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Election 2021

SCOTx to rule on the HISD takeover lawsuit

This feels like something from another era.

The Texas Supreme Court on Thursday heard arguments on a yearslong case over whether the Texas Education Agency has the authority to remove all of the Houston school district’s board members and temporarily replace them with a state-appointed board. At the center of the hearing was the impact of a law that updated the education code last year and that TEA lawyers argued cleared the path to implement the agency’s plan.

The state’s highest court took the case nearly two years after the Third District Court of Appeals sided with the Houston Independent School District and upheld a temporary injunction barring TEA Commissioner Mike Morath from taking over the board in response to the continued low performance of HISD’s Phillis Wheatley High School as well as allegations of misconduct by trustees.

The current HISD board will remain in office as long as the injunction stands. If the court were to eventually side with the TEA and overturn the injunction, state education officials could install a new board, which in turn could vote to terminate the HISD lawsuit.

[…]

Appealing the decision during oral arguments Thursday, TEA’s attorney Kyle Highful said that factoring major updates to the Texas Education Code introduced by Senate Bill 1365, which was passed last year, would “greatly simplify” the case.

For instance, appeals court justices previously ruled that Delaney’s time overseeing Kashmere High School did not count toward her time as a district-level conservator, so the state had yet to meet the two-year requirement of having a district-level conservator to trigger state law. Highful said this new law has now removed the distinction between campus-level and district-level conservators.

He also noted that while Wheatley High School has recently earned a passing grade, the school had seen years of consecutive failures beforehand.

“The court should go ahead and take the opportunity to resolve this dispute now both for judicial economy because the case has been moving up and down through the courts for several years,” Highful said, “and because the HISD students are still in need of state intervention.”

In response, HISD’s attorney David Campbell said it would be appropriate to remand the case for a trial court to consider changes to the temporary injunction based on the new law.

But he stressed that the current temporary injunction had been in place for almost three years, adding that HISD was ready to “move expeditiously” and make a case for a permanent injunction in 2020. On the other hand, he said there has been limited ability to update their arguments to take into account the new law.

“We have not tried to delay things in any way. If we could have developed facts under the new law, we would have. We haven’t been given that opportunity, because the case has been on appeal,” Campbell said.

The original talk about taking over HISD began in 2017 and was accelerated by an ethics investigation into the actions of several HISD trustees, nearly all of whom are no longer on the Board. The lawsuit by HISD was filed in 2019 and it argued that the TEA did not follow the law in doing the takeover, as noted in the story. HISD won the injunction in state court after being denied in federal court, and last year the Supreme Court ruled that the appellate court had the power to impose the injunction for while the suit was being litigated. And so here we are.

The TEA is now arguing that because the law in question that the TEA didn’t follow correctly has been changed by the Legislature so that the TEA would meet its requirements now, the takeover can proceed. HISD is basically saying that there’s no longer a need for a takeover since the two schools in question are both meeting state standards, but if we have to consider the new law then the case should go back to the district court and be re-heard with the new facts. The questioning from SCOTx seems to indicate that this might be where they go with this. In addition, as the Chron story notes, there’s another factor to consider:

It’s also important for the justices to consider that it was a mostly different board and superintendent in charge when talks of a take over began, said Duncan Klussman, an assistant clinical professor with the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies department at University of Houston.

“The system has many new board members and completely new leadership is in place,” Klussmann said. “My feeling is that at this stage this is really about whether the commissioner really has the authority to do this.”

Yes, that’s the same Duncan Klussman who’s running for CD38. The argument that the Board is different now was also made by two then-newly elected Trustees, Judith Cruz and Dani Hernandez, who had just defeated the two main players in that ethics incident. Two more of the trustees involved were defeated in 2021; only one of the five named in the complaint is still on the Board. Other trustees are new since 2019 as well. If nothing else, if the TEA does get to step in, they should put the Trustees who weren’t on the Board then on their appointed Board. That would seem to be a reasonable compromise if it comes to that, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First the Supreme Court has to decide what to do with this appeal. After that, if it’s relevant, we can argue about what comes next.

July 2022 campaign finance reports: City of Houston

We’re still more than a year out from the 2023 election, but we are now up to three serious conteners for Mayor, plus two others in the wild, so the finance reports are beginning to generate some real interest. The January 2022 reports are here, the July 2021 reports are here.


Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
====================================================
Turner       209,950    129,870        0     802,194

Peck          19,100     19,457    5,000      24,057
Jackson       17,400     11,330        0      33,436
Kamin         86,461     14,691        0     193,807
E-Shabazz      8,000      5,591        0      17,691
Martin         2,500     18,138        0     151,767
Thomas         5,750      2,887        0      51,761
Huffman       45,350     45,284        0      30,697
Cisneros      13,500      1,164        0      38,094
Gallegos      27,050     14,126        0     127,933
Pollard      286,341     11,800   40,000     716,441
C-Tatum       51,950     16,089        0     154,697

Knox          18,425     10,266        0      37,185
Robinson      67,675     17,595        0     247,700
Kubosh        14,000     31,141  196,000      59,273
Plummer                   6,417    8,175      33,010
Alcorn        38,305     17,321        0     178,429

Brown            500      4,849   75,000      34,861

Hollins    1,123,316    138,079        0     941,155
Edwards      789,227     96,378        0     712,066

As a reminder, no links to individual reports here because the city’s system generates PDF downloads, and I don’t have the time to rename and upload and share them. Next year, when there are candidates, I’ll do that. Not this time.

All of the current officeholders submitted reports in a timely fashion this period. The only oddity was with the report for CM Letitia Plummer, which did not list an amount raised on either the summary or section totals pages. She clearly did raise some money, as a perusal of the rest of the report shows, but didn’t include a total for it anywhere. I didn’t feel like tallying it up myself, so I left the mystery in place. The only non-officeholders of interest to file reports are the two 2023 Mayoral candidates listed at the bottom, who made a decent splash with their unprecedented totals for this point in the cycle. While he did not file a city of Houston report yet, and while there is some uncertainty about how much he can move from his state account, Sen. John Whitmire had $9.7 million on hand as of July 15. Even if he can only transfer, say, 25% of that, it’s a lot of cash to start out with.

We must once again talk about the finance report for Ed Pollard, who I will say again must be planning something for his future because there is absolutely no need for this level of fundraising for his re-election campaign in District J. I had speculated that maybe he was aiming for a Mayoral campaign, but at this point that seems less likely – I can’t rule it out, but there’s already a big field of well-financed players, and Pollard would be the least known and tied for least-funded among them. Maybe next time, or maybe something in 2024? Or maybe he just really likes fundraising? Who knows.

Other than that, honestly kind of a boring set of reports. Things should start to get more interesting with the January 2023 reports – if nothing else, I’d expect to see a few new names. I’ll skip the HISD and HCC reports this cycle so look for those next January as well. I’ll round up a few state reports of interest for next time. Let me know what you think.

May 2022 special election Day One EV report: There were how many mail ballots?

Hey, it’s early voting time for the May 2022 special election. You know what that means, so here’s your Day One EV report for it. And here’s a comparison for Day One with the two most recent countywide elections:


Election  InPerson    Mail   Total    Sent
==========================================
Nov21        2,622  29,005  31,627  83,909
Mar22        9,815   4,053  13,868  39,366
Apr22        2,800  17,717  20,517  57,342

You can find the final EV reports for these here: November 2021 and March 2022. I’m calling this election “April 2022” above so it will be less confusing, since “Mar22 and “May22” are so similar.

I admit to being somewhat flabbergasted by the mail ballot numbers for this election. It’s a lower profile election than the one last November, but all things considered it’s off to a pretty good start. I’m keeping my eyes open for any stories about mail ballot issues, whether it’s the ballot applications, about which we had already heard plenty by this time in February, or the returned ballots. I am hopeful that at least the worst of the problems have been resolved – for sure, the county election offices should know what they’re doing, and the SOS should have its act together – but there will undoubtedly be people voting for the first time under the new law, so there will still be friction. If we’re lucky and we’ve learned from the experience, there will be less of it. That’s what I want, and that’s what the goal needs to be for November. This is the first test run, so we need to know how it goes.

On a side note, on the matter of endorsements, the following was in the Monday morning email newsletter from Progress Texas:

Vote YES on State Props 1 and 2. Prop 1 provides property tax relief to elderly homeowners and homeowners with disabilities, many of whom live on fixed incomes. Prop 2 would provide property tax relief to homeowners at a time when housing costs and property taxes have skyrocketed in our state.

Some people have asked me about the two propositions. I’d been planning to vote for Prop 2 and was ambivalent about Prop 1. I’m willing to follow this advice, but if you think otherwise please leave a comment.

January 2022 campaign finance reports: HCC

Previously: City of Houston, HISD

If HISD campaign finance reports are less sexy than city of Houston finance reports, then HCC finance reports are like HISD finance reports wearing thermal underwear. Nevertheless, we persist.

Monica Flores Richart – Dist 1
Adriana Tamez – Dist 3
Reagan Flowers – Dist 4
Robert Glaser – Dist 5
Dave Wilson – Dist 6
Cynthia Lenton-Gary – Dist 7
Eva Loredo – Dist 8
Pretta VanDible Stallworth – Dist 9


Dist  Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
==========================================================
1       Richart          0          0        0       2,608
3         Tamez      9,775     15,040        0      12,641
4       Flowers      8,561     18,440        0       2,985
5        Glaser          0          0    4,000       8,292
6        Wilson          0     14,879        0           0
7   Lenton-Gary          0          0        0           0
8        Loredo     10,589      6,418    7,000       8,520
9    Stallworth          0          0        0           0

The July 2021 reports are here, and the 30 day reports for November are here. As you might expect, all the action comes from the trustees who were on the ballot in November.

Dave Wilson sigh is now listed in the HCC campaign finance reports system as “David Wilson”, which I’m pretty sure is new. I’d say for sure, but there are no past reports for him that I can find, even though he’d been a trustee before and has been a candidate for trustee many times. Every other incumbent has every single finance report for their time in office available through this interface, but not Wilson. I don’t know if this is because of a quirk in their reporting system that can’t handle trustee with discontinuous service time or if they just forgot that he used to be there. Either way this is all we get.

As is usually the case, Wilson doesn’t raise money, he just spends whatever he spends out of personal funds. He has normal looking expenditures for mail, yard signs, advertising, and campaign consulting. I guess because he was technically unopposed, he didn’t have to dip into his usual bag of tricks.

I didn’t spend much time looking at the other reports. About $15K of Reagan Flowers’ expenditures was a transfer to her state campaign account. Perhaps she’ll move some funds back now if she has them left over; we’ll see that in the next July report if so.

The next finance reports of interest will be for the special election in District 2 in May. I’ll check on those at the 30 day point. I will also have interviews with the candidates in that race the week after next.

