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Election 2020

Tarrant County has gone (tentatively) blue

At the Presidential level, with votes still being counted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Initial thoughts about the election

And now for some reactions and analysis…

– The polls were garbage. Oy vey. Not just here, though they were definitely off here, underestimating Trump and the Republicans after doing the same to Beto and the Dems in 2018. This time, after all that national soul-searching following the 2016 state-level misfires (the national polling was fairly accurate overall in 2016), we got this flaming mess. Not my problem to solve, but I wonder how much of this is the known issue of “differential response” writ large. We know that in some circumstances, like when there’s been a big news event, one candidate’s supporters, or members of one party in general, may be more or less likely to answer the phone and respond to a pollster. It may be that just as a matter of course now, Republicans are less likely to respond to polls, in a bigger way than previously thought, and that had a disproportionate effect on the numbers. I’m just guessing here, but if that’s the case then perhaps the web panel approach to polling needs to be used more often. For what it’s worth, the UT/Texas Tribune and UH Hobby School polls from October, both of which had Trump up 50-45, used web panels. Maybe that’s a fluke, maybe they had a better likely voter model going in, maybe they were onto something that the others weren’t, I don’t know. But they came the closest, so they get the glory. As for the rest, thanks for nothing.

– Along those same lines, pollsters who did deeper dive polls on Latino voters, such as Univision and Latino Decisions, really need to question their methods and figure out how they went so mind-bogglingly wrong. I get that what we had, at least to some extent, appears to have been lower-propensity Latino voters turning out at surprisingly high levels for Trump, but damn, this is your job. You need to be on top of that.

– The old adage about “Texas isn’t a red state, it’s a non-voting state” can be safely buried for now. We had record-breaking turnout, over 11 million votes cast when we’d never surpassed nine million before, and yet Trump still won by six points while other statewide Republicans were winning by nine to eleven points. To be sure, that’s closer than 2016 was, but at this rate we’ll need to have thirty million people voting for Dems to catch up, and I feel confident saying that ain’t gonna happen anytime soon. The lesson here is that there are low-propensity Republican voters, too, and they are capable of showing up when they are persuaded. We saw that happen in 2018, and we saw it again this year.

I admit I bought into the hype, and put too much faith into the idea that the non-voters would be more consistently Democratic than Republican. To be fair, I think that was the case in 2018, as Democrats made huge gains relative to past off years. It’s certainly been the case in Harris County that increases in voter registration have led to significant increases in Democratic votes – I’ll get to this in more detail later in the post, but this can be pretty easily quantified, and it’s why Dems have been dominating the countywide races with increasing ease. It’s where those gains came from that seems to have been a difference-maker.

I don’t want to sell short what was accomplished here. Joe Biden got over 1.3 million more votes than Hillary Clinton; Trump improved on his total by about 1.15 million. Chrysta Castaneda got 1.36 million more votes than Grady Yarbrough. The statewide judicial candidates got between 3,378,163 and 3,608,634 votes in 2016; in 2020, the range was 4,762,188 to 4,899,270 votes. If you want to be particularly gruesome, Biden got 3.3 million more votes than Wendy Davis did for Governor in 2014. Granted, Trump outdid Greg Abbott by just over 3 million votes, but still. A lot more people now have voted for a Democrat in Texas than at any other point in history. Even as we pick through the wreckage, that’s worth keeping in mind.

So how do we close that remaining gap of 700K to one million voters statewide? One, we should remember that off year elections are far more volatile from a turnout perspective, and we need to do everything we can to make these new folks habitual voters while we continue to register and recruit new voters. Two, having dynamic statewide candidates, who can learn the lessons of these past elections while applying them to the environment they’re in, would help. And three, maybe we need to give another look to the reviled old “persuasion” strategy, and see how we can do a better job of peeling away some of the other guy’s voters. Easier said than done, but then that’s why I’m a blogger and not a campaign professional.

– By the way, if anyone asks you who the current all-time vote leader in Texas is, the answer as of 2020 is Supreme Court Justice Jane Bland, who tipped the scales at 6,002,233 votes. No one else topped six million. She was helped by not having a third-party opponent in the race; the Libertarians in three other races got between 254L and 283K votes.

– I take no position on the question about whether the Republicans’ continued use of traditional door-to-door campaigning during the pandemic, which the Democrats largely eschewed out of a sense of safety for their campaign workers and as a statement of living their values, was a factor in this election. The academic research on various methods of increasing turnout and persuading swing voters is mixed, and does not suggest that one method (such as door-knocking) is clearly superior to others (such as phone-banking). Winning teams always point to their methods and strategies as the reason why they won and the other team lost. I’m not saying this couldn’t have made a difference, or that it didn’t make a difference. It may have, and I have no way to disprove the assertion. I’m just saying that it’s anecdotal data, and I consider it to be such.

– Also, too: I saw people again cursing Beto’s name for not running for Senate this year. All I can say is that anyone who thinks Beto would have done better than Biden is not thinking clearly. He probably would have exceeded MJ Hegar, but there’s a lot of room between that and winning. With all the money that was spent in Texas this year, I do not buy the argument that having Beto on the ticket would have moved the needle for Dems.

– Speaking of money, hoo boy. I hope this isn’t the end of our candidates being able to raise enough of it. We’re going to need plenty in 2022.

– How much of an effect did the lack of straight ticket voting have? Far as I can tell, very little. In Harris County, there were 1,633,557 votes cast in the Presidential race. Way down at the bottom of the ballot, in the two At Large HCDE races, there were 1,551,731 and 1,548,760 votes. In other words, about 95% of the people who voted in the Presidential race also voted in these two HCDE races.

Now, if you look at the various judicial races, you will see that Democratic judicial candidates generally got 60-80K fewer votes than Biden, while most Republican judicial candidates (though not all) exceeded Trump’s total. Some of that was just crossover voting, which we knew was happening, but some of it may have been a greater propensity by Dems to skip some number of downballot races. It’s hard to say how much is each. For what it’s worth, 12 out of 15 Dem judicial candidates (district and county courts) who had a Republican opponent had fewer votes than MJ Hegar, who had 848K to Biden’s 911K, while 8 out of those 15 Republican opponents did better than John Cornyn’s 717K votes; Trump got 699K, and all but two of those Republicans did better than that, while no one came close to Biden.

So did the absence of straight ticket voting mean more crossovers in general? I will remind you, as I have done before, there’s always a range of outcomes in the judicial races, so there has always been some amount of crossover voting, just usually not that much. Why did MJ Hegar get so many fewer votes than Joe Biden did? Some of it was more voting for third party candidates – there were 22K votes for the Libertarian and Green Presidential candidates, and 42K such votes in the Senate race – some of it was the 26K fewer votes cast in the Senate race (about 98.5% of all Presidential voters also voted for a Senate candidate), and some of it was the 18K people who voted for Cornyn but not Trump. Make of that what you will.

– While I’m thinking about it, let me update that range-of-results table I just linked to:


2004 
Rep 524K to 545K
Dem 460K to 482K

2008
Rep 526K to 564K
Dem 533K to 585K

2012
Rep 550K to 580K
Dem 555K to 581K

2016
Rep 580K to 621K
Dem 643K to 684K

2020
Rep 690K to 740K
Dem 812K to 865K

So congratulations to Republicans, who have boosted their base vote by almost 200K since 2004, while Dems have increased theirs by over 380K. Five points was as close as any Republican got.

– Despite their successful defense of their Congressional and legislative seats, Republicans still face some tricky decisions in redistricting. Look at it this way – in an election year that clearly wasn’t as good for Dems as 2018 was, they still managed to hold onto all but one of the seats they won that year. The same map that gave Republicans 95 House members was only good for 83 this year, and it wouldn’t have taken much to knock that number down by a half dozen or so. Morgan Meyer and Angie Chen Button may have survived, but Dallas County is a problem for the GOP. Harris County has three safe Republican districts – HDs 127, 128, and 130 – four that are still pretty safe but have gotten a lot less so over the decade – HDs 126, 129, 133, and 150 – and two on the knife’s edge, HDs 132 and 138. That may have been hard to see from the vantage point of 2011, but the broad outlines of it were there, and as I have noted before, HDs 132 and 135 were already trending Dem in 2012, with both being a little bluer than they were in 2008 despite 2012 being a slightly lesser year for Dems overall. Who’s going to need protection, and whose seat may wind up on a target list a couple of cycles later because you didn’t understand the demographics correctly? In Congress, Dan Crenshaw won by a comfortable 14 points…in a district Ted Poe won by 24 points in 2016, and 32 points in 2012. How do you shore him up? Splitting pieces of Travis County into four Republican districts was a great idea, until it threatened the re-election of three of those Republicans. Who even knows how many Congressional seats we’ll have, given the chaotic nature of the Census?

Oh, and here in Harris County, I’m sure the Democratic majority on Commissioners Court will bolster Adrian Garcia in CC2, as the Republicans did for Jack Morman in 2010. The bigger question is do they go after their new colleague Tom Ramsey, or do they just not help him out and hope nature takes its course? That’ll be fun to watch.

I think that’s it for now. I’m sure more things will occur to me as we go. When I get a draft canvass, I’ll start doing the usual slicing and dicing.

Looks like (maybe) we have a Speaker

I give you Rep. Dade Phelan. May he not spontaneously combust in spectacular and self-inflicted fashion like a drummer for Spinal Tap the last Speaker.

