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Election 2020

What I want from the next HCDP Chair

As you know, the Harris County Democratic Party will soon have a new Chair. And as you know, I am a Democratic precinct chair, which means I’m one of the several hundred people that will vote on who that is. So as a public service to you, and as my way of telling the candidates what will influence my vote, these are my priorities for the next HCDP Chair.

1. Start with a goal of 1 million Democratic votes for Joe Biden in 2024, and really aim for 1.1 million. Hillary got 700K votes in 2016. Beto got 800K in 2018. Biden (and Ed Gonzalez) got 900K in 2020. There’s already more than 2.5 million registered voters in Harris County, up about 100K from November 2020, and I expect there to be over 2.6 million by next November. Sixty-five percent turnout (we were at over 68% in 2020) gets 1.7 million voters total (up less than 50K from 2020), and hitting one million Dems would mean taking almost 59% of the vote for Biden, which so far is the only real reach here as he was at 56% in 2020. Beto got to 58% in 2018.

What I’m really aiming for is a net of at least 300K for Biden in Harris County; he was at plus 218K in 2020, after Beto was at plus 200K in 2018. If we want to talk about making Texas competitive for Biden, and whoever our 2024 Senate nominee may be, that’s the kind of Dem advantage in Harris County we’re going to need, at a minimum. That’s the kind of vision I want from the next Chair, and I want there to be a plan to go along with it.

2. Improve performance in base Democratic areas. Harris County went from being evenly matched in 2012 to the strong blue county it is now in large part because Dems have vastly increased performance in formerly dark red places. I’ve said this before, but Mitt Romney won 11 State Rep districts in 2012, and he won them all with over 60% of the vote. In 2020, Donald Trump only won two State Rep district with 60% or more, HDs 128 and 130, and he won nine overall with HDs 134 and 135 being won by Dems.

But Democrats didn’t do as well in a number of dark blue districts in 2020 as they had in 2016 and 2018, and as we saw in 2022 it was in those districts where Beto fell short, often well short, of his 2018 performance. We need to turn that around. Part of this is that we have a vibrant Democratic club structure in place, with a lot of that participation coming in the formerly red areas. There’s a lack of clubs, and thus neighborhood-based outreach, in a lot of traditional Democratic areas. It’s also a dirty secret that some Democratic elected officials in those areas do very little to help with GOTV efforts. Achieving the goal set in item #1 will require an all-hands-on-deck mobilization. I want to know what the next Chair intends to do about that.

3. Find ways to partner with Democratic parties in neighboring counties. I know the job title is “Harris County Dem Party Chair”, but we abut a lot of other counties, and in quite a few places the development just sprawls over the border, making the distinction between the two of lesser value. There are also a lot of offices that include parts of Harris and parts of one or more neighbors: CDs 02 and 22, SBOE6, SDs 07 and 17, and all of the Firth and 14th Courts of Appeal benches, of which there will be ten Democratic incumbents on the ballot next year. We should find ways to collaborate and cooperate to help our candidates in these races.

In counties like Brazoria and Montgomery, population growth near the Harris County border has led to some burgeoning Democratic turf, mostly around Pearland for the former and around the Woodlands for the latter. I also believe that Conroe is starting to become like Sugar Land, a small but growing urban center of its own that we ought to see as such, and seek to build alliances there. In Galveston and to a lesser extent Waller, the growth has been in redder areas, and we need to find the allies there who likely feel isolated and help them connect with and amplify each other. In Chambers and Liberty, anything we can do to help slow down the small but steady Republican advantage will help.

My point is that 10-20 years ago, as Democrats were starting to assert power in Harris County, it was still quite common for Dems in the then-dark red areas to believe they were the only ones like themselves there. A big part of what the county’s organizing, and the growth of the local clubs, has done is to dispel that notion and allow people the chance to enhance their communities. Anything we can do – in a collaborative, “how can we help?” manner that respects the people who have been doing their own work there for a long time – to help with that will help us all.

4. Threat management. I’m being deliberately provocative here because I think this is urgent and I want people to see the dangers. We know there’s a lot of disinformation and propaganda aimed at non-English speaking communities – we’ve seen the websites and Facebook posts, and we’ve seen the mailers and heard the radio ads. We know that “poll watchers” with malign intent are out there. We’ve just had multiple winning candidates get sued by their losing opponents, and many of them were left scrambling to pay for lawyers to defend themselves in court. We’ve faced previous legal challenges over voting locations and voting hours and mail ballots and on and on. For the latter at least, we’ve had a strong response from the County Attorney, but we can’t assume that will always be the case. We need to be aware of past and current threats to our elections and candidates, we need to be on the lookout for emerging threats, and we need to have a plan and dedicated staff and resources to respond to them.

This is where my thinking is. I don’t expect the candidates for HCDP Chair to have fully formed answers to these problems, but I do hope they agree that these are urgent matters and deserve attention. They may have other priorities and I’m open to that, I just want to be heard. So far the two candidates that I know of – Silvia Mintz and Mike Doyle – are the only two that have come forward. I’ll let you know if I hear anything more on that, and you let me know what you think.

Is it finally the time for Julian Castro?

This story is mostly about Ted Cruz and whether he might run for President again in 2024; the tone of the story is that he probably won’t. No one cares about that, but because it is a story about 2024 and Ted Cruz will be running for re-election to the Senate in 2024, it contains the following bits of speculation about who might run against him:

Not Ted Cruz

Cruz’s focus on his Senate bid follows a tough 2018 reelection fight against former Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who lost by 2.6 points. Combined, the two candidates raised close to $115 million, with O’Rourke bringing in more than $80 million. And Cruz may face another fight in 2024, with Texas and Florida the only conceivable pick-up opportunities for Democrats in a cycle that will have them mostly on defense — 23 of the party’s seats are up next year.

O’Rourke did not respond to a request for comment on whether he was considering a second Senate run against Cruz. After losing his gubernatorial bid against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in 2022, he told the audience in his concession speech that “this may be one of the last times I get to talk in front of you all.”

But plenty of others are considering a Cruz challenge. A person close to former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro said that he is weighing a run. Democrats in the state are also watching Rep. Colin Allred (D-Texas); state senator Roland Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde, the town devastated by a school shooting; and state Rep. James Talarico, who sparred with Fox News host Pete Hegseth in 2021, according to a Texas Democratic strategist.

A senior adviser to Cruz, granted anonymity to speak candidly, said he plans to make his formal Senate run announcement within the first half of the year. They added that Cruz would make additional staff hires during that period and that he’s already started raising money, including “revamping completely the small-dollar operation.” Cruz currently has $3.4 million cash on hand.

Democrats acknowledge that Texas has not been an easy state for the party. But they argue that Cruz is more vulnerable than his other GOP counterparts, citing the close 2018 race and his castigated 2021 trip to Cancun while Texas underwent a power-grid emergency due to a winter storm.

“We look forward to our Democratic nominee retiring Ted Cruz from the U.S. Senate and finally allowing him some time to finally relax at his preferred Cancun resort,” said Ike Hajinazarian, a spokesperson for the Texas Democratic Party. “That is, of course, should he even choose to run for reelection, which would be strange considering his newly-introduced legislation to limit U.S. senators to two terms.”

Cruz, who would be running for a third term, told reporters this week that he doesn’t support unilateral term limits, but would “happily comply with them if they applied to everyone.”

The term limits thing doesn’t even make my Top 25 list of Ted Cruz atrocities. I’m not going to expend any energy on that at this time. As for Beto, I’m pretty sure we’ve seen the last of him on the statewide stage, at least for the foreseeable future. He ain’t running for anything in 2024, I’m confident of that.

We have discussed Rep. Colin Allred before, and he would be a fine candidate if he chose to run. As far as I know, any words to the effect that he has an interest or is seriously considering the possibility have yet to come from his own mouth, and as such I put this in with the “speculation” files. The thing that strikes me about Allred is that he’s in a similar situation that his colleague Rep. Joaquin Castro was in 2017 and being talked about a run against Cruz in that cycle. Like Castro, Allred is in a (now, post-redistricting) blue district and he’s building up seniority while also being seen as a rising star within the party. It’s not hard to imagine him as a deputy whip or a powerful committee chair in a couple of cycles. Given that, what is the upside to making an at-best longshot run for the Senate? It would be one thing if the Senate seat were clearly winnable, but it’s a stretch and everyone knows it. He could win, and as was the case with Beto a close loss might still be a boost to whatever other prospects he ay have, but you still have to weight that against what he’d be giving up. Seems to me the easy choice is to stay put and wait until Texas is competitive enough to tip the odds in your favor. Rep. Allred may see it differently, but I think he’s not likely to make this leap.

And that brings us to Julian Castro, whose name has certainly been mentioned as a possible statewide candidate before. Indeed, we’re approaching the ten-year anniversary of “potential statewide candidate Julian Castro” territory, as those stories were being written at the start of the 2014 gubernatorial campaign. At this point, I don’t know if he really is thinking that the time is right or if he’s the 2023 version of John Sharp, destined to always be brought up in this kind of story because it would be weirder to not mention him. I don’t know who counts as a “person close to” him, but as with Rep. Allred, I’d like to hear the words come from his own mouth before I start to take it seriously.

I’ll say this: At least in 2017/2018, you could say that Julian Castro was really running for President in 2020, and as such it made no sense for him to campaign for something else in the meantime. Julian Castro is not running for President in 2024, and if what he really wants to do is run for Governor in 2026, maybe put the word out about that. I guess what I’m saying is that while there’s still no reason yet to get on the “Julian Castro might really run for something statewide this time!” train, there’s also nothing obvious out there that would be an obstacle to it. Either he actually does want to run and will eventually tell us so himself, most likely after multiple teases and hints like this could be, or he doesn’t and he won’t. This means I will need to stay vigilant for future references to his possible candidacy. Hey, I knew what I was getting into when I started blogging.

Finally, in regard to Sen. Gutierrez and Rep. Talarico, I mean, I’m sure someone mentioned their names as possibilities. I’ve speculated about potential future candidacies for people myself, it’s a fun and mostly harmless activity. Again, and I’m going to keep harping on this, until you hear the person themselves say it, that’s all that it is. I’m going to be tracking “potential candidate” mentions anyway, so we’ll see where they and maybe others fit in. It’s still super early, there will be plenty more where this came from.

State Bar lawsuit against Paxton survives motion to dismiss

Good news.

The only criminal involved

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton must face an ethics lawsuit by state attorney regulators over a case he brought challenging results of the 2020 election, according to a court ruling posted on Monday.

Judge Casey Blair on Friday denied Paxton’s bid to dismiss the case on jurisdictional grounds. Blair said he was not ruling on the merits of the case.

[…]

The ruling is a setback for Paxton, who had argued that his work as the top Texas state lawyer was beyond the reach of Texas attorney ethics regulators. Potential penalties if the case succeeds could include suspension or disbarment.

The Texas State Bar, an agency that oversees licensed attorneys in the state, filed the lawsuit against Paxton in state court in Dallas last May. The complaint said Paxton made “dishonest” statements in a lawsuit that sought to toss 2020 election votes in four states.

The U.S. Supreme Court threw out the election challenge in December 2020.

Paxton’s lawyers told the Texas court that the bar’s allegations were tied to his “performance of his official duties” and that seeking to discipline him “is tantamount to a judicial veto over the exercise of executive discretion.”

The state bar countered that Texas attorney conduct rules “apply to any attorney engaged in the practice of law regardless of their position.”

Technically, this lawsuit was filed in Collin County, per State Bar rules. Both sides filed their briefs in July, and the hearing was in August. Paxton’s argument was basically that the State Bar had no authority over him in this matter, which the judge (a Republican from Kaufman County) rejected.

Assuming this doesn’t get appealed or is upheld on appeal, there will be a hearing on the merits. If that goes well, we may finally get some form of accountability for our lawless Attorney General. Note that a similar lawsuit filed against Paxton’s First Assistant Brent Webster was dismissed in September when the judge in that case bought the same argument about separation of powers. That ruling is under appeal; if there’s been any further news about it, I’ve not seen it.

So there you have it. Stay patient, there’s still a long way to go. MSNBC has more.

Paxton seeks settlement with some of the whistleblower plaintiffs

Very interesting.

The only criminal involved

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s legal team is in settlement negotiation talks with three of the four former employees who filed a whistleblower lawsuit against him for firing them after they accused Paxton of criminal acts.

Paxton’s lawyers, in a joint filing last week with attorneys for Mark Penley, David Maxwell and Ryan Vassar — Paxton’s former deputies — asked the Texas Supreme Court to put the whistleblower case on hold to give the parties time to negotiate a settlement. The lawyers wrote they were “actively engaged in settlement discussions” with mediation set for Wednesday.

Lawyers for a fourth plaintiff, Blake Brickman, opposed the motion in their own filing and urged the court to move forward with its consideration. The news was first reported by The Dallas Morning News.

[…]

Paxton has argued in state court that he is exempt from the Texas Whistleblower Act because he is an elected official, not a public employee and that he fired them not in retaliation for their complaint, but because of personnel disagreements. An appeals court has ruled against him and allowed the case to move forward. But last January, Paxton appealed his case to the Texas Supreme Court.

The joint filing by Paxton’s lawyers and the three plaintiffs says the court should defer its review of the case until Feb. 9 to give the parties an opportunity to resolve the issue outside of the courtroom.

Paxton’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Brickman’s lawyers, Thomas Nesbitt and William T. Palmer, said in their filing that Paxton’s team has been delaying the case for two years and “there is no reason for abating this case.” They argued that the other plaintiffs sought the pause only because they intended to settle the case, but since Brickman was not involved in those negotiations, his claims still needed a quick resolution.

“Brickman respectfully requests that this Court deny the request for abatement,” they wrote. “It imposes further needless delay of the adjudication of Brickman’s claim.”

See here for my last update, in June. I am unabashedly rooting for Blake Brickman here. I respect that Messrs. Penley, Maxwell, and Vassar wish to settle. If they think that’s in their best interests, then godspeed and good luck. But if Brickman wants to pursue the case, there’s no reason to make him and SCOTx wait until they come to an agreement – if indeed they do. The question of whether Paxton as Attorney General can be sued at all in this context matters, and we deserve to get a ruling on that. (Yes, I may end up regretting this request, but such is life.) From a slightly more selfish perspective, the only way to ensure that the more sordid allegations from this complaint get an airing is if there’s a trial. Sure, if the FBI ever charges Paxton with a crime we may find out more, but given how long that has already taken and the amount of time Paxton has been able to evade trial for his state crimes, we may all be dead by the time that happens. So yeah, let this lawsuit continue. We all deserve some answers.

Precinct analysis: The different kinds of courts

PREVIOUSLY
Beto versus Abbott
Beto versus the spread
Hidalgo versus Mealer
Better statewide races
Not as good statewide races
County executive offices
Houston/not Houston

I’ve spent a lot of time and space on this blog talking about judicial races and trying to make sense of their numbers. As we’ve discussed, there is consistently a three-to-four point range between the top-scoring Democratic judicial candidate and the lowest-scoring one. That range is consistent across years, across baseline Democratic performance levels, across different types of judicial races. I’ve looked but never found patterns that I think satisfactorily and consistently explain the variations.

This was an interesting year for multiple reasons – the first non-Presidential election since the huge shift towards Democrats in 2018, the first time these judicial incumbents were running for re-election, tons of money being spent by Republicans and their backers to smear Criminal Court judges, the high-profile County Judge race that was closely tied to that same campaign spending, the first non-Presidential year with no straight-ticket voting, coming in a year with the extra-long ballot and so on. There were a lot of contradictory polls and a lot of dubious conventional wisdom, including questionable pronouncements about voters getting worn out before they reached the end of the ballot, and how that would be bad for Democrats.

In the end, the results largely defied negative pronouncements about Democrats’ chances. I turn as always to the numbers to see what they tell us. One way that I decided to approach this was to look at the different type of judicial races on the ballot, to see if there was anything interesting there. Turns out there was:


Court         R Avg    D Avg    R pct   D pct
=============================================
Appeals     520,019  549,533   48.62%  51.38%
Dist Civil  518,475  545,206   48.74%  51.26%
Dist Crim   520,900  542,986   48.96%  51.04%
Family      508,801  546,195   48.23%  51.77%
C Civil     515,292  545,092   48.60%  51.40%
C Crim      522,321  534,175   49.44%  50.56%
C Probate   511,900  540,619   48.64%  51.36%

You may have noticed that the ballot is arranged in a particular order. At a high level, it’s federal races, then state races, then county races, then city and other local entities if applicable. In this context, after the statewide offices and the legislative offices (including the SBOE), there are the judicial races. They start with the appellate courts, the 1st and 14th for those of us in Harris County, then the District Courts in numerical order, which means that Criminal District Courts and Civil District Courts are mixed together. Last in line for the state courts are the Family Courts, also in numerical order. After the last Family Court race is the County Judge, the top race in the county, and then the County Civil courts, the County Criminal courts, and finally the County Probate courts. (I am not taking the Justice of the Peace courts into consideration here, as they are not countywide and you only have one of them on your ballot.)

That’s the order displayed in the table above, so each line represents a group that came entirely after the group above it. I took the average number of votes each party’s candidates got in these races – I omitted the one Appellate Court race that had a third candidate in it so that we’d have a cleaner comparison – and the average vote percentage for each group, which you see in the table.

Breaking it down this way revealed three things to me that I might not have noticed otherwise. One is that the many millions of dollars spent by the Mealer/Mattress Mack cohort did have some effect, specifically in the criminal court races, with that effect being slightly larger in the county courts than in the district courts. Republican criminal court candidates, at both the district and county levels, actually got more votes on average than their civil court counterparts, while the Democrats in those races got fewer votes than their civil court colleagues. It’s not clear to me why the gap was greater in the county (which is to say, misdemeanor) courts; the anti-Democratic advertising wasn’t at all subtle about who was responsible for whatever outrage they were fulminating about. To the extent that it did work, the voters seemed to understand the difference between “criminal courts” and “not criminal courts”. If anyone on the Republican side thought that the other Democratic judges might become collateral damage, there’s no evidence to support that.