January 2022 campaign finance reports: HISD

Previously: City of Houston

HISD campaign finance reports are almost always less sexy than city of Houston reports, but we just had some expensive races last year, so let’s see where all the current Trustees are with their finances.

Elizabeth Santos – Dist I
Kathy Blueford-Daniels – Dist II
Dani Hernandez – Dist III
Patricia Allen – Dist IV
Sue Deigaard – Dist V
Kendall Baker – Dist VI
Bridget Wade – Dist VII
Judith Cruz – Dist VIII
Myrna Guidry – Dist IX


Dist  Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
==========================================================
I     Santos        23,404     10,202        0         192
II    B-Daniels          0         59    2,000         132
III   Hernandez          0          0        0       2,192
IV    Allen              0          0        0           0
V     Deigaard       2,712     59,870        0      12,189
VI    Baker          2,100      2,000      208           0
VII   Wade           6,192     10,818    7,000       3,130
VIII  Cruz               0        460        0         686
IX    Guidry         6,805      9,046    5,500       2,256

Here are the July 2021 reports, and the 8 day reports from the general election. I didn’t post reports from the runoffs. For candidates not on the November 2021 ballot (Kathy Blueford-Daniels, Dani Hernandez, Patricia Allen, and Judith Cruz, these reports cover the last six months of 2021. It’s not surprising that they weren’t raising money during this time. For Myrna Guidry, who won in November without a runoff, this report should cover the period from the 8-day report in late October through the end of the year, but looking at it I can see that it includes contributions from August through October. It also lists a $2K in kind contribution of “polling expenses” from Rep. Alma Allen, but on her Subtotals page she has both that amount and the $6,805 that she has as her overall total listed as just cash contributions. Someone needed to review this report before it was submitted. For the other four, it covers the period from the 8-day runoff report in December through the end of the year.

Santos’ report obviously stands out here, but the vast majority of the amount raised was actually in-kind contributions, mostly in the form of mail and GOTV efforts on her behalf, and mostly from the Texas AFL-CIO and Sylvia Garcia campaigns. Just under $2K of that total were cash donations. Kendall Baker gave $1K to himself and also received $1K from the campaign fund of County Commissioner Tom Ramsey. Bridget Wade was also a recipient of Commissioner Ramsey’s generosity, to the tune of $2,500.

Sue Deigaard spent her money on mailers (about $24K), phonebanking ($10K), digital ads ($7,500), a newspaper ad ($2K) and texting ($1,500). There were also multiple expenditures ranging from $80 to $950 attributed to “blockwalking” that I didn’t bother adding up. I’m now moderately curious about what the unsuccessful candidates reported on their final form, but the houstonisd.org’s 2021 Election page appears to have been archived, so I’m not able to find the reports for non-incumbents now. Not a huge deal, I was just wondering, but it is a little annoying to not see that data now.

Not much else to report here. I’ll take a look at the HCC reports next, which will be equally not very exciting, and we’ll be caught up for now.

January 2022 campaign finance reports: City of Houston

January finance reports are always worth a look, if only as a ritual to start the new year. We’re a year out from election season truly beginning for Houston, but as we now have two brand name contenders for Mayor already, we should check in and see how our current electeds are doing in the fundraising department. I last looked at these reports in July of 2021. Let’s see what folks have been up to since then.


Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
====================================================
Turner       311,976    156,329        0     723,455

Peck          25,620     13,989    5,000      27,442
Jackson        2,775      8,725        0      27,367
Kamin         14,620      7,824        0     124,434
E-Shabazz      8,440     13,625        0      15,282
Martin        56,350     32,011        0     162,311
Thomas        
Huffman       21,550     24,921        0      27,040
Cisneros       9,495      2,033        0      25,758
Gallegos      50,355     16,218        0     114,905
Pollard      151,275     12,946   40,000     441,900
C-Tatum       10,000      8,576        0     118,827

Knox          13,385      5,227        0      17,884
Robinson      50,595     11,758        0     189,134
Kubosh        33,200     31,914  196,000      73,174
Plummer       14,191     22,440        0      25,473
Alcorn       153,700     26,652        0     158,067

Brown          3,000      6,067   75,000      38,887

As a reminder, no links to individual reports here because the city’s system generates PDF downloads, and I don’t have the time to rename and upload and share them. Next year, when there are candidates, I’ll do that. Not this time.

Mayor Turner is the biggest recipient of campaign cash, which is usually how it is. He won’t be on the 2023 ballot, but we will have at least two charter referenda in our future, and I’m sure he’ll want to be able to have some influence over them. As was the case with Mayor Parker and term limits in 2015, he might want to add one or two more to that list, on policy matters that have been discussed but not yet addressed. I’m thinking of the stupid revenue cap, and a second try at an equal rights ordinance, this time for the charter. I have no special insight on these matters, just a long memory and a searchable archive, both of which I endeavor to use for good and not evil.

The fact that we have two high-profile Mayoral candidates in place (well, as much as one can be at this early hour) doesn’t mean that there aren’t other potential Mayorals out there. Last time I noted CM Ed Pollard’s prodigious fundraising, in which he amassed an amount that far outstripped his possible need for re-election in his district, and noted that he has been on some people’s lips as a possible candidate for Mayor. His January finance report does nothing to turn that speculation down, though also as noted before he may have his eye on some other prizes as well.

On the other end of that spectrum is the one person I had felt most confident about as a 2023 Mayoral candidate, and that’s City Controller Chris Brown, who seemed a natural fit for the Mayoral candidate role and who has demonstrated fundraising prowess in the past. Not these past six months, though, and his cash on hand total is looking awfully paltry. Does that mean anything? It’s too early to say. But now that John Whitmire and Chris Hollins are out there doing Mayoral candidate things, the time to decide whether or not one wants to join them in that is not far off. Michael Kubosh, who is currently doing Michael Kubosh things, falls in between the two of them in fundraising action. He’ll be facing the same decision as well.

A person who turned it up several notches after a sedate second half of 2021 is CM Sallie Alcorn, who was a top fundraiser for her initial election and now seems to be preparing for her second race. Note that in recent years, the old “blackout” period for fundraising was eliminated, so incumbents can get a head start on building up their treasuries. Fewer of them have need to do that now, as about half of them are term-limited. Some of those term-limited folks will be leaving with a decent amount of cash in their kitties – I’m thinking Dave Martin, Robert Gallegos, and David Robinson. It’s not clear to me what if any office they might use those funds for in the future – maybe one of them has an eye on Controller – but they have them if they want them.

Not much else of note. Greg Travis is now filing state reports, so he’s been swapped out for Mary Nan Huffman, who still has a few bucks in her account. I did not find a report for Tiffany Thomas. I’ll do HISD and HCC next to finish this off. Let me know what you think.

Maybe suing to stop the vote count isn’t the best way to get the vote counted

Just a thought.

The Harris County Elections Division released the final, unofficial primary elections results early Thursday, following a GOP petition to impound the records which stopped vote counts hours earlier.

Citing malfunctions and a lack of testing of election machinery, Harris County Republicans alleged their party’s voters experienced irregularities that affected their vote count, according to the petition.

“For example, some voters were able to successfully submit their votes for the first page of their ballot but were unable to submit their votes for the second page of their ballot,” the petition, filed by Harris County Republican Party Chairman Cindy Siegel, states.

Republicans also alleged in the petition that improperly tested election machinery provided to them at various locations had issues with scanning ballots.

[…]

The petition, looking to impound the county’s elections records, was filed at 5:18 p.m. Wednesday, halting the vote count just before the 7 p.m. deadline.

Judge Ursula Hall of the 165th District Court denied the petition, according to court records, instructing Longoria to provide a status update at 11:30 p.m. and allowing the vote count to resume almost two hours after it had been stopped.

“At the time the petition was filed and the Central Count Board halted counting, Harris County Elections had tabulated approximately 99 percent of the ballots cast on Election Night,” Longoria said in an email Wednesday night.

I talked about some of this yesterday. Nearly all of the votes were counted by 1 PM on Wednesday. There were clearly some equipment issues, which caused problems with vote counting. We didn’t have those problems last November, though there were other issues that affected how long it took for results to be posted, so it would be good to understand why we had these problems this time around. I suspect that some of it was that there were voters using these machines for the first time, as the elections office mentioned. Turnout last November was 230K, while the combined Democratic and Republican turnout this week was over 340K. I suspect that there were a significant number of March voters who weren’t November voters – these are very different election contexts – so it may have been that there were a lot of newbies. If that is the case, then we really need to put a lot more resources into voter education, because we’re going to have more than twice that many people, maybe three times that many people, voting this November. Indeed, turnout in November 2018 was over 1.2 million, so that’s a hell of a lot more newbies. We need to get that ironed out, if it was a significant factor.

It’s also clear that the mail ballot issue was a problem, because it forced the elections office to spend a lot of time trying to contact voters whose ballots had been rejected, many of whom then had to trek to the office to fix them in person. The HCDP needs to work on that for its own voters, because that provision was aimed at us and it will take a chunk out of our vote total if we don’t do everything we can to minimize it. And I will say again, we deserve to have a full accounting of whose ballots and ballot applications got rejected along the way and what happened to them after.

Beyond that, to repeat what I said last November, we need to get some clear communication from the elections office about what did happen and why it happened and what they learned from it. I don’t put any faith in the Republican complaints – after the lawsuits some of them filed in 2020, they have zero credibility on these matters – but Commissioners Court can sure do their part to get some answers when the results are canvassed. There were some issues, from the new voting machines that many people hadn’t used before to the ridiculous mail ballot bullshit to some election judge shortages to various technical problems that can crop up. We have two low-key May elections, plus maybe a tiny June election (runoffs for the specials), and then a huge November election that really really really needs to run smoothly. The process to make that happen starts now.

Early voting for the 2022 primaries starts today

From the inbox:

Dear Voters,

Below please find the link to the March 1 Primary Digital Toolkit. This Toolkit is a resource you can use to prepare for the upcoming Primary Election. Early Voting in Harris County begins, Monday, February 14th.

Using the toolkit gives you access to a vault of information you can use to stay informed about the upcoming election. In the kit you will find educational videos, one-page handouts, the Early Voting location poster, and much more.

The contents of the toolkit are available in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, and Chinese. We ask that you use and share this information with your friends and neighbors. You can post the information to your social media pages.

If you have questions or concerns please feel free to reach out to us directly!

Happy Voting!

That link is here and it contains graphics with voting information in multiple languages, fact sheets, voter ID info, and more. More useful for less experienced voters, I’d say, but plenty of things to share and refer to if you want to help make people aware of what’s happening. The usual interactive map of polling locations where you can also see wait times is here, and the PDF of all locations with hours of operation is here. There are ninety total early voting locations, so there’s surely one near where you live or work.