Rep. Dade Phelan

State Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, announced Wednesday he has the votes needed to become the next speaker of the Texas House and soon after released a bipartisan list of 83 members supporting his candidacy. That number, should it hold, is more than enough votes for Phelan to win the gavel when the Legislature convenes in January.

But Phelan’s main competitor for the speakership, state Rep. Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin, indicated in a statement he was not backing down from the race and said the GOP caucus should meet per its bylaws to “vote to back a candidate … as soon as possible.”

The news comes hours after the GOP maintained its majority over the lower chamber, fending off a well-funded challenge from Democrats who had hoped to flip the House for the first time in nearly two decades.

“The race is over,” Phelan said at a noon press conference at the Texas Capitol, saying he has a “supermajority of the Republican caucus” and a “broad coalition of support” from Democrats. A candidate needs a majority of the 150-member chamber in order to win the gavel and preside over the House.

As election results came in Tuesday, the eight candidate field for speaker — four Democrats and four Republicans — seemed to consolidate into two camps: a group supporting Phelan and another backing Ashby. Both candidates had filed for the gavel in recent days as the race quickly escalated heading into Election Day.

On Tuesday night, one Republican in the race, state Rep. Geanie Morrison of Victoria, announced she was backing Ashby for the job. And on Wednesday morning, another Republican in the race, Chris Paddie of Marshall, announced he was supporting Phelan.

“Last night … was a very long, long process — and now it’s time to heal,” Phelan said at the press conference. “The work of the 150 members coming together to serve Texas begins today.”

There had been some Speaker-related news on Monday and even Tuesday, and I had prepped a post about it, which I knew would likely become obsolete as soon as we knew the House situation. And indeed, here we are. That draft is beneath the fold, if you’re interested. Needless to say, the next Legislature has a long to-do list in front of it, and a Speaker who can help get the main things done in a reasonable way will be welcomed by the members. One who can also tell Dan Patrick to go pound sand and who will never commit the classic blunder of saying stupid stuff to Michael Quinn Sullivan, especially when there might be a recorder in operation, would be nice. Good luck to Rep. Phelan if he is indeed the presumptive Speaker. As noted in the story, Rep. Ashby, who has now withdrawn from the race and backed Rep. Morrison, does not see this as being over. Reform Austin, which notes that three of the four Democrats who had filed for Speaker are on that letter Phelan released, has more.

(more…)

So what happened in the Latino counties?

Let’s go to the data:


County       Trump  Clinton    Trump    Biden
=============================================
Bexar      240,333  319,550  303,871  440,823
Cameron     29,472   59,402   48,834   63,732
Dimmit         974    2,173    1,384    2,264
El Paso     55,512  147,843   81,235  168,801
Frio         1,856    2,444    2,812    2,421
Hidalgo     48,642  118,809   89,925  127,391
Jim Hogg       430    1,635      831    1,197
Jim Wells    5,420    6,694    7,077    5,094
Maverick     2,816   10,397    6,881    8,324
Nueces      50,766   49,198   64,467   60,749
Presidio       652    1,458      721    1,463
Starr        2,224    9,289    8,224    9,099
Webb        12,947   42,307   18,985   32,442
Willacy      1,547    3,422    2,437    3,097
Zapata       1,029    2,063    2,032    1,820
Zavala         694    2,636    1,490    2,864

Total      453,643  779,320  641,116  931,555

County      Trump% Clinton%   Trump%  Biden%
============================================
Bexar        42.9%    57.1%    40.8%   59.2%
Cameron      33.2%    66.8%    43.4%   56.6%
Dimmit       31.0%    69.0%    37.9%   62.1%
El Paso      27.3%    72.7%    32.5%   67.5%
Frio         43.2%    56.8%    53.7%   46.3%
Hidalgo      29.0%    71.0%    41.4%   58.6%
Jim Hogg     20.8%    79.2%    41.0%   59.0%
Jim Wells    44.7%    55.3%    58.1%   41.9%
Maverick     21.3%    78.7%    45.3%   54.7%
Nueces       50.8%    49.2%    51.5%   48.5%
Presidio     30.9%    69.1%    33.0%   67.0%
Starr        19.3%    81.7%    47.5%   52.5%
Webb         23.4%    76.6%    36.9%   63.1%
Willacy      31.1%    68.9%    44.0%   56.0%
Zapata       33.3%    66.7%    52.8%   47.2%
Zavala       20.8%    79.2%    34.2%   65.8%

Total        36.8%    63.2%    40.8%   59.2%

Webb County totals are early voting only – they have taken their sweet time getting those results. I have no prescriptions to offer, and even if I did, I’d be the wrong person to listen to for them. I’m just reporting what happened. As others have observed, in some counties Biden met or exceeded Hillary Clinton’s numbers from 2016, but Trump greatly increased his numbers from that election. You may recall that in the last NYT/Siena poll, Nate Cohn observed that higher turnout, at least beyond a certain point, didn’t actually benefit Biden, because sufficiently high Latino turnout wasn’t in his favor. Starr County was a particularly shocking example of that, but we see that in some larger counties like Hidalgo and Cameron, and to a lesser extent El Paso as well. In some counties – Maverick, Jim Hogg, Jim Wells, Willacy – it appears some Clinton voters may have switched to Trump, or not voted while non-participants from 2016 came in. Bexar County was the only clear improvement for Biden. If you had to pick only one county for that, Bexar would be the one, but there’s only so much it can do.

You can look at this two ways. Hillary Clinton netted 346K votes, while Biden netted 290K. That’s not all that much, but there’s the ground we could have gained given the higher turnout as well as the ground we lost. If Biden had performed at exactly the same level as Clinton, he’d have netted 415K votes. Adjust the final score to account for that, and Biden would have lost by four and a half points, instead of almost six. Wouldn’t have mattered in this case, but it wouldn’t have taken much. Plus, you know, better to make your task easier rather than harder.

Like I said, I have no solutions to offer. Plenty of smart people have plenty of ideas, and quite a few of them were raising issues before the election. Might be a good idea to listen to them. All I’m saying is that whatever happened here, it wasn’t what we wanted. If we want to avoid a repeat, we better get to work.

Omnibus Election Day post

I was up really late last night, and there’s still a lot of votes to be counted. The SOS website was mostly trash, but a lot of county election sites took their sweet, sweet time even reporting any Election Day results. So here’s what I know right now, and I’ll have more tomorrow.

– The Presidential race is still unsettled as a lot of votes are to be counted. That may take a few days, but indications are decent for Biden at this point.

– Not in Texas, though. Biden was approaching five million votes as I write this, but he was trailing by six percent. The other Dems running statewide were losing by nine or ten. Still a fair number of Republicans who didn’t vote for Trump, and that made things redder downballot than you might have expected from the topline result. In a sense, 2020 was like 2018, in that the top Dem outperformed the others running statewide, but the gap at the top was wider.

– As of this writing, Dems appear to be on track to picking up one SBOE seat (SBOE5), reclaiming SD19, and likely sweeping the Appeals Court races that are anchored in Harris County; I have not checked the other Appeals Court races. Ann Johnson has knocked off Sarah Davis in HD134, and Gina Calanni is losing in HD132. Jon Rosenthal has a slim lead in HD135, while the two remaining Dallas County Republicans (Morgan Meyer in HD108 and Angie Chen Button in HD112) are hanging in, though Button’s lead is slimmer than Rosenthal’s. All other State House incumbents are winning, and all of the open seats are being held by the same party, which means that if all these races remain as they are…the composition of the Lege will be exactly as it is now, 83-67. Not what we were expecting, to say the least.

– Also not what we were expecting: As I write this, no Congressional seats appear poised to flip. Reps. Lizzie Fletcher and Colin Allred were re-elected, and Republicans have held onto all of their imperiled districts. Chalk that up to Trump and the rest of the statewide Rs doing better than the polls had suggested. One unexpectedly close race is in CD15, where Rep. Vicente Gonzalez was only leading by 6K votes as I write this. That said, none of the Election Day results from Hidalgo County were in for that race – all other counties except tiny Wilson were fully reported – so I would expect Gonzalez to win by a larger margin in the end.

(I should note that there’s a dispute in CD23, because of course there is.)

– Which leads to the uncomfortable fact that Trump did a lot better in the predominantly Latino counties in the Valley. I’m not going to get into that at this time – I guarantee, there are already a thousand thinkpieces about it – but the pollsters that showed him doing better and Biden lagging Clinton from 2016 were the winners of that argument. There will be many questions to be answered about that.

– Nothing terribly interesting in Harris County. Dems won all the countywide seats, but as noted lost in HD132 and HD138, and also lost in County Commissioners Court Precinct 3, so the Court remains 3-2 Dem. Note that Commissioners Court does its own redistricting, and after the 2010 election the Republican majority made CC2 a bit redder. I fully expect CC3 to shift in the Dem direction in the next map – it too was made redder after 2010 – but we’ll see how much of a difference it makes. Tom Ramsey has his work cut out for him. One change way downballot was Democrat Israel Garcia winning in the Justice of the Peace Precinct 5 race, knocking off longtime incumbent Russ Ridgway. Precinct 5 Constable Ted Heap managed to hang on.

– With 683 of 797 voting centers reporting, there were 1,595,065 votes cast in the Presidential race. Way down at the bottom of the ballot, in the two HCDE Trustee At Large races, there were 1,516,025 and 1,513,125 votes cast, a dropoff of about five percent. I think that should settle the straight-ticket voting question, at least for now.