Two, the Family Court judges were the stars of the 2022 elections for the Democrats. The gap is the greatest between them and their Republican challengers, and they got the most votes in the aggregate of any non-appellate group. They may have drawn some support from people who otherwise voted Republican, or they got more people who might have been skipping other judicial races to push their buttons. Again, I don’t know exactly why. Just eyeballing the 2018 results – I may go back and do these calculations for that year, just as a point of comparison – I think the Dems that year did better overall than in other races, though they had about the same range of results. One thought I’ve had about this is that the Family Courts were kind of a mess before the Dem sweep of 2018 – there were some stories that made it into the papers about happenings in the Family Courts, and of course there was then-Family Court Judge Lisa Millard ruling against the city of Houston giving health insurance benefits to same-sex spouses of city employees even after DOMA had been ruled unconstitutional by SCOTUS. Maybe there’s a general impression among (at least some) voters that Republicans can’t be trusted on Family Court benches, in the way that Republicans tried to push than message about Dems on Criminal Court benches. I’m just guessing – the evidence is minimal, there aren’t that many of these races, the gap isn’t that much – but it’s what I’ve got.

And three, there’s no evidence to support the hypothesis that I have seen too many times that “ballot fatigue” disproportionately hurts Democratic candidates. Democratic Probate Court judges, all the way at the bottom of the ballot, did basically as well as their counterparts in appellate and civil court races. The dropoff in votes cast for each party from appellate to probate, and from county civil to probate, is about the same; the dropoff from district civil to probate favors the Dems. If anyone thought that eliminating straight ticket voting would give Republicans more of a chance to win these farther downballot races because Dems would lose interest or get tired or whatever, they were wrong. I made this point till I was sick of having to make it back in 2018 and again in 2020. I will never not be mad about all of the lazy, uninformed, and frankly kind of racist assumptions that went into that hypothesis.

Let me close with a visual reminder of all this. The table above is the average vote and percentage for the different types of judicial races. The chart below is the vote percentage for both parties in each of those races individually.

The Y-axis is the percentages. The X-axis is where they are on the ballot, so on the left we start with the appellate races, then go through the district and family courts, then into the county civil, criminal, and finally probate courts. You can see the four races that Dems lost, one district criminal court and three county criminal courts.

And as you can see, while there is that dip in percentage that we have discussed for the county criminal courts, it bounces right back for the probate courts. There’s no overall downward trend. Many millions of dollars in advertising was able to move the needle a bit in a handful of races, but that’s it.

I still have a couple more of these posts to work through. As always, please let me know what you think.

The next round of voter suppression bills are coming

Brace yourselves.

Texas Republicans spent most of the 2021 legislative session focusing on election security — and this year, it’s a top priority for them again.

GOP leaders are discussing a range of election security measures, from higher penalties for voter fraud to broader power for the attorney general to prosecute election crimes. Many of them target Harris County, which Republicans have spent the past two years chastising for back-to-back elections blunders.

“Harris County is the big problem,” said state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Houston Republican who plans to file close to a dozen election bills this legislative session. “You’ve got the nation’s third-largest county that has had multiple problems with multiple election officers, to the point where one had to resign, and the problem is that it’s too big a piece of the electorate to ignore.”

Harris County Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum did not respond directly to the criticism, but said the office supports any legislation that increases voter registration and access to voting.

“Right now, we are focused on implementing new systems to promote the efficiency with which our office runs elections,” Tatum said in a statement.

[…]

Bettencourt said he’s considering a bill that would raise the charges for some voting-related misdemeanors, such as failing to provide election supplies.

He also questioned the existence of — and the accountability measures for — the election administrator position in Harris County. [Isabel] Longoria was the first, appointed under a newly created office in late 2020; Tatum was named as her replacement last July.

“That’s somebody that’s supposed to have better acumen and better results than elected officials, but the reverse has been proven to be true in Harris County,” Bettencourt said. “One of the things we’re going to have to explore is: Why aren’t the elected tax assessor-collector and the elected county clerk — which are, quite frankly, both Democrats — why are they not running the election, where there’s some public accountability?”

I’ve said this multiple times before, but as a reminder for the slow kids in the class, many counties have election administrators, including many Republican counties like Tarrant and Lubbock. Ed Emmett first proposed the idea for Harris County. There were problems with elections back when the County Clerk – specifically, Stan Stanart – was in charge of running them. This is nothing but a pretext.

Beyond Harris County, lawmakers are looking at a slate of statewide elections reforms, starting with returning the penalty for illegal voting to a felony instead of a misdemeanor. The Legislature lowered the punishment when it passed Senate Bill 1, but top Republicans — including Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — have pushed to return it to the stiffer penalty.

Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan, whose chamber amended the bill to include the lower penalty, rejected the idea when it was first floated during a series of 2021 special sessions.

“This important legislation made its way through the House after several thoughtful amendments were adopted,” he said. “Now is not the time to re-litigate.”

[…]

State Rep. Jacey Jetton, a Richmond Republican, said he’s exploring legislation to facilitate [the mail ballot] process, such as enabling election officials to check all identification numbers associated with an individual at the Texas Department of Public Safety. He also wants to review the system’s new online mail ballot tracker and ensure it’s working properly.

Republicans have also introduced bills to further investigate election fraud, to limit the state’s early voting period from two weeks to one, and to set earlier deadlines for handing in mail ballots. And some of them are hoping to give Attorney General Ken Paxton stronger authority to prosecute election crimes, after the state’s highest criminal appeals court ruled in 2021 that he could not unilaterally take on such cases.

Currently, Paxton can only get involved if invited by a district or county attorney, according to the court’s ruling. The decision led to an outcry from top Republicans, including Abbott and Patrick, who called for the case to be reheared.

Paxton encouraged his supporters to launch a pressure campaign and flood the court with calls and emails demanding, unsuccessfully, that they reverse the decision. The move prompted a complaint to the State Bar accusing Paxton of professional misconduct for attempting to interfere in a pending case before the court.

Much of this is also covered in this Trib story. I don’t know if Speaker Phelan will be persuaded or arm-twisted into changing his mind about making whatever minor infractions into felonies, but I hope he holds out. I commend Rep. Jetton for his interest in reducing the number of mail ballot rejections, though I have a hard time believing anyone can get such a bill through the Lege. As for Paxton’s continued desire to be Supreme Prosecutor, the CCA’s ruling was made on constitutional grounds. I feel confident saying that a constitutional amendment to allow this will not pass.

Anything else, however, is fair game and just a matter of whether the Republicans want it to pass or not. They have the votes and they have the will, and there’s basically nothing Dems can do to stop them. They’ll fight and they’ll make noise and they’ll employ the rules and pick up the occasional small-bore victory, but in the end they have no power. You know the mantra: Nothing will change until that changes.

And yes, it really is all about voter suppression, even if Texas Republicans are better than their Wisconsin colleagues at keeping the quiet part to themselves. It’s certainly possible that these laws aren’t as good at actually suppressing the vote as they’re intended to, but that’s beside the point. If they keep making it harder to vote, and they keep making it costlier to make an honest mistake in voting, and that cost is almost entirely borne by Democratic-leaning voters of color, it’s suppressive. The debate is about the extent, not the existence.

The “True The Vote Freedom Hospital of Ukraine”

This story has broken my brain.

Gregg Phillips and Catherine Engelbrecht are best known as the election deniers behind True the Vote, a Texas-based nonprofit responsible for amplifying conspiracies that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.

But soon after Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2022, they shifted some of their focus to the war effort, jumping into the fray with an inspiring idea — to bring a mobile hospital to the region to care for victims of the conflict.

They called it The Freedom Hospital.

Phillips solicited donations on conservative media platforms, linked up with American veterans working in Ukraine and traveled to the region in March to meet with local officials. The Freedom Hospital’s website announced it was halfway to its goal of raising $25 million.

“Our recent project, The Freedom Hospital, in Ukraine helps old folks, women and kids near the fight receive healthcare,” Phillips wrote on the conservative social media site Truth Social on June 5.

But that was one of a series of misrepresentations from Phillips and The Freedom Hospital about the operation’s donations and accomplishments, according to a joint investigation by ProPublica and The Dallas Morning News. The Freedom Hospital never got off the ground, and, through their lawyers, Phillips and Engelbrecht now say they never raised significant amounts of money for the project.

They never brought the mobile hospital to the region.

Both Phillips and Engelbrecht declined to answer questions. According to their lawyers, who spoke to ProPublica and the News, the pair’s Ukraine project was a good-faith effort that was unsuccessful.

They said Phillips realized during his March trip to the region that the mission wasn’t feasible because local officials weren’t interested, because potential donors felt the U.S. government was already funneling enough money into the war effort, and because he was worried about the potential for local corruption.

“They pretty much abandoned it all as of, like, April,” Cameron Powell, a partner at Gregor, Wynne, Arney who’s one of the pair’s attorneys, said during a December interview. “Pretty much during his trip, he was deciding it’s probably not going to be feasible.”

Phillips continued to seek donations for months after that and gave the impression that the project was still in the works. The lawyers now say that is because the pair kept pushing forward “with their due diligence for a while longer” and declined to clarify exactly when the project was abandoned.

Asked about Phillips’ statements that The Freedom Hospital had raised half of its $25 million goal, the lawyers said that amount was an in-kind donation from the mobile hospital manufacturer, not cash. The manufacturer’s CEO disputed that account, saying it never pledged to make such a donation.

As noted, this story also appears on ProPublica and The Dallas Morning News. I trust we are all familiar with the main characters of this story. They’re the reason this is a story, after all.

I look at it this way: If there were a couple of people who did not have the history of Catherine Engelbrecht and Gregg Phillips that had allegedly done these things, one might reasonably conclude that they were well-intentioned but in over their heads, and they made things worse in their good-faith-but-doomed efforts to get out of the hole they were in. But because they are Catherine Engelbrecht and Gregg Phillips and they have a long history of lying and grifting, you can’t believe a word they say and you should not ever give them the benefit of the doubt. The burden of proof is on them. Just add this mess to their karmic tab, which one hopes some day will come due. Now go read the rest of this story and try not to obsess about it too much.

The Chron drops a big Hotze story

Despite the headline, I didn’t find a whole lot of new details of interest here. Most of the new stuff consists of the various unhinged things that Hotze has been saying about elections and how everyone is covering up massive fraud and are out to get him. I don’t need a big story to know that he’s a paranoid power-hungry sociopath, but maybe some other people did; this assumes that most people will read what he claims and correctly conclude that he’s a liar and a grifter, which is at best an iffy proposition. Be that as it may, there are a couple of points of interest here.

More than two years after Steven Hotze bankrolled a private voter fraud investigation that led to an armed confrontation with an innocent repairman, the Houston doctor was back in court earlier this month reiterating claims that Harris County Democrats are engaged in a massive election conspiracy.

Hotze, a Republican megadonor and fierce supporter of the debunked theory that Democrats stole the 2020 presidential election, faces felony charges related to the episode and separately is being sued by the repairman. His lawyers this month accused the Democrat-led District Attorney’s office of retaliating against him for exposing the election-rigging, even though no substantive evidence of such a scheme has ever emerged.

The criminal case against Hotze, who runs a lucrative health clinic in Katy and a vitamin retail business, isn’t likely to go to trial anytime soon in the county’s overburdened court system; Hotze faces charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and unlawful restraint, as does Mark Aguirre, the investigator Hotze hired.

But a Houston Chronicle examination of documents in the civil proceeding reveals new details about the bizarre October 2020 attack – one that became a nationally known example of how an election fraud theory could put an unsuspecting civilian in danger.

The documents include extensive comments from that civilian, a Mexican immigrant named David Lopez who has worked fixing air conditioning systems in Houston for more than five years. He said he continues to fear for his life ever since Aguirre allegedly crashed his SUV into his box truck and pointed a gun at him, all under the false pretense that Lopez’s truck contained hundreds of thousands of fraudulent ballots.

“I am afraid because the people who did this to me are very powerful. I have no power,” Lopez said. “I do not know why they attacked me. These people did not find what they were looking for so I am afraid they will attack me again. I don’t know what they are looking for.”

The documents also show that Hotze and his attorneys continue to insist that Lopez could have been a main perpetrator of voter fraud and that he received payments from Harris County Democratic officials. “We’ve got the goods,” Hotze said in a 2022 deposition. “It’s so complicated I can’t – I can’t comment on it right now, but we do.”

[…]

Ever since news of the attack on Lopez became public in December 2020, the details of its origins have been murky. In a news conference around the same time, Hotze claimed that he had paid 20 to 30 investigators a “proprietary” amount of money to look into claims of voter fraud in Harris County and that he knew nothing of their specific activities. He said he paid them through the Liberty Center for God and Country – but for years his lawyers refused to disclose the group’s financials.

Now, the documents made available as part of the civil lawsuit against Hotze, including a tax return for the Liberty Center and a deposition that forced him to answer questions under oath, offer more clues.

According to the Liberty Center’s 2020 tax documents, the nonprofit collected more than $800,000 that year and spent it on “lawsuits to defend the constitutionally protected right of individuals to attend religious worship services, to protect the right of all businesses to stay open, and to ensure that elections in Texas were and are conducted in accordance with the Texas Election Code.”

The first two activities likely refer to Hotze’s lawsuits against mask mandates and other COVID-19 pandemic public health measures. The document also specifies that $379,000 went to “legal services,” while $342,000 went to “investigation services.”

In the deposition, Hotze said he decided to start funding investigations into voter fraud when Aguirre, a former Houston police officer, approached him in 2020. He said he only paid Aguirre, but knew of two other investigators who participated in the probe – Charles Marler, a former FBI agent, and Mark Stephens, also a former Houston cop.

Aguirre received more than $250,000 from the Liberty Center for his efforts, court records show. But Hotze said he never sought much information about how Aguirre used the money. “He would contact me periodically and say, we have got people looking around, seeing what’s going on,” Hotze said in the deposition. “You know, it was somewhat nebulous.”

All Hotze knew, he said, was that Aguirre had apparently discovered that undocumented Hispanic children were filling out hundreds of thousands of phony ballots in locations across the county to swing the 2020 election results in favor of the Democrats.

“From what he told me, it appeared that he was on a hot trail,” Hotze said of Aguirre, who had been fired from the Houston Police Department in 2003 before he became a private investigator.

Aguirre and the other investigators approached the Houston police and local prosecutors with their findings, but law enforcement agencies were skeptical. The investigators took the lack of interest as a sign that authorities were in on the scheme.

“Election fraud is seemingly the only crime whose very existence is denied because of the difficulty and refusal to investigate the allegations,” Stephens wrote in a document obtained by the Chronicle. “In Harris County, it may well be that political expediency is valued far greater than public pressure to prosecute election fraud.”

That 84-page report alleged that a witness overheard a Democratic political staffer bragging about the ability to “harvest 700,000 illegal ballots” in 2019. Another witness later told the private investigators that she’d been approached at a grocery store and offered $50 gift cards to fill out the ballots, the report said.

It’s still unclear how the investigators decided that Lopez could have been involved. His name does not come up in Stephens’ report, which is dated October 16, 2020 – just days before the confrontation between Aguirre and Lopez. Hotze also said in the deposition and in previous public statements that he’d never heard of Lopez or Aguirre’s plans to target him.

See here and here for some background. I truly don’t know how anyone can read these claims and not conclude that this guy is a raving loon, but we live in strange times. He ranges from wildly implausible to literally impossible, with a generous helping of racism and paranoia for extra flavor. Further down in the story you see how utterly indifferent he is to the effect the attack had on David Lopez. All I can say from that is that if Steven Hotze is an example of what a dominant strain of Christianity is today, it’s no wonder so many people are calling themselves “unaffiliated” these days.

The main bummer in all this is that Hotze’s criminal trial is not likely to happen anytime soon, a consequence of the backlog in the criminal courts. There’s an irony there, since the same DA that Hotze claims is out to get him is given a lot of the blame for that backlog. And of course one of Hotze’s assertions in the civil case against him is that it should wait until the criminal case is resolved, so that delay serves him well. That said, the judge in the civil case doesn’t seem too inclined to cut him any slack, so maybe we’ll see some action in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, always remember that Steven Hotze is one of the worst people in Houston, and he’s been that way for decades. If, and hopefully when, he finally pays a price for that, it will have been a very long time coming.

Lawsuit filed to keep The Former Guy off the 2024 ballot

Good luck with that.

Former president Donald Trump is facing a legal challenge to his 2024 bid for the presidency from a fellow Republican.

John Anthony Castro, an attorney from Texas and long-shot candidate for president in 2024, filed the lawsuit in federal court on Friday arguing that Trump was constitutionally ineligible to hold office under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment.

Known as the “Disqualification Clause,” the section prohibits anyone who engaged in “insurrection or rebellion” against the United States from holding “any office, civil or military, under the United States.” Castro is arguing that Trump’s involvement in the January 6th insurrection should disqualify him from holding public office again.

“The framers of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment intended the constitutional provision to be both self-executing and to provide a cause of action,” Castro, who’s representing himself, wrote in the complaint. “More specifically, the Union sought to punish the insurrectionary Confederacy by making their ability to hold public office unconstitutional.”

The Disqualification Clause mostly sat dormant since 1869 until last fall, when a New Mexico judge ousted Cowboys for Trump founder Couy Griffin from his position on the Otero County Commission for breaching the Capitol complex on Jan. 6.

Several advocacy groups, including Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), have vowed to pursue similar legal action against Trump during his 2024 run.

“The evidence that Trump engaged in insurrection is overwhelming,” CREW President Noah Bookbinder wrote in a letter to the former president on Nov. 3, before he declared his candidacy. “We are ready, willing and able to take action to make sure the Constitution is upheld and Trump is prevented from holding office.”

Castro was among the giant herd of candidates who ran in the CD06 special election in 2021. He won 5.51% of the vote, which was probably in the top half of performers. I saw another story about this that described him as a “long shot candidate”, and I’d say that’s accurate. He filed this lawsuit in Florida, and ironically drew the Trump-toadiest judge out there, Aileen Cannon; he says he plans to disqualify her from hearing the case, which checks out. He also noted that the advocacy groups that intend to file their own lawsuits will do so later in the year, and he wanted to get out ahead of things. I don’t expect anything to happen with this lawsuit, but it ought to be fun to watch regardless. Bloomberg has more.

Precinct analysis: The better statewide races

PREVIOUSLY
Beto versus Abbott
Beto versus the spread
Hidalgo versus Mealer

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

Lieutenant Governor


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

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

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

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

Attorney General


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

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

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

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

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

Ag Commissioner


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

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

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

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

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

Precinct analysis: Hidalgo versus Mealer

PREVIOUSLY
Beto versus Abbott
Beto versus the spread

We’ve looked at the Governor’s race, in which Beto was the top Democratic performer. Now we’ll look at the next highest profile race, in which the result was a surprise to some people who didn’t connect Democratic performance at the top of the ticket with the other local races. Here’s the data for the County Judge race, in which Judge Lina Hidalgo won re-election by a close margin, though on a percentage basis it was slightly wider than her initial win in 2018. As with the first Beto post, I’m just going to dump all the data and will add my comments at the end.