Here are three more thoughts about the primaries as we get this party started:

1. We now have clear confirmation that there will be fewer people voting by mail this primary, as I had speculated. It still remains to be seen how this breaks down by party, and if there’s any reason to believe that people who might have voted otherwise were unable to do so. We’ll get some data on that first question when the day one EV totals are posted. Look for that as soon as I can get to it.

2. As I’m sure you remember, the dominant story of last year’s primaries was the ridiculously long lines for Democratic voters on Primary Day. All I can say right now is that I hope we learned from that experience and have taken the proper steps to prevent or at least minimize such issues this time around. We can’t say we didn’t think that could happen any more. The potential increase in in-person voting, as a result of the apparent decrease of mail voting, needs to factor into this as well.

3. This will be the first big election with the new voting machines and the printers everyone has to use to generate the paper ballots that will be collected for the count. When I voted in the 2021 election, I was basically by myself at the early voting location, so the fact that there was just one printer available was not an issue. That will not be the case this time around, so I very much hope that each location has at least two printers, if not more, both to prevent bottlenecks and provide backup in the event of a technical problem. Again, this is something we should have been able to see coming, so if we screw it up it will look that much worse.

For what it’s worth, I’m less concerned about election night reporting. Last November was a debacle, though the reasons behind it may have been a one off. The December runoff and the January special election had results reported promptly, so we’ve seen things work well since then. If nothing else, if something does go wrong, I really hope that Isabel Longoria has learned the lesson about the need to communicate clearly about what is happening, why it is happening, and what everyone can expect as a result. Again, once was a mistake and twice would be a habit. Let’s not get into any bad habits.

District G special election final early turnout

I’m going to start this post with some numbers, to provide context.


Election        Mail   Early   E-Day  Total  Mail%  Early%
==========================================================
May09 Dist H     647   1,259   2,280  4,186  33.9%   45.5%
May18 Dist K   1,737   1,867   1,531  5,135  41.2%   70.2%
Jan22 Dist G     157   4,102                  3.7%

In the comments to my previous post, I was reminded that there was another recent special City Council election, the one in 2018 to succeed the late CM Larry Green, which I had overlooked. You can see the totals for that and the 2009 District H special election above, with the reminder that the 2009 election was done before the Council lines were redrawn and Districts J and K were created. Now compare those to the District G special election totals. Looks a little different, don’t they?

“Mail%” above is the share of mail ballots in all early votes – in other words, it’s the “Mail” column” divided by the sum of the “Mail” and “Early” columns, with the latter representing early in person votes. “Early%” is the share of all pre-Election Day votes, so “Mail” plus “Early” divided by “Total”.

It’s hard to say exactly what is happening in District G, but it is very obvious that the share of mail ballots is way lower than we’d normally expect. Perhaps this won’t have much effect on final turnout, as the early in person number is pretty good in comparison. We’ll have to see what Tuesday brings to make a guess about that. For what it’s worth, final overall turnout as a percent of registered voters was 4.46% in H in 2009 and 6.01% in K in 2018. I don’t know how many RVs are in District G right now, but I do know that in November 2019 there were 129,611 of them. That means we’d need a final turnout of 5,780 to reach District H’s level, and 7,790 to get to District K. That would mean 1,521 or 3,531 total votes on Tuesday, respectively. The former should be easy, the latter might be a stretch, though again it depends on whether people who might have otherwise voted by mail are still voting in this race. I should also note that District G is normally a high-turnout place – 28.83% in 2019, second only to District C and its 30.01% mark. That figure was 19.76% in H and 23.85% in K for 2019, so just equaling the special election turnout mark for those districts here is not much of an accomplishment. Unless a lot of people show up tomorrow – which could happen! We don’t know! – then I’d have to call turnout for this race a bit underwhelming.

Just too many variables in play. Another thing to consider is how much money the candidates have had to spend to inform voters about the race and push them to the polls. The Friday Chron story about the last day of early voting touches on that.

The candidates are: Mary Nan Huffman, an attorney for the Houston Police Officers’ Union and former candidate for Harris County district attorney; Piper Madland, a community organizer and volunteer; Duke Millard, a lawyer and former federal prosecutor; Raul “Roy” Reyes Jr., a retired Houston Fire Department assistant chief; and Houshang “Hank” Taghizadeh — though only “Taghi” will appear on the ballot — who said he works in construction.

City elections officially are nonpartisan, but Huffman, Millard and Reyes are running as conservatives. Madland is progressive, and Taghi has not responded to Chronicle inquiries and does not appear to be actively campaigning.

The candidates have focused mostly on flooding and public safety as they campaign for the seat. Huffman has raised $50,000 for her bid and spent $35,600; Madland has raised $26,000 and spent $16,000; Millard has raised $2,600 and spent $9,400; and Reyes and Taghi do not appear to be raising money.

Not a whole lot of money in this race. I’d be interested to know, if you’re in District G, if you’ve had any contact from any of the candidates. There will almost certainly be more money in the runoff, and I’d bet turnout notches up a bit as well, as it did in H in 2009; Martha Castex-Tatum won District K outright in 2018, so no runoff there. There are 15 polling places open tomorrow, from 7 AM to 7 PM, and you can vote at any of them if you’re in the district. I’ll have results on Wednesday. Go vote, and vote for Piper Madland.

Nobody is voting by mail in the District G special election

Here’s the early voting report through Saturday for the District G special election. A total of 1,608 ballots have been cast in the first six days, of which 1,569 have been in person and thirty-nine (39) have been by mail. Yes, thirty-nine. That’s out of 260 total mail ballots that have been sent to voters who have requested them.

To put this in a bit of perspective, in the November 2021 election, the HISD District I race had the smallest number of mail ballots cast. In that election, 1,438 people voted by mail out of 9,480 total votes. That’s about fifteen percent of votes cast by mail – we’re at 2.4% mail ballots in this race so far. In the November 2019 District G election, there were 2,308 mail ballots cast out of 29,500 total. That’s a much smaller 7.8% of the total, but still more than three times the rate of what we’re seeing so far. Given the increase in voting by mail since 2020, it’s clear something is happening here.

As to what that is, you have to assume that voter suppression bill SB1 is largely to blame. People will vote by mail if it’s available to them, but with only 260 mail ballots being sent out, zero of which had been returned by the first day of early voting, it’s clearly not available to the vast majority of District G voters. The Harris County Elections Administrator’s office is not allowed to send ballot applications to eligible voters. The candidates are, but given the compressed timeline for this race and the likely lack of funds for them so far, I have to assume they haven’t done so. We don’t know how many, but we can assume that a larger than usual number of mail ballot applications are being rejected. The result speaks for itself.

I don’t want to overstate what is happening here. This is a weird election, and as noted it seems likely that none of the candidates has been sending VBM applications to people. That won’t be the case in the primaries or the 2022 general election, and the parties can send applications as well. It’s still shocking to see such low numbers. I should note that we have basically no data for city of Houston special elections – the last one we had was the May 2009 District H special election, which was pre-redistricting and for which there was a much longer lead-up – so I can’t begin to guess how this might affect turnout. A total of 4,141 people voted in that District H race, and we could easily exceed that here. Of course, G is a high-turnout district while H is not, and even with there being fewer districts in 2009 there are far more registered voters in G right now (over 129K in G in 2019 versus 93K in H in 2009), so just surpassing H’s raw total means nothing. Given all the weirdness of this election and the many factors that could be affecting it, who knows what effect what the lack of mail ballots might have. But surely there is some.

Law firm representing Spring Branch ISD withdraws from redistricting lawsuit

Interesting.

The law firm Thompson & Horton LLP has represented Spring Branch ISD in multiple legal matters since 2005.

While Thompson & Horton were originally representing SBISD in the Voting Rights Act lawsuit that Virginia Elizondo filed against the district and its trustees, the firm announced earlier this month that it would be withdrawing as counsel on the case.

“All I can really say is that Thompson & Horton requested to withdraw because we believe it to be in the best interest of the school district,” said lead attorney Chris Gilbert. “And that we believe the issues in the lawsuit are too important for the focus to be on who is legal counsel as opposed to the lawsuit itself.”

Gilbert would not give more details, citing attorney-client privilege.

The only statement from the district expressed similar ideas, saying, “On December 3, 2021, Thompson & Horton informed the Spring Branch ISD Board of Trustees of their desire to withdraw as counsel in Elizondo v. SBISD. Thompson & Horton believes this request is in the district’s best interests. The firm also believes the issues surrounding this lawsuit are very important and should be the focus of the community rather than who is legal counsel. SBISD is grateful to Thompson & Horton for their legal representation and their integrity in ensuring SBISD’s interests are best represented.”

As of Dec. 22, the district had not announced new counsel.

See here and here for some background. As the story notes, attorney Gilbert filed a response to the lawsuit on August 20, so whatever has come up to cause this change likely happened after that. I don’t want to speculate because I have no basis for it, but this feels a little weird to me. Maybe it’s nothing, maybe it has no practical effect even if it’s not nothing. Maybe we’ll find out more at a later date. For now, noting it for the record.

2021 runoff results

Here are the vote totals, and here’s an early Chron story which has the results right but was just before the last batch came in. To summarize:

– Sue Deigaard had the only easy night – she led by 30+ points early on and cruised to a 64-36 win.

– Bridget Wade had a modest early lead, which stretched out to a 54-46 win.

– The next closest race was in HCC, where Eva Loredo had a small lead all the way, eventually winning by five points.

– Elizabeth Santos held on by 41 votes, and unfortunately Kendall Baker finally managed to get elected to something, by 78 votes. It would not surprise me if there are recounts in either or both of these, though as we know, those seldom make any difference.

– The HISD board has Republicans on it again, for the first time since the 2017 election that put Deigaard and Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca on and gave Anne Sung a full term. Democrats now hold a 7-2 advantage on the board. I fully expect Wade and Baker to make trouble, but they’re not going to be able to get anything passed unless they can convince at least three other members to go along with them.

– So is this a portent of Bad Things to come for Democrats? Eh, maybe, but I wouldn’t read too much into it. These were pretty solidly Republican districts – as was Deigaard’s – before 2017, and both Sung and Vilaseca were caught up in the Abe Saavedra fiasco. For what it’s worth, Harvin Moore beat Anne Sung by a similar 53-47 margin in the 2013 race, while Mike Lunceford in V and Greg Meyers in VI were unopposed. In fact, the last election in District VI before 2017 that wasn’t unopposed was in 1997.

– Total turnout in the four HISD district was about 35K, which is right about where I thought it would be.

– Election results came in at normal times, with the first Election Day numbers coming in at 8:15 and the final tallies being posted three hours later. Isabel Longoria tweeted that it was a wrap at 11:27. I saw some concerns about slowness at the voting sites related to the processing of the paper receipt, but I think that can be ameliorated by having more scanners at voting locations for future, higher-turnout elections.