– Fort Bend County completed its transition to Democratic. All Democratic countywide candidates won, with Eric Fagan becoming the first Black Sheriff in that county. Congratulations to all the winners.

I’ll have much more to say soon, but this is where we are very early on Wednesday morning. Good night and try to remain calm.

The role Harris County can play in turning Texas blue

Big county + big turnout = big margin.

Texas is not the sort of place national candidates visit just before Election Day or where political ads play on a loop during popular TV shows.

And, yet, here we are: Texas has been declared “in play,” with some polls rating the long solidly red state as a tossup between President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

A key reason is decades of rapid growth, as a strong economy drew millions of residents from across the country to Texas, most of them to urban areas — and more residents means more voters.

Harris County alone has grown its voter roll by about 292,000 since the 2016 election, equivalent to absorbing all of registered voters in Galveston County and tacking on another 70,000.

To earn a shot at Texas’ 38 electoral votes, Biden would need to combine a blowout here with sweeps in the state’s other large metros to offset Trump’s expected dominance in rural areas. If that occurs, the Houston area’s newly minted voters likely will play a key role.

A Houston Chronicle analysis of precinct-level voting patterns shows the Houston area’s growth has moved in tandem with Democrats’ widening advantage here in recent elections.

You can read the rest, and I’ll get to some numbers in a minute. But first, the big question is who else is out there to vote?

With 9.7 million ballots already cast across Texas — more than 1 of 7 of them in Harris County — will anyone show up Tuesday?

Well, yes, political scientists and consultants agree, though their estimates of the expected turnout vary.

County voters have already matched the 58 percent total turnout of the 2004 election and are just short of the 61 to 63 percent turnout recorded in the last three presidential contests. Statewide, 57 percent of registered voters have cast ballots.

The Harris County Clerk’s Office expects 200,000 to 300,000 voters to turn out Tuesday. Two Democratic consultants expect about 350,000 — in line with the last two general elections. Two local political scientists think 400,000 is possible, though they differed on whether the higher tally would benefit Democrats or Republicans.

The lower estimate would produce a final tally of about 1.6 million votes, or 66 percent turnout. The higher figure would push turnout close to 75 percent, which would be a modern record, exceeding the 72 percent turnout posted in 1992, when Houstonian George H.W. Bush lost a tough reelection fight to Bill Clinton.

GOP political consultant Kevin Shuvalov expects a more modest mark, saying, “It’s going to be bigger, but we’re not going to have 2 million voters.”

Still, he added, “Looking at who’s left over, there’s a lot of reliable voters still out there who have participated in multiple general elections previously. And then you have a large chunk of voters they just really like to vote on Election Day. They’re traditionalists.”

Democratic consultant Robert Jara echoed that, noting that many older voters are in the habit of casting their ballots at the same nearby Election Day polling place.

“There’s a sense of community, really, of voting in your neighborhood,” Jara said.

Local Latino voters have also disproportionately voted on Election Day in the past, Jara said, noting that Democrats tend to get an Election Day boost from predominantly Latino eastside precincts.

We’ve talked about some of this before, including the propensity of Latino voters to vote later in the cycle. I’m on record saying that I expect 300K or more votes tomorrow – I think we end up over 1.7 million, but maybe not quite at 1.8 million. I’ll be more surprised if we fail to reach 1.7 million than if we exceed 1.8 million.

The thing about these big numbers is that they can, and very likely will, lead to big margins for Joe Biden, bigger perhaps than we might have expected. Remember, when I did my super-simple projection of the vote, one of the assumptions baked in was that turnout levels would be static. If counties like Harris, which will provide a big chunk of the Democratic vote, overperform their expectations, that changes the math. (The same is true for the heavily red counties, but the vast majority of those are small. There’s no equivalent of Harris, or Dallas, or Travis, on the Republican side.)

Here’s what that means in practice. As a reminder, Hillary Clinton carried Harris County by 162K votes in 2016, winning 53.95% of the vote to Trump’s 41.61%. Beto carried Harris County by 201K votes, getting 57.98% to Ted Cruz’s 41.31%. Let’s assume we hit the low end of turnout projections, with 1.7 million total votes. How would that affect Biden’s margins?

53.95% – 41.61% = 210K net votes for Biden
57.98% – 41.31% = 283K net votes for Biden

I think its safe to assume Biden will do better than Clinton’s 53.95% – among other things, the third party vote will be much smaller. Note how both Trump and Cruz were mired in the 41% range – other Republicans did do better, but these two uniquely disliked flag-bearers did particularly poorly. It’s not out of the question that Trump could fail to break 40% in Harris. If we assume a more maximalist final turnout of 1.8 million, and a 60-40 win for Biden, he’ll net 360K votes in Harris County. That’s a lot.

(For what it’s worth, months ago when I was discussing blue-sky scenarios with fellow Dems, I posited a 60-40 win with turnout of 1.5 million, which I thought was reasonably ambitious and assumed a voter registration goal of 2.4 million. Who knew I was actually being restrained?)

Now again, what happens in Harris is a piece of the puzzle, but it’s not determinative in and of itself. The number of counties that Trump will carry will far exceed the number of counties that Biden will carry, and while most of those counties will have a small number of voters, there are big ones out there like Montgomery. Republicans can make up the big numbers Dems will post in their few strongholds by posting a lot of 70-30 and 80-20 wins in small and medium-sized counties. Dems will need to at least hold those losses to what they were in 2016 and 2018 to have a manageable deficit to overcome. Longer term, by which I mean 2022 and 2024, Dems will need to figure out how to gain ground in places like Waco and Lubbock and Tyler and New Braunfels and Abilene and Amarillo.

That’s a discussion for another day. Here’s the final Derek Ryan email.

9,677,963 people voted in Texas! That’s 57.1% of all registered voters. To give you some perspective on how crazy that number is, turnout for the ENTIRE 2016 General Election was 59.4%. In 2012, it was 58.6%.

So where does that put us at the brief electoral intermission?

There are still 7.2 million registered voters who have NOT voted. Of those, 3.1 million have voted in a previous election in the last four election cycles (dating back to 2012). If 75% of these people vote on Election Day, that will get us to the 12 million figure I keep throwing out there.

Voters who most recently voted in a Republican Primary have a 432,000 vote advantage over those who most recently voted in a Democratic Primary. Again, it must be pointed out that 4.6 million people who voted early who have no previous primary history.

What has been the participation rate based on voters’ previous election history?

  • 81% of voters with previous Republican Primary history voted early
  • 82% of voters with previous Democratic Primary history voted early
  • 59% of voters with previous General Election history (and no primary history) voted early
  • 29% of voters with no previous General or Primary Election history voted early

[…]

So what should we expect on Election Night? Based on the data, here is what I expect to see. Typically, the first results that are released at 7:01pm are numbers from early voting. In many portions of the state, these results will likely favor Democratic candidates. Then, as results from Election Day trickle in, we will see data that likely favors Republican candidates. In previous election cycles, the opposite has been the case. If you are only following the statewide election results, this will certainly be the case. It is important to note that voting early is a bigger trend in urban and suburban counties more so than in rural counties. For example, the average turnout percentage in the top 20 counties was 58.1%, but in the remaining 234 counties, the average turnout percentage was 48.7%.

Why does that matter? In 2016, Hillary Clinton received 50.8% to Donald Trump’s 44.8% in the top 20 largest counties, but Donald Trump received 70.9% to Hillary Clinton’s 25.9% in the remaining 234 counties.

The report is here. Anyone out there who was waiting till today to vote?

UPDATE: I don’t have any better place to put this, and I only saw it on Monday even though it was published on Friday, but here’s a Chron interview with Chris Hollins that’s worth your time.

Federal judge denies Hotze petition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE: Hopefully, this is the final final update:

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

(more…)

A focus on the SCOTX races

With so much litigation over a variety of voting issues, the Supreme Court of Texas is in the news a lot these days. Will that mean more attention being paid to the four races for SCOTX positions?

Justice Gisela Triana

The sleepy contests for seats on Texas’ highest courts have taken on new energy this year as Democrats, bullish on their chances to claim seats on the all-Republican courts, seek to capitalize on a series of controversial pandemic- and election-related decisions.

Voters have the chance to choose four justices on the nine-member Texas Supreme Court, the state’s highest court for civil matters, and three judges on its sister body, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

It’s notoriously difficult for judicial candidates, even those running for the state’s high courts, to capture voters’ attention, particularly with a hotly contested presidential race above them on the ballot. But this year, Democrats say they have something new to run against: decisions by the high court to end Texas’ eviction moratorium and election opinions that limited mail-in voting options.

“The Supreme Court has been in the news on almost a weekly basis over the last several months … with all the election shenanigans that are going on,” said Justice Gisela Triana, who serves on the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals and is running as a Democrat for a seat on the high court. “I think they’ve been complicit in allowing the Republican Party to try to make it harder for people to vote.”

For Republicans, meanwhile, the virus is an argument for sticking with the status quo. Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, who faces reelection this fall, said unprecedented challenges of access to justice and budget concerns during the pandemic would best be handled by a judge with experience running the court.

“We’re in such untraveled waters — dangerous, difficult, challenging times,” said Hecht, who has served on the court for more than three decades. “It takes some leadership not only to try to discern a wise course through all this, but to get the other branches to go along with you.”