Dist   Mealer  Hidalgo    W-I
=============================
CD02   77,665   46,669     21
CD07   53,108   77,625     29
CD08   46,156   45,668     17
CD09   23,451   71,374     29
CD18   46,492  107,792     46
CD22   13,292    8,076      2
CD29   33,392   66,220     27
CD36   70,392   41,817     24
CD38  170,772   87,662     46

CD02   62.45%   37.53%  0.02%
CD07   40.61%   59.36%  0.02%
CD08   50.26%   49.73%  0.02%
CD09   24.72%   75.25%  0.03%
CD18   30.13%   69.85%  0.03%
CD22   62.20%   37.79%  0.01%
CD29   33.51%   66.46%  0.03%
CD36   62.72%   37.26%  0.02%
CD38   66.07%   33.91%  0.02%

Dist   Mealer  Hidalgo    W-I
=============================
SD04   58,925   34,135     14
SD06   45,259   81,877     39
SD07  163,993   97,075     50
SD11   60,351   32,991     17
SD13   25,998   96,440     45
SD15   97,303  146,861     50
SD17   64,692   46,518     22
SD18   18,199   17,006      4

SD04   63.31%   36.68%  0.02%
SD06   35.59%   64.38%  0.03%
SD07   62.80%   37.18%  0.02%
SD11   64.64%   35.34%  0.02%
SD13   21.23%   78.74%  0.04%
SD15   39.84%   60.14%  0.02%
SD17   58.16%   41.82%  0.02%
SD18   51.69%   48.30%  0.01%

Dist   Mealer  Hidalgo    W-I
=============================
HD126  38,281   21,401     17
HD127  41,603   24,533      5
HD128  33,175   12,968     12
HD129  39,519   24,982     11
HD130  47,660   18,606     13
HD131   6,519   24,611     13
HD132  37,180   23,721      7
HD133  36,909   23,379     11
HD134  35,653   45,142     16
HD135  17,620   22,982      7
HD137   8,600   12,670      9
HD138  33,875   22,977      9
HD139  13,492   30,143     11
HD140   6,238   12,885      5
HD141   5,209   20,104     17
HD142   9,939   24,454      7
HD143   9,087   15,412      6
HD144  12,242   14,069      9
HD145  15,445   30,141     11
HD146   9,975   31,981     11
HD147  10,964   35,240     12
HD148  16,934   20,004      8
HD149  12,496   19,196      4
HD150  36,105   21,302     10

HD126  64.12%   35.85%  0.03%
HD127  62.90%   37.09%  0.01%
HD128  71.88%   28.10%  0.03%
HD129  61.26%   38.72%  0.02%
HD130  71.91%   28.07%  0.02%
HD131  20.93%   79.03%  0.04%
HD132  61.04%   38.95%  0.01%
HD133  61.21%   38.77%  0.02%
HD134  44.12%   55.86%  0.02%
HD135  43.39%   56.59%  0.02%
HD137  40.42%   59.54%  0.04%
HD138  59.58%   40.41%  0.02%
HD139  30.91%   69.06%  0.03%
HD140  32.61%   67.36%  0.03%
HD141  20.56%   79.37%  0.07%
HD142  28.89%   71.09%  0.02%
HD143  37.08%   62.89%  0.02%
HD144  46.51%   53.45%  0.03%
HD145  33.87%   66.10%  0.02%
HD146  23.77%   76.21%  0.03%
HD147  23.72%   76.25%  0.03%
HD148  45.83%   54.14%  0.02%
HD149  39.42%   60.56%  0.01%
HD150  62.88%   37.10%  0.02%

Dist   Mealer  Hidalgo    W-I
=============================
CC1    80,014  194,272     79
CC2   101,745  103,117     48
CC3   233,567  133,554     63
CC4   119,394  121,960     51

CC1    29.16%   70.81%  0.03%
CC2    49.65%   50.32%  0.02%
CC3    63.61%   36.37%  0.02%
CC4    49.46%   50.52%  0.02%

Dist   Mealer  Hidalgo    W-I
=============================
JP1    71,793  116,463     40
JP2    23,249   29,149     10
JP3    37,340   40,840     31
JP4   180,017  119,979     60
JP5   152,130  137,293     52
JP6     5,840   17,018      5
JP7    13,972   64,220     27
JP8    50,379   27,941     16

JP1    38.13%   61.85%  0.02%
JP2    44.36%   55.62%  0.02%
JP3    47.74%   52.22%  0.04%
JP4    59.99%   39.99%  0.02%
JP5    52.55%   47.43%  0.02%
JP6    25.54%   74.43%  0.02%
JP7    17.86%   82.10%  0.03%
JP8    64.31%   35.67%  0.02%

Hidalgo got 50.78% of the vote, which is 3.25 points less than Beto. She got 553K votes, which is 42K less than Beto. Mealer got 534K votes, 44K more than Abbott. Third party candidates accounted for over 16K votes in the Governor’s race, while the write-in candidate for County Judge got 241 total votes. I do not and never will understand anyone who thinks that writing in a candidate for County Judge could possibly be productive, but that’s not important right now.

For the most part, Hidalgo’s performance in each district is about what you’d expect in comparison to Beto. Generally speaking, she did a couple of points worse. The two glaring exceptions to this are HDs 133 and 134, both wealthy, well-educated, predominantly white districts that, in keeping with recent trends, are a lot more Democratic than they used to be. Hidalgo trailed Beto by six points in HD133 and seven in HD134. If I were the New York Times, I’d spend the next six months visiting brunch counters in those districts to talk to more-in-sadness-than-in-anger Mealer voters, who will turn out to have been almost uniformly Ed Emmett voters in 2018 but who will insist that they really wanted to support Hidalgo, they largely agreed with her on how she handled the pandemic and all, but for reasons they can’t quite articulate they just couldn’t. I’m sure it would be compelling reading, but I don’t have the staff or the budget for that. Plus, the idea of it makes me gag, so it’s just as well.

Anyway. The other notable thing is that with the lone exception of JP/Constable Precinct 5, Hidalgo still carried every district Beto carried. (I’m not concerning myself with fractional districts like CD08.) I was worried that if Hidalgo lost, there was a real chance Dems could lose not one but both of the Commissioners Court races as well. Looking at the numbers, it’s not an irrational fear. I’ll have more to say about those Commissioners Court precincts later, so let’s put a pin in that for now.

We have to talk about the many millions of dollars spent by various wealthy wingnuts against Judge Hidalgo and Democratic criminal court judges. We can’t say for certain how much all that spending affected the final outcomes, but it’s impossible to think it had no effect. What I wonder about is whether there will be much appetite for that kind of spending in future races. For sure, it’s hard to imagine much money spent on Republicans locally in 2024. Democrats haven’t lost a judicial race in a Presidential year since 2012, and haven’t lost a majority of judicial races in a Presidential year since 2004. In 2020, eleven Democratic judicial candidates were unopposed. I won’t be surprised if that number is matched or exceeded in 2024. I won’t speculate about 2026 – at the very least, Republicans will have four incumbents to try to defend, so they’ll want to do something – but I don’t see them having a $25 million budget. Maybe Judge Hidalgo will have an easier time of it as well.

I’ll have more to say about judicial races later. In the meantime, let me know what you think.

Yep, still no voter fraud found

So says the official 2020 election audit.

Despite challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, there was neither widespread voter fraud nor other serious issues in Texas’ 2020 elections, according to an audit of four of Texas’ largest counties released Monday evening by Secretary of State John Scott’s office.

While the 359-page report did find some “irregularities,” it nonetheless reinforced what election experts and monitors — including Scott, the state’s chief election official — have routinely said: that the 2020 contest was not riddled with widespread fraud, and Texans should be confident that future elections will be similarly secure.

“When the Texas Election Code and local procedures are followed, Texas voters should have a very high level of confidence in the accuracy of the outcome of Texas elections,” the report stated. “When procedures are followed, results of the election are trustworthy. Indeed, in most cases, the audit found that the counties followed their procedures and clearly documented their activities.”

[…]

The report found that “many of the irregularities observed” in 2020 were likely caused by the “extraordinary challenges” posed by the pandemic and ensuing staffing shortages. And, auditors said, such problems are even less likely to occur in future contests because of legislative changes, including those in Senate Bill 1.

Of the four counties the report analyzed, the Harris County general election had the most issues, including improper chain of custody of mobile ballot boxes at 14 polling locations. Auditors also found thousands of discrepancies between electronic pollbook records and audit logs.

See here for a bit of background. No one who doesn’t have to is going to read the entire 359 page report, but you can get a high level summary at the beginning of it. I have two points to add. One comes from the Chron story, which addresses some of the items raised in the audit about Harris County:

Harris County did not properly handle certain electronic voting records during the 2020 election, according to an audit from the Texas secretary of state’s office that uncovered numerous administrative mishaps but no evidence of widespread voter fraud in four of the state’s largest counties.

In a report released Monday evening, the state elections office found that Harris County failed to properly document the “chain of custody” — a required step-by-step accounting of voting records — for thousands of ballots across at least 14 polling locations. The finding was among those mentioned by state elections officials last month in a letter to the Harris County elections administrator, delivered days before the November midterms.

The report outlined a number of slip-ups across the four audited counties, which included Republican-controlled Collin and Tarrant counties and Democratic-run Dallas and Harris counties. It concluded that Texas voters “should have a very high level of confidence in the accuracy of the outcome of Texas elections” when counties follow the state election code and their own local procedures.

“Each of the four counties has detailed procedures and detailed forms to document compliance with the code and ensure that only lawful ballots are cast and counted,” the report reads. “When procedures are followed, results of the election are trustworthy. Indeed, in most cases, the audit found that the counties followed their procedures and clearly documented their activities. In some cases, however, they did not.”

When counties did not properly follow state law and local procedures, “discrepancies and irregularities ranging from small to large ensued,” the report said.

State officials singled out Harris County for “very serious issues in the handling of electronic media,” finding that the county lacked records to explain the origin of 17 “mobile ballot boxes” — the pieces of hardware that store vote tallies and transmit the data to and from polling places. The report also identified disparities between electronic records from the polls and “tally audit logs” at numerous locations.

Since the 2020 election, Harris County has switched to a new system that stores voting records on vDrives — a type of USB thumb drive — with “procedures in place to document proper chain of custody … in the event a vDrive fails,” the report reads.

[…]

Harris County Elections Administrator Cliff Tatum has pledged a complete assessment of the issues that arose during the midterm while warning the county is in “dire need” of improvements to the way it conducts elections.

Last month, Tatum penned a letter to state officials seeking to address the audit’s preliminary findings, including the chain-of-custody problems.

Writing to Chad Ennis, director of the secretary of state’s forensic audit division, Tatum said the issue with the 14 locations cited in the report arose when votes were “stranded” on devices used at Harris County’s drive-thru voting and other locations.

To read the “stranded” results, Tatum wrote, county officials had to create 30 “replacement” mobile ballot boxes.

“The number of cast votes on those 30 MBBs align with the expected number from the voting sites,” Tatum wrote to Ennis. “This explains why there were more than 14 MBBs created to read the results and why those initial 14 were not read into the tabulator.”

The poll book disparities, meanwhile, were the result of voting machines being moved from one location to another during the election.

“While this may have been done to address long lines at any of the vote centers during the 2020 election, this is a practice that our office no longer follows,” said Tatum, who was appointed elections administrator in July.

We have the joy of being “randomly” audited again for this November’s election, so we’ll see what they have to complain about this time.

The other point I would raise, which was mentioned in passing in that Chron story, was that this audit was released on Monday night (the Trib story published at 8 PM) during Christmas week. I don’t know about you, but I think that if they had something juicy to report, they’d have dropped it at a time when people would be actually paying attention. This has all the hallmarks of a “nothing to see here” report.

Electoral Count Act included in must-pass budget bill

It’s not nearly enough to shore up voting rights, but it’s still vitally necessary and clearly the best we could do.

After months of negotiations, it now appears to be official: The Electoral Count Reform Act has hitched a ride on the much-anticipated 2023 omnibus funding package that was released Monday night, setting up a path for the legislation to pass the Senate.

“My two-word reaction is thank God,” said Matthew Seligman, a lawyer and fellow at Stanford Law School’s Constitutional Law Center who has tracked the reform effort closely. “I think this means that it’s virtually certain that it will be included in the final bill and the Electoral Count Reform Act will become law.”

Democrats and a handful of Republicans have been negotiating over how to reform the outdated 1887 law — which lays out how presidential electors are counted in Congress — for the past year. The effort to do so was prompted by vagaries in the text that former President Donald Trump and lawyer John Eastman sought to exploit to subvert the 2020 election.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) announced they’d come to an agreement this summer, but it has been unclear for some time whether the legislation would garner the 60 Republican votes needed to clear a filibuster, and whether it would pass before Republicans take over control of the House next year.

But the end game is coming into focus: The Friday government funding deadline is coming up, lawmakers are aiming to pass the massive $1.66 trillion spending bill — and the ECA reform included in it — before then.

“We must finish passing this omnibus before the deadline on Friday when government funding runs out, but we hope to do it much sooner than that,” Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said on Tuesday morning. He added the first procedural votes in the Senate could happen as soon as today.

The ECA reform bill would clarify that the vice president’s role in certifying a presidential election is purely ceremonial and make it clear that they do not have the sole power to address disputes over electors. It would also raise the threshold for Congress to invalidate legitimate electors and for state legislatures to override the popular vote in their states.

This reform is “​​a critical step to strengthen the guardrails for our democracy and ensure that the will of the voters is upheld following a presidential election,” said Holly Idelson, a counsel with Protect Democracy.

It really is a shame that a much more robust reform package that included a renewed Voting Rights Act, redistricting restrictions, requirements for early voting, voting by mail, same-day voter registration, and more was not able to pass. I’ve ranted about that before, and all I can do at this point is hope that another opportunity comes up in the foreseeable future. At least this will make it harder for a bad actor to try to steal the next Presidential election. You take the wins where you can.

Precinct analysis: Beto versus the spread

PREVIOUSLY
Beto versus Abbott

So last time we saw the numbers for the 2022 Governor’s race. But what numbers need in order to be meaningful is context, and that means other numbers to compare them to. We’re going to do that in a few different ways, and we’ll start with the numbers from the Texas Redistricting Council for these new districts. Specifically, the numbers from 2018 and 2020.


Dist    Abbott    Beto     Cruz    Beto
=======================================
HD126   35,835  23,627   38,851  26,028
HD127   39,102  26,791   40,573  28,326
HD128   31,983  13,915   32,586  15,892
HD129   37,118  27,144   38,281  29,112
HD130   44,983  20,891   42,747  20,968
HD131    5,963  25,387    5,628  33,440
HD132   35,079  25,603   32,220  23,431
HD133   33,195  26,971   34,930  30,329
HD134   29,592  51,010   32,114  54,514
HD135   16,443  24,121   16,162  27,762
HD137    7,860  13,421    8,713  19,309
HD138   31,077  25,464   32,754  28,778
HD139   11,643  32,115   11,599  38,842
HD140    5,717  13,400    5,393  19,532
HD141    4,549  20,922    4,459  28,096
HD142    8,666  25,793    8,265  29,705
HD143    8,420  16,047    8,751  23,602
HD144   11,566  14,683   12,511  21,278
HD145   12,631  32,765   12,101  37,672
HD146    8,511  33,610    9,227  40,111
HD147    8,952  37,366    9,575  45,020
HD148   15,451  21,460   16,281  26,815
HD149   12,068  19,844   12,097  27,142
HD150   33,857  23,303   33,084  23,466


Dist   Abbott%   Beto%    Cruz%   Beto%
=======================================
HD126   59.37%  39.14%   59.40%  39.80%
HD127   58.50%  40.08%   59.30%  40.00%
HD128   68.66%  29.87%   66.80%  32.60%
HD129   56.80%  41.53%   56.30%  42.80%
HD130   67.29%  31.25%   66.60%  32.70%
HD131   18.78%  79.96%   14.30%  85.20%
HD132   57.06%  41.64%   57.50%  41.80%
HD133   54.41%  44.21%   53.10%  46.10%
HD134   36.16%  62.34%   36.80%  62.40%
HD135   39.97%  58.63%   35.00%  64.40%
HD137   36.32%  62.01%   30.90%  68.40%
HD138   54.09%  44.32%   52.80%  46.40%
HD139   26.25%  72.41%   22.90%  76.50%
HD140   29.36%  68.82%   21.50%  78.00%
HD141   17.61%  80.98%   13.60%  85.80%
HD142   24.79%  73.80%   21.60%  77.80%
HD143   33.86%  64.53%   26.90%  72.50%
HD144   43.34%  55.02%   36.80%  62.50%
HD145   27.31%  70.85%   24.10%  75.00%
HD146   19.95%  78.80%   18.60%  80.70%
HD147   19.04%  79.49%   17.40%  81.90%
HD148   41.18%  57.19%   37.50%  61.70%
HD149   37.31%  61.36%   30.60%  68.70%
HD150   58.34%  40.15%   58.10%  41.20%

Greg Abbott got 490K votes in 2022, whereas Ted Cruz got 498K in 2018. It’s therefore not a surprise that Abbott generally matched Cruz’s vote totals in the districts, with a bit of variation here and there. Beto, meanwhile, got 595K votes in 2022 after getting 700K in 2018, a significant drop. You can clearly see that in the district data. What’s interesting to me is that Beto was pretty close to his 2018 performance for the most part in Republican districts. His dropoff was almost entirely in strong Democratic districts, which accounts for the decrease in vote percentage he got. This is consistent with reports that Republicans had the turnout advantage nationally, due in part to weaker Democratic turnout among Black voters.

You can shrug your shoulders about this or freak out for What It All Means for 2024 as you see fit. I tend to lean towards the former, but I will readily acknowledge that the job of working to get turnout back to where we want it for 2024 starts today. I’ll have more to say about this in future posts as well, but let me open the bidding by saying that the target for Democratic turnout in Harris County in 2024, if we want to make a serious run at winning the state for the Democratic Presidential nominee, is one million Democratic votes; it may actually need to be a little higher than that, but that’s the minimum. It’s doable – Biden got 918K in 2020, after all. Ed Gonzalez got 903K in his re-election for Sheriff. Really, we may need to aim for 1.1 million, in order to win the county by at least 300K votes, which is what I think will be needed to close the statewide gap. Whether we can do that or not I don’t know, but it’s where we need to aim.