It’s 2021 Runoff Day

The interactive map of voting locations is here, and a list with addresses is here. I do believe that most of the votes for the runoff have already been cast, but I’ve been wrong before. I’ll have results tomorrow. Those of you in HISD district V (Sue Deigaard), VI (Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca), and VII (Anne Sung) really need to make sure you vote.

Final 2021 runoff early voting totals

The last day of early voting is always the busiest. (Well, other than the 2020 election, but you get the idea.)

Early voting for four Houston ISD board seats and local council races ended Tuesday with 21,732 ballots cast, according to unofficial county totals.

The final day of voting saw its largest turnout for in-person balloting, with 2,851 voters hitting the polls, about 1,200 more than the next highest one-day total.

Election day will be Saturday for the HISD seats, individual city council races for Bellaire and Missouri City, and a trustee race in the Houston Community College System that were forced into runoffs after none of the candidates in the contests secured at least half the vote during the Nov. 2 election.

Polls will be open Saturday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. To find your ballot, go to harrisvotes.com

You can see the final totals here. While the mail and in person totals were almost identical as of Saturday, there were about 5K in person votes cast on Sunday through Tuesday, but only a thousand mail ballots were returned. I thought we’d get to about 20K votes by Tuesday, so I was a bit pessimistic, but in the ballpark. My estimate from the weekend of 30-35K total votes overall may be a bit low as well, but I’m sticking with the idea that more than half of the votes have been cast already. Put the over/under at 35K, and we’ll see what happens. That would make turnout for the runoff about 75% of turnout from November for the affected districts. We’ll know by Sunday. Have you voted yet?

Kim Olson running for TDP Chair

Of interest.

Kim Olson

A retired Air Force colonel and former nominee for agriculture commissioner is running for chair of the Texas Democratic Party.

Kim Olson is the first major candidate to announce a challenge to the party’s current leader, Gilberto Hinojosa, who was elected nearly a decade ago. Party delegates will decide whether to retain Hinojosa at the Texas Democratic Convention next summer.

Olson said the party’s recent struggles, including a disappointing 2020 cycle, stem partly from what she called an overconcentration of resources in Austin and other urban centers.

The Mineral Wells resident who ran for Texas’ 24th Congressional District in the Dallas-Fort Worth area last year said her time on the campaign trail revealed the need for more investment in Democratic parties in smaller counties, along with the down-ballot candidates running in those areas.

“I have an understanding of what it’s like to be the customer, if you will, of the Texas Democratic Party as a candidate, and where we have gaps in some of our support for candidates and the infrastructure that’s out there for us,” Olson said.

I don’t have a strong opinion about this. I think Chair Hinojosa has done a pretty good job, but it’s not unreasonable to think that we could use a change and a new perspective. I agree with the need for more investment in smaller counties – mostly, as long as we’re generally talking about counties that are part of a metro area in some fashion, as I’ve talked about in my counties of interest series and other places – and in downballot races. But I also think we can’t let up on the gas in the big cities and suburbs, especially since we could have done better in a lot of deep blue State Rep districts in 2020 and 2018. I’m happy to have that discussion at the State Chair level, and I hope in the end whoever wins learns from the other. The Trib has more.

2021 runoff early voting report: Just checking in

I haven’t been following the daily early voting reports for the runoffs very closely. Only a small portion of the populace is voting, so comparisons to the November EV totals don’t mean anything. But we’re most of the way through the EV period, and I voted yesterday, so I thought I’d take a look. You can see the report through Saturday here. So far, about 15K votes have been cast, with an almost exact 50-50 split between mail ballots and in person ballots.

For what it’s worth, there were about 48K votes cast in the HISD districts that have runoffs. I’m not including the HCC 8 total as there’s overlap – I’m in both HISD I and HCC 8. Maybe we get to about 20K early votes by the end of the period on Tuesday – I’ll take a look after early voting ends. I would guess that in the end maybe 30-35K total votes are cast – I’d bet that early voting will be a significant majority, maybe two thirds of the final total. All of this is of course extremely back-of-the-envelope, but I feel reasonably comfortable saying that final runoff turnout won’t equal or surpass November turnout. At least, not cumulatively – it’s possible one of the districts could be running ahead. I’ll revise all of this when I see the final EV numbers.

One more thing – I voted at the West Gray multi-service center, which used to be my go-to place but isn’t now that there are places closer to my house, and since I don’t have a commute that takes me past there any more. This was the first time I’ve voted there without seeing a single candidate or campaign volunteer. That place is always jumping, so that felt very weird. Have you voted, and if so did you encounter anyone with a campaign?

We continue to register more voters

Seventeen million and counting.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas has surpassed 17 million registered voters for the first time, continuing a pace that is reshaping the state’s electorate so rapidly that even the politicians cannot keep up.

Despite a series of new election regulations from the Republican-led Legislature and more purges of inactive voters from the rolls, the state has added nearly 2 million voters in the last four years and more than 3.5 million since eight years ago, when Gov. Greg Abbott won his first term.

The result is at least 1 of every 5 voters in Texas never cast a ballot in the Lone Star State prior to 2014 — a remarkable wild card in a state that had stable politics and a slow stream of new voters for a generation before that.

“You have a largely new electorate that is unfamiliar with the trends and the personalities in the area,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a University of Houston political science professor. “That rapid turnover leads to a lot of uncertainty for candidates.”

Texas was just short of 17 million people eligible to vote in the constitutional amendment elections Nov. 2. Harris and Dallas counties combined to add nearly 12,000 more voters as Election Day approached, putting the state over the threshold.

It’s all setting up for a 2022 election cycle that is more competitive, more expensive and more uncertain than statewide candidates are used to seeing in Texas.

Just a reminder, these are the voter registration figures for Harris County since 2014:

2014 = 2,044,361
2016 = 2,182,980
2018 = 2,307,654
2020 = 2,431,457
2021 = 2,482,914

That’s 438K new voters in the county over those seven years. I’ve gone over these numbers before, but 2014 was the first two-year cycle in the 2000s that saw a real increase in the voter rolls. It makes a difference having a government in place that wants to increase voter participation. (And yes, as I have said multiple times before, I credit Mike Sullivan, in whose tenure these numbers started to increase, for his role in getting that started.)

But there’s a group that deserves a lot of credit, too.

Texas is unique in how it runs voter registration, barring non-Texas residents from volunteering to help people through the process. Even Texans can’t help fellow Texans register without first jumping through a series of hurdles or facing potential criminal charges.

Anyone in Texas who wants to help voters register must be trained and deputized by county election officials. But going through the one-hour course in Harris County allows volunteer registrars to sign up voters only in that county. To register voters in a neighboring county, they have to request to be deputized there as well and take that training course, too.

To be able to sign up any voter in the state, a volunteer registrar would need to be deputized in all 254 Texas counties — and those temporary certifications last only two years.

Consequently, voter registrations in Texas grew at a glacial pace before 2014. From 2000 to 2014, the state added just 1 million registered voters — about the number of voters Texas now adds every two years.

Those boots on the ground that [Michael] Adams, the Texas Southern University professor, mentioned began to arrive in 2014, when a group of campaign strategists from President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign launched an effort they called Battleground Texas to build an army of volunteer registrars.

“What we’re going to do is bring the fight to Texas and make it a battleground state so that anybody who wants to be our commander in chief, they have to fight for Texas,” the group’s co-founder, Jeremy Bird, said in a national interview with talk show host Stephen Colbert in 2013.

While pundits scoffed — especially after Abbott beat Democrat Wendy Davis by 20 percentage points in the 2014 gubernatorial election — Battleground Texas says it has identified and helped train 9,000 voter registrars across Texas to find eligible voters and sign them up.

It hasn’t gotten easier to register voters in Texas. There are just more people who are able to do it, and Battleground Texas deserves praise for that. Other groups have picked up the torch from there, and the results speak for themselves. We saw in the 2020 election that Republicans can register voters, too, so like all things this strategy needs to be refined and advanced by Democrats to continue making gains. Let’s keep moving forward.

Early voting starts today for the 2021 runoffs

You know the drill – It’s runoff time for the 2021 elections, and early voting starts today. There are nine early voting locations, which you will find in the various districts that have runoffs – HISD districts I, V, VI, and VII, and HCC district 3, as well as City Council races in Bellaire and Missouri City(*). Early voting runs from today through next Tuesday, December 7. Early voting hours will be from 7 AM to 7 PM each day, except for Sunday the 5th, when it will be 12 PM to 7 PM. You can vote in the runoff whether or not you voted in November, though of course you can only vote if you’re in one of those places.

The HISD runoffs are particularly important because there are some characters in those races that we really don’t want or need to have in positions of power. The race in District I, which is my district, is one where reasonable people may reasonably disagree on the better choice. The races in districts V, VI, and VII involve perfectly fine endorsed-by-the-Chronicle incumbents against people who are going to crusade against masks and “critical race theory” and a whole lot of other nonsense. District VI in particular features a perennial candidate who frankly got too damn many votes in November despite a documented history of sexual harassment, and as I have come to find out, credible allegations of domestic abuse following his divorce a couple of years ago. Vote for Sue Deigaard in V, for Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca in VI, and for Anne Sung in VII.

The race in HCC is also one where you can go either way; the Chron restated their endorsement of challenger Jharrett Bryantt over the weekend. Get out and vote, you have plenty of time to do so.

(*) Several non-HISD districts don’t have runoffs, as a plurality is enough.

Re-endorsement watch: This time it’s Anne

Time to start thinking about those HISD and HCC runoffs, kids. The Chron has started thinking about them, because they have issued their endorsements for the runoffs. Of the four HISD runoffs, three involve candidates they endorsed the first time around: Incumbents Sue Deigaard and Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca, and challenger Janette Garza Lindner. In the District VII race, the candidate they endorsed did not make it to the runoff, so they had to try again, and this time they went with the incumbent, Anne Sung.

Anne Sung

Now it comes down to incumbent Anne Sung, a 42-year-old, Harvard-educated, former award-winning HISD physics teacher, strong advocate for special education and truly experienced board member who unfortunately made some poor choices that dimmed our view of her performance. In 2018, she joined colleagues who met secretly with former Superintendent Abe Saavedra, which state officials say violated Texas’ open meetings law. Three days later she voted to swap Saavedra for interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan.

Sung apologized and said she only wanted Saavedra’s advice on state oversight issues and didn’t know of plans to hire him until moments before she voted for it. That excuse wasn’t quite sufficient. Still, incumbents only lose our endorsement when there’s a qualified replacement, and now we don’t believe there is one.

In the runoff, Sung faces Bridget Wade, 53, who touts her service as former Briargrove Elementary PTO president and carnival chair. She also sat on the Episcopal High School Board of Trustees.