[…]

Even as President Donald Trump runs an unusually tight race in Texas with Democratic nominee Joe Biden, less controversial Republicans lower on the ballot are expected to perform better in Texas. Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, facing Democrat MJ Hegar, has shown a wider lead in polling than the president, and statewide judicial candidates outperformed U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018 and Trump in 2016.

Republicans say they’re confident Trump will carry the state — but that the judges could win even if he doesn’t.

Pollsters sometimes view statewide judicial races as pure tests of a voter’s partisan allegiance since so few Texans are familiar with the candidates.

“Even though we’re toward the top of the ticket, people don’t know much about who we are,” Hecht said.

[…]

Along with new attention to the high court comes the uncertainty about what the end of straight-ticket voting will mean for Texas. This Nov. 3 marks the first election in which Texans won’t have the option of voting for every candidate in a certain party with just one punch — a colossal change whose effects neither party can fully anticipate.

All that, coupled with a volatile presidential race, means “you just can’t tell” where the outcome may land, Hecht said.

“It’s just completely unpredictable,” Boyd said. A higher profile for the court could help him as an incumbent, he said.

“If people are seeing the coverage and thinking, ‘I need to do my homework on these races,’ I have full confidence that when they do their homework they’ll end up supporting me,” Boyd said.

Democrats see reason for optimism in early voting totals, which have shattered records, especially in large, blue counties like Harris. But Republicans are also turning out to vote early in high numbers.

And there may be more reason for Democrats to be hopeful. Keir Murray, a Democratic operative in Houston, said based on the statewide numbers he’s seeing, women are outvoting men by 10 points — a potentially major boon for an all-female Democratic slate for Supreme Court.

“Women usually outvote men, but not to that degree,” he said.

Let’s start with the obvious – the statewide judicial races are mostly affected by the Presidential race. It’s true that the Supreme Court has been in the news a lot recently and have made a number of consequential rulings that affect not just the election and how it is being conducted but also the COVID pandemic and how it is being handled. The story does a good job laying all this out, and I’d be willing to believe that a lot of people are at least aware of these things. How many of those people are more likely to vote, or are likely to change how they vote, as a result of these stories is a question none of us can answer, but my suspicion is that it’s pretty small. Makes for good speculation and the basis of stories like these, but that’s as far as we can go.

What about the claim that Republicans are likely to win the statewide judicial races even if Biden carries Texas? It’s kind of amazing that Republicans would advance that hypothesis instead of just laugh off the question, but a check of recent elections suggests they’re onto something. All of the Republicans running for statewide judicial office in 2016 won by a wider margin than Trump did, and all of the Republicans running for statewide judicial office in 2018 won by a wider margin than Ted Cruz did. If there are Republican voters who don’t vote for Trump like that, then that’s a plausible scenario. I feel like a lot of the people who avoided Trump but otherwise mostly voted R in 2016 were voting mostly D in 2018, but maybe I’m wrong about that. Keir Murray’s point about the electorate being disproportionately female so far means Dems are probably doing pretty well so far and that’s a boost for all Dem candidates, but it doesn’t tell us anything about how the court candidates may do compared to Trump. I don’t think the Cornyn/Hegar polling tells us all that much either, as there’s a name recognition component to that.

An alternate possibility is that some number of people who vote for Trump will peace out after that. Trump has spent plenty of time attacking Republicans, too, so some of his supporters are loyal to him but not the party. The 2016 experience suggests that’s unlikely, but maybe this year is different. I don’t think the lack of straight ticket voting will matter much. The Supreme Court Chief Justice election is the fifth race people will see on their ballots, following the three federal elections (President, US Senate, US House) and Railroad Commissioner. Maybe some people who aren’t strong partisans will skip those races because they don’t feel they know the candidates well enough, but it won’t be because they’re tired of all that voting.

Look, Democrats are motivated to vote, and they’re pissed at the rulings in some of these lawsuits, even if SCOTX maintained its integrity in the latest Hotze provocation. I think there’s a strong urge to vote all the way down. I just don’t know how to quantify that. I’ll know more after the election.

Today is Election Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few thoughts about Election 2020 before Tuesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe bullet points will help.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SCOTX rejects Hotze petition to throw out drive through votes

One piece of good news.

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE: From Twitter:

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

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

Just another quiet Saturday…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story on this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paxton trial move back to Collin County on hold

Delay is the natural state of being in this saga. I don’t know why we’d ever expect anything else.

Best mugshot ever

A Houston appeals court has pressed pause on a ruling that would have allowed Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to stand trial for felony securities fraud in his hometown of Collin County.

That Oct. 23 ruling came three years after the case was first sent to Harris County, with prosecutors arguing they could not get a fair trial prosecuting Paxton in a part of the state where he and his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, are deeply politically connected.

Paxton is accused of persuading investors to buy stock in a technology firm without disclosing he would be compensated for it. He has maintained his innocence and dismissed the charges as politically motivated.

The 1st Court of Appeals in Houston has, for now, blocked the case from resuming in Collin County — likely further delaying the five-year-old case — as it considers the issues.

See here for the previous update. The Chron adds a few details.

The case was moved to Harris County after a judge ruled in 2017 that Paxton’s Republican political connections in Collin County would give him an unfair advantage at trial. But that decision has been under judicial review now for three years as Paxton’s defense team and the special prosecutors appointed in the case battle over the venue.

The prosecutors applauded the latest decision by 1st Court of Appeals Judge Gordon Goodman, a Democrat elected in 2018 as his party swept judicial races.

“The ruling of the court was not unexpected as the law and facts are very straightforward,” said Kent Schaffer, one of the prosecutors. “We are optimistic that the Court of Appeals will do the right thing, and Ken Paxton will face justice in front of a Houston jury.”

[…]

Paxton’s lawyers had argued that the case should have never been moved in the first place, because the judge made the decision after his assignment to the case had expired.

In June, Harris County state District Judge Robert Johnson ruled in Paxton’s favor and moved the case to Collin County. But the 1st Court of Appeals struck that order about a month later, after Johnson recused himself from the case because Paxton’s office is representing him in a separate suit.

The case was then reassigned to Harris County Jason Luong, a Democrat and former prosecutor with the Harris County District Attorney’s office.

Luong agreed the case should be sent back to Collin County based on his interpretation Johnson’s ruling, and he did not discuss where he believed Paxton would receive a fair trial.

The prosecutors had argued in their appeal that Luong misinterpreted the law.

Just to recap, and I’m totally relying on this Chron story rather than spending an hour digging through my own archives, but the case was first moved from Collin County to Harris County because the judge at the time, a Tarrant County jurist who had been appointed as a visiting judge precisely because no Collin County judge could handle the initial hearings, agreed with the prosecutors’ argument that Paxton would get preferential treatment in his home county. All the arguments since then have been about technicalities. It’s surely a safe bet that this current dispute will wind up before the Court of Criminal Appeals, just as the previous ones did. It’s not at all far-fetched to think that Paxton’s more recent legal troubles will see the inside of courtroom before this case does.

Idle yet hilarious thought: How much do you think Paxton will want to move the case back to Collin County if it flips blue and votes for Joe Biden this year?

Anyway. Settle in, or stay settled in if you never bothered to settle out. This will take awhile.

Once again with Asian-American voters

Long story in the Trib, on a topic that could use more focus.

Rep. Gene Wu

When Debbie Chen temporarily closed her Houston restaurant in March due to the coronavirus, she was worried about her health and her financial livelihood.

But as a Chinese American, she was also worried about vandalism and her physical safety, given how President Donald Trump and others were blaming China for the pandemic and using racist monikers for the virus.

Seven months later, as Texans head to the polls in the 2020 elections, she hasn’t forgotten. Chen works on Asian American and Pacific Islander voter turnout every year, but this year she feels even more motivated.

“I was so afraid someone would get attacked,” Chen said. Trump’s rhetoric “perpetuates this stereotype that Asians are foreigners or something.” [Read more about Chen’s experience during the coronavirus here.]

Voters who share Chen’s feelings could have a major impact on the 2020 elections. The share of Asian Americans nationwide remains less than 5% of the total electorate. But it’s the fastest growing racial or ethnic voting group in the country, according to the Pew Research Center.

In Texas, there are sizable Asian American communities in districts that hold an outsized importance this year. Democrats are hopeful that they can flip nine seats in the state House to gain a majority in the lower chamber ahead of next year’s legislative session. Key among those efforts are nine seats held by Republicans in which former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat, received more votes than U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in 2018. In two-thirds of those districts, the Asian share of the population is more than double the statewide share. Multiple U.S. House seats targeted by Democrats have large Asian American populations, too.

“There are some districts where there’s a significant enough level of organization and voters that can make a difference if it’s a matter of turnout and the races are close enough,” said Madeline Hsu, a history professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

Asian American voters are hardly a monolith. While the Indian American population has leaned reliably Democratic for years, Vietnamese Americans tend to lean Republican. And Filipino Americans are more evenly divided.

Since 2016, Trump has made small inroads with Vietnamese and Indian Americans but lost support among Chinese Americans, according to polls from the Asian American Voter Survey.

But recent polling also suggests that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, who are sometimes referred to collectively as the AAPI community, overall may turn out in higher numbers for Democrats in 2020.

“You had this ‘Chinese Americans for Trump’ phenomenon in 2016 and it looked like that was a group that was maybe going to go conservative over time,” said Karthick Ramakrishnan, a University of California, Riverside political science professor who runs a survey on Asian American voters. “But his support has actually gotten worse among Chinese Americans. It’s not just the anti-China rhetoric, but all the bigotry he unleashed during the coronavirus is hurting.”