I also want to emphasize the “Abbott got more or less the same number of votes in each district as Cruz did” item to push back as needed on any claims about Abbott’s performance among Latino voters. His improvement in percentage is entirely due to Beto getting fewer votes, not him getting more. That’s cold comfort from a big picture perspective for Democrats, and as we saw in 2020 a greater-than-expected share of the lower-propensity Latino voters picked Trump, so we’re hardly in the clear for 2024. All I’m saying is that claims about Abbott improving his standing with Latino voters need to be examined skeptically. Remember that if we compared Abbott to Abbott instead of Beto to Beto, he got 559K votes in 2018, so he dropped off quite a bit as well. He got fewer votes in each of the Latino districts in 2022 than he did in 2018:

HD140 – Abbott 6,466 in 2018, 5,717 in 2022
HD143 – Abbott 10,180 in 2018, 8,420 in 2022
HD144 – Abbott 13,996 in 2018, 11,566 in 2022
HD145 – Abbott 15,227 in 2018, 12,631 in 2022
HD148 – Abbott 18,438 in 2018, 15,541 in 2022

So yeah, perspective. I suppose I could have done the Governor-to-Governor comparison instead, but I was more interested in Beto’s performance, so that’s the route I took. Beto would look better from a percentage viewpoint if I had done it that way. There’s always more than one way to do it.

One last thing on turnout: In 2014, Wendy Davis led the Democratic ticket with 320K votes in Harris County. Beto was at over 401K even before Election Day. His total is almost twice what Davis got. We can certainly talk about 2022 being “low turnout”, but we’re in a completely different context now.


Dist    Abbott    Beto    Trump   Biden
=======================================
HD126   35,835  23,627   50,023  35,306
HD127   39,102  26,791   53,148  38,332
HD128   31,983  13,915   46,237  21,742
HD129   37,118  27,144   51,219  38,399
HD130   44,983  20,891   58,867  29,693
HD131    5,963  25,387   10,413  42,460
HD132   35,079  25,603   46,484  35,876
HD133   33,195  26,971   42,076  40,475
HD134   29,592  51,010   38,704  66,968
HD135   16,443  24,121   26,190  40,587
HD137    7,860  13,421   12,652  24,885
HD138   31,077  25,464   42,002  37,617
HD139   11,643  32,115   17,014  49,888
HD140    5,717  13,400   10,760  24,045
HD141    4,549  20,922    8,070  38,440
HD142    8,666  25,793   13,837  41,332
HD143    8,420  16,047   15,472  28,364
HD144   11,566  14,683   20,141  25,928
HD145   12,631  32,765   18,390  45,610
HD146    8,511  33,610   12,408  51,984
HD147    8,952  37,366   14,971  55,602
HD148   15,451  21,460   24,087  34,605
HD149   12,068  19,844   21,676  35,904
HD150   33,857  23,303   45,789  34,151

Dist   Abbott%   Beto%   Trump%  Biden%
=======================================
HD126   59.37%  39.14%   57.80%  40.80%
HD127   58.50%  40.08%   57.30%  41.30%
HD128   68.66%  29.87%   67.10%  31.60%
HD129   56.80%  41.53%   56.20%  42.20%
HD130   67.29%  31.25%   65.50%  33.00%
HD131   18.78%  79.96%   19.50%  79.60%
HD132   57.06%  41.64%   55.60%  42.90%
HD133   54.41%  44.21%   50.30%  48.40%
HD134   36.16%  62.34%   36.10%  62.50%
HD135   39.97%  58.63%   38.70%  59.90%
HD137   36.32%  62.01%   33.20%  65.40%
HD138   54.09%  44.32%   52.00%  46.60%
HD139   26.25%  72.41%   25.10%  73.70%
HD140   29.36%  68.82%   30.60%  68.30%
HD141   17.61%  80.98%   17.20%  81.80%
HD142   24.79%  73.80%   24.80%  74.10%
HD143   33.86%  64.53%   34.90%  64.00%
HD144   43.34%  55.02%   43.20%  55.60%
HD145   27.31%  70.85%   28.30%  70.10%
HD146   19.95%  78.80%   19.00%  79.80%
HD147   19.04%  79.49%   20.90%  77.60%
HD148   41.18%  57.19%   40.50%  58.10%
HD149   37.31%  61.36%   37.20%  61.70%
HD150   58.34%  40.15%   56.50%  42.10%

Obviously, the vote totals don’t compare – over 1.6 million people voted in 2020, a half million more than this year. But for the most part, Beto was within about a point of Biden’s percentage, and even did better in a couple of districts. Abbott did best in the Republican districts compared to Trump. As we’ll see when we look at the other statewide races, Abbott (and Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton) was one of the lower performers overall among Republicans, as was the case for Trump in 2020, but maybe there were slightly fewer Republican defectors this year.

It will take an improvement on the 2020 Biden and 2018 Beto numbers for Dems to put any State Rep districts into play, with HD138 being the first in line; remember that HD133 was a bit of an outlier, with a lot of Republican crossovers for Biden. Incumbency has its advantages, and as we have seen Dem performance can be a lot more variable downballot than at the top, especially when the top has the most divisive Republicans, so it will take more than just (say) Biden getting 50.1% in HD138 for Rep. Lacy Hull to really be in danger. It’s more that this will be another incentive to really work on boosting overall turnout. Having a good candidate in place, which I think Stephanie Morales was this year, and making sure that person has the financial and logistical support they need (which she didn’t have) will be key.

I’ll have more to say as we go along. Please let me know what you think and ask any questions you may have.

True the Vote keeps on contempting

Here’s the latest filing from the plaintiffs in the defamation lawsuit against True the Vote and their lying grifter principles, Catherine Engelbrecht and Gregg Phillips. You may recall that Engelbrecht and Phillips spent a few days in the pokey for contempt having to do with their utter refusal to produce documents and other evidence that they were ordered to do. After a week, they were sprung by the Fifth Circuit, with the agreement/advisory that they really ought to, you know, comply with those orders.

Well, spoiler alert, they have not done so. Indeed, to the surprise of exactly no one who has been forced to pay any attention to this clown show, they have kept on being defiantly contemptuous. This filing goes into detail, and I’ll give you a taste:

Plaintiff Konnech, Inc. (“Konnech”) requests that this Court order Defendants True the Vote, Inc., Gregg Phillips, and Catherine Engelbrecht (“Defendants”) and their counsel of record to appear and show cause why they should not be held in contempt for violating the Court’s direct order from the bench at the prior October 27, 2022 show cause hearing and the Preliminary Injunction signed by this Court on October 31, 2022, based on the following grounds:

Defendants’ contempt is undeniable and inexcusable. For nearly three months, Defendants have defied this Court’s orders—including a TRO, Preliminary Injunction, and a direct order from the bench—requiring them to identify everyone who was involved in accessing the personal identifying information (“PII”) of U.S. poll workers on Konnech’s computers, to describe how they did it, and to identify everyone who has had possession of it. Defendants have treated compliance with the Court’s orders like a game of cat and mouse, and they have refused to comply with this Court’s orders even after being jailed for their contempt of the Court’s TRO.

Now, Defendants are in contempt of Sections 3, 4, 6 and 7 of the Preliminary Injunction signed on October 31, 2022, and entered by the clerk on November 3, 2022. Defendants violated Sections 3, 6 and 7 of the Preliminary Injunction for the same reasons that they violated Sections 5, 6 and 7 of the TRO, which are identical. There is evidence to suggest that Defendants also violated Section 4 of the Preliminary Injunction which required them to return all Konnech data in their possession to Konnech. On October 28, Defendants filed an affidavit signed by Defendant Engelbrecht which attached text messages of her alleged communications with the FBI about Konnech. Embedded in those text messages is a spreadsheet titled “Sort by State PII filter SSN Dupes DLN,” which, considering that this file is contained in text messages between Defendants and purported FBI agents with whom Defendants were in contact concerning Konnech, the data therein may include stolen Konnech data. Therefore, given Defendants’ testimony at the show cause hearing that they never had such PII, Defendants may be in further contempt of the
Preliminary Injunction by refusing to return the data contained in this file to Konnech, as required by Section 4 of the Preliminary Injunction. Additionally, Defendants also refused to comply with the Court’s direct order from the bench on October 27 to name every person in the hotel room where Defendants claimed to have accessed PII on Konnech’s computers.

The only appropriate description of Defendants’ conduct is contemptuous. Defendants are blatantly defying the Preliminary Injunction and a bench order for them to provide testimony—which renders them recalcitrant witnesses—and they should be held in contempt of Court for their misconduct.

It’s a long document, but most of that is the evidence that the plaintiffs present. There’s only about ten pages to read to understand their allegations, which includes social media mockery of the judge and threats against one of the Konnech principles. Konnech asks for TTV et al to be subject to “compensatory and coercive sanctions which the Court deems necessary to obtain Defendants’ compliance and to deter further contempt”, among other things. Jail didn’t work, so maybe that will. I’ll keep an eye on this going forward.

Precinct analysis: Beto versus Abbott

All right, I have the full landscape data for Harris County and the November 2022 election, and I’ll be doing my usual thing with it. There’s a lot of data and a lot of ways to explore it, some of which I don’t realize until I’m in the process of looking at something else. I’m going to start here with the top of the ticket. Let’s roll out the numbers, and at the other side I’ll have all the words.


Dist   Abbott     Beto     Lib     Grn
======================================
CD02   73,159   50,757   1,333     445
CD07   45,780   84,973   1,545     452
CD08   43,294   48,380     860     371
CD09   20,661   74,545     788     504
CD18   39,628  115,106   1,562     703
CD22   12,585    8,669     264      83
CD29   30,228   69,265     920     778
CD36   66,728   44,969   1,410     439
CD38  158,198   98,989   3,130     751

CD02   58.20%   40.38%   1.06%   0.35%
CD07   34.49%   64.01%   1.16%   0.34%
CD08   46.60%   52.07%   0.93%   0.40%
CD09   21.41%   77.25%   0.82%   0.52%
CD18   25.24%   73.32%   0.99%   0.45%
CD22   58.26%   40.13%   1.22%   0.38%
CD29   29.87%   68.45%   0.91%   0.77%
CD36   58.77%   39.60%   1.24%   0.39%
CD38   60.60%   37.92%   1.20%   0.29%

Dist   Abbott     Beto     Lib     Grn
======================================
SD04   55,846   36,950   1,005     312
SD06   41,043   85,936   1,225     927
SD07  153,513  106,557   2,933     853
SD11   57,156   35,725   1,214     339
SD13   22,813  100,559     958     680
SD15   83,653  160,077   2,850     932
SD17   59,143   51,734   1,307     363
SD18   17,094   18,115     320     120

SD04   59.34%   39.26%   1.07%   0.33%
SD06   31.78%   66.55%   0.95%   0.72%
SD07   58.18%   40.38%   1.11%   0.32%
SD11   60.52%   37.83%   1.29%   0.36%
SD13   18.25%   80.44%   0.77%   0.54%
SD15   33.80%   64.67%   1.15%   0.38%
SD17   52.55%   45.97%   1.16%   0.32%
SD18   47.95%   50.81%   0.90%   0.34%

Dist   Abbott     Beto     Lib     Grn
======================================
HD126  35,835   23,627     711     185
HD127  39,102   26,791     722     221
HD128  31,983   13,915     513     171
HD129  37,118   27,144     864     227
HD130  44,983   20,891     775     198
HD131   5,963   25,387     231     169
HD132  35,079   25,603     627     173
HD133  33,195   26,971     684     156
HD134  29,592   51,010   1,044     181
HD135  16,443   24,121     369     208
HD137   7,860   13,421     245     116
HD138  31,077   25,464     708     209
HD139  11,643   32,115     394     199
HD140   5,717   13,400     166     187
HD141   4,549   20,922     210     156
HD142   8,666   25,793     289     204
HD143   8,420   16,047     208     192
HD144  11,566   14,683     260     178
HD145  12,631   32,765     623     228
HD146   8,511   33,610     333     200
HD147   8,952   37,366     476     216
HD148  15,451   21,460     435     175
HD149  12,068   19,844     256     173
HD150  33,857   23,303     669     204

HD126  59.37%   39.14%   1.18%   0.31%
HD127  58.50%   40.08%   1.08%   0.33%
HD128  68.66%   29.87%   1.10%   0.37%
HD129  56.80%   41.53%   1.32%   0.35%
HD130  67.29%   31.25%   1.16%   0.30%
HD131  18.78%   79.96%   0.73%   0.53%
HD132  57.06%   41.64%   1.02%   0.28%
HD133  54.41%   44.21%   1.12%   0.26%
HD134  36.16%   62.34%   1.28%   0.22%
HD135  39.97%   58.63%   0.90%   0.51%
HD137  36.32%   62.01%   1.13%   0.54%
HD138  54.09%   44.32%   1.23%   0.36%
HD139  26.25%   72.41%   0.89%   0.45%
HD140  29.36%   68.82%   0.85%   0.96%
HD141  17.61%   80.98%   0.81%   0.60%
HD142  24.79%   73.80%   0.83%   0.58%
HD143  33.86%   64.53%   0.84%   0.77%
HD144  43.34%   55.02%   0.97%   0.67%
HD145  27.31%   70.85%   1.35%   0.49%
HD146  19.95%   78.80%   0.78%   0.47%
HD147  19.04%   79.49%   1.01%   0.46%
HD148  41.18%   57.19%   1.16%   0.47%
HD149  37.31%   61.36%   0.79%   0.53%
HD150  58.34%   40.15%   1.15%   0.35%

Dist   Abbott     Beto     Lib     Grn
======================================
CC1    67,070  207,830   2,747   1,167
CC2    95,270  108,943   2,266   1,188
CC3   218,228  147,384   4,148   1,218
CC4   109,693  131,496   2,651     953

CC1    24.06%   74.54%   0.99%   0.42%
CC2    45.88%   52.46%   1.09%   0.57%
CC3    58.83%   39.73%   1.12%   0.33%
CC4    44.81%   53.72%   1.08%   0.39%

Dist   Abbott     Beto     Lib     Grn
======================================
JP1    60,159  127,746   2,343     728
JP2    21,749   30,575     520     300
JP3    35,283   42,924     715     405
JP4   168,373  130,575   3,308   1,100
JP5   140,459  148,609   3,076   1,101
JP6     4,970   17,898     228     168
JP7    11,615   67,072     582     414
JP8    47,653   30,254   1,040     310

JP1    31.50%   66.89%   1.23%   0.38%
JP2    40.92%   57.53%   0.98%   0.56%
JP3    44.48%   54.11%   0.90%   0.51%
JP4    55.50%   43.04%   1.09%   0.36%
JP5    47.90%   50.68%   1.05%   0.38%
JP6    21.36%   76.93%   0.98%   0.72%
JP7    14.58%   84.17%   0.73%   0.52%
JP8    60.12%   38.17%   1.31%   0.39%

My notes:

– Going forward, for the most part, I’m going to skip the Congressional and State Senate districts. Most of them are not wholly contained within Harris County – only CDs 18, 29, and 38, and SDs 06 and 15 are fully represented here – so I don’t find there’s sufficient value for the added work. When we get the Texas Legislative Council dataset for the 2022 election, then I’ll return to these districts plus the SBOE districts (none of which are entirely within Harris County now that SBOE6 extends into Montgomery). Also note that CD10 no longer includes any of Harris County.

– I will have a separate post on this, but if you’re wondering how Beto did compared to expectations on the new maps, see here and here for a first look. There will be more, I promise.

– Beto was the top performer for Dems in Harris County, getting 54.03% of the vote. That makes his performance in the precincts the best case scenario (usually), at least for this election. He would be a top performer but not the top performer in 2020 or 2018, so this is hardly an upper bound. For districts that Dems would ideally like to target, like HDs 133 and 138, this shows where we’re starting out in an okay but not great year.

– Honestly, I don’t have a whole lot to say here. I think the more interesting stuff will come when I look at the comparisons to past years and when I look at some of the other races. Even without looking at past data, there wasn’t much of a surprise in anything here. All of the districts performed more or less as you’d expect. The one item of interest may be Beto carrying (barely) JP/Constable precinct 5, given our previous discussion of those precincts. I’m sure we could draw six, maybe even seven Democratic precincts, though whether we could do that while equalizing population and not violating the Voting Rights Act is another question. For sure, we could make five solid Dem precincts.

– So I’ll end here, with a note that I will also look at how the vote went in the city of Houston, the split in the statewide races, the easy passage of the Harris County bonds, and a very deep dive into judicial races. All this and more, coming up soon. Let me know if you have any questions.

State and county election result relationships: Tarrant County

In years past, Tarrant County was a pretty close bellwether for election results in the state of Texas. From 2004 through 2016, the closeness of their Presidential numbers with the statewide numbers was eerie. But since 2018 the talk has been about how Tarrant is on the verge of turning blue, which puts it at least a little to the left of the state as a whole. As I did before with Harris County, I thought I’d take a closer look at how statewide candidates have done in Tarrant County compared to the state overall, to see what it might tell me. We start as we did with Harris in the distant past of 2002:


2002                 2004                   2006
State Tarrant  Diff   State Tarrant  Diff   State Tarrant  Diff
===================   ===================   ===================
43.33   41.27 -2.06   38.22   37.01 -1.21   36.04   34.80 -1.24
39.96   38.53 -1.43   40.94   37.36 -3.58   29.79   31.07  1.28
46.03   42.63 -3.40   40.77   38.06 -2.71   37.45   37.06 -0.39
41.08   37.76 -3.32   42.14   39.15 -2.99   37.23   36.99 -0.24
32.92   30.86 -2.06                         37.01   36.41 -0.60
41.48   37.94 -3.54                         40.96   40.67 -0.29
37.82   34.85 -2.97                         41.79   40.86 -0.93
41.49   39.02 -2.47                         41.73   40.52 -1.21
40.51   37.55 -2.96                         44.89   42.79 -2.10
41.54   38.73 -2.81                         43.35   41.56 -1.79
41.89   38.49 -3.40								
43.24   39.74 -3.50								
45.90   42.26 -3.64								
39.15   35.90 -3.25								
42.61   39.20 -3.41								
40.01   36.92 -3.09								
										
Min   -3.64           Min   -3.58           Min   -2.10
Max   -1.43           Max   -1.21           Max    1.28
Avg   -2.96           Avg   -2.62           Avg   -0.75

You can read the earlier posts for the explanation of the numbers. The bottom line is that in early to mid Aughts, Tarrant was more Republican overall than the rest of the state. As was the case with Harris, there was a step in the Democratic direction in 2006, with the chaotic multi-candidate Governor’s race providing the first Democrat to do better in Tarrant than in the state, but it was still about a point more Republican than overall.