In our interview with Wade, she talked about putting kids first and restoring integrity to the HISD board but she failed to articulate specific plans for doing so. Parroting phrases such as “best practices” and “school choice” offers little.

Far more concerning has been Wade’s willingness to pander to the right wing of the Republican Party, where she derives much of her support. She doesn’t just oppose HISD’s mask requirement, she dismisses it, without an ounce of introspection, as a “partisan political battle.”

It’s not a partisan act to implement policies that keep kids and teachers safe. It’s a partisan act not to. Communicable diseases are spread in the community and they’re fought the same way.

Last month, Wade cheered on some unmasked parents who became upset at having to wait to speak at a long meeting and began surrounding Superintendent Millard House II and shouting him down: “You do not walk away from us!” one yelled at him during a break. “You work for us!”

“Exactly right!” Wade responded on Twitter. “And the good woman who screamed that will know I work for you.”

Yelling and dysfunction are not the way. Not for parents. And not for HISD board members. We believe Sung understands that. She was never one of the disruptive voices and we believe she’s learned her lesson from the shenanigans of the past.

Her experience and dedication to HISD students speak for themselves. We urge voters to back Sung in the runoff for District VII.

See here, here, and here for the previous endorsements. As I said before, Sung is in a tough spot, as she trailed Wade on Election Day and doesn’t have nearly the campaign cash as the challenger. The district was also a Republican one in the pre-Trump days, though perhaps if the runoff voters see Wade as in the Trump mold that could help Sung. She has her work cut out for her. Early voting for the runoff starts Monday and runs through the following Tuesday, December 7. Get ready to vote again.

Runoffs will be on December 11

As is usually the case, the second Sunday in December for municipal and school board/community college runoffs.

Runoff elections will be held Dec. 11, the Harris County Elections Department announced Friday.

Four Houston ISD board seats, and individual council races for Bellaire and Missouri City, as well as a trustee race in the Houston Community College System will be decided in runoffs after none of those candidates won more than 50 percent of the votes cast.

Early voting is scheduled to begin Nov. 29 and end Dec. 7. Voters can cast ballots between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. during early voting, except for Dec. 5 when polls will be open from noon to 5 p.m.

Election day voting hours will run from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and permit individuals in line by the cutoff time to vote even if their ballot is not cast until later.

Elections officials said they must wait for a Nov. 8 deadline before completing a final canvass of results and officially announcing runoff races. Four of five open HISD board seats were forced into a runoff, per unofficial returns.

The runoffs include four HISD trustee races, one Houston Community College board seat, and a single city council race in Bellaire and Missouri City.

The HISD runoffs have the potential to bring significant change to the Board of Trustees, though I think in the end the effect is likely to be fairly small.

Three incumbents — Elizabeth Santos in District 1, Sue Deigaard in District 5, Holly Flynn Vilaseca in District 6 — all were the leading vote-getters in their races, but failed to garner at least 50 percent of the ballots cast. Trustee Anne Sung in District 7 finished about 4 percentage points, or 631 votes, behind challenger Bridget Wade in unofficial returns. Neither passed the 50 percent threshold.

The only HISD race decided by voters Tuesday was for District 9, where Trustee Myrna Guidry fended off two challengers with nearly 61 percent of the vote.

The outcome of the runoffs, which will be scheduled for next month, could alter the board just as the district has reached a sense of stability with new Superintendent Millard House II preparing a multi-year strategic plan and the district considering its first bond referendum in nearly a decade.

The district still faces a potential takeover threat by the Texas Education Agency, but that effort remains tied up in litigation.

Two paths led to runoffs, said Jasmine Jenkins, executive director of education nonprofit Houstonians For Great Public Schools.

First, she said, there have been national conversations led by conservatives to encourage people to run for local office, sometimes by playing to racial divides and appealing to grievances, such as those surrounding mask mandates to fight the spread of COVID-19.

At the same time, and more locally, Jenkins said there may be voters who are happy with the district’s direction and current stability but wary of any board members “steeped in the dysfunction of years past.”

[…]

“I am still cautiously optimistic about what is to come no matter what the results of the runoffs are,” Jenkins said. “I am hopeful not just for stability and improved governance, but I am hopeful that the bold ideas of a new superintendent will be really supported and will be given shape by the vision and direction that the board gives him.”

I’m the least worried about Sue Deigaard, who came very close to getting fifty percent. Elizabeth Santos is in a similar position as she was going into the 2017 runoff, except this time she’s facing a Latina instead of an Anglo opponent. I think she’s a favorite to win again, but it’s not a sure thing. This is the one race where the ideology of the Board member won’t change that much either way, at least on the current hot button issues like masking and whatever the “critical race theory” debate is supposed to be about.

I think Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca is also the favorite to win in District VI, mostly because her opponent is a clueless perennial candidate, but the margin in round one was a lot closer than I would have liked. She’s going to need to work it to win, and I really hope she does because Kendall Baker would be a disaster on the Board. As for Anne Sung, she’s clearly in trouble. Running behind a candidate who has more money than you is never a good spot to be in. This is the one race in which the Chron will have to redo their endorsement, and I’ll be very interested to see if they care more about Bridget Wade’s opinions on those hot button issues or the quality of Anne Sung’s apology in the Saavedra/Lathan open meetings fiasco. They either overlooked or didn’t notice the “critical race theory” issue with their initial endorsement, so we’ll see.

As for HCC, we’re stuck with Dave Wilson again sigh but at least the runoff in District 8 between incumbent Eva Loredo and challenger Jharrett Bryantt isn’t a threat to the board’s functioning. Please remember that these elections are as important as the November elections, and make a plan to vote if you live in one of these districts.

So what happened with election night reporting this time?

The Chron turns its attention to how long it took for election results to get posted on Tuesday night.


Since last year, Harris County has purchased a new fleet of voting machines, created a new elections administration office and hired a new executive to run it.

Why then, many residents wondered, did Tuesday’s low-turnout election see the same delays in vote counting that plagued the county in the past?

By 1 a.m. Wednesday morning, just 60 percent of votes had been tallied for the ballot, which included state constitutional amendments, school board races and a handful of municipal contests. The county elections administrator’s office did not publish the final unofficial tally until 8:30 a.m., 13 ½ hours after the polls closed.

Election Administrator Isabel Longoria blamed the delay on an “extremely unlikely” glitch in the backup power supply at the vote count headquarters at occurred around 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon. That triggered a warning on the new voting system, which is sensitive to anything that may resemble a cyberattack, though it is not connected to the internet.

Longoria ordered a test of the system, which took about two hours and delayed the counting of ballots cast during the early vote period, which under Texas law cannot be counted until Election Day. That, in turn, caused delays when election judges began returning Election Day ballot boxes after polls closed at 7 p.m., she said.

“I get that it’s frustrating … but when you trip your new system, you want to be thorough,” Longoria said. “That’s the most responsible thing to do as an elections administrator, so there are no questions later about why you did not stop when you had the chance to double-check.”

Longoria said she does not anticipate the issue in future elections. Higher-turnout contests are no more difficult, she said, since they have the same number of polling places and memory cards that must be processed.

[…]

Tuesday’s delays were unacceptable to Republican Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle, who last year opposed the creation of an independent elections office and the hiring of Longoria as its first leader. Cagle said Wednesday the county should revert to the old model, in which the county clerk oversees elections and the county tax assessor-collector maintains the voter roll.

“We have an unelected bureaucrat who was appointed by three members of Commissioners Court,” Cagle said. “There’s no accountability to the public.”

Commissioners Court last year created the election administration office on a party-line vote. Longoria was hired by a committee that included Hidalgo, the county party chairs, tax assessor and county clerk.

Cagle said the three Democratic members of the court, County Judge Lina Hidalgo and commissioners Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia, bear responsibility for ensuring Wednesday’s delays do not happen again.

Marc Campos, a longtime Houston Democratic strategist, wrote on his blog Wednesday morning that he “expect(ed) outrage” out of the trio.

“This is not about every election watch party that was ruined last night across Harris County,” Campos wrote on his blog. “This is about botching the reporting of election results and the Harris County Elections Administrator’s Office folk’s epic failure.”

Hidalgo said in a statement that while running elections is never easy, the county needs to identify any issues with Tuesday’s elections and correct them for the future. Ellis echoed that sentiment, saying he trusted that Longoria’s team acted in the interests of security and accuracy.

Garcia said the elections office needs to improve communication with the public and anticipate problems before they occur.

“Not getting timely results is unfair to voters and the candidates, and I expect this will be a one-time glitch rather than a continuance of the reputation Harris County earned when elections were run by Republicans like Stan Stanart,” Garcia said in a statement.

See here and here for the background. I’m going to bullet point this one.

– Just as a reminder, the elections administrator idea was first put forward by Ed Emmett back in 2010. Most counties in Texas have them now. Harris was very much an outlier with its Tax Assessor/County Clerk approach to handling voter registration and running elections. Harris County followed state law in creating the position and putting oversight on it.

– The first thing we need is a clear and publicly-available explanation of what exactly happened, why it happened (if we can determine that), and what we are doing to prevent it from happening again. Was the complete reboot necessary, or could that have been skipped? That glitch in the backup power supply may have been extremely unlikely, but given that it did happen, will there be some further mitigation built in to the system now?

This is basic stuff, and speaking as someone who has worked for a big company for a long time, it’s a good way to learn from experience and maintain confidence in one’s own processes. Campos worries that this episode will cause voters to question the capability of Democrats to govern Harris County. Transparency about what happened and what is being done about it is the best antidote for that.

– Something that Commissioner Garcia mentioned but has otherwise been overlooked is that there was inadequate communication from the Elections Administrator’s office on Tuesday night, while we were all waiting for the results. There was the “go watch the Astros” tweet and a couple of Facebook Live videos on the Harris Votes Facebook page, but I went to bed Tuesday night not really knowing what was happening, and I believe that was true for a lot of people. That’s a failure on Isabel Longoria’s part, and I believe it has contributed to the continuing criticism.

People have a reasonable expectation to see at least the early voting results at 7 PM or shortly thereafter. When that doesn’t happen, for whatever the reason, there has to be a clear and easy to find explanation for it. A message on the HarrisVotes website and at the top of the Election Day results page would have sufficed. I looked to Twitter because that’s usually where the breaking news is, but there was nothing to really answer my questions. Maybe those Facebook Live videos would have told me what I wanted to know, but who wants to sit through a video like that when a couple of lines of text that can be readily shared elsewhere will do? I’m sure the Elections office was busy trying to work through the problems so they could get the results out, but they really needed to be letting the rest of us know what was going on and when we might expect an update of the situation. It was the lack of relevant information that made the Tuesday night experience as frustrating as it was. That’s an error that cannot happen again.