There’s more, so go read the rest. I’ve covered this topic before, so there’s not much to add. (There was also an earlier story in the Trib that I didn’t get around to.) I wish there was some Asian-American voter-specific polling done in Texas, the way Latino Decisions does the same for that community, but for now I need to keep waiting. As with Latino voters, the key here is engagement – these folks will vote more Democratic than Republican, but you have to make an effort to get them to vote. They’re just not used to candidates and campaigns speaking to them, which is something that those of us who always vote sometimes have a hard time understanding. Sri Kulkarni made a point of doing that in his 2018 campaign, and it’s a key to 2020 as well. Whatever happens, I hope there’s an effort made after the election to figure out how it went with this community.

Of course Republicans have benefited from voting by mail

Obviously. And yes, even in recent elections.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 2020 Early Voting Day Eighteen: Records were broken

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

The rest of the state is voting heavily, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

Here’s the Derek Ryan email for Thursday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet your new Election Administrator

Solid choice.

Isabel Longoria

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

It’s still not too late to prevent a big spike in COVID infections

But it will be soon.

A rise in COVID-19 cases has health care officials and government leaders pleading with Houstonians: Act now to prevent, or at least minimize, a third wave of infections across Greater Houston.

“This feels a lot like late May, early June when we saw the early warning signs that things were beginning to increase,” Dr. Marc Boom, president and CEO of Houston Methodist, told the Chronicle on Tuesday, “and then things slipped out of our control.”

According to a Chronicle analysis, the seven-day rolling average for newly reported cases was 1,044.2 as of Monday in an eight-county Houston area. That’s the highest since Oct. 8. In the summer, the rolling average peaked July 17 at 2,432.7.

The rate at which the virus is spreading, called the reproduction rate, reached 1.18 across a nine-county Houston area as of Monday, according to the Texas Medical Center. A number below 1, which the Houston area did report for a few weeks, means the virus is burning out. A number above 1 means that virus spread is increasing. During the COVID-19 spike this summer, Houston’s reproduction rate was in the 1.5-1.7 range when things were getting out of control, Boom said.

Finally, the seven-day average for COVID test positivity rate was 4.2 percent for TMC hospital systems as of Monday. It had been 3.4 percent last month.

For the city, Mayor Sylvester Turner on Monday reported the positivity rate was 6.5 percent as of Oct. 21. Statewide, the positivity rate was 9.42 percent as of Monday.

[…]

Houston-area case increases are not as severe as in other parts of the country and state. In the U.S., 489,769 new cases have been reported since Oct. 20. There are surges in Wisconsin and other Midwest states. In El Paso, state health officials converted a convention center into a makeshift hospital to ease the crush of patients.

Still, Shreela Sharma, an epidemiologist at UTHealth School of Public Health, knows how quickly COVID cases can climb. And she said the number of new cases in the Houston region is roughly 40 percent higher than when the summertime peak began. That means if a third wave does occur, it would start with a higher baseline.

The time is now to wear masks, practice social distancing and wash your hands.

“Our window is right now,” she said. “We could rapidly lose that window over the next few weeks.”

Yes, that is the one piece of good news. We know how to get a handle on this, and we’ve been doing it all along. Wear your mask – yes, wear it while voting, too – maintain social distancing, and avoid indoor gatherings. This week’s colder weather excepted, we’re in much better shape to handle the winter than the northern climes, because for most of our winter it’s still perfectly amenable outside for activities and dining and whatnot. Again, just don’t be an idiot. Do the things that you know you need to do. The alternatives are so, so much worse.

One more thing:

Researchers with Houston’s Health Department will monitor the wastewater flushed from 60 schools and 15 senior living homes in the city for COVID-19 in hopes of catching outbreaks before they arise in clinical testing.

City council on Wednesday unanimously approved $11.5 million in federal COVID-19 spending. Included in that was $221,000 to buy the sampling equipment needed to expand the city’s existing wastewater testing program into K-12 schools in areas with high positivity rates.

People shed the novel coronavirus through feces, regardless of whether they experience symptoms. The samplers will be installed in manholes outside the schools, and researchers will analyze them, looking for the virus.

“It’s very granular,” said Dr. Loren Hopkins, the health department’s chief environmental science officer. “We don’t expect to see any positives at all, we expect to see nothing… If we see something in a school and we see it two days in a row, then we know someone in that school is shedding the virus.”

The department would then alert the school and deploy the more traditional, clinical testing, according to Hopkins.

Don’t laugh, this is an effective method of contact tracing. It’s already been used successfully by the city. Now, if there are people who can test wastewater to see if your poop has the COVID virus in it, you can damn sure keep wearing your mask.

Univision: Trump 49, Biden 46

Always time for one more poll, apparently.

The race for the White House in Texas is so close in the Nov 3 presidential election that it’s beginning to look uncharacteristically like a swing state, according to a new Univision News poll, which also surveyed voters in Florida, Pennsylvania and Arizona.

Donald Trump and Joe Biden are only separated by a slight margin (49% for the president and 46% for the Democrat) among registered voters in Texas, according to the poll carried out with the collaboration of the University of Houston and conducted between October 17 and 25. The difference falls within the margin of error, making it a virtual tie.

[…]

In all four states, the Hispanic vote largely favors Biden, although Trump has managed to maintain significant support from the Latino community (particularly in Florida, where 37% of Hispanics said they have already voted or will vote for Trump’s reelection).

At the national level (where the poll was conducted with UnidosUS/SOMOS), Hispanics voters favored the Democratic candidate by a margin of 41 points (67% vs. 26%).

The following are some of the highlights of the polls conducted for Univision by Latino Decisions and North Star Opinion Research in four of the states that could decide the Nov. 3 elections.

In the Lonestar state, the number of Hispanics who back Trump is 28%, which is a slight increase compared to September, when an Univision poll showed Trump had 25% of the Hispanic vote. Analysts agree that a larger increase in his Latino base could tip the balance in favor of the president’s reelection.

In Texas, and generally in every state where the polls were conducted, voter preferences clearly reflect the nation’s deep political polarization. Beyond the figure of the candidates, what the polls show is a clearly partisan vote. In Texas, 91% of Republicans said they voted or will vote for Trump and 91% of Democrats will vote for Biden.

More so than in previous elections perhaps, younger voters could be decisive, and this time clearly lean towards the Democrats. In Texas, 65% of those under the age of 29 express their support for Biden. But among those over 50 Trump leads by 10 points (53% to 43%).

In the Senate race, Republican candidate John Cornyn leads his race for re-election against the Democratic party challenger, MJ Hegar, by only 3 points (44% to 41%,) which is also within the margin of error. In this case, the support of younger voters for the Democrat is significantly lower, dropping from 65% to 55%.

For Texas voters, the coronavirus is the biggest concern (46%). Among Latinos, who have been hit especially hard by the pandemic, that number rises to 56%.

Overall, 54% of voters disapprove of Trump’s handling of the pandemic. But in a further sign of polarization, 83% of Republicans approve and only 31% consider the virus a priority, although 64% approve of the mandatory use of face masks.

In Texas, Trump’s attacks on Democrats seem to have wide acceptance, and “stopping the agenda of Pelosi and the Democrats” is a priority for 30% of Republicans, which is similar to support for defeating the coronavirus pandemic.

Early voting in Texas is very high: at the time of the survey it was 48% overall and 51% among Latinos; while only 16% have voted by mail, compared to 34% in Arizona and 26% in Florida. Texas is one of the few states that requires an excuse to vote absentee.

You can click over to see more on the other states and to see the graphics, and you can click here for an incredibly dense set of crosstabs. I noted the September Univision poll here. Their assertion that higher turnout among Latinos is likely to be a boon for Biden is what I’d call generally accepted wisdom, but I will note that the recent NYT/Siena poll does not concur with that.

In the Hegar-Cornyn contest, Hegar leads among Latinos by a more modest 52-30. The poll does not break out Black voters as a subsample, but there is an “Other” along with “White” and “Latino” that may literally be everyone else; in many polls, it usually means Asian-American and maybe Native American, but here it may also include African-American. This poll lands on the “big Latino support for Biden” side of that debate, but – plot twist! – it shows Trump with a 44-35 plurality among independents, adding yet another complication to that debate. As the old cliche goes, The Only Poll That Matters is going on right now, and in a few days we’ll (probably) know who was right. See this Twitter thread by Brandon Rottinghaus for more.

One last, desperate attempt to kill drive-though voting

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We need an official Speaker candidate tracker

We’re up to five now, and we’re likely not done yet.

Rep. Trent Ashby

State Reps. Trent Ashby of Lufkin, Chris Paddie of Marshall and John Cyrier of Lockhart join two Democrats in seeking the gavel: Senfronia Thompson of Houston and Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio. More candidates are expected to file, perhaps after the Nov. 3 election once it’s clear which party will be in control of the chamber.

In statements, both Ashby and Cyrier pointed to the legislative session beginning in January — and the challenges state lawmakers will all but certainly have to tackle — to help make their pitch for why they’re the best candidate for the job.

“Given the collective challenges we will face in upcoming legislative session, as we continue our battle with COVID-19 and work to balance a budget despite revenue challenges, it is critically important that the next Speaker fosters the trust and cooperation necessary to overcome these challenges and deliver the results that all Texans expect and deserve,” Ashby, who has served in the House since 2013, said.