2008                  2010                  2012
State Tarrant  Diff   State Tarrant  Diff   State Tarrant  Diff
===================   ===================   ===================
43.68   43.73  0.05   42.30   40.98 -1.32   41.38   41.43  0.05
42.84   42.52 -0.32   34.83   34.97  0.14   40.62   40.41 -0.21
44.35   43.39 -0.96   33.66   33.90  0.24   39.60   39.20 -0.40
43.79   43.47 -0.32   35.29   35.24 -0.05   41.91   41.40 -0.51
45.88   44.16 -1.72   35.80   35.83  0.03   41.24   40.31 -0.93
44.63   43.51 -1.12   36.24   35.64 -0.60				
45.53   43.81 -1.72   37.26   35.39 -1.87				
43.75   42.49 -1.26   37.00   35.97 -1.03				
                      35.62   35.17 -0.45				
                      36.62   36.05 -0.57				
										
Min   -1.72           Min   -1.87            Min   -0.93
Max    0.05           Max    0.24            Max    0.05
Avg   -0.92           Avg   -0.55            Avg   -0.40

Still slightly on the Republican side as we move into elections that feel more familiar to us – as I’ve said before, looking at those elections from 2002 through 2006 is like visiting a foreign country – and you can see how dead on the Tarrant Presidential numbers were. Tarrant was a bit more Republican in the judicial races than in the executive office and Senate races, but otherwise not much else to say.


2014                  2016
State Tarrant  Diff   State Tarrant  Diff
===================   ===================
34.36   36.13  1.77   43.24   43.14 -0.10
38.90   41.08  2.18   38.38   38.62  0.24
38.71   39.53  0.82   38.53   38.43 -0.10
38.02   38.91  0.89   41.18   40.49 -0.69
37.69   38.67  0.98   39.36   39.58  0.22
35.32   36.49  1.17   40.05   39.75 -0.30
36.84   38.14  1.30   40.20   40.91  0.71
37.25   38.43  1.18   40.89   40.59 -0.30
36.49   38.02  1.53				
37.60   38.41  0.81				
36.54   38.00  1.46				
						
Min    0.81           Min   -0.69
Max    2.18           Max    0.71
Avg    1.28           Avg   -0.04

I wouldn’t have guessed that 2014 would be the year that Tarrant County officially became (slightly) more Democratic than the state as a whole, but here we are. Maybe because 2014 was such a miserable year, maybe because Wendy Davis was the Dem nominee for Governor, maybe it was just time. It wasn’t quite the start of a trend, as things snapped back a bit in 2016, but a threshold had been crossed.


2018                  2020                  2022
State Tarrant  Diff   State Tarrant  Diff   State Tarrant  Diff
===================   ===================   ===================
48.33   49.93  1.60   46.48	49.31  2.83   43.81   47.24  3.43
42.51   43.75  1.24   43.87	46.18  2.31   43.44   47.36  3.92
46.49   47.25  0.76   43.56	45.25  1.69   43.62   46.80  3.18
47.01   48.11  1.10   44.49	46.71  2.22   40.91   44.33  3.42
43.39   44.70  1.31   44.08	46.14  2.06   42.10   44.90  2.80
43.19   43.99  0.80   44.76	47.23  2.47   43.63   46.72  3.09
46.41   47.37  0.96   44.35	46.50  2.15   40.51   43.83  3.32
43.91   44.85  0.94   45.18	47.38  2.20   41.81   45.14  3.33
46.83   47.86  1.03   44.70	47.03  2.33   42.87   46.36  3.49
46.29   47.44  1.15   45.47	47.91  2.44   43.55   46.75  3.20
46.29   47.68  1.39                           43.02   46.48  3.46
45.48   46.24  0.76                           42.74   46.22  3.48
45.85   47.14  1.29								
										
Min    0.76           Min    1.69            Min    2.80
Max    1.60           Max    2.83            Max    3.92
Avg    1.10           Avg    2.27            Avg    3.34

And thus, despite the small hiccup of 2016, the ball moved ever forward. It would be easy to look at the Tarrant County results in 2022, especially at the top, compare them to 2018 and 2020, and declare that Tarrant had backslid, but as you can see that would be a misreading of the data. I’m going to step a little out on a limb here and say that Tarrant will be Democratic at a Presidential level again in 2024, and there’s a good chance that will be true elsewhere on the statewide ballot as well. Going by the average gap in 2022, two other Dems would have carried Tarrant County in 2018. If the trend we see here continues, getting to about 45% statewide would probably be enough to win Tarrant in 2024. Please feel free to point at this and laugh at me if this turns out to be wildly off base. Until then, I’ll do this same exercise for a couple more counties, just for the fun of it.

And now we have a judicial loser contesting the election

The Republicans did warn us they’d be sore losers.

Republican judicial candidate Erin Lunceford filed a petition Wednesday seeking a new election in Harris County’s 189th judicial district court race after losing by 2,743 votes out of more than 1 million ballots cast.

Lunceford’s opponent, Democrat Tamika Craft, won the election by 0.26 percent of the vote.

The petition, which names Lunceford as the contestant and Craft as contestee, claims numerous violations of the Texas Election Code, including a failure to provide a sufficient amount of ballot paper to 25 polling locations.

Harris County Republican Party Chair Cindy Siegel indicated there could be more election contests to come.

“During the last month, we’ve had a lot of our candidates that were in very close races that have been talking to us wanting to know the information that we’ve accumulated and have reported,” Siegel said. “Several of them are considering election contests.”

Andy Taylor, general counsel for the Harris County GOP, is representing Lunceford.

Taylor accused Harris County Elections Administrator Cliff Tatum, who took over the office starting in August, of intentionally causing ballot paper shortages in Republican-leaning neighborhoods.

“If it was just mismanagement, it was just gross incompetence, wouldn’t one think that the lack of paper would apply equally and uniformly across the map, so that there would be roughly an equivalent number of Democratic stronghold precinct neighborhoods as well as Republican precinct stronghold neighborhoods?” Taylor said. “And, yet, that’s not the way it’s breaking.”

Taylor alleged 80 percent of polling places with paper shortages on Nov. 8 were in areas considered Republican strongholds.

“I want to send a message to the Harris County elections administrator,” Taylor said. “Mr. Tatum, your day of reckoning has just started.”

In a statement, Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee said his office will keep a close eye on Lunceford’s election contest.

“I’m disappointed to see another losing candidate challenging the results of their election. Judge Lunceford previously served on the bench, so I trust she understands the seriousness of asking a court to disregard the votes of over a million residents across Harris County,” Menefee said. “This case will focus on the details of every aspect of the November 8 election in Harris County. My office will be involved in the case every step of the way to ensure people’s votes are protected.”

The petition is filed in Harris County, but the case will be heard by a judge from outside the county, according to Menefee’s office.

So many things to say, so I’ll bullet-point it:

– This is different from the ridiculous election contest filed in HD135 by a candidate that lost by 15 points and over 6,000 votes. That one would be heard in the House by a House committee, if Speaker Phelan for some reason doesn’t toss it as a frivolous waste of time. This one will be heard in a courtroom.

– As a reminder and a general principle, never believe a word Andy Taylor says.

– To put it another way, good luck proving intent. Also, reports from the field on Election Day about paper issues were very much coming from Democratic sites. The Texas Organizing Project didn’t file its lawsuit to extend voting hours because of problems in The Villages and Cy-Fair.

– Random fact: In 2020, Democrat Jane Robinson lost her race for Chief Justice of the 14th Court of Appeals by 1,191 votes out over over 2.3 million cast, a margin of 0.06 percent of the vote. You know what she did? She conceded gracefully and went on with her life.

– Another reminder: There were 782 voting locations on Election Day, and you could vote at any of them. There were a half-dozen voting locations within walking distance of my house on Election Day. Anyone who ran into a problem at one location could have gone to another. By all accounts, there were maybe 20-25 sites that have paper issues. That left a mere 750 or so alternatives, including ones that would have been very close by.

– In other words, please find me the people who showed up to vote at a location that was having paper problems, and did not wait for them to be fixed, did not go to another location, did not come back later, and as a result did not vote. You really gonna claim that there were over two thousand of them, and all of them were going to vote for Erin Lunceford?

– Did I mention that the Republicans opposed the extension of voting hours in Harris County (and not in red-voting Bell County, which also had voting location issues), and also opposed the counting of provisional ballots cast by people who voted after 7 PM? As I said before, the obvious way to deal with delays in opening a given voting location is to push back the closing time for it. But the Republicans opposed that at every turn.

– Can you imagine what the Republican response to this would be if it were a Democrat complaining about voting location problems? You could have voted elsewhere! You could have voted early! It’s your own damn fault you didn’t vote! Look at how zealously they opposed all of the efforts to expand voting access in the pandemic, including the third week of early voting that Greg Abbott ordered. You’re immunocompromised and you want to vote by mail or from your car because you’re afraid of a deadly disease? Too bad!

– The remedy, if they somehow win on these laughable claims, would be to redo the entire damn election. To say the least, that is a massive, massive upending of the regular democratic order. The amount of evidence they’d need to provide to come close to justifying such an ask, I can’t even begin to comprehend.

– But really, this is all about making noise and trying to cast doubt on the election administrator’s office and government in general in Harris County. It’s just the Big Lie in a slightly sanitized package.

Yes, we’re talking about Texas Senate 2024

Gromer Jeffers points out that Ted Cruz may run for both President and re-election to the Senate in 2024, which he can do under the law that was passed to allow LBJ to run for Vice President in 1960 (and Lloyd Bentsen in 1988). Among other things, that means the list of potential candidates to fill his seat is already pretty long.

Not Ted Cruz

After eight years of the current GOP statewide leadership, many Texas Republicans are anticipating a shift in the state’s power dynamic.

The moves Cruz makes in 2024 could trigger some of Texas’ most notable elected officials to run for the Senate seat he holds, as well as other offices created by a domino effect.

Democrats are also watching Cruz.

U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas, is a possible 2024 Senate contender whether or not Cruz seeks reelection.

So in any scenario, there could be political intrigue, which is frequently the case in situations involving Cruz.

[…]

If he changes course and doesn’t seek reelection, several Republicans have been mentioned as potential candidates to replace him. The list includes Paxton, who in November was elected to a third term, U.S. Reps. Dan Crenshaw of Houston, Pat Fallon of Sherman and Lance Gooden of Terrell. Other contenders are Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar and Texas Sen. Dawn Buckingham of Lakeway.

Statewide leaders like Paxton and Hegar could run for Senate in 2024 without risking the seats they hold. Members of Congress are elected every two years and don’t have that luxury.

[…]

Presidential politics aside, Texas Democrats are hoping to deny Cruz another term in the Senate. In 2018 Cruz beat former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke by only 2.6 percentage points. O’Rourke, who ran for president in 2020, lost a November governor’s race to Abbott.

With an O’Rourke vs. Cruz rematch unlikely, a potential candidacy by Allred, in his second term as a congressman representing North Dallas, is creating buzz among Democrats.

Allred, considered a pro-business moderate, has not sought any Democratic Party leadership post in the aftermath of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to step down as leader. That gives him the flexibility to avoid ultra-partisan votes that would haunt him in a statewide campaign for Senate.

The question for Allred and others: Can a Democrat win a statewide race in Texas?

See here for some background, and prepare yourself to hear way too much about Ted Cruz over the next year or more. Note that Dawn Buckingham is the Land Commissioner-elect, so she’s in the same “doesn’t need to risk her seat” camp as the other statewides. As for Rep. Allred, I had recently heard some speculation about his potential candidacy in 2024. It would be a bold move, giving up a safe Congressional seat for an underdog run for Senate, but Allred is young enough that he could have a second act in politics with little difficulty. If he loses in a close race, he’d be in the same position in 2026 and 2028 as Beto was after 2018, the default frontrunner for a second bite at the apple. If it comes to that, I sure hope he has a better result on the retry. Anyway, at least now we have a possible Dem candidate, one who has already won a tough November race and who has established himself as a good fundraiser. We’ll see how it goes from there.

Time for the biennial salute to the new Secretary of State

So long, John. Hope the next guy is better than you were.

Texas Secretary of State John Scott will step down from his role as the state’s top elections official at the end of the year.

“When I took office as Texas Secretary of State in October of last year, I did so with a singular goal and mission in mind: to help restore Texas voters’ confidence in the security of our state’s elections,” Scott wrote in a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday. Scott said he would be returning to private practice.

Scott has served as interim secretary of state since last October, but he has struggled to walk the line between reassuring the public that the state’s elections are safe and secure and entertaining questions from some vocal critics who cast doubt on the integrity of elections. The Dallas Morning News first reported the departure.

Scott oversaw four statewide elections during his time as secretary of state. He also supervised an audit of the 2020 elections in four of the state’s largest counties. Critics have falsely said those elections included outsized voter fraud and irregularities. The first phase of the audit was released on New Year’s Eve 2021 and found no significant evidence of widespread fraud.

A news release from Scott’s office said he would release the findings of the audit before his departure on Dec. 31.

Scott came close a couple of times to actually saying the right thing about election denialism, but in the end he never overcame his lack of trustworthiness. Sometime in the next few months Greg Abbott will nominate a new person for SOS, and either that person will get confirmed by the Senate or will have to step down in two years as Scott is now doing. The Dems in the Senate do have some leverage as far as that goes, so maybe Abbott will decide to appoint someone relatively non-controversial. I don’t hold out a lot of hope for that, but you never know. Texas Public Radio and the Chron have more.

Precinct analysis: How the 2022 Harris County State Rep candidates did versus the 2020 and 2018 results

I still don’t have a full canvass of Harris County, so I’m looking around to see what kind of analyses I can do in the meantime. For this post, I’m comparing how the candidates in the contested State Rep contests did against the 2020 and 2018 numbers that we saw in the redistricting reports. This isn’t my preferred kind of comparison – there are too many uncontested races, some “contested” races really aren’t because of poor candidate quality, incumbents tend to have a bit of an edge – but it’s what we’ve got for now. My impressions of the numbers for the new State Rep districts are here, and the Texas Legislative Council reports can be found here for 2020 and here for 2018. First up is 2020:


Dist   Biden   Trump   Hegar  Cornyn     Dem     Rep
====================================================
128    31.6%   67.1%   30.6%   67.2%   29.5%   70.5%
129    42.2%   56.2%   39.4%   58.0%   39.2%   60.8%
131    79.6%   19.5%   77.3%   19.9%   80.5%   19.5%
132    42.9%   55.6%   40.0%   57.6%   40.3%   59.7%
133    48.4%   50.3%   43.2%   54.9%   36.4%   61.4%
134    62.5%   36.1%   56.6%   41.7%   61.6%   37.1%
135    59.9%   38.7%   57.5%   39.4%   57.6%   42.4%
138    46.6%   52.0%   42.8%   55.0%   42.9%   57.1%
145    70.1%   28.3%   66.2%   30.8%   71.3%   28.7%
148    58.1%   40.5%   55.3%   41.7%   55.5%   42.6%
149    61.7%   37.2%   59.7%   37.5%   59.8%   37.7%
150    42.1%   56.5%   39.5%   57.9%   39.3%   60.7%

Biden generally outperformed the rest of the ticket by two or three points, more in some places like HDs 133 and 134. It’s clear he drew some crossover votes, so matching his performance is a sign of great strength. MJ Hegar was more of a typical Dem performer, and ideally a Dem in 2022 would do at least as well as she did. Note that most of the individual State Rep races were straight up D versus R, but in the cases where the percentages don’t add up to 100, assume there was a third party candidate as well. Most Dems met the Hegar standard, with incumbent Reps. Alma Allen (HD131) and Christina Morales (HD145) outdoing even the Biden number. On the other side, HD133 GOP candidate Mano DeAyala easily stomped a Democrat whose existence even I didn’t know about.

On to 2018:


Dist    Beto    Cruz  Valdez  Abbott     Dem     Rep
====================================================
128    32.6%   66.8%   29.1%   69.7%   29.5%   70.5%
129    42.8%   56.3%   36.8%   61.5%   39.2%   60.8%
131    85.2%   14.3%   80.4%   18.5%   80.5%   19.5%
132    41.8%   57.5%   36.2%   62.3%   40.3%   59.7%
133    46.1%   53.1%   37.9%   60.3%   36.4%   61.4%
134    62.4%   36.8%   52.5%   45.3%   61.6%   37.1%
135    64.4%   35.0%   59.4%   39.2%   57.6%   42.4%
138    46.4%   52.8%   39.6%   58.7%   42.9%   57.1%
145    75.0%   24.1%   67.5%   30.4%   71.3%   28.7%
148    62.7%   37.5%   56.1%   42.4%   55.5%   42.6%
149    68.7%   30.6%   64.0%   34.8%   59.8%   37.7%
150    41.2%   58.1%   36.3%   62.4%   39.3%   60.7%

Beto and Valdez represented the top and bottom of the scale for Dems this year. It’s clear that Dems fell short of the 2018 standard this year, with the 2022 version of Beto being somewhat above the Valdez line. In general, Biden did about as well in most districts as Beto had done two years before, though there are exceptions, of which HDs 135 and 149 are the most interesting. I don’t want to read too much into any single number here – this was a year I’d classify as an underperforming one for Dems overall, though at a much higher baseline than we were used to for off years, and I’d expect better numbers in 2024. Dems have the same targets as before in HDs 132 and 138, while if I were the Republicans I’d take a closer look at what’s going on in 135 and 148. The actual me really wants to see the full canvass data to see how the broader ticket did in these districts. Let me know what you think.

On comparing counties from 2018 to 2022

I started with this.

Voters in counties across Texas chose GOP leaders over Democrats at a higher rate than they did four years ago, a Dallas Morning News analysis shows.

The findings, based on data as of noon on Wednesday, reflect that an overwhelming number of counties — 205 out of 254 — favored Republicans. Those counties turned more Republican by an average of 2.87 percentage points, the data showed.

The analysis also showed urban areas are shifting toward Democrats, part of a continuing trend across the country.

