsuit read. “If President Trump loses Texas, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for him to be reelected.”

Local political observers agree the writing is on the wall: Most of Houston’s residents are people of color, its local leaders are Democrats, and it is the fastest-growing county in the state, according to recent census data.

“This county looks like what Texas is going to look like in 10 years, and they know that if Harris County can become solidly entrenched in the Democratic Party, it’s just going to disperse from there,” said Melanye Price, endowed professor of political science at Prairie View A&M University and a Harris County voter. “I think in some ways they’re going to have more of an influence, and the governor knows that, and the attorney general knows that, and that is why they’ve decided to hobble them at every turn.”

It’s no coincidence, Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins said, that GOP efforts to tightly enforce Texas voting laws — among the nation’s most restrictive — target an important Democratic stronghold and one of the country’s most diverse cities.

“If you look at [election results] for Harris County, you see a very clear trend,” Hollins said. “If I were in the business of trying to suppress Democratic votes, I know where I would target.”

The piece will be largely familiar to anyone who has been following along, but go read the rest for a review. Again, I want to emphasize, Harris County – by which I mean Judge Hidalgo and Commissioners Ellis and Garcia and County Clerk Hollins – made a choice to invest the time and money to make it easier to vote. They did things that I think were revelations to all of us, who have been so used to the old ways for so long. “Wait a minute, we can have a lot more early voting locations? And more voting by mail, with options to drop off ballots instead of waiting on and worrying about the postal service (but we can also track our ballot if we do mail it), and with drive-through service? Who even knew any of this was possible?” Just spend a few minutes on Twitter or Facebook and see the many selfies and videos people have posted with their enthusiastic reaction to all this.

And then remember that every step of the way, Republicans of all stripes have tried to stop any of this from happening. From the two Republican Commissioners voting against that money that was budgeted for the election, to the Governor (who, to be fair, did extend the early voting period, and did extend the period during which mail ballots could be dropped off to all of early voting, even if he did later limit it all to one location) and the Attorney General and the Steven Hotze/Allen West minions filing lawsuit after lawsuit, every single innovation was opposed with a barrage of lies about “vote fraud” and not much else. Thanks to a batch of sympathetic Republican judges, though, they have been quite successful at it.

I’ve made this point before, but this is a long-term loser for the Republicans. People like ease and convenience. They want new ways to do things that take less time and require less effort. The Democrats, in Harris County and elsewhere, want to give it to them. The Republicans want to take it away or make sure they never get it in the first place. What side of that argument do you want to be on in the next election, or even before that in the next legislative session? Texas is a lousy state in which to vote, with obstacles everywhere you look. That’s a policy choice, enabled by the Republicans who run the state. The only way to change that is to change who runs the state. Look at Harris County’s vision for how voting could and should be, and then look at what the Republicans have done about it. What happens when the voters want something to be done about this?