Cyrier, who has served in the House since 2015, said the session “will be a demonstration of Texans’ resilience.”

“My top priority as speaker will be to work with all members of the House and build consensus during what is sure to be a challenging session,” Cyrier said.

Paddie, who has served in the lower chamber since 2013, did not immediately release a statement about his bid.

As noted, Reps. Senfronia Thompson and Trey Martinez Fischer are already in. None of the three Republicans were among the crowd that had made a move towards running for Speaker before the last session; five of those seven will be in the 2021 Lege, so there is definitely the possibility of a larger field. I should note that Rep. Thompson picked up the endorsements of her fellow Harris County Democratic legislators, and also of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, thus giving her the most supporters for now, though still far from a majority.

We’ll have a much better idea of how this may shake out once we know how many Ds and how many Rs there will be. And as a reminder: Right after the election is when some number of members announce their intent to step down, thus necessitating a special election to replace them. Rep. Drew Spinger is in the runoff for SD30, scheduled for December 19, so his seat may become vacant right before the opening gavel as well. I say this all because the number we have on November 4 may be different than the number we have on January 4, and that could have a real effect on who has enough votes to actually become Speaker. The potential for chaos, and maybe even some shenanigans, is quite high. The Lege is never more entertaining when those things are true.

UPDATE: And now there are six:

Possibly by the time you read this, there will be more announced candidates. You see what I mean when I say we need a tracker.

UPDATE: And now there are seven:

All members of the House that are not running for Speaker, please raise your hand.

November 2020 Early Voting Day Sixteen: All through the night

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’d say this deserves a video:

Maybe even two:

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


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

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


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

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

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

Here’s the Derek Ryan email.

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

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

Have you voted yet?

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

DFP: Biden 49, Trump 48

Once again, from Twitter:

In their full sample, there are 452 people who have already voted, and Biden leads among them 54-45, as noted in the tweet. Of the 566 people who have not yet voted but say they will, Trump leads 50-44, with five percent undecided. (Not many third-party supporters in this sample, which is a combination of SMS and web panel.) Since independents are the new hotness, Biden leads among them in the full sample, 45-43.

The previous DFP result was a week ago. At that time, 180 voters from their sample had voted, with Biden leading 57-41 among them. You can make of that what you want. Biden led 47-46 in that poll, with Cornyn leading Hegar 44-41. The main takeaway here is fewer undecideds, and that more of the undecideds are going to Hegar than Cornyn. Indeed, Hegar leads by the same 54-45 among those who have voted, but trails 50-39 with the rest, with 9% undecided. This is the first poll I can think of that suggests she will finish within a point or so of Biden.

Again, we’ll see if this is the end of the polls for this cycle. We sure can’t complain that we were ignored.

Will Greg Abbott ever talk about COVID-19 again?

Signs point to No.

On Wednesday, Gov. Greg Abbott knocked on doors in the Fort Worth suburbs, fist-bumping with police officers and warning residents that Democrats want to raise their taxes.

That night, he opened Game 2 of the World Series at Globe Life Field in Arlington, belting out a hearty “play ball” before a stadium partly filled with cheering fans.

With the Nov. 3 election fast approaching, the state’s top Republican is in full campaign mode, trying to block Democrats from retaking the Texas House.

But away from the choreographed appearances, the governor is facing another challenge: Coronavirus infections are rising again, filling up hospitals in parts of the state. Unlike when cases mounted earlier this summer, Abbott has been all but silent about COVID-19’s resurgence.

The governor hardly has mentioned the uptick, which has been most severe in parts of North and West Texas. In news releases, he has announced that he’s sending resources and medical staff to hot spots, but he has downplayed or failed to even mention the outbreaks — part of a third wave sweeping the South and Midwest.

Abbott hasn’t held a public briefing on the pandemic in more than a month.

For a governor who made a point of being on television every night as cases spiked this summer, making himself the face of the state’s response, the silence is notable and likely strategic.

“There’s no advantage to Abbott coming out now to acknowledge the spiking numbers, which say Texas isn’t doing a good job, which say he isn’t doing a good job,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “With a week until the election, that would not be beneficial for him.”

[…]

Nearly 5,000 people were hospitalized Thursday with COVID-19, a 55 percent jump since Oct. 3. The average of new daily infections has been rising steadily for two weeks, and the rate of people testing positive for the virus is now just shy of 9 percent, after dipping to a low of 6.3 percent in September.

In Tarrant County, where Abbott appeared Wednesday, health officials have warned residents of substantial community spread, meaning the virus is being transmitted through workplaces and schools.

“The signs are pointing to a big surge coming,” Tarrant County public health director Vinny Taneja told WFAA-TV in Dallas on Wednesday.

Abbott has been an important figurehead in the state’s coronavirus response. When the number of people hospitalized with the coronavirus reached 5,000 in late June, he responded by closing the bars and cutting maximum occupancy for restaurants to 50 percent. He later issued a statewide mask mandate, which remains in effect.

Asked about the new trends Wednesday as he door-knocked for a fellow Republican, Abbott told reporters the state is preparing for a vaccine rollout as soon as late November, a claim that conflicts with remarks from top federal health officials.

The state’s own health officials aren’t planning for a wide rollout of a potential vaccine until July of next year.

Earlier this month, amid mounting pressure from conservatives, Abbott released a video announcing bars could open in counties with local approval, hoping to show a state that had put the worst of the pandemic behind it as voters prepared to head to the polls.

“The good news is that even with more businesses opening, even with more students returning to school and more gatherings like football games, Texans have shown that we can contain the spread of COVID,” Abbott said.

Anyone remember Abbott’s four metrics for reopening? Because I’m pretty sure he doesn’t at this point. Part of the problem, I admit, is that everyone is focused on the election – I sure am – and that means there’s basically no public pressure on Abbott to take action. But this has been building for weeks, and we’ve got kids back in schools while bars are open and people are attending live sporting events – college football appears to be a non-trivial factor in community spread – while a bunch of jackasses are going around the state demanding that we open up even faster. And of course there’s a malevolent President who’s doing all he can to ensure that things are getting worse. Is anyone surprised that Greg Abbott can’t be bothered to at least remind everyone that they should be wearing masks and avoiding crowds?

As little as I think of Abbott, I do expect he’ll have to start talking about this again after the election. If nothing else, we’ll be embarking on a legislative session soon, and we need to decide how we’re going to handle that. I just hope we get something that resembles leadership from Abbott before too many more people are hospitalized or dead.

So what’s up with that National Guard story?

Hell, I don’t know.

Governors can deploy troops for numerous reasons, from natural disasters to border security.

But observers found it rare to the point of extraordinary when the Texas National Guard revealed that Gov. Greg Abbott has directed troops be prepared to respond to disturbances after the Nov. 3 election in major cities across the state.

Abbott has not explained his reasons, so far.

Ben West, a security analyst at the RANE subsidiary Stratfor, a consulting firm, said he anticipates most of the forces will be sent to Houston and Austin, which saw the bulk of the state’s racial justice protests this summer. Guard officials have compared the new mission to its response in June to the unrest.

While an election-related deployment is uncommon, 2020 might be the exception, West said.

“When everything is just upside down, things that in any other year would have been extraordinary get lost in the wash,” he said.

The governor has pushed hard in recent weeks to convey to voters his allegiance to law enforcement, and has proposed new laws that would stiffen punishments for unruly protesters, including mandatory jail time.

The Guard said Monday it would send up to 1,000 troops to Houston, Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonio as early as this weekend. A top guard official, retired Maj. Gen. James K. “Red” Brown, said the deployment was in case of “postelection” disturbances, to support local law enforcement and the Texas Department of Public Safety.

He said the guardsmen’s role would be similar to that during last summer’s George Floyd protests, and the troops would act “as we previously did to deter any civil disturbance at sites in various cities in Texas.”

This was the original story. Since then, Abbott has assured officials in San Antonio there will be no troops sent there after they complained, and there was a clarification that none of the troops would be sent to polling locations. On Wednesday, Abbott finally spoke about the issue.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday answered questions about the deployment of Texas National Guard troops to Texas cities on Election Day, saying they will play no role whatsoever in the election process.

“Our job is to make sure that cities are safe and along those lines, we want to make sure that in the event there are any protests after the election that we will have adequate personnel in place to make sure that we will be able to address any protests that could turn into riots,” the governor said.

When asked specifically about the assignment of troops to Houston, Abbott indicated those decisions will be made on an as-needed basis.

“It is erroneous to say we will have a presence here,” he said.

My guess is that this was a typical politics-first move by Abbott that wasn’t very well thought out and neither took into account any stakeholder input, nor anticipated their reactions. It will probably not amount to much in the end, which is also typical of Abbott. I suppose this is as good a place as any to point out that violence from far-right groups is a much greater threat than people protesting police brutality, though I know there’s a zero percent chance Abbott knows or is much interested in that. It is what it is, as they say. The Press and the Trib have more.

November 2020 Early Voting Day Fifteen: Now with evening hours

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Full report is here. Have you voted yet?

NYT/Siena: Trump 47, Biden 43

Possibly the last poll of interest for the cycle.

President Trump maintains a narrow lead in Texas, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll on Monday, as he faces a rebellion in the state’s once overwhelmingly Republican suburbs but survives with support from an unlikely ally, Hispanic voters.