All five North Texas counties experiencing population growth saw an uptick in the percentage of votes for Democrats, the analysis showed.

Collin County, a Republican stronghold anchored by suburban women, shifted its share of votes to Democrats by 4.45 percentage points compared to 2018, according to the analysis.

Tarrant County, another GOP-dominated region that has seen an increasing number of Democratic votes, increased support for Democrats by 3.04 percentage points; Dallas County, by 3.23 percentage points; Denton by 3.53; and Rockwall by 3.5, the analysis showed.

Political experts who reviewed The Dallas Morning News’ findings weren’t surprised by the shift. Though slow-moving, the changes can make an impact over the next decade, they said.

“We shouldn’t delude ourselves in any way that the Democrats are about to take over,” said James Riddlesperger, a professor of political science at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. “At the same time, election coalitions are dynamic and what we’re seeing is the competitiveness of the two political parties in this area is becoming more apparent.”

This Trib story has more of the same. And it set me off to do the thing I usually do, which is put a bunch of numbers into a spreadsheet and then try to make something interesting happen with them. If you were to do the same – copy county-by-county election results for the Governor’s races from 2018 and 2022 into Excel – you’d see what these stories say, which is that Beto generally did better than Lupe Valdez in the large urban and suburban counties, and generally did worse elsewhere. You’d also notice that the reverse is true, which is that Abbott did worse where Beto did better and vice versa. You might think this means something about maybe Dems closing the gap in some places, and maybe that’s true, but if so then you have to contend with the fact that the likes of Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton did better overall than they had done four years ago, and as such there’s a limit to this kind of analysis.

I got to that point and I just didn’t feel like putting more time into it. I’ll spend plenty of time looking at district-level numbers, to see how the assumptions of the 2021 redistricting have held up so far and where opportunities and dangers for 2024 might lurk. Much of that data won’t be available until after the next Legislative session begins, though some county data should be there after the votes are canvassed. But statewide, I think we already know what we might want to know, at least at a macro level. We Dems didn’t build on 2018. There’s nothing to suggest that the trends we saw over the last decade have reversed, but there was nothing to see this year to suggest that we have moved the ball any farther than it would have moved on its own. So I’m going to put my effort into places where I hope to find things to work for in the next election or two. I promise I’ll throw numbers at you in those posts.

Christopher Busby: The Case for Texas Democratic Optimism

(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 election came and went with a similar story. Texas Democrats just started to get their hopes up about the idea of finally breaking through for their first statewide win since their fall from voters’ graces in the early 90s. Then falling flat yet again in their efforts. 30 years in the wilderness can do a lot to sting the hopes of Democrats parched for any sign of success. In 2014 Wendy Davis sent shock waves among Texas Democrats in her voracious defense of abortion rights yet lost by 20 points. In 2018 Beto O’Rouke came within a three point margin of knocking off the firebrand Junior Senator from Texas Ted Cruz. In 2020 President Joe Biden lost by just 6 pts, the best Democratic Presidential performance since 1996.

Yet despite all the clear movement in Democrats favor, incumbent Republican Governor Greg Abbott decisively defeated Beto O’Rouke to win by approximately 11 points. My guess is that across the state Texas Democrats feel much like Charlie Brown lying on his back on the football field. Fool me once. Shame on you. Fool me for three decades?

The message I want Texas Democrats to take away from this however is counter intuitive. My message is: Y’all are still headed in the right direction.

Before you think I’m just Lucy with her football again, hear me out.

In political statistics it is often most useful to compare the final performance of a candidate’s party relative to the national environment. In 2000 then Texas Governor George Bush lost the national popular vote in his race for president yet won Texas by 21 points in the same year. In parlance of political statistics that would make Texas an R+21 state. 8 years later when President Obama was carrying the country by 8 points he lost Texas by 12 points, meaning that despite a facially 8 point improvement, Texas was still R+20 compared to the nation as a whole. Little relative movement.

Taking this in mind we shouldn’t be too surprised by political consultants who got excited about Hillary Clinton’s Texas performance where she lost the state by only 9 points despite winning the popular vote by 2 points. Suddenly Texas moves from an R+20 state to an R+11 state. Suddenly Texas moves from a pipe dream to just… a dream.

In the years after Clintons narrow loss Texas Democrats have started taking themselves seriously again. What have the numbers since then told us? Looking at the presidential race President Biden lost the state by 6 points while winning nationally by 4 points. Now R+10 Texas inches ever closer to being competitive. BUT we just got done with a midterm year. Midterm numbers are where data nerds’ minds will pour over for the next few months.

2018 was the Texas Democrats banner year. Beto O’Rouke was cast as a political rockstar for almost upsetting Texas Senator Ted Cruz. His 3 point loss during a year when Democrats were winning by 8 points was very much in line with the R+11 numbers that Clinton and Biden would achieve in the elections before and after. Yet let’s look at Governor Greg Abbott who also was on that same ballot. He defeated Dallas Sheriff Lupe Valdez by approximately 13 points, an R+21 performance. Many will want to argue that Beto’s performance at the top of the ticket was indicative of Democratic performance that year however looking at the data it’s clear that most statewide officials fell closer to Abbott’s performance. Abbott was one of the top performing officials on the ticket year of either party.

2022 tells a story for state Democrats that they should take some optimism in. Taking the 2018 top performer from each party would seem like a recipe for a competitive race. Easy math would have expected an Abbott victory of 6-8 points if the year was the same. However the midterm years were very different. Numbers are still slowly trickling in so the data here will be less precise than the historical numbers, yet the initial measure of national vote seems like it will likely land somewhere between an R+1-2 year, much different from the D+8 year of the previous midterm. Moving almost 10 points redder Abbott lost 2 points off his victory margin and his performance fell from a solid R+21 to an R+9-10. The message should be clear: When Texas Democrats put up strong candidates with a real performance they can draw down the Republican ceiling more than Republicans can push Democrats to their floor.

Let’s take a more detailed look at the national picture. Governors across the country went up for re-election. Republicans had been hoping to score a host of upsets in swing states. Instead Democrats held on and in fact gained 3 governor’s mansions in open races. The story however was different for Republican incumbents. In every single state where a Republican governor ran for re-election they gained more support as compared to 2018. Except one: Texas. I’ll say it again for effect Texas was the ONLY governor’s race in the nation where the Republican incumbent lost support in re-election compared to 2018. In fact only Nevada and Georgia had governors races where the winning Republican candidate did worse than Greg Abbott and both those states were states which President Biden won in 2020. And looking briefly at President Biden’s performance you would see that of all states won by former President Trump, the only state to vote to the left of Texas was Florida. Florida, for the record, completely fell off the map for Democrats this year with Senator Marco Rubio winning by 17 points and Governor Ron DeSantis winning by 19 points.

So if I haven’t lost you in all the numbers, what does this mean for Texas Democrats in 2024? It means that Texas may be on the precipice of a major shift. Or may not. It depends on whether national Democrats want to fight for it or not. Ted Cruz is no Greg Abbott. While partisan Democrats might find equal distaste in the two I think you would be hard pressed to find the same polarization around Governor Abbott that you do Senator Cruz. Ted Cruz simply falls flat with the same independent voters who have proved crucial Republicans past successes. On a ticket with the equally, if not more, polarizing former President Trump Texas Democrats have a real opportunity. If Texas Democrats put up a real candidate who can draw investment and has a proven track record of campaigning they might just create an opening. Most importantly President Biden’s campaign team needs to take a hard look at the hundreds of millions dumped in Florida cycle after cycle even as it drifts more and more red. 2022 saw Texas and Florida cross each other’s paths in terms of state partisanship. Texas sits to the left of every major red state at this point and only the population sparse Alaska might argue an opportunity for an easier flip. If national Democrats are looking to expand the map beyond the states won by President Biden in 2020 they have their best opportunity in the lone star state.

Christopher Busby is a lifelong Houstonian and independent political campaign consultant and policy advisor. He is a currently pursing a medical doctorate, is former K-12 educator, and has worked extensively on local campaigns. All views and opinions expressed are his own and not representative of any affiliated entities.

State and county election result relationships, part 4: What happened in 2022

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Now that the final totals are in, let’s go back and do the same exercise in comparing overall results for statewide candidates to the results they got in Harris County, and then from there comparing them to the local countywide numbers. I’m going to limit the comparisons to the last four elections, since as we saw things changed in 2016 and I don’t see any reason to go back farther than that. Here are the statewide numbers:


2016                   2018                   2020                   2022
State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff
43.24   53.95  10.71   48.33   57.98   9.65   46.48   55.96   9.48   43.81   54.00  10.19
38.38   47.35   8.97   42.51   52.11   9.60   43.87   52.90   9.03   43.44   53.41   9.97
38.53   47.96   9.43   46.49   56.07   9.58   43.56   52.90   9.34   43.62   53.40   9.78
41.18   50.78   9.60   47.01   56.90   9.89   44.49   53.16   8.67   40.91   50.56   9.65
39.36   48.28   8.92   43.39   52.74   9.35   44.08   53.49   9.41   42.10   51.08   8.98
40.05   49.86   9.81   43.19   53.71  10.52   44.76   53.76   9.00   43.63   53.15   9.52
40.20   49.53   9.33   46.41   56.68  10.27   44.35   52.97   8.62   40.51   49.92   9.41
40.89   50.72   9.83   43.91   53.25   9.34   45.18   54.45   9.27   41.81   50.40   8.59
                       46.83   56.68   9.85   44.70   54.72  10.02   42.87   51.44   8.57
                       46.29   56.48  10.19   45.47   54.00   8.53   43.55   52.13   8.58
                       46.29   55.18   8.89                          43.02   50.99   7.97
                       45.48   55.62  10.14                          42.74   50.46   7.72
                       45.85   54.90   9.05				
										
										
Min   8.92             Min   8.89             Min   8.53             Min   7.72
Max  10.71             Max  10.52             Max  10.02             Max  10.19
Avg   9.58             Avg   9.72             Avg   9.14             Avg   9.08

One could argue that the dip in the average difference between Harris County and the statewide results is a continuation from 2020, but I’m not so sure. I’m fascinated by the discrepancy between the executive office numbers and the judicial race numbers, which are the last five ones from 2022. The executive office average is 9.64, while the judicial average is 8.29. We have not seen anything like this in previous years – indeed, judicial races had some of the highest differences in all three previous cycles. My best guess for this is the same thing I’ve suggested before, that the multi-million dollar campaign waged against Democratic judges in Harris County had some modest but measurable success.

The point of this exercise was twofold. One was to show that Democrats don’t have to do all that well statewide to still carry Harris County. That’s been especially true in elections since 2016, but it was true before than. Barack Obama got 41.23% statewide, losing by 16 points, and yet Democrats won more than half of the races in Harris County. Wendy Davis got 38.90% in 2014 and lost by over 20 points; if she had lost by about 14 and a half points – which it to say, if she had done less than a point better than Obama – she’d have gotten to 50% in Harris County and Dems would have won at least some county races. Given this past history and the fact that Beto got to 54% in Harris County, the surprise is not that Dems won it’s that they didn’t sweep. I would have bet money on them taking everything with Beto at that level.

Which gets to the second item. In past elections, Democratic judicial candidates in Harris County have generally outperformed the statewide candidates. Most, and in some cases all, of the judicial candidates did better than the statewide candidates’ average in Harris County. That was the key to Dems winning as many judicial races as they did in 2008 (statewide candidate average 50.62%) and 2012 (statewide candidate average 48.59%). This just wasn’t the case in 2022. Let’s start with the numbers:


Havg	51.75
Jmin	49.29
Jmax	52.30
Drop	4.71

As a reminder, “Havg” is the average percentage of the vote in Harris County for statewide candidates. “Jmin” and “Jmax” are the lowest and highest percentages achieved by Harris County Democratic judicial candidates. “Drop” is the difference between the top score among statewide candidates (54.00% for Beto) and the low score among the judicial candidates.

The Harris average for the statewides was the third best it has ever been, behind 2020 and 2018. As noted in the past, weak statewide candidates have in the past lost a lot of votes to third party candidates, which has dragged down the “Havg” value in those years. While most years there have been judicial candidates that have scored worse than the Havg for the year (2006 and 2016 being exceptions), in previous years the bulk of the judicial candidates did better than the Havg number.

Not this year. By my count, only eight of the 61 district and county court Democrats scored better than 51.75% of the vote. Obviously, you don’t need that much to win, but the effect was that five candidates finished below fifty percent. The range between the top scoring judicial candidate and the bottom scoring one was right in line with historic norms, but because that range began at a lower point, there was a bigger gap overall between how the statewides did compared to the local judicials. That “Drop” of 4.71 points is the second biggest ever, and the only reason that the 2010 Drop was bigger was because Bill White was a huge outlier. If there’s one thing from this election that truly surprised me, it was the gap between the top of the Democratic ticket and the judicial races. That is something we had not seen before.

Again, I believe that the massive amounts of spending by the usual cadre of Republican oligarchs had an effect. It’s something we will have to take into account next time around. Not all of this spending was aimed at the judicial candidates, of course, There was an effect on the county executive office races as well, though thankfully it was smaller:


Havg	51.75	
CJ	50.79
DC	51.17
CC	51.59
CT	51.60

I haven’t calculated a judicial average score for Harris County yet, but my gut says that the three non-County Judge candidates came in above it, while Judge Hidalgo was probably a bit below it. Good enough to win, which is what matters most. County Judge is the only really visible one of these offices and it was very much Judge Hidalgo who was the subject of the ad blitzes. I’m not in a position to say why she persevered, but I will be very interested to see how she performs in the precinct data. In the UH Hobby Center poll of Harris County from October, their second poll of the county, they were pretty accurate about Beto’s performance – they pegged him at 50-42 over Abbott, an eight point lead, which I projected to Beto getting about 54%, dead on to where he was – but they had Hidalgo trailing Mealer among Latino voters by a 47-44 margin. I thought at the time that was inaccurate and I still do, but we’ll get a reality check when the precinct data is available. Let’s put a pin in this one.

I’ve made good on my promise to throw a lot of numbers at you. I hope this made sense, I hope it illustrated why I thought the pundits were likely to be wrong about Harris County, and I hope it will help inform this discourse going forward. Past performance may not predict future results, but it does help to at least know what that past performance was. The numbers are always there.

The case for redrawing Constable/JP precincts

A Twitter thread of interest:

Note that he means the Justice of the Peace courts. Current maps for those precincts are here. Note that the Constable and Justice of the Peace precincts are the same. Note also how large geographically precincts 4 and 5 are. I’m sure they were quite empty in the 70s, but that was a long time ago. That’s one of the main theses in the accompanying article, which focuses on population growth and caseloads, and how they affect people facing evictions, which are handled by the JP courts.

Every Monday morning, Judge Israel Garcia, Jr., who serves as Harris County Justice of the Peace for Precinct 5, stares down a punishing docket of eviction, debt collection, and traffic cases for the week. His courtroom has a line out the door of parents and children, desperate to resolve a dispute with their landlord or settle a longstanding debt. But the law can be unfriendly to these defendants, and Judge Garcia must know that relief will never come.

All Justice of the Peace Courts in Harris County deal with large caseloads, but the number of cases in Precinct 5 is seemingly endless. If you visit our Harris County Evictions Dashboard, you’ll see how imbalanced the caseload really is – there are 10 times as many cases in Precinct 5 compared to Precinct 6.

What’s going on here? Do renters in Precinct 5 have a much higher risk of eviction than renters in other areas? Are its residents that much more likely to fall behind on their credit card payments or speed through a school zone? No. The reason why Precinct 5 has more cases is because it has more people –  a lot more people. And it has more people because Harris County hasn’t redrawn the boundaries of JP courts since 1973.

For this blog post, I explore just how lopsided the caseloads in Harris County’s JP Courts have become due to a lack of redistricting over the past 50 years. I also show the results from a simulation I ran of 1,000 new maps for the courts that account for population change. Every single one is better than what we have today.

I discussed the political case for redistricting the Constables in an earlier post. That’s a separate matter from what David McClendon is advocating. The two goals, if they are indeed goals for Commissioners Court, would be in some tension here. My first thought is whether McClendon took the Voting Rights Act into account in this exercise, because Precinct 6 – one of two precinct with Hispanic Constables and (with the election of Dolores Lozano in Precinct 2) all Hispanic JPs – would be first in line to be made larger. Precinct 2, the other of those two precincts, is right next to it. Precincts 3 and 7 have Black Constables and JPs. Any potential redrawing of these precincts needs to ensure that Black and Hispanic voters aren’t losing representation.

The Constables are currently five Dems and three Republicans, with Precincts 4 and 8 being all-GOP, while Precinct 5 has one JP from each party following Israel Garcia’s win in 2020. As a practical political matter, Commissioners Court is not going to draw a new set of maps that will make it harder for Democrats to win. Again, as far as I can tell, McClendon didn’t take that into account.

And that’s fine. That wasn’t his idea, and his goal was to even out the caseloads to enable a better process and hopefully better outcomes for tenants facing eviction. The good news here is that McClendon ran a thousand maps, each of which were better than the existing one for his purposes. That strongly suggests to me that the political purpose of not making it harder for Dems to get elected – while also at the least not making it easier for a few specific Constables to get re-elected – can be achieved at the same time as making the courts function better for everyone. Maybe there’s not an optimal solution for each in the same map, but surely improvements can be made. I would absolutely advocate for Commissioners Court to take a long look at this.

In which Harris County Republicans look for moral victories

Believe me, as a Texas Democrat and a longtime fan of the Rice Owls, I know what it looks like to search for moral victories in the face of defeat. It looks like this.

Feel the power…

Harris County Republicans on Tuesday posted their strongest showing in years, appearing to capture their first countywide race since 2014 and nearly unseating County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

In the end, though, Hidalgo eked out a narrow victory over Republican Alexandra del Moral Mealer, leaving the party all but empty-handed despite massively outspending Democrats and launching an all-out push to reclaim control of Harris County Commissioners Court.

Under new precinct boundaries crafted by Democrats last year to expand their court majority, Republican Commissioner Jack Cagle also came up short against Democrat Lesley Briones, whom he trailed by more than 3 percentage points with all voting centers reporting. Democratic Commissioner Adrian Garcia also held off Republican Jack Morman by more than 5 points in Precinct 2.

Mealer conceded early Wednesday morning, cementing a 4-1 majority for Democrats on Commissioners Court.