– Also, why was there a location that was still voting at 8 PM? What happened there? That needs to be explained as well.

We need to know what happened. We should have known more on Tuesday night, but regardless of that we need to know it now. I hope that process has begun with the Commissioners Court meeting from yesterday. It won’t be done until I can find and link to a report about it.

More on the November 2021 election results

Here’s the Chron story on the Tuesday election results. It is mostly a straight recording of the individual races, including those I covered yesterday and others that I didn’t. Of the most interest to me is this:

Results were delayed until late Tuesday, in part because of a reported power outage at Harris County Elections’ counting center. Early and absentee totals were not available until after 10 p.m.,

“The machines are sensitive to any interference, so to ensure the integrity of the computers we conducted a full logic and accuracy test, which takes about two hours,” according to a Facebook post by the county’s elections administration office. “Though we want to get the results out quickly, we prioritize processing everything accurately even if it takes some extra time.”

The post said judges were dropping off equipment at the central counting location at that time.

People still were voting at 8 p.m., about an hour after polls closed, at one poll location, Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria tweeted.

“Standby, watch the Astros, and we’ll catch you soon,” Longoria said in the Tweet.

The Astros advice probably didn’t help anyone’s mood, but that’s hindsight. The Facebook post in question, which contains video of Longoria explaining what is happening, is here – there are more vids further up the page as well. Campos was furious, called it a “botched” night and an “epic failure”, and expects “outrage” from Commissioners Court. Stace was more measured, saying “these glitches give the County a chance to fix things so we can avoid them when everyone shows up next November”. I lean more in that direction, but I get the frustration – I wore myself out hitting Refresh on Tuesday – and there are a lot of questions to be asked and answered. I will be interested to see how the Court reacts.

Longoria also had this to say, on Twitter:

The line about jail voting refers to this. Not sure where she’s getting the 12% turnout figure from – going by the Election Day totals posted, there were 227,789 votes cast out of 2,482,914 registered voters, for 9.17% turnout. Still, that’s a significant increase from 2017, which had 150,174 ballots cast out of 2,233,533 voters, for 6.72% turnout. That’s a 52% increase in voters, or a 36% increase in turnout as a percentage of registered voters, in a year where there was nothing sexy on the ballot. What gives?

It could be an effect of a more energized Republican base, going to the polls to express their feelings about President Biden. I don’t know that the Constitutional amendments were a great vehicle for that, but maybe the school board races were. Conservative challengers are in runoffs in three races, so maybe that had something to do with it. Here’s a comparison of turnout from 2017 to 2021:


Year  Dist   Votes  Voters  Turnout
===================================
2017     I   9,784  78,479   12.47%
2021     I  10,108  87,671   11.53%

2017     V  12,431  85,309   14.57%
2021     V  17,153  89,123   19.25%

2017    VI   7,399  73,575   10.06%
2021    VI   8,972  77,508   11.58%

2017   VII  12,219  89,177   13.70%
2021   VII  15,596  99,824   15.62%

2017    IX   8,622  84,185   10.24%
2021    IX   8,935  90,067    9.32%

On the one hand, the two races that didn’t prominently feature conservative candidates actually had less turnout (at least percentage-wise) than they did in 2017. On the other hand, outside of the District V race, the increase wasn’t that much. In District VI, it was a jump of 21% in total voters, and 15% in turnout of RVs, and in District VII, it was 27% for voters and 14% for turnout of RVs. Not nothing, but much less than Harris County as a whole. Even District V, at a 38% increase in voters and 32% increase in turnout of RVs, was below the county level.

So who knows? Final turnout was definitely higher than I thought it would be, and in the end it was still the case that almost exactly half of the vote came in on Election Day. Again, more than I thought it would be but still a big step down from 2017, when 59% of the vote was on E-Day. Given the huge turnout in 2020, it may be the case that there are just now more habitual voters. If that’s so, we’ll see some of that effect in 2022 and especially 2023, when the open Mayoral race will also drive people to the polls. I don’t think there are any big conclusions to draw here, but let’s put a pin in this and see what we think a couple of years down the line.

Election Day 2021

You know what to do.

Find a voting location in Harris County near you here. You can vote at any location. If you prefer a list, here you go. I suspect that if you’re reading this, you’ve probably already voted or have a plan to do so today, but you never know. I’ll post results tomorrow.

The culture wars always come for the school boards

Everything old is new again.

Across Texas this year, school board meetings have burst into heated ideological fights over mask mandates, vaccines, and lessons on racism labeled as “critical race theory,” bringing a new level of rancor to volunteer boards chosen in nonpartisan elections.

Just north of Houston, Ginger Russell took a turn at the mic in July at a Conroe ISD school board meeting. Before she started on her speech, she said it “wouldn’t be loving to you” to not tell the previous speaker he was living in sin as a gay person.

She turned from there to critical race theory, saying the superintendent was lying when he denied that the district teaches it. She described the district’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts as “Marxism.”

Russell is not a parent of a child in the district. She homeschooled her two daughters years earlier. A right-leaning Montgomery County online publication that has has promoted her speeches at Conroe ISD meetings throughout this year described Russell as “a conservative Republican political leader.”

In late August, high emotions were in evidence when trustees of the Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City Independent School District in northeast San Antonio met to decide whether masks should be mandatory or optional in schools.

As they debated, trustees were heckled by members of the audience, some of whom were removed by security officers after ignoring warnings not to interrupt the discussion.

“I think we’ve lost some civility here. This has become so contentious and so polarizing in this district, it’s crazy,” said trustee Robert Westbrook, who joined a 6-1 majority that voted to make masks optional.

[…]

“We certainly have seen the board room becoming kind of the center of the culture wars, right?” said Dax Gonzalez, spokesperson for the Texas Association of School Boards. “Really just a lot of really hyperbolic discussion, not even discussion just hyperbolic accusations and statements are being made. What’s funny is that behavior we wouldn’t tolerate in the classroom is now happening in the board room.”

The newfound politicization and hostility of school boards seems to be an extension of heightened polarization over the last decade in the federal government and state governments. Even on a personal level, recent research suggests Americans are more unwilling than in the past to date those who do not share their political beliefs.

National groups such as the 1776 Project are raising money to organize conservatives against lessons labeled as critical race theory in school districts, and Turning Point USA is maintaining a “school board watchlist” to fight against “leftist indoctrination.” Included on the list are Forth Worth and Houston ISDs.

Across Texas, conservative Facebook groups and blogs are cropping up for school board issues. Local parties have weighed in, such as when the Travis County GOP accused Round Rock ISD of violating the Open Meetings Act after a contentious board meeting. And in El Paso, local groups have paid for activists to travel around to different board meetings to speak out against critical race theory, often in vitriolic and angry terms, Spectrum News reported.

Conservative activists have been targeting school boards, for electoral takeover and other chaos, since at least the 70s and probably well before that. I’m old enough to have attended a talk by some progressive activist speaker in the 90s about the conservative “stealth” candidates running for and winning school board seats around the country, as part of a larger effort to build a bench for higher offices. I’m not trying to dismiss or minimize any of this, just noting that it’s a tale as old as time. The particulars of what is being shouted about this time are different, and the threats of violence are more credible and fearsome (mostly because there are so many more guns out there), but the basics are the same. I think the best things we can do in response are take the threats seriously and support efforts to hold miscreants accountable, and to be engaged with and participate in every election. We still have the electoral advantage in a lot of these places, we need to make sure we use it.

November 2021 final early voting totals

A busy final day, and a significant uptick in early votes over 2017.

Friday was the last day to vote early in the 2021 school board and state constitutional amendment elections with early numbers showing an uptick in turnout in Harris County compared with four years ago.

County election data shows the estimated total of those voting early in person as of Friday night to be 63,358 compared with the 46,224 in-person ballots cast in 2017, a 37 percent increase. Mail-in ballots also jumped in this early election period with tentative numbers showing 47,243 ballots cast compared with the 12,205 counted in 2017, almost a four-fold jump. .

Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria said extended hours of operation, drive-thru voting and five 24-hour polling places helped boost election access for voters. On Thursday, polls that were open until 10 p.m. also saw increased activity.

“Voting until 10 p.m., we see from the stats last night, worked. People still came out to vote,” Longoria said of voters taking advantage of the longer hours. “We’re seeing that we just surpassed the 2017 in-person voting, which is amazing. When you help people remove those barriers — even something as small as having to print a form online — people go and vote, even in these ‘off-year’ elections.”

The final early voting report is here, and you can compare to the final 2017 EV report here. Overall, 110,601 people have voted in this election. That’s nearly double the total for the same period in 2017, with mail ballots being the biggest difference maker. It was only on the last day, when nearly 18K people voted in person, that the in person total surpassed the mail ballot total. Of those 63,258 in person voters, 3,100 used drive-through voting. Six hundred and eleven voted during the extended hours, including overnight voting.

How is that likely to affect final turnout? Compared to 2017, when 150,174 people voted in total. Based on past history, we’d expect turnout of over 200K, given that in the past most people voted on Election Day in even-numbered years. I strongly suspect that a much larger fraction of the voters have already shown up, thanks in part to the surge in mail voting, and in part to the increase in early voting from 2020. I’m betting that just as elections that came after 2008, the first time we ever had more than half the votes cast early, we’ll see a bump in early voting for other elections as well. By the way, that surge in mail ballots is due in part to the Elections office sending a mail ballot application to every eligible voter. Which they’ll not be able to do again because of the voter suppression bill that was passed by the Lege. I’m sure we all feel so much safer now. Anyway, I’m going to take a wild guess and say that about 2/3 of the vote has already been cast, which means I figure final turnout will be in the 160-170K range. That’s a notch up from 2017, but we also have more registered voters. The number to look for is turnout as a percentage of registered voters, which was 6.72% in 2017. My guess is we’ll still be pretty close to that. But we’ll see! Have you voted yet?

8 day campaign finance reports: HISD

I don’t often go to the 8-day finance reports, mostly because there’s too little time to squeeze everything in, but HISD is the main story this year, so let’s have a look. The 30-day report summaries can be found here, and the July reports are here.

Elizabeth Santos, District I
Janette Garza Lindner, District I
Matias Kopinsky, District I

Sue Deigaard, District V
Maria Benzon, District V
Caroline Walter, District V

Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca, District VI
Kendall Baker, District VI
Greg Degeyter, District VI

Anne Sung, District VII
Bridget Wade, District VII
Dwight Jefferson, District VII
Mac Walker, District VII

Myrna Guidry, District IX
Gerry Monroe, District IX
Joshua Rosales, District IX


Dist  Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
==========================================================
I     Santos        16,677     25,640        0       6,565
I     Lindner       29,530     46,115        0      44,217
I     Kopinsky       4,225      6,087        0       2,523
V     Deigaard      20,560     14,077        0      47,097
V     Benzon         3,161      2,587        0       5,344
V     Walter         2,050      9,953        0         633
VI    Vilaseca      13,345     40,716        0      39,403
VI    Baker          5,150      1,553        0       1,765
VI    Degeyter       1,616      5,688    5,781         212
VII   Sung          21,872     58,920        0       3,358
VII   Wade          36,256    110,643    7,000      89,071
VII   Jefferson      9,200      9,080        0         119
VII   Walker        
IX    Guidry         5,555      5,550    7,500       5,000
IX    Monroe        11,406      1,247        0      10,159
IX    Rosales        6,150      7,975    2,177         352

All of the finance reports for each candidate can be found here. There was not an 8-day report listed for Mac Walker, so the link for him is to his 30-day report.