Over all, Mr. Trump leads Joe Biden, 47 percent to 43 percent, among likely voters. The majority of interviews were conducted before the final presidential debate on Thursday. In the Senate race, the Republican incumbent, John Cornyn, holds a larger lead, 48-38, over the Democrat, M.J. Hegar.

[…]

The findings suggest that Republicans face catastrophic risks down-ballot, even if Mr. Trump wins. Mr. Biden leads him by five percentage points, 48 percent to 43 percent, across the 12 predominantly suburban congressional districts that the Cook Political Report has rated as competitive. These districts voted for the president by eight points in 2016.

In these districts, Republicans face a combination of rapid demographic change and previously unthinkable Democratic gains among white college-educated voters. Mr. Trump leads Mr. Biden by just two points among white college graduates in these districts, even though they say they backed Mr. Trump by 24 points over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Even those who have long embraced the Democratic dream of a “blue Texas,” powered by mobilizing the state’s growing Latino population, probably never imagined such staggering Democratic gains in once-solidly Republican areas. Yet the poll suggests that Hispanic voters might just be the group that keeps the state red a while longer.

Mr. Biden has a lead of only 57 percent to 34 percent among that group, somewhat beneath most estimates of Mrs. Clinton’s support among Hispanic voters four years ago. The finding broadly tracks with national surveys, which have shown Mr. Trump improving among Hispanic voters compared with his 2016 standing. Similarly, Hispanic voters in the Times/Siena poll say they backed Mrs. Clinton by a margin of 60 percent to 29 percent.

Hispanic voters are difficult to measure in any state, and Texas is no exception. In 2018, Times/Siena surveys generally underestimated turnout by Hispanics and their support for Democrats in Texas. So far this cycle, polls have varied widely on Mr. Trump’s standing among the group in Texas, with a recent Quinnipiac survey showing Mr. Biden ahead by just eight points, 51-43, while a Dallas Morning News/UT Tyler Texas survey showed him ahead by a far wider margin, 67-20.

Up to this point, the Biden campaign’s limited ad spending has been concentrated in the El Paso and San Antonio media markets, where Hispanic voters represent a particularly large share of the electorate. It may suggest that the Biden campaign sees Hispanic voters as one of its best and most cost-efficient opportunities to improve its standing in the state.

Mr. Trump also shows modest but meaningful strength among Black voters, who back Mr. Biden by a margin of 78 percent to 12 percent. Black respondents in the survey said they voted for Mrs. Clinton over Mr. Trump by a somewhat larger margin, 82-8, in 2016.

This poll now joins that UH Hobby School poll to snap the streak of positive results for Biden. The UH poll was weird in a couple of ways, this one is closer to the norm of other polls we have seen. On the matter of Hispanic voting, let me refer you to this tweet:

I’ve covered this before, and it’s my pet obsession with this election. The NYT/Siena result is kind of right in the middle of the pack (unlike that UH poll), which in itself makes it a bit of an aberration – the standard deviation here is big. The level of support for Trump among Black voters in this sample is on the high end, but not an outlier; at least two other polls had higher numbers for him. I thought those were outliers, and one was the September Qunnipiac poll that came back to earth in October. I haven’t studied this subgroup as closely, but I’d take the under if anyone asked.

As for the Hispanic number in the Siena poll, they have an interesting explanation.

With still a week of early voting and Election Day to go, more than seven million voters have already cast ballots in the state, representing more than 80 percent of the total turnout from four years ago. The state has not been vigorously contested at the presidential level in decades, leaving analysts with even more uncertainty about the eventual electorate than elsewhere

No pollster and analyst can be reasonably confident about what the final Texas electorate will look like, given that a significant departure from prior turnout patterns is all but an inevitability. Nonetheless, the Times/Siena poll offers one possible picture: a turnout approaching 12 million, with neither Mr. Biden nor Mr. Trump claiming a clear advantage because of the higher turnout, but still with a lower turnout among Hispanic than non-Hispanic voters.

The poll finds that Mr. Biden holds a seven-point lead among the half of the likely electorate who had already voted as of Friday, according to state records compiled by L2, a nonpartisan data vendor. These voters are older and whiter than the electorate as a whole, and more have participated in a recent Republican primary than a Democratic one. But, like early voters elsewhere in the country, they appear more favorable to Mr. Biden than their demographic characteristics would suggest.

The president counters with a 17-point lead among the voters who had not turned out by Friday, including an even wider 29-point advantage among those who say they are almost certain to vote.

Mr. Biden fails to keep pace on Election Day, the poll finds, in part because the survey sees relatively little evidence that the turnout surge will extend to Latino voters, and that even if it did, such a surge would do less to benefit Mr. Biden than one might expect.

Over all, 66 percent of Hispanic registered voters say they’ve already voted or are almost certain to do so, compared with 83 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 77 percent of non-Hispanic Blacks.

Perhaps surprisingly, the Hispanic voters likeliest to stay home are the Hispanic voters likeliest to support Mr. Trump. Or, if you prefer: Mr. Biden fares better among the Latino voters who say they will vote. Mr. Biden leads, 61-30, among Hispanic voters who say they’ve already voted or are “almost certain” to do so, while Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden are effectively tied among those who are less likely. Mr. Biden has an even wider lead of 73-20 among Hispanic voters who say they have already voted. As a result, higher Latino turnout does little to bolster Mr. Biden, even though this low-turnout group of voters identified as Democratic over Republican by a 16-point margin.

Low-turnout Hispanic voters in Texas are some of the toughest voters to reach in the country for pollsters. It is even harder to ensure a representative sample of the group in a state like Texas where voters don’t register with a party; party registration can be used to ensure the right number of Democrats and Republicans. We can’t rule out the possibility that the poll failed to reach the most Democratic-leaning of these voters.

Mr. Biden may also succeed in mobilizing the Democratic-leaning elements of this group, as already seems to be happening in early voting. He can also hope that undecided, low-turnout Latino voters will break toward Democrats over the final stretch, as they seemed to do two years ago.

The heavy early vote is a factor in how to model turnout for polls, obviously. All the indications we have are that the early vote has been very Democratic, but we don’t know where it’s going from here. The finding that lower-propensity Hispanic voters are more pro-Trump is not something I would have predicted. Indeed, there has been research in the past showing that lower-propensity Hispanic voters tend to be more Democratic than the cohort as a whole. The GOP strategy in CD23 was based on filling the district with non-voting Hispanic voters, to satisfy the Voting Rights Act requirement for it to be a Hispanic opportunity district while still keeping it competitive for them. I just don’t know what to make of this.

You can find the crosstabs here. It turns out that this sample has Trump leading 41-40 among independents, which as we know would make it only the second poll in at least a month to have him with a lead with this group, albeit a small one. Their level of support for Trump is in line with the other polls, it’s the support for Biden that’s a bit abnormal.

As it happens, there is another poll out there, from Data for Progress. I’ll blog about it tomorrow. Maybe that will be the last poll of the cycle. Maybe not.

SCOTX upholds Abbott’s limit on mail ballot dropoff locations

I’m shocked, I tell you, shocked.

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

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

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

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

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

Bloomberg drops some money in the RRC race

I have four things to say about this.

Chrysta Castañeda

Billionaire Michael Bloomberg has made a late donation of $2.6 million to the Democratic nominee for railroad commissioner, Chrysta Castañeda, providing a massive fundraising boost in a race for the oil and gas regulatory board that usually does not see such big money — or attract much political interest outside Texas.

Bloomberg’s contribution helped Castañeda raise $3.5 million on her latest campaign finance report, according to her campaign. The filing covers Sept. 25 through Oct. 26 and is due to the Texas Ethics Commission by the end of the day Monday.

“Chrysta Castañeda will be a champion for Texans — her commitment to improving people’s lives is clear,” Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for president this year, said in a statement. “I’m glad to support Chrysta in her campaign to be the next Railroad Commissioner, because she has the vision and experience needed to build a safer, healthier, and more environmentally prosperous future for the state of Texas.”

Bloomberg gave $2.625 million total to Castañeda, $2.5 million in direct money and the rest in in-kind contributions, according to her campaign. It said her report will also show she received $500,000 from environmentalist philanthropists Richard and Dee Lawrence, and that the Sierra Club donated $90,000 and has pledged another $125,000.

[…]

In a statement, Castañeda said the seven-figure support “has allowed us to place television ads in every major Texas market,” educating voters about the little-known commission, which regulates the state’s oil and gas industry. Her commercials have also taken aim at [Republican opponent Jim] Wright, pointing out, among other things, that the commission fined a business he once owned in 2017 for environmental violations.

On the previous round of campaign finance reports, covering early July through Sept. 24, Castañeda was competitive with Wright on donations, taking in $230,000 to his $244,000. She also had $81,000 in in-kind contributions. But he outspent her nearly 3 to 1 and ended the period with more cash on hand, $170,000 to her $104,000.

1. Hooray! We’ve been waiting for this. Castañeda has raised a few bucks and gotten some commercials on the air as noted, but not nearly enough to make much of an impression. This kind of money is enough to run ads statewide for two weeks, and that will mean something.

2. Which leads to the obvious: Sure would have been nice to have had this in place sooner. I need to look at the 8 day report to see exactly when Bloomberg cut the check, but Castañeda started having ads on the air a month ago, so it’s not quite as late in the cycle as I first thought when I read the headline of the story. At least she seems to have gotten the money before people started voting, which was my main concern.