Even Republicans acknowledged this year could be their last realistic chance, and certainly their best shot in recent years, at winning a county that has seen pronounced demographic shifts over the last couple of decades. Harris County’s population is growing younger and more racially and ethnically diverse, while adding more college-educated residents — groups that all tend to favor Democrats, said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.

However, Harris County Republicans saw a confluence of factors — the felony indictment of three Hidalgo aidesa rise in homicidesDemocrats bracing for a Republican wave year nationally — that appeared to put the county judge race and other countywide seats in play. Also fueling their optimism was the removal last cycle of straight-ticket voting, meaning voters no longer can cast their ballots for every candidate from one party by pressing a single button.

“The best chance to unseat a Democrat in Harris County is when they’re new to office, when they’re somewhat vulnerable, and when national trends cut against the Democrats,” Rottinghaus said. “That’s the perfect storm.”

Typically a low-profile affair, this year’s county judge race unfolded into one of Texas’ marquee election battles. Republican and business community donors, sensing Hidalgo was vulnerable, poured millions of dollars into Mealer’s campaign and political action committees backing Republican candidates, leaving Hidalgo and other local Democrats financially overwhelmed in a race few expected to be truly competitive a year ago.

The conditions in Harris County’s high-profile races appeared to boost Republicans in down-ballot judicial contests, five of which swung in favor of the GOP. Through unofficial results, Democrats appeared to lose control of two criminal district courts and three county misdemeanor courts, marking the party’s first countywide defeats in eight years.

Republicans also held a number of Democratic judicial candidates under 51 percent, far narrower results than their recent courthouse sweeps.

“We are light years from where we were four years ago. Light years,” state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, said to a crowd at the Harris County Republican Party’s election night watch party.

Atop the ballot, Democrat Beto O’Rourke carried Harris County over Republican Gov. Greg Abbott by about 9 percentage points — far less than his 17-point margin over U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018.

That year, O’Rourke helped usher in a wave of Democratic wins in down-ballot county races. Under less favorable conditions atop the ticket this year, Democrats running for administrative countywide offices still narrowly retained the seats they had first captured four years ago.

I wrote three posts talking about the connection between statewide performance and Harris County performance for Democrats. This might be a good time to point out that when Republicans were running the table in Harris County in the off-year elections, they were also absolutely stomping Democrats statewide. This was a worse year for Dems statewide than 2020 and 2018 were, but it was (ahem) light years from where they were in 2014 and 2010. Light years.

I mean, I had plenty of moments of doubt and worry going into this race. Some of those late polls, the ones that had Beto down by 12 or 13 points, were in line with the expectation that Harris County would be at best a mixed bag for Dems, with the real possibility of not only losing Judge Hidalgo’s race but also the majority on Commissioners Court. Hell, having both Lesley Briones and Adrian Garcia also lose wasn’t out of the question if things were really going south. I would have preferred to not lose any of those judicial races, but I can live with it. At least now there will be benches to run for that don’t require primarying someone. Oh, and by the way, all five of the losing Democratic judges had a higher percentage of the vote than Mealer did. Just so you know.

I will say, and I’ll say it again when I write another post about the state-county connection to update it for 2022, I do think the campaign to blame Democrats for crime, and all the money spent on it, probably moved the needle enough to get at least a couple of those Republican judicial candidates over the hump. They still needed the good statewide showing to be in a position to take advantage, but every little bit helps. But crime has been declining, and the crime rate has basically nothing to do with who’s on the bench anyway, so good luck replicating that in 2026.

I must note, by the way, that some people (on Twitter and on the CityCast Houston podcast) have mentioned that the five losing Democratic judicial candidates were all Black and all had names that might suggest they are Black. On the podcast, Evan Mintz noted this and mentioned the 2008 election, in which several Democratic judicial candidates with uncommon names had lost. I will just say that if you scroll through the Election Day results you will see quite a few Democratic candidates who are Black and whose names might also suggest they are Black that won. I’ve said before, there is always some variation in the range of performance for the Democratic judicial candidates. I’ve never found a pattern that consistently explains it, and that includes this year. As such, I am very reluctant to offer reasons for why this happens. I do think as I have just stated that the millions of dollars spent on blaming crime on the judges had some effect, but if it did then the effect was an overall one, with the range of scores being a bit lower than it might have been. That was enough to push a handful of Dems below fifty percent.

By the way, the two Republican judicial candidates who lost by the largest margins were named “Geric Tipsword” and “Andrew Bayley”. Make of that what you will.

I guess the question I’d ask is how confident are you right now that things will be better for your team in 2024, and in 2026? I feel pretty confident right now that Dems will sweep Harris County in 2024. The track record in Presidential years is a bit longer and more decisive. For 2026, it’s much harder to say. The possibility of a bad year in what could be Year 6 of President Biden or Year 2 of President Some Other Democrat is one that can’t be dismissed. You couldn’t get me to wishcast a 2026 gubernatorial frontrunner right now for love or money. Current trends suggest Dems would be in a better position in four years even with those possibilities, but trends don’t always continue as they have in the past, and even when they do they can slow down or bounce around a bit. With all that said, I still like our chances. Ask me again in three years when it’s filing season for that election.

Some opening thoughts on the 2022 election

Done in the traditional bullet-point style. There may or may not be a part 2 to this, depending on the usual factors.

– Obviously the overall result was disappointing. It was harder to see a Beto victory this year from the polling data than it was in 2018, but that doesn’t lessen the sting. There were polls that had the race at about five or six points and there were polls that had it at about 11 to 13. One of those groups was going to be more right than the other, and unfortunately it was the latter.

– I’m not prepared to say that turnout was disappointing. I mean sure, Beto didn’t get the margins he had gotten four years ago in the big urban counties, and that was partly due to lower turnout. But look, turnout was over 8 million, which up until the 2020 election would have been considered Presidential level. Indeed, more votes were cast in this year’s Governor’s race than in the 2012 Presidential race. We didn’t build on 2018, certainly not as we wanted to, and turnout as a percentage of registered voters is down from 2018, but this was still by far the second highest vote total in an off year election, not too far from being the first highest. There’s still plenty to build on. And for what it’s worth, election losers of all stripes often complain about turnout.

– That said, I think any objective look at the data will suggest that more Dems than we’d have liked stayed home. I don’t know why, but I sure hope someone with access to better data than I have spends some time trying to figure it out. How is it that in a year where Dems nationally outperformed expectations the same didn’t happen here? I wish I knew.

– Turnout in Harris County was 1,100,979, according to the very latest report, for 43.21% of registered voters. A total of 349,025 votes were cast on Election Day, or 31.7% of the total. That made the pattern for 2022 more like 2018 than 2014, and the final tally came in at the lower end of the spectrum as well.

– For what it’s worth, predictions of a redder Election Day than Early Voting turned out to be false, at least when compared to in person early voting; Dems did indeed dominate the mail ballots, with statewide and countywide candidates generally topping 60%. Those five judicial candidates who lost only got about 55-56% of the mail vote, and did worse with early in person voting than their winning peers. On Election Day, most Dems did about as well or a little better than early in person voting. The Dems who fell a bit short of that on Election Day were generally the statewides, and it was because the third party candidates did their best on Election Day; this had the effect of lowering the Republican E-Day percentages as well. Go figure.

– In answer to this question, no I don’t think we’ll see Beto O’Rourke run for anything statewide again. If he wants to run for, like Mayor of El Paso, I doubt anyone would stake their own campaign on calling him a loser. But his statewide days are almost surely over, which means we better start looking around for someone to run against Ted Cruz in 2024. We know he’s beatable.

– Before I let this go, and before the narratives get all hardened in place, one could argue that Beto O’Rourke was the most successful Democratic candidate for Governor since Ann Richards. Consider:


Year  Candidate       Votes    Deficit    Pct   Diff
====================================================
2002    Sanchez   1,819,798    812,793  39.96  17.85
2006       Bell   1,310,337    406,455  29.79   9.24
2010      White   2,106,395    631,086  42.30  12.67
2014      Davis   1,835,596    960,951  38.90  20.37
2018     Valdez   3,546,615  1,109,581  42.51  13.30
2022   O'Rourke   3,535,621    889,155  43.80  11.01

He got more votes than anyone except (just barely) Lupe Valdez, but he came closer to winning than she did. He got a better percentage of the vote than anyone else, and trailed by less than everyone except for Chris Bell in that bizarre four-way race. Like Joe Biden in 2020, the topline result fell short of expectations, but compared to his peers he generally outperformed them and you can see some progress. It will take someone else to move to the next steps.

– I’ll take a closer look at the State House data when it’s more fully available, but overall I’d say Republicans did pretty well compared to the 2020 baseline. That said, there are some seats that they will have a hard time holding onto. Getting to 75 will probably take continued demographic change and the continuation of the 2016-2020 suburban trends, and a lot of work keeping up with population growth. All that will take money and wise investment. That’s above my pay grade.

– In Harris County, I was swinging back and forth between confidence and panic before Tuesday. In the end, I’m pretty happy. Getting to that 4-1 margin on Commissioners Court is huge, and that’s before savoring the end of Jack Cagle’s time in power and the enormous piles of money that were set on fire to oust Judge Hidalgo. I may have made a few rude hand gestures at some houses with Mealer signs in my neighborhood as I walked the dog on Wednesday. One of the pollsters that was close to the target statewide was the UH Hobby Center poll, but they botched their read on the Harris County Judge race, finding Mealer in the lead and underestimating Hidalgo by six points. Hope y’all figure that one out.

– In the end there were 59,186 mail ballots counted, after 57,871 mail ballots were returned at the end of early voting. These took awhile to be fully counted – as of the 5 AM tally, only 55,393 mail ballots had been tabulated in the Governor’s race, with fewer in the others. In the past, we have seen the mail ballot total go up by quite a bit more in the days between the end of early voting and the Tuesday results – for example, in 2018 there were 89,098 ballots returned as of the end of the EV period and 97,509 mail ballots tabulated. I have to assume this is about the rejection rate, which if so I’ll see it in the post-canvass election report. If not, I’ll try to ask about it.

– By the way, since there were more mail ballots counted at the end, they had the effect of giving a small boost to Democratic performance. There was a slight chance that could have tipped one or more of the closest judicial races where a Republican had been leading, but that did not happen. It almost did in the 180th Criminal District Court, where incumbent Dasean Jones trails by 465 votes – 0.04 percentage points – out of over a million votes cast. If there are any recounts, I’d expect that to be one. Unless there are a ton of provisional ballots and they go very strongly Democratic it won’t change anything, so just consider this your annual reminder that every vote does indeed matter.

I do have some further thoughts about Harris County, but I’ll save them for another post. What are your initial impressions of the election?

UPDATE: There were still votes being counted when I wrote this. I think they’re done now. Turnout is just over 1.1 million as of this update.

Fifth Circuit releases the True the Vote duo

Thanks for making the streets less safe.

After spending nearly a week in jail, Catherine Engelbrecht and Gregg Phillips — leaders of Texas-based right-wing voting activist group True the Vote — have been released. They’d been held for contempt of court since Halloween, having repeatedly refused to release the name of a man they called a “confidential FBI informant” who is a person of interest in a defamation and hacking case against them.

The person remains unidentified.

Their release came after True the Vote’s lawyers appealed the contempt order by federal district Judge Kenneth Hoyt to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, arguing the finding of contempt was in error and the pair should be released from jail. The appeals court granted their release but kept the remainder of Hoyt’s order in place.

[…]

In the week since Engelbrecht and Phillips were escorted to federal detention, they have turned their plight into a national public relations and fundraising blitz. Former President Trump, speaking at a rally in Pennsylvania last week, defended Engelbrecht, calling her “incredible” and a “patriot.”

“And she’s now in a Houston prison along with another great patriot. And you know what they did? They went out and they saw illegal ballot stuffing,” he told the crowd, conflating the Konnech debacle with the “2000 Mules” documentary, a separate True the Vote project. “Can you imagine? They put her in prison. She’s in jail. What a disgrace. Our country’s going to hell in so many different ways.”

Engelbrecht and Phillips were not held in “prison” but rather the Joe Corley Federal Detention Facility, which is a temporary lock-up facility used by the U.S. Marshals and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and is not run by the Bureau of Prisons. Still, they repeatedly claimed to be in “prison” in their many fundraising efforts of the past week.

The day after their arrest, a True the Vote staff member sent a message to supporters, saying Engelbrecht was in “federal prison.”

See here for the background. I don’t know what kind of leverage exists to force an absolutely resistant defendant to comply if contempt is off the table, but perhaps this isn’t the final word on the matter. Maybe a default judgment will become a possibility at some point. These two are dedicated grifters and their basic strategy is to try to frustrate everyone into giving up. I sure hope the judge here will have some more tools in the box to prevent them from getting away with it.

Fewer mail ballots rejected in November

Good, but still could be better.

Local election officials in Texas are reporting a drop in the percentage of mail ballots that have so far been flagged for rejection during the ongoing midterm elections, as compared with a spike earlier this year.

During the state’s primary in March, state officials said 24,636 mail-in ballots were rejected in that election. That’s a 12.38% rejection rate — far higher than in previous contests. According to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, Texas’ mail ballot rejection rate during the 2020 general election was 0.8% and it was 1.5% in 2018.

The surge in the rejection rate in March followed a voting law passed by Republicans in the state legislature in 2021 that created new ID requirements for mail ballots. Local officials said confusion created by the law, known as Senate Bill 1, tripped up many voters. In many cases, voters completely missed the field on the ballot return envelope that requires either a partial Social Security number or driver’s license number.

According to the Texas secretary of state’s office, however, the ongoing general election isn’t experiencing the same high rate of ballot rejections so far.

State officials have reported that 1.78% of mail ballots returned to county election officials have been rejected so far — 8,771 ballots out of 491,399, as of Friday afternoon.

About 314,000 ballots still had to be processed by local officials, according to the secretary of state. Voters have until Election Day on Tuesday to turn in mail ballots.

Many ballots that have been flagged for rejection will be remedied before voting ends next week, because SB 1 also created a ballot cure process in Texas. That means voters will have an opportunity to fix their mistakes.

Sam Taylor, assistant secretary of state for communications, attributes the decrease in the mail ballot rejection rate to updates to the return ballot in some Texas counties, as well as additional voter information included in mail ballots by local officials.

He says various voter education campaigns following the March primary have also helped. Taylor said his office, along with county election officials, focused on educating older voters in the state about new ID requirements. In Texas, voters over 65, voters with disabilities, people out of town and people in jail but not convicted can cast a mail ballot.

Taylor also said rejection rates were always likely to improve as “voters got used to” the new mail ballot process.

“I think it is moving in the right direction and more education never hurts,” he said.

Harris County — which is home to Houston, and is the state’s most populous and diverse county — so far has a higher rejection rate than the state average.

According to Harris County officials, about 9% of returned mail ballots were flagged with a rejection or exception code, as of Wednesday. Officials said most of those preliminary ballots were flagged specifically with ID issues, which are a result of the state’s new voting law.

We’ve discussed this before, and I’ve been generally optimistic that the downward trend we saw from May would continue. I give a lot of credit to county election administrators, who have worked very hard to mitigate the problem. What all of this tells me is that yes this will continue to improve over time, and that the fact that this was imposed for the primaries without giving the counties or the SOS the chance to figure it out and develop training and communication materials just shows how little the Republicans in the Lege cared about disenfranchising people. They were willing to do the beta test in real time without there ever having been any dry runs, and too bad for anyone affected. Not much we can do about it now, but never forget the attitude.

As for the Harris County figure, I can’t find any other information at this time. I do hope that these are the correctible kind of error and that the final rejection totals will be lower. For what it’s worth, these are the totals through the end of early voting for elections from 2012 for the percentage of mail ballots accepted:


Year    Mailed   Counted   Pct
==============================
2012    92,290    66,310  71.8
2014    89,073    67,967  76.3
2016   123,999    94,699  76.4
2018   119,742    89,098  74.4
2020   250,434   170,410  68.0
2022    80,416    57,871  72.0

This is mail ballots that have been accepted and counted, which are listed as Returned on the daily total files. The large majority of other ones are those that weren’t returned, but some of them were returned and rejected for whatever the reason. The point here is that we don’t have an abnormally low number of returned and counted ballots. So unless the accounting for this has changed, it looks pretty normal. We’ll know more after the election, but this is reassuring. Did you vote yet?

A True the Vote twofer

An update on a different lawsuit they’re involved in.

A disgruntled supporter of the True the Vote campaign to find voter fraud in the 2020 election preserved a claim on appeal, at least temporarily, against the organization’s law firm.

While True the Vote founder Catherine Engelbrecht remains in custody for contempt in a separate lawsuit, the Fourteenth Court of Appeals delivered its opinion in Eshelman v. True the Vote.

In this case, North Carolina millionaire Fredric N. Eshelman donated $2.5 million to Engelbrecht’s organization on the understanding the funds would support investigations, the production of whistleblowers and litigation concerning voter fraud in the 2020 election, according to court filings.

After True the Vote identified no whistleblowers and the four lawsuits in four states were filed without substantial evidence and then voluntarily dismissed, Eshelman demanded his money back.

The donor brought suit against all parties who received some of the funds, including True the Vote partner OPSEC Group, headed by Gregg Phillips, and the nonprofit’s general counsel, The Bopp Law Firm of Terre Haute, Indiana, and attorney James Bopp Jr.

The Bopp Law Firm‘s marketing material show it has played a role in GOP-led campaigns to stir doubt about the 2020 election, and about election administration integrity in general.

At trial court in Travis County, Engelbrecht and most of the defendants asserted Eshelman lacked standing. Their responses claimed the alleged oral agreement of the gift being conditioned on certain acts never occurred, and Eshelman couldn’t sue over a contribution to a charitable organization and its operations.

“These assertions were supported by Catherine Engelbrecht’s declaration that ‘there was no discussion or suggestion of any sort between Mr. Eshelman and myself, or his agents … and myself, that Eshelman’s gift was conditional in any way,’” the Fourteenth Court noted in its opinion.

Because those parties produced evidence that there were no conditions on Eshelman’s donation, the burden shifted to Eshelman and he failed to support his allegation with any evidence, the appeals court said.

The trial court dismissed Eshelman’s claims against all defendants, and the appeals court affirmed that decision in part.

Circumstances with the Bopp Law Firm and James Bopp were different, though, since they only challenged Eshelman’s pleading, not his allegation of a conditional use.

“This is a crucial distinction, because if the movant produces no controverting evidence, we assume the plaintiff’s factual allegations are true,” the appeals court found.