The 8-day is generally where you start to see more money being spent than raised. There’s less time to raise it – barely three weeks since the previous report – and now is the time to send mail, do robocalls, run ads, pay canvassers if that’s your thing, and so forth.

I’m not surprised that Bridget Wade is the top spender here, given that she was the big fundraiser from the jump. She has TV ads running – I saw one during “Monday Night Football” this week. Not necessarily the best use of campaign money, given that plenty of people who are not in District VII (such as myself) will see the ad, and not all of those who are in District VII will make the connection, but the first job of any campaign is to make sure people know there’s an election and that this candidate is running in it. A TV ad checks those boxes, and as a bonus you may get other people to talk about it. Mission accomplished. Her report shows $50K for a cable TV buy, plus another $10K for radio. Anne Sung has put the bulk of her spending – over $46K – into mail, plus $3K for digital ads.

Here in District I, I’ve gotten a ton of mail from both the Santos and Garza Lindner campaigns; I’ve also been stalked on the web by Santos online ads. The Santos campaign has had canvassers out in the neighborhood – we got door-knocked on Wednesday – which led Campos (who consults for the Garza Lindner campaign) to grouse about PAC money being spent, in this race and in others, with little disclosure about how the funds are being spent and who it is that is doing the spending. This is the report he’s talking about – the PAC in question is Patriot Majority Texas, funded by the American Federation of Teachers, and in support of trustees Santos, Vilseca, and Sung. Indeed, it does not tell you much. Sung is getting more than Santos – given her opponent, Sung needs all the help she can get – with Vilaseca getting considerably less. Make of it what you will.

Both Gerry Monroe ($10K) and Dwight Jefferson ($17K) had outstanding loan totals listed for their 30 day reports. Neither reported any such total on the 8 day report, and I don’t see how either of them could have been paid off. The omission is probably an oversight on their part. Finance reports are weird, man.

Not much else to say. What campaign activity have you observed in your district?

2021 Day Seven EV report: After the weekend

Let’s get right to it: These are the early voting totals for the 2021 election after Sunday:

Mail ballots: 36,517
In person: 19,901

You can see the full Day Seven report here. The “voters by type” breakdown on the last page only goes through Saturday, so I don’t have the most up to date numbers on drive through voting, but it’s a pretty small fraction of the total.

The thing that I noticed when I looked at the numbers was that Saturday was not the biggest day of in person voting, as I had expected it to be. My first thought was that this was an outlier, and that there had to be some reason for it that I would need to speculate on. Turns out, this is the new normal, at least for odd-numbered years. Look at the EV daily totals for 2019, 2017, 2015, and a few elections before then, and you’ll see that Saturday is a good day for turnout, but generally only the second best day. It’s the Friday that leads the pack, and that has been true for odd-numbered years going all the way back to 2009, the last year in which Saturday led the first week’s totals.

Odd years continue to be unlike the even-numbered years in that early voting is a much smaller piece of the pie. I consider the year 2008 to be an inflection point in voter behavior, in that it was the first year of any in which more than half of the total vote was cast before Election Day. That very much persists in even-year races, with nearly 88% of the vote in 2020 being cast early. Looking at previous Presidential years, 2016 followed this year’s pattern of Saturday not being the biggest day of the first week, but in 2012 and 2008 Saturday led the way. 2020 was a different kind of outlier because of the extra week of early voting and the supercharged early energy, but there you can see that there was a significant dropoff on Saturday after that frenzied first week.

So what has happened? Two things, I would guess. One is just that we are all used to voting early, even those of us who persist in waiting until Election Day. And two, because early voting is such a part of the fabric now, it’s more common for people to do it as part of their workday routine. I have voted during my lunch hour most years, and I think that’s pretty common. Whatever the reason, Saturday is not the huge narrative-setting day that it used to be in the EV process.

The rest of this week, if previous patterns hold, will wind up exceeding the first five days. I kind of think that won’t be the case, because of the large number of mail ballots, but we’ll see. In any event, the norm is for the first two to four days of this week to be similar to last week, with Friday being the biggest day of the whole period. I don’t know if that’s what we’ll get this time, but we’ll see. Have you voted yet?

Chron overview of the HISD Trustee elections

There is an election, with candidates, and they all deserve a paragraph and maybe a quote if they’re lucky so you can sort it all out and know how to vote.

Five seats on the Houston ISD Board of Education will be decided Nov. 2, potentially altering the shape of the nine-member board as the district finds a sense of stability with its first permanent superintendent in years but remains under threat of a state takeover.

Sixteen individuals, including the incumbents, are vying for the seats representing Districts 1, 5, 6, 7 and 9.

Several candidates pointed to the potential state takeover and previous board dysfunction as reasons that prompted them to seek office. Meanwhile, several incumbents noted recent progress and momentum with Superintendent Millard House II, who started in July and is working on a strategic plan for the district, as reason they wished to remain in their roles.

The board has changed in the two years since its infighting was laid bare by a video of a meeting for training on how to govern. Within the last five months, for instance, current trustees have unanimously hired House, expressed support for his decision to implement a mask mandate in defiance of a gubernatorial executive order, and approved a bigger-than-expected pay raise for teachers.

You can read the rest, or you can listen to my interviews with the candidates (you can see a full list of them in this post), or go back and read all the Chron endorsements, which give more than one paragraph to at least one of the candidates in each. And with all that, I do hope they have a similar piece about the HCC Trustee races. Even one paragraph is better than nothing.

2021 Day Five EV report: A one week checkin

One work week, anyway. Here are the vote totals after five days of early voting. The first thing to notice is that about 70% of the votes cast so far have been by mail:

Mail ballots = 36,517
Early in person = 14,635
Drive-thru = 755

I note that the graphical breakdown of votes by type has one less vote by mail that the table totals do, no doubt an editing error. Whatever the case, there were nearly 52K votes cast through Friday, in an election with no major headliner to bring the people out. In 2017, there were 58,429 total votes cast as of the end of early voting. We’ll likely surpass than by Tuesday. That doesn’t mean we will have wildly higher turnout this year than we did in 2017. In 2017, about 59% of all votes were cast on Election Day. I suspect we will have a higher percentage of early votes this time, quite possibly because of the sharp increase in voting by mail. There are also more registered voters now that there were in 2017 – 2,233,533 in 2017, 2,431,457 in 2020, I don’t know exactly how many now but surely no less than that. More total voters may still be lower turnout as a percentage of RVs.

So that’s where we are now. I’ll do another update either Monday or Tuesday with the weekend numbers, and then again on Sunday with the final EV totals. We can make our guesses about where things will end up then. Have you voted yet? I did, and I like the new machines – the touch interface was simple and easy to use, and the paper receipt was cool, though perhaps it will be a bit of a bottleneck when we have a higher turnout election. What did you think?

Elections of interest elsewhere in Texas

Early voting has started for the special election runoff in HD118.

Frank Ramirez

Early voting began Monday in San Antonio to see who will replace former state Rep. Leo Pacheco, a two-term Democrat who resigned from Texas’ 118th district in August to teach public administration at San Antonio College.

The special election to replace Pacheco has produced two runoff candidates who continue to campaign against each other ahead of election day on Nov. 2, Democrat Frank Ramirez and Republican John Lujan.

Ramirez told the Signal he’s running to represent the community he grew up in and bring more infrastructure and education dollars to the region.

“I’m from the district through and through,” Ramirez said. “I grew up in the southside of San Antonio and I went to elementary, middle, and high school in the Harlandale Independent School District.”

After graduating from the University of Texas in 2016, Ramirez served as the chief of staff and legislative director to former state Rep. Tomas Uresti, a Democrat who briefly occupied the seat for one term during the 2017 session, the infamous bathroom bill session.

“Recognizing that our state has a lot of work to do to catch up educationally, to catch up in terms of business and property taxes and infrastructure. That was the motivating factor for me,” Ramirez said of running.

“And even though I saw a lot of bad things happen in the 2017 session, we also saw a number of good things happen,” Ramirez said. “85% of the bills that are filled in the Texas House of Representatives are bills that fit within the scope of an individual’s districts, and they’re doing good for as many Texans as possible.”

Ramirez then spent almost four years serving as the zoning and planning director of San Antonio City Councilwoman Ana Sandoval before departing in August to run for district 118.

The south San Antonio district has traditionally voted for Democrats. In 2020, Pacheco defeated his Republican opponent by almost 17 percentage points, a similar margin to Pacheco’s 2018 victory over Republican John Lujan.

I’ve covered this before, and there’s not much to add. It would be very nice to win this race, if only because the discourse that would follow a loss will be annoying as hell. It will still be the case that the outcome will have basically no effect on anything the Lege does at this point, even if there is another special session, and it will also be the case that the incumbent will have to run in a more normal environment next year in a district that still leans Democratic; it was made less Democratic by redistricting, but the trends remain in Dems’ favor. Frank Ramirez would become the youngest member of the House if he wins, and that’s cool.

Meanwhile, in Austin, there’s a contentious ballot proposition to deal with.

Early voting for the November 2021 election starts Monday and there are two Austin propositions on the ballot.

The most controversial is Proposition A. If approved by voters, it would increase Austin police staffing to two officers per 1,000 citizens, increase yearly training and increase minority hiring and community engagement.

The City said it would cost between $54.3 million and $119.8 million per year for the next five years, which is added on top of the department’s budget of $443 million city council approved for this fiscal year.

The Austin firefighter and Austin-Travis County EMS unions, as well as the local American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employee Voting are against Prop A.

“This unfunded mandate that is on the ballot will cause severe layoffs, and it will also put a burden on the taxpayers,” said AFSCME Business Manager Carol Guthrie.

On the other side, the driving force behind Prop A, Save Austin Now, said the city has enough money to implement the initiative without hurting other departments.

“We know we need 300 to 350 more,” said president of Save Austin Now Matt Mackowiak.” We don’t believe that will happen in one year, but we should try.”