3. It is very much the case that the outcome of this race will be closely correlated with the Presidential race. There’s only so much Castañeda can do to move the needle (more on that in a minute), but if Biden wins Texas or comes close enough, she can put herself in a position to win. It should be noted that downballot statewide Dems have generally lagged the top of the ticket by a few points, and that was the case in 2016 and 2018. There is some variation from race to race – generally speaking, in lower-profile races, having a Latino surname is a benefit. Note that the top downballot votegetters in 2016 were Eva Guzman (top overall in her case) and Dori Garza, both Supreme Court candidates. Castañeda has that going for her, which is likely to be worth a point or so in the final tally. If there’s one downballot Dem that I think could out-perform Biden, at least on a percentage basis, it’s Chrysta Castañeda.

4. The presence of third party candidates means that one does not need fifty percent of the vote to win. That, and who third party candidates tend to draw some votes from, was the basis for all that litigation that ultimately did not result in any candidates being thrown off the ballot. The RRC races, which are pretty obscure for most voters and which have featured some, um, less than optimal candidates in recent years, is a prime example of this. Here are the combined third-party vote percentages from the past three Presidential elections:

2016 – 8.56%
2012 – 4.23%
2008 – 3.52%

There were Libertarian and Green candidates in 2016 and 2012, and just a Libertarian in 2008. The 2016 race had two of the worst candidates ever for this office, bad enough that the Libertarian got several major newspaper endorsements. The point here is that it is likely 48% of the vote will be enough to win; 49% for sure will win. And while RRC is very close to the top of the ballot – fourth in line, after the three federal races – it’s likely more people will skip it than perhaps the Supreme Court races because they have no idea what the RRC does. That means fewer votes are needed as well. Anything Castañeda can do to minimize undervoting by Dems and to tempt soft Rs and indies to cross over will help. That’s what this money can do. The Chron has more.

No school on Election Day

For HISD, anyway.

Houston ISD will not hold virtual or in-person classes on Election Day, district officials said late Tuesday, a reversal of earlier plans to provide online-only instruction because more than 100 schools will be used as polling places.

District officials said staff members are expected to participate in virtual professional development on Nov. 3, though some may take a comp day if approved by a manager.

[…]

The Texas Education Agency confirmed last week that virtually all public school districts holding online-only classes on Election Day will not receive credit toward their legally-required minimum of 75,600 minutes of instruction they must provide. Districts that fall short of the 75,600-minute requirement would risk losing a fraction of their funding, TEA officials said.

In a statement Wednesday morning, HISD administrators said the district’s calendar “allows for an excess of minutes beyond the 75,600-minute requirement from the state to allow for inclement weather or emergency closure days.” District officials did not respond to questions about how many minutes are built into their calendar.

See here for the background. Election Day should of course be a national holiday – though at the rate we’re going now, there won’t be that many people left to vote on Election Day this year – but that is not something HISD can control. Taking the day off is the next best thing. As for the minutes of instruction, I’m going to assume they have that covered. In the meantime, go vote.

UH-Hobby: Trump 50, Biden 45

Here’s a poll result that stands in contrast to the others we have seen lately.

President Donald Trump is leading Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden by more than five points among likely voters in Texas, according to a poll released Monday by the Hobby School for Public Affairs at the University of Houston.

The poll, conducted between Oct. 13 and Oct. 20, found 50% of voters said they already had or will vote for Trump, while 44.7% said they had or will vote for Biden.

Trump and running mate Mike Pence carried Texas by nine points in 2016.

The Republican edge held for statewide contests down the ballot, including for U.S. Senate, Texas Railroad Commission and three statewide judicial races covered by the poll.

“Record turnout in early voting clearly shows the state’s Democrats are energized, but at least at the top of the ticket, that enthusiasm appears unlikely to overcome the Republican advantage among men, Anglos and older voters,” said Renée Cross, senior director of the Hobby School. “In fact, we found the Republican candidate leading by wider margins in statewide races farther down the ballot.”

Among the findings:

  • More than 40% had already voted at the time of the poll. Biden held a substantial edge among those voters, leading Trump 59% to 39%. Almost two-thirds of those who plan to vote on Election Day said they will vote for Trump.
  • Incumbent U.S. Sen. John Cornyn leads Democratic challenger MJ Hegar 48.9% to 41.6%.
  • Republican Jim Wright is leading in the race for an open seat on the Texas Railroad Commission, with 46.8% of the vote; Democrat Chrysta Castañeda has 38.4%.
  • Biden holds a slight edge among women, 49.5% to 46%. Trump is preferred among men by a notably larger margin, 54.3% to 39.5%.
  • While 63% of Anglos support Trump, and 87% of African-American voters back Biden, the gap is narrower among Latino voters: 56% support Biden, and 38% back Trump.
  • Republican Nathan Hecht leads Democrat Amy Clark Meachum 47.5% to 40% for Texas Supreme Court chief justice. For Supreme Court Justice Place 6, Republican Jane Bland leads Democrat Kathy Cheng 49.2% to 40.1%.
  • Republican Bert Richardson leads Democrat Elizabeth Davis Frizell 48.2% to 38.3% for Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Place 3.

The full report is available on the Hobby School website.

The Hobby School did a primary poll in February and one Trump-Clinton poll around this time in 2016; they also did a couple of polls of Harris County in 2016. As noted in their introduction, this was a YouGov poll, so similar in nature to the UT/Texas Tribune polls. As I alluded to in the headline, this is the first poll we’ve had in awhile that was this positive for Trump, and it especially stands in contrast with that UT-Tyler poll that came out over the weekend. What does one make of this?

You can peruse the poll data as you wish. I’m going to note one thing that really stood out to me. The following is a list of how Independent voters went in each of the last nine polls over the past month for which that data was available (in other words, skipping the Morning Consult polls). See if you can see what I saw:


Poll      Biden   Trump
=======================
UH-Hobby     34      51
UTT/DMN      51      29
Q'piac Oct   50      39
DFP          40      36
PPP          60      35
UT-Trib      45      37
UML          43      39
NYT/Siena    41      37
Q'piac Sep   51      43

Yeah, that’s a very different result for independent voters than for basically every other poll we’ve seen. Note that the UT-Trib poll had Trump up by five, as did the Quinnipiac poll from September (both were 50-45 for Trump, in fact), and that UMass-Lowell poll had Trump up 49-46. As the song goes, one of these things is not like the others.

There are other things that can be said about this poll – I appreciate the “who has voted” versus “who has yet to vote” distinction, and I appreciate the inclusion of downballot races though I tend to discount those results because of the increase in “don’t know” responses – but this is the main thing I wanted to cover.

Links to the cited polls, and their data or crosstabs page where the numbers I included can be found:

UT-Tyler/DMNdata
Quinnipiacdata
Data for Progressdata
PPPdata
UT-Trib (data about indies in quoted excerpt)
UMass-Lowelldata
NYT/Sienadata
Quinnipiacdata

I will also note that Jim Henson and Joshua Blank have observed a shift in independents’ preferences in Texas towards indies this cycle. And now I will stop beating this horse.

Try not to get sick before Election Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

TMF files for Speaker

Now it’s a race.

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer announced Monday that he is running for Texas House speaker, becoming the second Democrat in the lower chamber to launch a bid for the gavel.

Martinez Fischer, from San Antonio, joins state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, the longest-serving woman and Black person in the history of the Texas Legislature, in the race. Both filings come ahead of a November election in which Democrats are within striking distance of winning control of the Republican-held House for the first time in nearly two decades.

Martinez Fischer would be the first Latino to hold the position, if elected. Thompson would be the first woman and Black person to serve as speaker.

No Republicans have filed paperwork yet with the Texas Ethics Commission to run for the job, which Republican House Speaker Dennis Bonnen will vacate at the end of his term when he retires from office. More members from both parties are expected to enter the race in the coming days.

[…]

Martinez Fischer nodded to the upcoming legislative challenges in a statement announcing his speaker bid, saying he is running “because I believe that I am best prepared to deliver the solutions Texans expect, navigate the redistricting process, and protect the House as we chart our path forward as Texans.” Martinez Fischer also said as speaker his goal would be to “make historic changes” to the makeup of House committees in an attempt to address “the disparities in the lack of women and people of color in our leadership ranks.

“The Texas House operates on trust,” he said in his statement. “For the last twenty years, Members know that even when we may disagree, I have never been shy about saying where I stand. As Speaker, I will always deal straight.”

See here for the background. I had said that it was my belief that if Rep. Thompson wanted this, she’d have a clear path. That’s not the case, but it is early days. There were multiple people floated as possible challengers to Tom Craddick before a majority coalesced around Joe Straus, and when Dennis Bonnen succeeded Straus, it was after several other Republicans (and one Democrat) had made their intentions known. In each situation, the others simply backed down and got on board with the winner. If Dems have a clear majority in the House, I would expect there to be only one Dem in the running for Speaker at the end.

Does it mean anything that TMF filed so quickly after Thompson did? Probably not – his ambition is as good as anyone’s, he’s likely been talking about it for some time, and there are many ways to be a Speaker if one gets elected to that spot. Most of what will happen between now and when the members take a vote will not be visible to us. That said, if this ever does get ugly, we will surely hear about it. I’m sure a Republican will file at some point, but I figure there’s still some factional healing that needs to happen post-Bonnen, and no one may be ready to go public yet. This is the Lege nerds’ equivalent of fantasy football – it’s of extreme interest to a few, and means nothing to normal people. Enjoy the ride, or feel free to tune out until something interesting happens, it’s your call.