Eshelman’s causes of action against the Bopp defendants are for conversion, declaratory relief, and for money had and received.

“Eshelman has standing to assert his private interest in enforcing his agreed-upon right to recover damages for breach of the parties’ oral agreement,” the Fourteenth Court concluded.

See here for the background. This is actually a bit of good news for True the Vote, which could use it while Engelbrecht and Phillips sit in the pokey. I don’t know why attorney Bopp and his firm didn’t make the same arguments that succeeded for the other defendants – if that is spelled out in the opinion then please forgive me as I didn’t read it because it was too technical and my eyes glazed over – but I assume he can do so at trial. This is one of those situations where you root for everyone to lose, but you can’t always get what you want.

Meanwhile, the end of the story included this bit of information regarding our TTV protagonists:

Company founder Eugene Yu alleged that people working with True the Vote took possession of Konnech data concerning the identities of poll workers throughout the United States, that they are “engaged in an attack against Konnech,” claiming the company and its president are Chinese operatives working for the Chinese Communist Party to interfere with U.S. elections.

In a preliminary injunction order signed Monday by U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt of the Southern District of Texas, the court recognized Yu and his family have been personally threatened, and statements of intent by True the Vote to release confidential data would destroy public trust in government entities and trust between those entities and Konnech.

The defendants were enjoined from making any use of data in their possession and ordered to return it.

This was happening on the same day that Engelbrecht and Phillips were tossed in jail for contempt of court. I’d like to specify exactly what they were ordered to do and not to do, as taken from the linked opinion:

Therefore, it is ORDERED that a preliminary Injunction issues, ENJOINING the defendants, their agents and assigns:

(i) from accessing or attempting to access Konnech’s protected computers;

(ii) from using, disclosing, or exploiting the property and data downloaded from Konnech’s protected computers; and further, they are;

(iii) ordered to identify each individual and/or organization involved in accessing Konnech’s protected computers;

(iv) ordered to return to Konnech all property and data obtained from Konnech’s protected computers, whether original, duplicated, computerized, handwritten, or any other form, whatsoever obtained from any source;

(v) ordered to preserve, and not to delete, destroy, conceal or otherwise alter, any files or other data obtained from Konnech’s protected computers;

(vi) ordered to confidentially disclose to Konnech how, when, and by whom Konnech’s protected computers were accessed; and

(vii) ordered to identify all persons and/or entities, in defendants’ knowledge, who have had possession, custody or control of any information or data from Konnech’s protected computers.

Yeah, that doesn’t look good for our, um, heroes. Maybe the longer they sit in their cells, the longer they can put off the seemingly inevitable butt-kicking that awaits them at the end of these proceedings. Doesn’t seem like a great plan, but it may be the best they can do. Poor babies.

Final November 2022 EV totals: Catching up

First, some slightly outdated numbers from the Chron.

Fewer Harris County voters cast ballots during this year’s early voting period than in the 2020 and 2018 elections, according to unofficial voter counts released after polls closed on Friday night.

From Oct. 24 to Nov. 4, about 736,000 people had voted at Harris County’s 99 early voting locations. They accounted for about 28 percent of Harris County’s 2.6 million registered voters.

Local voters are taking to the polls to elect dozens of local offices, including Harris County judge, as well as to vote on $1.2 billion in bond proposals and on statewide races for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and others.

But so far, the number of voters has lagged behind the turnout in recent November elections.

In 2020, which was a presidential election year, more than 1.4 million people, about 57 percent of registered voters in Harris County, voted early. In 2018, early voting turnout was 855,711 people or 36.6 percent of registered voters.

There was an uptick in recent days of voter turnout. On Friday, more than 95,000 people voted in person, the highest daily total during the two-week early voting period. The second-highest voting day was Thursday, when more than 75,000 people voted. Long lines and waits of more than 2 hours were reported at some locations on Friday. After polls closed at 7 p.m., there were still 200 people in line to vote at some locations, including NRG Stadium, according to the Harris County Election Administrator’s Office.

I’ll get to the numbers in a minutes, but this story has a publication time of 9:14 PM and refers to a tweet posted at 7 PM by the Elections office. The final in person vote count for Friday was actually 105K, so waiting till later to publish (the voters file with the final count hit my mailbox at 11:24 PM) might have been advisable. Be that as it may, this is what we got when all was said and done. Final EV totals from 2018 are here and from 2014 are here. The final totals for 2022 are here.


Year     Mail    Early    Total
===============================
2014   67,967  307,280  375,247
2018   89,098  766,613  855,711
2022   57,871  692,478  750,349

In the end, early turnout for 2022 was 87.7% of what it was in 2018, while in person turnout was 91.6% of the 2018 number. That’s down, but as noted on Friday, the gap has narrowed. All three final days of early voting had higher in person totals this year than in 2022. Comparisons to 2020 are not particularly interesting – this is a non-Presidential year, and in case you forgot there were three weeks of early voting in 2020, thanks to the pandemic. We may be hard pressed to match 2020 EV totals in 2024.

The question is, what might final turnout look like? The trend in Presidential years is that fewer votes are cast on Election Day. In 2012, 35% of votes were cast on Election Day, in 2016 it was 26% of the vote, and in 2020 – again, in a year with three weeks of early voting, and also a record number of votes by mail – just 12% of the vote was on Tuesday. That trend is much less pronounced in off years. In 2010, 44% of all votes were cast on Election Day, in 2014 it was 45%, and in 2018 it was 29%.

What that means is that if Election Day in 2022 is like it was in 2018, we’ll get about 307K votes cast (*) for a final total of about 1.057 million. If it’s more like 2014, we’ll see 614K votes cast, for 1.364 million total. Going by the estimate of about 2.53 million total voters in Harris County, that would be 41.8% turnout of registered voters on the low end, and 53.9% on the high end. That compares to 41.7% in 2010, 33.7% in 2014, and 52.9% in 2018.

My high end scenario, in other words, would mean that 2022 exceeds 2018 both in absolute numbers as well as in turnout percentage. That feels a bit exuberant to me, but not out of the question. I think the 29% turnout on Election Day is probably too low – I’ll get into that more in a minute – so let’s split the difference and say 37% of the vote happens on Tuesday. If that’s the case, then 1.191 million votes will be cast, or 47.1% turnout. That’s down from 2018 but not by much. It feels plausible to me, with the proviso that we’re all just flat-out guessing here.

One argument for why we might get a larger portion of the vote cast on Tuesday than we had in 2018 is that more voters came out in the final days of early voting this year. The last three days of early voting in 2018 accounted for about 27% of the final in person early vote total. This year, about 35% of the in person vote came out on the last three days. That at least suggests the possibility that more people are taking their time to get to the polls. Does that necessarily carry over to voting on E-Day instead of voting early? Maybe, I don’t know. We’re dealing with the tiniest possible sample sizes here, so you can read anything you want into this stuff. That’s why I try to talk in terms of ranges of possibility. Different years are, well, different. It’s plausible to me that the Election Day share of the vote this year could be higher than it was in 2018, but that doesn’t mean it will be, nor does it mean that if it is it will be as much as it was in previous years. Pick your adventure here. Have you voted yet?

(*) – Just a reminder that some number of mail ballots come in between Friday and Tuesday, which means that the mail totals you see on the official Election Night returns don’t match what I’ve got here from the daily EV tallies. In 2018, there wound up being just over 100K mail ballots, which means there were another 11K that came in after the “final” totals posted above. My guess is we’ll get between 65-67K total mail ballots this year. All this means that my calculations for the Election Day vote share are slightly off, but it’s not worth worrying about. The basic contour is still whether we get an Election Day more like 2018 or more like 2014/2010.

We have already entered Speaker’s Race season

And I’m already exhausted.

Rep. Tony Tinderholt

State Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, announced Friday he is running for speaker, challenging fellow Republican Dade Phelan.

Tinderholt is one of the furthest-right Republicans in the chamber, and in a statement, he made clear he would be running on his opposition to Democratic committee chairs.

“Will the priority legislation of the Republican Party of Texas receive a vote on the Texas House floor?” Tinderholt said in a statement. “The truth is, we have no idea with our current speaker in control.”

Phelan is expected to run for speaker again but has not made it official yet. His office declined to comment on Tinderholt’s announcement.

Tinderholt has served in the House since 2015 and once was a member of the staunchly conservative Freedom Caucus. Even before Texas’ latest restrictions, he has been an ardent opponent of abortion, filing legislation that would make it possible to charge a woman who has an abortion with criminal homicide.

Phelan has been speaker since 2021, when he was elected with near-unanimous support of the 150-member chamber. He helped steer the state further right through his first session, allowing passage of the state’s new laws banning almost all abortion and allowing permitless carry of handguns.

But his critics on the right have not been satisfied, arguing conservative priorities will always be held back if the minority party is permitted to chair committees and control what legislation reaches the floor. Like his GOP predecessors, Phelan has given some chairmanships to Democrats, including on the prominent House Public Education Committee.

I mean, this session is going to be a shitshow in any circumstance other than a Democratic majority in the House, which to put it mildly is highly unlikely. Tinderholt is the kind of politician that will be unappealing to most normal people, but first he has to get himself elected Speaker, and that’s always harder than it looks. If he really has some juice, we’ll start seeing other members publicly backing him. In the meantime, note that his HD94 is not very red, though it used to be; it is slightly redder than it was pre-redistricting. If we’re lucky, Tinderholt will do us the favor of making himself a bigger electoral target. May take a couple of cycles to get there, but keep hope alive.

John Scott keeps wanting to have it both ways

You’re kind of close to getting it, John. You do need to do better, though.

Speaking in July to a group of concerned conservative voters in Dallas, Texas Secretary of State John Scott declared that Texas elections were the nation’s most secure.

But just a few minutes earlier, he was joking with the crowd about a Texas county with more voters than residents, rumors of dead men voting and stories of electioneering dating back to Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1948 senatorial campaign.

“Cheating is not something that’s isolated to Democrats or Republicans,” Scott said to members of the Dallas Jewish Conservatives that summer evening. “People have been cheating in elections for as long as there’s been elections. The trick is to try and catch them.”

Then, Scott fielded questions from the group who expressed serious skepticism about the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election results. Over the next hour and a half, Scott batted down disproven claims of widespread fraud and, in one instance, briefly defended himself from insinuations that he too was part of the anti-democratic scheme that audience members were convinced was happening in real time.

The evening was in many ways emblematic of Scott’s tenure as the state’s chief elections officer, marked by occasional mixed messages in an effort to build trust in an election system without alienating a base of voters who increasingly view election denialism as a party platform.

[…]

In an interview last week, Scott expressed some regret about his choice of words when talking to the Dallas Jewish Conservatives group earlier this year. But Scott said he has not spread election misinformation, whether that night or throughout his yearlong tenure. Rather, he said, he has sought to meet people where they are as a means of gaining trust and assuage their concerns through transparency.

“Am I probably more flippant than most? Yes,” he said. “Are there better public speakers? I’m sure there probably are. Are there better messengers? Yeah, I’m sure there’s better messengers. But I don’t know that there’s a better way to convey a message to someone that may not necessarily be open to your message other than being a little understanding of, potentially, how they got where they are.”

Over the course of his tenure, Scott has repeatedly insisted that Joe Biden is the rightful president and that Texas’ elections are and have been free, fair and secure.

“Our elections are more accessible and safer than they’ve ever been,” he told The Texas Tribune last week.

At the same time, Scott has on occasion given oxygen to the very misinformation that he now battles full time, including through his office’s audits of elections in four of the state’s largest — and mostly Democratic-leaning — counties. Those audits are rooted in false claims that the 2020 election was stolen, and have yet to produce any evidence of serious fraud. Yet Scott has continued to justify the reviews by saying they will provide transparency and assuage the concerns of those who’ve bought in to disproven conspiracy theories.

Voting rights groups see it otherwise and fear his pronouncements on election integrity are too little, too late. They say Scott’s ties to myth-spreading Republican leaders — and his willingness to go along with audits — have needlessly injected more doubt into an already skeptical electorate ahead of a consequential midterm election. And they worry that Scott has helped lay the groundwork for a new round of even stricter voting rules — enhancements of laws that have already disenfranchised many Texans.

“He’s supposed to act as an arbiter of truth when it comes to elections,” said Alice Huling, senior legal counsel for voting rights at the Campaign Legal Center, a watchdog nonprofit founded by the former Republican chair of the Federal Election Commission that has previously sued Scott’s office over voting laws.

Huling said election officials across the country need to be much more vocal in denouncing those in their own party who have spread misinformation.

“It is not sufficient to just throw your hands up and say, ‘I’m not pushing conspiracy theories,’” she said.

It’s like I was saying. I like making jokes as much as anyone, but sometimes they’re just inappropriate. And while Scott might claim that his jokes were bipartisan in nature – the aforementioned “county with more voters than people” is the famously Republican Loving County – unless he spelled it out very clearly it’s likely that his audience took it as further evidence of rampant cheating by Democrats. Being extremely consistent in delivering the message that elections are handled with care and integrity around the country, not just in Texas, is what is needed now.

And the problem isn’t just misplaced humor, either:

But voting rights groups say Scott should have better used the bully pulpit of his office to push against those doing the duping. They say that Scott’s proximity to prominent election-deniers has made it difficult to trust what he says — and has created ambiguity that fuels fraud myths.

For example: At the July event with the Dallas Jewish Conservatives, much of the conversation centered around “2000 Mules,” a widely debunked propaganda film by longtime GOP political operative Dinesh D’Souza that alleges there was serious fraud at drop-off ballot locations in 2020. The film has been promoted by top Texas Republicans, including Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office, which oversees the exceedingly rare number of voter fraud prosecutions in the state. At the event, Scott spoke alongside Texas Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, who also represented Trump and has been a key driver of more restrictive voting laws.

While Scott did note that the premise of the film was not applicable to Texas because the state does not use drop-off balloting, he did not reject D’Souza’s debunked theory outright.

“It’s really amazing,” Scott said of the film, which he said he had recently watched. “You get an enormous amount of information … and I guess it’s scary, right? It leaves you a little angry, a little scared that that’s going on.”

Scott has since explained those comments: “My point is that none of that stuff took place in Texas,” he said last month. “I didn’t do a great deal of research on what happened in other states. So I don’t know if voter fraud was widespread or not.”

[…]

Some of the harassment has been directed at Scott, too. In an interview last month with Texas Monthly, Scott again proclaimed that the 2020 election was not stolen and disputed the findings of “2000 Mules.” His office was immediately inundated by angry voters, some of them threatening.

“You little RINO piece of shit,” one man said in a voicemail that Scott’s office provided to the Tribune. “We want everyone in this country to see what you goddamn bastards did to this country. … There’s a reason Trump reinstituted capital punishment as hanging and firing squads.”

Scott said he’s been surprised by the vitriol that’s been flung at his office and other county elections administrators over the last year.

“I think there’s a group of people that make a living off of spreading misinformation,” Scott said last week. “I think that there are some people that are absolutely mentally disturbed out there, and this gives them a purpose.”

He added that the issue didn’t emerge overnight or even in the past year — it has been “getting more and more aggravated, probably over the last six years.”

“I probably was informed enough to know that it was not necessarily going to be a clover patch here. But I don’t know that I was fully anticipating as much venom,” he said.

I mean, this is “the dog ate my homework”-level excuse-making, plus a feigned innocence that just beggars belief. If you have to be told to stay away from widely-debunked propaganda, and even worse fail to understand why it’s propaganda, then you really are completely unqualified for this job. You just can’t be trusted. I don’t know what else to say.

True the Vote leaders officially held in contempt

How long do you think they’ll be willing to sit in jail?

Federal marshals escorted two leaders of True the Vote out of a Houston courtroom on Monday morning and into a holding cell. Catherine Engelbrecht and Gregg Phillips have been held in contempt of court for refusing to release the name of a person of interest in the defamation and computer hacking case against them, who they claim, without proof, is a confidential FBI informant.

They will remain in jail until they release the name of the man.

It is the latest surprise development in the strange story, which concerns — depending on who’s describing it — a right-wing elections group allegedly defaming a small technology company, or a small technology company whose alleged security flaws were exposed by a right wing elections group.

Konnech, the election management software company at the center of those claims, filed a federal lawsuit in September alleging that True the Vote’s viral social media campaign targeting the company’s founder and CEO, Eugene Yu, led to personal threats to him and his family and damaged his company’s business.

In podcasts and interviews, Phillips described a dramatic night in early 2021 in a Dallas hotel, where a man he later identified as Mike Hasson revealed what True the Vote has said was hard evidence of Konnech’s alleged influence on the 2020 election.

The involvement of a third man was unknown until a Thursday hearing, when Konnech’s attorney’s pressed Phillips for additional information about what Phillips claimed was an hours-long Konnech research session in Dallas that night. On the stand, Phillips revealed that another “analyst” was present in the room when Hasson allegedly offered evidence he’d uncovered about Konnech, showing the company had stored American poll worker data on a server in China. Neither he nor Engelbrecht would release the third man’s name, saying he was in danger from “drug cartels.”

While True the Vote’s former attorney on the matter, Brock Akers, released Hasson’s name after U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt demanded he do so earlier in the month, True the Vote’s new legal team has chosen a different path. Akers has not  appeared in court since providing Hasson’s name. Last week, Engelbrecht and Phillips were represented by Michael Wynne, a different Houston attorney, who told the court Akers was on vacation “on the Mediterranean” and would be withdrawing from the case. Wynne said Akers remained away, on a cruise, on Monday morning.

[…]

Again on Monday, Wynne said that True the Vote never had access to the data in question in the case. “The information was too large — the number of terabytes — for him to physically have taken possession,” he said. “He did not and does not have access.”

“I don’t know that,” Hoyt responded. “And neither do you.”

Wynne entered more than two dozen pages of evidence onto the record late Friday night, including dozens of text messages between Engelbrecht and individuals True the Vote has claimed are FBI agents. They also included two affidavits from Phillips and Engelbrecht, and details of Yu’s arrest in Los Angeles.

Hoyt, a Ronald Reagan nominee, was unmoved by the submission, calling it irrelevant given its failure to identify the man at the center of Thursday’s hearing.

See here and here for the previous updates. The phrases “you can’t make this stuff up” and “truth is stranger than fiction” are often overused, but they absolutely apply in this saga. I’m riveted. I’m also torn between “these two chumps will fold quickly” and “these two are dumb enough to stay in the pokey indefinitely”. Could honestly go either way. We’ll see. Juanita has more.