Mackowiak is either the current or a recent past Chair of the Travis County Republican Party (I can’t remember and I’m too lazy to look it up), and if you follow Scott Braddock on Twitter, you know he’s also a thin-skinned twerp. Prop A is yet another response to the recent actions by the Austin City Council to try to effect some modest reforms on policing and their police budget, and as with the Legislature it’s over the top and would hamstring the city’s budget for the foreseeable future. See these posts from Grits for Breakfast and this one from Keep Austin Wonky that cast doubt on the pro-Prop A cost estimates. I probably don’t have to tell those of you who live in Austin and read this blog to vote against Prop A, but I’m going to anyway. KUT has more.

2021 Day One EV report: Everyone likes voting by mail

Lots of mail ballots have been cast so far. Much more than any other kind.

Early voting began Monday for a handful of area school board and municipal races, state constitutional amendments and hundreds of millions of dollars in school district and municipal utility bonds.

Mail-in voting skyrocketed in Harris County with elections officials tallying 29,005 ballots on Monday compared to 5,335 on the first day of the 2017 election—the last comparable election.

Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria said county’s mailing of ballot applications to eligible voters over 65 contributed to the increase, a 444 percent jump compared to 2017— the last comparable election.

According to elections officials, 2,643 ballots were cast Monday in early in-person voting. By comparison, Monday’s total is three percent lower than the total first day of in-person voting in 2017.

Longoria said the decrease can be attributed to the items Houston had to vote on in that election which pulled more voters to the polls.

“From my perspective, basically, the same number of voters without the pull of city of Houston is a pretty good start,” Longoria said.

I’ve got the Day One totals here. I’m probably just going to do a couple of these updates, since the day to day activity is likely to be minimal, but I can tell you that 29K mail ballots is more than double the total number received in 2017, and almost as many as were cast in the much-higher turnout 2015 election. Some of this is the sending of ballot applications to all of the over-65 folks in the county (last time we’ll be doing that, thank you Greg Abbott very much) and some of it is just that more people have been voting by mail in recent elections and they like it. There will come a day, I just know it, when we will look back at what the Legislature did to voting rights this year, and wonder what the hell they were thinking.

As far as final turnout goes, we look back to 2017, the last (and so far only other) election that did not have city races. Final turnout was about 101K, with about 149K total votes in Harris County. There were some city bond issues on the ballot that year, which probably drove a bit of turnout. I’d put the early over/under line at that level, but I won’t be surprised if we fail to get there.

This is also our first election with new voting machines:

This election is the debut of new paper ballot machines that the county bought , Longoria added.

“The machines are running well,” she said. “What we are hearing is voters appreciate being able to see the result of how they voted and then to turn that vote into the ballot box.”

Yes, this expectedly low-turnout election is the shakedown cruise for the new machines. I’ll post my review of them when I go vote later in the week, but if you’ve already done your thing please let us know what you think of them.

One more thing, because this is cool:

You can see that on the last page of the EV report I linked to above. You want to know where the actual voters are coming from, and at what time of day, this is for you. I like it.

Endorsement watch: Wrapping it up

The Chron counsels a Yes vote on Prop 2.

For 30 years, the Texas Constitution has allowed the Legislature to authorize cities to issue bonds to raise needed funds to more quickly build roads, bridges and other vital infrastructure. On Nov. 2, and in early voting that begins Monday, voters can give counties that same authority.

We recommend that they do so by voting yes on Prop 2.

Counties, just like cities, need all the tools available to keep up with the basic needs of residents. In places such as Harris County, with more than 2 million residents living in unincorporated areas, this is not just a good idea but an urgent necessity.

Issuing bonds means taking out large loans secured by promises to use a portion of future property tax revenues to repay them — usually at low interest rates and over decades. Doing so means residents’ daily lives are improved right away rather than years later.

This is especially important here. By 2050, the population of the Houston area is expected to double. Just imagine how much more time you will spend staring at the rear fender of the car in front of you on the 610 Loop in 30 years if the county doesn’t continue investing in mobility solutions, from mass transit to smarter highways, better roads and safer and more plentiful bike lanes.

Harris County has dozens of infrastructure projects on its wishlist, from highway to transit to bike trails. Building those projects would increase nearby property values and add new properties to the tax rolls as well. That new revenue would repay the bonds and ease pressure to raise tax rates.

The Chron had earlier recommended a No vote on Prop 3, and unless they have some late endorsements sitting around, that’s all we’ll get from them on the Constitutional amendments. As noted before, the guidance from Progress Texas is a No on 3, 4, and 5, and a Yes on the others. The H-Town Progressive podcast differs slightly, recommending a slightly qualified Yes on 4 but concurring with the rest. I’m leaning in that direction but could still be persuaded otherwise on Prop 4. The Austin Chronicle is a Yes only on 1, 2, 6, and a No on the rest.

Finally, for those of you in The Woodlands, the Chron says incorporate yourselves by other means than the proposition on your ballot.

Nearly 50 years after George Mitchell charted the master-planned community that is The Woodlands, an inevitable fight has broken out beneath the tall trees 28 miles north of Houston over how to best protect the founder’s vision of suburban utopia.

In a 5-2 vote Aug.13, the board of Texas’ only “township” decided to put incorporation on this fall’s ballot. If passed, The Woodlands — beloved by residents for low taxes, low crime, green parks and good schools — would become an incorporated city.

Supporters say it’s time for The Woodlands’ residents to fully govern themselves, electing a mayor and a city council who can draft a charter, pass noise ordinances and zoning rules, and establish a dedicated police force so the community doesn’t have to depend on Harris and Montgomery counties for law enforcement.

Township board chair Gordy Bunch told us The Woodlands, because it’s not a city, is missing out on as much as $30 million in COVID relief funds — and that Montgomery County hasn’t properly shared.

Opponents ask “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” The unusual governance system is central to what makes The Woodlands appealing to families and businesses.

[…]

It’s unclear to residents we talked to, and to us, how daily life in The Woodlands would really change with incorporation — and more importantly, if it would improve. The township — whose board is elected, albeit at-large, without distinct districts — already uses local tax revenue to provide some services and contracts out others, such as trash pickup.

But running a full-fledged city — including having a direct role in roads and other infrastructure and establishing a police department from scratch — is different. The question isn’t whether costs will go up for residents but how much.

No one we talked to could say for sure. And that’s a problem. Township board members say they have a plan to keep the tax rate consistent over the first few years but their critics say they’ve seriously underestimated the startup costs of incorporation.

Eventually, incorporation may well be the best option for this growing community whose need for autonomy, efficiency, transparency and influence over its own destiny will only increase.

But the current effort feels hasty. While incorporation has been the topic of conversations and public meetings and research for years, the decision isn’t something that should be rushed through in a low-turnout election in a year where distractions, including the pandemic, abound.

I have no skin in this game. Mostly, I hope the Woodlands does whatever will make them the biggest possible pain in the ass for Montgomery County’s government, because that would be hilarious. Whether this would be the best way to go about doing that or not, I have no idea.

More on the Spring Branch ISD single member district lawsuit

Good story from KTRK.

The unofficial dividing line for the two sides: I-10 running through the district.

With two boys in the district, Carla Cooper-Molano has seen the battle scars, and she wants someone on the school board who represents her family living north of I-10.

“If I communicate to the board, these are my needs, this is what I need, this is what my community at school needs, they are drowned by a much larger vested interest from the south,” said Cooper-Molano.

Cooper-Molano said the majority of SBISD students come from lower-income, working-class families, whose struggles range from paying rent to buying school supplies, to putting food on the table every night.

The disconnect comes when you look at the makeup of the current SBISD school board. According to a recently filed federal civil rights lawsuit, the majority of SBISD’s board members live south of I-10, in more affluent and less diverse neighborhoods. In fact, a person of color has never won a seat on the school board. According to the district’s own data, SBISD’s student body is 59% Hispanic, and 27% white.

The lawsuit alleges that having every school board member elected “at-large,” meaning they represent the entire district instead of neighborhoods, violates the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 because it dilutes the voting power of minorities. The plaintiff who filed the suit is Virginia Elizondo, a former teacher at SBISD with a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership. Elizondo ran twice for the school board, most recently in 2021. This time, she came up short against Chris Earnest, a Memorial area consultant.

Elizondo and supporters of the lawsuit are asking for single-member districts to be drawn. Under this scenario, board members will be elected to represent specific areas of the district, not the entire district. It’s similar to how the House of Representatives elects its members, and how Houston ISD elects its school board members. Houston City Council, for example, has a hybrid model. There are five at-large seats in addition to the district seats.

Nina Perales, the vice president of the Latino legal rights organization Legal Services for MALDEF, has fought similar battles in other cities across Texas. She explains that the plaintiff will need to show the courts there is no opportunity for minorities to elect a candidate of their choice.

“If the majority of voters consistently prefer one candidate, and minority voters consistently prefer another candidate, it’s simple math. The majority is always going to outvote the minority in every single seat,” said Perales.

See here for some background, and here for some demographic data about SBISD. The fight is contentious in part because a loud contingent of SBISD parents from the wealthy part of the district don’t think that the SBISD board is opposing it strongly enough, and they want to have one of them added as a defendant in the lawsuit. If the plaintiffs win, past history suggests they will be able to elect someone to the Board; a recent example cited in the story is Richardson ISD, in the Dallas area. I don’t know what the litigation schedule is – these things can take years to resolve – but I’ll keep an eye on it.

30 day campaign finance reports: HCC

PREVIOUSLY: HISD 30 day reports

As is usually the case, the HCC finance reports are not as interesting as the HISD reports, but review them we must, because these races really do matter. So here we begin.

Adriana Tamez, District 3
Brandon Cofield, District 3

Eva Loredo, District 8
Jharrett Bryantt, District 8
Victor Gonzales, District 8


Dist  Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
==========================================================
3         Tamez     16,550      1,168        0      20,092
3       Cofield      3,455      2,625        0         829
8        Loredo      8,035      3,520    7,000       7,598
8       Bryantt      3,800      1,817        0       2,800
8      Gonzales        250          0        0         250

The July reports are here. As noted with the HISD reports, incumbents not on the ballot do not need to file 20 day or 8 day reports. Reagan Flowers is unopposed, so she gets to skip it as well. Dave Wilson (heavy sigh) is technically unopposed, and I don’t see any reports for him in the system. I’m sure he has some past reports in the system, but I can’t see them. If he didn’t file a report in July, then we have no idea what he’s been up to this election, which ain’t great. As for Jim Noteware, he did file a 30 day report but had no money raised or spent.

Not much else to say here. None of these amounts are enough to make a difference. Tamez and Loredo have run before, with Tamez in office since 2014 and Loredo since 2010 so presumably they have some name recognition. But Bruce Austin was a four-time Trustee when Wilson snuck past him with the help of some dirty tricks, so best not to take anything for granted. My interviews with Tamez, Loredo, Flowers, and Bryantt are running this week, so give them a listen and know who you’re voting for.